10. July 2012 · Comments Off on Sometimes It Gets Blurrier on the Path to Focus · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: ,

Project Appleseed is a volunteer program where trainers teach people about rifle marksmanship and a specialized set of skills. It is taught as a martial art they claim is unique to the United States. Gun ownership and gun skills played a role in the creation of our nation. This is a very well-run organization with good procedures, wonderful volunteers, and a stellar emphasis on safety. You can read more about it as well as the NYT (decent but of course, liberally motivated) write-up.

While this training is geared towards beginners, there was a wide range of experiences represented at the training. Some were there to learn, others were there to hone, and yet others were there to get qualified and become instructors of their own.

The ultimate course of fire for this event is to shoot several targets at around 25 yards (or less if that’s all your range has) standing, sitting, and prone, all unsupported (with slings if you have ‘em) with some target switching thrown in, under a time limit.

I didn’t have very clear expectations when I showed up. It took a long time to understand that all the training they were offering was for this specific activity. Granted, there are a lot of universal marksmanship skills that go into this specific thing, but there is also a LOT of optimization, and de-optimization, that one could perform. And boy, did I make a lot of sub-optimal choices before we even got to my skill deficiencies.

I don’t know if I could have picked out a rifle less suited to this game if I had tried. Honestly, I wasn’t trying to. I came with the only rifle that I had, and there aren’t a lot of off-the-shelf models I can work with. Since it was such a terrible challenge to get the PS90 sighted in, at 50 yards, we decided not to do any of that.

But unfortunately, when prone at 25 yards, things look a whole lot different. I started off trying to apply Kentucky Windage. I had discernible groups at the beginning of the first day and figured out what the difference was. I thought I was doing pretty good at compensating for this, and that was my big mistake. As a scientist and an economist, I want to reduce all the noise in an experiment and analyze the difference that specific actions make. This technique I was using—which I was advised against using, made it more difficult for me to see the impact of the other skills I was trying to employ. I started with noisy groups. I added noisy compensation. I then added additional noisy techniques I was trying to learn. That’s not a controlled experiment; that’s a disaster.

Let’s just march on down my other issues. The PS90 has a very big gap between the mount of the scope and the top of the buttstock. This has caused me difficulty overall because it’s hard for me to figure out where exactly to place my head. Part of the philosophy of the Project Appleseed martial art is to remove as many twitching muscles out of the equation as possible. About fifty of those muscles are in your neck. You can imagine how difficult it can be to hold your head steady in exactly the same spot, looking through a scope, when other people can get one of those “cheek welds” (lamest term ever) onto their buttstock and eliminate those twitches.

Another aspect of the Project Appleseed martial art is consistency. When you’re trying to make a chinweld, you’re going to have a harder time keeping a consistent position relative to your gun. You’re also going to get a bruise on your jawline… Turns out my ridiculously nice scope didn’t have the range of angle needed to adjust for the distance between rail mount and rifle barrel at close ranges. In order to get this gun on target, I’ll need a new scope mount. To compensate for this, an awesome volunteer helped me zero the scope in at the top of the thicker stadia on my scope so I have some point of reference. This worked great before I learned (well yeah this is so obvious) that if you change the zoom on the scope the points of reference all change…. The other problem I had was that it’s really hard for me to tell the difference between the thicker lines and the thinner lines on the scope without a lot of contrast. As I wavered back and forth, I lost track of where the line changed. Intellectually I understand this, but I just couldn’t keep track of where exactly that reference point was.

My gun doesn’t come with conventional sling attachment points. The back goes around the buttstock and through the thumbhole. The front wraps around the back end of the rail. The Project Appleseed techniques use a sling attached farther forward so that the strap supports the wrist and attaches your hand to the gun. I had no place for that, so my alternate attempts didn’t work so well. In theory one could drill a hole in the section that sticks out in front of the trigger guard, but that seems a bit questionable. Instead, we zip-tied the sling around the barrel itself. That’s definitely not a long-term solution.

And most significantly, I didn’t have the right attitude. I was playing around and trying to do things my way. I wasn’t devoted to winning the game set before me. I could have done much better, and learned more, if I had played along and tried harder to get it right. That was really a failure on my part that I could have done something about. I didn’t want to play with my scope because of how annoying it was to get it set up and will be to set up again at distance. It was only the second day, when after giving up and trying to adjust the scope and it didn’t work, that I asked for help getting myself sorted out. Not the most effective use of anyone’s time.

So, things weren’t going very well. And I just fell apart. I was frustrated. My scores were declining. I was mad at myself for not taking it seriously before. I wondered, what should I have expected? And overall, I was confused. Intellectually, I understood, that I came out of that event with better skills than when I entered. Even though my shots were further off, and more scattered than ever, my technique is improving. But it’s hard to reconcile this with worsening results.

I know I could have done better. I could have been a better martial artist and a better student. Yes, I had some disadvantages going in, but it would have made a whole lot of difference if I’d handled the things I had control over. And I will do better. I’ve already signed up for another event next month. I might even go on Saturday if I can arrange it. This is a goal I can make. I wavered a bit, because a lot of these techniques are specialized and not useful for anything else I’ll do. But you don’t beat a game because what you learned there is going to beat another game. You do it to enjoy yourself and accomplish something.

