Monday, 20 February 2017


10 Signs Of The Smartphone Zombie Plague
By Geordie McElroy,
Listverse, 20 February 2017.

Smartphones have transformed society. Paradoxically, this powerful social tool also isolates us. People report staggeringly high rates of device addiction. Phone distraction is leading to a spike in traffic fatalities and crimes committed against gamers.

Some urban areas are capitulating with infrastructure to coddle the phone obsessed. Meanwhile, mental health professionals lobby to include mobile phone and technology addiction in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders.

There is no doubt about it - we are in the midst of a smartphone zombie plague.

10. Smombie

Photo credit: The Guardian

In November 2015, “smombie” became Germany’s official Youth Word of the Year. This portmanteau of “smartphone” and “zombie” reflects a genuine threat to public safety. After multiple phone-related tram accidents, Augsburg installed traffic lights at ground level.

So far, two stations are equipped with the experimental illumination. Reaction is mixed to the spread of 16 red LED lights. A resident noted, “The lights are ideal for kids, who notice them immediately.”

Cologne also equipped three stations with these bompeln - a German language portmanteau meaning “ground traffic lights.” In Munich, the death of a 15-year-old girl who was distracted with headphones at a tram stop has elicited a different response. Dangerous crossings were equipped with beacons that communicate to smartphones via an app called “Watch Out!”

A recent study of European capitals discovered that one-quarter of people between 25 to 35 years old are glued to phone screens while walking.

9. Smartphone Addiction


New York psychotherapist Nancy Colier recently released The Power of Off, a work exploring the negative impact of smartphone overreliance. According to Colier, the average person checks their phone every six minutes - or 150 times a day. Young adults send over 100 texts per day, and 46 percent consider their phone something that they “couldn’t live without.”

Researchers at the University of Maryland recently discovered that the majority of students in 10 counties experienced distress when they tried to unplug for 24 hours. One in three revealed that they would rather give up sex than their smartphones.

The health risks are serious. “Without open spaces or downtime, the nervous system never shuts down - it is in constant fight-or-flight mode,” warned Colier. “We are wired and tired all the time. Even computers reboot, but we’re not doing it.” Colier points out that real-life connections provide us with nourishment. Digital ones leave us lacking.

8. The Perils Of Pokemon Go

Photo credit:

Pokemon Go was a smash success. However, within one week of the game’s launch in July 2016, reports of the peril facing players flooded the media. The scavenger hunt design led gamers into the real world in search of Pokemon characters.

Many found more than they bargained for. Shayla Wiggins of Wyoming stumbled across a festering corpse on a riverbank. In Missouri, thieves honed in on the app’s geolocation feature to ambush unsuspecting players.

In January 2017, a 60-year-old Virginia gamer was shot dead by a security guard. Jiansheng Chen played Pokemon Go from his minivan near Chesapeake’s River Walk clubhouse. A security guard approached, a confrontation ensued, and five bullets were fired through the van’s windshield.

Chen was unarmed and did not speak any English. Lawyer Greg Sandler does not believe that language caused the conflict. Hired through Citywide Protection Services, the guard was not supposed to carry a gun.

7. Chongqing’s Smartphone Lane

Photo credit: The Guardian

In September 2014, Chongqing, China, opened a separate sidewalk for smartphone users. For now, the lane is separated by white spray paint from the thoroughfare for “busy” people.

Some see the spray paint as a primitive iteration of a technology that will evolve into alerts that users have ventured beyond the “phone zone.” The 30-meter (100 ft) lane is accompanied by a sign reading: “First mobile phone sidewalk in China.”

The Chongqing smartphone lane is not the first of its kind. National Geographic TV channel painted a similar smartphone lane in Washington, DC, as part of a social experiment.

In 2012, Philadelphia announced that it was opening “e-lanes” for smartphone users. It turned out to be an April Fools’ Day joke to highlight a growing public safety issue. Injuries from distracted walking in the US jumped from 256 in 2005 to a staggering 1,506 emergency room visits in 2010.

6. Sweden’s Smartphone Problem

Photo credit:

Over the past decade, hundreds of Swedish pedestrians have been injured while glued to their smartphones. In May 2016, the Swedish Transport Agency announced that no less than 650 Swedes had been injured so seriously in smartphone-related accidents that they required emergency care.

“The most common and most serious is that they get hit by motor vehicles,” revealed agency spokesperson Tomas Fredlund. “Almost as common is that they walk into lampposts, but the injuries aren’t as serious then.”

A recent study of 14,000 smartphone users across six European capitals suggests that Stockholm residents are most prone to put themselves at risk in traffic. In response to this pervasive problem, artists Jacob Sempler and Emil Tiisman created fake signs warning pedestrians and motorists of smartphone zombies.

