Friday, February 24, 2012

Holsters for men are like jeans for women

According to the firearm industry, most shooters are male. (I suspect they overlook a great many ladies with pearl-handled revolvers tucked in their purses, and the bluing worn off their favorite duck gun, because such quiet ladies rarely make new gun purchases and don't wear tacti-cool gear.)

Men approach shopping for clothes rationally, forsaking near-useless and arbitrary sizing systems for actual measurements. This allows them to select a pair of pants (okay, six of the same style and color so they don't have to come back), pay for it, and be off to something more interesting. They sell ammo with information right up front about grains of powder, feet per second, bullet weight, and so on. They have a nifty pull-out chart cross-referencing what model vehicle with what length and available model of windshield wiper, right in the aisle.

So why, WHY does this logical, rational, easy approach go right out the window when they start talking about holsters? It doesn't matter if I'm looking at Blackhawk! or Galco, they'll tell me what kind of holster it is - shoulder vs. tuckable, what gun it'll fit, and right-handed or left-handed... and then leave me completely in the dark as to how that will actually fit on my body. Seriously, people - customer fail!

It's not a new concept to women, though - after all, we are forced to buy clothing that only gives an arbitrary size that does not easily correspond to weight or body dimensions, and varies by brand and styles within some brands. This is why we're still taking three different examples of each type of jeans to the fitting rooms while our husbands have already picked up six pants and are ready to be done with shopping for another year. It's just extremely disappointing to find.

When I wanted a holster for my valentines present, Calmer Half's first response was "I have three boxes of holsters downstairs I don't use. We'll have you try them on so you can see the different options and see if you find something you like." This sounded like trying to figure out what jeans fit by going into a store and trying on at random - an exercise in frustration, temper, and tears that leaves a woman feeling ugly, fat, and still having no flattering clothes to wear.

I went to Kathy Jackson's website, Cornered Cat (an awesome website for self defense from the female perspective), to find information on holster sizing terms. (Unfortunately, the links to photo examples are currently broken, but the information is golden.) Now having terms like Inside WaistBand, Outside WaistBand, Rake, Cant, High Ride, Dropped Holsters... ah, now we're getting into territory that I'm familiar with. In jeans we call this boot cut, strait leg, relaxed fit, petite... specific terms to describe the styles and options, and dimensional ratios.

So armed with information, hot tea, and dark chocolate, I went to the fitting room... I mean, my husband pulled out his boxes of holsters. Now granted, he teaches self-defense for folks with varying degrees of disabilities, so he has a wide range of "this doesn't work for me, but I want to be able to show students in case it'll work for them" - this isn't all "I tried it, it didn't work" or "I don't carry that gun right now." Still... the mound of tried holsters grew high, and my patience grew short. A check online confirmed that holster companies an uninterested person knows about - Galco, Blackhawk!, Uncle Mikes - will happily provide the dimensions of the belt they'll fit, and make sure the holster fits your gun, but provide not the faintest clue beyond a single picture not on a person covering all variations on how the gun fits in the holster, or how that holster fits on a body. No wonder men accumulate boxes and drawers of holsters - it's like buying women's jeans without checking sizing information, based on a picture of them sitting folded on a shelf!

Out of three boxes, we only found one holster that fit me okay, and didn't leave a gun trying to dig into my ribs or standing so far out from my hip I felt like I was trying to imitate a cowboy movie. And that one doesn't fit my new gun well.

So, we resorted to the same thing that many, many, many women have when looking for a nice suit for presenting at the office, or a dress that will flatter them on a night out - we took the best example of the lot, and sent it to a craftsman to have a holster bespoke. If you really want it to fit, and fit well, and look good doing it - get it altered, or get it tailor-made.

If you go to Dragon Leatherwork's page, you'll see multiple pictures of each holster from multiple angles, and to my delight, an actual picture of an actual person wearing it! Even better, it's definitely not an airbrushed anorexic model! He even links to reviews, where people not only love his holsters, they often proudly show them off in pictures - meaning I have even more idea of how they fit and ride.

Sadly, exactly what I wanted didn't line up with exactly what he offered on a web form - happily, after enclosing the best holster out of all three boxes, my gun, and a letter describing exactly what I wanted, he emailed back to say he could do (though it'd take longer.) Having handled other examples of his work, I am thrilled, and perfectly content to wait for him to carefully craft the leather art.

You see, I've already learned that I'm a size mumble in this and that specific brands of jeans. I don't need to repeat the experience in holsters. And what it cost up front? An utter bargain by not buying and bruising my ribs with several bad holsters.

