Of fancy horse haircuts; snapping selfies; two messages in a bottle; and, a church in the rocks…

April 27th, 2016 by www.sightmagazine.com.au

They’re haircuts for horses - but with a difference. A UK-based horse clipper, Melody Hames, is producing some unusual designs on horse backs thanks to a growing trend for horse haircuts to be more than a simple trim. Her designs - via her business JMC Equestrian - reportedly depict everything from love-hearts to birds and even a castle - all apparently driven by an increasing demand from customers. Fancy.

On the face of it, snapping a selfie with an alligator seems like a bad idea but enough people are apparently doing so with a seven foot long gator in Atlanta in the US, that police have had to issue a formal warning. The gator, dubbed ‘Flat Creek Floyd’, was reportedly spotted sunning itself by Flat Creek in early April and it’s apparently attracted a lot of attention since, so much so that Peachtree City Police have asked people to leave it alone.

• It wasn’t what you call a speedy delivery. Guinness World Records has recently named a message in a bottle released by the UK’s Marine Biological Association in the North Sea in 1906 and found on Amrum Island in Germany in April last year as the world’s oldest. The 108-year-old message (which actually spent 108 years and 138 days at sea) came in the form of a postcard and asked the finder to return it to the association in the UK in return for a one shilling reward. Meanwhile, while we’re talking messages in a bottle - another deeply moving message found in the US recently has gone viral on social media. It was apparently written by a fifth-grader named Jonathan Torres who was writing to a friend Daniel who had apparently died. “If you were alive me and you will be playing football, soccer and basketball…” the letter read. “You were my best friend…I hope you fun with Jesus (sic).” Finder Steve Mershon told Today he intends to put the note back in the ocean along with a response he had penned to the author which he has already shared on social media.

• This week’s unusual church? The Roman Catholic chapel - Chapel of the Holy Cross - which rises out of the buttes (isolated, steep-sided hills) in the Arizona countryside. The chapel near Sedona, which was apparently built as the result of the vision of a local rancher, opened in the 1950s. Its award-winning design, which can be seen for miles, features a massive cross on the facade.

You can see more here.

RSS Boaty McBoatface apparently sunk; welcome to Czechia; Phillip’s new 3D legs; and, a modernist church in Iceland…

April 20th, 2016 by www.sightmagazine.com.au

• We knew it was an unlikely choice but out of the UK comes news that RSS Boaty McBoatface - the most popular choice for the name of a new £200 million polar research vessel - appears to have been sunk. The name garnered more than 120,000 votes in an online poll to select a new name in a poll being run by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) with the nearest rival - RSS Poppy-Mai (named for a baby girl with terminal cancer) - coming in at slightly more than 34,000 votes. But UK Science Minister Jo Johnson has reportedly downplayed RSS Boaty McBoatface’s chances , saying that he was looking for something that “captures the spirit of scientific endeavour”. Still there’s hope - while the poll, which attracted 7,000 suggestions, has now closed, the official name has not yet been unveiled by NERC.

• Czech this out: senior officials in the Czech Republic are reportedly moving to change the country’s name - in the UN database at least - to the much shorter Czechia. The Czech Republic, along with Slovakia, was created when Czechoslovakia was partitioned into two in 1993. But the country has long been hampered by the fact the word ‘Czech’ is an adjective and cannot be used as a one-word name for the country as France can be for the nation officially known as the French Republic or Russia for the Russian Federation. The name, which has apparently been around a while, hasn’t been universally acclaimed, however, with complaints that it could be confused with Chechnya or that it sounds “ugly”.

• Phillip the duck has a new set of feet thanks to 3D printing technology. The bird, from Oshkosh in Wisconsin in the US, needed new feet after losing its previous feet to frostbite. Vicki Rabe-Harrison, a school teacher who rescued the duck, reportedly turned to a colleague for help after watching a video featuring a 3D printer and together they constructed some new prosthetic feet. It took a while but Phillip is now apparently back to his usual waddle.

