Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year

I hope the unexpected finds us all this year!

Japanese Giants

I know I've written about this subject before, but I thought this video was particularly interesting. I've always been fascinated by Japanese giant salamanders. Perhaps it's because North America's only giant salamanders can be found in the mountains where I lived as a kid. The Appalachian Mountain salamanders are called hellbenders, which has to be the greatest name ever given to a creature. Sadly, thanks to pollution, they may not be around much longer.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

You Can't Hide from the Namahage

Allow me to introduce you to the Namahage. Three hundred and sixty-four days a year, these knife-wielding demons with a penchant for straw coats wander the wilderness on the peninsula of Oga in Japan. But every New Year's Eve, they leave their mountain lairs and go looking for a little human company.

The Namahage visit nearby villages, bursting into homes in search of lazy children. The head of each household must then negotiate with the demons (the negotiations apparently involve lots of sake) and attempt to convince them that the children of the house have been both hard-working and obedient.

If the Namahage remain unconvinced, the little boys and girls are dragged back to the mountains and forced to lead a life of drudgery.

Okay, now to my main point. The twenty-first century is a good time to be young. A kid today might squeal a bit at the sight of a Namahage or Krampus, but few would ever take them seriously. But go back a hundred years or so, and I'd bet that these demons were pretty good at scaring the snot out of children.

Imagine it. It's 1909. You're a kid in Oga, and your parents warn you that there are terrifying creatures called Namahage living deep in the woods. (And you can't go online to see if it's true.) Then on New Year's Eve, a hideous demon bursts through your door . . .

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

And I have a cold! I'm going back to bed, and I'm not getting up until tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Friday, December 18, 2009

UFO Hovers Over Red Square

Two videos taken by amateurs can be found here. Wow.

Is it real? Who knows. You can do some amazing things with a computer or two.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Octopus Wrestling

Want to know what your grandparents did for fun? According to the Wikipedia entry, Octopus wrestling was all the rage in the 1960s. (Really?) Divers would plunge into the ocean, grab an octopus and attempt to drag it to the surface. Anyone who took the sport seriously accomplished this feat without the help of an artificial breathing apparatus.

It wasn't easy. The octopus is stronger and smarter than one might imagine. (How smart? Click here. Thanks, Cailey!) Octopuses have been known to grab divers and hold them underwater until they drown. Still, I think one octopus wrestler took it a bit far when he declared:

I realize it all sounds like a loathsome sport but it’s really more fun than hunting some poor harmless creature. When you wrestle and kill an octopus, you’re ridding the marine world of a treacherous enemy. And you’d better watch your step, too. For there’s no such thing as a reckless octopus hunter. You’re either careful or dead.

A treacherous enemy? I find them rather cuddly!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bleeding Bananas

I have tons of work to do today (yes, really), so I'm going to keep this short.

Bananas in New Zealand have started bleeding. Isn't that the fourth sign of the apocalypse? (JK!)

Check it out here.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Another Unnecessary Post

This may come as a surprise to some people (including you, dear Anonymous), but posting on my blog doesn't stop me from writing books. I am capable of doing both. Just like you are probably capable of showering AND finishing your homework. Or eating your Wheaties AND getting to class on time. Or writing testy notes AND flossing your teeth before bed.

In fact, in the course of writing this blog, I often come across interesting ideas, events, or images that later make their way into my books. Take, for example, the photo above. It's not the product of Photoshop. This is what people all over Norway saw a few nights ago.

Was it a Russian rocket spiraling out of control (as some have suggested)? An alien encounter? A sign from a higher power? Who knows . . . maybe the answer will be found in my next book!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Shame of Hello Kitty

I could spend days and days blogging about Hello Kitty craziness. She pops up in some pretty amazing places these days. Like Hello Kitty sausages. Mmmm. Delicious.

But this afternoon I received an email from an associate (thanks JA) which directed me to this article.

Apparently police chiefs in Bangkok are now punishing police officers who break the rules by forcing them to wear Hello Kitty armbands. (Photo below.)

