The Evil Clown of Melbourne

PENNYWISE (Via Comicvine.com)
PENNYWISE (Via Comicvine.com)

Melbourne has a problem. An armed man in a clown mask has reportedly been threatening various suburban residents. In every case noted by Sky News, “the masked man is in the passenger seat of a car while his driver gets them in close to a pedestrian.” In one case the clown exited the vehicle and menaced a woman walking down the street, only to leave when another car came along. The clown and his driver are driving either a Toyota Camry or some Mitsubishi model I’ve never heard of. Left unsaid in the Sky News report: whether he floats. Whether they all float, down there.

[Sky News Australia]

Who Stole the Lipinski Stradivarius?

I frequently think I don’t want to write about crime anymore at all, then a story like this comes along. It taps into both my interest in unusual crime news and my background in music.

Frank Almond plays violin for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. He plays the Lipinski Stradivarius, a historic and exceptionally valuable instrument. On Monday, January 27, Almond was leaving a performing venue at Wisconsin Lutheran College in Milwaukee when he was tased and the violin stolen by two guys in a minivan.

Frank Almond’s 2012 Kickstarter page for a project named “A Violin’s Life: The ‘Lipinski’ Stradivarius” tells more about the instrument (as does the video from that page, which you can watch above):

The violin is named for the Polish virtuoso Karol Lipinski, who played on this instrument from approximately 1818 until his death in 1861. Lipinski was given the violin by a student of the legendary Giuseppe Tartini, the instrument’s first known owner. Known in his lifetime as a violinist, composer, concertmaster, and pedagogue, Lipinski associated with some of the most famous cultural figures of the time, including Franz Liszt, Nicolò Paganini (with whom he had a certain “rivalry”), and Robert Schumann, who so admired Lipinski that he dedicated his famous piano work “Carnaval” to him.

After Lipinski’s death the instrument eventually came into the Röentgen family, which included several violinists and the celebrated composer Julius Röntgen In the 20th century the violin changed hands several times, in 1962 arriving in the possession of the Estonian violinist Evi Liivak, who passed away in 1996.

Almond goes on to write that he had been playing the Lipinski since 2008. The Kickstarter was for a recording project (if you’ve watched the video above, it explains this) consisting of music that played a role in “the extraordinary history of this violin and its associations.” The project was successfully funded by July, 2012, and was featured on Kickstarter’s blog noting projects in the news.

Almond has kept the names of the violin’s owners anonymous. In this April, 2013 interview regarding the release of “A Violin’s Life,” Almond said the owners had “strong ties to Milwaukee.”

It’s hard to not wonder who the hell might steal a Stradivarius. What happened to Almond doesn’t sound like simple street robbery, either, though details are admittedly sparse. My immediate guess is the thieves knew exactly what they were after.

But as David Krajicek wrote in a 2004 New York Daily News article about another stolen–but later recovered–Stradivarius, the instrument’s unique properties along with its relative rarity (there are perhaps 500+ true Stradivariuses still in existence) make them “fetish theft objects, like the stolen Rembrandt painting that can never be openly sold.”

If someone were dumb enough to try and sell the Lipinski, how much could they get? Some sources say as little as a $1.5 million, as much as $3 million dollars.

Chances are the robbers who attacked Frank Almond haven’t put the Lipinski on Craigslist, then.

[WISN]

LOL blogging and best intentions

Past experience–going back 10 years, in fact–should have taught me: I won’t keep this kind of thing up if I bore myself.

While fitness pursuits are interesting to me, writing about them in detail often is not. That is, I have thoughts I could organize about some of my favorite stuff, like running and kettlebells, and chances are I will, as I go along. But I’m happier if I save simple recording of workouts–especially repeats, and I frequently repeat them–to personal notebooks in which I’ve been recording them since the middle of last year.

Past experience also taught me that it’s rare I have something overtly personal or essay-like to talk about. That’s a goal I have–to consciously (as in not just write free-form) put together some organized, more or less personal writing here. I won’t label it humor, either, because I have no idea when something will turn out funny or not.

What I am going to continue is blogging, though. Just about whatever’s got me curious or interested on a given day, which could be a huge variety of things, some of them weird. That’d fit the name I gave this site better anyway.

