Monday, October 26, 2009

Free Running

Do you ever wish you were Tarzan? How about instead of swinging from treetop to treetop, you could run, jump, and scale over any obstacle in the city? I do but I’m not sure I up to the challenge physically (if you know what I mean). Still, for those diehard athletes out there who can’t afford a bike or skateboard, the newest form of taming a city’s obstacles is upon us. Welcome to free running.

First off, free running has gone by several names so I hope to clear the air here by separating what exactly each term represents. Free running is a form of urban acrobatics where participants use city and rural landscapes to perform movements through its structures. People often confuse this sport with the following two alternatives:

Parkour (PK)- A physical discipline of French origin in which participants run along a route, negotiating obstacles in the most efficient means possible.

o Pronounced in French as l’art du deplacement (English: “the art of moving”).

o Main characteristic is efficiency. Participants travel in the most direct way possible while free runners are keener to freedom movement and creativity.

o Unofficial motto is etre et durer (to be and to last).

Tricking- A new underground sport that combines martial arts, gymnastics, and break dancing.

o Mainly incorporates back flips, 540 kicks from Taekwondo, butterfly twists from Wushu, and double legs from Capoeira.

After receiving attention from the film Casino Royale, militaries from different countries began looking for ways to incorporate parkour into their training. The British Royal Marines hired parkour athletes to train their troops and the art is slowly being introduced into the United States Marine Corps.

If you’re in good enough shape to learn this style of martial arts you should be proud of yourself for taking on this disciplined study. The websites and offer some decent quality tutorials with pictures and a couple videos. However, if you’re just looking for a place to watch some good parkour videos, pretty much says it all.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Lawnmower Racing

Have you ever wanted to get involved in racing but never had the money or advanced technical knowhow to get started? Well this recently born sport may be your lucky break to racing superstardom.

Lawnmower racing is a form of motorsport where competitors race modified, self-riding lawnmowers. The original engines are retained, but blades are removed for safety.

The sport was invented in 1973 in West Sussex, England by a group of men sitting in a pub complaining about the immense costs required to participate in any kind of motorsport. That quickly led to the first racing lawnmowers and the creation of the British Lawn Mower Racing Association.

The idea was later brought to the United States by the makers of a petrol, fuel-stabilizer called STA-BIL. Since then, organizations such as the United States Lawn Mower Racing Association (USLMRA) and the American Racing Mower Association (ARMA) have led the way in the sport since 1981.

Like any standardized sport, there are plenty of rules and regulations. Since USLMRA is the premiere lawnmower racing organization in North America, I have chosen to secure my information from them. The following has come directly from their website. There you can read their blog, find official machine regulations, yearly event schedules, and much more.

Below is their list of the racing classes:

• Stock- As delivered from the factory.
• IMOW- front engine, highly regulated
• Prepared- Modified drive train, engine, etc.
• FX- Major modifications allowed.
• JP: For kids age 10-15.

**All riders must be 18 years old to compete, although 16 and 17 year olds are allowed with parental permission.**

If you want to try this new sport out for yourself, please think it over carefully before you go out and splurge on the new Ferrari of lawnmowers. You should have an ample amount of technical knowledge and patience when facing the inevitable blockades (there are no instructions for you to follow). Although, this link on is one man’s account in pursuit of his dream machine.

The website is an online forum where fellow racers can share their knowledge and answer your questions along the way. ARMA's website has a forum service as well that is only available to registered users.

Did you know?- While these lawnmowers go an average speed of 25 mph, most courses are 500-700 feet long laps. If you don’t think that’s fast, see for yourself below.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Buckingham Palace

Britain…one of the most historically rich countries in the world.  With so many attractions, you could spend a whole lifetime on the island and still not see everything.  However, if I were to go to the United Kingdom today, there is only one thing I would want to do.  I would want to see how much sh** the guards in front of Buckingham Palace could take before they assaulted me! 

Originally named Buckingham House, the core of today’s palace was built as a townhouse for the 1st Duke of Buckingham and Normanby, Jeff Sheffield, in 1703.  It was later acquired by George III, king of Great Britain and Ireland, in 1761 as a private residence for his Queen Charolette.  During the 19th century, the palace was enlarged to form three new wings and a central courtyard. 

