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Friday, May 22, 2009

The Six Creepiest Abandoned Places

by Robert Brockway

There are many abandoned territories in the modern world. Places that, for one reason or another, were left entirely intact, yet completely vacant for sometimes decades on end. From entire townships fading into obscurity, to rotting amusement parks closed from lack of interest - they’re as varied as they are manifold. Any manmade place seems a little unsettling once emptied of its people, but some places aren’t happy to be merely "unsettling;" some places aim a little bit higher - shooting for the bullseye that is full blown terror. And here are some that hit it dead on:

Gunkanjima, Japan

This is Gunkanjima, Japan, also known as “Battleship Island.” It once had the densest population in the entire world: 1.4 people per square meter. Do you realize how insane that is? Let me put it this way: If you were a fat guy on Battleship Island, there would technically be another person partially inside of you, like the aftermath of some horrifying teleporter accident.

Battleship Island was built during World War II (thus all the concrete reinforcements,) and still stands largely intact to this day. It’s strictly off limits to the public, though sometimes adventurous photographers do sneak into it to take pictures like these, at which point they’re presumably murdered by the world’s densest population of angry spirits and fused into their spectral Hive Mind.

Essex Mountain Sanitorium, United States

Listen, because this is important advice: If you ever start a sanatorium, you need to tear that shit down once you’re done with it. Not repurpose it or leave it empty or something; that is just begging literally begging for a group of stupid teenagers to sneak inside of it to have illicit sex, where they will inevitably get murdered by the ghosts of madmen. It’s like a Roach Motel for horny morons. You may as well put an “Idiots Fuck Here” sign out front and start up a mortuary next door; you’d make a killing.

Hey, that could be your tag line!

Anyway, this is the Essex Mountain Sanitorium in Verona, New Jersey. I could tell you all about how terrifying this place is, but I’ll just show you this:

That’s just the kitchen. All they did was make fries there and I still want to cry just looking at it.

Centralia, United States

Centralia, Pennsylvania was a coal mining town that was been almost completely evacuated several decades ago. Forty years ago, to be precise. That's when somebody started a coalfire underground that's still burning to this very day. The entire town is burning just inches beneath the surface, and noxious smoke churns up from every opening, every sewer grate, and every crack in the highway. The asphalt of the street forms giant misshapen bubbles from the heat below, and sink holes randomly open up from time to time - the ground simply dropping away to the eternal fires raging just beneath. Forty years ago the fire started, and forty years ago everybody left because they didn’t want to live balanced precariously on the precipice of hell.

Well, almost everybody. Centralia still has a population of nine.


Which means that there are either at least nine people possessed by the devil right now, or else Clint Eastwood cloned himself nine times. Because he’s the only person I can possibly think of who’s got balls big enough to shrug off the potentiality of getting eaten by the fires of hell every time he mows his lawn.

Kaeson Youth Park, N. Korea

In Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, there are several abandoned amusement parks around, because hey - it’s hard to really relax and enjoy the simple pleasures of a merry-go-round when all of the other horses have cameras mounted in their eyes, and grabbing the gold ring is indicative of capitalist greed and therefore punishable by death.

This particular park, Kaeson Youth Park, is the largest of the lost parks, and is currently abandoned save for the Ghost of Blackbeard (who is clearly just Old Man Whithers trying to scare off tourists to keep his smuggling business a secret. Duh.)

San Zhi, Taiwan

This is the settlement of San Zhi, in Taiwan. It was originally supposed be a tourism-driven town, and the unique architecture of the place reflects that goal. A series of “mysterious accidents” plagued the settlement as soon as it was completed, so it was never actually used; just left abandoned to rot. Local religious beliefs held the complex to be the base of angry spirits, which is supposedly why it was never demolished.

By the looks of it, those “mysterious accidents” probably refer to the time George Jetson went crazy and murdered his entire family - his boy Elroy, daughter Judy, and Jane, his wife - with a Space Axe. They say that if you stand at the heart of the complex and say the words “Jane! Get me offa this crazy thing!” three times in a row, Astro will appear and tear out your throat.

Hellingly asylum, England

In the Sussex countryside stands possibly the most terrifying structure in existence: Hellingly Asylum. That’s its real name, by the way - not an ominous alias whispered in the darknened corners of the tavern by frightened locals.. They opened an asylum, and they named it Hellingly. Because fuck it, everybody knows that turn of the century asylums are pretty much guaranteed to be haunted by the ghosts of maniacs anyway, right? May as well be up front about it.

Look at that. Fuck you I’m going down that hallway. I would honestly be surprised if you weren’t grabbed by the multi-headed corpsebeast of the long-dead madmen whose identities (partially erased by electro-shock therapy) have merged over time into a writhing ball of madness and terror.

I mean, if you made it to end of that hall and a hydra of insanity didn’t split you apart? I would be like “well I’ll be damned” and give you twenty bucks.

