Monday, December 24, 2007
I'm taking a little break over the holidays to practice my sword-fighting skills, perfect the fine art of Swedish cooking, and work on my next book. (Someday, maybe you'll thank me!)
I wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year. I'll return on January 2 with more weird facts to blow your minds.
You'll . . .
Take a tour of a town filled with art forgers.
Meet the blue people of Troublesome Creek.
Learn how to build your own tropical island.
Find out about tattoos that change with your mood.
Discover the treasure hidden deep beneath Manhattan's skyscrapers.
See you in 2008!
Friday, December 21, 2007
How about a "South Texas Cow Patty Pen," a hand-crafted writing instrument made out of a cow patty?
Some delicious snail caviar? Supposedly the eggs of African gros-gris (big gray) snails have "just the right crunch."
A set of possessed books for the living room shelves. Sure to get rid of any lingering guests.
A carnivorous plant garden. Great for homes infested by bedbugs, cockroaches, or fleas.
A fish skin bikini. Fashionable AND fragrant.
Octopi t-shirts! For the well-dressed cephalopod lover.
A vibrating alarm ring. For anyone who needs to wake up without alerting her family or her jailors.
(Cool wrapping paper shown above available here.)
Thursday, December 20, 2007
The following information was sent by a reader named Lara, who first learned of this mysterious site while living overseas. Thanks again, Lara!
Beneath Liverpool, England, lie miles of underground passages, chambers and caverns hacked out of solid sandstone. They were built in the 19th century by Joseph Williamson (1769-1840), a rich and eccentric tobacco merchant who was known to Liverpudlians as the "Mole of Edge Hill" or the "King of Edge Hill."
Located in the Edge Hill district in Liverpool, the tunnels were started in 1806. By the time work ended following Williamson's death, the passages featured highly crafted arches lined with intricate brickwork, buttresses and spiral staircases cut out of stone.
No one knows why Williamson built the tunnels. The most plausible explanation is that he wanted to create jobs for unemployed veterans of the Napoleonic wars. But many people don't believe that the answer could be so simple. Some have suggested that Williamson was preparing for Armageddon. Others think the mysterious passageways were used for secret activities. And there are a few who claim that the eccentric Mr. Williamson merely built them as follies. A more recent theory suggests that the tunnels served the purpose of land reclamation.
Williamson's tunnels lay largely untouched and forgotten for over 150 years. But now the "largest subterranean folly in the world" is open to the public. However, discoveries continue to be made. Recently, a "Triple Decker Tunnel" was uncovered, and no one knows what might lie inside the tunnels and chambers that remain filled with Victorian rubble.
The FoWT ( Friends of Williamson's Tunnels) are trying to rescue and renovate this fantastic and mysterious underground world. You can visit their website for more information and a virtual tour!
(Below: Mr. Williamson himself.)
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Monday, December 17, 2007
(Photo by lensjockey at Flickr.)
Deep in the jungles of Indonesia is a place so remote, so untouched by mankind that it's known as the "Lost World." In 2006, the first scientific expedition to reach this pristine land discovered a wealth of new species that had never been seen by human eyes.
The latest expedition, however, turned up something even more unexpected--GIANT RATS. According to this brief article, the rats that inhabit Indonesia's lost world are 5 TIMES LARGER than city rats and unafraid of humans. One apparently took a liking to the scientists and would show up in their camp from time to time.
In other enormous rodent news, it seems that another variety of giant "rats" may be invading New Jersey. Click here for more.
UPDATE: The giant rat of Indonesia below!
(Photo by Richard J. Velasco for New York Magazine)
THIS is the perfect example of why New York is the greatest place on Earth. It's one of the only cities in the US where you can eat like a queen without ever picking up a pan or sitting down in a restaurant. Fact is, you can buy almost anything from a truck here--hotdogs, ceviche, soup, tacos, gyros, smoothies . . . and now extremely tasty gourmet desserts.
The other day I was walking home when I spotted the van shown above parked about a block from my house. Of course I HAD to stop. Who could pass by the Dessert Truck without taking a peek at the menu? I ended up ordering one of the best chocolate dishes I've ever sunk my teeth into.
Today, New York magazine has a short piece on the Dessert Truck, which is run by two young roommates--one a chef and the other a business student. I applaud them for what they've added to the city--and possibly to my waistline.
(Above: They're alive!)
I must admit--I have never seen anything like this before. Thanks so much to Cupcakedoll for sending the link.
