Recipe For Fellowship and Tacos de Africa

This article is all about recipes. Not just for food but for fun and for fellowship. It’s about the search for ingredients in a world of unsure availability. It’s about doing what you love with those you care about. It’s also about how even though no plan ever goes as planned, we still insist on making plans and will occasionally create a plan to make a plan. We even make plans for what to do when the initial plan fails. That’s like making a New Year’s resolution to make a certain-to-fail New Year’s resolution. This year I took another trip to South Africa. I explicitly did not plan it all out. I had a good (and tried and true) plan of what I wanted to do over 5 specific days where I would be expected to have a carefully timed plan ready but the plan I made also wasn’t inflexible so nearly any part of it could be pushed aside if needed without spoiling the whole thing. Plans and trying to stick rigidly to them are bad for just about anyone that might use one. Plans must be durable against reality in the way that crunchy tacos very specifically are not.

Having friends in South Africa gives one enough reason to go there. Having friends who like to hunt and shoot as much as you do and who also reside in South Africa means that it pulls on you somewhat vigorously.  The pull is not just a little fond perusing of memories that distracts your attention from your day job now and then. It’s more like a soul spaghetti-fying, ripping, tearing, shredding of your attention span that you might expect if sensations of nostalgia were induced by being alone, naked and really really close to a hungry lion of unknown temperament.

I went back for my second trip this summer and had yet another amazing experience full of friends old and new, hunting, shooting, grilling meat over flame and enjoying a general sense of fellowship that I don’t get in the states much. It is also where the night sky is at its absolute best. It’s not that the ingredients for any of those kinds of good times aren’t available here but it seems that here they’re mixed in the proper proportions much more rarely and when they are it often requires reservations. Where in Africa you just turn on the bush TV (braai), crack open a cold one of whatever you like and enjoy as side conversations flow in and out of a main direction of discussion while that main discussion ebbs and flows in volume and participation to its own more complex rhythm.

My latest trip occupied the bulk of August which is late winter in SA. I left on a Saturday and arrived on a Monday whilst spending 23 hours in the air and enduring a 7 hour layover in Zurich (Zurich airport is insanely clean, insanely boring and full of the least helpful and least friendly staff I have encountered anywhere). You should know that I cannot sleep on airplanes or in cars to save my life. So, when I landed it was extremely late Sunday night by my own body clock and I had woken up very early Saturday morning and then had not a single a wink of sleep since.

A braai (pronounced bry) is an absolute ton of meat grilled over an open fire. Typically includes things like boerworst, mutton chops and some form of game meat. This looks like a braai but is more city-fied than any self respecting South African Boer would ever allow. There’s sauce on meat… and meat on skewers. That’s simply not done. They usually do a rub of spices and you eat with your hands or a fork if you absolutely must use a utensil. Skewers? Ha!

 

A braai does not photograph well when done properly. There’s no ambient light at night in rural South Africa. It’s called the “dark continent” for a reason and it’s not describing the dominant the skin color. The bush TV (fire) is the only light source you’re likely to have in abundance and it’s busy charring meat. If you have the flash on your camera, you’ll hear a lot of argh’s and “knock that off” the first time you trigger it so you won’t and all your night time pictures will look like this.

Day 1 I arrived at O.R. Tambo airport in Johannesburg around 10am. Joburg isn’t very pretty from the air. Parts of it are quite interesting from the ground and other parts are places you simply do not go lest you find your day get overly interesting in a way you probably do not want it to. The freeway exits that get you to either option do not have the courtesy to tell you which option they’re taking you to. So it’s really best to have a guide. My guide (a friend actually) was/is a firearms and self-defense instructor who’d previously attended one of my long range rifle classes. A nicer and more welcoming or generous soul would be hard to find. He’s also a farmer and since he was spending a week with me in a different part of the country he decided to send his family to stay somewhere else other than the farm. The political situation on the ground being what it is this is a sensible move. Farm attacks are commonplace, with the attackers resorting to torture, rape, murder and all of the worst stuff humans can do to each other pretty much right out of the gate. Not even the courtesy to ramp things up or just kill people. Nope, they have to torture them too because, who knows. In any event, it’s a lot more stable there than you might pick up in the media or even in my writings. It’s so stable that you can find a bag of chips like those below at any gas and sip and it doesn’t matter who you are when you buy them, they’ll still sell them to you. Nobody riots over the chips. In the USA (P)Antifa would have the building that sold them burned down in minutes and the owners sent off to concentration camps.

You just could not pull this kind of shit in the USA without endless cries of racism by caricature.

 

However, they are locally made by Pepsico to be acceptable to not only the South African palette but also to the South African mental attitude so any the cries of racism there to do with chips fall on deaf ears. For what its worth, they are sweet and salty and crunchy and not all that bad.

A side note about the situation on the ground: In post-apartheid South Africa there’s a new racism which, if possible, is even stupider than you might think and vastly less helpful than the last version. Racism goes the normal way now with the majority black population taking on tones and rhetoric that even the most venomous KKK rally speakers don’t have the stones to approach. Actually, I suspect that black on white racism is how it’s always been there and certain widely hated policies like apartheid may have been logical seeming responses (at the time) to a bizarre reality. Certainly most people there do not seem to want their lives to improve. In fact, if you look at the behavior of the majority in South Africa you could be excused for starting to think that they want their lives to become more difficult if you base your assessment strictly on their actions. If you think that sounds racist, go there and take an honest look around without making excuses for people’s behavior and instead simply observe it and then tell me what you think. Walk around a small town like any town a bit, you’ll see. What you might expect of the country is what Google images shows:

Google Images for “South Africa”: Map, destruction, destruction, ad, destruction, map, destruction, flag, destruction, map, protest, protest, ad, map, destruction, destruction, armed rioters on the way to destruction, city scape, destruction. A you sensing a dominant theme here?

What you actually get is something that actually resembles San Diego a great deal in weather, topography and flora, and which closely resembles Baltimore in almost every other way right down to the failed liberal policies that precipitate massive humanitarian catastrophes and economic collapses whilst never learning from past mistakes. South Africa is a microcosm of all of worst that a democratically elected representative government is capable of. It also shows that the government you have is usually a good approximation of the government that the people electing it might want, at least on a statistical level. So congratulations South Africa, you got what you wanted. I hope it hurts so that we can still say, “Stupidity hurts doesn’t it?”.

