Thursday, March 29, 2012

Who'd 'ave Thought?

While I try to decide what to include in my next update regarding M&M and The Queen to satisfy kymber's curiosity, I thought I'd take a moment to gloat a little about my most recent competition experience.

I participated in one of the local clubs' USPSA (United States Practical Shooting Association) match last evening/night with positive (at least for me) results. I placed second out of four shooters in my division (single stack) and 30TH out of 43 shooters overall. I won two of the four stages within my division; and, more importantly, I was even two places ahead of cousin B. in the overall standings.

For those who have not been following my escapades in the shooting sports, that's a huge improvement for me.

I went into the match intending to focus on accuracy over speed; and, for the most part, I succeeded in spades. I shot well enough to get 404 out of a possible 450 total raw points (which means I didn't miss the "A" scoring zone very often in the 90 or so rounds fired). I was slightly bummed on one stage when a good target was ruined by someone who forgot to tape the target after the previous shooter sticking me with their hit on a no shoot for a penalty. How do I know it wasn't me? There were four holes in that target when there should have only been two. I shoot .45 ACP which makes a significantly bigger hole than either 9mm or .40 S&W on a cardboard target. The no shoot hit was most definitely NOT a .45.

The most difficult stage of the evening had 14 targets each requiring two shots for a total of 28 rounds. Guess who only has 26 rounds worth magazine capacity in his current rig? Yeah, that would be me. Fortunately, there was someone willing to loan me a spare mag. I also wound up having to bum eight rounds of ammo off another shooter after an administrative error by the match director forced a reshoot of the first stage. I was scorer on that stage, and they really should have listened to me when I told them the scoring sheet did not match the stage. But, who am I to say I told you so?

Also of interest, I ran into the VP of the other local IDPA club from a couple of posts ago at last night's match. He is a real nice guy, and there did not appear to be any hard feelings about my complaint. He runs a Smith & Wesson M&P 9 that has had over 50,000 rounds through for those who are interested in that sort of thing.

Speaking of round counts, WARHAMMER! has now officially passed the 500 round mark. It has actually fired 508 rounds mostly in competition since I am not blessed with an over abundance of time and money to train. A fuller report on WARHAMMER!'s performance thus far will follow at a later date; however, I have to say that I am happy with it overall even if it's probably not the best competition gun when measured against combat tupperware and high dollar, bespoke race guns (top shooter last night was running a $6000 custom 2011 in .38 Super). There are things that I would like to change on it: some cosmetic, some not. The short list of mods is a fiber optic front sight, an extended magwell, a cerakote job on the frame for a reverse two tone look, new grip panels and possibly a trigger job.

The one gripe I have isn't directly related to the gun but to the Chip McCormick 10 round Power Mag I bought as my third mag. It will not reliably feed the tenth round when fully loaded. Load it with 9, and it is dependable as the day is long. Put the tenth round in, and let the curses begin. At less than 500 rounds, it should not be having a weak spring problem in my opinion. The Sig factory 8 round mags have been almost flawless with the exception of one incident in which I had a nose down round that didn't feed which I suspect was the result of me not loading the mag properly. I foresee three more factory eight round mags and another mag carrier in my future.

Oh well. Life goes on, and remember: a slow hit is better than a fast miss.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Product Review: Find My iPhone App

Warning: you will have to read through one of my patented, long winded set ups to get to the meat of the review. Skip down about half way if you could not care less about the back story.

When my company set me up with the new iPhone 4s, the inevitable happened. You see, The Queen and I had had the second generation iPhone 3G. It had served us well for two years until it became increasingly slow and frustrating to deal with. In hindsight, the problem was blindly upgrading the OS every time iTunes said there was an update available not realizing that the platform was not designed for the newer OSs and didn't have the horsepower to run the code.