The Terrifying Truths Behind 24 Classic Nursery Rhymes

Nursery rhymes have been so ingrained in us since childhood that we hardly notice that babies are falling from trees, women are held captive or live animals are being cooked.

read more | digg story

Russia's Dark Horse Plan to Get to Mars

The Fobos-Grunt mission might pave the way for humanity's first permanent space base—on Phobos, Mars' bizarre moon. by Jamie Oberg

Phobos, the larger of the two moons of Mars has many unknowns. For instance, what formed the grooves that run across its surface?

Image: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)

Mars has been nothing but bad luck for the Russians. They have launched 20 probes to the planet since 1960, and all either failed or suffered from severe technical problems. But soon—as early as this October—Russia will attempt to reverse its fortunes with one of the most ambitious unmanned space missions ever.

Instead of aiming straight for Mars, the Russians are going after Phobos, the larger of its two little satellites and one of the oddest objects around. Their probe, called Fobos-Grunt (“Phobos soil” in Russian), will not only land on Phobos but also scoop up some samples of the surface and send them to Earth. Understanding Phobos could tell us a lot about the early history of the solar system. “It may give us clues to the formation of Earth’s moon and the moons of the other planets, and the role played by asteroid impacts in shaping the terrestrial [rocky] planets,” says Alexander Zakharov of the Moscow-based Space Research Institute and chief scientist for Fobos-Grunt. Even more important, this mission could lay the groundwork for an innovative strategy for exploring—and even colonizing—Mars itself.

Phobos is very different from our moon. It is a potato-shaped rock measuring only 12 miles by 17 miles, nearly as dark as coal, and dominated by a six-mile-wide crater called Stickney, evidence of a collision that nearly shattered the puny satellite. Phobos circles just 3,721 miles above the Martian surface (Earth’s moon averages a distance of 239,000 miles) and completes an orbit in 7 hours and 39 minutes, making a Phobos “month” on Mars less than one-third of a Martian day. In fact, Phobos circles so close to Mars that tidal forces are slowly causing its orbit to decay. Within the next few tens of millions of years it will crash into the planet; we are catching it at the tail end of its 4.5-billion-year life.

The same proximity to Mars that will one day doom Phobos makes it an extremely attractive staging post for human explorers. One side of Phobos always faces Mars, and on that “hemisphere” the planet dominates the sky. This makes Phobos a good place for monitoring most of the Martian surface. Moreover, any manned outpost on Phobos would be well shielded from space radiation—protected on one side by Mars and on the other by the satellite’s own bulk. From Phobos humans could explore the planet’s surface remotely using robots, eliminating the agonizing 10- to 20-minute delay that the operators of NASA’s Mars rovers currently have to endure. Phobos would also be a natural staging area for manned excursions to Mars.

Hebes Chasma, a Martian valley where water once flowed, could
be studied in detail from Phobos. Phobos's soil may also contain debris
blasted off Mars by ancient impacts

Image: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)

Before we start drawing up plans for outposts on Phobos, though, we need a much better grasp of what kind of place it is. Right now scientists do not even know exactly what Phobos is made of. It appears similar to a group of asteroids known as carbonaceous chondrites. These primitive objects contain amino acids, the building blocks of life, and appear to be nearly unchanged fragments of the material from which the solar system formed. Scientists have speculated that a rain of carbonaceous chondrites may have seeded early Earth with the raw material for biology here. Phobos’s distinctive composition has led some scientists to suspect that it (along with Deimos, Mars’s other miniature satellite) might be a captured asteroid. But that is far from a foregone conclusion.


The surface of Phobos (left) is very different form that of the smaller Martian
moon Deimos. Scientists do not yet know why.

Image: NASA/JPL-Cal Tech/University of Arizona

“Phobos is a funny object,” says David Beatty, chief scientist of the NASA Mars Exploration Directorate. “It’s kind of a mystery why Phobos is there and where it came from.” RKA, the Russian space agency, hopes to get some answers by having Fobos-Grunt gather samples of Phobos’s battered surface. Back on Earth, detailed analysis will identify their precise composition and age. (A suite of onboard instruments will also do some analysis on Phobos.) From this we should get new insights into the history of Phobos and a broader snapshot of what our solar system was like in its formative days.

In this mission, Fobos-Grunt will get a huge assist from the laws of orbital mechanics. Owing to the counterintuitive rules of space navigation, it takes remarkably little energy to get to Phobos from Earth. In fact, the energy required to travel between two spots in the solar system has virtually nothing to do with the distance between them. What really matters is a quantity called delta-v, the amount that a spaceship’s velocity must change to shift from one trajectory to another. Delta-v depends on how strong the gravitational fields are at your departure and arrival points; how much energy you need to swing farther out from (or in toward) the sun; and how much assistance you can get from atmospheric braking—that is, skimming through a planet’s atmosphere to help slow down.

The total delta-v required for a mission to land on Phobos and come back is startlingly low—only about 80 percent that of a round trip to the surface of Earth’s moon. (That is in part because of Phobos’s feeble gravity; a well-aimed pitch could launch a softball off its surface.) It is actually easier to send a probe or cargo to Phobos than to the moon. The comparison for a manned flight is more complicated, since a crew would need much more food and air for the six-month journey to Phobos than for the three-day trip to our moon. But the huge additional delta-v needed to get down to the Mars surface and back up into orbit again means it would be vastly cheaper and easier to maintain an outpost on Phobos than on the Martian surface.