An extremist, other-izing and overtly racist government which forces bad policies on the people. These bad policies are simple gimme-gimme socialism and are supported by liberals worldwide who have no idea what the reality of South Africa is. Those policies have brought internal discord to new levels of rancor while contributing greatly to corruption with restultant infrastructure decay and social disharmony. All of this has lead to murders of white farmers being celebrated by popular politicians in public speeches and encouraged. It’s not like the place is on fire or that everyone is attacking everyone else. It’s more like a growing internal level of stupidity having predictable cumulative effects. As long as you stay to the areas that don’t look like they were built by syphilitic idiots you’ll probably be ok. Also stay out of places that are crammed full of people. People are bad in large groups which is why I don’t like them that way anywhere.

Farms in South Africa are almost entirely white owned for a host of reasons. The dominant (and entirely black populated) political parties blame white farmers for every reality the South African society and government (as well as foreign powers sticking their noses in for their own reasons) has brought upon itself and they vocally encourage militant aggressive action and they do it with vile and hate filled rhetoric for which they never seem to take a rebuking. That’s just not good for a society, especially mixed society. It’s mixed in a weird way too. ~4% of the population is white and by-in-large the minority are the ones paying taxes and obeying laws. The minority doesn’t have a choice but to play by the rules. It’s very bad for a white person to go to jail there. Like the worst kind of bad you could think of. It’s also bad to have an encounter of any kind with the police. The great majority are certainly not on anyone’s side but their own and corruption is standard practice. The racial majority of the population more or less appears to have the option to do things legally. They seem to ignore the laws entirely and do whatever the hell they want when they want. The authorities almost totally ignore them because even if they didn’t ignore them, the arrest would merely cost money from the state and only pauses the committing of crimes by 1 person. Anyway since no fines, much less bribes, would ever be paid anyway they seem to think, “Why bother?”. If you do have an encounter with the police there it’s more likely than not that the “fine” you may be asked to pay is actually a “bribe”.  Law and order has little meaning in South Africa unless you’re in the minority, then it means everything.

Back to the main story… So, we met up with another friend whom I’d hunted with last year who I’ll call Jack since it’s easier to spell than his actual name. Anyway, he and I hanged around the airport chugging cappuccinos and scarfing down iffy burgers for a few hours while my farmer friend dealt with the hassles of getting 3 small children and a wife onto an airplane. That took 3 hours thanks to inane and recent policy changes by an individual airline. Those matters dealt with my farmer friend and I made off for a little drive to a local gun shop and then a grocery store where I expected to be able to find things like chili powder, tortillas and the like. I wanted those things because I live in California where we make the best tacos in the world, which are minted by the millions daily. I wanted therefore to make tacos for my friends in SA and maybe teach them how to make them properly. One fast food joint I never saw was a Taco Bell. I was so so so wrong about ingredient availability and while it’s a very funny story, it’ll take a bit to explain so we’ll come to the taco story in a bit.

After the grocery and gun shop tour it was several hours of driving to the farm and where we mixed bourbon, beer and cigarettes in injudicious proportions before a quick dinner of meat with a side dish of some more meat and I think some kind of potato. After the bourbon bottle got satisfyingly low we finally we made it to our respective rooms somewhere around 11pm. I woke in the morning pretty well adjusted to the sleep schedule by virtue of not having slept at all in something around 50 hours and thus having slept very soundly except for the epic nightmares that plague me whenever I travel and the headache when I came to. I was only slightly hung over. That’s kind of how the next couple days went in general. Busy bees during daylight and busy boozers during the night time hours. So, day 2-4 are necessarily something of a blur except that for at least one of those days and possibly 2 we hunted pretty hard. It was also partly a blur because I was still unsure of what day it actually was and partly because I didn’t care what day it was and fully planned not to for at least 17 more days. My heart just wasn’t in “tracking time mode”.

Upon setting out on the hunt it was expected that my friend the farmer would be able to find the desired zebra herd quickly and we’d take one of those within an hour and then spend all day tromping around looking for an eland and then finish out the day if there was any of it left with an easy to find warthog. HA! Surely no plan ever survives first contact with the enemy and this was no exception. In short: zebra were almost impossible to find, eland were standing right there waiting for us and despite warthog presenting themselves at 100m distance all day long while we were walking, we passed on every opportunity up until the last minute because, well we’re prone to that sort of decision making.

We had walked literally less than 5 minutes out of the main house and come around a corner where there’s a very large eland standing there looking delicious not even 50 yards from me. My farmer friend was looking another way and I was the first to see the eland. I said, “Eland!” and hurriedly pointed. As my friend turned to see it I quietly deployed the bipod on the .375 Ruger chambered rifle and got very quietly prone, dialed back to minimum magnification and as quietly as I could jacked a round in. The eland didn’t seem to mind any of those things to any great degree but was clearly starting to get nervous. Just as it moved one front hoof a few inches off the ground I put a 250 grain monometal bullet made in SA into its left shoulder. That shattered the shoulder and blew a large hole in the lungs and some vitally important large blood vessels. The bullet went through to the other side and broke the off-side shoulder before halting in some shoulder meat below the skin. The eland took two collapsing steps into the bush and fell on its face. It didn’t seem very conscious as we approached. It was definitely going to be all the way dead any minute but we; being merciful humans, elected to put a .308 in the head to bring about a quick end to any suffering that might ensue. That eland was meat for a neighbor and so went meat, horns and hide to them directly but, I got a picture. I’m used to boy critters having horns/antlers and the girls not having them. Eland don’t play that game. This is a female eland. The horns of the female tend to be longer and more slender compared to a bull’s horns. Still it was a beast weighing something around 1000lbs on the hoof. It took 6 men to get it onto the tractor’s platform.

A happy hunter with his quarry. Look at that suppressor. It’s like an axle over an otherwise thin barrel. Recoil was nothing and it’s surprisingly quiet even with full power loads.