This week’s unusual church, meanwhile, is a modernist marvel in Iceland. Consecrated in 1980, the white concrete Stykkisholmur Church stands on a promontory overlooking the town. Used as a concert hall as well as a church, it can seat 300 and has two “arms” which sweep up to form a bell tower. For images, head here.

Give Sweden a call; Venezuela’s long weekends; a new human mattress dominoes record; and, a pointed Air Force chapel…

April 13th, 2016 by www.sightmagazine.com.au

•  Like chatting on the phone? How about giving Sweden a call? The Scandinavian nation has become the first in the world to have its own phone number - and yes, it will be answered. Under the project, which is an initiative of the Swedish Tourist Association and has been set up to mark the 250th anniversary of the country becoming the first to abolish censorship, the phone will be answered by a random Swedish person known as an ‘ambassador’ who has signed up to do so via the association’s app. Since the service was launched on 6th April, almost 55,000 calls had been made when we checked this week with 38 per cent of them coming from the US. For more details - and there can be a cost to the calls - check out the Swedish Number website. Oh, and the number? +46 771 793 336.

Australia is known as the land of the long weekend but in Venezuela that’s now officially the case with the government, in a bid to conserve power to counter a drought-caused energy crisis, declaring Fridays a non-working day. At least that’s the case for 60 days from early April with President Nicolas Maduro calling on people to join in with “extreme collaboration” to deal with what he calls an “extreme situation”. President Maduro has already provided Venezuelans with some bonus days off this year, effectively shutting down the country for a whole week at Easter. The problem has reportedly been caused by the fact that Venezuela relies heavily on hydro-electricity for its power supplies, meaning water levels must be kept at certain levels in dams to ensure the power-generating turbines aren’t damaged. Not unexpectedly, the announcement has met with some resistance with some pointing out that while people may not be using energy at work, they will instead be doing so at home.

Some 1,200 people have joined in setting a new world record for “human mattress dominoes” in the US. Workers from an appliance and electronics company, Aarons, set the record last week in Maryland, according to Guinness World Records. The domino dropping feat, which took the efforts of a dominoes expert to set up, took 13 minutes and 38 seconds to achieve. The mattresses used are being donated to charities.

This week’s unusual church is the rather pointed US Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel in Colorado in the US. Actually, the award-winning building, completed in 1962, doesn’t just contain one church but a Catholic and Protestant chapel as well as spaces for other religions. For images, see the website of the architectural firm - SOM.

Wanted: a Chief Wombat Cuddler; Tay fails to heed its lesson; big bunnies get security; and, a church in the cube…

April 6th, 2016 by www.sightmagazine.com.au

•  As far as jobs go, it’s not a bad one. Tourism Tasmania has launched a competition to find a “chief wombat cuddler” to visit Flinders Island in Bass Strait and spend some time with Derek, a baby wombat who was orphaned when his mother was hit by a car (and who became famous around the world when footage of him running around went viral). The winner of the competition will be flown with a friend to the island “to smother our little friend with cuddles” as they spend three nights exploring his home (and at the same time give Kate, Derek’s “foster parent”, a break). The competition closes on 16th April. Needless to say, non-cuddlers need not apply.

It seems Tay didn’t learn its lesson the first time round. Microsoft’s artificial intelligence Twitter “chatbot” had to be turned off last month after, apparently “learning” from other voices on the social media platform, it started making sexist and racist comments. Tay - which was created to “engage and entertain people where they connect with each other online through casual and playful conversation” and is targeted at 18 to 24-year-olds in the US - was reportedly turned on again last week but soon started making more inappropriate comments, including talking about taking drugs in front of police. Its account has since been made only visible to followers. Microsoft issued an apology on its official blog after the first episode.

A supersize artwork featuring huge illuminated rabbits has been given around the clock security in San Francisco amid vandalism fears. The inflatable creatures are reportedly part of an art installation entitled ‘Intrude’ by Australian artist Amanda Parer and will be in the city’s Civic Center Plaza until 25th April. The vandalism fears come after a series of artworks created to mark Super Bowl 50 was damaged earlier this year.

