Archive | January, 2012

Best POV wipeouts and OMG moments

31 Jan

Reposting from Outside:


The 6 craziest POV wipeouts


Running a 90-Foot Waterfall

Noccalula Falls Full Edit

Noccalula Falls Full Edit w/ POV from Isaac Levinson on Vimeo.

 Money Comment: “That is a huge brown stout.”
Pat Keller, 25, of Maggie Valley, North Carolina
There’s just something about the power of a flooded river flowing off a 90-foot waterfall—people can’t look away. I certainly couldn’t when I showed up at Gadsen, Alabama, at 2:30 in the afternoon with two other kayakers and a videographer. I went first, following a jet of current at the center of the waterfall. When I started falling, I leaned forward, dropped my paddle, and plunged into the pool at the bottom. It couldn’t have gone better. My two buddies followed, and we ended up with this footage, which looks straight down at a torrent of water falling, then chases it. Watch it and, even if you’re a nonkayaker, you’ll get how huge that drop really is. I’m hoping the big fish, like beer and energy-drink companies, see it. Maybe they’ll even give us some money.



Backcountry Ski Wipeout

Tuckerman Ravine Crash

Money Comment: “That’s me in the video! The fall was absolutely insane. I thought I was about to die.”
Cameraman: Dustin O’Brien, 25, of Marshfield, Massachusetts
My buddy and I were hiking Tuckerman Ravine, New Hampshire’s most popular backcountry ski area, on an April afternoon. About three-quarters of the way up, we were hiking up a chute when snow started sloughing down from the summit. I pulled out my camera to film it when this girl flies through the frame, sliding face-first down the hill and yelling, “Oh, my God!” She must have been going 35 mph. It’s funny, the entire day I shot 70 seconds of video, and that moment is what came of it.




Trapped by an Avalanche

Avalanche Burial With Black Diamond Avalung


Money Comment: “He didn’t even use the avalung. Way to go Black Diamond.”
Adam Chamberlain, 38, vice president of marketing for Black Diamond, Salt Lake City
In the spring of 2008, a backcountry skier approached us with footage of one of our products in action. It started with a head-cam shot of a guy skiing epic powder in Alaska. Then the snow fractured beneath his skis. He was buried in the avalanche for almost five minutes before his friends rescued him. We’d never seen an avalanche video like it, and one of the reasons he survived was that he was wearing one of our backcountry safety devices. We paid a grand for the video, branded it, and posted it to Black Diamond’s website, where it went viral. A year later, people started posting comments disputing whether the avalung saved his life. He was wearing one. I think people just found it offensive that we had taken an organic gear testimonial and used it for marketing purposes.




Crash-Landing in the Himalayas

Paragliding vs. Eagle


Money Comment: “Angry birds!”
Vladimir Tsarkov, 25, of Moscow
Last October, I went to Bir-Billing Valley in India for a month of paragliding. On my first flight, I was 850 feet above the northern Himalayas when two birds that looked like eagles popped up in front of me. Birds rarely hit paragliders, so I decided to stay my course. Big mistake. One got snagged in the lines of my glider, and the entire cupola collapsed. I fell at 23 feet per second for a minute and a half and landed in a shrub. Somehow I was totally fine, just cussing up a storm. I had to calm down before facing the bird, which was still caught in the chute. It flew off as soon as I untangled it. I sent the video from my helmet cam to a friend in Moscow, and she uploaded it to YouTube. All the Russian channels put it on their broadcasts. I was still in India and hadn’t talked to my parents yet; they freaked out when they watched the news.




Winter Climbing Gone Bad

Mixed Climbing Avalanche Accident


Money Comment: “Potent reminder that surviving the fall is only the start of your troubles in alpine climbing. Heal fast.”
Ed Warren, 26, of West Lebanon, New Hampshire
After 25 minutes anchored to ice screws, I turned off my GoPro. Belaying makes boring video, even when you’re 450 feet up a 70-degree slope. My partner, Brice, was a rope length above me, chopping through snow slabs that blocked the chute we’d been climbing in Wyoming’s Snowy Range since 8 a.m. Brice triggered the avalanche and fell with it for almost 200 feet before the rope caught him. When it hit me, the snow was going 70 mph and knocked me off the wall. After it stopped, Brice was fine, but I was hanging upside down with a crampon pressed into the flesh of my shattered ankle. I was shocked to be alive. I instinctively turned my helmet cam back on as soon as I righted myself, rappelled down the cliff, and then crawled two miles back to the car, filming the whole way.




Biker vs. Antelope

Mountain Biker Gets Taken Out by Buck


Money Comment: “Dayum nature, you scary!”
Evan van der Spuy, 18, of Port Shepstone, South Africa
I was in a mountain-bike race in Albert Falls Game Reserve, South Africa, riding 22 miles per hour down a stretch of singletrack when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a 300-pound red hartebeest—a giant antelope—charging at me. I think he was as scared as I was, because neither of us could hit the brakes. The thing T-boned me, horns to helmet. I got knocked out cold and woke up with a stiff neck, four chipped teeth, and absolutely no idea what had happened. We posted the video on YouTube the following day, and for the next 72 hours my phone rang nonstop while more than 400 media outlets hounded me for interviews.

