Thursday, August 7, 2014

Mya and our droid on the news

Thursday, July 31, 2014

My Full Review of The Barrel Of A Gun documentary

The Barrel of a Gun starts out with a brief introduction of Officer Daniel Faulkner and Mumia Abu-Jamal before recounting the events on the night Officer Faulkner was murdered. Many of the police officers who were at the scene of the crime share their recollections of exactly what happened that night. Completely absent are the accounts of Mumia, or his brother Billy, in regards to what they saw that night. This is not an incident of the director leaving out both sides of an argument though. Unfortunately neither Mumia, or his brother, have EVER given any actual account of what happened the night Officer Faulkner was brutally murdered so there is only one side that can possibly be told with any journalistic integrity.

After covering the events on the night of the murder, as well as Officer Faulkner's funeral, we get to hear Mumia's friends recall their reactions to his arrest. The common theme among all of them was the shock they felt when they heard the news and their inability to comprehend how Mumia could have been capable of murder.

In an effort to shed some light on what may have been the cause of Mumia's decision to kill Officer Faulkner the film begins to explore the history of Mumia's primary influences starting with the Black Panthers. The movie shines a spotlight on the history of the Panthers with interviews of former Panthers as well as historical news footage. We get to see why the Black Panthers were created and the devastating repercussions it had on America. Former Panthers and retired police officers share their memories of the tension and violence that grew between the Panthers and the police.

What I found to be particularly shocking was the revelation that many Panthers staged fatal ambushes on police officers. I knew that the Panthers said they wanted to kill the police but I never realized how many times they actually acted on that statement. Another significant fact I was unaware of was that Volkswagen Beetles were the preferred method of transportation for armed Panthers to patrol their neighborhoods looking for instances of police brutality. This could just be a simple case of the Bug being cheap enough for them to afford. Never the less it adds a haunting connection to the car Billy Cook was driving the night Officer Faulkner was murdered.

While Mumia started out as a young Black Panther he eventually became an avid supporter of the back to nature group known as MOVE. Extensive historical footage brings the MOVE organization to life in ways that that those of us who didn’t grow up in Philadelphia during MOVE’s heyday can really appreciate. While I had a cursory knowledge of the tragic confrontation between MOVE and the police on August 8th, 1978 seeing footage of the actual event really hit home. Interviews with Mumia's former radio station colleagues illustrates how Mumia's obsession with MOVE grew to the point of completely overwhelming his objectivity and put him on the path to murder.
 "For them when they say the MOVE 9 is innocent, or they say Mumia is innocent, they don't necessarily mean that these people did not shoot those officers. What they mean is they were doing what is right in the eyes of MOVE and therefore they're innocent."
- Former MOVE member

The ONLY thing Mumia has EVER publicly said about his case is that he is innocent of the charges brought against him. He has NEVER ONCE said I didn't shoot Officer Faulkner. At this point the movie shifts focus to Mumia's trial in a quest for answers to that dichotomy. Rather than simply recounting all of the evidence brought against Mumia the movie interviews the various lawyers involved with the case to get their recollections. We are given insight to the reasons for Jamal's belligerent conduct during this trial from people on both sides of this case.

The film doesn't comment on the numerous controversial issues the Mumia's lawyers have raised since Mumia's conviction. I believe this is a wise decision because it could have easily derailed the movie into endless debates about Defense theories that have already been dismissed in Mumia's 3 Post Conviction Release Act hearings. Instead the focus is on the facts as testified to at trial and deemed credible by the courts over multiple appeals. If you want to learn more about these controversial issues, and see exactly why the State determined them to be merit-less, I would advise visiting

We are then show what I consider to be one of the biggest bombshells in this movie is revealed.   Don't blink or you might miss it. The text is as follows:

According to a police source, a few weeks before his murder, Officer Faulkner spotted Billy Cook selling drugs outside of a vending stand.

Officer Faulkner lost him during a chase.

While this might seem to be insignificant it actually provides an explanation for one of the biggest controversies in this case. In Officer Faulkner's last call to the police station, right before his murder, he called for backup. At first he thought an officer in a car would be enough. But then he decides that he needs them to send him a wagon. Officer Shoemaker, one of Officer Faulkner's former co-workers, goes on to say that requesting a wagon indicates that the officer has arrested someone and needs to take them into custody.

