Monday, September 21, 2009


Many have heard of the lake monster “Nessie” lurking in the depths of Loch Ness. But have you heard about his American cousin? In Lake Champlain, lying between New York and Vermont, there may be another version of the beast nicknamed by its surrounding inhabitants as “Champ”.

To help one understand the nature of this animal, I believe it is helpful to start with these creatures’ origins. Champ and Nessie fall under a species classification titled “cryptozoological creatures”. Champ is believed to be somewhere between 15-25 feet in length and dark green in color. Both individuals are thought of as shy and timid, often being scared away by nearby boats.

Native American tribes of the Abenaki and Iroquois believed that a large, horned serpent occupied the lake. Samuel de Champlain, whom the lake is named after, is credited as being the first European to see Champ in 1609. Though by the description of the text it seems that he may have just seen a large garfish instead.

There are many theories as to what exactly Champ may be:

• A dinosaur that managed to escape extinction.

• A surviving zeuglodon, a primitive form of whale with a snake like body.

• A lake sturgeon; its single dorsal fin running along its spine is synonymous in many sightings, while its shark-like tale does not meet any descriptions.

• Skeptics have pointed out the existence of an underwater wave called a seiche, which can throw debris from the bottom causing items to protrude through the surface.

• A relative of a plesiosaur, a prehistoric water dwelling reptile with a long snake-like head and four flippers. Since fish were believed to be their primary diet, the Lake Champlain’s diversity of aquatic life could easily suite the creatures. They have been dated back to the Triassic period (200 million years ago) through the Cretaceous period (65 million years ago), where all dinosaurs were thought to have gone extinct.

I know what you’re asking yourself right now, “But even if there have been over 300 recorded sightings, wouldn’t there have to be more than one to continue the population?” Yes, in fact, scientists speculate at least 50 adult Champs would be needed to sustain a breeding population, while 500 specimens would allow the species to sustain itself for a longer period.

While these numbers seem daunting, Lake Champlain would be a suitable environment for such a creature. The lake is 120 miles long, reaches depths of 400 feet, and has been in its present condition for around 10,000 years.

The first official sighting of Champ was in 1819 in Port Henry, New York, where a railroad crew reported seeing a “head of an enormous serpent sticking out of the water and approaching them from the opposite shore”. Around this time, farmers reported missing livestock and drag marks leading towards the lake’s shore. The New York Times even published an article about an incident in 1873 where another railroad crew, this time located in Dresden, New York, spotted a head rising from the water with silvery, reflective scales.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, efforts have been made in investigation of Champ. Former social studies teacher, Joseph W Zarzynski, formed the Lake Champlain Phenomenon Investigation sixteen years ago and has published multiple books on Champ. The best evidence to this day is the below photograph taken by Sandra Mansi in 1977. Her account of that day can be found here.

Whether a floating tree branch or an oddly shaped rock, the legend of Champ will continue to live on in the small towns of Vermont and New York; even in the city of Port Henry where its citizens have made the creature their mascot.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Big Texan Steak Ranch

Located in Amarillo, Texas, this gem of the south opened in 1960 on the once popular U.S. Route 66. Launched by Midwesterner, R.J. “Bob” Lee, its creator grew up on stories and movies about the old West. Lee eventually moved his family out to the Texas panhandle only to be disappointed to find there was no first-class steakhouse in this area best known for its cattle. In a flash of ingenuity, Bob decided to risk his family’s savings to open what was to become one the world’s most famous steakhouses.

R.J. "Bob" Lee
The restaurant later moved to its present location on Interstate 40 in 1970 for increased traffic. As a steakhouse and hotel, the restaurant has gathered world acclaim for its signature 72 oz. steak challenge called “The Big Texan.”

In case you didn’t read that right, that’s 4.5 pounds of pure American beef! The contestant is given one hour to finish the meal which besides the steak consists of a bread roll with butter, baked potato, ranch beans, shrimp cocktail, and salad. The meal costs a staggering $72, but if finished the contestant is refunded and the meal is free. Though by that point, you’ll probably be wondering why they didn’t pay you to go through this torture.

The Big Texan challenge was born when hungry cowboys would come in for dinner claiming they could each “eat the whole, darned cow.” After seeing one mighty cowboy shovel 4.5 pounds of steak into his stomach, he decided to let anyone who could perform the feat again receive the meal on the house (or maybe that’s more like 4-5 meals).

Since then everyone from a 11 year-old boy to a 69 year-old grandmother have completed the challenge, along with a professional wrestler by the name of Klondike Bill who consumed two of the meals within the time frame. Competitive eating champion, Joey Chestnut, holds the record for the fastest completing of The Texas King at 8 minutes and 52 seconds on March 24, 2008.