A simple and killer kettlebell workout

KB clean & press with one 'bell. Awesome exercise. (artofmanliness.com)
KB clean & press with one ‘bell. Awesome exercise. (artofmanliness.com)

I decided to take today off, exercise-wise, but yesterday (Friday, Jan. 17) I did a simple but brutally effective workout promoted by RKC (Russian Kettlebell Certified) instructor, blogger and author Pat Flynn. Flynn is, among online fitness folks, an interesting dude, in that he has a funny and rather strange writing voice in his blog that makes me think he’d be interesting to hang out and eat a steak with, if nothing else.

Flynn has developed something he calls the “Prometheus Protocol.” Let’s be real, he’s just marketing the plan with a name–and hey, more power to him. What matters to me is the brutal yet simple workout he describes here is remarkable in that it hits a huge number of major muscle groups, hits them hard, and if you do it right, you will feel the damned thing the next day (believe me, I do). I’m skeptical of a lot of what I read about fitness online–in part because the folks who set themselves up as gurus/teachers are always selling something–but I am not skeptical of the Prometheus Protocol’s effectiveness. As a workout to build real strength and some mass to boot, I’m certain it works.

Muscles worked by the KB squat, same as a "Zercher squat" with barbells. (frontsquat.com)
Muscles worked by the KB squat, same as a “Zercher squat” with barbells. (frontsquat.com)

Leaving aside what Flynn recommends about eating habits that should accompany use of the Prometheus Protocol (follow the link at the end of this post to read about it), here’s his workout, which I did between 3 and 4 p.m. yesterday afternoon, with a pair of 53 lb. (24 kg) kettlebells:

Double [Kettlebell] Clean and Press – 10 sets x 5 reps @ 60-80% of your 1 rep max
Double Kettlebell Front Squat – 10 sets of 5 reps @ 60-80% of your 1 rep max

That’s it. I warmed up various easy bodyweight exercises (again, I’m sold on the value of warming up before workouts, but don’t worry so much about cool-downs) before finishing with 20 burpees, done descending ladder-style. After I finished the core workout I did 12 pull-ups, also in a descending ladder (4, 3, 2, 2, 1). I’m not in any pain today, but I do have that distinctive muscle soreness that says, “dude, you did some shit yesterday.”

It’s worth noting that the volume of work takes enough of a toll on your muscles that it’d just be wise to eat a lot the day you do a workout like this, so again, if you read Flynn’s post, consider that he has a point about loading up on good carbs when you’re treading these waters.

[Chronicles of Strength]

Maybe Almost Daily Workout Post

I’ll try to keep this brief because sometimes these fitness posts are really just for me.

I took a day off from exercise yesterday because I’m just kind of used to not working out, running etc. on Wednesday. It just makes sense. Today I decided to see what I could fit in a half hour. Here’s what I did. I used a 70 lb. kettlebell, 25 lb. weighted vest (for the push-ups only) and two 25 lb dumbbells.

  • 5 sets x 10 reps of KB Swings
  • 5 x 10 push-ups
  • 5 x 10 burpees
  • 5 x 10 Arnold dumbbell presses

I did the above circuit style (1 set of swings then 1 set of push-ups and so on; repeat) and damned if it didn’t take exactly 30 minutes.

No idea how many calories it burned or anything.

Just telling you. Don’t try this at home.

Another dumb workout post, wherein I shout out Fitness Blender, Again

I’ve posted this workout on my Tumblr and given FitnessBlender.com–run by husband and wife Daniel and Kelli Segars–shout-outs there, too. There’s a reason: discovering the Segars’ thoughtfully made, carefully constructed workouts was crucial to getting me over a fitness hump.

I’d already lost a great deal of weight through running, diet, and some basic bodyweight workouts, but I think I was getting bored and needed to add variety. I also wanted to feel more fully fit, stronger in general. Somehow I became interested in kettlebells (wish I could remember what got me into them, but I can’t), and in researching the best workouts using those, I discovered this beginner kettlebell workout.

The straightforward and well-organized presentation had me hooked, and Fitness Blender videos became weekly components of my workouts, and remain so today. I’ve learned a ton from them, including proper form for stuff I already knew and a number of exercises I’d never even tried before. I also learned logical workout structure, which is pretty damned important if you want to make sure you’re doing a balanced routine.

I think one reason the Segars’ videos have become so popular (many of their workout videos have six-digit view numbers on Youtube) is because a huge number of people who run fitness websites and make such videos are coming from such an intensely aggressive, challenging, off-putting place, and Daniel and Kelli come across like trustworthy next door neighbors, people you’d invite over for a barbecue.