I'm conflicted. I find it amusing, of course, but I'm also just a little offended. Why is it so shameful to wear a cute pink armband?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Bag Lunch, Anyone?

(Art by Andrew Bell.)

This post is going to make lab-grown pork seem appetizing by comparison. Brace your stomachs.

Here's the first paragraph of an article published in today's USA Today:

In the past three years, the government has provided the nation's schools with millions of pounds of beef and chicken that wouldn't meet the quality or safety standards of many fast-food restaurants.

What does that mean? Here are a couple of the article's many revelations:

1. US schools are often supplied with meat from chickens so old that they would otherwise only be suitable for compost or pet food.

2. Schools can serve ground beef that contains high levels of bacteria that often indicate the presence of fecal contamination. (Yes, that is what you think it is. And it's not a good thing. At all.)

This is serious! Read more here.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

It's That Time of the Year Again!

Each December, blogs all over the world seem to hone in on the very same subject. Krampus. This year, I've decided to join the fun.

So what's Krampus, you ask? Krampus is a hideous demon-like creature that originated in the deep, dark, desolate forests of Northern Europe. He's said to accompany St. Nicholas on the jolly man's gift-giving journeys (shown above). But while St. Nick hands out presents to good little children, Krampus gives bad kids a good kick in the pants (or much, much worse).

According to Wikipedia:

Traditionally, young men dress up as the Krampus in the first two weeks of December, particularly in the evening of December 5, and roam the streets frightening children and women with rusty chains and bells. In some rural areas the tradition also includes birching by Krampus, especially of young females.

Sounds like fun, right? (I never have to worry since I'm always very, very good.) It's hard to understand the allure . . . until you see a Krampus costume or two. A selection can be viewed here. Enjoy! (Actually, I find the old postcards a lot creepier.)

Monday, December 7, 2009

I Never Fully Trusted Tomatoes

I love tomatoes. But I've never really trusted them since I discovered (in the fourth grade) that they're members of the deadly nightshade family. Now, new scientific research has uncovered another terrifying truth about everyone's favorite salad ingredient.


That's right. Tomatoes eat insects. How? According to an article in The Telegraph . . .

Botanists have discovered for the first time that [tomatoes] are carnivorous predators who kill insects in order to "self-fertilise" themselves.

New research shows that they capture and kill small insects with sticky hairs on their stems and then absorb nutrients through their roots when the animals decay and fall to the ground.

It is thought that the technique was developed in the wild in order to supplement the nutrients in poor quality soil – but even domestic varieties grown in your vegetable patch retain the ability.

And they're not the only ones. Potatoes are also insect killers! In fact, according to researchers, "We may be surrounded by many more murderous plants than we think."

RELATED NEWS: Giant rat-eating plant found.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Sinister Suit-Sporting Rabbits Spotted in New York!

(Yes, I'm a big fan of alliteration.) Enormous rabbits wearing well-tailored suits have been reported throughout Manhattan today. And according to eyewitnesses, they're all as creepy as the one shown above. What's the meaning of this? Are they advertising a TV show as many have suggested? Or are the evil bunnies finally taking over--just as I have predicted they would lo these many years?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Giant Hamster Roams the NY Subway!

(Photos by Victoria Belanger.)

Little Edie is riding a subway model made for the trial of a subway bomber. (Her owner is an evidence photographer from the Manhattan DA's office.)

(via Gothamist)

Elsewhere in the animal kingdom . . . a real, living ouroboros!

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Sausage of the Future

It's been a while since this blog featured the kind of foul, disgusting, vomit-inducing post that you all adore. So I've been scouring the Internet today, looking for something that would turn your stomachs. And when I read the following headline, I knew I'd found it.

"Scientists Grow Pork Meat in a Laboratory."

Apparently lots of people have greeted this news with great joy. After all, lab-grown meat could feed millions, help reduce the greenhouse gases emitted by farm animals, and save cute little piggies from slaughter. (Even NASA is keen to know if meat can be grown in space.)