We then walked all bloody day looking for the zebra herd but it was nowhere to be found. Gone like a fart in the wind. We headed back for lunch and cold fluids before going out again to another herd of zebra that was less difficult to find but challenging to stalk into. There were only 3 of those monometal 250gr pills left and they were loaded in ammo that had for some reason been set aside. We quickly found out why they were set aside. The first shot on the eland was only 50m if that and hit right where I aimed. By the time we’d stalked in on the zebra we could only get to 184m which is a dead on 200 yards. I proned out and aimed carefully with the zebra facing me and the shot hit about a foot low of where it should have. WTF! It clearly hit the zebra as there was a nasty hole in its side just behind the liver but it wasn’t bleeding heavily and I couldn’t see the entry wound. We needed to follow that shot up and put it down before it suffered much. I tried jacking the final round into the chamber but it was out of dimensional spec somewhere and jammed so hard I couldn’t open or close the bolt. I set that rifle aside and grabbed the .308 by friend was carrying and as soon as the zebra turned its side to me I put the crosshairs just behind the shoulder bones and let fly. That shot hit about 9 inches right which put it too in the bloody liver. There was no wind to speak of and I’m a pretty good shot who doesn’t get buck fever (or pony fever) but I chalked it up to a bad shot on my part anyway. That shot didn’t help at all and now the zebra faced away from us for a good 20 minutes. As soon as it gave me a side profile of the neck I lined up on the ear and put the final shot in which hit about 8 inches rearward of where I’d planed on it hitting but it snapped its neck and blew the big blood vessels apart so the pony curled up its toes and joined the choir invisible directly. My farmer friend had been wanting a zebra skin so he got the skin (hey, it’s his animal after all) and we took the meat to a processing plant where I gather that they make salami out of it and I got a picture and a once in a lifetime experience. If I want a zebra skin, they’re cheap and plentiful at Cost Plus or over the intarwebs.

One hard fought for zebra and one happy hunter.

After the Zebra we went out for warthog. I did manage to shoot one and it was gunna die any minute after I shot it but as warthog are wont to do, it promptly ran and dove into a hole from which it simply refused to be dislodged. We were disinclined to harass a mortally wounded warthog (it was pouring blood from an artery hit but was still pretty vocal and thrashing). So we elected to leave it be for the moment and have the workers dig it out in the morning after it’d had a little bit to die in peace, whereupon the workers would parcel out the meat and share it amongst themselves. For our part, we’d be hitting the road very early in the morning anyway so I didn’t get a chance for a picture. Sigh. The best laid plans of mice.

On the road we had a good long 8 hour drive ahead of us and only suffered one catastrophic failure on the way. Our trailer blew a wheel bearing and a tire and all we had was a spare tire. We had to use beer and soda and flecks of ice to keep the tire from overheating every 500m or so as it rubbed on the trailer chassis. We got to a little turd of a town and found a mechanic who could and would replace the wheel bearing and after another horrid South African cheeseburger (seriously, they cannot make a burger to save 10,000 lives anywhere in the whole country) we got back on the road arriving in the Karoo just about at sundown on Friday. This was handy as my friends place the sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday and observe it rather strictly. We rested until sundown the next day and then Sunday a whole bunch of people arrived and we did some long range shooting for the next 5 days. We had endless fun characterizing guns and then doing drills to work on speed and accuracy and then experimented with different ways of dealing with wind and generally had a great time. That culminated in 3 of us, me included, attempting to and subsequently putting hits on a man size steel target at 1-mile. I made the shot with a .50BMG Steyr with A-Max’s after 1 shot to get the drop sorted and another to get the wind sorted. Another shooter made it with a 6.5CM from his RPR (we had to walk that in a bit). The last guy made it with 655gr South African ball .50BMG ammo from the same Steyr I was shooting. The Sus-Tec suppressor on the Steyr really tamed the recoil and cut the blast to levels that were, if not totally ear safe, at least not super uncomfortable. I still wore plugs because I only have 25% of my hearing left and I’m stingy about giving up any more of it. I should note that I generally detest firing .50BMG’s but that Sus-Tec suppressor on that Steyr made it about as not-unpleasant as such a thing can be.

The chronicler behind the Steyr .50BMG bolt action mag fed, without the mag in. The thing is a beast and I made a hit at a mile with it against a man size steel silhouette target.

.50BMG Accuracy International with S&B PMII. Damn it’s loud.

Fire team, engage!

Shade in the African sun. So sweet. Thanks Jean!

After a week of long range plinking and general good times, it was time to hunt. This time we were going for my kudu. Another friend who I call Kudu van Klipspringer (because of his habit of literally running up and down mountains that would have olympians panting and spitting) owns this farm and they’d sort of set one of the kudu bulls aside for me. If anyone else spotted it they’d say, “No that’s meccastreisand’s bull.” It was a very old bull that had done its thing and now was just fighting with other bulls and not reproducing much. Its teeth were worn down and due to the drought it was getting pretty skinny in addition to its hide looking a bit ratty with numerous bare patches. In short, it was time to pull the guy from the herd and put it in the freezer. It would not make it through the next winter and it wouldn’t make it through the current one (our summer is their winter) if I had anything to say about it. I did have something to say about it as it happens.

We stalked in over fairly rugged country for a good 3 hours before taking position in some bushes on the edge of a rock outcropping that had solid views of the 2 hills that they seemed to like to use as bridges between feeding areas. No sooner had we tucked in to the bushes and proned out did we see the first set of 15-20 kudu cows coming around the ridge towing a couple nice middle-age bulls with them. While my friend is inspecting those ANOTHER herd of 15 or so comes around with a very grey, and very clearly old bull with nice curling horns strolling in the middle of the pack. It was over 400m away at that point and my buddy and I got our wires crossed and I pitched the shot just over its back. We were crushed but I cranked that bolt handle and got back on target just in time for it to crawl into a bush for a quick nap.

The shot sent the cows and calves trotting off but not truly spooked. The bull crawled into a bush and just laid there having a snooze. We went to, let’s say, interestingly outrageous methods to try to get the bugger to stand up which it eventually did… inside the bush. It just didn’t want to leave the bush. So, lacking a perfect shot I lined up for at least an effective shot at now 375m, held for wind by 1.5mils and took the shot. We thought the kudu was facing us inside that bush but it turned out that only its head was facing us and the “shoulder” I shot was actually front end of the thigh but, the hit was such that it didn’t really destroy any meat. Instead it went through the rumen, then through the liver, through the diaphragm and then through one lung and all kinds of important large blood vessels before coming to rest in a muscle that sits on the underside of the spine between the shoulders. The bullet jacket separated on the 225gr Hornady SST after about 18 inches of penetration which SST’s have shown a habit of doing for me. Otherwise bullet performance is fully acceptable and penetration was almost 1 meter. The beastie sure felt that hit and tried to run but only took 2 steps before hosing blood from the nose and crumpling up.

