Saturday, December 17, 2011

Bradley Manning's crime and punishment

Unicycling to the extreme

Unicycling to the extreme

Seeing a person on a unicycle may bring to mind juggling acts, tightropes and circus tricks. Unicycling, however, has developed a new image over the last decade – as a sport driven by the need to find a new challenge.

“I’m sure there’s people that do it to try out for a carnival or to be in parades,” said Steve Bjorklund, owner of Summit Bike and Ski Shop on South Grand Avenue.

A unicycle hangs in the front window of the shop. Inside, they’ll tell you the store sells a handful in the fall and some as Christmas presents.

The main reason Bjorklund sees people intrigued with unicycling is the challenge, and those who really get into the sport are usually the freestyle and trick skier crowd.

Over the years, unicycling has become more competitive. There are team sports, like unicycle basketball or hockey. There are races, tricks and off-road, or mountain unicycling, known as MUni.

Dansun Martin has been unicycling for more than a decade, specializing in urban trials. Trials involve things like navigating obstacles on the streets, climbing and descending stairs, jumping obstacles and balancing along curbs.

A constantly active person, Martin likes to push his own limits. Trials — which mountain unicycling pioneer Kris Holm described as a “function of technical difficulty over short distances” — provide plenty of ways for him to challenge his skills.

Martin said because he is searching for obstacles and not using the unicycle as transportation, he will often walk and carry the unicycle between tricks.

That doesn’t lessen his workout, though. Apart from the challenge of conquering obstacles, unicycles provide better cross-training than bicycles, Martin said, because the unicyclist uses the body’s entire core to balance.

According to health and exercise website, unicyclists burn on average 329 calories an hour, and simply riding one “demands fitness, balance and concentration.”

Unlike bicycles, unicycles have no chain. Coasting is not an option.

“The pedals are directly connected to the wheel,” Bjorklund explained. “The whole time you’re riding it you’re doing work."

Martin said riders usually have a keen sense of where their bodies are in space and are able to correct for balance on the single point of contact with the ground on the bottom of the wheel.

“It’s definitely not for everybody,” he said.

While some find the physical challenge of unicycling attractive, others, like Joe Manlove, just like to stand out.

“I think maybe it’s the whole hipster thing,” said Manlove, who uses a unicycle as his primary mode of transportation. “Once something becomes popular, like biking, you have to switch to something else.”

Manlove sold his car and committed to taking one wheel around town. He said the snowy winter doesn’t faze him; it just slows him down a little.

“Make no mistake, I do fall down a lot when it’s snowy,” Manlove said.

He started on a generic cruiser unicycle but upgraded when he sold the car. Now, Manlove rides a downhill-specialized unicycle with a 3-inch thick tire on a 24-inch rim. It also has brakes, which he says are useless in town but are helpful when going down trails.

Manlove said the unicycle’s benefits include the fact that with no handlebars, his hands stay nice and warm in his pockets. Plus, people around town are nicer to him.

“On a bike, people honk because they are angry,” he said. “On a unicycle they honk because they’re happy to see you.”

Though they are not yet a common sight, unicyclists in Bozeman may be happy to know they are not alone.

“I know a dozen who ride in one form or another and know of half a dozen more,” Manlove said.

For those interested in starting out, Martin recommends trying a middle-of-the-line unicycle, something costing around $150. Prices for cycles with lighter frames and modifications can be much higher, Bjorklund said, thumbing through catalogs.

Whatever equipment you choose, be sure to give yourself at least a week to learn the basics and start in a place where you have something to hold on to, like a fence, Martin suggested.

Manlove offered some advice of his own: “Invest in a good pair of gloves. You will land on your hands eventually.”

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Bears don't hibernate

Via video uplink, students learn about bears' winter behavior

Bears don't hibernate.

No, no they don't.

They hunker down and they get cozy and they live off their fat for winters at a time, but guess what?

"What they do is called ‘denning,' " said educator Alli Depuy to about 80 kindergartners at Rattlesnake Elementary on Wednesday morning, upsetting - just a bit - the supposed common knowledge held by even adults.

Depuy, an education outreach specialist with East Missoula's Alter Enterprises, appeared almost by magic on a giant screen in a kindergarten classroom via a remote uplink.

From a small studio with a green-screen background, Depuy showed the sea of little kids - they could see her, and her them - the winter sleeping habits of a bruin nestled into his den. Video footage of the bear stretching and sniffing out a rodent encroaching in his den and - gasp! - actually leaving the den pointed to only one conclusion, she told the children.

"Bears do not hibernate," she said. "They slow their bodies down, but they wake up. And they move around, and they even leave their den during the wintertime. So bears aren't really hibernators."

The event was coordinated by the Missoula County Public Schools district and Ryan Alter, owner of the company, which develops and builds high-tech devices for field biologists, including a patented remote bear trap, and records wildlife footage through dozens of field cameras.

The educational wing of the company links students from across North America with Depuy, who delivers classroom lessons from Alter Enterprises' tiny, green-screen-painted studio.

Wednesday's presentation was the first within MCPS, but won't be the last as the district pursues "21st century" education - real life meeting real students in the classroom.

The uplink was a teaching moment not just for the kindergartners, most of whom have been reading about bear "hibernation" from their children's book "Bear Snores On." But it was also a learning moment for the teachers, who themselves discovered that bears do not, in fact, hibernate.

"I learned something new today, too," said kindergarten teacher Emily Endris, after the hourlong presentation.

Using video footage from remote wildlife cameras, including some installed in makeshift bear dens, Depuy showed a skunk making its way into the den as the black bear slept, only to be scared off by the bear's awakening.

The bear also pawed at straw placed in its den, trying to uncover a wayward rodent looking for respite from the winter.

All of it means that bears do not always "snore on," despite what the kindergartners' book says. Sometimes they wake up, stretch for a while, or even leave the den looking for some easy food.

Ryan Alter and his company work with wildlife biologists, government agencies and schools, providing wildlife observation and classroom lessons - from kindergarten to college - for schools across the country.

"This is the culmination of a lot of research and development, and a lot of data collecting," said Alter. "We then put it together for education, kind of packaging it."

The company also has an energy and conservation component, and may also soon connect with schools for art education, as Depuy's background is in art.

Endris, the teacher, was happy that her students got a dose of reality to go along with the story they've been reading about bear "hibernation."

"I think the kids really got into it," she said. "We've been reading this story, so it was fun to see the real animals, along with the fictional story we've been reading."