Buckingham Palace is known today as the official London residence of the British monarch.  This transition occurred in 1837 with the accession of Queen Victoria.  The palace’s last major additions were made in the late 19th and early 20th centuries adding the East front which contains the well-known balcony on which the Royal Family traditionally congregates to meet crowds.

With 828,818 square feet of floor space, the title ‘palace’ seems very fitting.  Buckingham Palace has 775 rooms comprising of 19 staterooms, 52 royal and guest bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices, and 78 bathrooms.  It also employs 450 people year round.  Three of the most notable areas of the palace are the Garden, the Royal Mews, and the Mall

The Garden is located at the rear of the palace and is the largest privately owned garden in London.  Containing an artificial lake, its huge size makes it look more like a public park.  The Queen of England holds her annual summer garden parties here along with celebrations for royal milestones. 

 aerial shot of Buckingham Garden


Next to the Garden is the Royal Mews where the royal carriages, including the Gold State Coach, are stored along with the horses. 

outside Royal Mews

inside Royal Mews

Gold State Coach

The Mall is a ceremonial approach route to the palace that was designed by Sir Aston Webb and completed in 1911, in tribute to Queen Victoria.  All cavalcades and motorcades of visiting heads of state, as well as by the Royal Family use the route for the State Opening of Parliament and “Trooping the Colour” each year.

the Mall

The Queen’s Gallery contains pieces from the Royal Collection open for public view.  The palace’s state rooms are open from late July through September. 

Did you know?- If the flag is flying on the flagpole on top of the palace, the Queen is home.

Now…as far as the guards are concerned, the only time to see them is during a ceremony called “Changing the Guards”.  A fact most people don’t realize is that these guards are also soldiers including some of the most elite fighters in the British Army.  All palace guards come from the Household Cavalry Regiment, which includes:

•    the Life Guards
•    Blues and Royals
•    Grenadier Guards
•    Coldstream Guards
•    Scots Guards
•    Irish Guards
•    Welsh Guards

These defenders will not move as a result of your actions, so be feel free to taunt away.  However, I must insist that you do not insult the guards’ country and/or person through the use of profanity or any other threatening language. 

For picture ideas with the guardsmen, watch Mr. Bean below.

I want to know…What’s the most outlandish uniform you’ve ever seen?  Post a picture or link to one in the comments section, and thank you everybody for reading!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Blarney Castle

“Yes...they’re always after me lucky charms.” We have all been exposed to some form of Irish culture. Whether it be leprechauns’ pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, getting pinched on St. Patrick’s Day (for committing the ultimate sin), or simply drinking too much beer. But I’m betting most of you have never heard of one of their most prestigious possessions. An item that when you are in its presence you are granted ultimate luck. Interested? Then you may have to plan a visit to Blarney Castle.

Rebuilt three times, the castle was originally constructed around 1210 A.D. It was later destroyed in 1446 but soon rebuilt only to be seized during the Irish Confederate Wars in 1646 by Parliamentarian forces. After the second restoration, the castle was endowed to Donough MacCarty who was named the 1st Earl of Clanarcarty.

Unfortunately (again), during the Williamite War in the 1690s, the castle was captured and sold a number of times before falling into the ownership of a Sir James St. John Jefferyes. Yet in an unexpected bout of bad luck, his family built a mansion overlooking the nearby lake that was soon destroyed by another fire.

The majority of the castle is no longer safe to venture into, but some rooms remain accessible for touring. At the top of the castle lies my true point of interest, the Stone of Eloquence, better known as the Blarney Stone.

Stone of Scone (replica)

Built into the castle’s battlements, the Blarney Stone is a block of bluestone; a rock that goes by other names depending on its location of origin. These include: feldspathic sandstone, limestone, dolerite, and basalt. Legend states that the stone was presented to Cormac McCarthy by Robert the Bruce in 1314 in recognition of his support in the Battle of Bannockburn. There are many theories to the origin of the stone:

• Was part of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem brought to Ireland during the Crusades.

• Half of the original Stone of Scone (Stone of Destiny or Coronation Stone), a 336 pound block of red sandstone used in the coronation of Scottish and English monarchs in Scone Abbey, Scotland.

• Was the pillow Jacob used; brought to Ireland by the prophet Jeremiah.

To acquire the stone’s magical benefits, one must kiss it ever so gently; following the “strict ritual” that has been completed by millions. The kisser must ascend to the castle’s peak then lean over backwards on the parapet’s edge with some assistance.