Also around this time, there was all the hoopla in the media about Apple using location information gathered from the phones without express permission (ignoring the fact that such a clause is supposedly buried deep within the 40 something pages of end user license agreement that no one reads). So, bowing to the pressure from my beloved Queen to fix the problem, I suggested we try out the Droid platform. The Queen was game, and our brief foray into Sprint's services was the net result.

Upon returning to AT&T, we stuck with the Droid platform mainly because I wasn't flush enough with cash at the time to shell out over $300 a piece for new Apple iCores. Anyphone, The Queen gamely accepted the Droid (a Motorola Atrix)...and promptly began to complain about the touch screen keyboard. I suggested she use the voice to text feature....apparently Droids don't speak Thingie.

As you might expect, upon the conferring by the company of my new Apple iCore,  royal decree came forth that "We want!" (that being the royal we). Promises were made; and, lo and behold, the royal exchequer received a healthy infusion of cash from the treasury in the form of a tax refund earlier this month. We were too early in our current contract to get the full benefit of an upgrade discount, but we got enough of a discount to make a refurbed iPhone 4s doable (albeit at a price that would make Robin Hood look like a small time liquor store robber).

The phone was ordered online and arrived at the castle via FedEx last Thursday. We (meaning me) got The Queen's information transferred over the weekend, and all was right in the royal household.

Until yesterday.

The Queen decided that yesterday was too beautiful a day to remain indoors. As a result, after M&M's visit with her bio parents at the CPS offices, The Queen and our little princess departed in the royal carriage to set up court in the botanical gardens in Fort Worth. After my departure from the office, The Queen asked if I would like to join the royal party in the gardens. I asked what she had in mind for dinner, and she decreed that a picnic was in order.

Guess who stopped by the house to secure supplies for said picnic?

I arrived at the gardens a little before sundown and was warmly greeted by my Queen. A lovely picnic was had by all...well, almost all. M&M slept through the event. Being adorable is sssooOOooo tiring.

Anybaby, as we were packing up, The Queen discovered that her new iPhone was nowhere to be found. A thorough search of the area turned up no phone. Retracing her phone. It was last seen on a bench around the time of my arrival. The Queen claims she was so excited to see me that she forgot about having put the phone down.

What can I say? I can't really gripe at her for that now can I?

It was about this time that I remembered our IT guy telling me about the Find My iPhone app. I downloaded the app as quick as I could. Fortunately, having been the one who set up The Queen's new toy, I knew here Apple ID and password (both necessary to get the app to hunt down your stuff). Plugging the information in, the app brings up a map and pings the phone. It thinks for a moment and then shows you on the map where the phone is. More or less. There are limitations.

When I first pinged the phone, the app showed it to still be in the park at a parking lot about a 100 yards away.

Yep, you guessed it. Lazy, overweight, white collar, professional with a fantastic case of developing plantar fasciitis had to lope/jog/gimp/hobble and otherwise painfully move quickly in the direction of the phone.

Or, at least where the phone HAD been.

By the time I made it to the parking people, no cars, no phone.

Drat and other curses.

I spotted a security guard and asked if a phone had been turned in. A quick check determined that there would be no joy in Muddville that night as Casey struck out. The guard suggested I call the police for assistance.

Long side story short...the popo can't help much.

So, it was back to the app. Pinging the phone again showed to be on the move in southeast Fort Worth. After some debate about whether the now incommunicado Queen would go straight home or follow me, it was determined that time was wasting and that she would follow me while I tracked the phone.

Now, a couple of quick suggestions here. First, be prepared. I started out with about a third of a tank of gas. If this goose chase got too wild, I was going to have to break it off, gas up or rethink my strategy. I also had no means to communicate with The Queen what was going on. Second, ping that phone as often as you can to keep tabs on where it is. The Queen's phone took a circuitous route through east Fort Worth before doubling back to head southwest. Pinging regularly helped me avoid a lengthy detour and actually gain some ground against the phonenapper's approximately 20 minute head start.