That's all great, of course. However, my interest started to fade when I learned that the research was funded by a sausage manufacturer. Which probably has NOTHING to do with the scientists' belief that their breakthrough "could lead to sausages and other processed products being made from laboratory meat in as little as five years."

Take your time, ladies and gentlemen.

Still hungry for more news?

Vanilla can be extracted from cow dung. Now how about some dessert?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Life and Times of Lillian Mountweazel

(Above: Not Lillian Mountweazel.)

If you had picked up a copy of the New Columbia Encyclopedia published in 1975, you would have found an entry for a woman by the name of Lillian Virginia Mountweazel (1942-1973). According to her biography, Ms. Mountweazel was a fountain designer and photographer, best known for her collection of photos of rural American mailboxes, Flags Up!. She was born in Bangs, Ohio, and died in an explosion while on assignment for Combustibles magazine.

Pretty interesting lady, wouldn't you say? But the most fascinating thing about Lillian Mountweazel is that she never actually existed. She was what's known as a "fictitious entry." The publishers of reference books (dictionaries, encyclopedias, etc.) and maps will often include fictitious entries in their works. This makes it easy for them to know when their copyrights have been violated.

Thanks to good old Lillian, these entries are now known as Mountweazels. (In the world of maps, fictitious streets are called "trap streets." However, map makers' inventions have an interesting habit of becoming real places.)

That hasn't been the only honor bestowed upon Lillian. There's also a Lillian Mountweazel Memorial Society, and earlier this year there was an art exhibit devoted to her life and times.

Not bad for someone who never drew a breath. But it kind of makes you wonder what else might not be real.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Which US City Provides the Strangest News Stories?

That's right, baby. New York, NY!!!! A website recently analyzed over 2,000 strange news stories from 2009. Which cities produced the most? Here's the top ten . . .

1. New York City, NY
2. Lincoln, NE
3. Madison, WI
4. Philadelphia, PA
5. Chicago, IL
6. Cinncinnati, OH
7. Boston, MA
8. Detroit, MI
9. Dallas, TX
10. Pittsburgh, PA

Just a sample of the stories that came out of New York this year . . .

“Businessman accused of demanding dentures with gun”
“Turtles crawl on runway, delay flights at JFK”
“Goat wanders into nursing home in the Bronx”


Thanksgiving Ragamuffins

I have some serious weirdness for you this morning. I should have posted it yesterday, but I was too full of stuffing to move. (I LOVE stuffing. It's one of my top ten favorite foods. My Thanksgiving dinner plate is always 80% stuffing, 20% everything else.)

Okay, back to the topic at hand. Apparently, a strange tradition developed in New York City in the years between World War I and World War II. On Thanksgiving Day, kids all over town would dress up in their finest duds and most outlandish costumes and go from house to house shouting, "Anything f' Thanksgiv'n?" The homeowners were supposed to supply the annoying little scamps with money, fruit or candy.

The kids were called Thanksgiving Ragamuffins. According to one expert, "Ragamuffin parades, which harkened back to European traditions, were a chance for the poorer immigrants of New York to march through the streets in extravagant costumes, begging for change."

You see? It's this kind of thing that makes New York great. I've ALWAYS said that Halloween just isn't enough. Kids should demand TWO days of costumes and treats every year! Let's bring back the Thanksgiving Ragamuffins!

In the meantime, check out some Thanksgiving Ragamuffins from 1933 here, at the NYPL Digital Gallery!

Oh, and how about these pictures from an early Macy's Thanksgiving Parade? I LOVE that pig!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Reason to Be Thankful

(Art by Kaitlin Beckett. Check out her Curious Bestiary! And yes--the illustration shows an ostrich, but let's all pretend it's a turkey, OK?)

My computer is back from the shop. For the last few days, I've felt like I was missing a huge chunk of my brain! Oh the joy! Oh the happiness!

I hope you all have a fantastic Thanksgiving! I'll try to come up with some awesome weirdness to keep you amused.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Here's the Scoop

There are a few questions I'm asked over and over again. (Don't worry, they never get boring. I'm flattered you care!)