The New French Hacker-Artist Underground

30 Jan

Awesome story about a group of rogue art and history restorers in the Parisian underground.
The New French Hacker-Artist Underground
By Jon Lackman Email Author


Photography: UX

A mysterious band of hacker-artists is prowling the network of tunnels below Paris,
secretly refurbishing the city’s neglected treasures.
Photo: UX


Thirty years ago, in the dead of night, a group of six Parisian teenagers pulled off what would prove to be a fateful theft. They met up at a small cafè near the Eiffel Tower to review their plans—again—before heading out into the dark. Lifting a grate from the street, they descended a ladder to a tunnel, an unlit concrete passageway carrying a cable off into the void. They followed the cable to its source: the basement of the ministry of telecommunications. Horizontal bars blocked their way, but the skinny teens all managed to wedge themselves through and ascend to the building’s ground floor. There they found three key rings in the security office and a logbook indicating that the guards were on their rounds.

But the guards were nowhere to be seen. The six interlopers combed the building for hours, encountering no one, until they found what they were looking for at the bottom of a desk drawer—maps of the ministry’s citywide network of tunnels. They took one copy of each map, then returned the keys to the security office. Heaving the ministry’s grand front door ajar, they peeked outside; no police, no passersby, no problem. They exited onto the empty Avenue de Sègur and walked home as the sun rose. The mission had been so easy that one of the youths, Natacha, seriously asked herself if she had dreamed it. No, she concluded: “In a dream, it would have been more complicated.”

This stealthy undertaking was not an act of robbery or espionage but rather a crucial operation in what would become an association called UX, for “Urban eXperiment.” UX is sort of like an artist’s collective, but far from being avant-garde—confronting audiences by pushing the boundaries of the new—its only audience is itself. More surprising still, its work is often radically conservative, intemperate in its devotion to the old. Through meticulous infiltration, UX members have carried out shocking acts of cultural preservation and repair, with an ethos of “restoring those invisible parts of our patrimony that the government has abandoned or doesn’t have the means to maintain.” The group claims to have conducted 15 such covert restorations, often in centuries-old spaces, all over Paris.

What has made much of this work possible is UX’s mastery, established 30 years ago and refined since, of the city’s network of underground passageways—hundreds of miles of interconnected telecom, electricity, and water tunnels, sewers, catacombs, subways, and centuries-old quarries. Like computer hackers who crack digital networks and surreptitiously take control of key machines, members of UX carry out clandestine missions throughout Paris’ supposedly secure underground tunnels and rooms. The group routinely uses the tunnels to access restoration sites and stage film festivals, for example, in the disused basements of government buildings.

UX’s most sensational caper (to be revealed so far, at least) was completed in 2006. A cadre spent months infiltrating the Pantheon, the grand structure in Paris that houses the remains of France’s most cherished citizens. Eight restorers built their own secret workshop in a storeroom, which they wired for electricity and Internet access and outfitted with armchairs, tools, a fridge, and a hot plate. During the course of a year, they painstakingly restored the Pantheon’s 19th- century clock, which had not chimed since the 1960s. Those in the neighborhood must have been shocked to hear the clock sound for the first time in decades: the hour, the half hour, the quarter hour.

Eight years ago, the French government didn’t know UX existed. When their exploits first trickled out into the press, the group’s members were deemed by some to be dangerous outlaws, thieves, even potential inspiration for terrorists. Still, a few officials can’t conceal their admiration. Mention UX to Sylvie Gautron of the Paris police—her specialty is monitoring the city’s old quarries—and she breaks into a wide smile. In an era when ubiquitous GPS and microprecise mapping threaten to squeeze all the mystery from our great world cities, UX seems to know, and indeed to own, a whole other, deeper, hidden layer of Paris. It claims the entire city, above- and belowground, as its canvas; its members say they can access every last government building, every narrow telecom tunnel. Does Gautron believe this? “It’s possible,” she says. “Everything they do is very intense.”


It is not at all hard to steal a Picasso, Lazar Kunstmann tells me. One of UX’s early members and the group’s unofficial spokesman, Kunstmann—the name is almost certainly a pseudonym, given its superhero-like German meaning, “Art-man”—is fortyish, bald, black-clad, warm, and witty. We’re sitting in the back room of a student cafè, downing espressos and discussing the spectacular theft in May 2010 of 100 million euros’ worth of paintings from the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris. He disputes the contention of a police spokesperson that this was a sophisticated operation. According to an article published in Le Monde, a solitary individual unscrewed a window frame at 3:50 am, cut a padlock from a gate, and strode through the galleries lifting one work each by Lèger, Braque, Matisse, Modigliani, and Picasso. “The thief was perfectly informed,” the officer told the newspaper. If he hadn’t known the window had a vibration detector, he would’ve just broken it. If he hadn’t known the alarm and part of the security system were broken, he wouldn’t have wandered throughout the museum. If he hadn’t known the schedule of night rounds, he wouldn’t have arrived in the middle of the longest quiet period.

Impressive, right? No, Kunstmann says. “He ascertained that nothing was working,” Kunstmann sighs, knowing full well the shoddy security of the museum in question. “The exterior is full of graffiti artists, the homeless, and crack smokers,” he goes on. This would have made it easy for the thief to blend in and surreptitiously watch the windows all night, observing how the guards circulated.



Photo: UX

UX members restored the Pantheon’s 19th-century clock.
Photo: UX


A serious thief, Kunstmann says, would have taken an entirely different approach. In the same building, a sprawling and grand old structure called the Palais de Tokyo, is a restaurant that stays open until midnight. An intelligent thief would order a coffee there and then wander off through the building. “Lots of things have alarms,” Kunstmann goes on. “But you try to set them off and they don’t sound! Why? Because they don’t get turned on until 2 am.” (The museum claims that the alarms work 24 hours a day.) Moreover, there are whole stretches of wall where all that separates the museum from the rest of the building is a flimsy drywall partition. “You just—” Kunstmann makes a punching motion with his hand. “If the guy had been at all professional, that’s what he would have done.”

