Why I do what I do...

The news over the last few weeks has been more tragic than normal - or the tragedies have been closer to home at least. These situations have spurred many conversations, all with the same question: "Why?"

Some truly are trying to piece together an answer that makes sense. Some are trying to find a way to twist the events to fit, and further, their narrative. A large majority of them turn into questions on firearms - questions on both the laws regulating them and the right (or lack thereof) to owning them. I avoid most of these discussions as they tend to be an echo chamber for whichever side is held by the person.

However, some of them have gotten personal - questioning why I - a white, almost middle-aged, male in a relatively safe suburb of a relatively safe city - would need/want/deserve to own and carry a firearm. Especially a semi-automatic pistol.

The most direct was simply "WHY? Why do you carry a gun?" The question was simple and straightforward and, though it was loaded with unspoken negative assumptions, I could tell the person truly was interested in an honest answer.


That's a question with many answers - some of them loaded with experienced, defensive sarcasm, some with a shrug of "not again", and some just wanting to deflect attention - all of them true, all of them with a good time and place, none of them capable of bridging the gap of understanding of someone who has not been exposed to firearms outside of the idiot box or big screen. Here was my answer to this person, this time:

I like to cover my bases.

I do this in all aspects of my life.
  • I'm a computer programmer so I back up my code to multiple places. Not because I WANT my hard drive to crash but I know it's possible and this will help me resolve the problem. Hasn't happened yet.
  • I work in an office building without an onsite medical staff so I carry a decent first aid kit that, in addition to the normal cuts and scrapes, can handle most minor traumas - at least until EMS arrives. I don't WANT anyone to be injured but I know that if they are, help is a minimum of 5 to 10 minutes away. This kit HAS been used for serious injuries twice now.
  • I drive a car to work and I keep a much more extensive first aid kit, jumper cables, and a fire extinguisher in the car. I don't WANT to have a need for those, but I have them in case I do. I have needed the jumper cables both for my car and for strangers - but not the hefty first aid kit or the fire extinguisher. I'm keeping them anyway.
  • When I was a firefighter, I kept a lot of equipment in my gear - rope and webbing in case I had to bail out of a window or drag another to safety, wire cutters to free myself from entanglement, an axe and halligan in case I had to breach a door or wall. I didn't WANT to need those, but knew there was a chance I would. They added several pounds to the already heavy gear. I carried them anyway.
  • I'm a father of two with a third on the way. I have a healthy (scarily healthy) life insurance policy. I certainly don't WANT to need it, but I want my family to be supported if needed.
  • I often carry a firearm and for the same reason as I have a life insurance policy. I don't WANT to use it but I want to have as many options available should I ever need to defend myself.

After hearing about carrying a firearm in context of all of the other steps I take to cover my bases, she seemed to at least acknowledge that there was a logical reason for it that she hadn't previously allowed herself to consider. I think she had expected something like "Because I can" or "Haven't you heard of the Second Amendment?" - all of which are true and acceptable reasons and may be why I OWN firearms. But I only carry them because I think they're another valuable tool in the toolbox.

I don't think she's sold on the concept (at least not yet - going to try to get her to the range soon) but her position has moderated significantly now that she can put actual logic behind it.

I'll take Heinlein for $1000, Alex, and Hanselman for $800

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

-Robert A. Heinlein
That's always been a favorite quote of mine and, though I can't say I can do ALL of those (yet), it's one that I take to heart.

Scott Hanselman had a good post up yesterday called Please Learn to Think about Abstractions, in response to Jeff Atwood's Please Don't Learn to Code and Zed Shaw's rebuttal Please Don't Become Anything, Especially Not A Programmer, in which he makes a point very similar to Heinlein's:
Everything is a layer of abstraction over something else. I push a button on my Prius and the car starts. No need even for a key in the ignition. A hundred plus years of internal combustion abstracted away to a simple push button.


I think everyone should learn how to think and when to dig deeper and should be able to do it in a welcoming and friendly environment.

Learn how to question how things work. Learn that everything new and simple hides something large and complex. We are all standing on the shoulders of giants like Newton, Tesla, Kettering, Berners-Lee, and on and on.

You can choose to live in a world where things just work, or you can choose to dig a little. You don't need to learn to code, you don't need to be an expert in everything but know that you can learn. You can learn a little or a lot. I don't think the Mayor of New York needs to know how to code, but it'd be nice if he knew a little about DNS and a little about HTTP
I come across this phenomenon, the "Let the professional handle it" mindset, quite often. Hell - I used to have that mindset to a degree. It's definitely a lot less work to just call the plumber or the electrician or buy your way out of a problem, but it certainly doesn't help you prevent it next time. But if you don't try, you'll never learn. Then the next time it happens, you'll "call the professional" again and still be no better off.

