Monday, April 26, 2010

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is an ancient city located in Peru. Meaning “Old Peak” in Quechua, the native language from the Inca Empire, this mountain relic is claimed as one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. The city draws its popularity not from what lies within its walls but where it was built, 2,430 meters (7,970 feet) above sea level.

The city is believed to have constructed around the 1450. Yet scientific research has shown that it was abandoned a little more than a century later, synonymous with the arrival of the Spanish Conquest. Historians speculate that the city’s population had succumbed to an outbreak of smallpox before the Spanish’s arrival.

Most archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was built in honor of the great Inca emperor, Pachacuti (1432-1472). Others hypothesize that its purpose was to govern the economy of nearby settlements. Located on a mountain top, its inhabitants would have had a good view of their surroundings. Smaller minorities believe the city had a more simple purpose such as a prison or an agricultural testing station that would test how different types of crops survived in the variable climate.

The city sits in a valley between the two larger mountains Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu. Early settlers would have received water from nearby springs while food would have been grown from local fields. It’s actually interesting, because there is enough land to feed four times what the city’s population at the time. Engineers also terraced the surrounding hillsides to guard against invaders and reduce soil erosion to prevent landslides.

 aerial shot of Machu Picchu

One of the area’s leading tourist attractions is the Intuhuatana Stone. A rare ritual stone found in South America, the rock is arranged to point directly at the sun during a winter solstice. This results in no shadow casted by the leading pillar during the equinoxes. It’s speculated the device was a primitive calendar.

Did you know?- There are many flights of stairs at the city consisting of one hundred steps or more carved from a single block of granite!

The important buildings inside Machu Picchu have polished-dry stone walls made with a technique called ashlar in which precision cut stones are fitted together tightly without mortar. Peru has a lot of seismic activity and the structure’s walls can shift and resettle without collapsing.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Human-powered Flight

While we have shared the sky with birds for the last hundred years, modern flight continues to leave many feeling disconnected from the winged creatures. My opinion for this happening is that while birds experience flight firsthand, we are simply trying to mimic their grace. Before the choice to use an external power source was even an option, man could only dream of attaining flight through our own human efforts. And with engine-powered flight now available for personal use to everyone in the planet, the idea to lift one into the heavens has lost much steam. Only a few have achieved what Icarus did in the story.

Human-powered aircraft (HPA) are propelled by only human force and gravity. In this way, they rely on many of the same principles as gliders such as air thermals and rising currents. The first recorded human-powered aircraft was the Italian designed Pedaliante (Italian for “Pedal Glider”) in 1937. Constructed with a glider-like profile, the plane had a wingspan of 58 feet (17.7 meters) and two laminated balsa wood propellers 6.2 feet (2 meters) in diameter. The plane had an aspect ratio of 13:4 meaning that for every 13 feet it traveled horizontally, it only descended 4 feet. The sole pilot sat upright and transmitted power to the props via pedaling.


While originally the plane was to have an empty weight of 160 pounds (73 Kg) the Italian Air Ministry required it to meet the same structural criteria of an engine-powered aircraft increasing its final weight to 214 pounds (97 Kg). Launched with the assistance of a catapult, the plane came to travel a length of 1 Km (0.62 miles), remarkable for its time.

It wasn’t until 1960 that a man-powered aircraft capable of taking off under its own power was created. That year’s spring, three undergraduate students at Southampton University decided to build an HPA during the middle of their last term. Duly named the Southampton University Man Powered Aircraft (SUMPAC), the plane would complete over 40 flights, the longest of which was 2,130 feet (650 meters).


Since the 60s, there have been a number of HPAs. And while each new design comes closer to the goal of easily sustained, long-distance flight, we’re still not there yet. Today, the world record for longest human-powered flight is 74 miles (119 Km), achieved on April 23, 1988 by the MIT Daedalus 88. The design only weighed 69 pounds (31 Kg).

MIT Daedalus 88

Did you know?- The first human-powered helicopter, the Da Vinci III, built by the California Polytechnic State University in 1989, flew for 7.1 seconds reaching an altitude of 20 centimeters. The video below showcases a later design, the Yuri 1, constructed in 1994 that utilizes four giant rotors.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Longbow

If I was forced to fight in a war during the Middle Ages, I’d immediately choose to be an archer. You’re not fighting at close range, and you’re one of the last regiments to be attacked.

The longbow is at least four feet in length and normally extends the full height of its shooter. Its appearance in history is first seen by the Germans and Scandinavians in 500 A.D. Yet the weapon would not become famous until the technology was adopted by the English.

Traditionally the bows were made of yew, a conifer type tree that grows in central Europe. Ironically, England’s military did not find their own land’s variety of yew appropriate and had the majority of the material imported from Italy and Spain. The youngling trees were cut in winter when no sap was running where they were subsequently left to age. It would be worked upon gradually during the three to four year aging process until completed.

Mass produced versions of the bow were about 70 inches (178 cm) long with pull strength of 75-100 pounds (34-45 Kg). The arrows ranged between 27 to 36 inches long and could kill unarmored infantry up to one hundred yards away. Beyond that, the arrows could wound opponents as much as 250 yards away.

Did you know?- During the Battle of Agincourt, what became a significant English victory in the Hundred Years War, there were so many archers that it’s estimated 1,000 arrows were in the air every second! While conducting research, I found a quote from someone who saw the battle saying that there were so many arrows that afterwards the white feathers on their ends made it appear as if snow had blanketed the battlefield.

If you wanted to wield this weapon, you had to train until it became an extension of yourself. The training adopted by the English was the most rigorous. All sports were banned on Sundays and men between 12 and 65 were expected to practice their archery for several hours a day. An experienced archer could fire 12 arrows a minute.

The longbow remained the most powerful weapon in Europe from 1300 to 1588. France, having witnessed the destructive power of the longbow first hand, was quick to train their armies to wield the weapon. But surprisingly, a long line of kings declined its use on the battlefield claiming it was too much power for the meek to wield.