PS - Calmer Half also wants me to put in a plug for Michael's Custom Holsters here, which I'll happily do, because he is awesome and will even rise to the challenge to make digicam or purple glitter on a holster, above and beyond customizing to a body's fit. Do you have any other holster makers you really like?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Real Paleo Plants and Guitars in Space

About 30,000 years ago, a squirrel hoarded some seeds in a hole in the ground. (Times change: squirrels don't!) The ground became permafrost, and stayed that way until scientists decided to dig it up, and see if the seeds could still sprout. With a little cell culture help, the plants sprouted just fine, flowered, and with a little hand-pollination, went to seed as well.

Check it out:

Second, a short clip - not embedded because it auto-plays, of an astronaut talking about the guitar on the space station, and learning to replay in space. Sadly, it was shot at the guitar factory, not onboard the space station - but still fun!

See here:

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Calmer Half is much more romantic than I am. I should have realized that Dead Saint Day would mean I'd get flowers and dinner, as I'm finally in the same state as him at the right time... yeah, that one blindsided me. I wasn't expecting gifts, either, and he knew I didn't want any - especially as I'd rather the budget be happy than have some piece of clutter.

Not that that stopped him.

Now, buying things for someone is always an interesting exercise in how well you know them, fraught with cultural and personal assumptions. Clothing and shoes are a minefield ripe for disaster - especially women's clothing, where sizes are more like "rough estimates from a distance by a drunk with a lazy eye" than a standard. Personal adornment like jewelry is highly variable to the woman's taste - and Calmer Half knows that it's almost a miracle that my wedding ring has lasted this long, with the titanium already covered in scratches and oxidized to a dull grey. (I rarely wear my engagement ring; it's too nice for working on airplanes or in an industrial setting.)

So what did he do? He paid attention to what I liked, and bought something that I really, really wanted and borrowed several times from a friend, but refused to buy for myself due to tight fiscal grasp on the budget.

I am now the very delighted owner of a Keltec PMR-30! Squeeeeeeeeee!

I don't get to play with it just yet, though - it's going on a road trip to Dennis of Dragon Leatherworks, where it'll be used to make a holster custom-fit to my gun. Which has me torn between utter squeee! and the panic that shopping for awesomeness on a deadline inspires - he makes so much awesome, and anything you want, how can I possibly decide on just the perfect holster design?

Right. Tomorrow, Calmer Half and I will test the limits of his patience and his three boxes of holsters. Form follows function, and once we've got function well-covered, we'll come back to the incredible ostrich-leg leather inlay versus beautiful celtic knotwork versus beautiful smooth glossy black leather you could almost shave in....

If you ever wanted a practical example definition of ferret-shock, when a brain spazzes out from too many delightful things at once, well, here it is. Squee!

And, of course, it's only natural I follow it up with a girl's night out at the range, taking part in Matthew's quest for .22 and .22WMR dud statistics...

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

On Unfamiliar Tools

My IA once remarked gently, after handing a tool to me, that there are two types of people - those whom, when handed an unfamiliar tool, look at it briefly and hand it back, and those that examine it, note the manufacturing marks, the wear marks, and the modifications, and try to figure out potential uses.

He said this not long after handing a modified once-a-wrench to me. I'd puzzled over it briefly, then handed it back while asking what it did.

Tonight, keeping a friend company while he cleaned up his workbench and organized his toolbox (I'M not fool enough to try to organize another man's toolbox!), he kept handing things to me as he found long-lost items. Mind you, he works on cars, and on model airplanes - and between the two, my own tool sets have more in common with his model airplane tools. (I don't own any sockets bigger than 1/2 inch - why would I need to, except for my oil filter?) Still, he handed a round chunk of black steel to me. I frowned, turning the cylinder over in my hands. "Hmm. A breaker bar clearly goes in here. So that means this must be a very deep socket. A very deep, very huge socket. With four little contact points... I have absolutely no idea. What on earth is this huge?"

"That is a socket for Dana hub for four wheel drive." He grinned, and handed a part of... something to me.

"There's a gasket that goes here, and that..." I shoved the tip, gently. "Yep, that's a needle valve."

"Very good!"

I stared at the capped end, thinking that it looked like a diaphragm, but... not right. Flipping it over in the dim light, I squinted into the two holes on the underside. "Something goes in and out here. And..." I puzzle over it, squinting, getting no information from the stamped part number.

"Here's a hint. It's from a 1986 Ford, which was the first year the engine..."

"Fuel injection!" I exclaimed, nodding, and regarded it again. "This is part of the fuel injection! Which part, though?" I continued to turn it over, trying to figure it out.

"You got it. This is an idle air control valve for a 1986 Ford Bronco, that bypasses the butterfly valve..."

