Thursday, April 24, 2014


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10 Fascinating Tales of Ancient Mayan Civilization
By Chris Flynn,
Toptenz, 24 April 2014.

Even the most preliminary studies of the Mayans will tell you they were a very remarkable people. Their building block-styled pyramids date back at least as late as those of ancient Egypt, they were advanced in mathematics, had a more sophisticated handle on astronomy than nineteenth-century European scientists, and were the first indigenous tribe on the American Continent to have a written language.

Outside of that, many people don’t know a whole lot about the Mayan civilization. After this article, that all should change.

10. They Considered Human Sacrifice a Huge Honour and Relief

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When early Spanish explorers met with their first Mayans, they met an extremely peaceful group of people. Since the Spaniards were fond of embellishing paintings of the local colour with graphic details of a disembowelled victim plunging to his death from the top of a pyramid, the Mayans could always point an accusing finger at the Aztecs and say, “it was them, not us.”

Archaeological digs in recent years tell a somewhat different story. The early Ma civilization did in fact practice human sacrifice, but it was considered a favour. The Mayans believed that paradise was achieved by passing first through a terrible underworld, then navigating thirteen more levels before arriving at eternal bliss. The journey was so difficult that not all souls could make it to the final goal. The only ones who could bypass this epic quest were sacrificial victims, women who died in childbirth, victims of war, suicides, and those who died while playing ball.

To be chosen as a sacrifice was an honour, as you would then be a messenger to the gods. Astronomers and mathematicians used the calendars to figure out when sacrifices should be made and who was the best messenger. For this reason, sacrificing outside the tribe would have been rare.

9. They Preferred to Invent Their Own Technology

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Scientists and historians have been debating for a long time as to just how technically advanced the Mayans really were. They lacked two things that typically marked the development of a civilization: wheels and metal tools.

Their architecture included archways and hydraulic irrigation systems, concepts that involve the measurement of curves and their leverage. They also knew how to mix hydraulic cement. As they had no hauling animals, inventing a cart may not have seemed important. Or they may have made some rubber buggies we don’t know about, but even without wheels, their technology was amazing. Instead of metal tools, they used stone. Jade and jadeite, a family member of jade, have a hardness that surpasses a steel knife. These carefully honed tools were used for carving sculptures, stone cutting, wood cutting, chiselling, gouging, chopping and hoeing.

Not to be left out, the medical profession also boasted exemplary tools. Shaped from volcanic glass, the scalpers and cutting tools made for surgeons performing delicate surgeries continue to be some of the sharpest in the world. The stone tools of the Mayans were, in many ways, superior to the metal tools more commonly associated with advanced technology. “Keep your fancy wheel, we’ve got better toys,” is essentially how they felt.

8. They Were Probably a Seafaring People

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Trying to unravel all the mysteries concerning the Mayans is frustrating. Although the larger body of science favours the settlement of indigenous tribes into America to a land bridge crossing between Russia and Alaska during the last ice age, there are those who stubbornly insist the Mayans crossed the waters from Asia and Africa. Using the Codex documents as partial support, they point to the underwater cities as evidence that the Mayans were once seafaring people.

Another, somewhat baffling occurrence was the co-existence of the Olmec culture during a time period when the Mayans began emerging as a civilization. Dual civilizations are not abnormal, and it’s possible the Mayans incorporated much from the Olmec, including chocolate beverages, ball playing, sculpturing and reverence for animal gods. What is striking is there is no indication of where the Olmec came from or how they disappeared. What they left behind were the first Mesoamerican pyramids, and some colossal stone heads. While the sheer magnitude of size led some to believe the Olmec must have been giants, it’s the realistic features that have started the overseas argument.

The Olmec are depicted with heavy-lidded eyes, short, broad noses, and full lips. Advocates of Biblical-era migration claim this is clearly an indication that the Olmec arrived from Africa. The Olmec seemed suddenly to spring up around BCE 1,500 and busied themselves for thirteen hundred years before taking the curtain bow. Some of the earliest Mayan remains date back over seven thousand years. If they indeed migrated from Asia, they were doing it long before Moses parted the Red Sea. But you know how it goes - you talk to one burning bush, and suddenly everyone only cares about you.