Did you know?- Amateur bowyers today can craft a longbow in about ten to twenty hours.

Besides the obvious difference in size, the longbow’s main distinction is its skinnier limbs and rounded cross-section. This results in an unequal distribution of stress through the bow and is believed to be the reasoning behind its recognizable length.

Modern longbows are generally wooden composites constructed from multiple types of woods glued and pressed together. Hickory is used on the front of the bow which stretches better, while the inside is lined with yew which better undergoes compression. You can find an old guide RIGHT HERE explaining how to form a longbow from a piece of lemonwood, another popular choice.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Meteor Crater


1. Nuclear holocaust
2. Super-virus
3. Climate change
4. Vampire-Robot-Nazis-Zombies take over the world

The list goes on and on…

One of the most frightening doomsday scenarios is something that will eventually occur; our planet’s collision with another extraterrestrial body. The idea that something could strike Earth wasn’t seriously recognized until scientists first began searching the vastness of space for the objects. And while in this case the expression “trying to find a needle in a haystack” is dead on, it’s much more difficult than that. To help understand the effects of an asteroid’s impact, scientists began to look for evidence of impacts here on Earth.

Meteor Crater

Today, what is the largest and considered to be the best conserved impact crater on Earth is Meteor Crater in Arizona. Approximately 43 miles east of Flagstaff there is a landmark so breathtaking that its image takes you back 40,000 years. At the time, this dessert was still open grassland dotted with woodlands inhabited by woolly mammoths and giant ground sloths. Perhaps on what was a crisp, summer morning, the creatures raised their heads to a bright light. The meteorite would have been the brightest thing in the sky for a few seconds during its descent into the atmosphere. Traveling at 28,600 mph (12.8 kilometers per second), the chunk of nickel and iron slammed into the ground like a golf ball in a sand trap.

satellite image of Meteor Crater

The resulting damage was immense, leaving a crater 4,000 feet (1.2 Km) in diameter and 570 feet (170 meters) deep. Believed to have been around 50 meters in diameter, scientists speculate that about half of the meteorite’s weight (300,000 metric tons) was vaporized in its descent.

While looking at the crater it’s obvious a lot of energy was transferred into the ground, although most of it was actually projected skywards. 30 tons of meteoritic iron were scattered within a 4-5 miles radius of the impact site. Closer to the crater’s lip is a 150 foot (45 meters) high rim composed of the debris.

When scientists checked if humans would have inhabited the area during this time, it was proven that most likely no one would have made their way to America yet. The crater’s existence did not become known to modern men until European settlers stumbled across it in the 19th century. Dubbed “Canyon Diablo crater”, it was believed to be the result of volcanic forces. The idea did not harbor much criticism since the San Francisco volcanic field only lies about 40 miles (64 Km) to the west.

It wasn’t until 1903, when a mining engineer and businessman by the name of Daniel Barringer suggested that the crater had been formed by a meteorite impact. Through research, Barringer found small pieces of meteoritic iron that were mixed with rocks on the crater’s border. He knew that if the meteorites had fallen at a different time from that at which the crater was formed, they would have been lodged in distinct, separate layers in the surrounding soil. In fact, upon closer examination these different classes of rock were set in the opposite order of the underlying bedrock. When Barringer found no volcanic rock near the crater, scientists began accepting his theory as the reality. To see the effect of an impact of extraterrestrial bodies, watch the simulation below.

Thinking he was sitting on a gold mine, Barringer's company, the Standard Iron Company, purchased 640 acres around the crater for private use. While it was estimated 300,000 tons of iron could be harvested from the site, later research found the material unusable for manufacturing purposes.

Did you know?- Barringer made attempts to find what remained of the meteorite for 27 years. Since impact physics was poorly understood at the time, Barringer was unaware that most of the meteorite had vaporized on impact. Over the years he would drill to a depth of 1,376 feet (419 meters) with no significant finding of iron.

mining site inside the crater

Today, the Barringer family continues to own the surrounding area around Meteor Crater and has turned the feature into a popular tourist attraction. Next to the crater is the Meteor Crater Visitor Center that contains interactive exhibits and displays about meteorites and asteroids, space, the solar system and, comets. Also, interestingly enough it contains the American Astronaut Wall of Fame. The center also contains a movie theater, gift shop, and observation areas with views inside the rim of the crater. Guided tours of the rim are offered daily through their website

Friday, March 19, 2010

Dog Dancing

Dog dancing? Dancing…with your dog? You’re kidding right?

Actually, I’m not. Known as musical canine freestyle, dog dancing is a mixture of standard obedience training and tricks that grants handlers a more intimate bond with their dog(s). There are two categories in the sport, musical freestyle and freestyle heeling. While freestyle heeling highlights the dog's ability to stay in variations of the heel position with the handler dancing, musical freestyle allows more leeway as far as tricks are concerned. The latter category is judged much more on creativity than execution. (Let’s face it…neither one of you are going to look cool out there.)

Although competition rules vary widely, there are two standards. They include:

• No use of training aids or leashes.
• Participants must compete either as a single dog and handler, a pair of dogs and handlers, or as a full team of three or more dogs and their handlers.

Since you’re more likely to win with a creative dance to Michael Jackson’s Thriller than a perfectly choreographed routine to the Macarena, the competitor’s choice of music is extremely important. Routines much match the song or judges may not even give you a score.

Did you know?- Albeit, many who participate in dog dancing choose to express themselves in competitions, it’s not the only way to get yourself seen. Exhibition freestyle is a non-competitive form of the sport that allows for the use of props, cues, and costumes. These duos are often seen on television and occasionally in movies.

If you’re brave enough to have yourself seen dancing with your canine in public, you have nothing holding you back from realizing your dog dancing rise to stardom. While there are not many instructional resources yet available to the public, the websites and can offer you some beginner’s advise and point you in the right direction.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Why would you name a city in Alaska….Unalaska? Unalaksa, AK is a small town located in the Aleutian Chain 800 miles southwest of Anchorage. We’ve all heard that Alaska is the least populated state per square mile (1.1, where the country’s average is 79.6), but to put things into greater perspective, Unalaska ranks as the state’s 11th largest city with a population of 4,000.