This week’s unusual church? The Church of the Sacred Heart in Munich, Germany, designed as a cube within a cube (creating a look, from the outside, which is not dissimilar to the look of an Apple store). Built on the site of a church destroyed by fire in 1994, the chapel - designed by Allmann Sattler Wappner - is made of two cubes - an outer, largely translucent glass cube and an inner cube made of timber arranged in a louvre like formation to allow light inside. Behind the altar hangs a metal fabric curtain woven into a depiction of a giant cross and positioned in the space between the two cubes are the Stations of the Cross. To see images of the church head here.

Marathon’s soapy end; who is risen?; the World Cup of Crisps; and, a concrete bunker of a chapel…

March 30th, 2016 by www.sightmagazine.com.au

• Marathon runners in China were left with a bad taste in their mouths when receiving what they thought was an energy bar following the race’s completion. Turns out that the “energy bar” was actually a cake of soap. The mistake was apparently caused by the packaging and the fact the product description was written in English, a language many of the 20,000 runners didn’t understand. The roadside in Guangdong where the race finished was apparently littered with soap bars featuring the mark of a single bite while it was reported that as many as 12,000 of the runners had to seek medical assistance. The organisers have apologised.

• It was a bad typo. A British church had ordered a series of banners for its Easter celebration services but discovered they were missing a T. This meant that instead of proclaiming ‘Christ Is Risen’, it actually said ‘Chris Is Risen’. Thankfully the mistake was spotted before the banner was put up and corrected. And it did give everyone a good laugh. And Chris, as far as we know, is fine.

The rather oddly named Pickled Onion Monster Munch has just snared the World Cup of Crisps in a tournament hosted on Twitter. There were reportedly 48 entrants into the UK-based competition which saw Wotsits snare second place and Quavers third. The result was not without controversy with many complaining that the winner was in fact a corn-based snack and not a crisp . The event was held to raise money for a charity called the Child’s i Foundation which helps find families for abandoned children in Uganda.

And this week’s odd church? The Bruder Klaus Field Chapel, in southern Germany, which resembles something like a concrete bunker (on the outside at least). Designed by Peter Zumthor, the chapel was constructed out of layers of concrete poured around a “wigwam” frame of 112 tree trunks which was later burned away. Dedicated to St Nicholas of Flue (aka Brother Klaus), the chapel was built as a place for silence, meditation and prayer and is open to visitors.

Of RSS Boaty McBoatface; holidays to celebrate wrestlers and horse riders; Ben Nevis ‘grows’; and, a chapel in the woods…

March 23rd, 2016 by www.sightmagazine.com.au

• The suggestion a new Antarctic research vessel be christened ‘RSS Boaty McBoatface’ has caused a minor storm in the UK with the man who did so apologising for coming up with the idea after support for it ballooned. James Hand reportedly told the National Environment Research Council, the body which will operate the new ship, that he was “terribly sorry” about suggesting the name which, when we looked, had gained almost 50,000 votes in an online competition (RSS Henry Worsley the next most popular with 4,635). What’s more, Mr Hand says he didn’t even vote for it, opting instead to throw his support behind the RRS David Attenborough. It’s certainly not the only rather odd name to be suggested for the ship (although they didn’t all go viral the way Boaty McBoatface did) - others include RSS Donald Trump (74 votes when we looked), RSS Kanye West for President (121 votes), and the RSS Whats Up Hotdog (134 votes). The competition to find the name for the £200 million ship closes on 16th April. The ship itself will be launched in 2019. You can see entries at www.nameourship.nerc.ac.uk.

It’s sure to boost his popularity. Tajikistan’s president Emomali Rahmon has reportedly proposed three new public holidays - to run back-to-back - which would honour wrestlers, horse riders and planting flowers. If accepted, the proposal would see 22nd March as the ‘Day of Wrestlers’, 23rd as the ‘Day of Horse Riders’ and 24th as the ‘Day of Flowers and Planting’. Apparently all three would celebrate what are traditional new year activities in the small nation. It’s not the first time Mr Rahmon has been make an odd suggestion - last year he opened the National Tea House which, able to seat 2,000 people, was apparently built in the shape of a melon.