Klondike Bob looking a little stuffed.
The steak is cooked to your preference, and participants are placed on a raised seating platform in the middle of the dining area for everyone to view.

Open 365 days a year, with thousands of visitors a month, it looks as if The Big Texan Steak Ranch has cemented its place in food history. You can view the contest table LIVE! from here or you can watch Adam Richman from the Travel Channel’s Man vs. Food try his luck here.

I want to know…What’s the biggest piece of meat you’ve ever eaten? How much did it weigh and what were the circumstances? Leave a comment or post a picture.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


I realize the majority of my posts have focused more on activities you can go out and experience, but the other half of this blog is designated for traveling. If you have read my profile, you know that in a little more than six months I will be leaving for my bicycle tour around the world. Seeing as much of the natural beauty of the world is one of my highest aspirations. For as long as I can remember, I have been entranced by one phenomenon of nature in particular. Of course, I speak of what I know as the Northern Lights.

Though there have been many theories in the past, these happenings are caused by an interaction between Earth’s magnetic field (magnetosphere) and solar wind. Occasionally there is a collision of charged particles between those from the magnetosphere with plasma particles accelerating from the Sun. These superheated particles are also magnetic and reach the Earth’s atmosphere at speeds of 350-400 Km/s. The solar winds compress the sunward facing side of our planet which compresses its magnetic field ultimately powering the aurora.

Sun emitting plasma particles into the Earth's magnetosphere.

These actions tend to excite the electrons into taking quantum leaps, where the electron’s kinetic energy is converted into visible light. Most auroras are green or red from the presence of oxygen, while nitrogen molecules produce some light red/pink and blue/violet demonstrations. The level of solar wind activity from the Sun can influence the color and intensity of auroras.

Auroras are a common occurrence in the north and south poles while occasionally being seen in temperate latitudes due to the presence of a strong magnetic storm. These storms normally coincide with the peak of the eleven-year sunspot cycle.

Other planets within our solar systems, such as Jupiter and Saturn, exhibit aurora activity as well.

Jupiter Aurora

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Ninja Stars

We all wish we were a ninja right? To have the stealth, cunning, strength, and diverse technology to kill any opponent. While there are many tools in a ninja’s arsenal, today I wish to highlight perhaps their most renowned weapon to date, the ninja star. Or to the overly devoted, the sacred skuriken.

A traditional Japanese weapon, the shuriken (literally meaning “sword hidden in the hand”) is concealed during the majority of battle but revealed for throwing and occasionally stabbing and slashing. Used mainly as a secondary weapon to the katana (sword) or yari (spear), they were used for means of distraction.

Targets included the face, hands, or feet where a samurai’s (the ninja’s ultimate foe) flesh was exposed. There have been unverified reports of ninja stars’ tips being dipped in poison as well as being buried in dirt or fecies to rust. If an enemy was cut deeply enough, they would be infected with tetanus which was then incurable.
While mostly associated as a throwing star, there are actually two main types of shuriken:
1. Bo-shuriken: Consists of a straight, iron or steel spike, usually four sided but can also be round and octagonal in shape. Normally single-pointed but have been seen with both points sharpened, they range from 5”- 8 1/2” in length and weigh about a quarter of a pound. They were made of everyday items such as nails, needles, and knifes. Other items were also thrown in this fashion including the kogai (ornamental hairpin), kogata (utility knife), and chopsticks (What good that’ll do you!?).

2. Hira-shuriken: Thin, flat plates of metal made from coins, carpentry tools, and washers. They typically had a hole in the center; inherit from their constructed materials that allowed for storage on string, as well as yielding aerodynamic benefits. Temporary ninja stars are made of stainless steel. Average width is 11 cm, thickness is near 3 mm, and number of tips can range from 3-20.

Hira-shuriken were also known to be embedded into the ground to injure advancing soldiers or wrapped in fuse and lit to cause fire. The art of throwing these weapons is known as shurikenjutsu. Shinobi in origin, its ways are very secretive as schools are difficult to locate.

If you’re thinking about purchasing some of your own ninja stars, whether for real use or aesthetic purposes, PLEASE TAKE THIS SERIOUSLY!!! You will normally find shuriken for sale in knife stores and in most states need to be 18 or accompanied by a guardian to buy some. If you’re looking for something a bit fancier, the websites and contain a vast selection of stars and related equipment such as target boards and ninja apparel.

I want to know…What martial art weapon do you want to learn the most? Do you wish you had advanced numb chucks skills or an expert wielding of the longbow? Leave a comment and stir up some discussion.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Whether you like it or not, here’s another sports article. Everyone can ride a bicycle (at least those over the age of five), but how good are you on just one wheel? Are you willing to take the unicycle challenge?

