Friday, September 26, 2008

DESTINATION TRUTH: Ahool; Pinatubo Monster

SciFi Channel - Original Air Date: September 24, 2008

Java (Indonesia) & the Philipines are the destinations for Josh and crew this week as they look for the Ahool (a bat-like creature with a twelve foot wingspan) and the Pinatubo monster.  Their jeep breaks down in Java, but that and a quip from Ryder (again, very prominent in this episode) just add to the adventure.  Once in the outlands, Josh and crew talk to witnesses and look for the Ahool, which makes owl-like noises (and thus its name).  When the road is blocked they first hike and then swim upriver to search for the beast.  They hope to find the caves the monster purportedly lives in -- and of course they set up their excellent night-vision cameras.  They find the cave and it's filled with flying bats, which buzz Josh and Ryder.  After exploring the cave, they discover a strange, rusting scaffold-like structure ascending into the canopy.  Naturally, they decide to climb up it and see what they can see; it leads to a rope/cable bridge, which Josh begins to cross.  The bridge spans a river, but as Josh crosses, he's bitten by a spider and has to stop while the medics come to check him out.  Fortunately, it doesn't seem to be a deadly bite.  They encounter leeches and barely avoid vipers, too.  The taped sounds and video the crew has obtained turn out to be normal animals, but with difficult search conditions, it's hard to conclude that locals are just exaggerating their encounters.  Maybe the ahool is still out there, waiting to be discovered.

The Pinatubo monster is a serpent-like creature threatening locals and fisherman.  The beast is eight feet long and three feet wide and resembles a cross between a catfish and a shark.  Unfortunately, the local waters have been contaminated by mercury from a nearby defunct gold mine.  In addition the lake contains a town sunk by the volcano (PInatubo) and probably bodies as well.  (Starting to sound like a monster movie?)  Naturally, the crew plans to dive and look for the monster; so long as they don't drink the water, they should be okay.  They bring an impressive array of equipment with them, including an underwater camera, a fish finder, and a hydrophone.  Complicating the exploration is a local guerrilla group, which may harm our crew if they run into them.  Naturally, Josh and company brave the rebels and move to the far side of the lake to continue searching anyway.  Night sweeps with IR cameras and the sonar (during a thunder storm) follow.  Sonar picks up some large, serpentine hits right beneath the boat, and whatever it was scares off the small local fish.  The team then patrols the lakeshore, but fear of guerrillas eventually shuts down the search.  Examining the sonar record later shows the hits to be multiple creatures together, not a single large creature.  A US expert suggests that changes in the river and lake have changed the schooling habits of the local game fish, and these schools are creating the shadowy shape which suggest a lurking monster.

The adventure-like nature of this show, combined with the charm of Josh and the rest of his crew (including the ever-more prominent Ryder), help this show to remain highly entertaining even when they don't find monsters.  But, with enough concerted effort, perhaps they will someday find what they're looking for, and I'll keep watching until they do.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

MONSTERQUEST: Giant Bear Attack

History Channel - Original Air Date: 9/24/08

Are bear attacks becoming more frequent?  Are bears becoming larger?  MQ looks into a recent series of bear events -- searching for a gigantic version of a known creature, rather than a cryptid.  As with many of these MQ programs, the show suggests that perhaps the giant bears are survivors of a bygone era.  (Many animals had larger ancestors during the ice age.)  Scientist John Hechtel suggest that natural variations and desires for "a campfire boogyman" may explain rumors of giants.  Remains of a giant bear shot 100 or so years ago, McFarlane's Bear, are in the Smithsonian; the original, examining scientist thought the skeleton something odd.  Is it the last remains of the giant short-faced bear?  A hunter in Alaska shot a bear that stood 11 feet tall and weighed 1200 pounds and had 12-inch paws.  MQ sends people to the Kenai peninsula in Alaska to look for large and unusual-looking bears.  But bears are not limited to Alaska.  In Lake Wanda, NJ (45 minutes from Manhattan), bears are encroaching on human habitat.