UX has made a study of museum security, in keeping with its concern for Paris’ vulnerable treasures—a concern not always shared by the city’s major cultural institutions. Once, after a UX member discovered appalling security lapses in a major museum, she wrote a memo detailing them—and left it, in the middle of the night, on the desk of the security director. Rather than fix the problems, the director went to the police, demanding they press charges against the perpetrators. (The police declined, though they did tell UX to cool it.) Kunstmann feels sure that nothing has changed since the break-in at the Museum of Modern Art; the security remains just as subpar as ever, he says.

Kunstmann has a gloomy view of contemporary civilization, and in his eyes this affair illustrates many of its worst faults—its fatalism, complacency, ignorance, parochialism, and negligence. French officials, he says, bother to protect and restore only the patrimony adored by millions—the Louvre, for example. Lesser-known sites are neglected, and if they happen to be out of public view—underground, say—they disintegrate totally, even when all that’s needed is a hundred-dollar leak repair. UX tends the black sheep: the odd, the unloved, the forgotten artifacts of French civilization.

It’s difficult, though, to give an accounting of just how extensive those labors of love have been: The group cherishes its secrecy, and its known successes have been revealed only inadvertently. The public learned of the group’s underground cinema after a member’s bitter ex-girlfriend told the police. Reporters caught wind of the Pantheon operation because UX members erred in supposing they could safely invite the building’s director to maintain his newly fixed clock (more on that later). In general, UX sees communicating with outsiders as perilous and unrewarding. Kunstmann does tell me a story from a recent job, but even that is shrouded in misdirection. Some members had just infiltrated a public building when they noticed kids horsing around on the scaffolding at a construction site across the street, climbing through open windows, and doing dangerous stunts on the roof. Pretending to be a neighbor, one member phoned the foreman to warn him but was chagrined at the response: “Instead of saying, ‘Thanks, I guess I’ll close the windows,’ the guy says, ‘What the fuck do I care?’”


Photograph: UX

They also hosted an underground art show featuring replicas of paintings stolen in a 2010 heist.
Photo: UX


An outsider might wonder whether the teens who founded UX were really so different from those thrill seekers across the street today. Would they rat out their former selves? But when UX members risk arrest, they do so with a rigorous, almost scientific attitude toward the various crafts they aim to preserve and extend. Their approach is to explore and experiment all through the city. Based on members’ interests, UX has developed a cellular structure, with subgroups specializing in cartography, infiltration, tunneling, masonry, internal communications, archiving, restoration, and cultural programming. Its 100-odd members are free to change roles and are given access to all tools at the group’s disposal. There is no manifesto, no charter, no bylaws—save that all members preserve its secrecy. Membership is by invitation only; when the group notices people already engaged in UX-like activities, it initiates a discussion about joining forces. While there is no membership fee, members contribute what they can to projects.

I can’t help but ask: Did UX steal the paintings from the Museum of Modern Art? Wouldn’t that be the perfect way to alert the French to the appalling job their government does protecting national treasures? Kunstmann denies it with a convincing curtness. “That,” he says, “is not our style.”

The first experiment by UX, in September 1981, was an accidental one. A Parisian middle schooler named Andrei was trying to impress a couple of older classmates, boasting that he and his friend Peter often snuck into places and were about to hit the Pantheon, an enormous former church that towers over the fifth arrondissement. Andrei got in so deep with his boast that to save face he had to follow through—with his new friends in tow. Like Claudia and Jamie in that famous children’s book From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, they hid out inside the building until it closed. Their nocturnal occupation turned out to be shockingly easy—they encountered no guards or alarms—and the experience electrified them. They thought: What else could we do?

Kunstmann, a classmate of Andrei and Peter’s, joined the group early on. They quickly branched out from mere infiltration. Obtaining the tunnel maps from the ministry of telecommunications and other sources greatly expanded their access. Many Parisian buildings connect to these passages through their basements, which are as badly secured as the tunnels themselves. Most officials, Kunstmann says, act as if they believe in this absurd principle: Tunnel access is forbidden, thus people don’t go there. This, he adds sardonically, is “a flawless conclusion—and what’s more, a very practical one, because if people don’t go there, then it’s unnecessary to do more than lock the entrances.”



Photograph: UX

The unauthorized cinema that UX built beneath the Palais De Chaillot.
Photo: UX


It wasn’t until I went down into the tunnels myself—which is illegal and punishable by a fine of up to 60 euros, though explorers rarely get caught—that I understood why French officials are so complacent. Finding an unlocked entrance, without UX’s know-how, required a 45-minute walk from the nearest subway. UX has access to dry and spacious tunnel networks, but the more easily entered ones that I traveled that day were often tiny and half-flooded. By the time I’d retraced my steps, I was exhausted, filthy, and bleeding all over from scrapes.

In some places, UX has been able to create covert connections between networks, using (among other tricks) an invention they call the rolling basin. This is a passage in the bottom of a tunnel that appears to be a grate with water under it; in fact, both grate and water are part of a movable tray on rollers. Voilè0—a trapdoor to another tunnel in a different network. The tray itself is made of concrete, so even if someone raps it with a stick, it sounds solid. Kunstmann says UX has a certain weakness for such contrivances but will never possess enough time and cash to build them as extensively as he’d like. “If tomorrow everyone in UX became billionaires, we’d set dues at a billion euros,” he jokes. (But, he adds, “we’ll never be billionaires, because we’re working as little as possible so we can spend as much time as possible on UX.”)