See, so many workout videos made by others are the same: heavy metal soundtracks blare while some bulked-out wannabe drill sergeant type whips out kettlebell snatches and then stares unblinking in the camera and bellowing about “PROTEIN” and “MASS” before flexing all the way down to their eyelids. Everything is BEAST MODE, all the time, and some of these Terminators even make it a point to note they’re doing this stuff drug (read: steroids)-free, when, funny enough, no one asked.

It’d be one thing if I was making fun of one such ‘guru,’ but the hilarious thing is I’m not. The majority of what you’ll encounter doing online research into fitness will resemble what I described. It could put someone who can’t afford (or like me, doesn’t really want) to join a gym off the whole thing. Fitness Blender works because the Segars(es?) know what they’re doing and seem adult enough and smart enough to lead you into new stuff without breaking your back or your spirit in the process.

I’m convinced that the last thing needed by many people who want to lose weight and get in shape is an approach that attempts to shame them. A terrible catch-22 of our society is just that–if you are very heavy, the moment you begin trying to make a change, you may become the butt of jokes and ridicule–even as you try. Even for trying. I don’t know why anyone in that position would want someone in their face aggressively challenging them for 30 minutes to an hour every other day. It ends up being motivation through resentment and anger–at the trainer and yourself–and I’m convinced that sort of motivation has a limited half-life.

(Steps carefully off soapbox, minding my form.)

Anyway–I did the workout in the video above today, but I had to make modifications, because I’m old (is my excuse). My changes are in parentheses. I used a single 45 lb. kettlebell for everything:

Brutal Kettlebell HIIT Cardio Tabata Workout

  • KB Halo
  • Mt Climbers
  • KB Snatch Right Arm
  • Squat Jacks (I hate these, but they’re great for your quads.)
  • KB Snatch Left Arm
  • Burpee (I admit it, I threw in a 1-minute break between this and the next set.)
  • KB Swing
  • Push Up (I did plenty of push-ups yesterday, so I took it easy with these and did two rounds of these with the easier style of push-up, done on knees instead of full-on plank.)
  • KB Goblet Squat
  • High Knees
  • KB Crush Curl (I just went ahead and did hammer curls with a pair of dumbbells, 25 lbs each.)
  • Jumping Lunges (These are really brutal, coming at this point in the workout. My thighs were burning.)

Fitness Blender estimates this workout may burn as many as 432 calories, and I believe it. In High Intensity Interval Training, intensity is the key word. Some people recommend you don’t do more than 3-4 HIIT workouts in a week, and I can say from experience that even 4 will mess with you, so tread lightly.

[Fitness Blender]

Rerun: The Max Headroom Signal Hack–The Nerdiest Unsolved Mystery

I first published this at stevehuff.blogspot.com on April 6, 2011. I’m re-posting it here (and deleting the original) with no edits, just a note that after I wrote the following, a friend clued me in that the reddit posts by “bpoag” mentioned at the end of this entry may have been an elaborate troll, so caveat lector.

It was the night of November 22, 1987 and many Chicago residents were watching a sportscast on WGN. Probably, what, eating brats? Snogging a piece of pizza pie like a lover? Perhaps sniffing their mustaches and drinking brewskis, just like Ma used to do?

Whatever sports fans were up to that particular night something hilarious and strange went down on the airwaves of a couple of Chicagoland TV stations, and the mystery of who brought the weird is unsolved to this very day.

It’s my favorite unsolved mystery that doesn’t involve ghosts, missing people, murder or whether the dealer is always the smeller: The Max Headroom Signal Intrusion.

THE HACKS

The first hack hit WGN’s 9 p.m. newscast. During a Bears-heavy segment viewers suddenly saw a guy in an outsized Max Headroom mask, positioned in front of what appeared to be a sheet of corrugated metal. There was no audio track, just an electric buzzing. Some quick-thinking engineer at WGN flipped a switch and the newscast was back to normal. The puzzled newscaster said, “Well, if you’re wondering what happened, so am I.”