Mumia's supporters have ALWAYS tried to say that Officer Faulkner requested a wagon because he could see multiple people in Billy Cook's car and he needed the wagon to handle that many people. They use this as proof that the "real shooter" was actually a passenger in Billy's car who fled the scene after killing Faulkner. 

It always struck me as odd that Officer Faulkner was planning on arresting anyone for driving the wrong way on a one way street. But planning to arrest a drug dealer who had escaped Faulkner's previous arrest attempt makes perfect sense. This casts even more doubt on the phantom shooter theory.

The film cuts to a newspaper headline declaring "Abu-Jamal Gets Electric Chair" followed by news footage of the reactions of Mumia's mom and his lawyer to the death sentence. I think Tigre Hill makes a brilliant choice by NOT going in to the arguments for or against the Death Penalty. That could have completely derailed the movie. Mike Farrell is allowed to express some of his anti-Death Penalty views in regards to cop killers being more likely to be executed than other killers but that is as far as it goes.

Mumia's long list of celebrity supporters fill the screen as well as an article questioning why so many of them celebrate a convicted cop killer. Ed Asner and Mike Farrell are allowed to express their opinions about the Death Penalty and their belief that Mumia didn't get a fair trial. They never actually address what was unfair about the trial though.

“We do not have a system of justice where you continue to try a case until you get the verdict you want." 
- Rich Costello Former President of the Fraternal Order of Police

Mumia's former attorney Leonard Weinglass is shown in an old interview clip proclaiming Mumia's innocence. Immediately following that Maureen Faulkner, Danny's widow, relates the old saying about telling a lie, telling it big enough, telling it often enough and it becomes truth. This is the only scene in the movie that could be viewed as manipulative in that it doesn't give any basis for Mrs. Faulkner's quote. I think is a missed opportunity. I suspect that Tigre wasn't able to get the clearances to show the Sam Donaldson's 20/20 interview with Mr. Weinglass wherein Mr. Weinglass gets caught blatantly lying multiple times on camera.

We are than treated to clips of various organized protests for and against Mumia. Tigre takes this opportunity to let Mumia's supporters share the reason they are protesting on behalf of Mumia.
The footage is amazing.

"You don't need to know a lot of history about this case. You can look at any aspect of it and find something wrong."
- Unknown Mumia Abu-Jamal supporter

It speaks volumes about the mentality of Mumia's supporters that they can find something wrong with any aspect of a trial they say they don't need to know nothing about.
News footage shows Mumia entering the Courthouse for the first of his three Post Conviction Relief Act hearings. Hugh Burns, one of the Prosecutors handling the first PCRA hearing, relates the story of the last minute announcement by Abu Jamal's attorneys that Mumia's brother Billy Cook would finally testify on Mumia's behalf.

"Clearly he was the only eyewitness that was there who has yet to testify. I don't get a sense of anything one way or the other. They have apparently talked to him and I have not. So I cannot tell you what he will say. I do not know what he will say. ...... Its pure speculation...."
 - Billy Cook's lawyer Daniel-Paul Alva

This quote came from news footage of Mr. Alva's reaction to the stunning announcement that his client Billy Cook would be testifying the next day on behalf of his brother Mumia. Unfortunately Billy failed to show up to testify. Instead Daniel-Paul Alva showed up in his place offering to testify on behalf of what he thinks his client would have said had he been there.

The film shifts gears with footage of Arnold Beverly confessing to be the real murderer of Officer Faulkner. Pam Africa draws attention to this by asking why the Police are ignoring his confession. Instead of explaining the actual reasons why Arnold Beverly's confession was ignored we are instead shown footage of various Prosecutors talking about how Mumia's legal team ended up fracturing because half of the team thought Mr. Beverly's confession was complete crap and didn't want to embarrass themselves by presenting it in Court.   I think this was a missed opportunity to show the facts and dispel a significant Mumia propaganda point.

At this point we come back to the MOVE organization but in the present times. While a former MOVE member talks about the indoctrination that was forced on him we get to see some chilling footage of young boys shouting pro-MOVE/Mumia rhetoric at a rally into a microphone. What makes it disturbing is that they can't even pronounce the words they are trying to say leading one to believe they don't even understand what they are saying.