7. They Had No Space Ports, But They Did Have an Observatory

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So far, no significant scientific evidence has sprung up to confirm the Mayans owned flying machines, handled space traffic, or even drove automobiles, although they did have a sophisticated system of paved roads and advanced astronomical knowledge of the movement involved with celestial bodies. Perhaps the most astounding proof of their connection with the heavens lays in the Yucatan Peninsula in the dome-topped building called “El Caracol.”

El Caracol is best known as “the observatory.” The 48-foot tower was built with numerous windows, allowing for observation of the equinoxes and summer solstice. Its alignment appears to favour the orbit of Venus. The glowing planet was of great significance to the Mayans, and it is believed the Tzolkin calendar, which has a rotational sequence of days and months parallel to Venus’ orbit, depended on it for determining events, celebrations, planting crops and war preparations.

El Corocol is out of line with the other buildings constructed within the ancient city, but in direct alignment with Venus’ most northern position in the sky. So yes, it’s likely they thought about the stars, gods, and the future as much as we all do. Probably even moreso, since they didn’t have Facebook and PlayStation to distract them.

6. An Explanation for the Mayan-Alien Connection

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A favourite conspiracy theory among alien discovery groups is that aliens have visited us before and left advanced knowledge with its ancient people. Leading the charge in the late 1960′s was Erich von Daniken, a high-school drop-out from Switzerland, who made millions of dollars writing books about spacemen who manipulated humanity in one way or other, in order to elevate it from its animal base instincts to the loftier realm of consciousness.

It’s a curious fact that the fondness for pyramids became an architectural fashion statement at the same time the Egyptians decided to upgrade their living standards, and scientists are a little lost for an explanation. They are also a little lost to explain why some landscape designs, such as the Nazca markings in Peru, are so large that they can only be appreciated from an aerial view. Daniken explained that this was because the ancient Mayans had flying machines and not only were they buzzing all over earth, those busy aliens had even given them the technology for space flight. His supporting evidence are drawings on the pyramids, which do look suspiciously like men in bubble helmets floating around, their feet kicking off the ground and an oxygen tube dangling above them.

Of course, Daniken didn’t ask the Mayans what the different symbols meant. Their elaborate art uses earthly objects to represent such abstracts as “sky,” “descent,” and “appetite”, among other intangible things.

5. Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto Screwed Up Almost Everything

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When Mel Gibson produced the movie, Apocalypto, he presented audiences with a titillating glimpse of a savage people dressed in colourful feathers, hunting ferocious wild game and clubbing each other to death. He assured us that these were the Mayans the Spaniards first encountered. Gibson may have had an artistic eye for producing exciting scenes and glossy scenery, such as the steamy rainforest background, awesome pyramids, and genuine wild pigs running through the brush, but he sadly neglected to take any history lessons.

Gibson’s barbaric Mayans sold women into slavery and used captive males as human sacrifices. There is no proof that the actual Mayans practiced slavery or even took captives, except in time of war. Gibson’s poor, innocent villagers from the hinterlands had never heard of the great city they were sent to for Mayan decadent civil service. During the period of Mayan civilization, all villagers were connected closely to one of the pyramids. They practiced a governance of city states, with each state retaining its anonymity.

Gibson did get one fact right though: there were Mayans in Mexico when the Spanish conquistadors arrived. However, by then, the Mayans had no interest in building cities or making war. The first major contact was with the Aztecs, a rapidly rising civilization. Other than that though, Gibson’s historical accuracy here is about as good as when he made Braveheart, which is to say, not at all.

4. They Might Have Originated in Atlantis

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Because of the grandeur of their past, Mayans are shrouded with the same sense of mystery and romanticism as the ancient Egyptians. Consequently, it can be difficult to sort out Mayan history accurately. It doesn’t help that most of the Mayan written history was destroyed by superstitious Spanish conquistadors who related the strange symbols to witchcraft.