Part of the reason for the city’s number of people may be the area’s stable temperate. The mean annual temperature is about 38 °F (3.4 °C), dipping to 30 °F (−1.1 °C) in January and rising to 52 °F (11.1 °C) in August. Yet I still doubt whether people choose to stay here because of the temperature alone. The city is also claimed as the rainiest place in the United States with about 250 days of rain per year.

Did you know?- Unalaska has a total area of 212.3 square miles and almost 48% of that is water!

The city has only one port, Dutch Harbor, which the locals simply know as “Dutch”. It was given its name because the Russians believed the first ship to enter the harbor was Dutch. (Why would that be the case?) The harbor is actually located on Amaknak Island which is connected to Unalaska Island by bridge. While Amaknak is home to 59% of the city's population, it makes up only 3% of its area.

Dutch Harbor

Unalaska and Amaknak Islands once contained a native population, known as the Aleut, for hundreds of years before being discovered by modern man. The islands’ trading potential weren’t harnessed until 1759 when the Russian fur trade claimed the harbor as their own. The Russians named the island Ounalashka, meaning ‘near the peninsula’.

For three years, the Russians operated peacefully with the Aleut until violence broke out between the two. Outnumbered and unable to compete with the Russians’ weaponry, the Aleut were forced to surrender.

In time there were others who would come to take Dutch. In 1788, the Spanish discovered the Aleutian Chain. Explorers Esteban José Martínez and Gonzalo López de Haro visited hundreds of native settlements with Unalaska being the farthest west. These two men alone claimed the island for Spain and named it Puerto de Dona Marie Luisa Teresa, Port of Donates Marie Luisa Teresa, named after the former queen of Spain.

Marie Luisa Teresa (What is she wearing?)

If you’re still looking for a reason to bear what will most likely be a rainy trip, there are two places that have been deemed National Historic Landmarks you need to see. The first is the Dutch Harbor Naval Operating Base and Fort Mears, one of two U.S. army bases located in Alaska when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The fort also played a crucial role in the Battle of Dutch Harbor during the Japanese invasion of Alaska. Second is the Church of the Holy Ascension which was built in 1826.

Church of the Holy Ascension

And if you’re not into taking tours, why not visit Makushin Volcano which has an elevation of 5,691 feet (1.75 Km). On clear days, steam can be seen coming from its peak.

Makushin Volcano

Unbeknownst to those in the lower forty-nine, Dutch Harbor is one of the most productive ports in the United States. It has seen the largest volume of seafood caught for almost every year since 1981, and until 2000 ranked first in dollar value per catch. The position is now held by New Bedford, Massachusetts.

Did you know?- A experimental project based on the island is attempting to produce fish oil biodiesel from the fish waste from local manufacturers. The idea is hoped to kill two birds with one stone by reducing the need to transport excess fish oil off the island (now, 3.5 million tons annually) but also to fuel the majority of machines which use diesel engines.

Thanks to television, this once unheard of port has become the most famous in the country. For five years, the Discovery Network has been documenting the life of Alaskan crab fisherman in their hit series Deadliest Catch. One of my favorite shows, it is one of the few reality programs that is truly reality. The series gets its name from the fact that it is the deadliest job in America, above other profession like logging and mining. Watch one of the show’s most shocking moments when a ship rescues a man overboard below.

Monday, March 15, 2010


The Hindenburg’s destruction has been seen as one of the greatest, unforeseen tragedies in aeronautical history. Because of this one incident, the Zeppelin name would be deeply questioned for the next half century. Yet despite the number of lives lost, zeppelins were bounds ahead in engineering for their time.

Unlike modern blimps, the first lighter-than-air fliers did not hold their shape from the pressure of the gas inside, but instead made use of a lightweight, rigid airframe. Known as ‘dirigibles’, these would become the standard zeppelin design allowing ships to lift heavier loads and be fitted with stronger engines.

Zeppelin frame

Covering the frame was a cotton fabric coated with specialized metallic paints created to reflect the sun’s rays, preventing internal temperature change of the ship’s gas. Inside the elaborate framework of aluminum struts were several balloons containing either helium or hydrogen. For most dirigibles, these gasbags were made of countless sheets of a material known at the time as ‘goldbeater’s skin’, taken from the intestines of cows. About 200,000 cow’s intestines were needed for the average zeppelin!

While earlier models were shaped like hot dogs, later designs had an elongated football shape that reduced drag as well as increased stability in the air. At the end of the ship were four directional fins (two set vertically and horizontally) that steered the blimp. Since zeppelins were so large, one pilot was sanctioned in the rear solely to man the fins while another pilot at the front of the ship controlled thrust and heading.

Did you know?- The later built Graf Zeppelin used engines fuelled with a gas named blaugas. Similar to propane, it weighed roughly the same as the surrounding air and was contained uncompressed. This meant that as fuel was burnt, the airship did not have to shift ballast to retain balance during flight.

If it weren’t for the dirigible’s inventor, Led Zeppelin may still be known as the New Yardbirds. Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin was a wealthy inventor who became interested in developing a lighter-than-air balloon after witnessing events of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 where he saw the French using balloons to transport mail.

When Zeppelin completed his designs he went looking for sponsors to help get his idea off the ground, but when he presented his plans to a committee in 1984 no one showed interest. Forced to fund the project himself, the Count founded the Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Luftschiffahrt (Society for the Promotion of Airship Flight) and began construction of his prototype.

LZ 1

The first Zeppelin, dubbed LZ 1, took its maiden flight on July 2, 1900 over Lake Constance in the Bay of Manzell, Germany. True to what would be the Wright brothers’ style, the craft didn’t stay airborne for long. Airborne for only 18 minutes, LZ 1 was forced to land on the lake after its winding mechanism for keeping ballast failed. Unfortunately, when it was placed back in its hangar, the harness mechanism broke and the blimp crashed suffering damage.