Yeah, I'm not there yet, but somewhere, my IA is chuckling behind his coffee mug just hard enough that the exquisitely waxed points of his mustache are quivering. He knew, all those years ago... and I am still a young grasshopper yet, but I'm learning.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Managing Expectation of Customers

Or, why I like John Ringo's Ghost, purple AR's, and how Oleg Volk gets so many women to do nude portraits.

One of the common and unfortunate threads of the aviation industry, publishing, and the firearm industry is people who love what they do, have a great passion for their work, and are fundamentally lacking in basic tenets of marketing. They manage to struggle along anyway at a cottage-industry level, despite great hurdles at startup. (In aviation and firearms, we start with three-letter agencies that are, by accretion and design, against growth or innovation. Publishing only has itself to blame.) Unfortunately, these initial trials are so fiery that they often blind the producers of good widgets and good books to the real trial at the basis of all commerce: customers.

In managing the flow of commerce, there are two critical directions: push and pull. Pull is what customers do - they want something, so they create a demand, and pull at the end of your supply chain, wanting more stuff to arrive. The length and complexity of your supply chain is ultimately irrelevant - customers want stuff, and you need to fulfill that demand in order to make money now, and keep happy customers so you can make money later.
Push is the opposite - it's when a content or part creator makes more than demand calls for, and tries to shove it down the supply chain toward customers. Push is bad, because if you don't have the pull, either the supply chain will choke and drop the price below cost to get rid of it, then never order it again - or the customers will choke on the force-feeding, and walk away with their wallets welded shut.

It's the difference, say, between the drive-through coffee stand in the morning pulling in people for a mug of go-juice, and the very pushy salesman who accosted me at a mall once, trying to force spa stuff on a gal whose idea of "mud pack" is the underside of the truck after a weekend off-roading.

Know your customers, both immediately downstream on the supply chain, and the people at its terminus. Ringo knows his customers, and so does Baen - despite making a name for himself writing good military scifi, when he had a crazy silly sex-filled wish-fulfillment military fantasy and people proved they really wanted it, he wrote several novels in the Paladin of Shadows series, and Baen bought and published them all. Is it a magnum opus? No. Do I like it? Mmm, Yes. Does it offend people? Oh, hell yes! Are those people his primary customer base and intended market, and does it affect their willingness to buy Oh John Ringo No's other books and series? Not at all, as far as I can tell. I actually don't really care for most of his books - I give them a good try, and laugh at the jokes, like the characters, and fail to care about the military battles at all. Given that he writes military scifi, this means as the plot gets to a fever pitch and my husband is really enjoying it, well, I have bread to bake, or a toilet to clean or something. Similarly, David Drake's Hammer's Slammers makes my eyes glaze faster than Federal Aviation Regulations, and while I love David Weber's characters, I've got the art of flipping past his infodumps and political parts down pat. Bujold, on the other hand, with her art of skimming past the military strategies and focusing on the people and the effect of technology on societies, has my attention and my wallet wide open.

Firearms and aviation manufacturers (and their modifications and parts manufacturers) are starting to notice that 50% of the population is female, and not necessarily opposed to guns or flying. Unfortunately, their response has been extremely shortsighted and shallow, and painfully pink. I hate pink. Not because pink itself is a bad color, but because it's a signal of an extremely knee-jerk reaction, summed up as "Oh, we want to market to women, too. Well, paint our normal thing pink and they'll like it." Pink works well with baby items because the end user looks like a wrinkled ball of pudgy dough, and the color of the accessory helps announce if it's male or female. For fully adult women, participating in things that take a reasoning, functioning mind that can understand responsibilities and consequences - I'll take your damned pink AR furniture when you replace all your earth, tan, green, and black furniture with baby blue for the men. Oh, wait, you already figured out your male customers have preferences besides the gender-signal color for infants? Then take the time to figure out what your female market may like before you start pushing pink down the supply chain at us, and wondering why the customer chokes, and the orders are not there (and never will be.)

Here's a hint: I like purple. Purple matches or at least doesn't clash with a lot of things, and if you noted all the things from lavender to indigo that end up in the bed and bath stores, you'd see that. Along with lots of greens. (Hey, you're appealing to adult women. Barbie isn't the right place to start your research, and neither is Playboy.) I'd buy a purple logbook for myself. Pink, with a little cartoon character of a plane on the front? Only for a six-year-old who adores pink that I've just given a ride.

All customers have expectations. Readers expect a story to be coherent, consistent, entertaining, and possibly challenging. Widget users expect the part to be usable, useful, and reliable (at least, when they pay cottage-industry pricing instead of cheap Chinese junk pricing.) In other news, the sky is grey on overcast days. Unfortunately, the more you learn, the more you will realize sure as the sun rises in the south in winter that your customers have many wants, needs, and desires, and most of them are contradictory.

