The strangest town in Alaska: Whittier, the one-building city

There’s an unusual town in Alaska, along Prince William Sound, where everyone lives under a single, 14-story roof. Built in 1957 by the military, the building — now called Begich Towers — contains 150 studio, two-, and three-bedroom apartments, a hospital, a post office, a grocery store, and city government offices. It even connects, via underground tunnel, to a school. So residents never even have to leave the building, if they don’t want to — convenient given that they can expect an average of 22 feet of snow each year.

Check out CNN’s video-essay about Whittier, Alaska (and read the corresponding article here):

Only about 220 people live in Whittier year-round, working in commercial fishing, recreation and tourism or for the state ferry and railroad. Most of them have homes in the tower, as though they were occupying separate bedrooms in one huge house. About their isolation together, they say: “We’re all family here.”

You can also check out some photos of Whittier below:

View post on imgur.com

Fascinating!

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Minnesota dog drives truck, crashes it

Here’s an offbeat article that I’ll let speak for itself:

One dog apparently has learned a new trick: how to drive a semi-truck. Customers at a Minnesota gas station saw a golden Labrador retriever appear to drive the semi across a road Friday.dog driving semi truck

Mankato police say the idling truck apparently was put into gear, then went through a parking lot, across the street and over a curb. The Free Press of Mankato reports a passer-by discovered the dog sitting in the driver’s seat when he jumped into the truck to stop it. […]  The driver had left the unoccupied truck running in a nearby parking lot.

(From the Chicago Tribune!)

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The Seattle windshield pitting epidemic: a textbook case of mass hysteria

Mass hysteria, per Wikipedia’s definition, is “a phenomenon that transmits collective delusions of threats, whether real or imaginary, through a population in society as a result of rumors and fear.” You may be familiar with famous incidents of mass hysteria such as the Dancing Plague of 1518 or the Salem witch trials, but you likely haven’t heard of a much more mundane yet relatably close-to-home instance: the Seattle windshield pitting epidemic of 1954. Considered by experts to be a “textbook” case of collective delusion, residents of Bellingham, Seattle, and other communities of Washington reached a state of panic when they began noticing “holes, pits, and dings” in their windshields.

[O]riginally thought to be the work of vandals[,] the rate of pitting was so great that residents began to attribute it to everything from sand flea eggs to nuclear bomb testing.
Originating in Bellingham in March, police initially believed the work to be vandals using BB guns. However the pitting was soon observed in the nearby towns of Sedro Woolley and Mount Vernon and by mid-April, appeared to have spread to the town of Anacortes on Fidalgo Island.
Within a week, the news and the so-called “pitting epidemic” had reached metropolitan Seattle. As the newspapers began to feature the story, more and more reports of pitting were called in. Motorists began stopping police cars to report damage and car lots and parking garages reported particularly severe attacks. […] By April 15, close to 3,000 windshields had been reported as affected.
Finally, Sergeant Max Allison of the Seattle police crime laboratory stated that the pitting reports consisted of “5 per cent hoodlum-ism, and 95 per cent public hysteria.” By April 17, the pitting suddenly stopped.

While troubled motorists propounded a number of theories to explain the pitting, ranging from “cosmic rays” to a shift in the earth’s magnetic field, the likeliest explanation is that “natural windshield pitting had been going on for some time, but it was only when the media called public attention to it that people actually looked at their windshields and saw damage they had never noticed before.”

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The underground homes of Coober Pedy, Australia

It’s a strange enough name for a town, but what really sets the place apart is the fact that the majority of its dwelling and businesses are… underground.

Coober Pedy is fairly remote: it’s about 500 miles north of Adelaide, in south Australia, and has a population of just 1,695. And because daytime temperatures can reach 120 degrees during the summertime, its residents tend to seek shelter beneath the earth. Take a fascinating video tour below:

They’re really taking “down under” to a whole new (subterranean) level. (Via Great Big Story.)

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Frighteningly gigantic lizard makes surprise visit to Australian home

Here’s another story that fulfills every stereotype about life in Australia.

Eric Holland from Thurgoona in New South Wales was relaxing in his shed earlier this week, when he came across a 1.5 metre (5 foot) goanna lizard hanging on the side of his house.

giant-lizard-visits-australian-home“Well it was a bloody big shock mate,” Holland told radio station 2GB in an interview on Friday morning. “I nearly trod on the bloody thing.”

The goanna is actually a mature Lace Monitor, which can grow to 2 metres (6.5 feet) long and weigh 20 kilograms (44 lbs).

“A bloody big shock,” indeed. Story credit to Mashable.

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Austria reassures refugees that there’s no need to fear Krampus

Moving to a foreign land and experiencing a new culture can be trying under the best of circumstances, let alone following harried passage from war-torn regions. The new sights, sounds, and tastes can be overwhelming, the unfamiliar customs can be baffling, the different climate can be uncomfortable. I’m certain the Syrian refugees have confronted all of these things in Austria and elsewhere throughout Europe. But while each element of culture shock can (by definition) be cause for distress, one aspect of life in Austria that is likely to be particularly disturbing for uninitiated newcomers is… Krampus. For those unfamiliar, Krampus is “a horned, anthropomorphic figure who punishes children during the Christmas season who have misbehaved, in contrast with Saint Nicholas, who rewards well-behaved ones with gifts.” In Austria and other Alpine regions of Europe, early December often features “traditional parades in which young men dress as Krampus.”