So what does the group do with all this access? Among other things, it has mounted numerous clandestine theater productions and film festivals. On a typical festival evening, they screen at least two films that they feel share a nonobvious yet provocative connection. They don’t explain the connection, leaving it up to the audience to try to discover it. One summer, the group mounted a film festival devoted to the theme of “urban deserts”—the forgotten and underutilized spaces in a city. They naturally decided the ideal venue for such a festival would be in just such an abandoned site. They chose a room beneath the Palais de Chaillot they’d long known of and enjoyed unlimited access to. The building was then home to Paris’ famous Cinèmathèque Franèaise, making it doubly appropriate. They set up a bar, a dining room, a series of salons, and a small screening room that accommodated 20 viewers, and they held festivals there every summer for years. “Every neighborhood cinema should look like that,” Kunstmann says.

The restoration of the Pantheon clock was carried out by a UX subgroup called Untergunther, whose members are devoted specifically to restoration. The Pantheon was a particularly resonant choice of site, since it’s where UX began, and the group had surreptitiously screened films, exhibited art, and mounted plays there. During one such event in 2005, UX cofounder Jean-Baptiste Viot (one of the few members who uses his real name) took a close look at the building’s defunct Wagner clock—an engineering marvel from the 19th century that replaced an earlier timepiece. (Records indicate the building had a clock as far back as 1790.)

Viot had admired the Wagner ever since he first visited the building. He had meanwhile become a professional horologist working for the elite firm Breguet. That September, Viot persuaded seven other UX members to join him in repairing the clock. They’d been contemplating the project for years, but now it seemed urgent: Oxidation had so crippled the works that they would soon become impossible to fix without re-creating, rather than restoring, almost every part. “That wouldn’t be a restored clock, but a facsimile,” Kunstmann says. As the project began, it took on an almost mystical significance for the team. Paris, as they saw it, was the center of France and was once the center of Western civilization; the Latin Quarter was Paris’ historic intellectual center; the Pantheon stands in the Latin Quarter and is dedicated to the great men of French history, many of whose remains are housed within; and in its interior lay a clock, beating like a heart, until it suddenly was silenced. Untergunther wanted to restart the heart of the world. The eight shifted all their free time to the project.

They first established a workshop high up in the building, just below its dome, on a floor where no one (including guards) ever went anymore—”a sort of floating space,” as Kunstmann describes the room, punctuated by narrow slits for windows. “It looked down on all of Paris from a height of 15 stories. From the outside it resembled a kind of flying saucer; from the inside, a bunker.” The workshop was outfitted with eight overstuffed armchairs, a table, bookshelves, a minibar, and red velvet drapes to moderate the ambient temperature. “Every element had been conceived to fold up into wooden crates, like the ones visible throughout the monument,” Kunstmann says. In the dead of night, they climbed endless stairs, hauling up the lumber, drills, saws, clock repair equipment, and everything else required. They updated the workshop’s outdated electrical wiring. They spent 4,000 euros on materials, in all, out of their own pockets. On the terrace outside they set up a vegetable garden.



Photo: UX

A mechanism that UX uses to pick locks.
Photo: UX


Like at the Museum of Modern Art, where a thief made off with millions in precious art with shocking ease, security at the Pantheon was slipshod. “No one, neither police nor passersby, worried over people entering and leaving the Pantheon by the front door,” Kunstmann says. Nevertheless, the eight equipped themselves with official-looking fake badges. Each had a photograph, a microchip, a hologram of the monument, and a barcode that was “totally useless but impressive,” Kunstmann says. Only very rarely did passing policemen ask questions. At most, it went something like this:

“You’re working at night? Can we see your badges?”


“OK, thanks.”

Once the workshop was complete and thoroughly cleaned, the eight got to work. The first step was to understand how the clock had gotten so degraded—”a sort of autopsy,” Kunstmann says. What they discovered looked like sabotage. It appeared that someone, presumably a Pantheon employee tired of winding the clock once a week, had bludgeoned the escape wheel with an iron bar.

They brought the clock’s mechanism up to the workshop. Viot trained the group in clock repair. First, they cleaned it with what’s called the clockmaker’s bath. This started with 3 liters of water carried up from the public bathrooms on the ground floor. To that was added 500 grams of soft, highly soluble soap, 25 centiliters of ammonia, and 1 tablespoon of oxalic acid—all mixed at a temperature of more than 280 degrees Fahrenheit. With this solution, the group scrubbed and polished every surface. Then they repaired the mechanism’s glass cabinet, replaced broken pulleys and cables, and re-created from scratch the sabotaged escape wheel (a toothed wheel that manages the clock’s rotation) and missing parts like the pendulum bob.

As soon as it was done, in late summer 2006, UX told the Pantheon about the successful operation. They figured the administration would happily take credit for the restoration itself and that the staff would take over the job of maintaining the clock. They notified the director, Bernard Jeannot, by phone, then offered to elaborate in person. Four of them came—two men and two women, including Kunstmann and the restoration group’s leader, a woman in her forties who works as a photographer—and were startled when Jeannot refused to believe their story. They were even more shocked when, after they showed him their workshop (“I think I need to sit down,” he murmured), the administration later decided to sue UX, at one point seeking up to a year of jail time and 48,300 euros in damages. Jeannot’s then-deputy, Pascal Monnet, is now the Pantheon’s director, and he has gone so far as to hire a clockmaker to restore the clock to its previous condition by resabotaging it. But the clockmaker refused to do more than disengage a part—the escape wheel, the very part that had been sabotaged the first time. UX slipped in shortly thereafter to take the wheel into its own possession, for safekeeping, in the hope that someday a more enlightened administration will welcome its return.