If the mission is successful, Fobos-Grunt will be the first probe to explore the Earth-Phobos-Earth space highway. The one-ton probe will enter orbit around Mars in August or September 2010 (assuming Russia’s schedule does not slip) and begin studying Phobos remotely. Once the mission scientists have selected a good landing spot, the spacecraft will touch down on the satellite’s surface sometime in March or April 2011. Then Fobos-Grunt will extend a robot arm and start collecting samples of regolith—surface soil and rocks—for return to Earth. The main body of the probe will serve as a launchpad for the small return module and remain permanently on Phobos. When the 233-pound return module reaches Earth in June or July 2012, it will drop off a soccer-ball-size capsule containing a thumb-size canister of precious Phobos soil; finally, the canister will make a hard landing in a remote region of Kazakhstan.

Planetary scientists hope that analysis of Phobos’s regolith will shed light on the nature of the satellite’s deep interior because of the turnover between the surface and the interior over the eons. Phobos’s density is very low, about two-thirds that of ordinary basalt. This could mean that it is similar to water-rich objects in the outer edge of the asteroid belt, or it could mean that Phobos is a rubble pile, with many empty cavities between rock fragments. “The single most important issue to address on Phobos regarding the future human exploration of Mars is the question of water,” says Pascal Lee, chairman of the Mars Institute, a research organization. “Does Phobos contain any water, and if so, in what amount, form, and location? Answers to these questions will help determine how we will travel to Mars.”

Owing to the rules of space navigation, it takes remarkably little energy to get from Phobos to Earth.

Phobos’s exterior poses some riddles of its own. Its most striking visual structures (aside from the giant Stickney crater) are sets of crater chains that line up across the surface. Deimos does not have anything like them, nor do any of the half-dozen regular asteroids imaged by space probes so far. One theory is that the craters are old steam vents, relics of an ancient catastrophe that cracked Phobos’s crust and heated its interior, sending steam blasting outward. This would be good news for future human visits to Mars, as vents would mark the location of water-bearing minerals, perhaps even buried deposits of water ice. Another, less enticing possibility is that the holes are crevices opened by tidal forces or by impacts that caused the entire moon to flex.

A third theory holds that the crater chains are tied to ancient impacts on Mars. Some meteor strikes in Mars’s past were powerful enough to propel pieces of the planet’s crust at speeds greater than escape velocity, some 3.1 miles per second. We know this because scientists have found meteorites on Earth that clearly originated on Mars; these pieces evidently drifted around the solar system before landing here. If some fragments of the Martian surface reached Earth, many more of them should have hit Phobos on the way out. The swarms of rocks sent flying by a major impact on Mars might have created the crater chains seen on Phobos. In fact, by some estimates, up to 10 percent of the satellite’s surface might consist of material that originated on Mars.

Seen in this light, Russia’s Fobos-Grunt strategy looks rather clever. Despite its low profile, Phobos may turn out to be one of the most intriguing places in the solar system. And, located in a sweet spot of accessibility, it is a natural outpost for future space exploration, whether with people or with probes. If there is a key stepping-stone from Earth to Mars, this odd, intriguing space rock could be it.

J.J. Abrams Responds To 'Star Trek' Fans' Theories

Director says Beastie Boys song isn't a jab at William Shatner.

Are you ready for a sneak peek at tomorrow's blockbusters today? Check out our new series "Behind the Screen" Sunday night at 11 p.m. on MTV for the broadcast premiere of the "Brüno" trailer, an exclusive clip of Brad Pitt in Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds," the very first visit to the set of Russell Brand's "Get Him to the Greek" and much more!

In the weeks since J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek" reboot opened to huge numbers, Trekkies all over the world have engaged in a time-honored tradition: Obsessing over minutiae that may or may not have a deeper, off-screen context. Some are brilliant, some are silly, but they're all fun to listen to, aren't they?

With this in mind, we brought four of the more fascinating theories straight to the "Trek" director himself, and he was eager to separate fact, fiction and fantasy:

The "Abrams Sabotaged Shatner" Theory: Some Trekkies have postulated that the new movie's inclusion of the Beastie Boys classic "Sabotage" is a subtle dig at the original Captain Kirk, who has been known to mispronounce the word as "sabotaage."

"Yes, I have heard that theory," laughed Abrams. "It was so funny when I heard it. I wish I could say it was done on purpose, but it was not. I just dig the song."

The "Throw the Old 'Trek' Off a Cliff" Theory: In the same scene as the "Sabotage" song, a young James T. Kirk drives a '60s-era Corvette over a cliff, leaping out at the last minute. Some fans believe that the car is from 1966 — the year "Trek" came on the air — and that it represents a statement about the new film throwing away the trappings of the classic show.

"I'm not sure if it was a '66," Abrams said of the Corvette. "But that was also the year that I was born, so I wouldn't want to do that to the year, for personal reasons. No, the idea was to show the renegade, young Kirk and have a wildly anachronistic scene where you had an earthbound, almost back-looking scene combined with a forward-looking futuristic scene technologically. It had nothing to do with that kind of metaphor."