Only three documents survive the purge of Mayan literacy: the Madrid, Dresden and Paris Codices, named for the cities in which they had been relocated. In the laborious process of translating one of the codex scripts, historians fell upon a description of ancient cities that had fallen by earthquake, flood, and fire. These cities were not located on the mainland of North America, but vaguely described in areas of the ocean. One interpretation of the passages was that the Mayans originated in a region now covered with water, making them the heirs of Atlantis.

While this story seems like folklore to modern minds, scientists have recently discovered what they believe to be the underwater remains of ancient Mayan cities. What is left to be determined is their age and the cause of whatever cataclysm placed them under the ocean. Hey, maybe Kevin Costner’s Waterworld, while terribly acted, wasn’t far from the truth after all.

3. They Knew Time Had no Beginning or End Long Before Anyone Else

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Our society tends to mark a progression of years, using a significant event as the measuring point. For Christians, the markers are BC and AD, while much of the world uses the term “Common Era” to measure time by the same event. This creates a handy reference for pinpointing historical dates and recording births and deaths, but it also gives us a sense of lineal time, of beginnings and endings.

The Mayans used three calendars, all of which worked extensively in groups of twenty. The civil calendar, or the Haab, had eighteen months of twenty days each, for a total of 360 days for each cycle. The Tzolkin was used primarily for ceremonial purposes. This calendar contained 20 months of 13 days each for 260 days in each finished cycle. Combined, they helped make up the complicated long calendar that tracks both planetary movement and the movement of the constellations.

There was no beginning or end in the entirely circular structure of Mayan thought, and there was no year-end date, only the rhythm of the planetary cycles. Although Einstein was applauded for proving that time is relative, the Mayans knew it all along.

2. They Invented Sports

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One thing does remain undisputed; like all sports-minded Americans, the Mayans liked to play ball. Long before it occurred to our European ancestors to wrap some leather into a tight wad and chase it around, the Mayans had established a ball court, and their very own rugged game. Their ball game appears to have been a brutal combination of football, basketball, and soccer.

Their sporting gear consisted of helmets, kneepads and arm braces. The object was to use shoulders, legs, hips, or feet to drop a rubber ball into a hoop, which was sometimes fastened higher than twenty feet off the ground. The penalty for losing? You were sacrificed to the Heavens. Though as we mentioned earlier, sacrifice was an easy route to eternal salvation, so maybe the losers were actually the winners.

1. They Still Exist

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When you begin boning up on your Mayan history, one of the first things you’ll read is how the Mayan people “disappeared.” The feeling you get is that what had once consisted of millions of people, by same strange quirk of history, suddenly died off. Actually, modern-day Mayans number about six million people in total, making them the largest indigenous tribe in North America.

It wasn’t so much that they had perished as that for some reason, they felt compelled to abandon their great cities. Because so much of early Mayan history has been lost, it’s not really known why they abruptly ceased to build massive architectural works, hold ceremonies and conventions within their city centres, and develop institutes of higher education. Environmental factors, such as crash-and-burn strip farming and extensive drought have taken the blame, as well as speculations of over-population, warfare and famine.

All that is truly known is that by CE 1524, the Mayans had become Back to Earth people who preferred small farming communities, and who abandoned their cities to the next great empires, like the Toltecs and the Aztecs. So why not go chat with a Mayan, buy them lunch, and ask some questions, rather than assuming the aliens took them all away centuries ago?

Top image via The ROTS.

[Source: Toptenz. Edited. Top image added.]


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10 Tragic And Terrifying Child Abductions
By K. Fane,
Listverse, 24 April 2014.

There are few things as haunting as child abductions. Whether they end in awful circumstances or remain unsolved, their lingering effects blight families and communities alike. Here are 10 such tragic cases plucked from the annals of crime.

10. Pauline Picard

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Little Pauline Picard, aged two, disappeared from her family’s farm in Brittany, France in April 1922. An exhaustive search failed to find her, but several days later, police received news that a little girl who matched Pauline’s description was found wandering in the town of Cherbourg, about 320 kilometres (200 mi) away from the Picard farm. Pauline’s parents arrived to examine the girl and announced that she was indeed their missing Pauline.