Even with an essentially successful flight, many of the project’s investors decided to back out. This prompted Zeppelin to take another leap of faith and buy the company and airship for himself in 1901. With the help of donations, public funding, a mortgage on his wife’s estate, and some lottery winnings, the Count was ready to build the LZ 2. Although sadly, during its first flight in 1906, the ship’s engines failed and it was forced to make an emergency landing in the Allgau Mountains where it was destroyed beyond repair by a vicious storm.

After two failed attempts in creating his dream balloon, Count von Zeppelin finally realized success. Incorporating all usable parts of LZ 2, the LZ 3 became the first successful airship. By 1908 it had travelled a total of 4,398 kilometers (2,733 mi) in the course of 45 flights.

Did you know?- In 1930, when the Art Deco spire of the Empire State Building was built there were designs for it to serve as a terminal for passing airships. Passengers would exit the airship on a landing platform constructed on the 102nd floor. There a separate elevator traveling between the 86th and 102nd floors would transport passengers to the building’s main elevators where they could exit the building. However, after some initial testing the idea was kyboshed; powerful updrafts surrounding the skyscraper made anchoring to the spire too dangerous to be practical.

This zeppelin hangar opened by retracting is rounded outer doors.

Though many design changes would happen throughout the years of their operation, commercial zeppelins shared a majority of features during their prime. 150-160 meters (490-520 feet) in length, they could hold 22,000–25,000 cubic meters of helium or hydrogen able to carry a payload of nine tons. Powered by three 475 horsepower diesel engines, the airships could reach speeds of up to 80 Km/h (50 mph).

Did you know?- During the first World War, Zeppelins were used by the German military for scouting and precision bombing in assisting infantry forces. Yet Zeppelin was quick to realize that his airship had a fatal battle flaw, its gas chambers were easily susceptible to enemy fire. Knowing this, he developed the observational car, essentially a metal basket holding a passenger. Equipped with chart table, electric lamp, compass, telephone, and lightning conductor, the car would be lowered 750 meters below the main airframe where the occupant would give orders on navigation and what bombs to deploy. Information was transmitted through a tether cable made of high grade steel with a brass core insulated with rubber to act as a telephone cable. This allowed the ships to hide in cloud cover where they’d be out of range of artillery fire.

observation car

With the ending of the war and Germany’s defeat, came the passing of the notorious Treaty of Versailles. In the document, Allied forces demanded the deconstruction of the German air force stating no further zeppelins would be built and that all remaining models were to be given to the United States as reparations. Luckily, Zeppelin did not get to see the destruction of his great company having suffered a timely death before the war’s end. The company’s new leader, Dr. Hugo Eckener, now planned to take the zeppelin in a whole new direction; making it a messenger of peace.

On March 4, 1936, LZ 129 Hindenburg made her first flight. It was the largest airship ever constructed at 245 meters (804 feet) long and 41 m (135 feet) in diameter. In comparison, the Hindenburg was longer than three Boeing 747s placed end-to-end! Unlike today’s famous Goodyear blimp with its two pilots, the airship could accommodate 50 passengers and a crew of 40.

LZ 129 Hindenburg

What many believe to have been making a date with death, the Hindenburg’s creators did not fill their ship with hydrogen by choice. At the time, the majority of helium was being imported from the U.S., yet due to escalating tensions in Europe there was a trade embargo on the gas leaving no other viable option.

With the skepticism surrounding dirigible airships almost gone, a new generation of zeppelins is taking to the skies. A company based in California called Airship Ventures recently revealed their new line of Zeppelin ‘New Technology’ (NT) airships. A combination of new and old, the models are semi-rigid and come in at 246 feet (75 meters) long, the longest ship of its kind today.


Also, if you’ve read my earlier post on autogyros, you’d know that there are companies out there making remote control autogyros for hobbyists. Now the same is being done with scale blimps primarily for advertising purposes. Two great sites where you can learn more about these new technologies are and

Friday, March 12, 2010

Sturgis Bike Week

Besides the creators of South Park, many people feel Harley Davidson riders are “fags”. However, the motorcycle has become synonymous with American cultures just like baseball and apple pie. And although the machine is over one hundred years old, it continues to connect with our population’s need for speed. In fact, Harleys have become so popular that they head their own movement. So just like the hippies had Woodstock, motorcycle riders have their own rally. But why in the world is it held in a small town in South Dakota?

The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally (here and also here) is held annually in Sturgis, South Dakota the first full week of August. This tradition started on August 14, 1938 by the Jackpine Gypsies Motorcycle Club which still owns the tracks, hill climb, and field areas where the core of the rally takes place. While the first event had only 19 bikes, lasted two days, and concentrated on racing and stunts, today’s Sturgis Bike Week is a huge deal to Harley owners across the continent.

Did you know?- One of the events main stunts involved riders colliding head on into parked automobiles. (Why?!)

Other than some years off during the second World War, the rally will be celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2010. And while bikers have been given a reputation as a rowdy bunch, bike week is a family affair at heart with many of the attendees being parents dragging their kids along.

Even for the people who don’t feel like riding their bikes hundreds of miles, sometimes choose to drive trailers and campers to the rally only riding their motorcycles the final couple miles into town. This has prompted several riders to start wearing patches and shirts saying "I Rode Mine to Sturgis" with the year they attended on it to separate the diehards from the wanabees.

Did you know?- In 2005, attendance was estimated at 525,250! A lot of people right….especially when you compare it to the state’s population of 754,844 as of the 2000 census.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Like most boys during the 90s, I too was into skateboarding for a short period. It probably started when I received a Sony Playstation for my birthday along with my first game, Tony Hawk Pro Skateboarding. Soon thinking that I could catch 30 feet of air off a half-pipe and the only consequence of falling was a little blood, I bought my first skateboard. And I’m still not surprised when after a week or so of attempting ollies, I had had enough.