The "Kelvin Crew Knows Who Romulans Are" Theory: In the classic "Trek" series, humans didn't know what Romulans looked like prior to Captain Kirk's time; in the new film, a Romulan craft kills the humans aboard the U.S.S. Kelvin. According to one fan theory, the attack on the Kelvin leads to a slip-up by Abrams, because the human crew recognize their attackers as Romulans.

"It's not mentioned in the scene on the Kelvin, but they are aware of it," Abrams confirmed, agreeing with the sharp-sighted fans. "Because later in the movie, Kirk mentions that they were Romulan. And we very purposely begin the film with a moment that, for fans of 'Star Trek,' is a left turn from the timeline they are familiar with." For anyone who thinks they "caught" Abrams, however, the director is quick to point out the opposite. "For fans of 'Trek,' yes, the Romulans appearing breaks with what is known to be 'Trek' canon. But that is on purpose."

The "Sleeker, Faster Response" Theory: If the new "Trek" gives us the Enterprise equivalent of a Blu-Ray disk, then the ship on the original "Trek" looks like a Betamax tape. One fan theory is that the attack on the Kelvin forced the Federation to build sleeker, faster spacecraft in the movie's new reality.

"Right," agreed Abrams. "The idea of the story is that at the beginning of the film something happens that changes the course of history. They cross paths with this futuristic ship, and it changes everything that would've been the classic series 'Trek' fans are familiar with. ... One could argue that, based on the readings they got from the [Romulan] ship that showed up, it inspired ideas and technology that wouldn't have advanced otherwise." Hence, the huge difference between the old Enterprise and his version. "On the one hand, you could answer the question by saying that history got a boost, an adjustment, from this moment at the beginning of the film," he grinned. "And if you don't want to answer the question, you could say it's just a movie."

Long Lost Brother Found! ...Living Across the Street

(CNN) -- For years, Candace Eloph searched for her half-brother, who was given up for adoption in 1977. She found him -- living across the street.

"I never thought it would happen like this. Never. Ever," Eloph of Shreveport, Louisiana, told CNN television affiliate KTBS.

Three decades ago, Eloph's mother gave birth to a boy at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. She was 16 and gave him up for adoption.

"They took him from me," said Eloph's mother, Joellen Cottrell. "I only got to hold him for a split second."

Cottrell searched for her son over the years, without success.

She eventually left Louisiana and had other children. But she did not keep her son a secret.

"My girls always knew they had a brother," she told KTBS. "I always told them. They knew it from the very beginning. And I've always looked for him."

Fast forward three decades.

Eloph moved into a house in Shreveport. Across the street lived a 32-year-old man named Jamie Wheat.

"We were sitting one day, talking, and she said, 'You know what? I had a brother born January 27, 1977, that was adopted,'" Wheat said. "I was like, I'm adopted."

Surprised, Eloph mentioned that her mother was 16 at the time. His mother was 16, too, Wheat replied.

All the details fit, and Cottrell and Wheat decided to take a DNA test.

The results: There's a 99.995 percent probability that the two are related. Video Watch family open DNA results for first time »

Wheat's adoptive parents are excited about this new stage in their son's life.

"It just almost knocked me out for the joy," Wheat's adoptive mother, Ann, told KTBS.

Added his adoptive father, Ted Wheat: "It was just surprising that they lived across the street from us for two-and-a-half years. When they told us, we said, 'This is the greatest news it could be.'"

Reunited with his birth mother, Jamie Wheat plans to make up for lost time.

"I feel like a weight has been lifted off of me," he said. "I can move forward. Like a new beginning."

Late Night Hosts Love EVs, Part II: Jay Leno And The Aptera 2e

Jay Leno and the Aptera 2e

Jay Leno and the Aptera 2e

Enlarge Photo

Not to be outdone by David Letterman's EV love-fest, Jay Leno has posted his review of the Aptera 2e to Clearly, now is the time for all late night hosts to come to the aid of electric cars. Next up: Jon Stewart invites Sarah Vowell to help him take on the RORMaxx Formula AE. (We hope.)

In the clip, Leno and Aptera's low-key front man, Greg Wilbur, discuss the finer points of the 2e--notably, its look. Leno seems pretty well smitten on that front, saying that it's "an exciting looking automobile". Also exciting (at least for the folks at Aptera): someone with the star status and car cred of Jay Leno endorsing such an outside-the-box vehicle.

Of course, as funky looking as the 2e is, no review would be complete without putting it through its paces, and Leno does just that. Hurtling down the freeway, he praises its "George Jetson feel" and insists that it's fun to drive. The three-wheeled Aptera's only shortcoming? Dodging road hazards: "If you see a pothole in the road, you're gonna hit it with something."

There are two other great moments in the clip--the first being Leno's market analysis. He bemoans the high cost of EVs like the Tesla Roadster and says that "if they can bring [the Aptera 2e] in for under forty [thousand], I think it'll be, uh,...very, very exciting." It's the "uh" that kills us--as in, "it'll be, uh...very exciting...for the people who buy one, but I will not be in that number."