Nearly 2 hours later Chicago public TV station WTTW was airing the Dr. Who episode, “Horror of Fang Rock.” The “Fang Rock” episodes of the long-running BBC sci-fi series were interesting in their own right as they were based on a real-life mystery that occurred in the British Isles at the beginning of the 20th Century. That mystery, however, didn’t involve flyswatter spankings. See, this time the signal hacker went for broke. For some 90-odd seconds hydrocephalic fake Max Headroom performed a skit heavy with soda, rambling nonsense and bare-assed naughtiness.

The pirate signal cut in with a minimum of static and breakup and as the hyper, bobbing masked man rambled the corrugated tin swayed in the background in a seasick imitation of the digital effect that appeared behind Max Headroom on his eponymous TV show. His voice weirdly distorted, Big Head Max said, “That does it. He’s a freakin’ (or frickin’) nerd…Yeah, I’m better than (WGN sports reporter at the time) Chuck Swirsky, freakin’ liberal… Oh Jesus!”

Big Head Max then held up a can of Pepsi and said, “Catch the wave.”

“Catch the wave” was New Coke’s slogan. New Coke, one of the most infamously wrong-headed product revamps in history, was often criticized as tasting just like Pepsi.

Big Head Max continued, “Your love is fading,” then began humming the theme to Clutch Cargo, a 50s TV show. He said, “I stole CBS.” His rambling continued unintelligibly for another few seconds. This was probably just as well, as he hadn’t proven himself an eloquent revolutionary up that point. Big Head Max was understandable again in a moment, moaning, “Oooohhhhh, my files! Oh, I just made a giant masterpiece for all of the greatest world newspaper nerds.”

He held up a large woolen glove and said, “My brother is wearing the other one… (but?) it’s dirty.”

There was a jump cut and Big Head Max was now in one corner of the screen and he appeared to stick his tongue out through the mask. He said, “They’re coming to get me!” and turned away to reveal his white bare butt to the already gobsmacked Chicago Dr. Who fandom.

A second player in this final scene, a costumed woman, began whipping Big Head Max’s alabaster rump with a flyswatter. “Come get me, bitch!” shouted the most audacious broadcast signal hacker in history, “Oh, do it!”

And just like that, Dr. Who was back on the screen. And we future people fond of irrational performance art were perhaps a bit sadder for it (Except for die-hard Whovians, of course).

MAX HEADROOM

Matt Frewer as Max Headroom (Wikimedia)
Matt Frewer as Max Headroom (Wikimedia)

Any effort to understand the Max Headroom Hack needs a little background. Max Headroom was a sci-fi TV series starring Matt Frewer that aired on American television from March, 1987 through May, 1988. The show’s basic premise seemed tailor-made to attract the attention of the kind of folks with both the knowledge and motivation to pull off something like the WGN/WTTW signal hacks. From IMDB:

23 minutes into the future, the world has become imbued network-television. It’s illegal to turn off your tv, and televisions are given to the needy. In this world, Network 23 has a highly-rated news program with a roving reporter named Edison Carter. But Carter gets caught in an experiment to create a computer-generated personality, and “Max Headroom” is born. Together, Max and Edison, along with Edison’s controller (Theora), their boss (Murray), their boss’ boss (Ben Cheviot), and Network 23’s boy-genius (Bryce) combat crime, placate sponsors, defeat rival networks, and turn in stories.

The show was a Spring mid-season replacement and initially made a big splash, especially among critics.

Max Headroom became what we’d call a “viral” star today. He shilled for Coke on billboards and in commercials, even showed up on the cover of Newsweek.

Along with conversation, Max generated controversy. An AP article published in what were apparently some unusually bad news doldrums in August of ’87 spoke of how offensive the character’s “stutter” might be, and how it could provoke children to make fun of kids who stammered. At the time, few people knew anything about computer glitches that can cause digital media to jitter and jump.

From a contemporary article about the hack. (screengrab)
From a contemporary article about the hack. (screengrab)
Stutterers had the last laugh anyway. By mid-October that year Max Headroom was canceled due to low ratings (remaining episodes in the can when the show was canceled were aired off and on through Spring of the following year). Show producer Peter Wagg told the AP it was sad “that any time a producer with a great idea that is slightly different, that is challenging, that is possibly slightly ahead of its time will get turned down, because they’ll say Max didn’t work.”

Just over a month later, Big Head Max aired his weird little spanky show for perplexed Chicagoans.