The castle is also surrounded by an extensive framework of gardens. Various attractions on the grounds include several natural rock formations such as Druid’s Circle, Witch’s Cave, and the Wishing Steps. Also, the Blarney House (the reconstructed Jefferyes’ mansion) became open to the public after its restoration in 1874.

Wishing Steps

For more information about the castle, visit their website at

Did you know?- “blarney” has come to mean clever, flattering, or coaxing talk.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


As if the bagpipes weren’t noisy enough, you should hear their long-lost brother.  Meet the strangely played, looking, and sounding didgeridoo.

The didgeridoo (also known as a “didjeridu” or “didge”) is a wind instrument occasionally associated with a natural wooden trumpet or drone pipe.  Traditionally made from Eucalyptus, bamboo, and Pandanus trees that had their interiors hollowed from termite occupation or natural diseases, the instrument was developed by Australians at least 1,500 years ago. 

Musicologists classify the didgeridoo in the same class as that of bagpipes (I told you they were related.) as an aerophone.  Didgeridoos are cylindrical or conical in shape measuring 3-10 feet long.  The longer the pipe, the lower the pitch or key of the device.

Modern didgeridoos are constructed out of PVC piping, hardwoods not native to Australia, fiberglass, metal, or agave.  These designs typically have an upper diameter of 1 ¼” going down to a flared end ranging between 2”-8” in diameter.  While traditional types have mouthpieces rimmed with beeswax for a better seal, modern varieties are more likely to be fitted to the individual user’s mouth.

wax mouthpiece

The instrument is played with the user vibrating their lips using a special breathing technique called “circular breathing”.  This process begins when the user fully inhales and begins to blow into the pipe.  When their lungs are almost empty, their last amount of air is stored inside the mouth, inflating the cheeks.  Then the person must suck in enough air through the nose before the supply in the mouth depletes so continuous play can be sustained. 

If you want to learn to do this, a good way to practice is to try to inflate your cheeks only by breathing in through your nose.  If that sounds difficult, that’s because it is!

Did you know?- Musician Mark Atkins in Didgeridoo Concerto (1994) plays for over 50 minutes continuously.

Clapsticks (also known as pair sticks and “bilma”) traditionally accompanied didgeridoos as beat holders. 

With the coming of the 20th century came the advent of many new modernized didgeridoo designs.  The didjeribone (also known as a “slideridoo/slidgeridoo”) was invented in 1981 by Australian musician Charlie McMahon.  Constructed of two pieces of plastic tube (one slightly less in diameter than the other), the smaller piece slides inside the larger tube similar to the process of a trombone.  You can find the instrument’s official site here and Charlie’s personalized webpage here.

Marko Johnson from the United States invented the “DidjBox/DidgeBox” in 1995.  This is a more compact and lightweight version of an original didgeridoo that still maintains its signature sound.  Marko’s websites and the newly created show a cornucopia of his magical didgeridoo and native drum designs respectively. 

The keyed didgeridoo was invented by a U.S. didgeridoo player named Graham Wiggins (stage name is “Dr. Didg”).  He built the instrument from a physics workshop at Oxford University where he later earned his Ph.D.  


Did you know? (Again!)- A 2005 study in the British Medical Journal found that learning and practicing the circular breathing technique used in playing the didgeridoo helped reduce snoring and sleep apnea by strengthening muscles in the upper airway, reducing their tendency to collapse during sleep.

If you have family members and/or neighbors willing to put up with your beginner play, then you may find no reason to start looking towards acquiring your own didgeridoo. and are two sources that you will find incredibly useful.

Monday, October 12, 2009


As you can guess from previous posts, I love the extreme. And part of that fixation is rooted in my obsession with the world’s largest. So today, I introduce the world’s longest and fastest zip-lines in hopes that one day you’ll have the courage to face up to not-realistically-threatening feats yourself. But first, as always, a little background.

Most people assume that zip-lines are a recent trend; concocted by some drunken college student. But they’re not. This combination of ropes and pulleys is deeply connected to the Tyrolean traverse; system climbers employ to move between pillars, cliffs, and waterways. Originating out of the Dolomites, Kaisergebrige, and Tyrolean Alps, the traverse was developed by the Bavarian and Tyrolean climbers in the late 19th century. Since then, this method of transportation has been utilized by the inhabitants of the Himalayas, sending food and supplies over large rivers, and by the majority of navies in moving fuel to ships at sea allowing increased range.

