Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Giant Blue Earthworms

Today I was going to do a little post about a rare American earthworm that's three feet long, smells like lillies, and spits at anyone who comes too close. But then I found the picture above. Apparently, they have blue earthworms in some parts of Australia. Who knew?

Brazil's Subterranean Artist

Most artists prefer to show their work where others can enjoy it. But one Brazilian artist dares to display his art underground. Sao Paula graffiti artist Zezao descends into the city's sewers to create beautiful paintings that only a few will ever see in person. Fortunately, you don't need to brave the rats and cockroaches to get a glimpse of them. Just click here for a slideshow of his amazing work. (Click on the little pictures on the top of the page to move from image to image.)

And be sure to check out Zezao's amazing myspace page.

Thanks to my friend Johanna for introducing me to Zezao!

Attention Library People

I didn't realize so many librarians (and granddaughters of librarians) read this blog! So here's the deal. If you invite me to visit your library, I will try to come. For free. See, without libraries, I would have turned to a life of crime. So I feel I owe the librarians of the world for keeping me out of jail.

Kirsten Miller

Monday, January 28, 2008

Take a Dip With a Polar Bear

Swimming with the dolphins not exciting enough for you? Then you might want to take a trip to the Polar Bear Habitat in the Canadian town of Cochrane. It's the only place on earth where you can (safely) share the water with a (potentially) man-eating polar bear!

Read more at Fogonazos.

New York's Bermuda Triangle

The next time you visit New York, be sure not to park your car near the Empire State Building. It's not the threat of pennies flung from the building by mischievous tourists--or the base jumpers who attempt to parachute from its upper stories--that should convince you to keep your distance.

According to the Daily News, the five-block radius around the Empire State Building is a Bermuda Triangle for cars. Engines stall. Batteries die. Car doors refuse to open. Over the past few years, hundreds of people have had their cars towed, only to discover that they function perfectly the minute they're out of the skyscraper's shadow.

Are radio transmissions from the building to blame? Is some sinister force at work in New York's greatest landmark? Or is it all just an urban myth? Read the article, and decide for yourself!

(Incredible photo by GrahamF.)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Special Annoucement!

Kirsten Miller will be at the Milpitas Library on Wednesday, January 30th at 4:00. If you're in the neighborhood, be sure to drop by!

40 North Milpitas Blvd.
Milpitas, CA 95035
(408) 262-1171

Bet They Smell Good, Too

According to the very cool Pink Tentacle, when walking through the Japanese town of Toba, it's not unusual to see octopi hanging out to dry.

How to Make a Zombie

For hundreds of years, Haitians have told stories of zombies—soulless bodies brought back from the dead to do the bidding of evil sorcerers. Until 1980, most people considered the tales to be little more than legend. That was the year that a man by the name of Clairvius Narcisse paid a visit to his hometown in Haiti. His friends and family were a little surprised to see him. That's because, according to his doctors, Clairvius Narcisse had been dead for eighteen years.

Narcisse believed he had been bewitched by a bokor (sorcerer). He said that at the time of his “death,” he'd found himself completely conscious but unable to move. He even remembered the doctors pulling the sheet up over his face. Afterwards, his body was stolen. Once he was able to move again, he was put to work on a sugar plantation alongside other “zombies.” When the bokor who’d enslaved him died unexpectedly, Narcisse escaped and began the long journey home.

Thanks to Narcisse, scientists finally began to investigate Haiti's zombie tales. One doctor, Wade Davis, eventually claimed that he'd discovered a scientific explanation. The bokors believed to be responsible for zombies used a variety of unusual powders in their rituals. Most of the powders Davis tested included a number of bizarre ingredients, including human remains and the dried corpses of two poisonous frogs.

But there was one ingredient in the so-called "zombie powders" that intrigued Davis the most. It was the ground remains of the pufferfish, an animal whose organs contain a deadly neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin. When consumed or absorbed through the skin, tetrodotoxin can paralyze the human body, even slowing the pulse to the point where the person appears to be dead.

(This happens periodically in Japan, where pufferfish—known as fugu—are a dangerous delicacy. According to Wikipedia, in some parts of Japan, victims of fatal fugu poisoning are placed next to their coffins for three whole days to ensure that they’re actually dead.)

Dr. Davis believed that the bokors poisoned their victims with tetrodotoxin-laced zombie powder. The victims' families, thinking them dead, would have the bodies buried. The bokor would wait for the lack of oxygen inside the coffin to cause brain damage, then dig up their "zombies" and put them to work.