Eventually we shift back to the celebrity supporters with footage of Danny Glover speaking at a Pro-Mumia event. I wonder if he appreciates the irony of his words?
 "This is a very critical moment in the long fight for justice for Mumia Abu-Jamal. Mumia Abu-Jamal has not received and has not been able to have his story told within this whole process. We want that. We demand that as a community."
- Danny Glover

Mr. Glover brings up an excellent point in regards to the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Mumia has never had his story told. Despite what Mr. Glover must be thinking the State of Pennsylvania, and its criminal justice system, have never sought to prevent Mumia from telling his story. Mumia is the one who has refused to explain the circumstances that led to him sitting next to a dead cop with Jamal's legally purchased gun next by his side with all of the shots fired.  At some point I would think Mumia's supporters would call Mumia on his refusal to give his side of the story.  But that would require common sense.  I'm getting to old for this shit.

The movie ends with footage of Mumia Supporters intermingled with footage of Maureen visiting her husband's grave. During the credits there are numerous news footage segments covering the deaths of other officers from around the county who were murdered in the line of duty.

Three viewings later I am still digesting the impact of this movie. It is brilliant on many levels. I want to give a thoughtful analysis though instead of just saying it is one of the best documentaries I've ever seen without explaining why.

On a purely technical film school level the production, narrative, and scene placement is excellent. The narrative flows very well. The soundtrack fits each scene perfectly and it doesn't overuse any music in a distracting way. There was absolutely not one second of the film that was boring. There was no pointless filler. As far as the running time it didn't feel too short or too long which is actually surprising because while watching it I really didn't want it to end. It’s a little bit of a conundrum because it was like being presented a good meal with everything I would want. It wasn't missing anything and nothing was shorted. But it was just so good I wanted to come back for seconds.

The most important thing I can say about this documentary is that it deserves to exist. Many documentaries just rehash the basic facts without adding anything new to the documentary's subject matter. The Barrel of a Gun doesn't focus on rehashing the standard debating points about this case. It does go over the basic facts of the crime, as testified to in trial, but then shifts focus to providing a rich historical context to this case that has often been lost to those of us who didn't grow up in Philadelphia in the late 70's/early 80's. One doesn't need to come to this film with an in depth knowledge of the case to be able to understand the film.

Tigre Hill makes a solid case that Mumia's revolutionary activism, combined with his personal frustrations, led him to brutally murder Danny Faulkner. His research is intensive, his facts are sound and his journalistic integrity is flawless.

If one looks at the film objectively it becomes abundantly clear that Tigre Hill went out of his way to keep the film unbiased. Tigre interviewed subjects on both sides of the argument in a non confrontational way that allowed them to express their points of view. He didn't set anyone up to look foolish though a few ended up looking that way once they started talking.

Mumia's Supporters will try to argue that this film is dishonest and one sided because it doesn't indulge their imaginative perspectives on the facts of the case. This is extremely ironic because those words describe ALL of the Pro-Mumia documentaries.   This film shows commentary from both sides equally while adhering strictly to proved facts.   Unfortunately for Jamal the actual facts make it pretty clear that he is guilty.

Personally I think Tigre showed incredible restraint with some of his interviews. There were quite a few times that I wanted to smack some common sense into a few people's heads. There were a few questions that were left open-ended but that can only spark discussion which is a good thing.

All in all The Barrel of a Gun is an incredible documentary that I would recommend to everyone. On a scale of 1 to 10 this movie is a solid 10.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Starting over...

I wasn't happy with how 4M's dome was turning out so I pulled off the skins so I can start over...

To clarify why I needed to reskin R5-4M I have drawn up a top down pic.  It is a little exaggerated to make the point.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Progress Update 10-10-12

I got the arm carriers for the bottom utility arm installed.  I hope to be installing the top arm carriers tomorrow.  It's starting to come together.

Also don't forget that R5-4M will be at Milwaukee's Discovery Center on 10/20/12.

We look forward to seeing anyone who wants to come out and visit.  (I'm looking at you Erik!!  And bring Forest if you can!!)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Chuck Norris Conundrum

I finally got to see The Expendables 2 last Sunday.  It was almost a perfect movie but for all of its strengths it had one fundamental flaw:  Not Enough Norris.  Chuck stole every scene he was in but there weren't enough of them.  I can understand Stallone's trepidation about giving Chuck too many scenes.  The point of the movie was to give all of the great action stars a moment to shine.  This only possible if Chuck is not in the scene.  Even when standing in the background he steals all of the attention.

