Google speaks ’strayan’; of 10 unquadragintilliard; €1 million potato portrait; and, the world’s smallest church…

February 3rd, 2016 by

Google has been taking instruction in how to speak like an Aussie. The company announced late last month that it had updated the local version of its app so that it would answer in an Australian accent when asked questions and or when giving directions in Google Maps. Not only that, it’s also had its vocab updated so it can correctly pronounce some of those tough Australian place names like a local as well us understand some unique features of the Australian lexicon meaning it now knows what you’re saying when you ask where the nearest servo, Maccas or Woolies is as well as words like ‘arvo’ and ‘footy’.

Ever seen a number this big: 10,000,000,000,000,000,
The numeral represents 10 unquadragintilliard, a figure, which according to scientists at the University of Cambridge in the UK, represents the number of ways in which 128 tennis balls can be arranged in a box (a figure higher than the total number of particles in the universe). The calculation, made using a complex computer program, will hopefully help with the prediction of the movement of avalanches.

A photograph depicting an Irish potato has sold for €1 million, according to reports. The work, by Irish photographer Kevin Abosch, was bought by an anonymous European businessman.

Meanwhile, in the wake of last week’s story about a church in Taiwan shaped like a glass slipper, we decided to take a look at some other unusual churches. Among them is what may be the world’s smallest church - Cross Island Chapel in Oneida, New York - which, like the glass slipper church, is primarily used for weddings. Accessible only by boat, it only has room for the bride, groom and minister. We’ll look at another one next week!

Making the most of ‘Snowzilla’; a glass slipper for a church; and, moon landing was no hoax…

January 27th, 2016 by

At least one enterprising New Yorker has seen the monster snow falls in the US - dubbed ‘Snowzilla’ - as an opportunity, creating an igloo which he then listed on Airbnb. Sadly, the handbuilt “boutique winter igloo for 2″ in Brooklyn didn’t stay listed for long - Airbnb reportedly had the listing removed, saying the property failed to meet construction standards. Meanwhile, in Washington, DC, hundreds of Star Wars enthusiasts reportedly recreated the ice planet Hoth as they joined in a massive snowball fight after the massive blizzard. “Snow Wars: The Snowball Strikes Back”, was organised by the Washington DC Snowball Fight Association on Sunday morning.

A church is being built in Taiwan in the shape of a giant glass slipper. Located in Budai in the country’s south-west, it is hoped the 17 metre tall glass and metal structure - which will be used for weddings and photo shoots but not regular services - will bring more tourists to the area. The design has apparently been inspired by past tragedy - the BBC reports that according to local officials, there is a story that a 24-year-old girl suffering Blackfoot disease had to have both her legs amputated in the 1960s - a fact which led to her wedding being cancelled (she remained unmarried).

Bad news for moon landing conspiracy theorists who believe the 1969 moon landing was faked. An Oxford University physicist, Dr David Grimes, has worked out a mathematical way of showing how long a conspiracy can remain secret which reportedly shows that, based on how many people worked at NASA at the time of the first moon landing - 411,000, it would have only taken three years and eight months for the public to have found out it was a hoax.

‘Captain’s call’ named Word of the Year; Popemobile for sale; and, a surprise for Canadian paramedics…

January 22nd, 2016 by

‘Captain’s call’, a phrase which became synonymous with former Australian PM Tony Abbott, has been named Macquarie Dictionary’s Word of the Year for 2015. Defined as “a decision made by a political or business leader without consultation with colleagues”, the word was chosen above “honourable mentions” ‘lumbersexual” (”an urban male who wishes to associate himself by his appearance with a rugged outdoors way of life, as by wearing outdoor clothes such as check shirts, jeans and large boots combined with a beard as typical of a lumberjack”) and ‘deso’ (”a designated driver”). The dictionary says ‘Word of the Year’ category winners include ‘wombat gate’ (agriculture - “a swing gate installed in a ditch going underneath a fence, so that wombats, who follow very predictable patterns at night, can come and go without destroying the fence”), ‘frankenfruit’ (eating and drinking - “a fruit produced as a hybrid of other fruits, or infused with the flavour of another fruit, or genetically modified in some way”), and ’slackpacking’ (sport - “an arrangement for a walking trip lasting longer than one day, in which heavy items such as food, wine, etc., are delivered to accommodation points, the walkers being required to carry only a daypack.”). Voting for the ‘People’s Choice award’ is open until 31st January.