Meanwhile, the government lost its lawsuit. It filed another, which it also lost. There is no law in France, it turns out, against the improvement of clocks. In court, one prosecutor characterized her own government’s charges against Untergunther as “stupid.” But the clock is still immobile today, its hands frozen at 10:51.

The members of UX are not rebels, subversives, guerrillas, or freedom fighters, let alone terrorists. They didn’t repair the clock to embarrass the state, nor do they entertain dreams of overthrowing it. Everything they do is intended for their own consumption; indeed, if they can be accused of anything, it’s narcissism. The group is partly responsible for the fact that it is misunderstood. Its members acknowledge that most of its external communications are intended as misdirection—a way to discourage public officials or others from meddling in its operations. They try to hide themselves within the larger mass of Parisians who venture into the city’s recesses simply as partiers or tourists.

Why do they care about these places? Kunstmann answers this question with questions of his own. “Do you have plants in your home?” he asks impatiently. “Do you water them every day? Why do you water them? Because,” he goes on, “otherwise they’re ratty little dead things.” That’s why these forgotten cultural icons are important—”because we have access to them, we see them.” Their goal, he says, isn’t necessarily to make all these things function once again. “If we restore a bomb shelter, we’re certainly not hoping for new bombardments so people can go use it again. If we restore an early 20th-century subway station, we don’t imagine Electricitè de France will ask us to transform 200,000 volts to 20,000. No, we just want to get as close as possible to a functioning state.”

UX has a simple reason for keeping the sites a secret even after it has finished restoring them: The same anonymity that originally deprived them of caretakers “is paradoxically what’s going to protect them afterward” from looters and graffiti, Kunstmann says. They know they’ll never get to the vast majority of interesting sites that need restoration. Yet, “despite all that, the satisfaction of knowing that some, maybe a tiny fraction, won’t disappear because we’ll have been able to restore them is an extremely great satisfaction.”

I ask him to elaborate on their choice of projects. “We can say very little,” he replies, “because to describe the sites even a bit can give away their location.” That said, one site is “belowground, in the south of Paris, not very far from here. It was discovered relatively recently but elicited very strong interest. It totally contradicts the history of the building above it. In examining what’s belowground, one notices that it doesn’t correspond to the information one can obtain about the history of the site. It’s history in reverse, in a way; the site was dedicated to an activity, structures were placed there, but in fact the site had been dedicated to this activity for quite a long time.”

Walking across the Latin Quarter alone on a balmy evening, I try to guess what site Kunstmann is describing, and the city transforms before my eyes, below my feet. Did counterfeiters once operate out of the basement of the Paris Mint? Was the Saint-Sulpice church founded on the site of an underground pagan temple? Suddenly, all of Paris seems ripe with possibility: Every keyhole a peephole, every tunnel a passageway, every darkened building a theater.

But it’s also clear that UX retains its love affair with its first and best canvas, the Pantheon. While this story was closing, a colleague needed to reach Kunstmann about a fact-checking question. Kunstmann had told her to call “any time,” so even though it was 1 am in Paris, she rang. When he picked up the phone, he was panting—from moving a couch, he said. She asked her question: When the clock had stopped chiming after the repair, what time remained frozen on its face? As it happened, Kunstmann was in the Pantheon at that very moment. “Hold on,” he said. “I’ll look.”

Fracking is not the problem

27 Jan

A reblog from SciAm


Guest Post: Water Contamination – Fracking is not the problem

By Scott McNally | January 25, 2012 | 


With the current negative attention and controversy surrounding shale gas drilling, the words ‘hydraulic fracturing’ or ‘fracking’ have become synonymous with something else: water contamination. But according to recent research out of MIT, the contamination of drinking water near natural gas wells is caused by something totally different. In fact, fracking has nothing to do with it.

Shale gas was long considered inaccessible and unprofitable because of the low permeability of shale formations, but recent developments in horizontal drilling and multi-stage hydraulic fracturing have made shale gas production economically viable. As a result, shale gas drilling has increased dramatically and sparked debates on the safety and environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing.

You may have seen the commercials supporting fracking that say, ‘clean burning natural gas is the gateway to our low carbon future.’ You may have also seen the Academy Award Nominated documentary Gasland, which highlights some of the environmental risks and discusses contaminated aquifers. Some have even called for a ban on fracking. Unfortunately, in this debate, some of the facts have been clouded by misinformation, anecdotal evidence, and back and forth attempts to discredit those on both side of the argument.

So what is the truth?

Can drilling for natural gas contaminate drinking water? Yes.

Is hydraulic fracturing to blame? No.

Bottom line: water contamination does happen, but not because of hydraulic fracturing. The MIT Future of Natural Gas Study, released in June 2011, examines the causes of 43 reported environmental incidents and finds that, “no incidents of direct invasion of shallow water zones by fracture fluids during the fracturing process have been recorded.”

So what causes the contamination? According to the study, “almost 50% [of the incidents were] the result of drilling operations… most frequently related to inadequate cementing of casing into wellbores.” The table below is from the Future of Natural Gas Study and highlights the frequency and causes of incidents.

While the most common incident is groundwater contamination resulting from drilling operations, the study also states that, “Properly implemented cementing procedures should prevent this from occurring.”