The second moment: when Leno half-jokingly encourages Aptera owners to save all the money they would've spent on gas and buy a private jet. Which would be possible, perhaps, but isn't part of the point of the 2e to cut down on air pollution--you know, like the air pollution caused by jet planes? Fifteen minutes in the air, and hell, you might as well buy a Hummer. (Assuming Hummer's still around, of course.)

[source: JayLenosGarage via Edmunds]

‘Fringe’ star fired!

By Greg David

Canned thespian reveals firing on Facebook

Fringe, Fox
Charlie has fallen off the 'Fringe'

People use social networking website Facebook for different reasons – to post pics of their kids, boast that they’re sunning during a day off, or lamenting that Kris Allen won American Idol.

Actor Kirk Acevedo utilized FB in a different way; he let the online community know that he was fired from Fox drama Fringe, reports Entertainment Weekly.

“Well boys and girls, they done did yer boy wrong! They fired me off of Fringe, and I’ve never been fired in my life!!!” his FB status read.

This is a bummer on a couple of levels, as Acevedo’s character, FBI agent Charlie Francis, was a nice addition to the cast, injecting just the right amount of skepticism in contrast to the rest of Fringe’s characters.

Plus, Charlie only recently survived being injected with monster saliva, which morphed into nasty worms that were going to devour him from the inside.

He made it through that, only to be let go by producers.

The Live Journal website adds that a casting call has gone out, looking for a female FBI agent who is “attractive, brash, outspoken, quick-witted and capable.”

Rest in peace, Charlie.

Hotels Beware: Rentals Are The New Key for Vacation Savings

By: Edgar Acero,

Even with a tough economy, is it possible to snag a deal in Palm Springs on Memorial Day weekend?

Kristen Bergevin, a 35-year old Los Angeles resident who works in a marketing communications agency, wasn't sure it would be possible to fulfill her vacation wishes, but with by taking some extra time to research possible vacation spots she found a great deal. The key: opting for a vacation rental with friends rather than staying in a hotel.

Lake Martin, Alabama
Photo by: Adam Chamness
For bigger savings, try destinations that are slightly off-the-beaten path such as Lake Martin, Ala.

"I would have to spend at least $300 a night in a hotel, and that’s just the room," she says. "By renting a house, it becomes $250 per person and we get our own rooms, a jacuzzi, and privacy."

With consumers uncertain about the economy, many are forgoing vacations, and leaving deals out there for those who are still traveling.

Renting a house or apartment can allow travelers to maximize their budget. Not only are some property owners cutting prices to attract guests, but more people who own second homes are renting them out in order to cope with the economic downturn. As a result, interest in rental properties is growing.

Online vacation rental sites such as and have seen a big increase in their traffic.

"Business is growing quite aggressively," says Brian Sharples, CEO of "People are still traveling and they are looking for more value."

"People are shopping around more," says Maya Offenbach, Manager of Villas of Distinction. "In the past, they weren't worrying about deals as much."

Sharples says that part of the reason for the increase is the fact that people are having a tough time selling their homes and they have started to see the value on vacation rentals.

"The supply for vacation rental homes has increased dramatically," says Stephen Ferrari, who has owned a five-bedroom vacation home in Duck, N.C., for the past 16 years. "You’ll find a place even if you wait until the last minute."

Still, Ferrari insists that even though there is more supply, the industry is not flourishing. "We have seen trouble," he says. "I used to rent my home 25 or 26 weeks in past years. Now I’ve renting only 15 or 16 weeks."

That may be good news for vactioners. As homeowners have started to be wary that the economic downturn might eventually hurt the business, real estate managers have started to act.

"Our rental manager dropped prices by 10 percent this year," says Shari Hindman, who rents a home in Lake Martin, Alabama. "The recession is on people’s minds."

"It’s a great time for the consumer," says Robert Haupt, a lawyer who represents vacation rental owners in the Midwest and in Florida. "Because of the recession we will start seeing prices drop this summer, and you’ll see lots of deals out there."

Duck, North Carolina
Photo by: Keith Bellvay
There are plenty of rental options available in North Carolina's Outer Banks.

For those who don't wish to gamble on snagging a deal at a popular resort area at the very last minute, try locations that are off the beaten path. Here are a few, lesser known destinations, where the deals are already available:

Duck, North Carolina

Located on North Carolina's Outer Banks, the "cottages"—as they are commonly known locally—can be as big as seven rooms. With balmy summer temperatures and the choice to enjoy the ocean or the bay, Duck is a popular destination.

The prices for a week’s stay range from $2000 to $9000 depending on the location and the size of the house.

Lake Martin, Alabama

This traditional Southern town in Alabama has been well regarded for fishing, swimming and boating.

"Anyone with wealth has come to build here," says local owner Aubrey Hornsvy. "But it’s still economically attractive to families."

Most homes in Lake Martin can be rented as low as $200 per night.

Mt. Hood, Oregon
Photo by: Tony
Mt. Hood provides an option for those who want to leave the beach behind.