1. Will there be a Kiki #3 and when will it be out?
2. Why has it taken soooooo long?
3. How have you been spending your time if you haven't been writing Kiki #3?

Today I'm going to answer all of these questions!

There will be a Kiki #3. It's called The Darkness Dwellers. (Though that title may change before it's published.) And it will (most likely) be out in early 2011. I know that sounds like forever, but in publishing terms it's just around the corner. (Okay, that probably didn't make you feel any better, did it?)

However, as I've told many of you who've written me, I PROMISE it will be worth the wait. Among the many questions the book will answer . . .

Will Kiki finally seize the throne of Pokrovia?
Why is Livia Galatzina bald?
Does Oona Wong really have an identical twin?
Why do fish forks exist?
Is escargot as delicious as it looks?
Are the catacombs beneath Paris anything like the Shadow City?
Who is Ananka Fishbein's secret crush?
Why is an executive from a pharmaceutical company following DeeDee Morlock?

It's going to be awesome. (Well, I find it entertaining!)

Okay, on to the next question. So what have I been doing with my time? Well I've been writing another book. It's called The Eternal Ones. It will be in bookstores next summer (and not just in the US)! It's for teens and adults, so I wouldn't recommend it for those of you who are under 14 or so. (Yes, I know. It's totally unfair. Sorry about that.) It's a dark romance/thriller about a girl whose visions of another life lead her on a quest to find her one eternal love. Along the way she encounters shadowy figures, secret societies, and a private security force known only as the gray men. (And yes, the figure shown above plays a key role in the book.)

I'll be posting more about the new book in the new year! Until then, I hope I've answered your most pressing questions!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Service Outage Alert!

(Above: Subway art. I took the picture on the way home from my computer's funeral. It almost made me feel better. Almost.)

So my computer just died. Tragic, I know. I've been having some terrrrrible luck lately. Unfortunately, that means the posts might be a little slow for the next few days. (What's new, right?) But I'll make it up to you. How? Tomorrow I'll post all the news you've been begging to hear.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

School Controversy!

(I've come across the picture above a million times, but it still makes me laugh. The person responsible may not be very good at math, but s/he's a genius in my opinion.)

Okay, let's get a few things out of the way. I wasn't kidnapped. I was in the mountains of NC and my blackberry died. (Sorry, I should probably come up with a more entertaining excuse, but the truth will have to do for now.) As for the Shadow City Store, I closed it because I ran out of shirts just when my printer's machine decided to break! I'll try to have some cool new ones available before the next book is out!

Now. Time for a little controversy. A cash-strapped middle school in NC was recently in the news for all the wrong reasons. Seems the school's principal decided the best way to raise a little money was to sell grades. That's right. For a 20$ "donation," a student would be given 20 points which he could apply to his test scores. Wow. That's wrong for so many reasons that I couldn't even begin to count them. Though I do feel sorry for the school. Read more here.

Here's a story that's a little more complex. A teacher in Minnesota apparently broke the law by posting the names and grades of students who scored the highest on a recent test. He only wanted to reward those who did well and motivate those who didn't. But a parent complained that it was a violation of her son's privacy. Was it? Should posting the highest test scores be against the law? (Keep in mind--he didn't post the names of those who hadn't aced the test.) Read more here and let me know what you think!

Bomb-Proof Wallpaper

Hi everyone! Another post will follow shortly after this, but I couldn't wait to put this up. They call it "bomb-proof" wallpaper, but it seems to me that it might have plenty of other uses. (The most obvious? Wallpaper for buildings in earthquake-prone areas.) Awesome.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Window Farms

(Above: A Window farm and some cool street art. Photo by Britta & Rebecca)

One of the only things I've always hated about living in asphalt-covered New York City is that I haven't been able to grow my own special garden. Now, thanks to the geniuses behind, I can! So everyone better be PRETTY DARN NICE to me from now on. (JK. Or am I?)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Animals in the Afterlife

(Above and below: Mummified baboons. Photos by Richard Barnes.)