But, to be absolutely clear, hydraulic fracturing is not part of the drilling process. It is part of well completions, and is typically done several weeks after drilling has stopped. This is where much of the confusion sets in. You may have heard something like this before: ‘There has never been a documented case of the fractures in a shale gas production zone migrating upward to the water bearing zones. There are thousands of feet of impermeable rock separating the two, and the rock mechanics make it a physical impossibility.’

That is true. However, that does not mean fracking fluid cannot get into the aquifer. So how does this happen? If fractures never reach the aquifers, then how does the fracking fluid get there?

It goes like this:

Sometimes, drillers have to drill through an aquifer to access a natural gas zone that is farther below. (by the way, an aquifer is an underground layer of water-bearing permeable rock. It is not an underground lake or cavern that is filled with water, like many people imagine.) If the act of drilling through the aquifer and cementing the walls of the hole is not done carefully, there is a higher chance that the cement casing can crack, leaking hydrocarbons and other fluids into the aquifer. If there is a casing leak near the water table, whatever is traveling up or down the well can leak into the aquifer. Since the fracking fluids have to travel through this pipe twice (once on the way down, once on the way back up), it can contaminate the water through the casing leak. In fact, whatever travels through that pipe can leak into the aquifer. Sometimes it is fracking fluid, but more commonly, it is methane, drilling mud or produced formation water.

Aquifer contamination can happen whether you frac a well or not, and bad cementing and casing leaks are possible in any well – vertical, horizontal, fracked or unfracked.

Now, there are significant environmental concerns related to gas drilling, but we should put them into context. Of the 20,000 fracked wells covered by the Future of Natural Gas Study, only 43 environmental incidents were reported, and not a single one was caused by fracking. Regardless of the frequency of incidents, any spill or leak is unacceptable, and the pressure should be on the drillers and operators to minimize the environmental impacts of natural gas production. But, the data show the vast majority of natural gas development projects are safe, and the existing environmental concerns are largely preventable.



Hugh Glass – survival is a hell of an instinct

22 Jan

Think you’re tough?

Get this…

Hugh Glass (c. 1780 – 1833) was an American fur trapper and frontiersman noted for his exploits in the American West during the first third of 19th century.

Glass’s most famous adventure began in 1822, when he responded to an advertisement in the Missouri Gazette and Public Adviser, placed by General William Ashley, which called for a corps of 100 men to “ascend the river Missouri” as part of a fur trading venture. These men would later be known as Ashley’s Hundred.

Near the forks of the Grand River in present-day Perkins County, in August 1823, while scouting alone for game for the expedition’s larder, Glass surprised a Grizzly mother bear with her two cubs. Before he could fire his rifle, the bear charged, picked him up, and threw him to the ground. Glass got up, grappled for his knife, and fought back, stabbing the animal repeatedly as the grizzly raked him time and again with her claws.

Glass managed to kill the bear with help from his trapping partners, Fitzgerald and Bridger, but was left badly mauled and unable to walk. When Glass lost consciousness, Henry became convinced the man would not survive his injuries.

Henry asked for two volunteers to stay with Glass until he died, and then bury him. Bridger (then 17 years old) and Fitzgerald stepped forward, and as the rest of the party moved on, began digging his grave. Later claiming that they were interrupted in the task by an attack by “Arikaree” Indians, the pair grabbed Glass’s rifle, knife, and other equipment, and took flight.

Bridger and Fitzgerald reported to Henry — wrongly it turned out — that Glass had died.

Despite his injuries, Glass regained consciousness. He did so only to find himself abandoned, without weapons or equipment, suffering from a broken leg, the cuts on his back exposing bare ribs, and all his wounds festering. Glass lay mutilated and lame more than 200 mi (320 km) from the nearest settlement at Fort Kiowa on the Missouri River.

In one of the more remarkable treks known to history, Glass set his own leg, wrapped himself in the bear hide his companions had placed over him as a shroud, and began crawling. To prevent gangrene, Glass laid his wounded back on a rotting log and let the maggots eat the dead flesh.

Deciding that following the Grand River would be too dangerous because of hostile Native Americans, Glass crawled overland south toward the Cheyenne River. It took him six weeks to reach it.

Glass survived mostly on wild berries and roots. On one occasion he was able to drive two wolves from a downed bison calf, and feast on the meat. Reaching the Cheyenne, he fashioned a crude raft and floated down the river, navigating using the prominent Thunder Butte landmark. Aided by friendly natives who sewed a bear hide to his back to cover the exposed wounds, Glass eventually reached the safety of Fort Kiowa.

After a long recuperation, Glass set out to track down and avenge himself against Bridger and Fitzgerald. When he found Bridger, on the Yellowstone near the mouth of the Bighorn River, Glass spared him, purportedly because of Bridger’s youth. When he found Fitzgerald, and discovered that Fitzgerald had joined the United States Army, Glass purportedly restrained himself because the consequence of killing a U.S. soldier was death. However, he did recover his lost rifle.

A monument to Glass now stands near the site of his mauling on the southern shore of Shadehill Reservoir on the forks of the Grand River.

20 Engineering Terms

16 Jan


Things you’re likely to hear in an engineering department:


1. A NUMBER OF DIFFERENT APPROACHES ARE BEING TRIED – We are still pissing in the wind.

2. EXTENSIVE REPORT IS BEING PREPARED ON A FRESH APPROACH TO THE PROBLEM – We just hired three kids fresh out of college.