Dr. Davis’s theories were—and continue to be—quite controversial. But anyone interested in learning more can click here.

(Below: The deadly fugu.)

Friday, January 25, 2008

What a Week: Tiny Frogs, Mysterious Blobs, and a Rat-Eating Plant!

(Above: A Chinese giant salamander, one of the bizarre amphibians at risk of extinction.)

It's been a banner week for the bizarre!

A teenager used a camera to snap a picture of a group of friends and captured a ghostly face peeking out at him.

A British famer built a castle on his land and hid it from authorities for four years.

A mysterious "doughy" blob has clogged a sewer in Maine.

A rat-eating plant was discovered in Australia.

A Brooklyn mom found a tiny, live frog tucked inside a head of lettuce that she'd kept in the refrigerator for days.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

There's a Ban on Haggis?!?

Haggis (shown above in all its glory) is a delightful Scottish treat. According to Wikipedia, it's made from "sheep's 'pluck' (heart, liver and lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally boiled in the animal's stomach for approximately three hours."

And I have to say . . . it's really good. (Sorry, veggies.) But apparently it's been banned in the US since the outbreak of mad cow disease in Britain. (Which was quite some time ago.) Now the Scots are planning to lobby the US government to lift the ban. They seem to think that lots of people in America are craving a little sheep stomach surprise. I'm not sure about the rest of my countrymen (and women), but they can put me down for a serving or two.

In the meantime, maybe I'll try vegetarian haggis--or this tasty product.

(Actually, I have a contraband can of haggis in my cupboard. Come and get me!)

Thanks for the story, Elizabeth!

Say Hello to Black Fern

Turns out I know someone who owns an axolotl! Thanks for the picture, Raph!

Bones Uncovered in Washington Square Park!

This is very exciting for a couple of reasons.

1. I live three blocks away from Washington Square Park. (Factor that in, Jin Ai!)

2. I've been telling people about the park's dark and dangerous history for years. (And I'm not always sure if they believe me.)

The bones were discovered on Monday near a men's restroom at the southern end of the park by workers testing the soil for utility lines. (Though anyone who dares enter a restroom in WSP risks being discovered in a similar fashion, these bones are believed to be quite old.)

According to this article, it appears the bones had been moved several times since they were originally buried. Neither this fact nor the find itself is at all surprising. As you may already know from the Kiki Strike books, Washington Square Park is the final resting place for thousands of plague victims who were buried there two centuries ago when the plot of land was used as a potter's field. Now that the park is being renovated, I would be very surprised if a few more skeletons aren't discovered.

If you go down to the park to check out the action, be sure not to miss the "hanging tree" at the south-west corner of the park. It was used for executions at the beginning of the 19th century!

UPDATE: More information from The New York Times!

(Below: What Washington Square Park will look like after renovations.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

You'll Need to See Something Cute Before You Move On to the Next Post

It's a sleepy dormouse--just like the one in Alice in Wonderland. See another pic here.

"Once upon a time there were three little sisters," the Dormouse began in a great hurry; "and their names were Elsie, Lacie, and Tillie; and they lived at the bottom of a well--"

"What did they live on?" said Alice, who always took a great interest in questions of eating and drinking.

"They lived on treacle," said the Dormouse, after thinking a minute or two.

"They couldn't have done that, you know," Alice gently remarked; "they'd have been ill."

"So they were," said the Dormouse; "VERY ill."

That always cracks me up.

Extremely Gross Anatomy

Make good grades in biology at Clinton High School in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and you may be in for a special treat. You won't have to dissect frogs or fetal pigs. No, you get to dissect PEOPLE!

Over the past five years, teacher Harry Hitchcock has invited his very best students to enroll in his gross anatomy class--a course usually reserved for those in medical school. For a few hours each week, the kids carefully carve up human cadavers using tools ranging from scalpels to bone saws. I have never been more jealous!

Read more here, and be sure to look out for the gruesome quote of the week: "It’s like watching ants on something. The kids are just one on one leg, one on the other, one on the arm, one on the other arm, one on the head. They do an amazing job.”

Monday, January 21, 2008

UFOs Over the Lone Star State

In the past week, dozens of people in Stephenville, Texas have reported seeing an enormous UFO hovering over their small town. They describe a brightly-lit, silent aircraft capable of flying at extremely high speeds. Some witnesses even claim to have seen jet fighters chasing it. But what makes this story more believable than most is the large number of highly respectable people who say they've seen the strange object. (Not necessarily counting a guy interviewed on CNN who said his first reaction was to shoot at it.) Watch a video about the sightings here.