Mt. Hood, Oregon

Forty minutes away from Portland, Mt. Hood offers an interesting option for groups looking to leave the beach behind this summer.

"The summer is actually busier than the ski season," says Frank Groff, who owns a cabin in the area. "The topography looks like you’re in a fairy tale. The trees are huge and the mountain is amazing."

The peak summer season extends from May 23 through September 11, and cabins at Mount Hood can cost $250 a night per person.

© 2009

Paddington Bear Waves to Google Street View Cameras

Reader Christopher Cooper spotted a suspicious furry, blue-trenchcoated, yet friendly fellow lurking around the British Museum in London, confirming my suspicion that "England" really is an imaginary place found only in children's books. [Thanks, Chris!]

google street view -

Lilypad — Intersting ecoprojects by Vincent Callebaut. It is anticipated that our children will live in such cities.


According to the less alarming forecasts of the GIEC (Intergovernmental group on the evolution of the climate), the ocean level should rise from 20 to 90 cm during the 21st Century with a status quo by 50 cm (versus 10 cm in the 20th Century). As a solution to this alarming problem architect Vincent Callebaut came up with this ecotectural marvel. He called this project “Lilypad“, but this ecotectural marvel is also called as “Floating Ecopolis for Climate Refugees”. The idea of Lilypad Project is to create a series of floating self-sufficient ocean-going eco-city islands. Each one would be able to house 50,000 residents and would support a great deal of biodiversity. Collecting pools located in their centers would gather and filter water for use on board. These would be places for adventurers and refugees alike as water levels rise around the world and threaten many, particularly island, habitats. Vincent Callebaut hopes that Lilypad will make the transition from design to reality around the year 2100.



The main deck with three marinas, the submarine performing arts center and the gardens of phytopurification.


The three mountains are ecological niches, aquaculture fields and biologic corridors.


The floating structure in “branches” of the Ecopolis inspired of the highly ribbed leave of the giant lilypad of Amazonia Victoria Regia.


Entirely autosufficient, Lilypad takes up the four main challenges launched by the OECD in March 2008 : climate. biodiversity, water and health.


Aerial view of the Principality of Monaco.


Night view of the Lilypads from Monte-Carlo.



Painting the Town Pink!!!

Colorful Shibazakura (Moss Phlox) flowers cover a hill at Chausuyama Plateau in the Aichi Prefecture village of Toyone. The village and a local company plan to plant some 400,000 of the plants in a 22,000-square-meter field by fiscal 2011. Some 100,000 plants in six different colors, which were planted in autumn 2007, are now in full bloom. (Mainichi)

Aoyama Gakuin U. to hand out free iPhones to students

Aoyama Gakuin University is phasing out traditional methods of taking attendance at its School of Social Informatics, in favor of free GPS-enabled iPhones.

The faculty began providing Apple iPhone 3Gs to all 550 staff and students Friday, using the GPS function to determine whether they are in school or not. The university will initiate full operation of the system in the autumn. The school also has plans to expand their use to setting simple tests and questionnaires, submitting homework and reviewing class video materials.

The university is to pay the basic charges itself, ensuring no extra financial burdens will fall on students.

The same day, it also announced a tie-up with iPhone provider Softbank Mobile Corp., called "Mobile & Net Society Education and Training."

CES to expand Apple section

The Consumer Electronics Association, which hosts CES in Las Vegas every year, said Thursday that the trade show will expand its Apple section from 4,000 square feet to 25,000 square feet.

Apple CES

CES is devoting more floorspace to Apple this year. But will Apple attend?

(Credit: Tom Krazit/CNET)

It's called the iLounge Pavilion and will be an exhibition area for products related to the Mac, iPod, and iPhone. This year, for the first time, there will also be a section for applications for use on Apple products.

The original 4,000-square-foot space sold out within days of the announced availability to retailers, developers, and accessory makers looking to exhibit their wares and services, according to the CEA. That led to the decision to expand the floor space.

After Apple announced that the 2009 MacWorld Expo in January would be its last participation in the event, speculation arose that the company might choose to appear at CES--which is held around the same time--instead.

But despite the CEA's decision to create the Apple section, first announced in January, Apple has not yet commented on whether it would participate or not. The reason that the company bowed out of MacWorld--that it doesn't really need to participate anymore--would seem to preclude a similar type of presence at CES, where it would be one of thousands of companies on display.

SURROGATES trailer in HD

SURROGATES trailer in HD

For those who live in the Boston area, you will recognize some of the street scenes. I even saw the corner of my building in Lynn, where I live.

If you decide to skip the trailer, then you should at least go to the website mentioned at the end of the footage. By visiting, you’re given the opportunity to design your very own cybernetic persona to send off into the real world. Designers have the option of building their surrogates from scratch or by uploading a photograph of their choice as a template.

It’s actually pretty fun once you get the hang of it. Now we’re looking forward to sending our surrogates out into the world, only to get blown to bits by some anonymous killer.

How to Email Text Messages to Any Phone

Do you feel like your cell phone's text message bill is getting higher every month? You're not alone. By some accounts, text messages cost more per megabyte to send than do messages from outer space to Earth. But you can email and Instant Message texts to phones for free. Here's how.