In November 2015, these signs popped up throughout the Swedish capital. They depict a male and female pedestrian with their eyes glued to phone screens.

5. Phantom Phone Alerts


Almost everyone has experienced it. You feel a buzz or hear a ding, but when you check your phone - it’s blank. These phantom phone alerts may be a sign of smartphone addiction - and neurosis.

University of Michigan’s Daniel Kruger revealed, “When people have addictions, they are hypersensitive to a rewarding stimulus.” Kruger and his team recruited nearly 800 undergraduates. First, the participants filled out a Ten Item Personality Inventory test. Then they discussed experiences with phantom alerts before they were given a survey called the Mobile Phone Problem Use Scale.

Kruger discovered that those who tested higher for conscientiousness and emotional stability were less at risk for phone addiction. Women reported higher rates of dependency than men.

In 2013, researchers attempted to add mobile phone and technology addiction to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. They were unsuccessful. Kruger believes that his results support the existence of smartphone addiction.

4. Seoul Smartphone Obsession

Photo credit: Los Angeles Times

In 2016, Seoul officials announced that smartphone-related traffic accidents had tripled in the past five years. They did not have data on pedestrian incidents, but the number was high enough to raise the concern of city officials.

Seoul launched a six-month, US$33,000 experimental project placing signs in five of the city’s busiest pedestrian areas. The signs said: “Be Careful of Smartphones While Walking.” Walker-texters revealed that the signs will not have an impact on people whose eyes are glued to their screens.

South Korea has the world’s highest rate of smartphone ownership - with 88 percent of adults possessing these devices. Chongshin University’s Hyun-Seob Cho reports, “Research shows 15 percent of smartphone users in South Korea are addicted.”

Cho warns that the key symptoms of the addiction are feeling like the phone is an extension of your body and feeling nervous without it. In extreme cases, people are hesitant to shower without their smartphones.

3. Dutch Pavement Lights

Photo credit:

In February 2016, a Dutch town announced the introduction of pavement lights at pedestrian crossings to guide “smartphone zombies” safely across. The lights have been installed on a trial basis in Bodegraven at a busy intersection near a school.

The light strips are designed to be seen by people who have their eyes glued to devices. The colors correspond to traffic signals - green for go, red for stop. Town council member Kees Oskam revealed that smartphone distraction has come “at the expense of attention to traffic.” Something needed to be done.

VVN, a Dutch traffic safety group, thinks that installing these lights “rewards bad behavior.” Spokesman Jose de Jong warned, “People must always look around them to check if cars are actually stopping at the red signals.”

The company that developed the “smartphone zombie” lights hopes that a successful trial run in Bodegraven will bring in new orders. With similar lights being introduced elsewhere, this is likely.

2. Hong Kong’s Head-Down Tribe

Photo credit:

According to Ipsos Group research, more than 80 percent of Hong Kong residents between the ages of 15 and 34 own a smartphone. Screen obsession has become so rampant that a Cantonese expression has developed to describe the phenomenon: dai tau juk (“head-down tribe”).

The head-down tribe is having massive ramifications in Hong Kong. In February 2015, neurosurgeon Harold Cheng Kin-ming warned that head tilting from smartphone usage caused increased hospitalizations from excessive pressure on cervical vertebrae.

“Distracted walking” is not just unhealthy; it is a public nuisance. According to the MTR Corporation, distracted smartphone users walk blindly off trains, halt abruptly in corridors, and linger at the bottom of escalators and stairs to answer messages.

One commuter describes the “annoying and selfish [behavior as] getting worse and worse.” Smartphone users crossing roads pose the greatest threat to both pedestrians and motorists. In 2001, Hong Kong banned handheld devices for drivers.

1. Child Road Death Spike

Photo credit:

In February 2017, the British Department for Transport reported that smartphone usage is leading to a spike in child road deaths. Child-pedestrian casualty data showed an increase of 6 percent in deaths and serious injuries between July and September 2016, compared to the same time period the previous year.

AA president Edmund King noted that older children in particular were susceptible to smartphone distraction. He insists that more needs to be done to educate this demographic.

In October 2016, a video hit the Internet showing a slow-moving SUV plowing into a two-year-old in Yueyang, China. The child’s mother lagged behind, completely absorbed in her smartphone. With her eyes glued to the screen, the mother failed to notice the vehicle moving.

By the time help arrived, the young girl was dead. Local government agencies have used the toddler’s passing to call for people to cut back on smartphone usage.

Top image: Smartphone addiction by kiaoraDaniel/DeviantArt.