It’s a chance to buy your own ‘popemobile’. One of two Fiats used by Pope Francis during his visit to Philadelphia last year is being put up for auction by the city’s Roman Catholic archdiocese to raise money for its ministries and a children’s hospital. The custom-made black Fiat 500L will be put up for auction at a black tie gala to kick off the Philadelphia Auto Show on 29th January and there’s a chance the second car he used might be also. Both cars were reportedly donated to the church by Fiat Chrysler.

Canadian paramedics got a surprise responding to a call about a homeless man sleeping on a bench in freezing conditions. The homeless man turned out to a be a bronze statue known as the ‘Homeless Jesus’. The paramedics, in the city of Hamilton, shared a photo on Twitter to assure people the figure was not a real person. The statue, one of more than 100 made by artist Timothy Schmalz and subsequently placed in cities around the world, only took up residence in Hamilton in October.

Sarcasm fades with age; eyecare for insects?; and, the mystery of the ‘buffadile’…

January 13th, 2016 by

Your sarcastic zinger fall flat? It might have been due to the age of the person you were targeting with your witty comment. Researchers at the University of Aberdeen - working with teams from other UK unis - have found adults aged over 65 are more likely to misinterpret sarcastic comments and take them literally. And while they say the miscommunication could adversely affect relationships, it could also shield older people from nasty or derogatory comments, according to Professor Louise Phillips, the university’s chair of psychology. “Older adults are known to have a more positive outlook on life than younger adults and this may contribute to their failure to pick up on sarcastic undertones,” she told The Telegraph.

Eyecare for insects? Not quite. Scientists at Newcastle University in the UK have reportedly been outfitting praying mantises with tiny 3D glasses (attached by beeswax) to help them work out how they can catch fast-moving crickets despite having tiny brains. Professor Jenny Read told Sky News that the research could help uncover new ways of using three dimensional vision in computers and robots.

An odd creature described as a half-crocodile, half buffalo and dubbed a ‘buffadile”, has people scratching their heads in Thailand. The creature, which looked to have the body of a calf but a crocodile-like head and was covered in scales, reportedly died soon after birth.

Christmas Special, part II - A ‘running’ Christmas Tree; lighting up someone else’s house; and, more Americans think Santa is a Democrat…

December 23rd, 2015 by

Is that a Christmas tree you just saw running down the street? If you were in Tokyo recently, that could well be the case. Brit Joseph Tame, an inventor who owns a video production and digital media business in the Japanese capital, has reportedly constructed himself a “Running Christmas Tree” costume - made from an aluminium frame with Christmas tree branches and lights attached - which he wears on dashes through the city all aimed at spreading Christmas cheer. “There are many areas of the city that are beautifully illuminated with Christmas decorations, but there are also areas where there are not, so I thought wouldn’t it be great to take the fun and wonder of these illuminations into those areas and spread the Christmas cheer,” he told CNN.”I like to make people laugh and smile where they don’t expect it.”

Couldn’t be bothered putting up Christmas lights this year? Don’t worry, provided you have access to the internet you can get your fix by flicking on those of the Woods family in Fairbanks, Alaska. The family has created a website where anyone can turn their external Christmas lights on or off (and not just on the screen - it is apparently occurring in real time in Alaska, although the number of people taking part on the site at any one time may make it tough to discern when your flick takes effect). It’s not the first year they’ve done so - Ken and Rebecca-Ellen Woods first launched the idea in 2010.