A few unusual facts stood out about the otherwise happy reunion. First, the girl did not seem to recognize her parents. Second, she did not respond to them when they spoke to her in their native Breton. Dismissing these peculiarities, Pauline’s parents took her back to the farm, where the neighbours quickly affirmed that she was Pauline, and the whole ordeal seemed to end on a happy note.

About a month later, a neighbouring farmer walking near the Picard farm stumbled upon something horrifying: the mutilated and decomposing body of a young girl next to her neatly folded clothes. He alerted the authorities, who arrived at the gruesome scene along with the town’s inhabitants, among them Pauline’s parents. Although the young girl’s face could not be identified, the Picards made an unsettling realization: the folded clothes were exactly what Pauline had been wearing on the day she disappeared.

The area where the remains were found had been searched thoroughly when Pauline first disappeared, which suggested to detectives that someone had placed the body there fairly recently. The case became even more perplexing when the skull of an adult male was discovered next to Pauline’s body, adding a second potential victim to the case.

Early reports from the investigation indicated that there was one possible suspect. A few days prior to the discovery of the body, a middle-aged farmer visited the Picard farm and asked them whether they were sure that the girl from Cherbourg was really Pauline. He then stated “God forgive me, I am guilty,” erupted into hysterical laughter, and was hauled off to an insane asylum.

Even so, a myriad of questions still baffled officials and Pauline’s parents. If the body in the woods was Pauline, as the evidence suggested, then what had happened to her? Was the laughing man the killer? How was the unidentified skull related to Pauline’s murder? And who was the little girl from Cherbourg who had been living with the Picards for a month? It remains unclear whether these questions were ever answered: No definitive records exist of a resolution to this story.

9. Elsie Paroubek

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In August 1911, five-year-old Elsie Paroubek left her home in Chicago to walk to her aunt’s house a block away. Hours later, her alarmed parents realized that she had never reached her destination, and police launched a massive state-wide investigation to find the missing girl. The prevailing theory was that Elsie had been snatched by a caravan of gypsies, and every gypsy encampment within a 160-kilometre (100 mi) radius was scoured, but there was no sign of the girl.

Two days later, workers in the town of Joliet made a grim discovery: the body of a young girl floating in a drainage canal. It was Elsie. The medical examiner found that she had not drowned in the canal but had likely been suffocated. There were cuts on the left side of her face and indications that she had been “attacked” before her death.

Despite the Chicago PD’s resolve to find the killer, the investigation was hindered by conflicting eyewitness reports and a number of dead ends. In the end, Elsie’s homicide was never solved. Her father passed away two years later on the anniversary of his daughter’s funeral, never knowing what really happened to her.

There’s an interesting addendum to this case: Elsie’s photograph from The Chicago Daily News was the main inspiration for Henry Darger’s The Story of the Vivian Girls, which is considered one of the most bizarre books ever written.

8. Michael Dunahee

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Four-year-old Michael Dunahee disappeared from a playground in Victoria, British Columbia in March 1991. At the time, he was playing just feet away from his parents. Michael’s father momentarily turned his attention away from the playground, and when he looked back, Michael was gone. Police presumed that Michael had been abducted, but no one witnessed him being taken from the area.

Canadian police launched a massive search for Michael and amassed a number of tips from the public, none of which panned out. Twenty years after his disappearance, the Victoria police department continues to investigate. Most recently, there was widespread speculation in a small British Columbia town that a young man who bore a striking resemblance to Michael may have been the missing child, but DNA tests determined that he was not.

The last unconfirmed sighting of Michael was in June 1991, when a man attempted to abduct a seven-year-old girl in New Jersey. The girl and a friend claimed to have seen a little boy matching Michael’s description in the backseat of the man’s car. However, this sighting has not brought police any closer to discovering Michael’s fate, nor have any of the hundreds of other tips from the public throughout the years.