THE LAWS

As funny as the Max Headroom Signal Intrusion Incident of Spankery and Soda might seem to us today–hell, as funny as it was when it happened–it was a crime. According to Alan Bellows, writing at DamnInteresting.com, the laws of the day “allowed for a maximum penalty of $100,000 and one year in prison for such signal piracy.” That’s why the FCC and the FBI launched an investigation aggressively seeking an unknown cult TV fan (or fans) with an affinity for terrible homemade skits, spanking, soda AND enough technical know-how and income to override the broadcast signal of TV stations in one of the top American markets, a list of qualities that probably looked pretty inelegant on a Most Wanted poster.

They had no luck. The feds concluded the signal was pirated when a more powerful beam overriding WTTW’s uplink signal was pointed at the station’s transmitter, which was atop the 1451-foot Willis Tower (then known as the Sears Tower). Powerful equipment fit for the job could have been purchased for well over $20,000. It also could have been rented for a few thousand bucks, though either way it would have been an awful lot of money to throw away on such an impenetrable and juvenile stunt. As for location, investigators believed the prankster(s) either did the deed from a nearby rooftop or used an exceptionally strong transmitter on the ground.

Tech-minded and curious folks posting to online bulletin boards–essentially early message boards–had a few ideas of their own. In an early online magazine, Tolmes News Service, magazine editor Dr. Hugo P. Tolmes called them “modemers” and quoted posters chatting on a board called “The Slipped Disk”:

87Nov26 1:05 am from Capt. Zap

My thoughts on the jamming of the Chicago stations comes down to one simple thought. It takes no massive amounts of power to jam a signal to any reciever. The ability to trace this type of jamming is going to be very difficult since it was a line of sight interception and over-powering of the signal. Now I have a few ideas that would make such actions possible. Think

about the use of standard microwave ovens with the basic wattage of 300 to 500 watts. Now inject your standard video / audio signal into this giga-bandwidth of space. Wattage + directed targeting at something that is so open and un-protected allows for all sorts of jamming and over-powering with ease.

[A few posters disagreed, one wondered if it was “an inside job.”]

87Nov30 6:02 am from The Chamelion

Hardly an inside job. They just aimed their transmitter at the same transponder that WGN uses, and used a higher power. It diesn’t even have to be significantly higher. Just more, and the WGN signal will cancel out. As I said before, it’s one of those things that doesn’t work out on paper. But it works. Welcome to Earth–Where everything you know is wrong.

“The Chamelion” also believed the Max Headroom hacker was one of his own kind: a disgruntled fan of the just-canceled show:

87Nov24 6:18 am from The Chamelion

This morning of ABC’s World News This Morning, there was a story about all the broadcast overrides. We’ve gotten WGN, WWOR, and the superatation out of Kansas, KTAT, I believe. He said “The FCC is looking into how someone could intercept broadcasts”. I’ve studied this for a long time, and believe me, it’s not hard. Especially overriding superstations. They showed a videotape of what was transmitted. It was […] A homemade Max Headroom. It was pretty neat. We’ll strike again. I can guarantee it.

Sadly, for anyone who enjoys real-world eruptions of absurdist comedy, it didn’t happen again. There have been other broadcast intrusions in the years since, but none of any significance over American airwaves.

WHO

It’s been 23 years since the Max Headroom Incident and the chances anyone will be arrested or come forward grow slimmer each day. It’s that rare mystery that in a way, I don’t want to see solved. There was something joyfully anarchic about the effort put into a pointless act and somehow the idea of that person (or those people) going on with their live(s) while hiding that one big, strange secret makes me giggle.

At least one person has said he thinks he knows who did it. Using the screen name bpoag, he posted the following on the influential link aggregator Reddit in early January, 2011: “I believe I know who was behind the “Max Headroom Incident” that occurred on Chicago TV in 1987. A bunch of people have been asking me about this lately, so, I figured i’d do a coredump AM(almost)A.”

Other Redditors picked the poster’s contentions about his suspects apart in their usual thorough way, and he really didn’t seem all that sure he was right in the first place. Still, his amateur profiling of the kinds of personalities that could conceivably be involved in such shenanigans was pretty interesting. His thumbnail sketches of the brothers he felt were capable of such a prank:

K was a quiet guy. Even though he lived in this apartment with his girlfriend, he often took care of his older brother J who still lived at home. The degree of J’s autism was such that I doubt he could ever hold down a job, even a part time job.