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

Sunday, 19 February 2017


5 Dark Secrets About the Vatican
By Robert Grimminck,
Toptenz, 18 February 2017.

If you’ve been a fan of for awhile, you’re obviously familiar with our format. Heck, it’s right there in the name, after all. But we’ve heard some of your requests, particularly over on our YouTube channel, asking for a few shorter lists now and then. We listened, and today we’re introducing a new format called Fast Five (editor’s note: Vin Diesel not included).

These are Top 5 lists to go with your fast paced and incredibly busy lifestyles. We’ll be doing these occasionally, so let us know if you want more. Now, onto the list…

Walled off in the city of Rome, Vatican City is an independent city-state that is just one-eighth the size of Central Park in New York City, and is the home of the Pope. However, the Vatican can also refer to the Holy See, which is the governing body of the Catholic church. These are the five darkest facts about the Vatican.

5. Exorcisms


With advances in the fields of psychology, neuroscience, and biology, it’s hard to believe that exorcisms are still performed by the Catholic Church. However, according to former exorcist Gabriele Amorth, who apparently performed 70,000 exorcisms in his office in the Vatican, there are around 300 exorcists worldwide and four working in Rome.

Besides priests performing exorcisms, at least two modern-day Popes have performed exorcisms in the Vatican.

The first one was performed by Pope John Paul II in March 1982, on a young woman named Francesca Fabrizi from the Umbria region of Italy. During the exorcism, she writhed on the ground and cried out. The Pope said he would say mass for her the next day, which apparently cured her. She went on to live a normal life, getting married and having kids.

Pope John Paul’s second exorcism was in September 2000, when a woman with a history of possession was sitting in the front row of the Pope’s weekly audience. She flew into a rage and needed to be restrained, but was too strong and fought off the security. When she was finally restrained, Pope John Paul talked with her, hugged her, and then performed an exorcism. However, it didn’t work and Father Amorth had to do a follow up exorcism session that lasted two hours the next day.

Then in May 2009, Benedict XVI performed an exorcism on two men who were howling during the weekly audience. Apparently, when Pope Benedict blessed the men, they flew back nine feet and were cured.

4. Retiring Popes


For most Popes, it’s a job they have until they die. It’s part of Catholic Dogma; it would be like a parent giving up his or her kids. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t allowed to. It’s just very rare that they resign or retire. In fact, over the past 1,000 years there have been 123 Popes and out of all of them, only five have abdicated.

The first one to resign was Benedict IX, who was one of the youngest Popes, and was probably about 20 when he first sported that amazing hat. He was also the only person to have served multiple terms as Pope. He was forced out of the Papacy in 1036, but returned just months later and became Pope again. However, he had a problem - he wanted to get married. So he ended up selling the Papacy to the man who became his successor, Pope Gregory VI, in May 1045. However, Benedict soon regretted doing that because it turned out the woman he wanted to marry wasn’t interested in marrying him. Oops. He was able to reclaim the title of Pope in November 1047, but he only lasted a year before he was excommunicated.

The second Pope to resign was the man who bought the Papacy, Pope Gregory VI, who stepped down at the urging of the Bishops. He denied he did anything wrong, but resigned nevertheless in 1046.

The next Pope to resign was Pope Celestine V in 1294. He decreed that if the Pope wanted to resign, then he should be allowed to do so. He did that very thing a week later, after five months of being Pope. After retiring, he lived like a hermit for two years. Unfortunately, his predecessor was worried that Celestine might try to reclaim the Papacy or oppose him, so he had him imprisoned, and he died after 10 months.

The next one was Pope Gregory XII in 1415. At the time, due to a schism in the Catholic Church, which started in 1378, there were two Popes: one in Rome, and one in Avignon. Gregory chose to step down so that the Pope in Avignon could be excommunicated and the Catholic Church could get a fresh start.

The final Pope to resign was Pope Benedict XVI in 2013; he did it citing health reasons. However, there is a conspiracy theory that he was forced out, or undermined so much that he was forced to resign. Proponents of this theory point out that he retired after the “Vatileaks” scandal, which was the leaking of documents that showed Pope Benedict’s struggle to be more transparent with the public about things like priests and sexual abuse, but interior politics thwarted his plans. The Vatileaks scandal showed that Benedict was an ineffectual manager and he chose to retire.

3. The Banco Ambrosiano Scandal


The Vatican bank is officially known as the Institute for Religious Works, and from 1971 to 1989, the President of the bank was Archbishop Paul Marcinkus from Cicero, Illinois. Before that, the 6-foot-4 former rugby player worked as a bodyguard for Pope Paul VI. However, he’d be remembered for a scandal that broke in 1982.