Through my teenage years, I experimented with other alternative, freestyle sports such as BMX and rollerblading, but none of them stuck. The urge to give skateboarding another go surfaces every now and then when guys pass me on their long-boards on campus. But I’ve come to think that the skateboard’s possibilities are too small. What I mean is that while I was growing up, the board stayed the same size and eventually it felt like I was playing with a dinky, little toy. Plus, I live in Northwest Ohio where there’s no elevation change once so ever. If I wanted to get back on a board, I’d need something that could take some abuse; something that could go on and offroad. Yet when I first saw a picture of a mountainboard, I thought there was no way I was getting on one.

As I hinted at, mountainboards can handle a wide variety of terrain including: boardercross tracks, slopestyle parks, grass hills, gravel roads, BMX and mountain bike trails, and even ski resorts. Of course, they can also be seen with skateboarders on the city streets and at local skate parks.

The first mountain board, termed an ‘All Terrain Dirtboard’, was patented by Morton Hellig of England in 1989. His company, Supercrusier Inc., was the first to produce the board on a wide scale. It wasn’t until 1992 that the sport began to acquire buzz in the United States where three snowboarders from northern California (one of whom, Jason Lee, would end up coining the term ‘mountainboard’) were looking for an alternative option to snowboarding in the summer. They would soon find one of the sports main producers, Mountain Board Sports (MSB), in 1993.

The deck of a mountainboard is typically 90-110 cm (35-43 inches) long and made from laminated wood pressed into shape using a similar process as in the construction of snowboards. The boards have variable characteristics that can be made to suite the rider such as flex, weight, shape, length, and tip angle.

Its wheels are connected to the deck in one of two methods: skate or channel trucks. Skate trucks are almost identical in design to their skateboard counterparts, just much bigger. While channel trucks are more common and offer steering that is cushioned by shocks and springs.

channel trucks

There are five different types of bindings:

• Snowboard
• Ratchet-strap
• Velcro
• Bar-bindings
• Heelstraps

The board’s rims are made from plastic or metal fitted with pneumatic tires ranging in size from 8-13 inches (20-33 cm). The tires come in varying thicknesses and treads to suit the terrain. Also, some boards are fixed with brakes although they are generally reserved for professional riders who compete in longer runs. When they are added, they are normally attached to both front wheels rather than the rears to increase braking efficiency and reduce the risk of the wheel lockage.

Did you know?- It has been found that the 8 inch wheel is the perfect size for freestyling, while 9-10 inch wheels are reserved for events where speed and greater stability are favored. They are operated by a hand lever in one of three different designs:

• Drum brakes
• Hydraulic rim/disc brakes
• V mounted brakes (set up similar to standard bicycle brakes)

Since you’re going down hills of dirt and not snow, you should wear a good amount of protective gear. The following is list of everything you should wear:

• Helmet
• Wrtistguards
• Elbow and knee pads
• Padded shorts
• Body armor

Four event categories:

Downhill (DH)/Big Mountain- Timed, single man descents on long courses (+1 Km)
Boardercross (BoardeX, BX)- Two to four man racing on a specifically designed track.
Freestyle (FS)
o Slopestyle
o Big Air
o Skate Park/Jib
Freeriding (FR)- Non competitive over natural terrain.


A similar activity is dirtsurfing, an Australian board sport defined as ‘inline boarding’. Composed of an aluminum tubular frame, composite deck, and two 16/20 inch BMX wheels, this extreme sport replicates snowboarding even better. You can view this company’s patented products at their official website,

If you’re interested in getting started in this sport but not sure where to begin, click here to see MBS’s board selection guide which will help you choose a board based on what competition styles you’re most interested in. After that you can visit or and search through their many models.

I want to know…While I think mountainboards are perfectly designed for freestyle and racing purposes, what about traversing mixed terrain? I can envision that the majority of kids who buy a mountainboard will only be able to use it in their back woods. And if you don’t have a special course to ride on, what’s the point in having a fancy suspension system that will just get banged to pieces?

Be Unlimited mountainboard

Through some research I found an alternatively designed mountain board called Be Unlimited made by an old company called Beyond Boards. It’s unique in that the trucks are placed on top of the deck making the transition from one terrain to another (let’s say rock to grass) much easier. I believe the company no longer exists so the only place I could find one is RIGHT HERE.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

There are not many displays in war I find glorious. Sure there are certain battles that I find interesting from a tactical standpoint, but I don’t see much heroicness in the sacrificing of lives due to a deficiency of communication. In America, the most pointless war to beseech our homeland was our only Civil War. It’s easy to become caught up in the facts when you’re learning about past conflicts in history class, but when you really think about it there’s nothing more pointless than brothers killing one another.

A significant event in the war’s outcome was the Battle of Gettysburg, what many acclaim to be the beginning of the South’s decline. This three day exchange was the bloodiest campaign of the war resulting in each side losing a total of 46,000-51,000 men. Below you can see how many men each commanding officer had at their disposal before the battle.

Robert E. Lee (CONFEDERACY)- 71,699
George G. Meade (UNION)- 93,921

Today Gettysburg, Pennsylvania is just a small town with a permanent population of 7,500, although the number becomes a lot larger if tourists are taken into consideration. Back in 1786, when tavern owner Samuel Gettys founded the city, there wasn’t much around. Now there’s history waiting to be discovered by visitors behind every corner.

Gettysburg College

One such place is Gettysburg College created in 1832. A private, four-year, liberal arts school, the college only enrolls only 2,600 students. Another attraction is the Dobbin House Tavern, the town’s oldest standing building constructed in 1776. Through the centuries, the Dobbin House has been a main stop on the Underground Railroad and also served as a makeshift hospital during the war. These instances have earned the restaurant a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

Since being recognized on a wide scale, much of the tavern has been converted into a gift shop and is also home to a large Civil War diorama. To bring its diners back to an earlier time, the restaurants only light comes from candles, while the staff serves traditional food while dressed in original wartime attire.