(Photograph by Tetra Images/Getty Images)

At roughly 20 cents a pop, text messages are expensive. But it takes a bit of perspective to realize just how pricey they really are.

Short-message-service messages (that’s the official name for text messages, often abbreviated to SMS) have a maximum of 160 bytes of data. Unless you purchase a bulk text-message package (which can cost as much as $20 per month), the 20 cents-per-message rate adds up to $1310.72 per megabyte. This is double the cost three years ago and, quite literally, astronomical: A space scientist at the University of Leicester in the U.K. did the math and discovered that this is several times as much as it costs to transmit data from the Hubble space telescope back to Earth. And most of this cost is pure profit for the phone companies, who are able to deliver text messages for nearly nothing by piggybacking them on other transmissions.

Thankfully, there are ways to bring your bill down to earth. The key is to use what are known as SMS gateways. These are backdoors that transform other (usually less expensive) types of communications, such as e-mail and instant messages, into text messages. The upshot: You can send all the texts you want without paying for the privilege.

All major mobile-phone carriers have e-mail addresses that feed into your SMS inbox (see our diagram for specific addresses). If you have a smartphone and an all-you-can-eat data plan, you can use your phone’s e-mail client to send as many texts as you want for no additional cost. Of course, this method has its limitations: In order to determine what address to send your message to, you first need to know what cellular provider your friends have. I suggest asking your most-texted contacts who their providers are. With that information, you can program the proper e-mail address next to their names in your phone’s address book.

Easier yet: Send your text message over AOL Instant Messenger (versions of which exist for most mobile phones). Instead of sending your message to a screen name, send it to “+1” followed by the area code and phone number. So if your friend’s number is 212-555-5555, sending an IM to “+12125555555” will ensure it pops up on his cellphone screen. If your phone has Web access, you can also send free texts through sites such as

Of course, you still have to pay to receive text messages from other people. If somebody replies to a text message that you sent as an IM or e-mail, his reply will come to you in the format you initially sent it in, and reading it won’t cost you a thing. You can cut your bill even further by asking your most-texted friends to program your e-mail address into their address books. Even if they insist on using SMS, sending a text message to your e-mail address will cause it to appear in your e-mail inbox. And as long as you have an e-mail program on your phone, it will be just as easy to retrieve.

Your target’s e-mail address depends on his mobile provider:


Meet the real-life human cyborgs

Digital eyes, USB fingers - implants aren't just for Jordan


The US military HULC exoskeleton

Lockheed Martin



Stelios Arcadiou has an ear growing out of his arm. Rob Spence has a video camera hidden in his false eye. Jerry Jalava's finger is a detachable USB drive. Kevin Warwick – yes him – likes nothing better than sticking radio chips under his skin or connecting his central nervous system to robot arms.

Four very different men with four very different kinds of technology, but they all have one thing in common: they're cyborgs.

We've had cyborgs for a long time - the term was originally coined in 1960 to describe people whose bodily functions were aided or controlled by technology, so for example anyone with a pacemaker or hearing aid is a cyborg.

In recent years, however, we've gone beyond using tech to fix bits of us when they break. Increasingly, we're using technology to expand the possibilities of the human body and to blur the lines between (wo)man and machine.

But do we really need ears in our arms?

Ear we go

Stelios Arcadiou, aka Stelarc, probably isn't the template for Humans 2.0: his extra ear, grown in a lab from cells, is part of an ongoing performance art project designed to make us think. In interviews, he explains:

"I'm speculating on ways that individuals are not forced to, but may want to, redesign their bodies - given that the body has become profoundly obsolete in the intense information environment it has created…

"We shouldn't have a Frankensteinian fear of incorporating technology into the body, and we shouldn't consider our relationship to technology in a Faustian way - that we're somehow selling our soul because we're using these forbidden energies. My attitude is that technology is, and always has been, an appendage of the body."

Rob Spence is making a point, too. As the Toronto film maker explains: "I am a filmmaker who lost an eye so naturally I decided to modify my prosthetic eye into a video camera. I am not a lifecaster. I will use the eye-cam the same way I use a video camera now - or the same way any filmmaker would use a camera enabled cell phone."

Spence is working on a documentary "about how video and humanity intersect, especially with regards to surveillance."

ALL-SEEING EYE: Rob Spence's Eyeborg project uses a secret video camera implanted in his false eye

That doesn't mean artificial eyes and embedded cameras aren't coming. At MIT, researchers have developed a digital eye that enables the blind to see. At first, it was a giant machine costing $100,000. Then, a $4,000 desktop system. Now it's portable and costs around $500.

Elswhere at MIT you'll find Sixthsense, a wearable computer that uses a camera as an input device and nearby objects as display screens. The current prototype costs just $350 to build.

Rob Spence's eye uses a camera sensor developed by OmniVision, which specialises in high quality cameras for medical devices such as endoscopes. The firm is also working closely with Stanford University's Daniel Palanker on the Retinal Prosthesis project, a hugely complex and ambitious attempt to use sub-retinal implants to restore blind people's sight.