To Scott's point, and Zed's, I'll take a ton of bad code over no code at all if it means that someone is learning a new way to do something, learning how to think a bit differently, or trying to solve a problem themselves.

Who needs a knife? You do!

Via Breda and JayG comes the latest meme:
Take the knife out of your pocket and take a picture of it, and post it. Or post a picture of the same knife from a brochure or whatever.

No, not your favorite knife, or your prettiest, but the one that never leaves your side.

- Og at Neanderpundit
I went into detail about this a while ago but here's a candid photo:

The one on the right, a Gerber Paraframe II, is my daily carry. Suit, Dockers, jeans, shorts. Work, weddings, camping, sitting around the house. It's there 99% of the time.

The one on the left, a Benchmade Pika, used to be my daily carry and now resides as a backup in my messenger bag.

See my previous post for more detail on why I carry a knife and why you should too!

Chronicles of the Cubicle Ninja: Cut to the Quick

Along with a flashlight, a knife is one of the most useful tools you can have in your EDC kit. Whether it's a plain Swiss Army knife or a multi-tool with more bells and whistles than you can count, having the ability to cut can come in handy and even be a life saver.

So what good can a knife in your pocket actually accomplish? I find myself using my pocket knife numerous times every week for mundane tasks - opening boxes, cutting cables, etc. Yes, all of these can be done just as easily with a pair of scissors or another tool but I find it awkward carrying a pair of scissors in my pocket. And, while I may use my knife most often for very basic tasks, having it in my pocket allows me to accomplish these things much more quickly than if I had to stop and go find another tool. When laces on one of my boots broke at work, having a knife came in very handy indeed.

In addition to being a very useful tool for very basic tasks, they also come in handy in less common but more urgent situations. Involved in or happen across a car accident? A knife could help you cut the seat belt and free yourself or someone else. Serious injury? A knife could let you cut off clothing to make cleaning and bandaging the wound easier. Or even cut up a shirt/blanket/towel to make the bandage.
"Good reason?"

My good reason to carry a knife is that God gave me rather weak teeth and rudimentary claws in an evolutionary trade-off. The hairy-armed person who figured out how to put an edge on a suitable rock made it possible for us to be recognizably human in the first place. I wear a wristwatch whether or not I have an appointment to keep, and I carry a pen and/or pencil because I am a literate person whether or not I have a specific writing task ahead of me, and I carry a knife because I am a human and not an ape.

A knife comes in handy for all sorts of random tasks that involve separating matter. Like cutting a string, or making a sandwich, or opening a package. It can also come in handy in an emergency, which need not involve a human assailant, and emergencies are by their nature unforseen, so one should carry a knife all the time.

And in a perfect world where nobody needed a weapon, I'd probaby carry a slightly larger knife, because it wouldn't scare people.

- James Mattis at BladeForums.com

At the end of the day, carrying a knife is an indicator that you're prepared and willing to rely on yourself when needed rather than count on luck. So, while there are hundreds of options when it comes to knives (dozens of different steels for the blade, fixed vs folding, straight vs serrated blade, drop vs clip vs tanto vs spear point, etc) they're all less important than actually having a knife in the first place. If you don't have a knife yet and you're not sure which steel/shape/point you want, go out and pick up a basic Swiss Army knife while you make up your mind.

Once you've got at least a basic knife, start looking for a good pocket knife with a quality blade and, possibly most important, is legal for you to carry in your state. I typically have two knives on/near me:

Gerber Paraframe

This is the knife that's always clipped inside my pocket. It's small and lightweight enough that it doesn't stand out in the dress pants I wear to work most days. It's got a decent blade that stays reasonably sharp and only set me back around $20.

Benchmade 10400 Pika

This used to be my daily carry knife and now spends its time in my messenger bag as a backup knife or for the situations where I need something a little more solid.

Gerber Suspension

In addition a couple of knives, I also keep a multi-tool in my messenger bag. You never know when having pliers, small screwdrivers, or a window punch will come in handy!

Now that you have a knife or three, keeping them sharp is critical. There are many ways to do this and every system has pros and cons and may be better suited toward certain knife types/sizes/steels. But the key is picking one, learning how to use it properly, and then making sure to periodically clean up the edges on your knives.

While you may never need a knife for an emergency, once you start carrying one you'll find that you begin to feel naked without it.