Did you know?- Before becoming a famous military general and U.S. president, Dwight D. Eisenhower lived a quiet life in Gettysburg. After World War II, Eisenhower returned to the city to retire. It would also be where he would recover from his surprise heart attack in 1955. During these years he became involved with the local college and even spent time serving on the Board of Trustees. Eventually an office was named after the president where it is documented that Eisenhower wrote his memoirs.

Despite the for mentioned attractions, the majority of tourists are drawn to Gettysburg’s bloody history. Growing in popularity are local ghost tours where visitors explore places reported to be haunted by soldiers yet to leave this realm. And of course there’s the annual reenactment of the Battle of Gettysburg which replicates the entire three day skirmish. And there is Gettysburg National Military Park which contains actual weaponry and paraphernalia from the battle.

And during your visit you decide there’s too much to see in one day, why not spend a night at the Gettysburg Hotel. Now technically serving as a Best Western branch, the building was constructed in 1797 and continues to hold a certain allure to passionate couples.

Gettysburg Hotel

For those out there who thought this post would be a recount of the battle, you’re not out of luck. While whole books and movies have been dedicated to the Battle of Gettysburg, I will only recite what in my mind is the most famous occurrence of the battle, Pickett’s Charge.

map of Pickett's Charge

It began on the third day, July 3, where fighting resumed on Culp's Hill. Cavalry battles erupted to the east and south. At around 1 p.m., 150-170 Confederate cannons began bombarding Union soldiers with artillery fire, spending nearly all of their ammunition. Soon afterwards, 80 Union cannons returned fire. With the Army of Northern Virginia nearly depleted of ammunition, 12,500 men situated in Spangler’s Woods began their march into the hailstorm of cannonballs. Those left standing would end up having hiked the ¾ mile (1.2 Km) to Cemetery Ridge. You can watch part 1 of a 5 part series documenting the vicious attack below.

Friday, March 5, 2010


Do you believe in true evil? That the polar opposites of right and wrong really exist? I’d like to think I don’t; that what one perceives as wickedness is rather a lack of understanding of the world. One of our largest physiological shortcomings is the thought that “we” are our egos; that our minds and bodies are the only things that exist. Many have overcome this illusion: the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, and Gandhi. But just because we can rise above the misconception of opposites does not mean that we can obliterate what causes the pain that causes many to suffer.

I’m not certain why, but I occasionally like to remind myself how much the world suffers; perhaps to make myself feel more humble or to remember the fragility and shortness of life. I still feel the need to make myself aware of how good a life I have in America that everyone, even consciously, takes for granted. And if I’m ever having a bad day, I think back to disasters like the thousands of waiting victims of Hurricane Katrina or the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centers in 2001 to bring me back to reality. Over time, I’ve learned to forgive the people that made these things happen, but there is still one event that I continue to find hard to believe let alone accept; the Holocaust.

When I think of the Holocaust, I think of concentration camps. And when I think of concentration camps, I think of Auschwitz, the mother of German killing farms during World War II. Actually a grouping of 48 separate holding camps, Auschwitz was built around the Poland town of Oświęcim which was renamed after the country was seized by Germany in September of 1941.

These encampments were settled on an area rich in natural resources. The three main camps were Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, and Auschwitz III-Monowitz, often referred to as ‘Buna’.

aerial shot of Auschwitz

Auschwitz II-Birkenau was the brain-child of Heinrich Himmler, Germany’s Minister of the Interior. He was quoted in saying the new camp would be the center of the “final solution of the Jewish question in Europe.” The camp’s first commanding officer, Rudolph Hoss, would later testify at the Nuremberg Trials that up to three million people had died there, around 90% of them Jews.

Did you know?- While many text books will tell you the Allies had no idea about Auschwitz during World War II, they actually did. Witold Pilecki, a Polish Army Captain, volunteered to be inside the concentration camp to get evidence of the German’s attempted genocide. Witold spent 945 days at Auschwitz relaying information to the Polish resistance movement which was later given to the British. When he finally escaped in April of 1943 and filed his final report, many thought that his accounts were exaggerations and dismissed his claims.

Arbeit Macht Frei - "Work sets you free."

While most know of the gas chambers that became signature with these camps, there were other more obscure forms of torture that you should know about. They include:

• Some prisoners were forced to spend nights in “standing cells”. These were 4’ x 4’ rooms where four men would be placed inside.
• In basements there were "starvation cells" where prisoners were placed with no food and eventually died. There were also “dark cells” which had only a very tiny slit of a window for oxygen eventually leading to the prisoner’s suffocation. If the process wasn’t going fast enough, an officer would occasionally place a lit candle in the cell to accelerate the process.
• Many were subjected to having their hands handcuffed behind their backs, dislocating their shoulder joints for days.
• Officers also removed gold teeth from the corpses of gas chamber victims which were melted down and reused.

Most people think that prisoners of concentration camps never got any rest, but that’s not absolutely true. Occupants’ days began at 4:30 in the morning with roll call followed by 30 minutes where they were allowed to clean themselves as best they could. Then they were led to their work station by foot wearing striped camp suits, no underwear, and wooden shoes without socks. After a 12 hour day, prisoners were assembled for another roll call, given their daily ration of bread, and dismissed into their buildings. Often, four people would share one bunk.

glasses of victims

On January 27, 1945, Auschwitz was finally liberated by Soviet troops, a day commemorated around the world as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Did you know?- At the museum there is a display case about 30 meters (98 feet) long entirely filled the hair of inmates Nazis removed before and after their deaths. Also, when the Russians arrived on site they found precisely 348,820 men's suits and 836,255 women's garments.

In 1947, Poland created a museum consisting of the remaining buildings inside the boundaries of Auschwitz I and II. By 1994 the museum had seen more than 22 million visitors. It is now believed to bring in more than 700,000 visitors annually. If you would like to help preserve what’s left of this important historical reminder, click here to make a charitable donation.