If you live in Texas, and you've heard of the sightings, be sure to let us know what you think!

It all reminds me of an even more remarkable UFO sighting that took place eleven years ago. In March, 1997, thousands of people in Phoenix, Arizona witnessed a V-shaped formation of lights silently gliding over the city. The lights, which have since become known as the Phoenix Lights, appeared to be attached to an "craft of unknown origin" more than a mile wide.

Among those who observed the strange phenomenon was the governor of Arizona, Fife Symington. He talks about what he saw that night in the jaw-dropping CNN video below.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Poe Toaster

Last night, it happened again. Every year on January 19th, a mysterious man pays a late night visit to the Westminster Hall and Burying Ground in Baltimore, Maryland. Dressed in black from head to toe, his face hidden by a scarf and a silver-tipped cane in one hand, the man glides through the cemetery and stops in front of an old gravestone. There, he deposits three red roses on the grave and pulls out a bottle of cognac. He toasts the man who was once buried beneath his feet before resting the bottle against the headstone and quickly exiting the graveyard.

Since 1949, the same scene has taken place at Edgar Allen Poe's original gravesite on the anniversary of the great author's birth. No one knows (for sure) who the "Poe Toaster" is--or what led him to start such an unusual tradition. In recent years, crowds of spectators have begun waiting inside the cemetery, hoping to catch a glimpse of the black-clad figure. Usually, they keep a respectful distance. (There was one unfortunate incident in 2006.) This year over 150 people gathered to witness the spectacle. Thankfully all those present allowed the Poe Toaster to go about his business in peace.

For more information (and to see the only known picture of the Poe Toaster), click here.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Floating Schoolhouse and More!

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you've already seen pictures of the Chinese schoolhouse located inside a cave. Now you can marvel at a floating school (shown above), an underground school, and a school made from shipping containers! Check them out here.

Buy Me a Ticket to Sweden!

Some savvy Swedes have come up with a novel way to attract tourists to their country's wilderness. They plan to build the world's largest moose. (Now why didn't I think of that?) By 2009, the enormous wooden creature will grace the top of Mount Vithatten. According to its creators, it will be "a destination for people all over the world, [and] a monument dedicated to wilderness, nature and the king of the forest." Awesome. (Though I'm still not sure if it's all just a hoax.)

I may sound like I'm poking fun at the moose-builders, but I'm not. The next time I'm in Sweden I will DEFINITELY plan a visit!

Read more, watch a movie, and purchase shares in the project here!

Deadly Souvenirs

(Above: The mysterious Uluru)

Earlier this week, a reader sent a link to a very interesting story out of Australia. (Thanks, Elizabeth!) A small town in the outback recently celebrated the return of an antique boomerang that had been stolen from its museum in 1983. The thief--an American tourist, I'm sad to report--had finally sent the artifact back to its rightful owners along with a check. He didn't explain why he'd chosen to return the boomerang after so many years--but I suspect I know the answer.

See, the story also mentioned a phenomenon known in Australia as "sorry rocks." Every year, tourists steal stones from the giant red rock formation called Uluru, despite warnings that the site is sacred to the local Aborigines. Many of those stones eventually make their way back to Uluru--mailed by people who believe the "sorry rocks" have brought them terrible luck. According to some reports, at least one pilfered rock is returned to Uluru every day, and many are accompanied by desperate notes of apology.

I thought of the "sorry rocks" when I stumbled upon another story this morning. A young Czech man recently died in a bizarre fire, and when the authorities arrived at his apartment to investigate, they discovered thousands of priceless prehistoric treasures. Pins, brooches, spears, bowls, and rings--each worthy of a place in a museum. Archaeologists believe the young man had been using a metal detector to locate and plunder ancient graves near Prague. Unfortunately for the young man, it appears he never had a chance to say he was sorry. Read more (and see pictures) here.

Of course the most famous "deadly souvenirs" were those taken from the tomb of King Tut. You've probably heard of the terrible curse that afflicted many of those responsible for opening the tomb. (If you haven't, click here.) But you may not know that some say the curse is still active. One British woman claims to have come across a forgotten collection of artifacts that her husband's grandfather had taken from Tut's tomb shortly after it was discovered. Since the day of her discovery, she's experienced nothing but illness, tragedy and heartbreak. Unfortunately, her family refuses to sell the items (which are said to be worth more than $2 million). Perhaps a letter of apology is in order? Let's hope she sends one before she suffers the same fate as a German man who stole an artifact from an Egyptian tomb three years ago. Read his tale here.