7. Marjorie West

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Marjorie West was a four-year-old Pennsylvania girl who was last seen on May 8, 1938. On that day, Marjorie attended a Mother’s Day picnic with her parents and older sister. At some point, Marjorie and her older sister, Dorothea, wandered off to a nearby trail to pick flowers, and Marjorie was left alone briefly when her sister walked back to the picnic. When she returned, little Marjorie was gone.

On the night of her disappearance, a cab driver in West Virginia witnessed a distraught girl matching Marjorie’s description riding with an unidentified man in a green car. The man asked for directions to the nearest motel but left when he was told there were no vacancies. The same man was also seen at a nearby gas station earlier in the evening with a child bundled up in his backseat. Neither the child nor the man were ever identified. Speculation was rife that Marjorie may have been kidnapped and sold to a childless couple by a corrupt adoption agency, but no evidence has ever backed up this claim.

6. Alessia And Livia Schepp

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Alessia and Livia Schepp are six-year-old twin sisters from Switzerland who were last seen on January 30, 2011. Their father, who was separated from their mother, picked up the girls from their home for a scheduled weekend visit. When he failed to return with the girls at the end of the weekend, a manhunt was launched that spanned three countries.

The investigation found that the twins’ father, Matthias Schepp, drove to France with the girls and withdrew cash from several places before taking a ferry to Italy. A few days later, his body was found on a set of train tracks in Italy, where he had committed suicide. However, there was no trace of the girls. Before killing himself, he sent a postcard to his estranged wife stating that the girls were “resting in peace,” but there was no definitive proof that they were murdered, and their bodies have never been found.

5. Fernando Marti

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On the morning of June 4, 2008, 14-year-old Fernando Marti, the son of one of Mexico’s wealthiest businessmen, went to school as usual in an armoured sedan. The car was stopped at a police checkpoint, where men dressed as federal police officers ambushed the vehicle and took everyone inside. They tortured and killed the chauffeur, strangled the bodyguard, and kidnapped Fernando, allowing him to place one last harrowing phone call to his father.

Fernando’s father was prepared to pay a hefty sum to save his son. According to reports, a ransom of over $2 million was paid, with no response from the kidnappers. After weeks of waiting, Fernando’s decomposing body was found in the trunk of a car. He had been dead for a month. The investigation revealed that a number of corrupt police officers were complicit in planning the abduction and that gang members had executed Fernando shortly after the kidnapping.

4. Morgan Nick

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The abduction of Morgan Nick is one of the most haunting cold cases in Arkansas history. On the evening of June 9, 1995, six-year-old Morgan went to a Little League game with her mother. She played with a group of children only 45 meters (148 ft) away from the baseball field where her mother was sitting. When the other children returned to the field, Morgan was not among them.

Witnesses reported seeing a strange man watch the children play, and some of the children in the group stated that a man had spoken to Morgan directly. A red pickup truck with an attached camper was also seen leaving the parking lot around the time Morgan disappeared.

Police have a composite sketch of the unidentified man who was seen talking to Morgan that evening but little else to go on. Almost 20 years after her disappearance, they are still actively searching for Morgan. Her bereaved mother founded the Morgan Nick Foundation to aid families of missing children.

3. Masego Kgomo

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Masego Kgomo was a South African schoolgirl who was abducted near her home on New Year’s Eve 2009. Her almost unidentifiable body was discovered nine days later, hidden in a dense stretch of foliage in the township where she originally disappeared.

Police quickly cornered five suspects but only had enough evidence to officially try one of them. Meanwhile, an angry mob burned down two of the suspects’ homes and protested outside the courthouse in waves, demanding swift, vigilante-style justice.

The protestors were outraged by the particularly brutal nature of Masego’s murder. The trial featured grisly testimony about how she was abducted and mutilated alive by a sangoma (a traditional health practitioner) so her organs could be used to make medicinal remedies. The accused, who showed little remorse during the shocking testimony, was sentenced to life in prison for Masego’s murder, but due to scant evidence against them, the other conspirators ultimately walked.

