Wile, Wit, Wisdom & Weaponry

Ruminations, Opinions & Debate about the world as I see it and the toys that make it bearable!

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Location: TEXAS, United States

-Defender of the Second Amendment, the "little guy", free market system, liberty and freedom from government!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Science or Slow Reporting?

The following story was gleaned from the Wired Science weblog today. It is interesting to note the wording in paragraph 6, the paragraph that is colored blue. (Italics added for emphasis.)

(Someone had to be shot in order to conduct the test, was that you're journalistic intent? Typical non-shooting journalist waxing on about something they know nothing about. Enjoy!)

How Cops Can Measure Gunshot Residue on Your Hands

By Aaron Rowe EmailAugust 23, 2007 | 3:26:16 PMCategories: Chemistry, Crime, Mystery

Ammo Whacking someone with a pistol leaves a lot more than blood on your hands. It also leaves gunshot residue, and Brazilian forensic scientists have developed a simple but sophisticated way to check for the incriminating particles.

In the upcoming October 2 issue of Forensic Science International, Jorge E. Souza Sarkis of the Institute of Energetic and Nuclear Research described a trial run of the test that is easy for cops to perform and very accurate.

Gun violence is a huge problem in Brazil. In São Paulo alone, police seize around 1,500 guns per month. Most of them are .38 caliber pistols. After a shooting, traces of gunshot residue on the hands of a suspect are often an extremely important bit of evidence.

Small amounts of the rare element antimony are found in most ammunition. When a gun goes off, a cloud of fine particles covers the hands of the shooter -- leaving behind a bit of the telltale metal.

A well-established method to check for gunshot residue is the Instant Shooter Identification Kit, which offers answers in seconds and is right about 90 percent of the time. Forensic labs can also examine skin swabs and clothing with an electron microscope to look for tiny gunpowder particles. By comparison, the new procedure is much more precise.

Sarkis and his partners recruited forty volunteers who infrequently handle guns. He invited them to take a single shot from one of three pistols -- 9mm and .40 caliber semi-automatics or a .38 revolver.

After each shot was fired, the researchers brushed each volunteer's hands with cotton swabs that had been dampened with a bit of an inexpensive chemical that can latch onto metals like antimony and wash them away from skin.

That is all a police officer would need to do -- swab each hand, bag the swabs, and send them to a crime lab.

To prepare their samples for analysis, the researchers dissolved the cotton swabs in pure nitric acid and then added some water. The brew went straight into a machine called an inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer -- an instrument that completely destroys a sample and then precisely determines the levels of every single element. The researchers focused on the amount of antimony, barium, and lead on the volunteers' hands.

The level of antimony alone doesn't say much. Apparently, some people just happen to have a lot of the rare metal on their hands. But researchers can compare the level of antimony with the the level of barium and lead to figure out whether an individual pulled the trigger. If a volunteer had pulled the trigger, the level of antimony was unusually high relative to the other metals.

Maybe it's just me, but haven't the U.S. PDs been using these kits for years now...I know I've been watching this on CSI: Miami for at least three years.


Friday, August 10, 2007

News from Iraq...

My friend, Coby, has been 'in country' for several months now serving as a medic as part of an attachment of body guards for VIP's who visit from the U.S. Namely, he covers politicians' posteriors who come to see what "all the fuss is about" when it comes to why Iraq is not able to stabilize itself from the standpoint of infrastructure, politics, culture and socio-economic reforms. Coby's background is not medical, it's policing. He was a training officer of a S.W.A.T. unit for several years- and is WELL TRAINED on tactics, weapons, and keeping people safe when the you-know-what hits the fan. Soon after Coby arrived in Iraq, his supervisor had the entire squad visit the weapons range to see how his crew stacked up. When the smoke cleared, it was quite evident that Coby had beaten everyone else on the line- handily. The firing range officer was overheard to say: "Who the h@ll shot that perfect target!?" (When he found out it was a 'lowly medic', he nearly had a heart attack on the spot.)