The scandal started with the collapse of Banco Ambrosiano, which was one of the biggest private banks in Italy, with US$1.4 billion in debt. Shortly afterwards, Roberto Calvi (pictured above), who was the general manager of the bank and friend of Marcinkus, was found dead, hanging from a bridge in London, England. Originally it was considered a suicide, but it was later ruled a homicide. Five people were tried in connection to his murder, but they were all acquitted.

That brings us to Marcinkus and the Vatican bank. It turns out that the main shareholder in the bank was the Vatican, and they had funneled a billion dollars from the bank into 10 shell companies. Other rumors that surrounded the scandal was that other shareholders with the bank were involved in organized crime and some were even members of a secret Masonic lodge.

When Italian investigators tried to interview Marcinkus about the scandal, he was very uncooperative. He refused to leave the Vatican, and even refused to answer questions, citing diplomatic immunity. Marcinkus ended up being indicted, but he never went to trial because the charges against him were dismissed. He continued to head the Vatican bank for seven more years.

The scandal has even led to some conspiracy theories. The most famous one was used in the plot of Godfather Part III, and it’s that Pope John Paul I was assassinated by the Mafia in August 1978. John Paul I was pope for only 33 days in 1978 before he was found dead sitting up in bed. The official cause of death was a heart attack, but no autopsy was performed. According to the conspiracy theory, he was assassinated because he wanted to put end the relationship between the church and private bank.

2. The Apostolic Penitentiary


Catholic priests have some pretty awesome powers when it comes to granting absolution for committing crimes. This includes forgiving people for things like murder, or mass murders and even genocide. That’s right: if you’re Catholic and you chop up the family next door and eat them, you could go to a priest, and ask for forgiveness and he could forgive you. Not only that, but the priest could never tell the police.

Yet, there are five sins that are so grave that priests can’t absolve them. Instead, inside the Vatican, they have a secret tribunal called The Apostolic Penitentiary, which looks at cases involving these sins.

The tribunal was established by Pope Alexander III in 1179 and the type of cases that they examine has been a secret for much of its history. However, in 2009, the Catholic Church made a huge step towards transparency and revealed the nature of these sins.

Two of them can be committed by anyone. The first is desecrating the Eucharist, because Catholics believe that it is the actual body and blood of Christ. The second is attempting to kill the Pope.

The other three sins can only be committed by a priest, or men trying to become priests. One is if a priest reveals a sin (and the person who committed the sin) that they hear in confession. Second, they can’t have sex with someone and then offer confession to their sexual partner. Third, a man who wants to be a priest or a deacon can’t directly be involved with an abortion, such as paying for the procedure.

1. The Vatican Bank and Nazi Gold


According to a 1946 document from the Treasury Department, the Vatican may have both held and smuggled Nazi gold during World War II, despite being a neutral entity.

The document, which was brought to the attention of the public in 1997, said the Vatican bank held 200 million francs, which is about US$254 million in 2016, for the Nazis. According to a rumor cited in the document, that money was later funneled through something called the “Vatican pipeline” to Argentina and Spain, where it was given to Nazis who fled prosecution for war crimes.

The Vatican bank also apparently funneled money that was stolen from Serbs and Jews by the Utashe, who were a Nazi puppet regime in Croatia. At the end of the war, the Utashe started plundering from the victims of their ethnic cleansing campaigns and then smuggled 350 million Swiss francs, which is worth about US$440 million, out of Yugoslavia through the Vatican. The money was then used to support the murderous Ustashe organization while they were in exile.

In 2000, a lawsuit was brought against the Vatican over this issue, but the suit ultimately failed.

Top image: Inside the Vatican Bank. Credit: John Kelly/Flickr.

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

Saturday, 18 February 2017


10 Incredible Things Seen By Humankind Only Once
By Aaron C. Lura,
Listverse, 18 February 2017.

Humans have been around for a long time. We’ve seen and accomplished what might be thought of as miracles, but something in our nature doesn’t just let a miracle rest. When an amazing thing happens, we immediately set out to duplicate it. This is seen in how we judge scientific experiments (“Can the results be replicated?”) and is found on playgrounds everywhere. (“I bet you can’t do it again!”)

Some of our greatest, most difficult accomplishments have been repeated. When humans put a man on the Moon, we did it 11 times after that. Even some of the craziest oddities in nature have been witnessed more than once. Did you know the Mississippi River has flowed backward three times?

But occasionally, there are truly unique events - incredible things never seen again in recorded history. Here are ten.

10. Comet West


Visible in March 1976, Comet West, named after astronomer Richard West, who first observed it, was a remarkable sight that reached an apparent magnitude of –3. That’s brighter than Jupiter ever appears from Earth. While impressive, its place on this list is not because of its brightness but its orbital period.