3. CLOSE PROJECT COORDINATION – We know who to blame.

4. MAJOR TECHNOLOGICAL BREAKTHROUGH – It works so-so, but looks very hi-tech.

5. CUSTOMER SATISFACTION IS DELIVERED ASSURED – We are so far behind schedule the customer is happy to get it delivered.

6. PRELIMINARY OPERATIONAL TESTS WERE INCONCLUSIVE – The damn thing blew up when we threw the switch.

7. TEST RESULTS WERE EXTREMELY GRATIFYING – We are so surprised that the stupid thing actually works.

8. THE ENTIRE CONCEPT WILL HAVE TO BE ABANDONED – The only person who understands that the thing doesn’t work.

9. IT IS IN PROCESS – It is so wrapped up in red tape that the situation is about hopeless.

10. WE WILL LOOK INTO IT – Forget it! We have enough problems for now.

11. PLEASE NOTE AND INITIAL – Let’s spread the responsibility for the screw up.

12. GIVE US THE BENEFIT OF YOUR THINKING – We’ll listen to what you have to say as long as it doesn’t interfere with what we’ve already done or are planning to do.

13. GIVE US YOUR INTERPRETATION – I can’t wait to hear this bullshit!

14. SEE ME or LET’S DISCUSS – Come into my office, I’m lonely.

15. ALL NEW – Parts not interchangeable with the previous design.

16. RUGGED – Too damn heavy to lift!

17. LIGHTWEIGHT – Lighter than RUGGED.

18. YEARS OF DEVELOPMENT – One finally worked.

19. ENERGY SAVING – Achieved when the power switch is off.

20. LOW MAINTENANCE – Impossible to fix if broken.

How to enjoy the shit out of the world… or: 18 travel resolutions

5 Jan

Awesome piece on how to really get out there and ENJOY the world and all it has to offer.


18 Travel Resolutions to Keep This Year


1. Take your travel in any portion you can

At BootsnAll, we believe that the life-changing experience of extended travel is possible for almost anyone. But we also understand that it’s not always the right fit (or the right time) for every traveler. If you can’t get away for longer trips, take your travel in small chunks. Taking weekend trips, booking red-eye flights, and planning your trips around holidays to take advantage of extra free days off can help you get more out of limited time, but remember that not every trip needs to be epic. Pick destinations that seem manageable for the amount of time that you have, don’t worry about “seeing it all,” and expect that you’ll return at some point in the future.


2. Earn your experiences

Maybe it’s the endorphins or the adrenaline that kicks in during physical activity, but some of the best travel moments are the ones that are earned with sweat, tears, and a few small bruises. Get active and experience the world on a human-powered adventure. Go hike, kayak, swim, run, climb, ride, row, push, pull, hang, crawl, jump or whatever else gets you moving.


3. See less, experience more

You know the traveler type….the one who is running around from monument to museum, pausing for a moment to snap a picture, and then scurrying off to check the next item off a packed itinerary. It’s easy to recognize the most extreme examples of this type of whirlwind traveler; it’s harder to recognize the signs of trying to do to much in your own travel behavior. If you find yourself needing a vacation after your trip, if the only conversations you have with locals involve ordering food or buying museum tickets, and if you come home with more photographs than memories, you may be forsaking the experience of travel for the accomplishment of it. Travel shouldn’t be about getting it done, but about savoring the moment. Slow down, unpack, relax, stay awhile.


4. Invest in good gear

We’re always extolling the benefits of packing light; it makes travel easier, cheaper, and more convenient. But without the proper gear, traveling light is much more difficult. Just try going two weeks with three shirts that aren’t quick-drying and after spending all your time waiting for your sink-washed clothes to dry or hanging out in the laundromat, you may give up on packing light altogether. Investing in gear that is designed to help you travel with less can make all the difference.  Compression sacks, quick-drying and lightweight clothes, and the right toiletries are worth the investment.


5. Protect yourself

No one wants to think about something going wrong on a trip, but nothing ruins a trip faster than unexpected illness or injury, and the financial strain that can come with them. Most travelers won’t need insurance on their trip; they’ll return home with only happy memories. But for those who do encounter unexpected problems, insurance can be a literal lifesaver. From replacing stolen goods to getting you home in the event of major injury, insurance is one of those things which, when you need it, you really need it.  Protecting yourself, your family, and your financial investment in your trip is worth the minor expense.


6. Get past the “once-in-a-lifetime” roadblock

“Going on an African safari is a once-in a-lifetime-experience, so I want to do it right.” “I’ll probably only go to Europe once, so I want to see it all.” “This will be our last trip before we have kids, so it needs to be amazing.” There’s nothing wrong with wanting to splurge on a trip you’ll remember forever, and of course there are some destinations that you will probably only go to once. But the problem with the “once-in-a-lifetime” mentality is that it leads to “all-or-nothing” thinking. Too many travelers think that they don’t have enough time or money to “do the place right” and so they keep waiting until they have more time or more money. Except it never comes, and so they never go.

Snap out of it! One week in Italy is better than none, and going on a budget safari is better than never going at all. Compromise on your dream trips and you’ll find it’s easier to make them a reality.


7. Change up your travel style

If you’ve been traveling for any length of time, you probably have a well-defined travel style. You might be a budget-backpacker, a mid-range traveler, or a slow traveler; you might crave adventure,  or prefer the beach, or stick to cities. Change things up a bit!

If you usually go budget, splurge a bit on your next trip – book one night in an ultra-luxe hotel, or bump up to business class, or spend big on a multi-course gourmet feast. If you prefer the finer things in life, seek out some street food or try a night at a hostel.  If you’re an adventure junkie, take a break on the beach for a few days, and if you’re a sun-worshipper, add some active adventures off the beach. Solo traveler? Plan a trip with your parents. In a couple? Go it alone next time. Changing things up can help you discover more to love about travel.