UK mapping agency Ordnance Survey have revealed that Scottish peak Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the country, is actually a metre higher than previously thought. Surveyors say the mountain now stands 1,345 metres high - a figure at odds with the last official measure taken in 1949 of 1,344 metres. But if you’re thinking that the mountain has grown, think again. The experts say the new finding is just due to improvements in the technology they use to make measurements with. The exact height, by the way, was 1,344.527 metres, which is rounded up to 1,345.

This week’s odd church is the architecturally stunning Thorncrown Chapel, located in the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas in the US. The glass and steel non-denominational chapel, which opened in 1980, allows for those attending the chapel to feel a part of the surrounding woodlands in a way traditional church buildings can’t. More than six million people have visited the chapel since it opened and services are held regularly from April to late December. It’s also a popular spot for weddings. A beautiful place to worship God amid nature.

A racehorse in Harris Tweed; sniffer rats; a controversial road sign; and, Colombia’s ‘Salt Cathedral’…

March 16th, 2016 by www.sightmagazine.com.au

• Strike a pose. A racehorse in the UK has made a fashion statement this week by wearing the first Harris Tweed suit designed for a racehorse. The three piece suit, which came with a cap and tie, reportedly took four weeks to make and used more than 18 metres of tweed. Commissioned by a betting company, it was made to mark the start of the 2016 Cheltenham Festival. The racehorse, Morestead, maintained a dignified silence about the suit.

You may have heard of dogs being used to sniff out explosives but what about rats? Cat-sized rodents have been employed to sniff out landmines in countries including Cambodia (one of the most mine-affected countries in the world) and Mozambique in a project known as the HeroRAT program. It’s been suggested the African giant pouched rats, which apparently have poor eyesight but a great sense of smell, could now be used to detect improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in countries like Afghanistan and Iraq. The rats are also being used in the detection of tuberculosis.

An unusual - and rather controversial - road sign has appeared in the US state of Iowa warning of ‘Suicidal Deer’. While authorities say the sign - similar to one which had been installed earlier in Illinois - was aimed at keeping motorists alert in areas where the animals roam (and worked, they said, because it was more eye-catching that the usual ‘Deer Crossing’ signs), some local residents have reportedly said they felt the sign was insensitive towards people suffering mental illness.

Meanwhile this week’s odd church - the Catedral de Sal (Salt Cathedral) of Zipaquirá in Colombia. The Roman Catholic church (it’s not officially a cathedral despite the name, although it is very much a tourist attraction) was built in the early 1990s in the tunnels of a former salt mine 200 metres underground. It replaced an earlier salt mine “cathedral” which was constructed in the 1950s but had to be closed due to structural issues in 1990.

World’s first ‘water bar?’; stretching in space; Timur and Amur; and, a tree-topped cathedral…

March 9th, 2016 by www.sightmagazine.com.au

The world’s first water bar - which will serve, well, water - is looking to open in Minneapolis in the US. The Water Bar reportedly has its origins in a pop-up art project created in 2014 but the creators are now looking to open their first first bricks and mortar location. Under the motto “Water is all we have”, the bar will serve free water from a range of local sources so people can taste the difference between publicly available tap water and private well water.

Vertically challenged? You might want to consider a career as an astronaut. NASA’s Scott Kelly - who recently set a record for spending 340 days aboard the International Space Station - reportedly grew almost four centimetres taller during his time there. The phenomenon is apparently due to the lower gravity which puts less pressure on the spine. Sadly, however, the effects don’t last - on returning to Earth, it only took two days for Commander Kelly to return to his normal height.

It was never going to last. Timur the billy goat was originally intended as prey when it was put inside the enclosure of Amur the Siberian tiger at a safari park in Russia last November. But, contrary to expectations, the pair struck up a friendship which captured the world’s attention on social media. It all came to an end after about two months, however, when the pair got into a fight which predictably left Timur the worse off. The park’s administrators are now “auditioning” potential mates for Timur - we await the announcement of the winner with bated breath.

And this week’s unusual church building - the Évry Cathedral. The first Roman Catholic church to be built in France in more than 100 years, the cylindrical red brick building was designed by Swiss architect Mario Botta and consecrated in 1996. It features a crown topped with lime trees - a symbol of life - and has a projecting bell tower. You can see the cathedral here.