2. Marion Parker

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Marion Parker lived a privileged life as the 12-year-old daughter of a wealthy Los Angeles banker in 1927. In December of that year, a man arrived at Marion’s school claiming that he needed to speak to her immediately because her father had been in an accident. There was no accident, but by the time school officials discovered the ruse, Marion was gone. For the next few days, the man sent a series of threatening notes to her family demanding large sums of money for Marion’s return. He signed these notes “The Fox.”

After several terrifying exchanges, Marion’s father agreed to meet the kidnapper in downtown Los Angeles at night, where he would hand over US$1,500 for his daughter. At the meeting, Mr. Parker could faintly see his daughter sitting in the passenger seat of the kidnapper’s darkened car, appearing to be alive and well, and quickly handed over the cash. Marion was dumped on the sidewalk, and the car sped away. When Mr. Parker approached his daughter, however, he was horrified by what he saw. It was Marion’s lifeless torso. Her legs and arms had been severed, her eyes had been sewn open to give the appearance that she was alive, and various organs had been removed from her body and dumped all over Los Angeles.

The extensive manhunt for “The Fox” quickly narrowed in on its main suspect, a disgruntled former employee of Marion’s father named William Hickman. He was apprehended a week later, brought back to Los Angeles, convicted of Marion’s murder, and executed a year later at San Quentin.

1. The Frog Boys

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The “Frog Boys” were five South Korean boys aged 9–13. On March 26, 1991, the boys decided to walk to Mount Waryong together to catch frogs. When they failed to return at day’s end, the boys’ alarmed parents reported them missing, and an exhaustive search mission began in which more than 300,000 police and troops were called to scour the area. Meanwhile, the boys’ pictures were plastered on milk cartons, South Korean companies offered millions of dollars as rewards for their safe return, and schoolchildren across the nation sang odes to the lost children.

These efforts proved fruitless, and 10 years passed with no sign of them. Then, in 2002, two men picking acorns on Mount Waryong discovered the remains of the five boys not far from where they had originally disappeared. The bodies appeared to be huddled together, so police initially believed the boys had died from exposure. However, a number of disturbing clues arose during the forensic investigation.

The boys had sustained severe damage to their skulls, and forensic specialists soon concluded that they had been murdered. The cause of death was attributed to cranial injuries from various objects, including a screwdriver. Police pledged to find the person or people responsible for the depraved crime, but no suspects have ever been arrested. In 2006, the statute of limitations for their murder passed. The case was officially closed, the mystery of what happened to the Frog Boys no closer to being solved than when they had first disappeared.

[Source: Listverse. Edited.]


7 Robots So Creative, They Almost Seem Human
7 Robots So Creative, They Almost Seem Human
By Jordan Kushins,
Gizmodo, 22 April 2014.

Can robots be artistic? You're darn right they can! With a (significant) nudge from their flesh-and-blood creative counterparts, these machines produce work that's technically precise with room for personality. Plus, they're totally mesmerizing to watch.

None of these really have any anthropomorphic, animatronic appeal - at first glance, they don't look like they've got much soul - but a funny thing happens once they start expressing themselves: Indifference turns into affection. It's tough not to feel something for this motley crew.

We've rounded up seven of our favourites, but let us know who - or what - we missed.

1. Barista Bot

For all you frothy coffee drinkers out there: Does it make a difference in your enjoyment if there's something special depicted in the foam? I rarely order speciality drinks but when I do, I always get a kick out of something with a heart or a swirl, so…yeah, I would probably be delighted if this thing handed me a cappuccino with a (somewhat poor) portrait of me on top. Sue me.

Viktor, Rita, and Hektor

Swiss designer Jürg Lehni is like the bot whisperer when it comes to coaxing ingenious results out of his wonderful inanimate contraptions.

2. Viktor

Wielding a piece of chalk like a freaking pro, Viktor leaves ephemeral lines, dots, pictures, and words along the vertical expanse of a wall in measured strokes; seriously, this little guy may only be made up of four motors and belts but he can draw pretty much anything. I actually got to see Viktor do his thing a few months ago at All Possible Futures, a (fantastic) graphic design exhibition in San Francisco.