8. Save the planet you love to explore

We travel to meet people, to experience things outside our normal life, to eat, to drink, to do. And we travel to explore this big, beautiful planet we call home. Yet, there’s no denying that the very act of travel is effecting the planet’s ecosystem in a negative way. Planes, trains, and buses all add pollution to the atmosphere. The hotels we stay in and restaurants we eat in also require energy to operate. And if we’re not careful, the tours we take and treks we go on can actually harm the local environment and peoples we’re going to visit.

You can’t eliminate the negative impact your travel has on the Earth, but you can reduce or offset it. Travel slowly, go by foot or take mass transit as much as possible. Respect the local culture and environment and only support businesses that do as well. Give back to the local communities you visit, and encourage others to do the same.


9. Boldly go solo

Traveling alone for the first time can be scary. You might worry if it’s safe, if you’ll be lonely, who you will talk to. But what you’ll quickly discover is that solo travelers are never really alone unless they want to be and that there is always someone to talk to, eat with, or explore alongside. Many solo travelers also say they meet more people than when they travel in a group, as they are more approachable alone. If you’ve never gone on a trip by yourself, make this the year you do, even if it’s just for a weekend. And if you have taken a few trips alone, go bigger this year, traveling solo longer or farther than you have in the past.


10. Learn something

The best trips teach us something, whether that be something about ourselves or the place we’ve gone to explore. Embrace more opportunities to learn on your next trip by taking a class in something that interests you. From one-day cooking or dance classes to week-long lessons in art, culture, language and activities, studying around the world is one more way to make a deeper connection with the local culture.


11. Be a traveler at home

Part of travel is about experiencing new places, seeing and doing new things, and meeting new people. So many travelers are open all these things when they’re on a trip to a foreign place, and yet they quickly forget the traveler’s mindset as soon as they return home. Be a traveler no matter where you are. Be a tourist in your own town. Try a new restaurant; head to a side of town you never visit; find a new event, festival, or parade you’ve never attended; go to a museum you’ve never explored. Look at your familiar environment with fresh eyes and try to see it as you would a new destination.


12. Eat something that scares you

Chances are, you probably try a few new foods on every trip – spicy curries in Thailand, the local fish in Colombia, a traditional dessert in Italy. It looks good, it smells good and it’s local, so you try it. Why not go beyond that a bit, and try something that you actually don’t think you’ll like? You don’t have to start chomping insects or rotten shark (unless you want to), just sample something you wouldn’t normally expect to enjoy. If offal isn’t your thing, at least try the tripe in Rome, and don’t scoff at lentils without at least tasting them in an Ethiopian berbere sauce. You’re mom was right: you don’t know if you’ll like it until you try, and if you don’t, you may miss out on something delicious.


13. Find your quest

The earliest adventurers didn’t travel to “get away” from something, they were searching for something. You don’t have to go in search of a new land or a new trade route in order to follow in their footsteps. Plan your own quest, whether it be an ambitious goal like biking from North America to the bottom of South America or a more personal journey, like tracing you family history. Having a greater purpose to your goal can give you more motivation to achieve it.


14. Talk to strangers and make meaningful connections

One of the best parts of travel can be the connections you make with locals and other travelers. If you tend to be on the shy side, focus on making more meaningful connections on the road. Strike up a conversation with a stranger in a cafe, on the bus, or in your hostel common room. Try a home exchange program to get a better look at local life, or Couchsurf for the first time.  And don’t forget the connections you already have; keep up correspondence with people you’ve met on your trips, and plan more visits to family and friends who don’t live locally. Visiting someone you know in another city gives you a built-in local guide and helps you save money.


15. Be impulsive

Some of the most memorable experience are the ones we never expected to have. This year, vow to be more spontaneous.  Book a last minute trip or arrive somewhere with no plans and just see where the wind takes you. On a longer trip, leave one day (or week) or one destination up in the air, or plan a mystery day trip where you just get on the next train and see where it takes you in an hour’s time. You can even apply the same idea locally. Pick a nearby city and just drive or hop on public transit and get off at a new stop. With no time to prepare, you can be more open to serendipity.


16. Be an inspiration

Think back to the time before your first big trip. You may have wondered if someone like you could actually do this. Could you study abroad, could you go on a trip alone, could you travel for a whole year? Maybe what pushed you over the edge and made you finally just do it was the advice or inspiration of  someone who had shared their own story with you. Pay it forward by inspiring someone else to take a trip, to travel more, or to accomplish their own travel goals.


17. Ditch the technology

Smartphones and easy access to the internet have been great for travelers. We can stay connected with home, easily make travel arrangements, and get local information at the touch of a button. But all this technology can also keep us from truly being present; we’re too busy tweeting about the moment to really appreciate it. Take some time to disconnect. Spend at least one day on your trip without tweeting, Facebooking,  or texting. Go a week without checking email. Or really take a tech-break by traveling to a destination where you won’t have any internet or cell service at all.


18. Make this the year you do it

How many times have you said that this was the year you would visit that place, or save for a round the world trip, or travel solo? Stop putting it off! It doesn’t get any easier, and you aren’t getting any younger. Don’t let five, or ten, or twenty years go by before you know it. Whatever your travel dream is – to sleep on the Great Wall of China, to dive in the Red Sea, to ride a horse in Mongolia, to stomp grapes in France, to haggle in the markets of Morocco, or to take a round-the-world trip – make this the year you make it happen! Come up with a plan to achieve your goals in small steps and make 2012 the year you realize your travel dreams.

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