For years, Dutch artist Theo Jansen has been using electrical tubing and plastic bottles to create artificial forms of life. (No, REALLY.) His wind-powered creations, which he calls Strandbeest (beach creatures), will someday possess simple brains that can help them avoid harm. (By telling them to keep away from the water and anchor themselves during storms.)
Jansen hopes that giant Strandbeest will eventually roam the shores of Holland in herds. That's something I would really like to see.
(Below: Theo Jansen introduces the Strandbeest. Well worth watching! More movies here.)
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Saturday, December 15, 2007
New York's Finest (the police) and New York's Bravest (the fire department) both have their own museums. But New York's Strongest (the Department of Sanitation) has been sorely neglected!
It's a shame. Not only do New York's sanitation workers have the coolest logo (shown above), they are personally responsible for making this city liveable. Before the department was created in 1881 (and called the Department of Street Cleaning), New York's streets were foul and disgusting. The mud (mixed with horse manure) could reach shin deep. Snow that fell in the winter would be shoveled into piles that didn't melt until spring. Dead animals (horses, cows, dogs, cats) were pushed to the curb and allowed to slowly decompose. Giant pigs roamed the streets, scarfing down garbage that had been tossed into the gutters. In summer, the city's odor was said to be unbearable.
Not only was the filth smelly and disgusting--it was deadly. For centuries, garbage and sewage poisoned much of the city's water supply, and plagues swept through every few years, killing thousands upon thousands of New Yorkers. They ended after Colonel George Waring was appointed head of the Department of Street Cleaning. As the famous photographer Jacob Riis put it, "[Waring's] broom saved more lives in the crowded tenements than a squad of doctors."
Without the DSNY, there would still be plagues in New York. The men and women who keep the city clean make our lives safer by putting themselves in jeopardy. Even today, sanitation is one of the hardest, most dangerous jobs around. DSNY workers are three times more likely to be killed at work than police officers or fire fighters.
For those interested in the role the Department of Sanitation has played in New York's history, there's a new exhibit called “Loaded Out: Making a Museum,” which will run from December 13, 2007 through January 13, 2008 at 136 West 20th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues in Manhattan. (Open from 3:00 PM to 7:00 PM, Thursdays through Sundays.) Guess where I'll be tomorrow!
Here's a great article about the DSNY from the New York Times.
This little piggy has a hidden talent. Throw him against a wall, drop him from a 30-story building, flatten him with a steamroller, and he will return to his original shape in seconds. He simply can't be squashed.
The resilient porker, which is known as a lokuloku, can be purchased in Japan for about $3. (Very kawaii, too.) I have no idea what kind of plastic they're made from, but it's incredibly cool. (And a little creepy, too.) If anyone is going to Japan, please buy one for me!
Friday, December 14, 2007
In the Harry Potter series, The Tales of the Beedle Bard is a collection of stories told to children from wizarding families. When famed wizard Albus Dumbledore died, he left his copy to Hermione Granger in the hope that it would prove "entertaining and instructive". (Which, of course, it did.)
In the real world there are only seven copies of The Tales of the Beedle Bard, each hand-written and illustrated by J.K. Rowling herself. The books are all bound in leather and decorated with silver and semi-precious stones. The first six were given as gifts to people who helped with the Harry Potter books. The seventh was just sold at auction for four MILLION dollars.
The money from the sale will be donated to The Children's Voice charity, which "campaigns for children's rights across Europe, especially in Eastern Europe, where many children and teenagers grow up in institutions."
How absolutely wonderful! Read the CNN article here.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Starting around Thanksgiving, Christmas ornaments began mysteriously appearing on the trees that line the Garden State Parkway, a busy highway in New Jersey. The first ornament to be spotted was a melon-sized red glass bulb. Over the next few weeks, more began to show up, each hung where passing motorists could admire it.
What has police baffled is the location of the unusual Christmas display. It's on a remote stretch of road that runs through the Pinelands--and there are no houses nearby. Someone must be stopping on the side of the road--probably in the middle of the night--and leaving the ornaments behind.
In my opinion, whoever's responsible has found the true holiday spirit. It shouldn't be about presents, but rather about bringing a little (random) joy to the world.
Read the original CNN story here.
I've been in Boston for the past few days, and I'm supposed to go home this afternoon. The only problem? There's a huge snowstorm heading in this direction. So I've started thinking of activities to keep me entertained in case I'm stuck here an extra day or two. I've already identified two unusual buildings that I wouldn't mind visiting. The first doesn't really exist. And the second is said to have been built out of spite.