Some comets are once-in-a-lifetime events, such as the famous Halley’s Comet, which orbits the Sun once every 76 years, but Comet West is estimated to orbit the Sun only once every 250,000 years. This figure is by no means certain; loss of mass or interactions with other solar bodies could change the comet’s orbit. Of course, 249,000 years is still a lot.

Regrettably, Comet West was not well-reported by the media. Prior to that, Comet Kohoutek had been hyped up but was a disappointing display, which led to Comet West’s lack of coverage. Some of us missed its visit in 1976, and we’re somewhat unlikely to see its next.

9. The Carrington Event


The Carrington Event was a geomagnetic storm caused by a massive solar flare at 11:23 PM on September 1, 1859. The flare was observed by Richard Carrington and hit the Earth’s magnetosphere the next morning, lighting the predawn sky with auroras seen as far south as Jamaica. Newspapers could be read in the light of these auroras.

More troubling was that telegraph wires the world over sparked and caught fire. Even when disconnected from their power sources, they were able to send messages because of the electrical currents caused by the event. Until that day, no one was aware that solar flares existed.

We routinely observe solar flares now, but the Carrington event was unique because of a combination of two things: It hit us, and it was massive, the largest solar flare to hit Earth in at least 500 years. If a similar event happened today, it would cause an estimated US$1–2 trillion in damage. Here’s hoping it maintains its place on our list.

8. The Eradication Of A Human Disease


When the goal was set to eradicate smallpox in 1967, there were still an estimated 10 to 15 million cases a year, resulting in two million deaths and millions of disfigurements as well as leaving hundreds of thousands blind. It took more than a decade, but the last case of smallpox occurred in 1978, and the disease was declared officially eradicated in 1979. It is the only human disease to be completely eradicated from our population.

Prior to this, it had been a danger for 3,000 years and was only eradicated by the coordinated efforts of countries from around the world. In all, the complete destruction of one of mankind’s oldest and cruelest enemies cost roughly US$100 million. It was a good deal.

Smallpox was the first disease fought on a global scale - but not the last. Other diseases are being combated in similar ways. Dracunculiasis, measles, and taeniasis, among many others, are being pushed toward total eradication. It’s safe to say that we’re all rooting for this list entry to be out-of-date as soon as possible.

7. Visiting The Solar System’s Two Ice Giants

Photo credit: NASA

The only man-made object ever to have gone to either Uranus or Neptune was the Voyager 2 spacecraft. During its flyby of Uranus, Voyager 2 came within 81,400 kilometers (50,600 mi). With just 5.5 hours to study the giant, it found that Uranus’s atmosphere was 85 percent hydrogen and 15 percent helium, that there was a boiling ocean 800 kilometers (500 mi) below the planet’s clouds, that its magnetic field was surprisingly aligned toward its equator, and that the planet had 10 more moons than previously known.

Its flyby of Neptune produced just as many surprises, such as the existence of the Great Dark Spot and active geysers on Neptune’s moon, Triton. These unique visits account for much of what we know of these planets.

It would be fair to mention that Voyager 2’s sibling is no slouch (and a bonus item for this list). Voyager 1 is the first and only man-made object to reach interstellar space, which is where the Sun’s magnetic field and constant flow of material stop affecting things. In other words, it’s in the space between stars.

6. A Capture Of Warships By Calvary

Photo credit: Leon Morel-Fatio

The winter of 1795 was so cold that a Dutch fleet anchored near the island of Texel was frozen in the water during the French Revolutionary War. This allowed the French, under the command of Louis Lahure, to assault the warships on horseback. The result was 14 ships captured.

There is some dispute over how much of a battle actually took place. The Dutch report states that it was less of a battle and more of a discussion to comply with French orders, not to set sail, and to maintain military discipline. One Dutch surgeon aboard a captured ship reported quite calmly, “On Saturday morning, my servant informed me that a French hussar stood near our ship. I looked out my porthole, and indeed, there stood an hussar.”

Lahure later reported on the attack:
When the ships saw us, they prepared their defenses. I sent some tirailleurs ahead, and followed with the rest of my forces. The fleet was taken. The sailors received us [willingly] on board... This is the true story of the capture of the Dutch fleet, devised and executed by a 23 year old Chef de Bataillion.
French naval painters have portrayed the incident as a glorious battle, and that is how it is often remembered. Battle or not, the fleet was taken by the French in the one and only recorded capture of warships by calvary.

5. The New Hebrides Trench

Photo credit: Oceanlab via BBC News

We may feel that there are few places left unexplored on Earth, but there are notable exceptions on the ocean floor. Our oceans are home to some 30 deep sea trenches, and as a species, we’re only just beginning to explore their mysteries. One example is the New Hebrides Trench, a 7,200-meter (23,600 ft) underwater gash that sits about 1,600 kilometers (1,000 mi) north of New Zealand, which has been visited only once by an unmanned lander.