Recently, I heard from Coby via e-mail and I vented my frustration at the lack of information coming from the major networks as to what is actually happening on the ground by our people who are stationed there. He had some interesting insights that none of us will ever hear on the nightly news networks. Here is his reply - unedited:

Where to start about here, geez. I know that whatever the dems have done with our funding its affecting only the troops. We have no ample water supply and have to ration it out, our food supply is horrible and gets guys sick beyond all belief and yet every "VIP' we watch after while they're here gets to stay in the best rooms and eat the best food while we go to our rooms that sometimes don't have power, if the water works then the power runs the pumps wont be so we swelter in our rooms. We run a vehicle motorcade of "multiple guys and vehicles" to do nothing more than carry luggage for these democrats who dont want to ride the same road we just came in on because "its too dangerous for them" and then we run right back down the same route carrying their luggage while they are ferried around in blackhawks at government expense to the tune of a lot of $$$ for no other reason than to come here and complain about the lack of security. The Iraqis that I deal with are basically no more than school yard bullies with rockets and really have no idea who theyre fighting or even why, its just because thats all theyve known for centuries.
The new US Embassy here is in construction and is in shambles because were having to use local contractors to do the work in an effort to "spread the wealth" and once they get the $$$ they are gone and never seen again. Its just a mess here but there are some good points Im sure. Imagine all the public utilities we have in the US being controlled by rival gang members who openly shoot and torture the other and thats what we have here, no one can agree on anything. But yet, the Democrats want to pull our funding and support and even give the bad guys a departure date, Ive never seen a war run by a final deadline date, but then they are democrats. I just hope and prey HC doesnt get elected because we will have a war beyond all belief because she will reduce all troop strength and abilities to support her agenda of only embarrassing GW and all the work he did and has done and will do because of the 8 years of BC padding his own pockets, getting kicked out of his own states Bar Association, nearly impeached and a general shame to the Office in my opinion. But theres always tomorrow and more "VIPS" coming in to do reports for surveys, and surveys for reports and follow up reports for more surveys.
We dont have running water, power or even a stable power grid to leave the country before it turns into a scene from Mad Max, or even support from other countries. Were not fighting Iraqis here, were fighting Iran, Syria, and maybe even China, but the media doesnt say that, yet the proof is launched into our camp everyday in the form of those countries rockets, but our own army cant respond back because of the cuts and needing to get permission from some nimrod whos in 9000 miles away and trying to calculate the political ramifications of a counter assault. Its the US govt at its best, the two parties cant get along so since the dems control the $$$ now they can decide what goes where or will make it so hard for anything to get done quickly with out requiring multiple copies of reports and surveys and projections that its just simpler to ignore the whole thing.
Thats my take on this, its a shame when as a superpower our own country stands divided and unsupportive and broadcasts this everywhere including our sworn enemies houses. Its more of a war in the house and senate than it is here...and dont get me started on the idiots in hollywood who make their money because we are a free country, there is no movie or music industry or even professional sports industry here, theres just lots of people with weapons ready to harm us at any chance.

There is a rawness here in his prose that makes me sit up and take notice. Forget the fact that his grammatical precision is less than perfect, it's 120 in the shade over there and he's getting shot at while he's typing on his laptop. Actually, I'm surprised I got this much at once!

Coby, I, for one, appreciate what you and your colleagues are doing. I'm thankful that my family enjoys the freedoms we have because of self sacrificing folks like you and your comrades. I pray that your family will know peace until you return safe! Come home soon, friend. Come home soon...


Sunday, August 05, 2007

Table Turned On Me...

So there was this burning desire to own a piece (or two) of iron/mesquite furniture that began about a year ago after I visited a local furniture maker who makes wonderful pieces out of recycled Mesquite trees. The downed trees are dropped off at his yard by local landscapers and do-it-your-selfers who pull these "unsightly" trees from lots or prime ranch land needing a slight makeover. (Most people in West Texas don't care for the ugly, thick trunked Mesquite with it's spindly leaves and dark brown bean pods. After all, we need real shade trees out here in the summer time.) Rather than take the thing to the local dump, landscape personnel know they can drive downtown and drop off their goods to help the local furniture guy out. (Or maybe he pays them something for the stump and large limbs they bring? I don't know...)

Either way, the guy has a great set-up and he's a wonderful furniture craftsman! I've seen mantles, chairs, lamps, side tables, bed railings with matching posts, dining room tables, poker tables, and all manner of things made from the dark red, lustrous tree: Prosopis pubescens

But here's the thing- I'm cheap. Not only did I not want to pay the price for a finished piece, but I challenged myself to craft my own piece. Two years ago I made myself a hunting knife and used a piece of Mesquite for the handles. I liked how the color turned out and I was sure I could make a small console table if I put my heart into it. Now it was getting interesting...