The photo above shows Boston's Scarlett O'Hara House. Located just off Revere Street, this charming building sits at the end of a short alley. But according to the Celebrate Boston website, there's less to this structure than meets the eye. In fact, the only thing real about it are the flowerpots out front. The house is just a three-dimensional painting created thirty years ago to disguise an unattractive wall.
The building below is known to some as the Spite House. According to legend, the 10-foot wide building was built more than 200 years ago to block a neighbor's view of the harbor. It's amazing how far some people are willing to go to make a point--but I do like the house.
Read more about strange Boston here. And if any of you have additional snow day suggestions, just let me know.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Supposedly, "goggle jackets" are the latest thing in the UK. (Though the minute newspapers pick up on these things, the trends are usually over.) They're jackets or hoodies that zip up all the way over the head. Goggles sewn into the fabric allow the wearer to see where he or she's going.
A lot of people think these garments are intimidating. Others find them functional. I think they might be great if you're riding your bike in the rain, but not so great if you're making a deposit at the bank. Any thoughts?
Read more here.
A group of Swedish design students have built (and destroyed) a miniature Manhattan inside a friend's apartment. From what I can tell, it was created for a music video using only wood, glue, plaster and paint.
It's cool, I'll give them that. (And I love the wallpaper!) But why is it ALWAYS New York? Couldn't they have destroyed Stockholm?
See more pictures here.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Planning to make some cookies for the holidays? Tired of the same old flavors? Well, the cook behind the Ooh You Tasty Little Things blog thinks she has the perfect recipe for you. Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies with Maple Syrup Glaze.
Now before you start heaving, take a minute to read her post. She swears these cookies are delicious. And who knows, maybe they are. (Though they're certainly not kosher.) But they say witchetty grubs are delicious too, and you aren't going to see me eating those, either.
(Above: Photo from Lorcan Otway at Flickr)
For the past twenty years, an artist named Jim Power has been creating beautiful mosaics throughout the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan. Accompanied by his trusty dog, Jesse Jane, he painstakingly glues shards of glass, pottery, and tile to lampposts and buildings, forming colorful patterns and messages.
Mr. Power's goal? “[To] take the anxiety out of the world with beauty.” If you ask me, he's succeeded--and he's managed to do it with very little money. At times, he's even lived on the streets. But he's still not finished with the 80 mosaics he originally planned. So a neighborhood group has begun organizing donations to help Mr. Power finish his "mosaic trail."
The mosaics are very special for me. I remember first seeing them years ago and being completely charmed. Now there are a few only blocks from my house. And every time I spot one, it makes me smile. I can't think of a better way to spend a little money than to donate to Mr. Power's cause.
Read more here.
Monday, December 10, 2007
For months and months, I've been dying to see The Golden Compass. Yesterday, I finally caught a matinee. What did I think? Well, as they say here in New York . . . meh. There were certainly things I liked about the movie--the bear fights, the young actress who played Lyra Belacqua, and Daniel Craig. But I found myself checking my watch after the first thirty minutes. It was a decent Hollywood film (and the Ice Bears were amazing), but it just wasn't as weird and wonderful as Philip Pullman's books. I guess I'd give it a solid B.
Have any of you seen it?
This morning, I came across the story of a five-year-old Indiana boy named Chucky who is believed to have been a victim of an extremely rare and scientifically unproven phenomenon known as Spontaneous Human Combustion (SHC). Fortunately Chucky survived. Others have not.
Throughout history, there have been numerous accounts of individuals who've caught on fire for no apparent reason. Witnesses report that the flames seem to come from inside the victims' own bodies. Even stranger, the fires often leave the person's clothes, furniture, and surroundings unsinged. In Chucky's case, he'd just emerged from the bath and sprayed himself with some cologne when his body ignited. Doctors are still searching for the cause.
Some say that the first account of SHC can be found in the Bible. (Aaron's sons were consumed by mysterious fires.) And Charles Dickens makes use of spontaneous combustion to do away with an unappealing character in his novel, Bleak House. But most scientists insist that the idea is ludicrous, since the human body is made mostly of water.
Those who dare can read more about Spontaneous Human Combustion here. I must warn you, though. It's not for the faint of heart--or those prone to nightmares.