The author in his shooting hide peering at the kudu that wouldn’t get out of the bush for over an hour. That was a neck ache like you can’t believe. At times there were kudu within 30 feet of me that couldn’t figure out where I was, some didn’t have any idea I was there at all. Rifle is a Howa 1500 in .338WM with an IOR Recon scope on it.
This shot was taken from the shooting location while we were waiting for the kudu to leave the bush. That white spot below the arrow, that’s him sitting under that bush being all relaxed and patient. What a jerk!
This shot shows the firing position from exactly where the kudu was resting where I eventually shot him. I am pretty sure that it never even knew we were there.
The author, left, and KVK, right with the authors brand new kudu. That rack is really going to piss my wife off when I put it on the wall.
One kudu noggin. This will definitely go on my wall as a European mount.

We did a little more tromping around the bush but at that point it was really time to get back to farm life so we put the guns away and did farm work for a few days. We sorted sheep, we made my kudu into driewors, we handled some building construction details. General farm work which I actually like. It’s not like computer work. When you’re done with computer work you can’t see anything different in the real world, at least if you did it right. Driewors? What’s that? Well, it is a kind of traditional South African boer (farmer) sausage with coriander, clove, salt, pepper, garlic and mutton meat and fat mixed in which is then hanged for weeks to dry. It’s a bit like a really fat Slim Jim with more texture to the meat and with an entirely different spice pack which is largely clove and coriander. It tastes like Christmas if you’re an Amercan.

Each year I set up my vacation time to spend a week longer in South Africa than I think I’ll need in order to get everything on the itinerary done. Every year I find I’m short about 5 days. The first year I did 2 weeks which was way too little to even get over jet lag. This year I did 3 weeks which was way too little to actually relax properly. Next year I have a lot more planned and so I’ve got a month set aside which will of course be entirely too little. Eventually I’ll have to move there just so I can get all the things I want to do while on vacation there done. I’ve actually given some serious thought to that and will continue to do so. It’s not for everyone but being an expat in South Africa is actually pretty common and not a bad way to go if you start out in an industrialized western European country or north American country that’s not Mexico. Your money goes a lot further there, largely because their economy sucks and has little hope of improving under the current system of government.

Of course who can visit South Africa without picking up some souvenirs? Not me and certainly not with my friends in the mix. One of them hooked me up with a Triggercam. This is super cool. It’s a camera that goes on your scope but doesn’t interfere with the normal operation of the scope and it records full motion HD video and sound. It’s really quite brilliant. Invented in South Africa and initially distributed only there, I’m showing it on in the USA and I think that that will cause them to revise their FAQ about where they will and will not ship to. They run about $500 but it’s really worth it if you need to make videos showing what’s going on in the optic and don’t want the hassle and poor usability of a phone-scope dealie (which suck by the way). It has wifi so you can connect your phone to its network and get live video streamed to your phone while you record video. It even fits my US Optics SN3’s which have a massive occular bell and it looks like it’ll go slightly larger than even that which I guess helps if you want to look down an actual wine barrel. For professional hunters this is liquid gold. They can see what their clients see and help to make them more successful and safer. For Americans, we like to show people all of our shit so we can humble-brag about it and especially we like to do that with video. What better humble-brag engine than cherry picked video taken from a $500 scope camera instead of some janky phone-scope adapter that just makes shooting harder anyway.

In addition to the Triggercam, I also picked up a new chassis stock. This has some cool features that I don’t want to discuss here until the intellectual property stuff is dealt with but it has features that no other chassis anywhere in the world has, it’s made of 7075 aluminum (much stronger than the 6061 that most chassis stocks are made of) and it’s cheaper than its competitors. Better materials, innovative features, ultra precision machining, lower price, cleaner lines. That’s what you call a better mousetrap. It’s got the obvious adjustable length of pull and adjustable cheek-rest height and adjustable butt pad height but none of those are innovative. The other thing that I’m keeping secret for now, that’s innovative. If you want one of these they’re $900 as an introductory price and they are made to fit Howa 1500 short actions. We’ll be adding Savage and Remington and Tikka actions and long and short action length options to the line as quickly as possible.

Finally, I brought home my trophies from Africa from last year. My eland (center) and my springbok (right) now share a wall with my 5×5 blacktail deer rack. The springbok skin is now draped elegantly over the back of my sofa and is not pictured. The size of that eland skull really gives some idea of the initial size of the animal.  I plan to put the kudu skull up in a European mount below the eland so the horns come up on either side of the eland skull. There’s no other way it’ll fit. The horns are almost a meter long and with the skull it’s going to be well over a meter tall.

The authors living room wall with the big game trophies that have the honor of being placed there. From left to right: A 5×5-point plus eye guards blacktail rack, eland and a springbok. The springbok skin is not shown.
The eland skull above came from this bad boy which I harvested last year.

Now for the taco story. I had planned on making proper tacos for everyone in SA. The least I could do since they showed me all around their cuisine, several items of which are life changers. We stopped at a grocery store in Pretoria looking just for tortillas or even just flatbread and a few simple spices. No dice on that and especially no dice on the spices I needed, particularly chili powder. They have a thing they call peri-peri but if you don’t know what’s inside the package it might surprise you as to the level of spiciness or lack thereof. White South Africa is not a spicy food loving people from what I can see. Salt and pepper usually do them just right. So, we went to a grocery store in Bloomfontein. No dice there either. They had though thing I needed to buy in high quality and low quantity and right then: ground beef. I got a kilogram of ground beef which they call “mince”. I don’t like verbs being used for nouns so I called it ground beef or hamburger and translated each time I used the terms to anyone.

I also tried a grocery store in Edenburg. Well, if you can call it that. It had literally: piles of orange Fanta, 2 bags of wheat flour, a can of something illegible, a bunch of bags of cornmeal and some sad looking sandwiches which I hope to hell were for display only. It was also where I’d purchased the two singularly most hideous cheeseburgers I think I’ve ever stuck in my face hole. I think it’s to do with Dutch Calvinism… you can’t be a Dutch Calvinist and enjoy a truly good hamburger. At least that’s how it seems but, I digress. That grocery didn’t even have bread that was not already devoted to vomit inducing sandwiches and burgers so we decided to sally forth and forsake the orange Fanta and corn meal.