As an OmniVision spokesperson told us, the firm "agreed to participate in the project to jump-start and/or fuel research to provide vision for the blind."

Palanker has published a number of scientific papers detailing the project, and they make fascinating reading. In Design of a high-resolution optoelectronic retinal prosthesis [PDF] he explains how "an image from a video camera is projected by a goggle-mounted collimated infrared LED-LCD display onto the retina, activating an array of powered photodiodes in the retinal implant." Essentially the digital eye enables the blind to see again.

Hands-on technology

When Jerry Jalava was fitted with a prosthetic finger after a motorbike accident, he decided to make the finger more useful - by turning it into a USB drive containing Linux and some key applications.

"I'm planning to use the other prosthetic as a shell for the next version, which will have [a] removable fingertip and RFID tag," he writes.

Prosthetics have come a long way in recent years, with amputees being able to take advantage of myo-electric prosthetics that work just like real limbs. For example in May, Dawn O'Leary was fitted with a prosthetic arm that offers similar fine motor control to a real arm.

Sensors on her skin pick up nerve signals and operate the digits, enabling her to carry out complex tasks such as grasping the handle of a cup.

Researchers in Chicago have gone even further. The Neural Engineering Center for Artificial Limbs has developed techniques that combine myo-electric limbs with nerve transplants to deliver even finer motor control, with patients even being able to feel the objects they grip or touch. You can see the technology in action on YouTube.

TOUCH AND FEEL: Jesse Sullivan operates a bionic arm via nerve signals [Image from RIC video]

Arms and the man

Sadly the "bionic arms race" owes much to a very real arms race. In 2005, the US military announced a multi-million dollar investment in prosthetic technology after a surge in the number of US soldiers losing limbs in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Improvements in body armour technology mean that attacks that just a few years ago would be fatal are now survivable - but the armour doesn't protect limbs.

Inevitably the military isn't just interested in rehabilitating injured soldiers. It's rather keen on enhancing soldiers' effectiveness in battle, too, which is why it's testing exoskeletons.

Earlier this year, Lockheed Martin inked a deal with Berkeley Bionics to develop the HULC - Human Universal Load Carrier - "to provide soldiers [with] a powerful advantage in ground operations." [PDF]

STRONGER SOLDIERS: The HULC exoskeleton isn't sci-fi: Lockheed Martin is working on it with the US Military [Image: Lockheed Martin]

The big problem with such technology is that it needs power. Military versions are powered by battery packs or small combustion engines, while civilian prosthetics tend to use batteries.

That might change. US and Canadian scientists have found a way for prosthetics to generate power. As Dr Douglas Weber of the University of Pittsburgh told the BBC, "All of the new developments in prosthetics require large power budgets. You need power to run your neural interface; you need it to run your powered joint; and so on."

The solution? A modified knee brace that uses regenerative braking technology to turn movement into electricity.

Tech on the brain

Professor Kevin Warwick - dubbed "Captain Cyborg" by The Register - is famous for headline-chasing ideas such as implanting RFID chips under his skin or attempting telepathy by connecting two people's brains to computers, but behind the headlines he's doing some useful and potentially far-reaching work.

Warwick is helping to develop a new generation of Deep Brain Stimulation equipment, which uses electrodes to make an amazing difference to the symptoms of Parkinson's Disease, and in 2008 he unveiled Gordon the robot.

Gordon is no ordinary robot: he's controlled by living brain tissue. As Warwick explains: "The purpose is to figure out how memories are actually stored in a biological brain… if we can understand some of the basics of what is going on in our little model brain, it could have enormous medical spin-offs".

While Warwick and his colleagues are trying to find out what makes us tick, other researchers are finding new ways of making us shriek.

In 1998, Dr Stuart Meloy was implanting electrodes in a patient's spine to make her feel better - but to say he exceeded his remit would probably be an understatement. "You'll have to teach my husband how to do that," the patient told him, moaning with pleasure.

Since then Meloy has been studying the effects of electrodes on the pleasure centres of our brains, and his device - inevitably dubbed the Orgasmatron - will be on sale within a few years.

As Meloy told the LA Times, unlike most medical devices the Orgasmatron won't be tested on animals: "I don't know how to ask animals 'where do you feel the tingling?' or 'do you want a cigarette?'"

SPINE TINGLING: The orgasmatron stimulates the nervous system to induce orgasm - but don't expect to see it in Ann Summers any time soon

So are USB fingers and extra ears part of our future? Probably not. They're impressive but not exactly essential or even particularly worthwhile, and while military exo-skeletons are interesting in an "eek! Terminator!" kind of way the real advances are medical.

From digital eyes that restore sight to prosthetic limbs that generate their own power, work like real limbs and even provide sensory feedback, technology can repair, replace and possibly even improve upon the human body.

Experiments such as Gordon the robot could shed light on the way our brains work, and in the (very) long term computers may even be able to detect and transmit our very thoughts, enabling us to communicate almost telepathically.

If you think Twitter is pretty tedious now, you ain't seen nothing yet.