Several months ago, I found the perfect iron frame that I thought would grace our entryway pretty well. Only problem was, it was more than rustic- it was R-U-S-T-Y. Here's the frame in its original state:

When I found it amongst all the other rusted relics, I thought it had great form and I really liked the fact that it was completely different than anything I had ever seen. It was graceful as well as practical. And the price was good. So I set out to get rid of the rust while I searched for the perfect piece of wood to top it with:

The above picture was taken soon after I received the piece back from Abilene Powder Coating. This is a wonderful, if not little known, business on the West side of Abilene owned by Mr. Kim Parsons. I told Kim I wanted a black powdercoat finish. "No problem, would you like matte, semi-gloss, or high gloss finish when cured?" (What? I had choices?) I told Kim to coat it with a "wet" look. I think he did an amazing job! He got it just right. I tell you, up close it looks like it was carved out of wet wax- it absolutely glistens. Kim is a great guy and not only did the price match his quote, he got it done quickly.

So now it was off to Lankford's Mesquite Lumber to find that perfect slab of wood to top off that frame. Now that the frame turned out twice as good as I had hoped, the pressure was really on to top it with a wonderfully grained piece of wood. It took a LONG time to find that right piece but Terry Lankford was very helpful and stored the piece inside once he found it amongst the hundreds of planks already cut and stacked outside on site. Here's what the raw piece looked like before I started finishing it:

That wet, drizzly look you see in the middle is a concoction of epoxy in its liquid form. The main difference between this piece and the pieces that Mr. Lankford makes, is that mine has an unusual twist. When I mixed up the epoxy, I added jet black ink to the mixture to turn it completely dark. (Regular epoxy, if left alone, will dry clear as glass.) I knew that if I got the finished wood to the desired dark red tone it would look really great with small etchings of black drizzled into the voids in the grain. Here is what the slab looked like when the epoxy dried and I sanded everything flush prior to applying the finish:

As you can see from the above close-up, the blackened epoxy is already contrasting nicely with the faint red grain already starting to show through. I won't tell you exactly what steps I used for sanding, but I will tell you that to sufficiently gain the smooth finish I wanted on all sides, it took a total of 7 hours to achieve- or, the better part of one full weekend. Not having done a project of this size before, I did some head scratching as well as some grunt work to transform that slab. Here you can see some improvement with one coat of oil on top and a simple routed edge that is still lacking finish:

I had never had an occasion to use a router before, and wanting the lines to be straight as possible, to resemble finely made furniture, I opted to use a router attached to a table. Well, I got the whole borrowed rig home and set it up, read the tool's instruction manual front to back, selected the right router bit style, and tried to get the whole set up level so that I could draw the piece down the length in one steady draw to keep the line perfectly horizontal. The problem was, my garage floor isn't exactly level, and my borrowed table wasn't large enough to support the slab by itself (rough dimensions are 14"w x 37"l x 1.5"thick). Realizing I didn't have enough support tables to align properly with the router table, I opted to 'free hand' the rout using a fence attached to the wood by clamps. I can tell you it took a while to properly set up and clamp but it is as straight as possible. I turned on the router, slid it across the fence from left to right down the long (front showing) side and when the dust settled I had a better than average cut and let out a triumphant whoop in the garage. (Note: never scream exuberantly in the garage when playing with a power tool. The wife tends to get upset and call 9-1-1 thinking you have just relieved yourself of a body part!) Here is the top with a second coat of finish- note the deeper red tone of the wood is starting to come through:

And here's the table with a third coat of oil and just about the right red tone I was looking for:

I could still see some areas that hadn't quite taken enough of the finish to make for a smooth, even look, color-wise. So I got out the q-tips and went to work on the routed edge once more. Here's the final look, with 4 coats of finish and the smoothness I was wanting to achieve:

Would I do it all over again, you ask? In a heartbeat! I'm already looking for a frame to make the perfect, matching coffee table for the den to match this piece. While I didn't save any money by the time I bought all the supplies and raw materials, I have lots of items in stock to use on my next project that I won't have to reinvest in. Plus, I have learned a lot by taking my time putting this piece together. I can't tell you exactly how many hours I have invested, but I can tell you that it was about 6 months to get everything to come together. Most of this was due to finding the right frame and specific piece of lumber, but part of it was getting help from my well-tooled buddies in town. Many thanks to Jim Waldrop and Shane Jennings for their efforts in lending their tools and or garage for a couple of hours in order to assist me with the rough cutting and routing of this piece. Fellas, I couldn't have done it without you!

Certainly, the table turned on me- but, I'm turned on by this table- I love it!