In 1888 an Egyptian farmer digging in the sand near the village of Istabl Antar uncovered a mass grave. The bodies weren't human. They were feline—ancient cats that had been mummified and buried in pits in staggering numbers. "Not one or two here and there," reported the English Illustrated Magazine, "but dozens, hundreds, hundreds of thousands, a layer of them, a stratum thicker than most coal seams, ten to twenty cats deep."

That's a quote from the fascinating National Geographic article found here. All I can say is, "wow." Imagine finding hundreds of thousands of mummified cats in your garden. You'd never need to buy fertilizer again. (JK)

I knew the ancient Egyptians mummified their rulers and their cats, but until now I had no idea just how many animals they tried to take with them to the afterlife. They mummified crocodiles, rams, shrews, "even tiny scarab beetles and the dung balls they ate." Some of the animals were thought to be living gods. Others were just pets. And many were just food for the other side.

Check out the animal mummy photo gallery on the National Geographic site.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

And What Did They Do With the Bus Driver?

(Photo by Plomomedia)

I lived in the mountains of North Carolina for seventeen years, but the first time I ever saw a raccoon, I was waiting for a bus in San Francisco. The odiferous beast (which was at least as big as a pit bull) appeared on the city sidewalk and cut in front of me in line.

Now I've discovered photographic evidence that the raccoons of San Francisco like to ride the bus. But these seem to have more than a pleasant commute in mind. Once they seized control of the vehicle, where do you suppose they took it?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

(Art by Richard Hinchcliffe.)

Anyone have any good Halloween stories to share?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Big Enough to Bite a Small Car in Half and Eat a T-Rex for Breakfast

This morning, my brilliant niece (an amateur paleontologist) directed my attention to a remarkable story on the BBC website. Seems a British fossil hunter made quite a discovery a while back--the skull of a sea monster so large that it would have considered the Loch Ness Monster a rather insignificant snack. (See above.) Read more--and see a video--here.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Cute and Strange

In parts of the world (like Northern Russia) where the sun disappears in the winter, kids are given UV baths. The ultraviolet light from the lamps helps the children's bodies get vitamin D--a nutrient that would ordinarily be provided by the sun.

And it makes for a super-cool photo.

(Photo from the National Geographic Archive.)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Sneaky Cards

An Australian kid named Harry Lee (clever alias?) recently developed a brilliant game designed to "spread the seeds of sneakiness and espionage." I love it already.

Harry took ordinary index cards and turned them into "Sneaky Cards," which he tucked into his classmates' pockets, binders, and books. The cards came in a range of colors, and each one challenged the recipient with a dare of sorts. According to Harry's explanation (which you can find here) . . .

BLUE cards test your audacity and chutzpah.
YELLOW cards require sneakiness and espionage skills.
RED cards involve finding things - and not just objects.
GREEN cards are about goodwill and giving to others.
PURPLE cards will plague your brain with puzzles.
ORANGE cards challenge you to create art with purpose.
SILVER cards are information cards.

Even more awesome? When Harry hunted down the cards he'd distributed, he found they had all been passed along multiple times. Even the school's teachers got involved!

Harry Lee, you are now an honorary member of the Irregulars!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Which Cake is More Terrifying?

While I appreciate the skill it took to produce cake #1, I gotta go with cake #2 for sheer creepiness.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Is This Painting Cursed?

I've posted about other "cursed" paintings, but I think this beauty may be the most disturbing to behold. According to an article in the Telegraph last month . . .