There are eight types of bears in the world, but John Martel recently shot a polar bear-grizzly hybrid.  Could there be other such hybrids, and could they be responsible for freakish bear reports?  An interesting discussion of bear evolution follows.  Then more speculation about hybrids roaming to the edge fo the grizzly's range, in Wyoming.  Yet another hunter shoots a polar bear-like animal 250 miles inland -- ten times further inland than the range of the usual polar bear.  Could this be another hybrid?  Native legends tell of huge bears large enough to swallow a man.  The MQ team sets up a camp surrounded by an electric fence; they're not taking chances in bear territory.  They also put up audio alarm motion detectors.  And, what would any MQ show be without photo traps?  They hope to gauge incoming bears' heights with a trap with baits at increasing heights. Of course, the traps catch nothing unusual.  If confronting a bear, experts recommend pepper spray.  (Also playing dead -- fighting only if you must.  Big guns work, too.)  The McFarlane's Bear turns to be only a brown, and not a particularly big one at that.  The land-bound white bear turns out to be a pure polar bear, way off it's range.  And so we end up with another show filled with sensational speculation, eyewitness stories, and no scientific or cryptid breakthroughs. Too bad they can't do a show called MonstersFound.

MONSTERQUEST: Chinese Wildman

History Channel -- Original Air Date: September 21, 2008

Legends say that a wildman called the Yarin, seemingly a smaller, red-haired version of bigfoot, lives in China even today.  The MQ program takes a team and goes looking for the beast.  Could it be a misidentified version of some other, known creature?  Jeff Meldrum suggests it might be gigantopithecus -- the largest primate ancestor.  Will footprints, hair samples, and other evidence lead to a breakthrough?  The first prints they examine seem to have curled, ape-like toes -- unlike sasquatch.  The show also features the usual witness reports of sightings, including a man who spotted a group of the creatures.  Even a local naturallist/guide once saw the creature lounging on the hillside.  "It wasn't a bear," he says, though some plaster casts (not from his sighting) turn out to be probable bear tracks.  The team (from the US with local guides) sets up the two camera traps they've been allowed to bring into the country.  After a delay by the Chinese authorities, the group hikes out and sets up camp at 9500 feet, lays out bait, and uses their thermal camera (for which they had to get special permission).  In fact, they have only 36 hours to search -- not a lot of time in a very big country.

One of the scientists, Jeff Heldrum, brings a "mug book" of primates to see which of the shots eyewitnesses will pick out as being close to the creatures they've seen.  The witnesses pick orangutans, though orangs have long been extinct in China.  Hair samples from sightings are sent to the US for examination and analysis.  As usual, camera traps turn up void of anything mysterious.  Footprints are inconclusive, and no DNA is obtained from hair.  One reddish hair sample turns out to be dyed human hair.  Still, the scientists express their pleasure at having opened a new frontier for Western crypto exploration.  Despite the exotic location, this turns out to be just another of MonsterQuest's standard bigfoot shows.  It has the usual mix of interesting witnesses plus evidence that doesn't hold up to scientific scrutiny.  If you like bigfoot stories, check this episode out; if not avoid it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Larry Elmore talks about D&D & art and stuff.

My old cell-mate at TSR, artist supreme Larry Elmore, has art up as part of an exhibition at Kendall College in Michigan. Sadly, I couldn't make the opening. Happily, Sarah and the other good folks there made a video. You can check it out below.

MONSTERQUEST: Lake Monsters of the North

History Channel - Original Air Date: 9/17/08

Legends say there are monsters lurking in the northern lakes of North America, but is there any truth to these tales?  MonsterQuest goes to Lake Crescent to look for a gigantic eel-like creature.  This is the first scientific investigation of Lake Crescent.  Native legends of water serpents persist; could they be giant eels?  Biologists on the show admit they still know little about eels -- eels have never been seen spawning.  A fisherman in Lake Ontario claims to have once tackled a gigantic eel which pulled him out of his boat.  Conger Eels, at 12 feet long and two hundred pounds, are ocean eels, not freshwater eels.  Still, there are pictures of giant freshwater eels, 6-7 feet long.  Crescent Lake is near the mouth of the St. Laurence Seaway.  Could there be giant eels there?  Joe Nickell believes that the monster is a local, self-perpetuating legend, brought on by optical illusion.  Additionally, a sketch artist will draw from eyewitness reports, to see if there are consistencies.  And Dr. Richard Haedrich will use submersible equipment to look in the lake itself.  As the sketch artist works, the scientist discovers that a river into the lake gives easy access to the sea.  Sonar shows caves and overhangs which should be a good shelters for large eels.  Baited traps should lure out local predators.