So what's the moral of this story? Be careful what you take!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Tentacle Arm or Monsterskin Rug?

"While we've been using our primitive, apelike arms like a bunch of jerks, the squids of the world have been clutching their prey with their superior tentacles and laughing at us. Until now! For the first time, you can have tentacles of your very own. Equipped with suction cups and plenty of creepy greenness." Purchase this masterpiece here.

Or perhaps the Monsterskin Rug from Longoland is more your style?

Russia's Mysterious Wooden Sphere

Deep in the woods of western Russia sits an enormous wooden ball. No one knows how it got there or what function it was meant to serve. Curious locals have been visiting the site for decades, hoping to solve the mystery of the giant sphere (or make a little money out of it). However, according to the website English Russia, all they've been able to uncover are "a few holes of strange shape and 'radioactive' sign." Uh oh.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

More Giant Beasts Discovered!

A researcher in New Zealand claims that he recently discovered fresh moa footprints. The twelve-foot-tall flightless birds are thought to have become extinct around 1500. Read more here.

In South America, scientists have uncovered the remains of a giant prehistoric "rat" that weighed more than a ton and would have reached the size of a car. More here and here.

Your Own Private Floating Paradise

In 1998, artist and environmentalist Richie Sowa decided to move to a deserted tropical island. When he couldn't find an island that suited him, he simply made one of his own. Using thousands of empty plastic water bottles, he created a floating paradise complete with "a two-story house, solar oven, self-composting toilet and multiple beaches." Several years later, the original island was destroyed by a hurricane, but Richie's already at work on a new one.

Read more here, and watch the amazing video below.

Digging for Gold in England

All copies of a pamphlet meant to introduce tourists to a beautiful nature trail in the English countryside may soon be destroyed. Angry authorities claim the cover of the pamphlet, "does not represent our youth in the best light."

What's the problem? Seems the photographer managed to catch a young girl in the middle of picking her nose. Strangely enough, no one seemed offended by the kid in the bizarre lamb hat. More here.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Witches' Revenge

In 1650, more than a dozen "witches" were executed in the British city of Newcastle, and their bodies heaped together in a mass grave. Now, several centuries later, their remains are said to be resurfacing. First, workers uncovered bones and skulls while digging a ditch around St. Andrew’s Church. Then, more bones began to appear in the churchyard, rising to the surface whenever it rained.

But anyone seeking a gruesome souvenir should heed the warnings of the church's caretaker. It seems one of the ditch diggers picked up a skull he'd found and showed it off to his friends. The next day, he woke to find his arms covered with sores and lesions that his doctor couldn't explain.

Perhaps the women (and one man) are still a bit angry about their fate. Back in the 17th century, Newcastle's citizens were paid a handsome sum for each "witch" they turned over to the authorities. As a result, innocent people were often accused of witchcraft and sent to early graves. It's unlikely that the witches buried near St. Andrew's Church were guilty of of anything other than being a little eccentric.

Read more about the Newcastle witches (and see a video) here.

Creatures I Thought Were Mythical, Part One: The Liger

Half tiger, half lion, one gigantic kitty. Thanks, Genevieve!

Time to Become a Vegetarian?

The FDA just announced that the meat and milk from most cloned animals is safe to sell. Right now, cloned animals are too expensive to sell as food. But they could be used to breed, and in a couple of years, their descendants may start showing up on supermarket shelves.

International Mastermind, you were right. This is a far more pressing issue than I thought!

More here.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Fluffy Goes to Battle

The battle between two age-old enemies just got tougher. Canadian artist Jeff de Boer has created specially designed suits of armor for both mice and their deadly foes--cats. Boy do I wish I had some pets right now. How hilarious would it be to have your cat wandering around in a full set of armor?

Check out more pictures (and learn how to make a Samurai Cat) here.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Your Chance to Spend the Night In an Abandoned Drain Pipe

In a park just outside of Linz, Austria, you'll find one of the world's most unusual hotels. Each of the "rooms" in Dasparkhotel was constructed from a piece of abandoned drain pipe. Artist Andreas Strauss oversaw the project, ensuring that each of the chambers was comfortable and stylish.

According to the hotel's website, the accomodations include: double bed, storage, light, power, woolly blanket and light cotton sleeping bag. All other facilities (toilets, showers, minibar, cafe, etc) are supplied by the surrounding public space.

The best thing about Daskparkhotel, however, may be the price. You just pay what you wish. Unfortunately, they're only open during the summer, so you might want to make your reservations now.