The Hands Resist Him was painted by California artist Bill Stoneham in 1972... The painting entered the realm of urban legend in 2000 when it went on sale on eBay with a description that implied that it was cursed. The seller claimed that the two characters moved at night and that they would sometimes leave the painting altogether - tying up neatly with Stoneham's description of the doorway as representing the dividing line between the world and the world of dreams. The doll, according to Stoneham, was a guide. The eBay legend may be preposterous but Stoneham later recalled that both the owner of the painting's first gallery and the art critic who first reviewed it died within a year of seeing it. Either way, there is no denying the disturbing quality of the image.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Attack of the Sea Snot

Okay, folks. Time to do something about the environment. Thanks to warming sea temperatures, the Mediterranean is now being invaded by giant blobs of sea snot. Called "marine mucilage," the nasty slime balls (which can reach 125 miles long) are teeming with harmful viruses and bacteria. They've also been known to engulf and smother innocent marine life.

So if you've been waiting for a sign that you need to take action, consider this it!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Something's Not Quite Right

I don't usually post this sort of thing. It will probably be all over the Internet in a day or so. But this picture of an "ordinary family" is so unbelievably creepy that I couldn't pass up a chance to post it. (Though I should have waited for Halloween.)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Lena Blackburne's Secret, Magical Mud

I don't know if any of you are baseball fans. It's been years since I've gone to a game. (I was once a Mets fan. No nasty notes from Yankee lovers, please.) But I still found this story pretty darn interesting. I mean, what could possibly be better than SECRET MUD? (Okay, a lot of things. But just go with me this one.)

A brand-new baseball is slippery and difficult to throw with any accuracy. So pitchers like to dirty a ball up a bit before they hurl it. But finding the right "dirt" is more difficult than one might think. In the past, pitchers tried just about everything from tobacco juice to shoe polish. Nothing worked very well--until the 1930s, when a man named Lena Blackburn discovered the secret near his home in New Jersey.

There was something magical about the dirt Blackburn dug up. It reduced wild pitches and even made umpires happy. (And they're notoriously difficult to please.) So for the last 70 years, every single major league baseball team has rubbed its baseballs with Lena Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud.

And for the last seventy years, the location of the magical mud has remained a well-guarded secret. Only two people on earth know where to find it. Those two people must be pretty rich, right? Well there's another twist to this story. A little of Lena Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud goes an awfully long way. Each season, all the major league baseball teams put together only use about 32 ounces.

And how much does 32 ounces of magical mud cost? A whopping $58.

Listen to the whole story here!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Invisible Dogs Appear in Brooklyn!

(Photos by Katie Sokoler, who seems to lead a very interesting life.)

Yesterday, 2000 invisible dogs invaded the streets of Brooklyn. Whether they were real or not is anyone's guess, but their owners had gathered in the Cobble Hill neighborhood at the request of the fine folks at Improv Everywhere. (The same people behind everyone's favorite stunt, Frozen Grand Central.)

If you would like to own an invisible dog of your own, they can be purchased on Amazon! For under $5! (No, I don't work for the company that makes them.)

Question: Do invisible dogs leave invisible poo? Something to ponder, my friends. Don't let your heads explode.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

What IS It?

One guess per person. No cheating!

It's a SHOE. I'm impressed that so many of you knew what it was!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Lamp That Runs on Human Blood

Mike Thompson has designed a single-use lamp (shown above) that runs on human blood. The project was designed to help people realize just how precious energy is. More here.

Also precious and icky? Spider silk. Click here to see the largest piece of cloth ever woven out of the excretions of arachnids.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Don't Step on the Art!

I need to travel to London as soon as possible to visit my daredevil, girl-genius niece, Francesca. When I get there, I plan to keep an eye out for the street art of Slinkachu. He's responsible for the "Inner City Snail" project I wrote about a while back. But he's probably best known for his Little People art. (Shown above.) The idea is that tiny people have been brought to London and left to fend for themselves. They go about their daily lives without attracting much notice from the rest of us.

Slinkachu creates the tiny artworks, photographs them, and leaves them behind for the residents of London to find! (The pictures at the bottom were were taken during a recent trip to Italy.) Imagine peering into the gap left by a missing brick and finding THIS . . .

As you all know, I'm a big fan of leaving artworks and secret messages behind for others to discover. And while most of us probably can't replicate Slinkachu's fabulous tiny sculptures, it seems like this idea might easily be "borrowed" and brought to your own hometown.