Nickell examines photographs that seem like giant eels, but turn out to be otters frolicking together.  The other scientists bring a real arsenal of equipment, including an ROV rated to 1000 feet.  On the silty bottom, they see some strange "tracks" and what might be a carcass.  They send in divers to investigate, bud don't turn up a corpse.  Like Loch Ness, visibility is very limited, and the entire lake is described as a hiding place.  Is "Cressie" hiding out here?  All they find is lots of logs (from the timber industry) and debris.  Nickell theorizes that gas-filled logs could be responsible for some sightings.  He demonstrates by putting a mothball into carbonated water: the ball gathers bubbles, rises to the top, rolls a bit, and then sinks again.  A rotting log would do the same, giving the illusion of life.  Nickell sets up a floating log experiment to test people's perception of size -- a 14' log looks 18-30' long to the test subjects.  Some guesses are close enough, though, to suggest some witness estimates may be accurate.  In the meantime, something has dragged the 40# trap 200' from its original position.  (Boaters?)  But the bait remains undisturbed.  And a mysterious creature leaving a wake turns out to be a beaver.  But the forensic artist believes that the witnesses are seeing something real and perhaps even alive.  Reluctantly, the MQ crew wraps their investigation -- with one of them wishing they had more time.  (As I've often noted to be my main complaint with these shows.)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

DESTINATION TRUTH - Haunted Cave; Burunjor

SciFi Channel - Original Air Date: 9/17/08

Josh and his crew go to Indonesia and Australia in search of ghosts and a mythical monster.  First up, they trek to a supposedly haunted cave in a remote area of Indonesia.  But, to get the ghosts to "play," they need to bring special holy water from another remote cave which, as it turns out, is at the bottom of a sheer cliff with rickety "stairs."  Surviving that, they then enter the water-filled "haunted" cave, and go as far in as they can.  Their native guide and medium chicken out about halfway home, but the rest of the crew -- including the increasingly visible Ryder (Is she becoming the main costar?) continues on.  When they can go no further due to deep water and blockage, they backtrack and set up their considerable IR & night vision equipment.  Then they wait and conduct EVP sessions.  And, at one point, they seem to experience a lot of strange noises and shadows and such.  But analysis back home proves inconclusive, and Josh rightly notes that the combination of cave acoustics and running/dripping water makes it impossible to say for sure what they heard, or thought they heard.

The search for the burunjor takes the crew to the Outback to look for a beast described as a living T-Rex like reptile twenty-five feet tall.  One would think something that size would be easy to spot, but Australia is very large, and parts of it are very sparsely populated.  The crew talks to locals and then heads into the bush to find a narrow lake by a tall ridge.  They fly in to a likely location and spend the night.  There, they encounter some small fauna, and hear something breaking branches in the darkness, and hear the sounds of an animal attack.  The mysterious snapping sounds continue, and Josh tries to get a fix on it with their parabolic mic.  Sadly, by the time they haul out the mic, whatever was making the sounds is gone.  In looking for the bumping creature the next morning, they find no signs of the thing, but they do find some cave paintings -- including one that looks burunjor like, though Josh notes it also shares elements with the extinct (but very real) Tasmanian tiger.  He concludes that here in the Outback, myth, tradition and reality are closely mixed, and it will take more than one short trip to figure out the truth.  And now, he's off for another adventure.  (Perhaps to find  the Yowie -- in an earlier episode -- as they must surely combine trips to save expenses on this show.)

This is another fun episode in the DT series, despite the usual lack of a solid conclusion.  And I remain convinced that, in some of these cases, longer investigations might yield better results.  (The team usually only seems to spend a day in their main investigation location.)  Maybe a two-hour episode would be in order?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Music Update

Just ported over the "Music to Write By" section from the old web site into the new one.  You can find it at:


I'm behind on a short story or two, and will hopefully update those in the near future.

That's the trouble with switching sites; if you have a large one, it can take a while to bring all the pieces over.  However, if you still want to see the original site, you can find it here:

My original page.

And don't worry if you "misplace" the link -- you can find it any time in the nav bar on the new page.  (At least, until I've ported over all the "important" stuff.)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

DESTINATION TRUTH - Orang Pendek - Worm Monster

SciFi Channel - Original Air Date: 9/10/08

Josh and crew go to Indonesia and Iceland (must be "I"-country week) to look for "bigfoot's shorter cousin" and a legendary lake monster.  Josh has 3D monster-making software this year, and they put descriptions into it to come up with a composite of what they're looking for.  The Orang Pendek is widely believed to be real by Indonesian locals, and the team strikes out into the national parks to find it.  Josh hooks up with National Geographic scientist Alex Schlegel who is on a two-year assignment to search for the creature and believes it is probably real.  Other local scientists and researchers agree.  The group heads into the forest and sets up their cameras; this time, they're searching during the day, and even leave out some fruit as bait.  At night, they spot some animal eyes, but can't track the creature down.  Later, they spot what may be a big cat, and nearly tangle with a big snake.  Sadly, scat samples collected belong to river otters.  Eyeshine videos prove inconclusive, but Josh remains hopeful the orang pendek may be out there.