Vincent van Gogh’s bedroom for hire; clean-up goats given the boot; beetle plague; and, a chapel under a hill…

March 2nd, 2016 by www.sightmagazine.com.au

Vincent van Gogh’s famous bedroom - featured in his post-Impressionist painting Bedroom in Arles - has been recreated as it appears in the artwork and is available for overnight stays. The Art Institute of Chicago has built a real-life replica of the room as part of an exhibition called Van Gogh’s Bedrooms featuring his art which is available to book on a Airbnb. New dates for overnight stays will apparently be released soon - but you’ll have to be quick, they are getting snapped up quickly!

A herd of goats hired to clear out unwanted vegetation in the US town of Salem, Oregon, have been sacked. The 75 goats were hired to chew up invasive plants like English ivy in a pilot project to clean-up a city park. And while the public reportedly welcomed their appearance, the project’s costs were almost five times that of more conventional clean-up methods like employing “inmate crews”. The goats also caused a few other problems - nibbling on native plants and stripping some bark off trees. And they apparently didn’t smell great. Herds of goats have been successfully used on clean-up projects in other cities and are said to be particularly useful on steep terrain.

It is a plague of Biblical proportions - millions of bugs have swarmed up beaches in Argentina and no-one’s quite sure why. Scientists reportedly believe that the black beetles - thought to be Black Maize beetles from southern Africa - live for two years underground before coming to the surface to mate and die. Some enterprising locals are apparently trying to sell the carcasses online. Nice.

And this week’s odd church building? Luxembourg’s Chapel of St Quirin, generally known as the ‘Church in a Hill’. So called because it’s literally built into the side of a hill with only the facade (and steeple) projecting out, at first glimpse it could resemble a traditional church such as you might see anywhere in Europe. But closer inspection reveals that’s only an illusion - the Roman Catholic chapel, located in Luxembourg City, has been excavated out of the rock (and now lies under a road). It was originally the location of a couple of caves which apparently, in the mid-14th century, were turned into a chapel for pilgrims visiting a supposedly miraculous spring nearby. Further additions - including the bell tower - were added in the 19th century.

Upside down house a hit in Taipei; mysterious sounds in space; Ollie the (Faux) Otter; and, Iceland’s rocket-resembling church…

February 24th, 2016 by www.sightmagazine.com.au

An upside down house has opened its doors in Taipei but don’t worry, it’s not a disastrous building error - the property was deliberately created as a tourist attraction. The house, which was built in just two months, is furnished in American Country style with all the furniture and accessories - including everything from a fruit bowl to laptop and rubber ducky in the bathtub - attached to the floor/ceiling. Hundreds have already walked through the door for a peek. Follow this link to take a look inside.

Weird sounds in space? Amid the various hoaxes about alien contact now playing across the internet is a real space mystery. NASA has just released a recording of a “whistling sound” heard by astronauts Thomas Stafford, John Young and Eugene Cernan on the Apollo 10 mission as they orbited the moon in 1969. A NASA engineer has reportedly said the sounds - which one astronaut described as “outer-spacey” and which lasted almost an hour - were caused by radio interference but alternate theories abound. NASA has released the sounds for a new TV series.

Police in the UK, responding to a call about an injured otter, were relieved to find the creature was in fact part of a faux fur coat. Police in Newport, Shropshire, tweeted that the injured otter at the roadside turned out to be a coat collar. Dubbed ‘Ollie the Otter’, the would-be otter then went on to make several other appearances on Twitter - in a photos showing him recovering from his ordeal in the police van and tapping away on a laptop. And while it might seem like police were obviously having a quiet day, they did also use the opportunity to remind people to call the RSPCA or a vet if they do find a real injured otter.

And this week’s odd church - the rocket-ship resembling Church of Hallgrimur in the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik. A Lutheran parish church dedicated to Hallgrímur Pétursson, the most renowned religious poet of Iceland, it was only consecrated in 1986 after a 40 year long building project and is now one of the country’s key tourist attractions (there is an observation deck in the tower).