Mindful of these festivities, “Officials in the village of Virgen worried about how new arrivals from the Middle East would react to the local tradition of meeting so-called ‘Christmas Devils’ who pretend to abduct kids.”

Fearing the spectacle would be misunderstood, community representatives last week visited the 22 migrants — including 12 children — who have been housed in the Alpine village since the end of October.

They were shown the frightening masks and given insight into the event’s history with the help of an Arabic translator. The verdict? The newcomers had “lots of fun,” according to social worker Nicole Kranebitter.

The migrants “will now know what to expect when St. Nicholas and the Krampus creatures knock on their door,” Kranebitter added.

She said the next event planned for the families who fled war-torn homelands will be traditional cookie baking.

What a great and thoughtful approach, and in such marked contrast to the xenophobia that has greeted migrants in so many other parts of the world.

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Why are there so many medieval paintings of people battling large snails?

I never knew that giant snails featured so prominently in medieval paintings, but now that I do, this is the first question on my mind. They do, it turns out.  According to Sarah J. Biggs of the British Library, “images of armed knights fighting snails are common” in 13th and 14th century illuminated manuscripts, “especially in marginalia.”  Check out a sampling below:

View post on imgur.com

One theory about the snails, Biggs goes on, is that they represent the Resurrection; others suggest they are a symbol of the Lombards, a group “vilified in the early middle ages for treasonous behaviour”;  still others have described the ‘knight v snail’ motif as “a representation of the struggles of the poor against an oppressive aristocracy, a straightforward statement of the snail’s troublesome reputation as a garden pest, a commentary on social climbers, or even as a saucy symbol of female sexuality.”

As /r/AskHistorians puts it, in other words, there are “as many explanations as there are scholars”; fundamentally, we just really don’t know. Redditor /u/TheAlaskan relates another plausible account:

“I’m partial to the explanation of Medievalist Lisa Spangenberg, who suggests that the snail is ‘a reminder of the inevitability of death.’
To understand that reference, you have to refer to Psalm 58 (Wycliffe translation) . We’re looking here at verses 7-8:
7 They shall come to nought, as water running away; he bent his bow, till they be made sick. (They shall come to nothing, like water running forth; and when they go to bend their bows, they shall be made feeble, or weak.)
8 As wax that floateth away, they shall be taken away; fire fell above, and they saw not the sun. (Like a snail that melteth away into slime, they shall be taken away; like a dead-born child, they shall not see the sun.)
Like the snail, even the best-armored knight will melt away.”

Fascinating and bizarre stuff.

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Look at this abandoned Indonesian church shaped like a giant chicken.

Our loyal reader Donna sends word of an impressive godly monument shaped like a familiar variety of domesticated fowl. Rising high above the tropical canopy in Magelang, Central Java, Gereja Ayam (which translates literally as “chicken church,” and is not to be confused with a similarly-named fast food chain) was “originally built as a prayer house by 67-year-old Daniel Alamsjah after he received a divine message from God.” While the building more closely resembles a chicken, it was actually intended to look like a dove. You can read and see more here — and in the meantime, check out the video below:

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Hitchhiking robot is trying to get to Millennium Park

DNAInfo|Chicago reports that HitchBOT, a hitchhiking robot, is en route to Chicago — if the kindness of strangers allows, of course. Yes, this is as fantastic as it sounds. The future has finally arrived, and it is one in which shiftless hobo-robots use their robo-thumbs to traverse our dusty highways.

From the article:

Chicagoans may soon have the chance to meet HitchBOT, a Canadian hitchhiking robot setting out on a journey across the U.S. with a stop in Chicago.

The robot, made out of a beer bucket and pool noodles, relies on the kindness of strangers to pick it up and has made several successful trips abroad. […] The robot has a GPS and a camera, microphone and speaker, and can access Wikipedia knowledge for its conversations. It posts to social media to track its progress and adventures, but won’t post a photo of a person without permission. HitchBOT also displays its “emotions” via an LED face. It charges by solar panel and car powerboutlet, and will let drivers know if it gets low on battery.

Check out this video explaining HitchBOT:

What’s the basic raison d’être behind HitchBOT? According to its creator, the project is an exploration of trust: between robots and humans. According to Dr. David Harris Smith, co-creator of HitchBOT (quoted in Boston Magazine), “trust is a very important part of this experiment […] There’s this issue of trust in popular media where we see a lot of dystopian visions of a future with robots that have gone rogue or out of control. In this case, we’ve designed something that actually needs human empathy to accomplish its goals.”

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British prime minister calls for “big conversation” about seagull attacks

Following an admittedly-Hitchcockian series of gull maulings, UK Prime Minister David Cameron offered a statement to his panicked nation. Okay, the headline exaggerates, but it’s largely unvarnished truth. From The Guardian:

David Cameron has flown into the debate about culling seagulls, calling for a “big conversation” about the issue. The prime minister’s call follows an attack on a pet tortoise in Cornwall this week. Liskeard resident Jan Byrne said that gulls swooped on tortoise Stig, who died two days later from his injuries.

“They turned him over and were pecking at him. We were devastated,” she told the BBC. There have been two reports of seagulls attacking and killing dogs in England in the past three months.

Cameron told BBC Radio Cornwall: “I think a big conversation needs to happen about this and frankly the people we need to listen to are people who really understand this issue in Cornwall, and the potential effects it is having.”

You can read the original article here.

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