The expedition in late 2013 found that not all deep sea trenches are alike. Creatures such as grenadiers, which are readily found in other trenches, were completely absent in New Hebrides. On the other hand, the usually rare cusk eel teemed in this particular trench. On our own planet, there still are places we’ve only seen once, let alone ever visited in person.

4. A Human Completely Cured Of HIV


Around 35 million people have died due to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and 1.1 million died in 2015 alone. With an estimated 36.7 million people living with the disease, it may seem surprising that only one human has ever been completely cured of it: Timothy Brown. This was accomplished by a bone marrow transplant from a donor with a genetic mutation that makes immune cells resistant to HIV infection.

Mr. Brown has remained cured of HIV since his treatments in 2007 and 2008. Because of the nature of his cure, it is very difficult to replicate Mr. Brown’s success, but doctors and scientists are still hunting for a way to remove this accomplishment from our list with gene therapy and other similar methods.

3. A Dry Niagara Falls


Though usually flowing at a rate of roughly 567,800 liters (150,000 gal) a second, the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls ran dry for several months in 1969. These are two of the three waterfalls that make up Niagara Falls, the third being the Horseshoe Falls. Their drying was to accommodate repair and preservation of the famous landmark.

Unsurprisingly, this lead to an increase in tourism. 89,790 people were recorded visiting in just one weekend. Some of those were even able to walk the dry riverbed, despite police warnings that doing so was dangerous.

The work was eventually complete, and the waters were released. Many hoped for an enormous wave of rushing water, but instead, the waters were released gradually until the flow returned to normal. It has stayed so ever since, but there has been some recent talk of drying the falls again for bridge repair and removing it from our list.

2. A Hurricane In The South Atlantic

Photo credit: NASA

Large storms are a common enough occurrence in the North Atlantic, with an average of 12 tropical storms and six hurricanes per season, but since 1974, only nine tropical storms have been observed in the South Atlantic. The reasons for this are a lack of preexisting disturbances and a commonly high vertical wind sheer, which disrupts the formation of these powerful storms.

Still, one of those rare South Atlantic tropical storms eventually developed into a hurricane: Cyclone Catarina. It made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane in March 2004, the only hurricane ever recorded in the South Atlantic. Named unofficially by Brazilian meteorologists, this hurricane reached wind speeds of 127 kilometers per hour (85 mph), damaged 36,000 homes, and killed at least three people.

1. A Flood Of Beer

Photo via Historic UK

The Horse Shoe Brewery, at the corner of Great Russell Street and Tottenham Court Road in St Giles, London, owned an incredible, 6.7-meter-high (22 ft) fermentation tank. This tank was in the process of brewing a brown porter ale on October 17, 1814, when one of the iron rings holding the structure together snapped. An hour later, the entire fermentation tank burst, releasing more than 1.2 million liters (320,000 gal) of fermenting beer.

In all, eight people died in the event itself, with another nine opportunists perishing some days afterward from alcohol poisoning. The brewery was taken to court on account of the unique flood, but the entire incident was ruled an act of God, and no one was held responsible. We may never see another flood like it, but you can commemorate the event every year at The Holborn Whippet, a local pub that brews a special anniversary ale to remember the one and only London Beer Flood.

Top image: Comet West, March 1976. Credit: P. Stättmayer/ESO.

[Source: Listverse.]

Friday, 17 February 2017


8 great modern-day pyramids
By Matt Hickman,
Mother Nature Network, 15 February 2017.

Filled with mystery and intrigue, the ancient pyramids of Egypt have inspired modern day knock-offs erected from glass and steal in lieu of the traditional quarried stone.

Geometric similarities aside, you'll be hard-pressed nowadays to find a pyramid that's primary use is as a very large tomb. (The term is used here to refer to monumental, pyramid-shaped structures influenced by the Great Pyramids of Egypt. However, modest, Egyptian Revival-style mausoleums can be found in numerous older cemeteries.)

These modern-day behemoths are employed as architectural statement pieces when a maximum amount of open floor space - and, in some cases, natural daylight - is needed. Shopping malls, casinos and sports arenas, like the Memphis Pyramid (pictured top), are also obvious shoo-ins for the pyramid treatment although some are used for more specialized needs.

While not as rich in history as their counterparts lining the Nile, the following modern-day pyramids are each fascinating in their own ways.

1. The Louvre Pyramid

Photo: Guy Lejeune/Flickr

More than a few critics screamed "Sacré bleu!" when Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei's pyramidal entrance pavilion at the Louvre Museum was completed in 1989. And many still do.