Chronicles of the Cubicle Ninja
  1. The Prelude
  2. Let There Be Light
  3. Cut to the Quick

Chronicles of the Cubicle Ninja: Let There Be Light

There's a reason that "Let there be light" was the first thing in the Bible: without light, most of us are at a serious disadvantage. You can carry all the guns, spare magazines, knives, and first aid supplies you want, but if you're stuck in the dark you're going to have trouble using any of them effectively. That's why a flashlight is one of the most important items you can have in your pockets. It's also one of the most overlooked as well.

Flashlights come in all shapes, sizes, and specs and if you're anything like me, you probably have half a dozen within easy reach at any time. I've bought numerous lights over the years and, much to my wife's dismay, seem to find new ones all the time. When you're looking for a flashlight, its battery type/usage and the bulb/reflector are just as important as it's size. A flashlight that's too big or too heavy won't get carried and a flashlight that sucks batteries or has poor illumination won't get used.

LED lights are becoming more common all over the place and the flashlight world is no exception. LED bulbs use less power than incandescent bulbs which means you don't have to change batteries as often, the bulbs last a lot longer before they need to be replaced, and they run a lot cooler. The downside is that unless you're willing to pay a lot of money, they're usually going to be dimmer than a regular incandescent bulb.

And when it comes to batteries, the flashlights that use the CR123A batteries will tend to be brighter, often significantly brighter, but will often drain the batteries very fast. The CR123A batteries are also much more expensive than standard AA or AAA batteries.

When I'm at work, I have four different flashlights within arms reach and they all use different combinations of bulbs and batteries as they're each for a different type of situation.

Surefire G2 Nitrolon

I keep a Surefire G2 Nitrolon in my messenger bag and have it primarily as a backup or for illuminating a large room or from a far distance. It cost around $35 , uses two CR123A batteries, and has Surefire's P61 incandescent lamp which will put out 120 lumens of light. This has a pretty far reach and can light up a fairly large area very well. Unfortunately, that bulb also drains the two CR123A batteries within 20 minutes or so. It has a cap at the rear that twists clockwise to turn the flashlight on and have it stay on. It also has a push button that will let you push to turn the light on and the light turns off when the button is released. This used to be the flashlight I carried in my pocket everywhere, but it went through batteries too quickly and was a bit too large (over 5 inches long and more than an inch wide) so I soon upgraded.

Inova X1

My current EDC flashlight is the Inova X1 - a LED flashlight that uses 1 AA battery and cost around $23. Only 4 inches long and less than 3/4 of an inch wide, it can put out 25 lumens for around two and half hours. That's significantly less light than the Surefire, but it's still enough to light up an entire room well enough to see and, in tight spaces or up close, it actually is better as there isn't nearly as much light reflected back at you. And, not only can it do it for seven times longer than the Surefire, it uses a standard AA battery so it's much easier (and cheaper) to replace the battery when it runs out. Like the Surefire, it has an end-cap that rotates clockwise to turn on the flashlight and have it stay on as well as a button that will turn on the light when pushed and turn it off when released. This light has come in handy several times at the office when we've had a power outages or needed to find someone's keys they dropped in the parking lot. It even came in handy at the local pub where the power went out during happy hour. I was in the bathroom at the time and I'm glad I didn't have to fumble around in there.

Maglite Mini

I also keep a Mini Maglite in my bag. This flashlight costs around $14, is almost 6 inches long and an inch wide, and uses 2 AA batteries to produce around 15 lumens of light. This light is a spare to cover me if my Inova breaks or if I need to loan a flashlight to someone. It is a pretty common flashlight and has a well known, and well deserved, reputation. Unlike the other flashlights, it also comes with a spare bulb that is stored in the end-cap.

Petzl Tikka

In addition to the three hand-held flashlights, I usually have a Petzl Tikka headlamp in my bag as well. This light, which cost around $30, uses 3 AAA batteries and, in the brightest of the 4 lighting modes, can put out 40 lumens for an hour and a half. It also has two lower power modes and a strobe mode that could be used for signaling. This light is a bit bulkier due to the head-strap but I've had a few occasions where having a hands-free light has been very helpful. Try changing a tire at night while holding a flashlight - not the easiest thing to do.

As you can see, there are a wide variety of flashlights out there, each with a different type of situation to which they're best suited. A well prepared Cubicle Ninja will have at least one, and probably more, of these handy at any time. As Matt noted in a previous comment, if a disaster strikes in or around your office, "your flashlight is going to have a lot more to do with your safety than your gun."

Chronicles of the Cubicle Ninja
  1. The Prelude
  2. Let There Be Light
  3. Cut to the Quick

Chronicles of the Cubicle Ninja: The Prelude

In a lot of gun forums, preparedness blogs, and survivalist circles, the topics of conversation often center around the fun and exciting tools and the easy to argue but hard to prove debates. Buzzwords and acronyms abound and there are hundreds of posts that involve detailing your BOB/GHB/GOOD bag and your EDC, your E&E plans for the PAW, or arguing over "What caliber for     insert scary creature here    ?" This is all well and good and those topics (or most of them at least) are good to consider and, to some extent, plan for. But, there also very unlikely to be needed any time in the near future.