Which brings us to managing your customer's expectations. If you know what I want, and you can tell me how you will deliver, and which certain specific wants of mine it will fulfill, then I will be happy to pay for your product, and delighted if it exceeds the promises you made. (Note for emphasis: the promises you made, not the wants I have). There are many signals beyond whether or not your product is pink. Price is a signal, but so is character and presentation of the producer. A Boberg pistol is better than a Hi-Point, but a commercial jeweler may charge $400 per ring for worthless DeBeers diamond chips and cheap gold, while a work of art in silver and semiprecious stone, custom-made, from a seller on Etsy may only be $200. (I highly recommend ArtByCaron - good work, beautiful taste, awesome customer service. ) Reviews are a strong signal of how well you fulfilled other customer's expectations in the past - and I am still very happy!

On managing inherent contradictions - choose what you will emphasize, and what you leave out. I want to finish my dinner out with a delicious, tasty lavender creme brulee and a glass of ice wine to complement - but I also don't want any calories, and I want to be perfectly sober to drive home. If we're dining at a Turkish restaurant, there's no creme brulee or ice wine on the menu. However, they'll write loving descriptions of the desserts, and have the waiter enthusiastically recommend two or thee, and we'll be happy. If you do have creme brulee and ice wine, by all that's sane, don't put caloric information on the menu, serve the ice wine in a small glass with water on the side that you keep refilled, and don't rush the customer out the door to their car.

Oleg Volk, I have noticed, does an excellent job of working with his models because he manages their expectations very well. He doesn't choose models for nude photography: he chooses models he wants to work with, and knows he can do great work regardless of their state of dress. He tries to make the models comfortable, checks if they want anything, if the buddy/bodyguard they brought wants anything, and makes sure that they're on the same page on who wants what out of the photo shoot. Communication, isn't it awesome? Then he sets to work with the focus and intensity seen in Gremlin stalking in the high grass - hunting the Perfect Image. He'll work with you clothed in reenactment gear, steampunk, streetwear, cocktail dress, half-clothed, nude, in body paint and feathers, it doesn't matter. And because it doesn't matter, models feel comfortable, unpressured, and willing to explore with him on many different ways to create beautiful art, happily holding guns that two hours before they thought might leap out of the gun case and shoot people randomly, never mind trivialities like posing nude.

By contrast, I recently picked up a self-pubbed first book on Sarah Hoyt's recommendation: Temporary Duty, by Ric Locke. The one-line description on Amazon billed it as two enlisted navy guys who shanghaied themselves into TDY with first contact aliens. Great buddy military comedy, right? And it was, for the first third of the book. But one character kept getting awesomer in the Honor Harrington style, and the other started dropping out for scenes, then chapters, until when he was killed, it was entirely without emotional impact on the reader, almost a passing mention. Well, as a Harrington-style character, it was a pretty good book, too, even though it wasn't what I'd expected when I started. But then we hit the last two planets, and it spins out into wish-fulfillment crazy fun, like John Ringo's Ghost but without the kinky sex, and needing a good editor. Any one of these three stories would have been awesome fun, but every style change after the first broke the promise to the reader of what type of story I was reading, and the expectations set. I was reduced to skimming through the last few chapters, having lost track of people because I no longer cared.

One expectation he did absolutely right: the price. If I'd bought this book as an $8.99 paperback or ebook, I'd have been pissed at the author for breaking promises, and the publisher for bad editing. But I didn't - I bought a self-published first novel on the recommendation that it was fun, for $2.99, and it entertained me longer than a similarly-priced mocha. My final verdict was to recommend it to Calmer Half for reading, noting there were some side-splittingly hilarious scenes of enlisted men learning to order beer in the alien's trade tongue at their shore leave. (Because seriously, what's important in life? Beer.) And to stop reading about two-thirds of the way through, because if you do, it ends pretty nicely. Or keep reading, but know that you get a completely different story for the last third.

I look forward to Locke's next book, to see how well he's improved, since he already has made me laugh. Despite a dislike for cameras in general, I neither fear nor even really mind Oleg and his camera, and when I finally get an AR, it'll be purple, low-recoil, and ergonomic. Since a purple logbook looks unlikely, I think I'll likely get a handmade leather-bound steampunk-design journal for my next Airship Captain's Log (just because I can.)

And somewhere, well-intentioned but thoughtless gentlemen will be wondering why women don't like flying or shooting, because we're not buying their pink desert eagle clone or incredibly uncomfortable and unflattering male-fitted mossy-oak gear. If one ever sincerely asks you why, and is ready to listen, well, I've said my piece.