Firstly, I would like to give you a small history lesson on the advent of the unicycle. It is said that the contraption is an improvement of the old penny-farthing (or “Ordinary”) in the 19th century. Since the crankarms that transformed the power in your legs into movement were directly connected to the drive wheel, the rear wheel would normally rise into the air. Eventually some mad-man decided to whack off the latter half of the frame and just leave the front wheel and handlebars. Thus the unicycle was born.

However, before I lose anymore bored listeners, I want to inform you that unicyclists aren’t just for bowling pin juggling clowns these days. Below are the innovative variations of the standard machine:

Offroad unicycle (MUni or muni)- Mountain unicycling that requires larger wheel diameter (usually 24”-26”) permitting the rider to more easily traverse varying terrain. The seat is thicker and more comfortable (for obvious reasons guys), and sometimes brakes are applied for use in descents.

Ultimate wheel- Two pedals attached to a wheel. Extremely difficult to learn.

Giraffe unicycle- Taller version of a standard unicycle mostly used for entertainment purposes.

This one-wheel wonder has gained so much notoriety that sports based off the device have sprung up everywhere including basketball, hockey, and handball.

Common brands are Kris Holm, Nimbus, and Torker. For an even more geeky description on the art of unicycling visit Thanks for reading and be safe out there (trust me…you’ll fall a LOT before you start to get the hang of it).


Are you ready to strap on your skirt laddy and play your heart out? Well, whether you’re ready for the screeching that follows or not, here is my explanation of the bagpipes.

Bagpipes are a musical instrument belonging to the aerophones family that uses enclosed reeds fed from a constant reservoir of air in the form of a bag. A set of bagpipes will normally include an air supply, a bag, chanter, and drone.

Air supply- Most common source of air is supplied by the instrument’s user by means of a blowpipe. Alternatively, some variations called ‘coldpipes’ use bellows to provide air.

Bag- Traditional designs are made from various animal skins including: goats, dogs, sheep, and cows. The majority of current bags are constructed from synthetic materials, most notably Gore-Tex.

Chanter- The melody pipe played by one or both hands. It is usually open-ended making it difficult to suddenly stop the pipe from sounding, so grace notes are played to create the illusion of articulation and ascents.

Drone- Most bagpipes have at least one of these. A cylindrical tube with 1-2 reeds designed in two parts with a sliding joint called a ‘bridle’ that adjusts the instrument’s tone. You will see they are located in various places such as lying over the shoulder, across the arm opposite the bag, or parallel with the canter.

Recent history of the bagpipes starts with the expansion of the British Empire, where the Scottish Great Highland Bagpipe became known worldwide. Popularity increased as a result of large numbers of pipers being trained for military service in the two World Wars. The most well known versions include the Turkish Tulum, the Northumbrian smallpipes, and the gaita de boto.

     Turkish tulum                                 Northumbrian smallpipes        

gaita de boto
Police forces in Canada, Scotland, Australia, China, and the United States have adopted the tradition of pipe bands.

If you are so eager to start huffing and puffing, you may want to visit and for either the real thing or a practice model called the ‘practice chanter’ for about $125. Also, if you ever have the urge to hear some good old-fashion Scottish music, the website is a professional network of bagpipers where you can search for one in your area to perform at an event of your choosing.

I want to know…What song do you think would sound the best on the bagpipes? Perhaps the Flying Seagull’s I Ran, or Metallica’s Enter Sandman? Leave a comment with your choice and I’ll post a video (if I can find one) of the most bizarre musical stint with your song.

Thanks again for reading and always ask yourself, “Do I dare disturb the universe?”

Thursday, September 3, 2009


What the hell is that thing? It looks like a half plane, half helicopter, half glider! This mad-scientist’s twist on aviation is called the autogyro.

Invented by Juan de la Cierva in 1919, the autgyro made its first successful flight in 1923. Similar to helicopters, autogyros use a rotor to develop lift. Yet while a helicopter’s rotor is rotated by an engine, an autogyro’s rotor is self-driven by aerodynamic forces in a process called autorotation.

The aircraft derives its propulsion from an engine driven prop similar to that found on an airplane. You may also hear autogyros called by names such as gyroplanes, gyrocopters, or rotaplanes.

Today’s autogyros appear in two styles:

1. Pusher- More common where the engine and attached prop are located rear of the pilot, while in the latter they are located in the front.

2. Tractor- Earlier autogyros were of this style until the advent of the helicopter but have lately gained popularity due to their unique appearance.

The aircraft carries historical significance when multiple countries utilized the technology in World War II. Germany invented a smaller gyroglider, the Focke-Achgelis Fa 330, which was towed by U-boats to provide aerial surveillance.