Finally we come to a little town called Willowmore where I have been before (it’s home to a coffee shop called Sophie’s Choice) and there was some kind of cycling competition in town that weekend meaning there were 50,000 brandy sozzled people in sun hats in town instead of the more normal <1000 people not in hats of any kind. I don’t like crowds. Crowds in Africa are a fantastic way for you to find out how bad of a day you can really have. I really don’t like crowds of pasty drunks in sun hats. Crowds in Africa give me a special kind of the heebie jeebies. Mix all three liberally together and I’m looking for an exit sign.

So as we dodged traffic and traded off leaving one person in the pickup whilst the other gathered supplies, I finally found my way in to the 3rd of the 3 grocery stores after the first two were beyond completely hopeless. Again, grocery store is a misleading term for Americans to see here. It implies certain levels of variety and availability which simply do not exist anywhere in Africa much less in Podunkville in the province of “Other”. Wouldn’t you know it, not only did I find 4 packages of crunchy taco shells with a convincingly Mexican sounding brand name but right bloody next to them was 4 packages of “Taco Seasoning” by the same vaguely Mexican sounding company. All I needed now was jalapenos, right. Ha! I hate jalapeños. What I needed was sour cream, shredded cheese, ripe avocados, ripe tomato, lime and shredded lettuce. I managed to source all but the lettuce from KVK’s wife and I eschewed the jalapeños because they’re disgusting. Besides, if folks there are skeered of a little spice packet such that anything outside salt and pepper is considered spicy, they’ll get downright negative about jalapeño peppers even in cooked form. The tacos were a 100% hit. KVK’s eldest daughter actually danced while eating them. Her siblings were equally as excited but a great deal less dancy about it. I made sure that my host’s family got first serving before telling the guy about it. Just to make sure they got some. The whole group of guys then piled in and trepidatiously tried what they came to find out was the food of the gods. I know it’s mean to introduce people to something delicious that they simply cannot even fabricate in their country due to lacking availability of ingredients. I really do. I also love the idea that one day each of those people will come visit me here in California and the first question they ask will be, “Is there anywhere good to get tacos around here?” to which I’ll be able to respond, “Well, it’s funny you should ask. I think the answer would be ‘literally anywhere’. Even Chinese food restaurants here have good tacos these days.” But I won’t take them out for tacos. We’ll drive the hour and a half to my place and then spend an hour making tacos. Crunchy tacos, soft tacos, corn flour tortilla tacos, wheat flour tortilla tacos, tacos al’ carbon, tacos guisado, tacos de carnitas, tacos de carne asada, tacos de pescado, tacos de lengua, tacos al pastor and of course, the magical Choco Taco.

Tacos al Meccastreisand in South Africa of all damned places. These were a huge hit and why would they not be. Tacos are the perfect food. Teaching South Africans that they need to tilt their head to eat these did not help make any sense of it.

Recipe for Tacos de Africa:

Find taco shells in Africa (One of 3 grocery stores in Willowmore, Western Cape, South Africa has these normally in stock.).

Find taco seasoning in Africa.

Find pico de gallo in Africa (this is optional because it’s actually impossible.).

Find ground beef in Africa.

Prepare as directed.

Place a large table spoon of prepared and seasoned taco meat into the bottom of a warmed taco shell. Add a sprinkle of shredded cheese. Just a sprinkle, a lot does not help. Add a dollop of pico de gallo. Then a dollop of sour cream. Then add a dollop of guacamole. Then top with a spoonful of chopped tomato.

WARNING: Lettuce has no place on a taco. If you put some on one then you are at fault for how it turns out. Also, you’ll burn in heck. Heck, I say.

Best Car Dealer Ever – Also Screw Ford Motor Company

Man I wish I needed a new Bible.

But you know, you can’t have or do anything nice or someone will shit all over you for it. Look no further than Ford (of fucker only runs downhill fame) to find the assholes that don’t like freedom or constitutionally protected rights.

https://www.liveleak.com/view?t=k8GW0_1561666222

Copper Remover Thrash: Modern Spartan Systems vs. Sweet’s 7.62 vs. Wipe-Out

The motivation here was to test Modern Spartan Systems line of gun cleaning kit against established known quantities with proven performance. Their promise of no foul smell, lack of toxicity and some of the other claims they made caused me to get curious enough to do a Pepsi challenge for their whole cleaning system. This includes Accuracy Oil; which claims to increase velocity & cut group size & extend barrel life. It also includes their Carbon Destroyer and Copper/Lead Destroyer and their Carbon Destroyer.

I’ve already started long term testing of their Accuracy Oil’s claims at longer barrel life and improvements in velocity, group size and consistency. Those experiments are continuing and I’ve built an impressive data set so far with more coming in every week. In the meantime, the fundamental ability of the fouling removal products to perform like they say it will had not yet been established by any kind of usefully conducted experiment I could find. So, I’m doing it. I’ve already put the Carbon Destroyer up to the Pepsi challenge and it flat works. It’s pleasant enough to use and worked like a charm on everything from revolvers to pistols to high power modern rifles to black powder cartridge rifles. The way it worked on our set of Trapdoor Springfields was terrific. What about the big one though…COPPER!?! Let’s git’er done.

I’ve got enough barrels around with sufficient fouling, including some I’m entirely willing to destroy, to give a good test of effectiveness and side-effects. In the spirit of experimentation I set up the first round of testing with 3 barrels:

  • Stock Glock 21 barrel. 1000’s of rounds since being cleaned.
  • Savage 10 .308 24″ heavy barrel, >500 rounds since cleaning.
  • Black Hole Weapons 26″ .223 barrel > 200 rounds since cleaning.

Cliff’s Notes: In short, MSS’s Copper/Lead Destroyer is very effective. Zero question about that.

More detailed findings and experimental procedure:
C/L-D not as strong as Sweet’s by a mile nor is it as strong as Wipe-Out as a copper remover but it’s a lot more pleasant to use than Sweet’s and less messy than Wipe-Out. This is about removing copper and copper fouling is hard to remove well without damaging the barrel steel. You either get mechanical action which is by definition damaging to the bore or you get chemical action which may be damaging to the bore. Bore damage can be dependent on the length of time of exposure to chemical agents and some of them are really nasty for everyone involved.

To start I took a G21 barrel that had been belled just in front of the chamber by a squib. It had previously had Carbon Destroyer run through it and then was soaked overnight (26 hours) in Copper/Lead Destroyer, hosed out and stored. I ran some Wipe-Out into it and gave it 15 minutes to soak and pushed a patch through. Zero color change on the patch. Then I ran some Sweet’s in it and let that soak for 5 minutes and pushed a patch through. Zero color change on the patch.