Many movies have been made on the Holocaust since the fall of the Third Reich. The most well known to my generation is Stephen Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. If you haven’t seen the movie, you can watch a trailer below.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


Touché! Ongaurd! When I think of two dudes fighting it out with swords, I either think of Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, or two Brits fencing. I’m not sure if that’s a normal identification process but fencing is one of the most honored forms of swordsmanship.

Man he's a sexy beast!!!

What many people don’t know is that fencing is actually a collection of sports that feature weapons such as swords, knives, pikes (long spears), bayonets, batons, and clubs. There are three categories of competition which are featured in the Olympic Games. They include:

Foil- A lightweight thrusting weapon. Acceptable targets include the chest, torso, shoulders, and back.
Epee- A heavy thrusting weapon. Any part of the body can be targeted.
Sabre- A cutting and thrusting weapon. The only targets are the saddle line, which extends across the hip, as well as the head.

Rather than described the rules of each category, I’ve decided to dedicate the rest of this article to describe the foil method, which is the style most think of.

Did you know?- Wheelchair fencing, also known as jousting, is a Paralympics sport. Minor modifications to the rules allow disabled fencers to fence all three weapons. Footwork is replaced by torso or arm movement, depending on the fencer's disability. The proximity of the two fencers tends to increase the pace of bouts, which require considerable skill.

Like a lot of sports, if you’re new to watching fencing you’ll probably have no idea what’s going on. Just as with the majority of American athletics, in fencing a winner is chosen upon a point system. Specifically in foil, score is kept by counting the number of hits which land on the opponent’s target area. These hits are called ‘touches’. When a player has been struck, the judge will yell “Halt!” signaling the end of the round. Bouts are scored to either five or fifteen touches.

Now it gets complicated….There are rules that govern the priority of a hit when opponents strike one another simultaneously. This guideline is referred to as the “right of way.” When a person is attacked, the opposite fencer must either avoid or defend against the attack to be awarded a touch. If the opponent ‘parries’, or blocks, the attack, he/she has the right to ‘riposte’ or counter-attack. Counter-attacks only score if the attacker misses. Even if the attacker’s strike misses its target, it still takes priority over the opponent’s valid hit.

Below is a list of all the protective equipment required in professional fencing.






Did you know?- As fencers’ strikes became quicker judges were having a difficult time scoring bouts by eye. This problem was eliminated with the invention of electric fencing equipment. It works by sending an electric current through the sword which when striking the target area completes the circuit causing a light on the end of the sword to light up.

Fencing is a great sport to build muscle speed and hand-eye coordination. To ensure no one gets hurt in your learning process, it’s recommended you start with a practice weapon which is considerably cheaper than electric models. Two websites that offer practice foils starting at $25 are and

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Wiener's Circle

WARNING: The following post is rated PG-13 and may not be suitable for children!

When you’re at a fancy restaurant, service is extremely important. You feel you should be treated with respect and that you always “know what’s best.” Of course, the lower the quality of the establishment, the lower the quality of service. I don’t enjoy eating out that much because I feel guilty looking at all the young waiters hustling around doing a job you know they don’t enjoy. Plus, whenever I go to a restaurant like Applebee’s I feel sooo white. I think we would all like to see a waiter just let their customer(s) have it someday. In some places, if you’re not being called a motherf***** you’re not getting what you came for.

Chicago is a city known for many historic eateries, and The Wiener’s Circle is no different. This hot dog stand is known for its char-grilled food and verbal abuse between customers and employees. (They also have delicious chili fries.) Their most ordered item is the ‘chardog’ with “the works”; a grilled Vienne beef hot dog on a warm poppy seed bun topped with mustard, onions, relish, dill pickles spears, tomato slices, and sport peppers with a dash of celery salt.

The profanity exchanged between employees and customers only happens during late-weekend hours where they are often open until 5:00 a.m. During the day it’s a typical hot dog stand but when the party crowd comes to grab a bite after the bars close, the insults start flying.

This company tradition began in the early 90s when Larry Gold, one of the owners, was dealing with an intoxicated customer who wasn’t making the ordering process any easier. At his breaking point from the large crowd, Larry called the drunk an ass*****. Nowadays, with the majority of staff being black and the stand being located in an upper-class white neighborhood, racist slurs often change the atmosphere from relaxed to unfriendly.

Did you know?- Some customers request a “chocolate milkshake” from one of the female employees which is a request for them to expose their breasts.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Sign Language

The first records of sign language date back to the early 17th century. In 1620, Spanish priest Juan Pablo Bonet published Reduction of Letter and Art for Teaching Mute People to Speak (Boy that’s a mouthful), the first alphabet for the deaf. From his work, philanthropic educator Charles-Michel de I’Epee published his alphabet a century later which has been left largely unchanged since.

Charles-Michel de I’Epee

Did you know?- Just like scientists have a universal system of measurement, the metric system, deaf people have a similar network. Known as International Sign, it is used at the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) as well as the Deaflympics, Olympics held strictly for those of hard hearing where participants compete in many of the same games.

Although widely viewed as being more limited that oral languages, sign language has the advantage of communicating through sight; not only through techniques like facial expressions and body movement but much more. Think of it like this…oral language is linear. What I mean by that is when speaking; only one sound can be made or heard at a time. On the other hand, sign language is visual, meaning a whole scene can be taken in at once. Here’s an example:

Let’s take a look at the phrase, “I went to the park.” Spoken, he/she would need to make the phrase longer to give additional information, such as, “I went to the park while it was sunny. It was beautiful.” In American Sign Language (ASL), details about the day and your feelings about it can be conveyed through with the verb ‘went’ by performing simultaneous gestures like specific hand movements, body posture, and facial expression. I other words, the deaf can shorten the new two word phrase back into its original format, “I went to the park.”

Sign language has five elements. They are:

Handshape (handform)
Orientation (palm orientation)
Location (place of articulation)
Expression (facial expression)

Together they form the acronym HOLME which has become easy to remember when learning the language. If you’re interested in learning sign for whatever reason (So you and your friend have a secret language, or you can insult people without their knowing) watch the video below to see if you can master the numbers 1-20 as well as the English alphabet.