We were ultimately able to track the phone to a lower income (okay, it was Section 8 housing) apartment complex in south Fort Worth. I was fairly sure that the person with the phone had arrived home as it stayed put for about 5 or 10 minutes before we arrived.

The Queen and I had another brief set to about whether or not she would come with me to search on foot. I convinced her that I could take care of myself with God's help, but that I couldn't search and protect her and the baby at the same time. After me promising not to be stupid, The Queen relented and stayed with the cars.

So, how accurate is the locator? The app narrowed it down to one building in the center of the complex. I'm pretty sure it narrowed it down to the eight units in the center of the building; but, short of knocking on doors, I had no way to know which door on which floor to have Monty Hall open.

After returning to the cars to let The Queen know I was still alive and where I thought the phone was, there was a debate about what next. I was trying to call the phone and send texts to it to see if I could get the person who had it to respond. The Queen was encouraging me to call the police again. While this went on, I pinged the phone again and, much to my surprise, it was on the move again coming out of the building I had tracked it to.

I told The Queen of the development just as a young lady came out from between two buildings heading for a car about 20 yards from us. I told The Queen, "I think she's the one with your phone." The Queen asked me if I thought she should approach her so as not to spook her. I okayed it while following far enough not to be threatening but close enough to intervene if necessary.

It turns out I was dead on. She had the phone in her hand. She claimed she was on her way to her boyfriend's to get a ride to return the phone.


Yeah, that's what I thought. Whatever.

She readily gave the phone back. The Queen hugged her. There were tears. I did offer her $40 (the cash I had on hand) as a reward. She promptly and adamantly refused and quickly ran back to her apartment. Go figure.

Bottom line: the app works. It works real well, but it does require some patience and persistence. Having a little blood hound in you helps too.

FTC Disclaimer: It's a free app. So, up yours you bunch of fascist gooberment bureaucrats.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Kids Say The Darndest Things

I was in the checkout line at Walmart with my youngest nephew over the weekend. After perusing the latest tabloid offerings, he made the following insightful comment:

"I'm really impressed that Whitney Houston has been clean for a whole month now."

Friday, March 23, 2012


Ladies and gentlemen, your humble Shepherd got seriously vexed last evening to the point of my tighty whiteys becoming uncomfortably twisted. I present the following, redacted, email exchange without further comment as a public service to shooting clubs everywhere.

-------- Original Message --------
Match Direction
Thu, 22 Mar 2012 21:58:40 -0500
[Shepherd K]

Mr. [President],

I feel compelled to write to you regarding the match direction at this evening's match at [local gun range] in [nearby city]. Frankly, I was disappointed in the attitude displayed by the match director and more than a little offended.

First, a little background. I am new to [local IDPA club], and relatively new to IDPA competition. Tonight was to be my second match with [local IDPA club] (5th match overall), and I had intended to pay for my membership upon arrival. I arrived promptly at 6:00 (I was driving over from [a location about 40 miles away] and traffic delayed me) and went in to pay my range fee. The range employee asked a gentleman who was apparently with [local IDPA club] whether or not to take my range fee as there were 38 shooters already signed up. The gentleman told her to go ahead and take my money at which time I proceeded to the match area to pay the match fee and my membership. Before I was able to accomplish either of those tasks, the MD (whose name I did not get) came in and said abruptly that I could not shoot as there were too many signed up already. I explained that the other gentleman had indicated I could. The MD reiterated words to the effect that I could not shoot, turned and left.

I have two problems with the way this was handled. First, the [local IDPA club] website makes no mention of limits regarding the number of shooters, etc. I fully understand space and time limitations; however, if this is to be a club policy, it needs to be plainly stated on the website so that people such as myself are forewarned and can plan accordingly. Second, the MD made no effort whatsoever to be courteous, see to it that my range fee was refunded or make some sort of accommodation to insure that I could be given priority at a future match. Additionally, if the MD's decision on limitation of shooters was not based on club policy, he needed to communicate that to the range staff to avoid someone such as myself being hassled.