J, despite having fairly severe autism, and coming off as basically…crazy, was actually kind of funny. His sense of humor was sort of disturbing, sort of sexually deviant in nature. He wasn’t very personable, but he was funny.. The sort of person that you would feel kind of uncomfortable sitting next to as a kid, but he would grow on you after a while, and you would accept him as one of the group after realizing that his mannerisms were odd but basically harmless. No eye contact, ever, but the dirty jokes were funny, at least to me as a 13 year old at the time.

The brothers did sound like the sort of team who might conceive of such a stunt, but ultimately bpoag’s story was missing any concrete statement as to why it might have been done or whether “K” and “J” had the wherewithal to do it.

I worked in the broadcast television industry for more than a decade, mostly behind the scenes, in engineering. I was an operations guy, running the machines and doing the clerical work that ensured the right programs and commercials aired at the right times. I got to know many TV engineers and they were, to a man, an odd bunch of dudes. The first time I encountered the video of the Max Headroom incident, I immediately thought of the man who was my supervisor at a public TV station for 4 years. He was a decent guy but quirky in a way that didn’t always seem benign. I didn’t think he was the prankster, of course, but it has occurred to me that whoever pulled off the Max Headroom hack was probably a lot like him: an engineer, with real knowledge of the way the mechanics of broadcasting worked, an in-depth knowledge of signal flow, power levels and the like, but also off-balance and not all there, with a head full of strange ideas he happily pursued the moment he left the station each day. My former supervisor filed patents for all sorts of inventions and frequently sued others whom he felt had stolen his work. He was a soft-spoken man who could hold a perfectly normal conversation then start spinning off into a world of his own, a world that could only be described as mildly delusional. He was basically socially competent, but you didn’t have to work with the guy long to see that he had a thriving little aquifer of insanity underneath his rational engineer’s veneer, and that aquifer could bubble up anytime and inspire him to do brilliant things or even brilliantly crazy things, if the time was right.

The mind behind the Max Headroom Hack was surely a lot like that: sane and rational enough on the surface, technically proficient in the necessary ways, full of bubbling weirdness underneath.

Not long after that last flyswatter slap died away, I’m certain the hacker probably had more than a few co-workers looking at him sideways, maybe even joking, “if anyone could do that, you could.”

I like to imagine the King of Signal Hackers simply smiling as if they were sharing a mildly amusing joke and moving on, quietly humming the theme from Clutch Cargo.

ADDENDUM

The spirit of the Max Headroom Incident lives on today. While hacker collective Anonymous developed independently in the early 2000s, a video they posted addressing Scientologists back in 2008 seemed like a respectful nod to one of their spiritual forefathers, the Max Headroom Signal Intruder.

Big Head Max, the hydrocephalic spanking fan, achieved that which Anons today always seek: flawless victory. He loosed his crazy on the world and scampered away, uncaught.

Another dumb, non-daily workout post

I don’t know how I went from 4 years ago being a guy who thought about exercising then shook my head at the foolishness of the idea (a mindset that can keep a lot of seriously overweight people from even starting, I’d bet) to being that guy who gets anxious if I skip more than a day, but that’s where I am now. This weekend I did nothing and this morning I realized the inactivity was driving me crazy. So here’s the (first? I’m considering a two workout day today) effective and simple nonsense I did this morning, between taking my wife to work and getting my youngest kid on the bus:

  • 50 burpees, ladder style (10, rest, 9, rest, etc. down to 1).
  • 50 push-ups in one set of 20 then two sets of 15. You can throw a push-up into a burpee and I considered that but I think the push-ups are more effective done as a separate exercise.
  • 15 pull-ups, done in a modified ladder–4, 3, 2, 2, 2, 1.
  • 20 burpees–wearing a 25 lb. weighted vest. Also ladder style–5, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

In the future I’ll speed it up and add reps and planks. This took 34 minutes but I bet I could finish it in less than 30. I might have done mile runs instead of burpees but situational and time constraints wouldn’t permit (another point in favor of the burpee–it can be a time-saver).

I may have mentioned this before but it bears repeating: if you’re going to do burpees (and again, this is just my workout, and is not intended as instruction in any way) with a weighted vest, make sure your vest has a comfortable snug fit and is relatively short in front. I made the mistake of buying a full-fitting vest (it looks like a flak jacket) and it’s great for push-ups, torso dips and runs, but the motions used in a burpee make it bunch and flap a little, which is pretty annoying.