One of this blog's readers sent me this link, but I can't find the original comment! Sorry about that, dear reader, and thanks so much for the tip! (UPDATE: Thanks Nina aka Claire!)

A Touching Story of Two Unlikely Friends

Louis is an eighteen-month-old giant Pacific octopus. Mr. Potato Head is a plastic vegetable who enjoys dressing up. Who'd have thought they'd end up best friends?

When Louis recently took up residence at an English aquarium, scientists at the facility worried that he might get a little bored. Octopi, you see, are extremely intelligent creatures, and their curiosity must be constantly stimulated if they're to remain happy and healthy. So the scientists decided to introduce Louis to Mr. Potato Head. Now the two play together for hours at a time, and Louis can get quite testy when it's time for Mr. Potato Head to leave.

Of course their friendship isn't hurt by the fact that the scientists use the secret compartment inside Mr. Potato Head to hide special treats, like fresh crab meat. But there's no reason to tell Mr. Potato Head that.

More here.

Kiki Strike in Russian!

Earlier this weekend, I received a surprising shipment from Russia. Inside were several copies of the book shown above, the Russian edition of Kiki Strike. When I opened the package, I nearly shrieked with delight. The cover is AMAZING. (The picture here doesn't even begin to do it justice.) It's a shiny iridescent, dragonfly green, with touches of silver and gold. It also features one of the best depictions of Kiki that I've ever seen. (Of course the Russians would know what a Cossack hat looks like!)

Kudos to the Russian artist responsible. I LOVE it! (And I always wanted to see Kiki's name written in the Cyrillic alphabet.)

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

A Monster for Every Day of the Year

Every day in 2007, the mysterious artist behind MyProject365 posted a new drawing. Each shows a monster roaming the streets of an unidentified city. (Most of the pictures look like the may have been taken somewhere in Asia.) Together, the 365 drawings form an amazing collection. It just goes to show what you can accomplish if you try to do just a little each day.

The Peter Pans of the Animal Kingdom

This is an axolotl. It's not only the cutest animal on Earth (aside from the beluga whale), it's also one of the strangest. Axolotls can only be found in one tiny corner of the planet--the lakes on which Mexico City was built. (That's right--the original Aztec city was built on artificial islands in the middle of Lake Texcoco. More on that in a later post.)

Technically, these creatures never (OK, rarely) grow up. The Peter Pans of the animal kingdom, they're actually the larva of a salamander species, and they can live for ten years without turning into adults.

As you might expect (cause they're so cute), axolotls are popular pets in Japan, where they're called Wooper Roopers. In Mexico, they're considered a tasty dish, and you can purchase them at markets throughout Mexico City.

(Below: The Aztec lake city of Tenochtitlan.)

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Disgusting Health News from Around the World

Feeling a little weak and stiff, an otherwise healthy Chinese woman recently paid a visit to her doctor. When her test results were analyzed, the source of her complaints was revealed. The woman had only HALF A BRAIN. Even more surprising, the woman had lived a completely normal life for over thirty-nine years, and (according to her mother) even graduated from high school with good grades.

Late last year, an woman arrived at a hospital in Ghatkopar, India, complaining of head pain and a foul odor issuing from her nose. X-rays revealed a three-inch piece of a broken toothbrush lodged in her nasal cavity. How the toothbrush reached that particular location has been a source of some controversy. Was it an accident, as the woman claims, or was the toothbrush rammed up her nose by an assailant? More disgusting details (and a picture of the toothbrush) here.

Many thanks to Kad for sending these two stories!

(Above: The latest in bizarre nurse-inspired fashion from Louis Vuitton.)

Why Go to School If You're Already a GENIUS?

Ten-year-old Diego Palacios decided that Christmas break wasn't long enough this year. So instead of returning to school after the holidays, he opted to glue himself to his bed. Using industrial strength shoe adhesive, he attached his hand to the headboard of his bed. It took police and paramedics two hours to free him.

All that hard work and they sent him to school anyway. Read more here.

Nice try, Diego.

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Monstrous Machines of Nantes

If you happen to be in the vicinity of Nantes, France, you will definitely want to pay a visit to an exhibit entitled "Les Machines de l'Ile Nantes." Created by the artists François Delarozière and Pierre Orefice, the exhibit features an astounding variety of mechanical beasts and monsters, including a giant squid! Each enormous machine also functions as a moving vehicle. Oh the things I could do with a squidmobile!

See more photos by Claude Joannis here at Dark Roasted Blend!