The majority of the people I have meet in the IDPA community have been extremely helpful, kind and friendly. I hope that I simply caught the MD on a bad night; however, I have to be honest and state that the manner in which tonight was handled has left a bad taste in my mouth. The first gentleman I encountered did assist me in getting a refund and was very apologetic. Unfortunately, it was too late to "unsour" the experience.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

[Shepherd K]

Sent from my iPad

Date: March 23, 2012 9:21:43 AM CDT
To: [Shepherd K]
Cc: [all other local IDPA club board of director members]

Subject: Re: Match Direction
[Shepherd K], 

Thank you for writing to [Local IDPA club President] to let us know of an issue you had at one of our matches.  At Local IDPA club we work hard to insure each shooter has the best IDPA experience in the DFW Metroplex. 

With that said, I am disappointed to read that we did not communicate with you clearly regarding our match capacity limits for the [local gun] range.  Furthermore that one of our MD's was not courteous when discussing the matter with you directly.  

As Vice President I am responsible for the management of each of the MDs in the club.  I apologize on behalf of Local IDPA club for any inconvenience you suffered. To rectify your particular situation the following actions will be taken today: 
  1. A post will be made on the Local IDPA club forum regarding the [local] range sign in policies and capacity limits.
  2. I will speak with the MD ([short guy with an attitude]) so this situation does not happen in the future. 
  3. The remainder of the [Local IDPA club] BOD will be notified of this issue.
  4. [Local IDPA club] will waive your match fee for the next two matches.  Please let me know when and where you wish to attend a match so I can notify the appropriate MD.
Should you have any questions or wish to discuss this matter further please do not hesitate to email me directly or call me at [XXX-XXX-XXXX].

[VP Local IDPA club]

From: [Shepherd K]
Date: March 23, 2012 12:16:15 PM CDT
Cc: [all other local IDPA club board of director members]
Subject: Re: Match Direction
[Local IDPA Club VP], 

I really appreciate your prompt and thoughtful response. I also appreciate your offer to waive my next two match fees; however, that really is not necessary. Further and unfortunately, it will be the latter part of April before I will be able to make it to another [local IDPA club] match because of scheduling conflicts. 

I am more interested in trying to prevent a future recurrence by improving policy or procedure. In that vein, with the high turnout at matches (not just at [local IDPA club]), I would suggest that there be a mechanism to offer shooters who are turned away due to venue capacity issues a reservation or pre-sign in for a later match. I hope you would agree that such a mechanism would be a reasonable courtesy to members who come a long way through traffic but arrive a little too late to make the cut.

Again, I appreciate your response and willingness to address the issue. 


[Shepherd K]

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Step One...

Last night, I finally had a few minutes of nothing better to do. I took the opportunity to lay out the Rock River Arms AR-15 lower parts kit next to the Spike’s Tactical stripped lower receiver and start actually, you know, assembling the two parts of the puzzle into a more or less complete whole. I thought I’d take a few moments to share some lessons learned last night that I hadn’t seen in my surfing the DIY how to world of AR-15 assembly on the internet.

First, unless you are an experienced gunsmith and/or were trained by the military as an armorer, I highly recommend you spend a little time on YouTube watching the videos of how to actually do the assembly. I found the CMMG, Inc. and Brownells videos to be very helpful, if slightly divergent on order of installation. That is not to say that I don’t have a few minor quibbles with how they present the information.

For instance, if you were to just watch the CMMG tutorial video, you might just believe that the front pivot pin, spring and detent can be easily inserted without tools. Word to the wise, do not attempt this step without the proper pivot pin installation tool unless you enjoy hunting around your work space for an almost microscopic, brass detent. I was lucky. My detent slipped and fell onto the piece of bubble wrap that was lying on the tray I was using as a work bench instead of shooting across the room under spring tension.