But much like the Eiffel Tower - a structure also detested by more than a few Parisians when it was erected as the temporary and dauntingly tall centerpiece for 1899's Exposition Universelle - the Louvre Pyramid has survived its early controversies and gone on to be regarded as one of Paris' most photogenic architectural landmarks.

Sure, it's not the Arc de Triumph, the Notre Dame Cathedral or the Eiffel Tower in terms of sheer historic prominence; these structures have been emblematic of Paris for centuries longer than Pei's modernist pyramid. However, as the main entrance to the world's largest and second most well-attended museum, no one visits Paris without passing through the aesthetically jarring 71-foot-tall glass pyramid topping the subterranean lobby in the center of the Louvre Palace's vast Napoleon Courtyard. Attendance to the museum skyrocketed after the opening of the pyramid and, today, Pei's polarizing masterpiece is just as big an attraction as the crowd-drawing works of art housed within the sprawling museum, the slightly smirking Da Vinci subject included.

2. Luxor Las Vegas

Photo: cisko66/Wikimedia Commons

Naturally, in a town populated by neon-festooned facsimiles of Venice, Manhattan and King Arthur’s castle, you can also sleep, dine and take in a show within a casino resort that directly references the ancient pyramids of Egypt.

Named after the bustling modern successor to the ancient city of Thebes, Luxor Las Vegas isn't quite as Egyptian-kitsch as it was when the US$375 million property - currently the ninth largest hotel in the world with over 4,400 rooms - was unveiled in 1993. When it opened, two of the pyramid-shaped hotel's top attractions were a narrated boat ride along an abbreviated Nile River that encircled the main casino floor and the King Tut Museum, which was more or less the wax museum version of an archaeological dig.

Nowadays, the Luxor Las Vegas is best known for its humdrum food options and ginormous nightclub. Despite shifting away from its beginnings as a family-friendly theme property on the then-lonely southern end of the Las Vegas Strip to a more sophisticated crash pad for budget hedonists, Luxor Las Vegas cannot - and never will - fully shake its postmodern-kitsch origins. After all, how can you when you’re housed in a 30-story glass and steel pyramidal skyscraper that emits the world’s strongest UFO beacon/beam of light from its apex and when there's oversized replica of the Great Sphinx of Giza parked out front?

3. The Memphis Pyramid

Photo: Exothermic/Flickr

A 350-foot-tall pyramid on the Las Vegas Strip is one thing - you'd pretty much expect it. But a slightly shorter modern pyramid perched on the muddy banks of the Mississippi River in southwest Tennessee? A bit random, no?

While certainly a novelty, the Memphis Pyramid - previously known by a couple other names but mostly just called "the Pyramid" - isn’t at all random. It's a not-so-subtle nod to Memphis' ancient Egyptian namesake city, a former capital located south of pyramid-heavy modern day Giza on the west bank of the Nile. Opened two years before its flashier and more literal Las Vegas cousin in 1991, the Memphis Pyramid initially functioned as 20,000-seat sports and entertainment arena until 2004, when the US$65 million structure was vacated by its main tenant, the Memphis Grizzlies, and subsequently shuttered.

In 2015, the Memphis Pyramid reopened as a Bass Pro Shop. To recap, yes, Memphis was home to an abandoned pyramid for over a decade and, yes, it is now home to a taxidermy-adorned sporting and hunting goods retailer. In addition to Bass Pro Shops' largest store, the Memphis Pyramid also boasts a 100-room "wilderness hotel," indoor alligator habitat, bowling alley and nautical-themed eatery named Uncle Buck's FishBowl & Grill. Only in America.

4. Muttart Conservatory

Photo: Colin Keigher/Flickr

One of North America's most architecturally striking modern botanical conservatory complexes, the parkland-swathed Muttart Conservatory cuts a striking figure against the skyline of downtown Edmonton in Alberta, located just opposite the North Saskatchewan River in Canada.

Operated by the Albertan capital city's municipal parks department, Muttart Conservatory is comprised of four massive glass pyramids - two of them 7,100 square feet and two of them 4,000 square feet - connected by a central hub. Three of the pyramids function as biomes (temperate, tropical, arid) while the fourth is used as a greenhouse for themed feature displays that rotate seasonally. "Putrella," a gag-inducing corpse flower, is also a popular draw for folks with robust olfactory systems.

Designed by British-born architect Peter Hemingway and completed in 1977, Edmonton's dramatic pyramid compound is hands down one of the best - if the not the best - places to spend a full yet rewarding day trapped indoors on a brutal winter's day in western Canada. That's quite the feat considering that Edmonton is also home to North America's largest shopping mall and the world's second largest indoor water park. Also worth noting: Edmonton's City Hall is housed within two Rocky Mountain-invoking glass pyramids.