If you still think you would like to learn sign, visit While there are countless other software programs to download online to learn ASL, this site is the best compilation of free lessons and tutorials that I could find.

Did you know?- In terms of sentence construction, ASL shares more with spoken Japanese than it does with English.

Yet whether you make a conscious choice to learn sign or not, you may find the language becoming more main stream in popular culture. Recently, there has been a movement to teach and encourage the use of sign language with toddlers before they learn to talk because young children can communicate effectively with signed languages before they are physically capable of speech. There have also been several breeds of primate such as the chimpanzee and gorilla that scientists have taught basic signs to in our hope to communicate with them. Below is part 1 of the 8 part series 1978 documentary, Koko: A Talking Gorilla, which showcases the abilities of a wonderful gorilla by the name of Koko who knows more than 1,000 signs of ASL as well as 2,000 spoken English words.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Louvre

ornithopter drawing

Leonardo da Vinci was not only a brilliant artist, but an ingenious inventor. The public has been showered with ‘da Vinci’ media these past couple years with the release of Dan Brown’s best-selling novel, The Da Vinci Code, as well as universities and engineering firms beginning to recreate many of his old ideas that were only left on paper. One can see how much confidence da Vinci had in his own intellect; he never attempted to build any of his inventions because he knew they would work. My favorite design was his ornithopter, a man-powered machine that attained flight with the flapping of artificial wings. While this idea has been proven to work in small scale, humans are still developing a machine that can transport us with the grace of birds.


Yet to most, Leondardo is the painter of The Mona Lisa housed inside the Louvre in Paris, France. Properly known as the Grand Louvre, this is the most visited museum in the world. It is also one of the largest museums at 652,300 square feet (60,600 square meters) containing nearly 35,000 objects dating from the dawn our beginning to the 19th century.

The museum was originally a fortress built in the late 12th century under King Philip II of France. Charles X converted the building into the royal family’s quarters in 1546. After that, it underwent multiple additions and remained the primary residence of the king and queen until 1672 when Louis XIV switched to the Palace of Versailles. Since then, its vast halls have been mainly used to exhibit artwork from the royal families.

Did you know?- During the Second French Empire (Napoleon III ruled from 1852-1870) the museum gained 20,000 pieces of art!

The current collection is divided into eight departments:

• Egyptian Antiquities
• Near Eastern Antiquities
• Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
• Islamic Art
• Sculpture
• Decorative Arts
• Paintings
• Prints and Drawings

Although not highly publicized, the Louvre is actually owned by the French government. Since 2003, they have required the museum to generate funds for municipal projects. The government currently provides 62% of the museum’s funding with the remainder coming from private contributions and ticket sales.

Did you know?- In order to keep everything running, the museum employs 2,000 people!

One of the Louvre’s main architectural features is the glass pyramid in the central courtyard. Architect I. M. Pei was appointed the task and was completed in October 1988. The second phase of Pei’s plan, La Pyramide Inversée (the Inverted Pyramid), was completed in 1993. Upon reaching the year 2002, the museum’s attendance had doubled due to its completion!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Powered Paragliding

When the idea to travel around the world first appeared in my thoughts, my main question was how I would get around. Originally, I thought of riding a motorcycle but realized that I wanted to see the globe a lot slower than 55mph. Then I considered just walking or hitchhiking my way across the planet. However, because I wouldn’t be able to carry as much on the road, this idea dissolved as well. Finally after some research, I decided on bicycle touring as the perfect solution. (click here to learn more)

Still, I know that someday the intense craving to see the Earth in new ways will resurface again. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to see scenery from the ground, but what about the sky? Thus far I’ve written about quite a few ways that I’d like to experience flight someday, but today I want to reveal my ultimate fantasy. To travel across the sky at only 15-20 mph strapped into a powered paraglider.

Also known as paramotoring, powered paragliding is a type of ultralight aircraft where a pilot wears a motor on his/her back (called a paramotor) which creates enough thrust for the parafoil wing to ascend. Takeoff requires no assistance as the pilot simply runs until the desired speed is reached for takeoff.

In the United States, the sport requires no license to fly probably because it is incredibly safe at low altitude and slow speeds. What makes this so appealing to me as well as thousands of other people is that fact that you don’t need a lot of equipment to get started. Also factor in that maintenance costs are low and with no cockpit it gives the rider an incredible free flight feeling where one can view more of their surroundings.

Before I go any further, I think it’s important to distinguish between two commonly mistaken forms of powered parafoil flight. Powered parachuting (PPC) assemblies have easier to control, yet less efficient wings then paramotors, as well as larger engines, slower flight speeds (25-35 mph) and that pilots steer with their feet.

powered parachute

Paramotors can fly between 15-45 mph (25-70 Km/h) at altitudes of up to 18,000 feet (5,400 meters) although the majority of pilots stay under 500 feet (150 meters). The motor weighs between 45-80 pounds (20-36 Kg) and requires only about 10 feet (3 meters) of runway, excluding the parafoil, to take off. Unfortunately, due to the parafoil’s low flight speed and susceptibility to crosswinds, the sport is normally reserved for the summer months.

Did you know?- A complete, new paragliding package can cost between $6,000 to $9,500, while used equipment could run you anywhere from $2,000 to $3,000.

As I said earlier, while you don’t need a license to operate these machines in most countries, it’s still recommended you complete some sort of training course. Most courses take only about a month to complete.

Some paramotor pilots choose to attach lightweight trikes to their motor assembly if they can’t foot launch properly. In some countries, such as England, this modification changes the aircraft’s status and requires a license to fly.

In the U.S., powered paragliding is represented by the US Powered Paragliding Association (USSPA) as well as the US Ultralight Association.

Did you know?- In 2007, world famous adventurer and TV star, Bear Grylls, flew over the Himalayas using a paramotor. Although not officially confirmed, Bear claims to have reached an altitude of 8,990 meters (24,294 feet) where he saw the tip of Mount Everest!