In the 1970s, the technique was used by researchers in botany, zoology, and ecology to study forest canopies. The same techniques used by climbers were now being utilized for scaling trees. This soon resulted in the production of modern canopy tours when students realized that by angling their lines slightly, the ride down after a day in the trees was a lot more fun!

Zip-lines are known by many names throughout the globe, such as the “flying fox” (Australia, New Zealand), “aerial runway” (United Kingdom), “rip/death slide”, and more recently “footy slides” (Africa).

Longest in the World

Located in Hoonah, Alaska, is the longest zip-line in the world, the ZipRider. The line measures 5,330 feet long with a total vertical drop of 1,300 feet. With six cables in width, participants are harnessed in and released for the race to the bottom. Passing through thick woods you’ll later see Port Frederick and Icy Straight, Alaska on your 1.5 minute long descent.

But if that doesn’t interest you enough, you’ll still reach speeds of 60 mph! Riders must weigh between 90-275 pounds and not be pregnant or have back and/or neck problems. To find out how you can visit this isolated gem, visit for more information.

Fastest in the World

The fastest zip-line in the world is located in Sun City, South Africa and is the ProNutro Zip Slide 2000; coming in at 920 feet high and 6,560 feet long!

Q: “Wait a minute! I thought you said that the ZipRider was the longest in the world?”

A: Technically it is because the Zip Slide 2000 isn’t a standard zip-line. One or two riders are supported on their stomachs inside a harness that they attach a crude rudder to at the end. (That’s right! You’re going so fast you need aerodynamic stabilization!)

You will reach speeds of 120 mph with an average speed of 57 mph! More information can be found at the company’s website,

Also, for those out there who may be thinking, “Well, I could make one of those.” There are resources available to assist you. is an excellently constructed website with any supply you could ever need. I also encourage you to read their blog for the latest “zip-line world” updates.

And if you’re looking for professional installation instruction, this site is perfect.

I want to know…What do you think of the idea of a haunted zip-line? We’re approaching Halloween and haunted houses are beginning to open their doors. I think it’d be a great idea because there is nowhere for you to escape (literally). Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Morse Code (-- --- .-. ... . / -.-. --- -.. .)

-.-. .- -. / -.-- --- ..- / .-. . .- -.. / - .... .. ... ..--..

If you’re scratching you head, don’t worry. Not many people know Morse code these days despite it being a pretty easily learned mode of communication.

Morse code is a form of character encoding that transmits telegraphic information using rhythm. The language uses a sequence of short and long elements to represent letters, numbers, punctuation marks, and special characters. These elements can be made by sound, marks, or pulses in on/off keying where the elements are known as dots and dashes or “dits” and “dahs”.

In 1836, Samuel F.B. Morse and Alfred Vail created the electric telegraph which sent pulses of electricity to an electromagnet at the receiving end of a wire. When the first telegraphs went into operation in 1844 they made indentations on a paper tape when the electric current was transmitted. Morse code was developed so that operators could translate these indentations into readable text.

telegraph "switch" key

In turn, while the firsts telegraphs were making their indentations, they made an accompanying clicking noise. Operators soon learned to translate the clicks directly into text without the aid of the paper strips. It was quickly noted that learning Morse code as a language was more efficient. Subsequently, dots became “dits” and slashes became “dahs”.

The Modern International Morse Code was developed in 1848 by Friedrich Clemens Gerke. Morse code was utilized by aviation and navies until the end of the 20th century. Experienced operators can send 20-30 WPM (words per minute).

If you’ve got the time to spare learning a language that probably will have no practical use in your life, you’re in luck. After researching possible Morse code learning techniques, I’ve found that the most popular, free learning software is available a You can download it right from their site as a program on your computer. It is highly customizable but, I’ll admit, a little difficult to learn how to operate.

On the other hand, if you would just like a catalog of available teaching sources, this link will take you to a large index of helpful websites, products, and organizations.

I want to know…How does the first line read? First person to answer correctly will win a copy of Guns and Roses legendary Appetite for Destruction album. Rock on!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Have you ever wanted to cannonball into a large body of water but didn’t feel like moving?  Do you want swimming in ponds and lakes to be at least a tiny bit interesting?  Well now you can!  Introducing the new summer sensation…blobbing!