5. Palace of Peace and Reconciliation

Photo: Ken and Nyetta/Flickr

Ahhh, Astana…the only place on the planet where you erect an apartment complex topped with an artificial ski run and no one will bat an eyelash.

Perched on the Central Steppe, Kazakhstan's oil-rich capital city is famous for two things: frightfully frigid weather and a love of aggressively outré architecture. Just one look at the planned city's shiny, neo-futuristic skyline and it becomes rather obvious that Astana, dubbed by CNN as the "world's weirdest capital city," is where famous architects go to get wild. (And get paid loads of money for doing so.) One such architect is Sir Norman Foster, whose pyramidal Palace of Peace and Reconciliation is only outdone by a lollipop-esque observation tower and a shopping mall housed within a colossal circus tent, also designed by Foster's firm.

Completed in just two years with a cost of roughly US$58 million, the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation was unveiled in 2006 as a custom-built venue for the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions. Inside this flashy palace-pyramid billed by the Kazakh government as "a symbol of friendship, unity and peace," you'll find an opera house, national history museum, library and research center and various conference facilities and accommodations. As Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev notes of the 203-foot-tall edifice dedicated to global religious bonhomie: "The four sides of the Palace are oriented with the four sides of the world."

6. Slovak Radio Building

Photo: Frettie/Wikimedia Commons

Because it just wouldn't be a compendium of 20th and 21st century pyramids without at least one inverted example…

A Brutalist oddity par excellence located in a Central European capital city that's already home to an assortment of hulking, communist-era edifices and approximately one cable-stayed bridge topped with a flying saucer-shaped restaurant, Bratislava's iconic upside-down pyramid - an uncompromising masterpiece to some, a hideous eyesore to others - doesn't look that way just for pure attention-grabbing purposes. As Lonely Planet points out, the bizarre structure, completed in 1983 following a 16-year construction process, was tailor-designed with disruption-free state radio broadcasts in mind as the structure's main recording studios are tucked away within the structure's heavily insulated plinth.

In addition to entombed recording studios and administrative spaces ringing the periphery, the 262-foot-tall Slovak Radio Building, or Slovensky Rozhlas, is also home to a sizable concert hall with reportedly excellent acoustics.

7. Sunway Pyramid Shopping Mall

Photo: Cmglee/Wikimedia Commons

Like the Luxor Las Vegas, Malaysia's Sunway Pyramid Shopping Mall doesn't just stop at pyramids when paying homage to ancient Egypt. The theme carries throughout the "architecturally spellbinding" retail bonanza - one of Malaysia's largest malls at 4 million square feet - where shoppers will find an array of large pharaoh statues, pseudo-hieroglyphs and an imposing, XL-sized sphinx standing guard out front.

While the pyramids on this list serve a wide variety of functions and play host to a wide variety of features, Sunway Pyramid Shopping Mall - "Your Unique Lifestyle Adventure" - is the only to boast an indoor ice rink, an Aldo and an outpost of the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. One might be inclined to think that all this (mostly harmless) consumerism-based appropriation of an ancient culture would prompt Cleopatra herself to turn in her sarcophagus. (Eh, probably not - she'd probably be thrilled to hit up Sephora for fresh eye makeup.)

Opened to the public in 1997, the award-winning Sunway Pyramid is conveniently located right next door to Sunway Lagoon, an 88-acre theme park with a wave pool, interactive zoo and bungee jumping.

8. Walter Pyramid

Photo: Al Pavangkanan/Flickr

Billing itself as one of four true pyramids in the United States (the others being the Luxor Las Vegas, the Memphis Pyramid and the lesser-known San Diego Innovation Center) as well as the largest space-frame structure in North America, the US$22 million Walter Pyramid at California State University, Long Beach is as sleek - and revered - as multi-function collegiate arenas get.

Rising dramatically 18 stories above the sprawling CSULB campus, this aluminum-clad cobalt structure with a seating capacity of over 4,000 opened in 1994 as, simply, the Pyramid. (The name change came in 2005 in honor of two major benefactors of the university, Mike and Arline Walter). Today, the Walter Pyramid, which boasts an innovative hydraulic floor system among other features that makes it a regionally popular event venue, continues to be best known as the permanent home of the Long Beach 49ers men's and women's basketball and volleyball teams.

Other notable - and non-pyramidal - campus landmarks at CSULB include a Japanese garden and a performing arts center named after famous alumni, the brother-sister pop duo Richard and Karen Carpenter.

Top image: The Memphis Pyramid. Credit: Sean Davis//Flickr.

[Source: Mother Nature Network. Edited. Some images and links added.]