Some 28 per cent of Americans think Santa Claus is a Democrat - down dramatically from the 44 per cent who thought so when asked after Barack Obama’s election as president in 2012 - while 22 per cent think he’s a Republican. The same poll from US firm Public Policy Polling also found that Rudolph was by far the most well-loved reindeer with 46 per cent saying he was their favourite compared to second place getter Dasher who attracted just nine per cent of the vote. Meanwhile, on a non-Christmas related theme, an earlier survey of Republican primary voters reportedly found that almost a third support bombing the Kingdom of Agrabah - only hitch is that Agrabah is a fanciful land made famous in the Robin Williams’ film, Aladdin. To be fair, 57 per cent of the 530 or so Republican voters said they were not sure and 13 per cent outright opposed the move. PPP said its survey of Democratic primary voters showed a lesser 19 per cent would support the bombing of Agrabah.

Christmas Special - Of goats singing carols; ‘badvent’ calendars; and, surfing Santas…

December 16th, 2015 by

Christmas is almost upon us so at StrangeSights we’re naturally consumed with oddities on that theme - first up, it’s a Christmas carol album as “sung” by goats. The Swedish arm of charity ActionAid has reportedly released the album, All I Want For Christmas Is A Goat, which features the goats making sounds which have been wrestled into the tunes of songs including Jingle Bells, Joy to the World and O Holy Night. It is, of course, all about highlighting how important the gift of a goat could be to so many families around the world this Christmas. Available on iTunes, Google Play and Amazon.

Not sure it quite captures the spirit of Christmas, but a UK police force has released an Advent calendar - initially called a ‘Badvent’ calendar’ - which features the mugshots of wanted fugitives. The calendar from Nottinghamshire Police reportedly features a different mugshot for each day of Advent along with their details and, of course, how to report them to police. Following complaints, its name was changed to the less confrontational “Festive Crime Calendar”.

More than 300 Santas went for a surf off Bondi Beach this week and set a new record for the largest ever surf lesson. Guinness World Records were reportedly on the scene of the record-breaking effort which saw 320 Santas hit the surf, smashing the previous record of 250. The effort was also aimed at raising awareness of mental health issues.

An unexpected windfall; of priests, cats and calendars; and, singing Christmas tree tradition continues…

December 9th, 2015 by

It could prove a lucrative find - €100,000 in €500 and €100 notes spotted by a boy as they floated down a river in Vienna last weekend. Police are trying to work out where the money - which the boy jumped in to retrieve - has come from but have reportedly said that if no-one comes forward it could be claimed by the boy. Under Austrian law, if the money is not claimed within a year, he could have it all.

Next year’s calendars are out and amid all the buff bodies typically on show, 12 fully clothed and bearded Russian Orthodox priests have taken a different approach by posing with their pet cats. Called ‘Pop i Kot’ or ‘Priest and Cat’, the black and white calendar has proved a surprise hit with the 1,000 initially printed reportedly expected to sell out. The calendar was apparently the work of a Russian Orthodox website and is the first of its kind (though, perhaps not surprisingly, it’s not officially endorsed by the Russian Orthodox Church). It grew out of a photographic project to depict the priests in their normal, everyday lives.

Carol singing choirs and fir trees are part of Christmas in many parts of the world. But for the past 30 years or so, a group in the US has combined the two in a “singing Christmas tree”. The Mona Shores Singing Christmas Tree is reportedly a 20 metre high tree adorned with 25,000 Christmas lights and 15 tiers upon which stand about 220 choir members, at least one of whom (there were two this year) is selected to stand at the top of the tree as the “tree angel”. A further 50 or so students sing at the base of the tree.

Cost of the 12 Days of Christmas gifts remains steady; own a ghost town in the US; and, Jesus appears in an Italian field…

December 2nd, 2015 by

The cost of buying all the gifts mentioned in the Christmas carol, The 12 Days of Christmas, has largely remained steady over the past year. Only three of the 12 items mentioned rose in price over the past year - “one partridge in a pear tree” (up 3.5 per cent to $US214.99), “two turtle doves” (up 11.5 per cent to $US290) and 10 “lords-a-leaping” (up three per cent to $US5,508.70). The recently released 32nd annual PNC Wealth Management Christmas Price Index shows that overall, the 12 gifts would cost $US34,130.99 to buy in the US, an increase of only 0.6 per cent or $198 on last year’s figure and the lowest growth rate in six years. The total cost of all 364 gifts mentioned in the song’s many repeats came in at $US155,407, almost $US900 more than last year. The most expensive item on the list is “seven swans-a-swimming”, priced at $US13,125.