"Glock vs 1911"," 9mm vs .45", "H&K vs everybody (because you suck and they hate you)", "katana wrapped in phone cord vs ... " - these are often argued about because they're almost completely irrelevant. It's a lot easier to talk about something that doesn't matter than about things you can do, should do, and will feel guilty for not doing.

So what's the point? The point is: I'm not a Navy Seal. I'm not on the SWAT team. I have no immediate plans to fast rope or HALO jump into a hot zone. I didn't even stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night. I'm a software programmer. I work in an office building and I live in a relatively low crime area in a relatively low crime city. I'm more likely to be involved in a car accident than shot at while clearing a building.

If I carry a gun, it's not because I think I'll need it (if I thought that, I'd be changing my plans!) but because there's a very slight chance that I might and I consider it my responsibility to come home to my wife and kids at the end of the day. But, while a gun may help solve the one-in-a-million life or death problem, it's not going to help with the hundreds of problems I'm much more likely to encounter. Yet it's often the most common, if not only, thing discussed when people talk about being prepared.

There are a ton of places on the internet where you can talk about force-on-force training, room clearing drills, back-up guns, knife fighting, and more - some of them even know what they're talking about! While I think that sort of training/planning can be good, I think it's time more people started spending time practicing the art of being a Cubicle Ninja - a person prepared to handle the everyday emergencies found during "just another day at the office."

Sometimes the answer to "What do you do when life hands you lemons?" isn't always "two to the chest, one to the head."

Chronicles of the Cubicle Ninja
  1. The Prelude
  2. Let There Be Light
  3. Cut to the Quick

What's in your pockets?

Breda brings up the topic of what's in your pockets?

Well, my pockets don't carry too much compared to many:
The keys are on a climbing-rated carabiner with 20 feet of paracord wrapped around the spine. The XD 45 is the compact model. If I'm at home, it rides in a Comp-Tac C.T.A.C. IWB holster and if I'm at work, it rides in SmartCarry holster along with an extra 13 round magazine.

ZerCool mentions picking up a Maxpedition Jumbo Versipack to carry around a few extra things that won't quite fit in his pockets. I, too, often carry something for the same purpose. I chose something larger than a Versipack so that I could use it to carry my laptop and other work items as well.

The bag is a Maxpedition Larkspur Messenger Bag

There is one main compartment and two large front compartments.

Inside the main compartment I keep my full size work laptop (14" wide), a USB hard drive, and two ziploc bags with the various items listed below:

Inside the ziploc bags are vinyl and latex gloves, hand sanitizer, chapstick, drink mixers, wipes, zip ties, medical tape, a cold pack, and two rolls of Kerlix.

Inside the left front pocket are multiple pens, a Moleskine notebook, headphones for work, a Surefire G2 with extra batteries, a granola bar, travel size kleenex, and gum. The right front pocket has my FR-1 medical kit, multiple sizes of Ziploc bags, 75 feet of paracord, and an improvised sap (Masterlock with approximately 10 feet of paracord in a loop through the hasp.

The medical kit resides in a Maxpedition FR-1 Pouch and has a Gerber Suspension multi-tool and a pocket size CPR shield attached.

Inside the FR-1 pouch are my medical supplies. Pen and sharpie (for writing on skin or bandages), NuSkin and Super Glue (great for quickly closing small wounds), two lighters, chapstick, several pairs of latex gloves, zip ties, wipes, ziplocs, extra AA and AAA batteries, drink mixers, maxipads and tampons (great for covering/filling open wounds), and a mini first-aid kit with bandages, gauze pads, assorted meds for pain, allergies, etc.

So, while I may not have a lot in my pockets, 8 times out of 10, my messenger bag is nearby with all the basics. As always, there is room for improvement. I plan on adding an emergency blanket/bivvy, some water treatment tablets and a few coffee filters, and I really liked the Altoids kit posted by The Miller.

Have any suggestions? Things you add/remove/change? Let me know in the comments!


Six feet of paracord? 50 cents
Pocket knife? $15
BIC lighter? $1
Being able to replace the laces in your boots, at work, after they wear out and break? Priceless!

An interesting coincidence: while listening to Breda on BB&Guns, one of my boot laces finally wore through and broke. Fortunately, I keep a large enough variety of useful items in my pockets and my messenger bag and it didn't take long to fix.