I also disagree with the order of installation on both videos. Brownells starts with the magazine release while CMMG starts with the bolt catch. The magazine release really isn’t a bad place to start. In fact, you could argue for it being tied for first with safety selector switch, spring, detent and pistol grip. It is preferable to do the magazine release BEFORE the bolt catch; however, it is required to do the safety selector before you install the trigger group as the safety selector switch will NOT go in if the trigger is already in place (ask me how I know…yes, that’s right, someone had to install the trigger twice) as the trigger partially blocks the safety selector mounting hole (which is proper when you think about it as the safety functions by blocking the hammer from moving up and down). The magazine release is simply a matter of ease of installation. The release is a lot easier to screw in if you don’t have to worry about clearing the bolt catch each time you turn the release into the release button.

Let’s talk about tools for a moment. You’ll notice I didn’t mention anything about a vise block. Brownells recommends using a little hunk of wood or plastic that fits into the magwell opening so that the receiver can be mounted into a vise for easier parts manipulation, etc. Personally, I didn’t find parts manipulation to be an issue (with the exception of the aforementioned pivot pin issue which would not have been helped by the vise block anyway), and I’ve got fairly good sized hands. I do recommend that you go ahead and invest in a non-marring hammer (brass or otherwise). I opted for a lighter weight, steel, claw hammer tapping on a punch set. Fortunately, I didn’t have any errant strikes, but the potential for an ugly tool mark was there. Lastly, unless other manufacturers do things differently, you will need a hex head screw driver with a shaft at least four inches long to install the pistol grip. I have a hex head tool…which is not four inches long making things a tad difficult. I will remedy that after a brief detour into a tool store this evening.

Overall, things went smoothly despite my newbie yet easily correctable mistakes. The trigger and safety selector switch work just fine. The trigger, as you will recall, is a single stage, and it’s a tad heavy. I don’t have a trigger pull gauge, but my guess is that the pull weight is somewhere between five and seven pounds. That is way too heavy for a precision rifle, but this is not intended as such. I am building this one up for home defense, range fun, USPSA carbine matches and maybe the occasional Bambi/wild hog encounter while out walking in the woods. Other platforms will handle mosquito swatting duties out past 100 yards. More important to me a smooth, steady pull and a crisp break. I will reserve judgment on this trigger until the build is complete, and we get a chance to see how it performs at the range. In the meantime, that’ll do Donkey.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Guest Blogger: Captain Tightpants

Shepherd K here. This evening, I have an extra special treat for you all: my first ever guest poster. Captain Tightpants, from the blog I Aim To Misbehave, was quite engaged in the comments on my last post and was concerned that he was hijacking the comments section with his thoughts on a particular caliber of ammunition. I suggested that he apply himself to the task of fleshing out his thoughts into a full blown guest post, and here are the results. For those not acquainted with the good Captain, he is former military (Navy if I recall correctly), current police officer (bomb squad...if you see this man running, please try to keep up), ardent Firefly fan and generally a nice guy. Enjoy.

The purpose of this is to simply explain why I chose to invest money, time & effort in a .300 Blackout rifle - not necessarily to convert you to my way of thinking. While I find that this round is going to meet a number of my needs & wants, your individual mileage and desires may vary. Also, I'm doing this as a short-barrel rifle (with a tax stamp transfer) and picking up a suppressor down the road... both of which are doable in my location without too much drama.

As any gun person knows, over the past 30-some years a number of "newest, bestest" cartridges have been introduced, all of which swore to be the next great thing. Some have had success (.40 S&W for one), some have achieved niche followings (10mm, 6.8 SPC), and some have faded into obscurity (.45 GAP). One of the latest rounds to burst onto the scene with some acclaim has been the .300 Blackout (.300 BLK) round, developed by AAC and more or less based on the .300 Whisper cartridge. Of important note with the round is that the company took the approach of getting it SAAMI spec'd & have gone out of their way to let others load it, market it etc. - which has been one reason for the explosive growth of this cartridge. A great number of manufacturers from the mid-range to the high end have jumped on the bandwagon with rifles, barrels, and ammunition growing by the day.