 

The Secrets of Allenstown

Screen Shot 2014-01-11 at 1.15.27 PM
Screengrab from Google Street View

Edgewood Drive is a narrow road that cuts a short path through Bear Brook Gardens Mobile Home Park in Allenstown, New Hampshire. Timestamps on the images indicate Google’s Street View car drove down Edgewood in September 2011. The car’s camera turret captured the beautiful slanting light of a dying Fall day in New England, a mellow glow that for a few moments turns everything dreamlike. Even moments in an old trailer park in a small New England town seem beautiful then.

Allenstown is about 90 miles north of where I live, but I haven’t been yet. I’ve been thinking about the place a lot off and on since I moved here. There’s a mystery there.

Screengrab of composites of the mystery victims, from New Hampshire DOJ
Screengrab of composites of the mystery victims, from New Hampshire DOJ

The mystery began in 1985. A hunter in Bear Brook State Park found a 55-gallon barrel off a snowmobile trail. The barrel was on privately-owned property within Bear Brook Gardens. Inside the barrel, wrapped in plastic, were the bodies of a woman and a little girl. The woman was white and between 23 and 33 years old. The girl was between 8 and 10 years old. Fifteen years later, in 2000, someone discovered another barrel. It contained the bodies of two girls. One was between 4 and 8 years of age, the other between 1 and 3. According to a page about the bodies on the State of New Hampshire’s DOJ website, “These two children are biologically related to the adult female and it is possible all four victims are related.”

All the victims died from blunt-force trauma and they were nude, with no personal effects.

On the blog Mystery in Allenstown NH, siblings Scott Maxwell and Ronda Randall have collected a good deal of the publicly available information in the case. They have posted images and a wealth of links and archived articles going back to the 1980s. Below are bits from some of the coverage linked from or copied into the blog.

An article published on CNN’s website in June, 2013:

Evidence indicates the victims were white, but investigators do not know skin tone or eye color. The bones were not in the best condition, given they were exposed to the elements and years of deterioration, says Williamson. They may have died as early as 1977 or 1978.

On Mystery in Allenstown, from a microfilm record of an article published in the New Hampshire Union Leader in November, 1985. The article was titled, “Area Where Bodies Found Not Isolated”:

About 150 yards from the junkyard, the trail curves right and the junkyard is lost from sight. Only trees ahead, only trees behind. The path continues to curve and drop off slightly. A 15-foot tree has blocked the path at the 230-yard mark. No more than 20 feet off to the left was the spot where the hunter discovered the plastic covered remains of a young woman aged 23 to 33 and a young girl aged 8-10. Forensic reports indicate the pair had been killed by severe blows to the head. The bark of the junkyard dog chained up barely 200 yards away echoes loudly through the woods. The bark has been incessant, no pause lasting more than a few seconds.

A little more than 100 yards further down the trail from the spot where the bodies were discovered, the first mobile home of Bear Brook Gardens can be seen through the trees. The trail ends in a sandpit at the top of a small hill overlooking the mobile home park. From Bear Brook Gardens to the junkyard on Deerfield Road, the entire path is approximately 600 yards long and only for a couple hundred yards of that would a traveler be completely hidden by the woods.

Throughout the length of the path, car doors can be heard shutting in Bear Brook Gardens and cars can be heard shuttling down Deerfield Road. The junkyard dog continues to bark as though it had something to bark at.

Also from the Union Leader, February, 2013:

The little girl aged 5 to 11 found in 1985 offers [Kim Fallon, chief forensic investigator at the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner] the most hope that someone will remember her because she may have attended school up to the fifth grade. She had double piercings in both ears, which would have been considered unusual at the time. […] The girl had fine light brown or dirty blond hair and would have stood about 4 feet 3 inches tall, Fallon said. There was some evidence of pneumonia in her left lung.

Later in that same article, Kim Fallon said, “If I had a good friend in elementary school who suddenly left, I would remember.”