The movie did make the most effective use of Chuck it could while still allowing the other action stars to appear to be be remotely close to Chuck's level of Ultimate BadAssery.   His presence works to increase the drama for all of the other actors in the film because in comparison to him there seems little chance of other people achieving any level of success because he already has achieved all of the success that is even theoretically possible in the movie.

The movie succeeded in compensating for Chuck's ONLY flaw as an actor.  In any good film there has to be a point at which it seems like all of the chips are down and the hero might not succeed.  In one of his only limitations as a human being Chuck Norris is not capable of portraying this scenario.  It is impossible for anyone watching Chuck Norris to suspend disbelief enough to believe that there is even an infinitesimal possibility that he might not succeed utterly in his endeavor.  It is utterly impossible to pretend there is any chance in hell Chuck won't dominate every other living thing on the planet.  Expendables was able to work Chuck's awesomeness into the story by acknowledging Chuck's impossibility of failure. 

Sadly to keep the film below an NC-17 rating Chuck Norris' most badass scene had to take place off-screen.  I understand this because reminding everyone of what Chuck Norris is capable of would most certainly cause a universal panic.

In closing I would recommend everyone see this movie but keep your expectations reasonable.  As I stated above Chuck Norris couldn't be in large portions of the movie because of the reasons stated.  His mere presence elevates this film to the top of the best movies ever made but it makes it obvious how much better it could've been if the whole movie focused solely on Chuck.

R5 Progress

Sorry that I've been slacking off with the updates.  I have been stuck in my build because with 2 problems:

1.  Mounting the Utility Arm Boxes so they are removable
2.  Smoothing out minor imperfections in R5's dome.

Hopefully those will be resolved soon and I can resume the rest of the build.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The new aquarium is cycling!!!

We finally have it plumbed into the refugium, the water is in place, and it is getting ready for the fish to come home!!!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

My other project

I am taking a break from R2 building to take down our 150 Gallon Reef Tank so we can downsize to a 100 Gallon Reef Tank.  Once it is up and running I will be returning my focus back on to my droid build.  Here are some pics:

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Status Update

I finally got some new dremel metal cutting disks so I am going to start working on the R2 dome.  I am also getting the parts to start mounting the arm boxes.  Pictures will be posted as progress is made.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Parts for sale

I have an unassembled CNC cut wooden frame for sale and an unassembled CNC cut wooden leg kit for sale.  The body kit is $225 plus shipping and the leg kit is $325 plus shipping.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Octagon Ports

I was able to get a octagon port flat pack from following website:

I have built one octagon port and it looks great.  The build was easy.  The best part is painting will be easy because the walls can be glued to the back afterwards.  Also the square frame allows it to glue into the frame better.  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!!!

Monday, October 24, 2011

R5-4M's first public appearance!!!

R5-4M made his public debut at the Annual Discovery World Star Wars Day this past Saturday (10/22/2011).  He was the only all styrene droid there.  I still have a lot of work to do but I hope to have him finished, or at least mobile, by next years Star Wars Day event.  Thanks to Erik for taking these pictures!!!  I brought a camera and took loads of pictures of Mya with 501st members  but completely forgot to take pictures of the R2 Builders room.... :(

Mya, R5-4M, and Me
Vander Karlson, Mya, and R5-4M
Mya Fett and R5-4M
Vander Karlson with Paul Hayden's R2-D2
Vander and R5-4M


Sunday, July 3, 2011

Here's Mya!!!

Mya thought it would be fun to sit inside R5's body....

Thursday, June 2, 2011


I finally tracked down the camera.  Mya had it in her book bag so she could take it to school.

Anyway here are some pics of my progress...

Here are my scratch built detail pieces.  I flipped over a couple of my vents so you could see the how I made the backs.  I am still working on the power coupler in the upper right...

Here is one of my legs.

Here is a leg standing up with the booster cover I am attempting to scratchbuild.

Here is a foot with the battery box on it

Here are some shots of my still in progress R5 Dome.  All he needs is his skins...

Here's some front shots of the body with detail pieces in place.

Here's the backside too...

A better shot of the skirt...

And a look in from the top. I still have to clean some dirt off the left side as I was building it on the porch...

Fun times!!!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

An actual building update

I have been an exceptionally busy R2 Builder lately.  I have actually built the ankles and the battery boxes from R2's legs.

Here's the ankles:

I'll post pics of the battery boxes soon...

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Fun with Routers...