Ok, that’s the null result I was expecting. The barrel was clearly clean of copper to begin with but you don’t know the state of fouling before the 26 hour soak. Could have been a lot, could have been a little, could have been none for all you know, right?

Now to find the more interesting results. I took a factory Savage .308 Win barrel that I’d abused and not cleaned in literally years. It had at least a couple hundred rounds put through it before it got yanked and set aside. I started by running patch of Sweet’s through the barrel without running a brush through it, hoping that the carbon that stayed behind would protect some of the copper from the Sweet’s to serve as an indicator later. It came out with gooey gobs of blue on the patch with no soak at all, just applied and patched out. I immediately took the barrel outside and hosed it out for a solid couple minutes to keep the Sweet’s from finishing the job. I plugged the breech with a .45acp case and filled the bore with Copper/Lead Destroyer and gave it 2 hours to soak. After the soak I ran a patch through it a couple times (remember, no color change on the patches, C/L-D doesn’t do that) and then went and hosed it out. Now I needed to see if there was any copper still in there so I took the Wipe-Out and ran that in the barrel and gave it a 20 minute soak. After pushing a patch through what I found were traces of blue streaking on the patch and plenty of black and brown. Not much blue but enough to tell me that the carbon was in fact protecting the copper. There wasn’t enough copper coming out to make a good finish up to the experiment on that barrel so I reset the experiment by virtue of moving on to the .223 barrel.

The .223 barrel started with at least 200 rounds since the last even partial cleaning so it got a thorough carbon removal with Carbon Destroyer. When patches wrapped around a bore brush came out without any black or brown on them, I called that done. I put a fired case in the breech, closed the bolt and then filled the bore with Copper/Lead Destroyer and let it soak for 2 hours. Then I pushed a pair of patches through which came out not much different than they went in. Now to see if the C/L-D worked I ran a patch of sweet’s down the bore, gave it a solid 3 minutes to soak and pushed another patch though looking for color change and got NONE AT ALL. That was a null result I did not honestly expect. I expected to find some copper remaining, I mean Sweet’s is as aggressive as it gets. But no.

What’s that all mean? Leave the Copper/Lead Destroyer to soak a while and it works as thoroughly as Sweet’s or Wipe-Out. I really like using C/L-D way more than Sweet’s. I can’t even stand opening the bottle on that cat piss smelling Sweet’s. I actually really like Wipe-Out too and will continue to use it at the range because it’s super easy to deal with there. At home though, I think I’ve found my new cleaning product suite. All the chemicals I need are now finally not unpleasant.

Modern Spartan Systems – Copper/Lead Destroyer: No bad smell. A detergent-y smell similar to cold bluing solution is what it reminds me of most. The directions say you can leave in barrel safely for many hours, even overnight. I left it in a G21 barrel for 26 hours with no adverse affect noted. MUST use a carbon solvent prior to applying for it to be properly effective. Modern Spartan’s carbon remover works great. Getting C/L-D to stay wet in the barrel was another story. It dried quickly in my low humidity area. I eventually stuffed a fired case in the breech, stood the barrel up and filled the bore on rifles. On pistols it was easier to soak a narrow strip of paper towel in it and thread that down the bore and let it sit that way overnight. Directions say 3-5 minutes of soak. I got best results on heavy fouling after 2 hours. No color change on the patch so it’s a little hard to “know” when you’re done.

Wipe-Out: It’s got a smell but nothing like Sweet’s. Can leave in barrel overnight, no ammonia. It’s a foam that expands so some will end up in your action and it’ll probably drip out of the muzzle so, a little messy to use. Patch’s change color to blue if copper is present. Works on carbon and copper. Usually 15 minutes is more than sufficient as a soak time.

Sweet’s 7.62: Super strong ammonia smell. Do not leave in barrel longer than necessary, clean residue off skin and gun thoroughly immediately after use. Known to be hard on steel. Must use carbon remover prior for full effectiveness.

I have video and all that jazz but it’s not very interesting TV. It’s just me slowly, methodically and painfully boringly working out the surprisingly obvious. On the upside, MSS’s stuff works like a dream so far. I can officially endorse the Copper and Lead Destroyer and the Carbon Destroyer because I have proven beyond any doubt that they work as advertised.

Now about that Accuracy Oil….

ExactShooting.com Custom Sizing Die – Experiment #1 Results

So we have initial results. I’d like to thank you all for the views on my video.

We will be testing this die set more over the next year. This is out of my pocket and out of my own curiosity. I have the credit card bills and had the arguments with my wife to show for it. I must caution, because of some things people seem to have in their heads, that this isn’t ever going to make a 1″ gun into a .5″ gun. Anyone suggesting such a thing is either a fool or a liar. What you should be expecting is to reduce variability in your ammo which reduces things like flyers & SD’s. Effects on group size, maybe small ones should be expected as a normal effect of better consistency but because barrel harmonics are involved there so heavily it’s best to keep your hopes in check and out of the land of silliness.

I set up a partially blinded experiment with unfired, 2x fired and >5x fired cases. We (Coach and I) sized up 50rds of each from my Exact die and 50 of each from Coach’s Redding die and tested that in Coach’s rifle. Coach’s rifle has somewhere over 1900rds down the pipe now which is a concern as you’ll see soon. We set the ammo up identically in everything from components to neck tension. We ran 10 shot groups which were composed of 2 non-consecutive 5-shot groups fired at the same aim point. Coach loaded, packed and labelled the ammo boxes (labels are “1” and “2”) and didn’t tell me till after the shooting was done which was which. I pulled the rounds from the boxes, logged data and called the target to engage while coach did the shooting. That way neither of us knew during shooting which ammo was being fired at any given time. That was the best way I could think of for me to pull out experimenter induced bias with a research team of 2.

The result of the first accuracy test was null. That is to say that the numbers difference in average group size was not outside the level of statistical noise. The exception was with brand new brass. It always shot more consistently than reloaded brass and so I removed those results from the full data set due to the noise they introduced. We also weren’t meant to be testing new brass as that would not apply anyway but I wanted that data for another experiment I’ve been running. This is all precisely what was expected. I expected no big result (but certainly hoped for one) in accuracy simply by going to full length resizing and having extremely consistent neck tension and headspace.