For years, scientists have been trying to get a good look at the strange little creature shown above. Known as a jerboa, it lives in the deserts of China and Mongolia and boasts "one of the biggest ear-to-body ratios" in the world. But until recently, few of the tiny, nocturnal creatures had ever been spotted. Now British scientists have managed to film a few jerboas in action, hopping around like minature kangaroos. I urge you to check out some of the hilarious footage that's been posted on the BBC's website.
(And yes, I posted this 'cause they're cute. The dangerous post is coming up next.)
Friday, December 7, 2007
(Photo from PhotoJeff's Flicker via Gothamist)
Since Halloween, visitors to the Salt Marsh Nature Preserve in Brooklyn have been met with a shocking sight. Sitting in Gerritsen Creek near Avenue U and E. 33rd Street is a twelve-foot long mythical monster that's rarely spotted outside of Scotland.
The Brooklyn Nessie is a sculpture created by artist Cameron Gainer. A 3-D recreation of the most famous picture of the Loch Ness Monster, the artwork will remain in the park until December 15.
Last year, in the Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens, Gaines displayed a Bigfoot sculpture based on a frame from the first video of the ape-man. (See more photos at Cryptomundo.)
I love Gaines's work--and not because I'm fascinated by Bigfoot and Nessie. Imagine jogging through a park and finding a mythical beast in your path. It's not something you'd be likely to forget--and it might just inspire you to open your eyes and pay more attention to the world around you.
Read more here.
Thursday, December 6, 2007
What would life be like if there weren't any clouds? A clear, blue sky might seem ideal for a while, but can you imagine how boring it would get?
The Cloud Appreciation Society was started by people who believe that most of us take clouds for granted. That's why they've dedicated their time to documenting the strange and wonderful beauty of these natural phenomena. The organization's latest book, Hot Pink Flying Saucers, was named for the peculiar cloud formation shown above. And their website has hundreds and hundreds of photos of the weirdest clouds you'll ever see.
Check out the Cloud Appreciation Society's website here.
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
Say hello to Cheng Shunguo. Cheng has a rather unusual condition. That piece of cotton he's holding--the one that's bright green? It wasn't dipped in a bucket of floor cleaner or a cup of slurpee syrup. That green piece of cotton is covered in Cheng's perspiration. Yes, that's right. Cheng's sweat is bright green.
Doctors in China have no idea what's causing the condition. Cheng is otherwise healthy, and tests have revealed no evidence of disorders of any sort. (Perhaps he's turning into the Incredible Hulk?)
Read more here.
Update: Apparently those doctors don't have access to the Internet. The condition is called chromhidrosis. And not only can it cause green sweat, but pink, blue, yellow, and black sweat as well!
Monday, December 3, 2007
(Yeti Image by Nate Wragg)
Late last week, it was reported that an American television crew may have discovered evidence of the Yeti--the elusive "ape-man" that's said to live in the Himalayas. (And who's known to many as the Abominable Snowman.) The crew had spent a week in the mountains searching for the beast when they came across a series of large footprints on the snow-covered banks of the Manju river.
It's hardly the first time Yeti tracks have been spotted. The picture shown below was taken by a mountain climber in 1951. In 1984, a well-known climber even claimed that a large, fur-covered man had followed him for days as he scaled Mt. Everest.
You can read about the most recent discovery (and see more pictures) here. Perhaps the most interesting part of the article is the poll on the AOL site. Over 50% of the people who voted believe that the Yeti exists. Now that's what I call progress!
For the past seven months, a "ninja" has been creeping into the homes of Staten Island residents and absconding with their valuables. (For those unfamiliar with New York City, Staten Island is the island borough just south of Manhattan.) The few people who've seen the ninja say he (or she!) dresses in black from head to toe, conceals his face with a black mask, and never utters a word. When confronted, the ninja simply whips out his nunchucks and makes a daring escape. He's also been spotted "scaling walls and leaping noiselessly out windows."
According to this story in The New Yorker, the Staten Island ninja appears to schedule many of his capers for Wednesday evenings. (Good to know. I think I'll save my visits for Thursdays.)
Of course a guy who breaks into people's houses to steal I-pods doesn't deserve the ninja title. According to Wikipedia, the original ninjas were Japanese warriors trained in the arts of sabotage, espionage, scouting and assassination. (There may even have been female ninjas--though the person who wrote the Wikipedia entry appears to be skeptical of this notion.)
If you're interested in ninjas (and don't mind a little blood and guts), I highly recommend Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn. It's set in feudal Japan and revolves around a secret society known as The Tribe. I loved it!