The .300 Blackout round (7.62x35mm) is designed with a number of considerations in mind:

- Function with minimal changes from a standard M4-style or similar 5.56x45mm platform. All you need to change is the barrel. It uses the same magazines, bolt, carrier, etc. for any of these weapons. This is a significant savings in materials if you're changing a weapon, and it greatly increases the availability of spare parts, weapon enhancements and such. Additionally, these magazines are capable of holding the same capacity as they do in 5.56x45, as opposed to reduced capacity in such rounds as the 6.8mm SPC.

- To provide a round which more or less matches the ballistic capabilities of a 7.62x39 (AK-47) style round for enhanced terminal ballistics, barrier penetration and such. While I won't get into a caliber-wars debate, it's hard to argue that a .30 caliber hole will be more effective in ensanguination than a .22 caliber hole. There are several M4 style rifles chambered in the 7.62x39 round it is true, but they require proprietary magazines, bolts and such - and have a poor history in terms of reliability to date.

- To provide a subsonic round with optimal sound and flash suppression when suppressed. For comparison, the .300 Blackout with 220 grain subsonic ammunition is quieter than an MP5SD, while firing a round almost twice the grain weight and 129% more muzzle energy. It also holds this energy to a greater range.

I can safely say that AAC met these goals. Now, let's discuss some of the other good points of the round.

- Reloading is inexpensive compared to the alternative rounds - in fact, you can take standard .223/5.56x45 brass and with minimal effort reload it as .300 Blackout. Much cheaper than having to buy specialized brass.

- If you're looking at things from a financial or a prepper standpoint - think about the cost savings. The only thing different is the barrel. Everything else from front to back is the same as an M4, ammo is reloadable as above etc. As opposed to having to find off-brand stuff or specialized tools & parts this is a big thing for me. Also, due to the lower pressures, internal ballistics and dynamics of this round barrel life and wear on the weapon is greatly reduced.

- Effective range and terminal ballistics are in line with what I need. Is this a 500-800 yard sniping weapon? No - but I don't expect that out of my 5.56 either. On the other hand, between point blank and 300 yards I can expect all the accuracy and performance I want out of a duty-type rifle, if not more. If I need to go out further that's what my bolt gun .308 is for...

- I like the thought that I am getting much better terminal ballistics out of an M4 platform, still in a low-recoiling round. Furthermore, in terms of hunting, the vast majority of places won't let you use .223 for things like deer - but the .300 is a perfectly good round. Again, now we've broadened our applications from one platform. Furthermore, the ballistics were specifically developed around the shorter barrels. 5.56 out of the Stoner-designed platform was originally built to work off a 20-inch barrel, and as you lose barrel length you have corresponding issues in loss of power, decreased reliability, and increased wear on the weapon. .300 BLK was spec'd for SAAMI out of a 16 inch barrel; out of a 10.5 inch barrel it has about 23% more muzzle energy than an M855 5.56 projectile does out of a 16 inch.

- In terms of the suppressor side of things. Instead of thinking "I need a suppressed weapon, so I'm stuck with a 9mm instead of a full-sized rifle," now I can do both with one platform.

As for the most common comparison round - the 6.8mm SPC round (which is a perfectly viable round and I'm not badmouthing it) - here are the issues.

- 6.8mm SPC requires a different bolt, magazine etc. - which beats the advantages I discussed already for the .300BLK.  Plus it has a reduced magazine capacity. Buying 13 dollar P-mags vs. $25+ specialized mags is a big price difference. And I can use the same parts, magazines etc. in both my rifles now as opposed to just one.

- Ammo cost is significantly different. Going with the low-end practice stuff (Remington UMC) 6.8mm SPC at Midway, the 6.8mm SPC is 16.99 a box, while the .300 BLK is 11.99 a box. That's a third less per box - it adds up, and that's also not even counting the advantages of being able to reload 5.56 brass if needed.