Because the result is null though, we’ll re-run the experiment on that rifle just before we replace the barrel, just to verify the results reproduce reliably. We also did some velocity testing as part of that and there was no statistical change in average velocities or SD’s except that in the new brass loads but it was more consistent set to set. Why pull the barrel? The rifle used for that run of the experiment now has ~1900 rounds through it in 6XC with a single load spec (38.5gr H4350, F210M, Norma brass, 115gr HBN coated DTAC). The load is mild; generating only 2800fps, but we know that that barrel is within a few hundred of being pulled on principle; if not actual need, as far as match work goes and it may not be capable of the repeatable accuracy that might show up with the Exact die. So, we’ll try another barrel. A new one. Actually, a new two! So stay tuned, there’s more to come.

In September I purchased 2x new barrels which I got as blanks from the same production run (from Black Hole Weapons). I purchased a new custom reamer in 6XC that produces a chamber that is very tight to the dimensions of the Exact die. Thankfully you can order a reamer with any number of customizations and it’s still the same price as a custom reamer with just 1 custom dimension. Unfortunately it takes weeks for such a reamer to be made. Over the winter I handed the whole works over to a gunsmith friend of mine that also makes ultra-precise gauges as a business. So, he has the equipment and skills to set up barrels that are truly as identical as we could make them and identical enough for a useful experiment to come out of it despite a sample size that’s extremely small.

Anyway, I got both barrels cut, profiled and chambered identically. It was at great cost too. The cost to set each one up was double what I normally pay him to set up a barrel for me for each barrel with over 15 hours of work on each one. These are our new match barrels for the next 2 seasons too. Coach and I will be shooting from the same ammo box so we can share data. Maybe we’ll pick up a few points on same-day wind calls.

We did have a non-null result and from a different direction, which I also predicted. That was that with loads that were sized with my ExactShooting.com die we never had trouble closing the bolt. It was, in fact, always exactly the same effort. On the cases that we sized on the Redding neck die that Coach uses bolt close effort was either not much or a TON. Some post-facto testing later on with coach’s FL die showed the same random bolt close effort. This is obviously due to random headspacing which means that Coach’s FL die probably needs a thou or two buzzed off the bottom. Irrelevant though because we’re testing what’s available out of the box and his FL die out of the box didn’t cut it so I suspect that a lot of FL dies out there may be a little long or short and aren’t sizing things like people think they are.

That is only the results from a well used barrel. We will be running this exact same test using the 2 newly set up barrels. One will be on the same gun (Coach’s match rifle) while its twin which now has just under 400 rounds on it is on a different my “Hot Dog Gun” match rifle. I don’t expect any difference but I could wind up being surprised. The new barrel on Hot Dog Gun is extremely accurate so far, better than Coach’s rifle on its first day. We’ve already developed a load for the new barrel that runs things a bit faster (2980fps) so hopefully with more pressure more differences might start to manifest.

One of the cool things about the ES die is you can pull the body/shoulder portion out and still use the neck sizing portion which itself is easily adjustable for neck tension and neck sizing depth. When you start getting hard bolt close you can dial in .0005″ or .001″ or .0015″ or whatever amount of push-back on the shoulder with an easy click adjustment and know it’ll give that to you exactly. We’ll be running a neck tension accuracy test here real soon. We’ll see if .0005″ increments makes real differences on paper. First though, I’m ordering some brand new brass for that test.

Cost is fairly high for these dies but not unprecedented. That’s true but, beside the point. If you have the money then that’s not an issue anyway. Functionality is THE issue. It’s perfectly functional and makes it super easy to dial in neck tension at .0005″ increments for those really finicky loads, to dial neck sizing depth at .020″ increments and to dial how far back you actually push your shoulders in .0005″ increments. They’ll make one to a reamer print too. How precise are the dies? Well I had my machinist do some gauging to see if they were that precise and he was pretty darned impressed.

For benchrest guys and F-class guys, I think this is really packing the potential to up their game a bit but only because those guys tend toward having done everything else already. BR and F-class are the only places I can think of of offhand where neck tension and headspacing are tightly controlled by the shooters both routinely and with an obsession rarely seen.

Is it going to help joe sixpack? Well no, to be honest. Joe doesn’t know enough to get the potential benefit to begin with. Owners of this die will 100% want to keep their brass sorted by number of firings. They’ll know about what spring back is and why it’s important to them and a lot more. They will be the type that can’t deal with unexpected 5’s instead of 0’s or 1’s in the 4th decimal place of a measurement. The right owner for this die is someone very much like me in the respect that they are prone to setting up narrowly defined experiments and to analyze the statistical data that results before forming opinions. They’re nerds.

For Coach and I the benefit is being able to share ammo and ballistics data in a match, not running out of time anymore on match stages due to bolt cycling problems, not overworking or insufficiently sizing the brass and being able to make subtle adjustments with truly minimal effort as precisely as adjusting a tactical rifle scope.

KubeGrid: Using Kubernetes to Supplant Common Grid Computing Engines

This is not my normal fare. If you’re not a computer geek you may find the following paragraphs a little bit technical and quite possibly uninteresting because of that. I’d encourage you to read on though as what you should come away with is a new way to look at the problems you face and a strategy for dealing with them that will bring you much personal satisfaction or at least will cause you to pull the least amount of hair out of your head as possible.

Start here: https://kubernetes.io/docs/concepts/workloads/controllers/jobs-run-to-completion

There is never anything really new in the world of computing. All we have are problems that have been solved before and new flavors of those same problems and solutions. What really changes is that people forget that we’ve already solved all of the really difficult problems many years ago. We had to because they were new problems when computing was something fresh in industry. Now that computing is pervasive what we have is a repeating cycle of identifying problems to be solved and figuring out how they’ve been solved before or ignoring the past (at our peril) and creating entirely new solutions which are in fact, just different colors of the same solutions we came up with before… if we’re lucky. That amounts to a statement like, “Well, we have a really complex problem, so here’s a stunningly complicated solution.”