• Ever wanted to own your own town? A “ghost town” in the US state of South Dakota is again up for sale with a price tag of just $US250,000. The town of Swett, about 160 kilometres south of Rapid City, covers about 2.5 hectares and reportedly features a three bedroom house, tavern and a former tyre shop. Once boasting a population of some 40 residents, it last went on the market in mid last year and was initially advertised for $US399,000.

• An artist has created a 24,000 square metre image of Jesus Christ in a field in Italy. Artist Dario Gambarin reportedly used a tractor fitted with a plough and harrow to create the image, entitled Suffering Christ, near the town of Verona to mark the Catholic Church’s Jubilee of Mercy event. Previous works by the artists have featured everyone from US President Barack Obama to Nelson Mandela and Pope Benedict XVI.

Of gold-covered chocolate; a chocoholics’ dream job; and, when you’re just not ugly enough…

November 25th, 2015 by

• Like gold with your chocolate? Nestle Japan has reportedly announced it will be selling 500 gold coated Kit Kat fingers later this month to mark its approaching milestone of a million customers at its Chocolatory stores. The bars, each of which is reportedly priced at the equivalent of $US16, will be coated with a thin layer of 24 carat gold. The company will also be raffling off some solid gold versions to those who take up its membership program.

While we’re talking chocolate, UK chocolate company Mackie’s has advertised it is looking for a “chief chocolate taster”. The successful applicant will be tasked with the job of inventing a new flavour to celebrate the opening of the Scottish company’s new Aberdeen factory. The job will run for a year and applicants, who are required to have a “mouth and tastebuds”, have to apply before 3rd December.

Accusations of cheating have plagued a competition to find Zimbabwe’s ugliest man with the winner being accused of being too good looking. The winner of the Mister Ugly contest, 42-year-old Mison Sere, is reportedly missing front teeth and sports a range of twisted facial expressions. But others among the 36 competitors have cried foul, saying the man’s ugliness isn’t natural and claimed he was “too handsome” to win. The winner said his critics were “sore losers”.

The Word of the Year that’s not a word; Google pulled over; and, Otto the dog sets a new world record…

November 18th, 2015 by

• It’s ‘Word of the Year’ time at Oxford Dictionaries but this year the word is actually a pictograph - that of the ‘Face with Tears of Joy’ emoji. Oxford Dictionaries said the rather self-explanatory ‘word’ “best reflected the ethos, mood, and preoccupations of 2015″ and was the most used emoji globally this year, making up 20 per cent of emojis used in the UK and 17 per cent in the US. Other words on the short-list included “sharing economy”, “refugee”, “Dark Web”, and “lumbersexual” - defined as “a young urban man who cultivates an appearance and style of dress (typified by a beard and check shirt) suggestive of a rugged outdoor lifestyle.”

• A police officer in California pulled over one of Google’s self-driving car prototypes last week - for travelling too slowly. Mountain View Police Department said the car was pulled over after it was spotted travelling at 24mph in a 35mph zone causing traffic to bank up. The Google Self-Driving Car Project said it had capped the speed of prototype vehicles at 25mph for “safety reasons”, noting that “(a)fter 1.2 million miles of autonomous driving (that’s the human equivalent of 90 years of driving experience), we’re proud to say we’ve never been ticketed!”.

• Where do they come up with the ideas for these records? A three-year-old bulldog named Otto is among the latest to have his name inscribed in the Guinness Book of Records by setting a world record for the “longest human tunnel travelled through by a skateboarding dog” (the tunnel was 30 people long). The feat was reportedly set in the Peruvian capital of Lima as part of the 11th annual Guinness World Records Day. Other world records set for the day include the “tightest parallel parking in reverse” (just 34 centimetres between cars in front and behind), and the “fastest 100 metres running on all fours” (15.71 seconds).