That’s true. I still remember a family that briefly lived in a trailer next to our house in the southeast Nashville suburb of Antioch when I was a kid. The son was a blonde kid my age named Bobby. I recall a lot of odd details about him and his mom. She had cats-eye glasses frames, which were by then enough out-of-style to be odd, and Bobby wore heavy, square black frames that are tagged as “hipster-like” today but at that point in the 1970s, they were just old-fashioned.  I can still remember him eating dry white toast for breakfast as he waited for the bus and looking unkempt, even compared to me. I also recall that my parents seemed uncomfortable with me playing with him. It was the first and perhaps only time I perceived a kind of class bias from them–the discomfort of a poor family seeing their kid hang out with a child from even more straitened circumstances.

One day, Bobby and his mom were gone. No warning. He was at school the day before, seeming fine, then he wasn’t.

I didn’t even like the kid much–he seemed kind of humorless–but it’s been over 35 years and at least partly because of the way he seemed to vanish, I remember him as clearly as other kids I knew for much longer periods.

Whether in Canada (it was easier to travel between the US and Canada in the late 70s and 80s) or somewhere here in New England, someone still remembers the woman or one of the kids from the barrels. Someone knew them. Remembers odd facts about them. Yet they remain ciphers, gray computer recreations based on bones.

That’s the upshot of all the information collected on Mystery in Allenstown. The mystery still seems as impenetrable as when the first bodies were found in 1985.

I may contact the folks who run Mystery in Allenstown. May take a trip up the road to see what there is to see, eventually. And write more about it. When cases like this are solved, they’re almost always solved by investigators and scientists. Talk about it here, or in more depth in another publication in the future? That seems like the least I could do. 

Workouts! Eh, I don’t know. (Wherein the author digresses about the burpee.)

The goddamned burpee. (Photo by: 100lbslater.blogspot.com)
The goddamned burpee. (Photo by: 100lbslater.blogspot.com, via)

Yeah, I have to accept I can’t commit to writing about working out all the time. Two main reasons: my workouts are often variations on a theme, therefore kinda-sorta same/same; I find other things more interesting. I definitely find a wide variety of fitness-related subjects fascinating, so I think the tack I’ll take when blogging about fitness will be more along the lines of covering whatever’s interesting to me at the time (strongman stuff, kettlebell lore, whatever).

That said, here’s what I did recently:

January 7

  • 50 burpees, ladder style (10 reps, 9, 8, etc…)
  • 5 sets of 5 reps of kettlebell cleans & jerks with two 53 lb bells (5 x 5)
  • 5 x 5 kettlebell squats, same weights
  • 4 x 8 reps of plain old curls with two 25 lb dumbbells, then 1 set of six reps.

I threw in three 1-minute planks. It felt like a pretty good workout.

January 9 (today)

Wearing a 25 lb weighted vest, I followed the following pattern:

  • 4 x 5 burpees–burpees in a weighted vest are something else, hence the low number of reps. I recommend them, but you need a good, close-fitting vest. Mine’s not great.
  • 5 x 10 kettlebell swings, with a 70 lb bell.
  • Burpees. Again. Same as above.
  • 4 x 5 reps of torso dips. Add a weighted vest and these are bastards.
  • 5 x 10 reps of “Arnolds” dumbbell presses with two 25 lb dumbbells.

I took off the vest and did two sets of 10 burpees, two sets of 10 dips, the rest of the workout the same as above. What’s funny is looking at it now, it’s a good, tiring workout, but at the time I felt like I could do more.

The couple behind my favorite online fitness resource often mentions feedback from people who like their videos about hating burpees. Anyone who’s ever done a few understands that, but at the same time, I can’t help but feel they’re a genius move in the world of bodyweight exercises. A burpee hits almost everything. And damned if you don’t feel like you have seriously done something when you’ve finished a set.

Then there’s the fact that they’re easily one of the most portable exercises imaginable, which is why if you read up on prison fitness (a weirdly fascinating subject I may cover in a future fitness post) you always read about burpees. I love running for my cardio, but since I’ve been living in a wintry climate and discovered that it’s just kind of a dumb idea to run in the ice and snow sometimes (though I still occasionally do it), burpees have been a lifesaver. Once I began incorporating the damned things into workouts, I found I could go 10 days between runs and then out of the blue do 4 miles at a fairly reasonable pace. Granted, my fairly reasonable pace as a runner is other runners’ fast walk, but still–I’m talking about endurance, here.

As miserable as they make me, I’m a fan of the burpee, and will include them in workouts as long as I’m able to do one.

While the usual disclaimers about my workouts merely being a record of what I’ve done apply, I will say, in closing, that you should learn to do a goddamned burpee. For your health.