3. Rita

This gal never stops - she draws, and erases, and draws, and erases, swapping out between four sizes of whiteboard marker and two sponges. Her productivity is through the roof, but at the end of the day her output is wiped away, making the act of composition more important than the finished product.

4. Hektor

Hektor is controlled by a software written by Lehni called Scriptographer; algorithms calculate the path he'll take and coordinate the movement of the two motors and spray-can nozzle. He was "conceived as a post-industrial tool that is allowed to be imprecise and and convey these abstract mathematical geometries in a different, sometimes almost human way - a tool with an inherently particular and distinctive aesthetic."

5. Robo Faber

I feel like Hektor and Robo Faber could be friends. We met this lil' love-struck dude last year, and his adorable illustrations of machine-y naughty bits are the cutest things. Like, I would actually hang one on my wall. Yes, he looks like a Roomba and sure, it's funny he's got nothing to express but suggestive attempts at peens and poons and bits of hair, but media artist Matthias Dörfelt knows how to expertly instil mechanical parts with genuine heart, and goddamnit Robo Faber is the best.

6. Google Chrome Web Lab SketchBot

This prototype was created for London's Science Museum a few years back, and it's pretty wild. Using Chrome's getUserMedia API, anyone in the world could allow Sketchbot to access their webcam and take a snap of their face, which was converted into a simple sketch, which was then drawn into a patch of sand on-site. Lots of steps on there. Maybe this is what the FBI's been doing with all those surreptitiously activated computer cameras.

7. Skryf

Dutch designer Gijs van Bon hacked a CNC milling machine to create Skryf, a literary apparatus that spells out words in fine grains on the ground. Part of the appeal is that letters, or an entire line, may blow away or be trampled on before the next begins, making interpretation a kind of intriguing, interactive performance art piece that involves passer-by - and whoever bothers to pay attention to where they're stepping.

[Source: Gizmodo. Edited.]


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How Technology Affects Sleep
Big Brand Beds, 24th March 2014.

This great infographic which explores the relationship between modern technology and sleep disturbances. So if you’re addicted to watching television before bed, or frequently get rudely awoken by your mobile in the middle of the night, read on to discover how these factors can influence your sleep, and what you can do to achieve a better night’s sleep.

An infographic look at how technology affects sleep
Infographic by Big Brand Beds

Top image via Psychology Consultants.

[Source: Big Brand Beds. Top image added.]


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No Lot Too Challenging: 13 Ingenious Odd-Shaped Houses
By Steph,
Web Urbanist, 21 April 2014.

The lot purchased by a homeowner might be seemingly impossible - clinging to a sheer cliff, squeezing into tight spaces, or consisting of an odd geometric shape - but by god, architects will find a solution. Whether by building up from a postage-stamp-sized property, zig-zagging a house between its neighbours or designing a home in the shape of a giant X, architecture firms have found ways to use seemingly undesirable spaces, leading to some very unusual and imaginative residences.

1. Twisting Zig-Zag House

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To most people, it wouldn’t seem like there was actually room for a new house in this extremely narrow, oddly-shaped space between several other residences. But in Japan, every square inch counts.

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Alphaville architects came up with a novel approach: a zig-zagging house that might skim its neighbours by mere inches in some spots, but still manages to feel private inside thanks to very careful placement of windows and courtyards.

2. X-Shaped Cliffside House

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How do you build a house on a sheer cliff that has views on every side, but still feels private, and is virtually invisible from the street? Cadaval & Solá-Morales architects created a two-story, X-shaped residence that clings to the cliff, with the roof functioning as a driveway and terrace.

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Each side of the home’s edge gets its own sweeping view of Barcelona without facing any of the neighbours. Incisions at the top and bottom of the ‘X’ let in light while maintaining that privacy.