- 6.8 doesn't have the breadth of application in terms of subsonic to supersonic rounds and performance.

- For whatever reason, the various manufacturers haven't jumped on 6.8 even after a number of years like they have the .300 BLK. In fact, a few large companies this year stated they were dropping 6.8 from their product line due to it not being a good financial return right now. Personally I believe this stems from the fact that the Freedom Group (who owns both AAC and Remington) has put their horse behind the .300 BLK cartridge, and is minimizing the corporate support for the 6.8.

- In 6.8 SPC's defense - it is generally a flatter shooting round, and does have a slightly longer effective range. However this really doesn't come into play where I work and live - it's only an issue beyond 300-400 yards or so, and there are very few places here I even have that kind of visibility, much less a clean shot at something.

So - what are the downsides to .300 BLK right now? The two big ones I can think of are:

- At the moment it doesn't have quite the breadth of available rounds that something like the .223 or .308 has, so choices in hunting and defensive loads aren't as broad. I expect this to continue to improve throughout the next year.

- Again, due to the relative newness of the round, there is a lack of documented terminal ballistic effectiveness reports. As above, time will tell on this.

And for the record on what I'm acquiring? A 10.5 inch barrel Noveske rifle and an AAC suppressor to go with it. Unfortunately the paperwork and ATF involvement means I won't actually get hands on with it for about six months...

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Anyone Up For A Puzzle?

That maniacal laughter you hear...just ignore it.

More to follow in a couple of weeks when the yet to be ordered Magpul collapsible buttstock arrives.

Steve Jobs Was A Genius

...spotted on a Honda Civic at the local Taco Bell during lunch. It appears to be a decal.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Serious Gas

As promised recently, it’s time that I get back to posting thought provoking content that doesn’t involve guns or M&M. One of the easiest of topics falling into the thought provoking categories is gasoline prices. This is a topic near and dear to my heart being the moron who bought his lovely and deserving wife a gas snorting behemoth SUV. So much for that extra salary money that came with the new job.

Sitting here typing this, I can look out my office window and see a gas station sign proclaiming that they will sell me a gallon of gas for the low, low price of $3.57 a gallon. Being the numbers geek that I am, I have a spreadsheet where I tracked gas prices (for budgeting purposes) over the last five or six years when I was commuting regularly. The lowest I’ve paid in that time frame was $1.45 per gallon at the end of 2008 and early in 2009. The most I paid was $3.94 a gallon in June of 2008.

So, what has the biggest impact on the cost of that gallon of gas you ask? Simply put, it is the cost of the barrel of oil from which the gas is refined. As of today, West Texas Intermediate crude oil is trading at $107.42 per barrel. There are 42 gallons in a barrel by the way, and I am also ignoring the price differences in the various grades of oil. It is my layperson’s understanding that a gallon of oil can be refined into approximately a gallon of gas with some other by products. So, for the purposes of this exercise, we will assume that there is a one to one oil to gas ratio. If that assumption is correct, a barrel of oil costing $100 translates into $2.38 towards the cost of that gallon of gas at the pump.

That’s just the cost of getting the oil out of the ground. You still have to transport the oil to the refinery, refine it, transport it to a retail location, market it, and pay your friendly, neighborhood gas station owner (not all or probably even a majority of stations are corporately owned). Oh, and let’s not forget the state and federal fingers in this pie.

The exact cost of refining is hard to pin down in a quick Google search, but one website I came across suggested that it accounts for 14% of the cost of a gallon of gas. This percentage fluctuates somewhat depending on refining capacity. You can pump all the oil in the world, and it won’t make much of a dent in the price of gas if there is no capacity to refine it. Supply and demand not only applies to the commodity itself but to the manufacturing process as well. Next time you want to get your blood boiling, take a look at when the last time it was that a new refinery was built in the United States. If I am not mistaken, it was 1976 (although one report indicates that a small refinery was built in Alaska in 1993). Environmentalists and government regulation have seen to it that new refineries don’t get built forcing companies to expand and refit existing refineries which hampers capacity quite a bit.