Focke-Achgelis Fa 330

The Japanese developed the Kayaba Ka-1 used in reconnaissance and small, coastal submarine attacks. Each autogyro would carry a pilot and a spotter where their only weapons were small depth charges thrown by hand. There was only one recorded submarine kill by an autogyro in all of World War II.

Autogyros can be widely seen in today’s culture with appearances in H.G. Well’s Things to Come and most notably in the 1967 James Bond film You Only Live Twice.

My question today is, “What’s the craziest flying contraption you’ve ever seen?” Describe it in the comments box or leave a link to a video/picture somewhere else on the web. See you all later and hooray for French ingenuity!

P.S.-- If you’re really intrigued by how these machines function but don’t have the money to dish out for one, visit this page for information to their workings and/or remote controlled products.


From sky to land. Today’s topic is a newly created sport yet to be exposed to the mainstream of extreme athletes. A recreation immediately identified with snowboarding, yet its diehard fans will tell you, you can’t even begin to compare the two. Of course, I’m speaking of sandboarding.

As you can speculate, sandboarding is to sand as what snowboarding is to snow. The major reason this sport has yet to catch on to the masses is because locations aren’t present in wide areas of the globe. Plus, for those overweight shlubs, there are no ski lifts to take you back up hills. So you can imagine the workout that follows if you wish to repeat.

So where does one sandboard? The sport is mostly seen in desert areas and coastal regions with beach dunes. Ica, Peru has some of the best quality sand for the sport with hills reaching heights of 2 Km. It has also gained popularity in South Africa where the majority of national competitions are held. Interestingly enough, evidence has been found that Egyptians may have made planks from pottery and wood to ride its countries dunes going back to the days of the pharaohs.

If you’re interested in giving this a try, I’m sad to say that your typical snowboard just isn’t going to cut it. The main difference between the two boards is that a sandboard’s base is much harder. Their undersides must be applied with specialty sandboard wax after each run to eliminate drag. Standard boards are constructed from hardwood-ply, while longer, racing boards are made of wood, fiberglass, and plastic composites.

So where I can learn to do this and end up with a mouthful of sand? Well Sand Master Park in Florence, Oregon is the world’s first sandpark with 40 acres of private sculpted sand dunes and a full-time pro shop. If you want to learn anything else about the sport, the website is just for you. There you can find nearby locations, purchase gear, see links to similar sites, and find out if this alternative action is just for you!

WHO KNEW?! -- Erik Johnson, a professional snow and sand boarder, holds the world record for speed on a sandboard at 51 mph.


If you don’t already know what skydiving, or parachuting, is then this blog probably isn’t for you. But for the other 99.99% of the population that does, let’s get to it!

First off, you don’t have to jump out of a plane at 15,000 feet to parachute. This is a common misconception because the majority of those interested in feeling this rush may be afraid of heights (ohh alright…ostensibly HIGH heights). The following is a list of possible ways to freefall with a shute over your head:

  • Base jumping – Jumping from a fixed object such as a cliff, bridge, or (scarily) a tree.
  • Wingsuit flying – The attempt to “fly” through the air wearing a specially designed jumpsuit that shapes the body into an airfoil creating lift.
  • Skysurfing – Skydiving with an aerodynamically crafted board attached to the feet that allow the user to perform enhanced aerial maneuvers.
  • Freestyle skydiving – Competitions in which jumpers try to out maneuver others in an attempt to gain the most style points.
But assuming none of you jump out of airplanes on a regular basis, there are really only two options for the beginner to choose from:

1. Tandem jumping – Student skydiver is attached to an experienced instructor who controls all aspects of your launch and landing.

2. Accelerated Freefall (AFF) – This option is labeled as “accelerated” because it is the fastest way to skydive solo. The student learns to land oneself but is accompanied by at least two other instructors on the decent.

Tandem jumping is obviously the easier of the two and perhaps the most enjoyable. Especially for first time jumpers who are experiencing a lot of anxiety, knowing that someone else has got your back (literally) may allow you enjoy the actual experience a little more. Plus, all you have to do is show up at your scheduled time, get a few instructions (which normally doesn’t take more than 2 hours), and you’re on your way up! Prices range from $190-$230 for individuals; however some locations offer group discounts.

AFF is much more tedious and expensive, but it’s worth it if you want that feeling of independence. The actual jumps themselves are around the same price ($230-$300), but the training can cost you up to $1,500.

But what about safety? Well only 30 people, per 100,000 jumps, die each year from skydiving. If that’s not enough to settle your stomach, visit for more information.

As for finding a place to jump, I’ve found the site,, extremely helpful. But most places are also listed in the phonebook.

I want to know…what you think the stupidest way to die while skydiving would be. Perhaps being struck by lightning or maybe choking on your descending vomit? Post a comment and I’ll get back to you.