3. Super-Skinny Cliff-Hugging House

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The slightest wedge of a lot on a rocky cliff gave way to this narrow, sloping house by Shuhei Endo. The triangular lot was confined by a Y-shaped intersection and several other residences, and gets as narrow as 5 feet at some points.

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Tucking the home beside the retaining wall anchors it, and a narrow space between the wall and the home provides a light-filled, private outdoor space with architectural interest.

4. Oceanfront Cabin on Stilts

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The strip of land this oceanfront cabin is built upon is hardly larger than a parking spot. But owner of that land wanted Yasutaka Yoshimura Architects to create a relaxing weekend getaway overlooking Sagami Bay, with views of Mount Fuji in the distance.

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The result is ‘Window House,’ a slim residence built on steel poles to protect it from storm surges and enable those stunning views. The interior features staggered lofts accessible by stairs and ladders.

5. Spite House Built on Pie-Shaped Lot

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The Seattle Spite House was built on a pie-shaped piece of land adjacent to a larger home, and gets so narrow at one end that it’s hard to open the oven door all the way.

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The story goes that it was built in 1925 out of spite because the tiny, odd-shaped lot was all that was given to a wife in a contentious divorce, and she was determined to make the most of it. The home sold for nearly US$400K in 2013.

6. House Shaped by Setbacks & Zoning

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A 66-percent grade, a tight budget and a mess of strict local ordinances made designing a home for this slope in Silverlake, California quite a challenge for Brooks + Scarpa architects.

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The solution was to use light-gauge, cold-rolled steel that can fold on demand to basically mould a series of concrete volumes and voids to the slope.

7. Narrow Hidden Courtyard Home

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The owners of an L-shaped lot wanted to take full advantage of the available space while enjoying a sense of privacy, despite the fact that the buildable borders of the property but right up against several neighbouring structures. The street-fronting portion is incredibly narrow, while a larger section is tucked away beyond the alley.

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Mount Fuji Architects responded with the Near House, which has two separate living volumes: a super-skinny one facing the street, and a larger one with the private family spaces in the back. A courtyard in between connects the two and creates a tranquil outdoor getaway.

8. Narrow OH House, Tokyo

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If you want to build a new house in Tokyo’s hottest neighbourhoods, you’ve got to get really creative, given the general lack of space. Atelier Tekuto Co. Ltd. built the ‘OH House’ with a narrow three-story plan, the first level tucked below grade for privacy.

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A parking pad leading to the street-level floor is made of mesh to allow sunlight to penetrate to the lower level.

9. Promenade House

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A lot just 13 feet wide and 115 feet deep serves as the basis for the Promenade House by FORM/Koulchi Kimura Architects, which itself measures just nine feet across.

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An open-plan layout and high ceilings inside help the galley-style layout feel less claustrophobic.

10. Ultra-Compact House on 313-Square-Foot Lot

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As narrow as a single-wide trailer, this house by Mizuishi Architect Atelier packs quite a bit of function into a two-story space that still manages to leave room for a parking spot and tiny garden on a 313-square-foot lot. The inside feels bright and airy thanks to high ceilings and large windows.

11. Triangular Slovakian Apartment Building

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Another wedge-shaped lot fronting a busy street became the unlikely site of a rather striking modern apartment building in Slovakia. Nice Architects filled out the entire lot with a triangle-shaped, four-story structure with balconies that jut out of the facade.

12. Long Lean Multi-Family House

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Set on a narrow hillside plot, this four-story house in the Swiss Alps by L3P Architects measures nine meters across and contains three individual apartments with unique layouts.

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The side of the building that faces other structures has relatively few, carefully placed windows, while the side overlooking the scenery features long stretches of glazed walls.

13. Fortress Wall House Squeezed Between Cliff & Street

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Reflecting the looks and history of a nearby fortress, the Wall House by AND’ROL architecture is built on a thin strip of land between a street and a sheer cliff in Brussels.

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A split-level layout maximizes space on the sloping site, and the facade facing traffic has minimal windows. Fibreboard siding installed at a 45-degree angle mimics the look of the fortress’ stone walls.

[Source: Web Urbanist. Edited. Some links added.]