I, for one, detest the idea that complex problems need newly invented ultra complex solutions simply because the problem appeared superficially (or actually is) complex or new. There is no problem so complicated that a very simple solution cannot be identified if you think about the problem the right way. There are insanely few problems which are in reality the least bit new. At best, they’re just the same problem in a new shape or color, so to speak. In a moment, you’ll be introduced to my preferred method of solving problems which always yields fairly simple solutions. It does that because it works like the thought process of early Macintosh computers. Early Mac’s were built; seemingly, with a notion something like, “Give them so little memory and processing power that they won’t be able to do anything anyway.” I must at this point give a wink and a nod to Douglas Adams who originally made that exact statement and from whom I’ve borrowed it. There’s a certain amount of sarcasm in that but hang with me and you’ll see my point.

What I mean by all of that is, simplifying the problem comes down to really seeing where the actual fundamental problem is (Mac users, of which I am one, wanting to do very intensive computational tasks on end-user grade hardware is the fundamental problem.) and not where the superficial problem is. In this case the superficial problem is one of Mac’s being the preferred platform for those doing computationally intensive tasks; like video editing for example because they’re user friendly, as opposed to Windows which is user unfriendly and UNIX/Linux which is downright user-hostile. UNIX/Linux server-grade hardware would be the right way to do these computationally intensive tasks but they suck to use for humans. So Mac users are the fundamental problem. They picked the wrong tool. Apple responded by making sure that the user would realize that and would eventually put those workloads onto higher end hardware. Now we have video editors doing very small bits of editing on very small bits of video on their Mac and then sending many such snippets to a larger compute cluster for rendering and final processing to come out with a whole “thing”.

Those familiar with “Grid Computing”, “High Performance Compute” and other flavors of the topic know that what you’re really dealing with is a system that understands bounded resource blocks and workload. What it amounts to is you have a bucket of resource (CPU/Memory/Disk/Network) capacity and a bucket of workloads that have a discreet moment of being started and which will run to “completion”. You want to dispatch computation jobs to be executed, allow them to run to completion and then report on the status and resources taken to accomplish that. What you don’t want to do is worry about uneven load profiles, manually intervening when jobs fail or systems lean over, or figuring out which host to execute a job on.

Some systems like LSF/OpenLava and others were created back in a day where there was a huge variety of capability as far as horsepower and there were lots of proprietary hardware platforms. Those factors joined with factors like making sure that software licenses which were few in number were always in use, fair share allocation of computational horsepower & software licenses and organizationally induced prioritization of this project versus that project.

Today, hardware performance is orders of magnitude better and we’re not so much worried about computational horsepower so much as footprint cost efficiency. Back in the old days we’d run on-premise clusters of large numbers of very expensive servers in very expensive data centers. Nowadays we Cloud Service Providers which can provide enormous amounts of extra computational capacity on-demand which can be spun up only for as long as it’s needed and then spun down immediately afterward to minimize run costs. We’ve eliminated the sunken portion of data center run cost from the equation.

As we all know, most of the really great inventions in history were made by eliminating something from a prior invention: A magnificent martini is made that way by the elimination, or at least minimization, of the Martini (vermouth) from the equation. In the same way, eliminating the concept of owning actual servers and putting the load in the cloud enables organizations to radically alter the cost associated with operating high performance computation grids.

Kubernetes has the ability to dispatch arbitrary code execution to nodes. The cluster is aware of what nodes are part of the cluster and how much load they’re under so it’s relatively easy to code in a little Python/Ruby/C/Whatever to interface with a SQL or NoSQL database to build a list of jobs needing dispatch and to get them dispatched. When there becomes a queue of jobs due to lacking of free resources the code can, with very simple boundary configurations, elect to launch new execution node instances on the CSP (Cloud Service Provider) infrastructure of choice or to persist with the queue having some non-zero depth.

The efficiency to be gained is not simply in the fact that the company no longer has to own large numbers of servers and to pay for the continuous operation of those servers regardless of their being fully utilized or not. A huge gain is in the simple fact that CSP’s tend toward pricing based on utilization of network bandwidth and data ingress/egress from their assorted block or object storage systems but not from in-cloud usage of those very same storage sub-systems. The actual cost of the CSP provided CPU cycles, memory utilization and in-cloud storage access is heavily subsidized by out-of-cloud network/storage IO charges. High performance compute grids are almost universally highly intense in their utilization of CPU and memory and are notoriously weak in their need to import/export large amounts of data from the computational environment.

The next big change we see is that jobs are not actually arbitrary in large part. Many jobs are regularized. That is, they are routine and come about as a byproduct of the development process. When you complete a piece of code, it needs unit tested and regression tested. When you design an ASIC it generates follow-on load which is predictable. Many organizations rely on grid computing to run routine, regular reports, analytics and business processes. These are things that can be statically defined either in code or in databases. It’s a standard workload. Everything else is arbitrary workload.

So what we have here is an incipient change in how HPC gets done. The hard part had always been dispatching jobs. Now the hard part is architectural. Orchestrating job dispatch has been made trivially easy. Discerning what is a static job versus what is an arbitrary job and causing Kubernetes configuration to be automated is the current challenge. This is actually trivially easy to accomplish because of the ease of determining the static versus arbitrary nature of any particular job.

I’m not saying that there’s no effort in creating the necessary bits of code and building the necessary back end systems to accomplish these goals. What I’m saying is that we no longer need to pay IBM’s (or whomever) extortionist license fees for LSF (or whatever) and we no longer need to maintain extensive farms of servers, difficult to manage and highly specialized grid computing engines which require expensive-as-hell HPC experts like myself. All you need now is a basic bitch sysadmin who knows extremely common and popular technologies like NoSQL/SQL, Python/Perl/Ruby, Linux, Kubernetes, Docker, etc… There are maybe a few thousand people in the USA that really know how to make IBM’s LSF grid computing software work and to troubleshoot it. There are probably a million or so Linux sysadmins (also like myself) who know NoSQL/SQL, Python/Perl/Ruby, Linux, Kubernetes, Docker, etc… and even if they don’t know one of more of those things, they’re all easy to learn if you’re already a Linux sysadmin. They’re easy to learn for us because they were bloody well meant to be. If we’re to use them, and we’re a lazy bunch which is why we automate everything we can figure out how to, it has to be easy to learn, easy to use and easy to automate or we won’t do it.

So, now that I’ve given you this off book use case for Kubernetes, get out and use it. Yes it’ll take a few weeks longer than LSF would to implement but in the end it’ll cost you millions of dollars less to maintain and you won’t have to pay IBM’s (or anyone else’s) heart thumping-ly exorbitant license fees which are deliberately structured to extract every possible last cent from your organization.

Go (to heck Big) Blue!