I’m going to win this game.

Because I can.

06. July 2012 · Comments Off on Does God Make the Artist Blind, or Do the Blind Gain the Gift of Art? · Categories: Background, Brain · Tags:

I always thought I should have been an artist. I have such vivid visions and a clear idea of what I want to make, but without the fine coordination to make it happen. What I didn’t understand was it takes a lot of practice for even the most gifted artists to learn and hone their skills to the level necessary. Perhaps if I had put the time in, with an open mind, that one would have put in since early childhood, I could come to the point where I could make what I want to happen, happen. That’s a lot of hours. I suspect it’ll take me way longer than it would take for me to become a decent shot.

I imagined that if only I had the eyes, I could do all these things with ease. Perhaps it is so, that when I was 4 or 5, these activities were more rewarding and over the course of my childhood I would have developed my skills to the point where I could make the visions I have come to life.

But there is another twist to this personal mythology.

I was listening to this recent episode of Radiolab about a scientist that became a professional artist. They suspect that she had gained very vivid visuals when some part of her brain broke down.

This story reminded me of my understanding of the brain, and my personal theory that all those synapses are adaptable and that you can form new habits, and re-appropriate portions of your brain for different things. I know that people who are blind use that visual area of the brain for different things. I know that I use mine differently, at least a tad, from the way other people use it.

If I had perfect eyes, there is no way for me to tell how I would have used that portion of my brain. There is no way for me to know how I would have approached art!

This is a crazy thought, but perhaps instead of storing information about hand-eye coordination, I USED that area for something else, like my visual aesthetic, my understanding of juxtaposition and composition, my very understanding of visual communication…

In another life, I could have been an athlete. I love the gym. I have no finesse. Why use a chisel when a hammer will do?

It could be even more dramatic.

In another life, this portion of my brain, and the many hours spent dreaming up visual landscapes, might have been spent on something even more different than the hand-eye coordination I lack, more extreme than martial arts or rock climbing. Maybe I would have been an architect. Maybe I would have been a violinist. MAYBE I would have just thrown that all out the window and devoted my life to science, chemistry, or math. Business?

As I brainstorm here, I am reminded of all the visual cues in normal communication that I miss, that I never learned. That I am trying to learn now. All those subtle gestures that I never picked up and I am deliberately trying to cue in on now, would have taken up space in the brain of a functional person, and I’m missing all of that. Instead of keeping track of such subtle cues learned from birth, I have to learn it all over again, using the left-brained logic hammer (I told you I wasn’t subtle).

So many fine-tuned adjustments were made to take advantage of my mental processing power, so many obstacles to overcome… there’s no way to know how my brain would have been mapped out if things turned out differently.

When I was growing up, I thought that art was what I was always meant to do, and my ideal profession was taken from me. But now I understand that I could never know what I would have done in another life. I could never know if I would have been drawn to art, enjoyed it, or even had the spectacular imagery, visual landscapes, or visual creativity, as I have developed in this real life.

It’s time for me to stop asking myself what I could have done, and appreciate what I can, and could, do now.

I love art. I am grateful that I can enjoy such a thing, both conceptually, with my imperfect eyes, and through my uncertain hands. It’s time to fully embrace and appreciate what I have.

06. July 2012 · Comments Off on Range Day · Categories: Practice · Tags:

We went out to the long distance range to get initiated into the club. This was the first gun club I ever joined.

Different clubs have different attitudes, and I think that this goes deeper than the type of guns and games. Each one has a different personality. This particular range is about serious business. People show up, they get down to the serious business of the day, then they head out. They are friendly enough, but it was made clear in the initiation meeting that they aren’t here to hold a picnic.

I’m writing this report about 2 weeks later so my memory is a little hazy. This’ll teach me not to dawdle and let memory fade.

First, we spent some time helping around the place while we waited for an event to clear out and free up some space. Then we zeroed in my PS90 at 50 yards.

Then we went out to the longer range to check out how much drop there was at 200 and 300 yards. This is the range where I had a tough time in the carbine competition with my red dot, but today I had my beautiful zeroed in scope with me.

At two hundred yards, I did well enough. It was pretty satisfying. I was surprised at my ability to get those shots on paper even though, as I watch my sight picture fade in and out, it felt and looked like I was going all over the place. From the way it shook around, you’d have thought I couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. Reducing the zoom a little helped with the mental portion of the activity.

At 200 yards it was going pretty straight with little drop. At 300 it was well… dropping significantly.

My trigger pulls are too fast. I haven’t gotten down to the testudine slowness of a person who knows what they’re doing. The PS90’s trigger is still a little disconcerting because of how it seems to ‘catch’ at two points before it finally clicks. It’s not very smooth! But I seem to be getting used to it a bit—I notice it less now than I used to. I’m going to a rifle training this weekend. I’m prepared to have worn out arm muscles and better discipline.