I have been working with my makeshift router table to start cutting the circular parts.  it has been frustrating because It is hard to find the exact spot to place the center of the circle so that the final routed product is the perfect size.  As a result I have had to repurpose my first few attempts at the body rings.  Luckily I needed to make smaller rings for my R5 dome so they could easily be salvaged.  So yesterday (Saturday April 9th 2011) I was in my garage cutting pieces.  Being overconfident, and just plain stupid, I didn't worry about clamping the board, that the router is attached to, to the table.  At one point I was trying to press the piece down flat as I was rotating it so it would cut right and the board flipped onto the floor.  In the process my forearm smacked into the spinning router blade.  Blood ensued.  Luckily it was only a surface wound and didn't require stitches because they would've been impossible to put on due to the nature of the wound.  It is shaped almist like a tear drop with multiple cuts that look like gills.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Turns out I am not the first one to think of putting a mouth on an R5...

The Clone Wars did it first:

I still like my mouth concept better though...

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Great Dome Debacle

I started off the night making some good progress.  I made some cuts into the inner dome to make it easier to get the outer dome to fit all the way down equally.  It may look odd with the outer dome off but once it is on these cuts will be completely hidden.

I thought I would be done for the night so I watched a documentary on Netflix about Bret 'The Hitman' Hart of all things. 

I am not a huge wrestling fan but it looked interesting.  It turned out to be very interesting but I digress from R2 building.

For some ridiculous reaon after the movie I decided to JB Weld the top section of the inner dome to the outer dome in the middle of the night.  I figured if I got the smelly chemical work done while Andrea was sleeping she wouldn't know about it so she wouldn't make me have to do it in the freezing cold garage.  In regular temperatures the weld would cure in a reasonable time frame.  I wasn't sure how it would work in cold temperatures so I was afraid to try and do it outside.  It was craziness.  And the mistakes began...

MISTAKE I:  Mixed, and applied, the JB Weld with paint sticks.  Paint sticks were WAY too big to apply it easily in the tight spaces I was working in.  It got messy.  I cleaned it up instead of stopping to take pictures.  Sorry if I disappointed anyone...
MISTAKE II:  Not enough strong clamps IMO.  The little clamps weren't really as strong as I would've liked once the JB Weld came into play.  If I could do it over I would've had more of the red clamps.

MISTAKE III:  Used an old Acetone can that had a removable top near the sink to clean my hands.  Unfortunately my sink doesn't have the stopper in place and I had been too lazy to hire a plumber to put a new one in.  And where do I accidentally drop the Acetone cap?? 

Saw that coming didn't you...  So then I was running around the first floor of the house with an open Acetone container that smelled so bad I could even smell it with my impaired, to non-existant, sense of smell.  Finally I just wrapped it in Saran Wrap just to cover it and stop the poisonous fumes from killing us all.  Or causing dain bramage...  Crap...

Around 3:00 AM I finally went to bed.  Or tried to at least.  At 4:00 Mya came in our room and started throwing up so Andrea got up and dealt with her.  I finally fell asleep.  At 7:30 Mya wanted to get up and watch TV and Andrea asked me to do it since she had "been up all night" with Mya as she threw up.  Really it was only about 30 minutes.  I know I was awake during it.  But I couldn't admit how stupid I was to her and how late I had been up so I went down and fed Mya.  Then I started writing this blog entry...

In the end the R2 Dome will be fine.  As much as I complained about the clamping issues I think they will actually be OK.  And if they look ugly on the inside you will only see them when I open the pie plates. 

And just to clear it up pie plates is the term user to reference the 6 panels on the top of an R2 unit's dome.  In a excellently done 300mm dome they can look like this:

The interior sections of mine will never look that good though...

I need to go back to bed.  ENJOY!!!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

An actual R5-4M update

I should be caught up on my debt by February so I will be able to order my styrene at that time.  Then I will start working on R5-4M's dome.

Almost finished with the top section of the inner dome

I cut out all of the pieplate sections and have filed them down fairly nicely.  Now I need to figure out if I need to do hinges now or later.  Once I know what to do about that I can use JB Weld to weld it to the outer frame.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Heads with eyes

Mya wanted to add the eyes to the design.  I am not sure if I am too keen on the idea.  Here are some concepts:

Personally I think I prefer the one with no painted on eyes at the top of this blog...

If I had to pick one of these though I like the bottom one best...