Next, they go to Iceland to look for the legendary dangerous Lake Lagarfljot worm -- which appears as a lamprey-like serpent and lives in a frigid, 20-mile long lake.  The lake is landlocked, with no exits for a large animal and has a small population of salmon and fish.  Locals describe "humps in the water" and have been seeing the beast since 1345.  Despite this, the lake remains amazingly free from scientific inquiry about the monster.  Squeezing into tiny, Icelandic dry suits, the guys reconnoiter the boat-free lake; once they get a way from shore, the sediment becomes a dense cloud and the conditions dangerous to dive in.  That night, they set up cameras on shore and head out onto the lake to search.  Fog rolls in and the boat is left on its own in the middle of the lake, lost in the mist.  They're freezing and can't tell which shore they came from.  Without their walkie-talkies, they'd be screwed.  As Josh tries to figure out where his team is, something big appears moving through the water.  They estimate it to be 60' away and 30' long, and it makes a huge wake.  One team member declares it looks like a "f*ing worm."  Josh says it was one of the "craziest things I've ever seen."  After being lost for 6 frigid hours, Josh & co. find base camp and return home.  An expert says no known fish in this area could have made such a wake.  Unfortunately, terrible filming conditions make for a nearly useless bit of film evidence.  (They don't even try to enhance it.)  Josh concludes that the lake's freezing water and pitch black depths will make it difficult to study this alleged creature.

Watching the first part of this episode, it occured to me that they ought to send Josh to that bigfoot cabin from MonsterQuest; certainly he wouldn't have stayed inside with the rock throwers outside.  It also occurs to me that it might be worth the trouble for National Geographic (or someone) to send Josh's well-equipped and intrepid team on a longer expedition for some of these creatures.  Perhaps with more time they might find more than traces.  Whether they get longer shows with more funding or not, I'll happily watch this show until they run out of monsters -- or until Josh gets himself killed in some adventurous way.

DESTINATION TRUTH - Yowie & Haunted Mosque

SciFi Channel - Original Air Date: 9/3/08

Josh and company go south to the Australia to look for the Yowie, a legendary bigfoot-like creature.  They compile details from reports and then plan their expedition down under.  Will they have the same "success" they had looking for Yeti?  They head into Australia's Blue Mountains, a land of hills, forests, and cliffs.  Like bigfoot, the yowie allegedly break branches and then throw rocks to scare off intruders.  Eyewitnesses tell similar stories to US bigfoot encounters, and the crew collects some shreded bark for possible DNA samples.  To enter the yowie's territory, Josh and crew must rappel down a 200' cliff -- once again proving this show's "adventure" credentials.  Then they trek through wet jungles filled with some of the world's most deadly snakes.  Come nightfall -- when eyewitnesses have seen the creature -- they start investigating, as they say, "You don't find yowies; yowies find you."  Something starts throwing rocks at our heroes, and the thermal picks up a large shape walking near the edge of the cliff.  Josh can't catch it, though, and we're left with just a tantalizing shape, an "eye" shine caught on one of the crew's perimeter cameras, and some shredded tree bark.  Unfortunately, the DNA tests turn up nil, so they're left with only mysteries.

The haunted mosque is deep in the jungles north of Malaysia's capital and boasts a fearsome reputation.  After braving land leeches and gross food, they head up river into the predator-filled jungle.  According to local legend, the female spirit that haunts the mosque will only appear to lone men who go in the mosque in the darkness.  Drawing straws to see who will take the first shift, and the "winner" is Suzanne -- who's not too pleased about it.  Yet, her time in the mosque is uneventful.  None of the men were so lucky.  Casey quickly starts creeping out and sees a "white figure" on the road outside, though the team is all accounted for.  Josh investigates but finds no figure.  Inside, though, the videotape picks up a strange black shadow; that's enough for Casey and he leaves 23 minutes into his half hours shift.  Josh is next and keeps hearing things, including a door opening noise (caught on tape).  "I would bet my life that there is somebody here right now," Josh says just before he leaves the empty building.  Though the mosque is about to fall over, Josh swears the sounds seemed deliberate. As the next man waits, two researchers prowl around and are scared by a strange growling sound in the jungle -- which they insist was not an animal (despite the possibilities of tigers).  In the end, they end up with a strange glowing light (bug, Josh suggests) caught on tape, the mysterious shadow, and a couple of EVPs: a tone and a "human" hum.  Plus, of course the creaking door.  But it was the individual encounters leaves Josh feeling that the abandoned mosque may not be abandoned at all.