First off, if one wishes to partake in blobbing, one must acquire a blob.  A blob is a colorful, inflated air bag that is floated into water where one person sits on one end, while another jumps onto the opposite end from a risen platform.  And if you’ve taken 3rd grade physics you can basically surmise what happens.

Like many great playthings before it, the blob once had a practical purpose.  Originally a military surplus item, the blob was used as a floating fuel tank ships could tow.  And since oil and gas float in water, it was a modest solution at one time. 

Standard blobs are approximately 10 meters (33 feet) long, and 2 meters (6 feet) wide.  The only maker of the rainbow blob in the United States is Springfield Special Products operating out of Springfield, Missouri.  While the recommended jumping height is 15 above the water surface, I’ve seen much more radical displays.  

If you’re already searching Google for a place to get one of these things you may not want to bother.   Besides the necessary maintenance products needed, a brand new 35 foot blob is going to set you back $3,850!  And if you don’t live that close, just imagine the shipping prices.

I want to know…Where do you think the most beautiful place to go blobbing on the entire Earth would be?  There doesn’t necessarily have to be water around to use a blob (Although it’s got to be a whole lot safer.).  Leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.



Have you ever filled the kitchen sink with hot water to wash some dishes and when you stick your hands in the water it feels as if the flesh is being seared from your bones?  If you purposely wait a good while after the dishwasher has finished its cycle before emptying it you, like millions of other normal people, are susceptible to being burned.  All of us have learned to not touch the stove while it’s on, but apparently some people never learn.  For even as you read this article, someone out there is walking over a raging bed of coals.

The art of firewalking has been practiced for thousands of years dating back to 1200 B.C.  Countries such as Greece and China used firewalking as representations for healing, initiation, and faith.  However, firewalking did not become popular in America until 1977 when author Tolly Burkan, initiator and owner of the Firewalking Institute of Research and Education, sought to explain how people could safely carry out the phenomenon.  Firewalking has also been sought as a personal development tool, which fellow firewalker since 1976, Peggy Dylan, has provided to the public through her organization Sundoor.

So…what makes firewalking possible?  There are many theories still surfacing to an explanation, but let me explain some of the known facts that make this at least theoretically possible:

•    Are bodies are 90% water.  So the main aid is the difference between water’s and the coals’ specific heat capacity. Specific heat is the measure of the heat energy required to increase the temperature of a unit quantity of a substance by a unit degree.  While water has a high specific heat, the coals have a much lower one.  Therefore, your foot temperature changes less than that of the coals.

•    Your blood circulation carries heat to and away from your feet.

•    When the coals cool down, they dip below the flash point where they are no longer burning and no new heat is produced.

•    Firwalkers are walking, so their skin is only exposed to the extreme temperatures for a brief moment.

The main theory that continues to hold validity is the Conductivity Theory.  It can be illustrated by the scenario of reaching into the oven to grab a baked dish.  You can stick your bare hand into the oven and not get burned.  But if you touch any of the metal inside you would be instantly burned.  This is because air is a poor conductor of heat. 

Yet, Mr. Burkan recently completed an experiment where he and some of his students walked across a red-hot grill.  None of them received any injuries and they actually caused the grill cover to warp!

Tolly Burkan, I believe, has the most convincing argument of all.  To explain his idea, Burkan recalls an experiment he saw in school as a child:

The teacher fills a paper cup with water and places it over a flame. The water boils and the cup does not burn. The reason for this is that the water can only reach a temperature of 212 degrees Fahrenheit before it turns to steam. Since the water is in constant contact with the paper cup, the paper cannot get any hotter than 212 degrees. However, in order for the cup itself to burn, it must reach a kindling point… which happens to be higher than 212 degrees. The water maintains the temperature of the paper at a constant 212.

Burkan claims that what makes our feet the exception is the fact that they are connected to a living being.  We can create physical experiences simply by thinking of something that triggers similar sensations.  As Tolly puts it, “It’s not ‘mind over matter’ but rather: ‘mind in matter’”.

 While the ideal temperature for coals during a firewalk is 1,000⁰ Fahrenheit (F), people have
traversed coals ranging up to 2,200⁰ F for distances over 120 feet!

By the way…Engine blocks for cars are poured from molten metal at 1,100⁰ F!