While we are on the subject of the government, you can thank them for another 13% or so (depending on where you live) towards the cost of your gallon of gas. The federal gas tax is 18.4 cents per gallon. State gas taxes vary from a low in Alaska of 8 cents a gallon to a high of 49.6 cents in Connecticut. Texas, where I live, falls in the middle/low end of the spectrum at 20 cents per gallon. The second lowest after Alaska is Wyoming at 14.5 cents a gallon. If you have a diesel, your federal fuel tax is 24.4 cents a gallon. I’m sure truckers everywhere appreciate that, and don’t think for a minute that cost doesn’t get passed along to you in hirer prices for manufactured goods and groceries.

Last, and least, is the combined cost of transport, distribution and marketing. That gallon of gas does not magically appear at your local station, and it is somewhat ironic that a small percentage of the cost of a gallon of gas is the cost of the diesel fuel it took to power the tanker truck to delivered the gas to the station from local storage tank farm.

The one person in this whole mess who is making the least off of this deal is the station owner. Generally, their mark up is between 3 and 10 cents a gallon. If you use a credit card which charges the retailer a percentage of the sale as a transaction fee, you’ve just cost him money not only on your sale but several others as well. That’s why most gas stations make most of their profits on cokes and candy.

Always at work in this process is the law of supply and demand. When the supply of oil exceeds demand, the commodity price generally falls and vice versa. Little things like Iran chest thumping in the Straits of Hormuz or Israel getting into it with anyone tends to make the oil investors skittish driving the price up a touch. A refinery explosion or a hurricane such as Katrina in 2005 that bullseyes a major petrochem area will significantly impact refining capacity which reduces the supply of the end product again impacting pricing in the same way that seasonal driving habits impact pricing through demand.

So, why do I bring this up? Have you listened to the presidential campaign rhetoric? Do any of you believe those horse thieves will be able to do ANYTHING about gas prices? Not bloody likely. Drill here, drill now is a great sound bite; but, without the refinery capacity to do something with it, it’s only hot air.

Now, pardon me while I go look at used car listings for a cheap, econ box to drive to work.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Is It Here Yet?

Before moving on to the post de jour, I have the pleasure of welcoming another follower. Family Best of the self titled blog decided there was something worthwhile here. Family Best, I don't have much to offer in the way of regular, thought provoking and insightful content, but I do do my best to answer all comments as possible. Welcome. Make yourself at home. 

As mentioned in the previous post, I've been sitting on a Spike's Tactical AR-15 lower receiver hoping upon hope that it will hatch into a full blown AR-15. No such luck. However, I received a nice email from Rock River Arms this morning letting me know that the lower parts kit I ordered left their warehouse on the big, brown truck of happiness. It is scheduled for delivery on Monday.

That sound you's just my foot tapping.

I ordered the kit with the ERGO pistol grip and a single stage trigger. After talking with several people and reading a lot of information online (ad infinitum), I wanted the two stage trigger. Unfortunately, it's on indefinite back order. Bummer. Rather than put on my frowny face (sorry...I've been listening to Despicable Me a LOT lately as it's usually playing on the Navigator's DVD player while The Queen is in the backseat with M&M), I decided a single stage trigger was better than no trigger. Besides, I can always buy a stand alone two stage replacement trigger kit for it later if the single stage frustrates me.

Look for more gun related content next week.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Who'd Have Thought...

My new company, like most companies these days, has a wellness committee whose stated purpose is to increase the awareness of employees on health issues and encourage us to make wiser choices regarding our health. In an effort to further that goal, the company bought every employee a pedometer to help us track how far we walk each day and the calories allegedly burned in the process.

Now, I'm not saying the things are worthless, but I did get a little suspicious when mine counted 20 steps just for me pulling my pants up in the men's restroom.