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The Locomotive That Walked: William Brunton's Steam Horse  

Railway engineering has come a long way from Richard Trevithick's first steam locomotive to today's high speed Maglev trains. Throughout this long history spanning more than two hundred years, engineers have come up with all sorts of ideas. Some of these were groundbreaking. Others were implausible and wacky. William Brunton's Mechanical Traveller or Steam Horse falls into the second category. © Amusing Planet, 2020.

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2020-01-18 14:58:00



The Cottbus MiG-21 Crash of 1975  

On Schmellwitzer Street in Cottbus, in northeast Germany, stands an old five-story apartment building. High up on the face of the building, between the second and the third floor, one can still see the scars of an accident that happened nearly half a century ago. On January 14, 1975, thirty-three-year-old Major Peter Makowicka was on a training mission when the MiG-21 that he was flying encountered engine failure. The military control center at Cottbus Air Base ordered the pilot to eject and

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2020-01-16 22:19:00



The Sad Tale of The Dionne Quintuplets  

Nobody could have known, not even Elzire Dionne, that she was going to give birth to quintuplets. Already a mother of five, the shock of giving birth to five more baby girls—Annette, Émilie, Yvonne, Cecile and Marie—knocked her out for two hours. "What will I do with all them babies?" she reportedly screamed. Elzire suspected she was carrying twins, but the possibility of quintuplets didn't cross her mind. And why would it? Doctors say that the odds of naturally occurring quintuplet...

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2020-01-15 20:32:00



Autumn Harvest Drying in Huangling  

Huangling in Wuyuan County, in east China's Jiangxi Province, is a small picturesque village built on the hillside, surrounded by spectacular terraced rapeseed blossom fields. The village dates back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)—its long history visible in its Hui-style houses, featuring black roof tiles and white walls. Huangling's wonderous landscape captivates tourists from all over China and beyond, but it wasn't always like that. Less than twenty years ago, Huangling was dilap...

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2020-01-15 16:16:00



The Shipwreck That Gave Birth to South Africa  

On 16 January 1647, a fleet of three Dutch ships—the Nieuwe Haerlem, the Olifant and the Schiedam—left Batavia, which is now Jakarta, for the return voyage to The Netherlands. The ships were richly loaded with cargo from the East. En route, the ships encountered a storm and got separated from each other. Now alone, the Nieuwe Haerlem reached Table Bay, on 25 March 1647, where it became stranded on the shallow water. Because the cargo was precious, mostly spices, textile, Chinese porcelain a...

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2020-01-13 21:21:00



Mödlareuth: The German Village Divided by The Cold War  

The village of Mödlareuth in south Germany, straddles the border between the two federal states of Bavaria and Thuringia. For more than 140 years, this border, which manifests itself in the form a small stream, made little difference to the daily life of the local populace. There was just one school and one restaurant, both on Thuringia, and the villagers went to the same church in the neighboring Bavarian municipality of Töpen. © Amusing Planet, 2020.

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2020-01-13 21:05:00



Bremer Loch: The Hole of Bremen  

Image credit: dcabrerizo/Flickr There is an unusual donation box installed beneath the streets in front of the State Parliament building in Germany's northern city of Bremen. It appears like a circular, bronze manhole cover, but in the center of the lid, there is a small slit for people to drop coins or paper money. In return, the donation box plays a musical thank you from one of Bremen's four famous musicians—a donkey, a dog, a cat and a rooster. © Amusing Planet, 2020.

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2020-01-11 11:24:00



Slovak Radio Building: The Inverted Pyramid  

Some call it ugly. Others defend it for its architectural features. Whichever faction you side with, you can't deny that it is an exceptional building. The Slovak Radio Building, standing in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, was constructed in the shape of an inverted pyramid. It stands 80 meters tall, if you measure it to the tip of the antenna on its roof. Since 1983, the year the building was completed, it has housed the headquarters of Slovakia's national public-service radio, Sloven...

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2020-01-10 19:27:00



The Radiological Incident in Lia, Georgia  

On a cold December day in 2001, three men took their truck and drove 50 kilometers east from their village Lia in order to collect firewood. The village of Lia is located in the district of Tsalenjhikha, approximately 320 km north-west of Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. Late in the afternoon, after the sun had gone down, the men discovered two curious objects. Lying in the forest path were two metallic cylinders. Around them, the snow had thawed up to a radius of approximately 1 meter, and the

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2020-01-09 22:39:00



Attabad Lake: The Lake Created By a Disaster  

The stunning blue colors of this beautiful lake, nestled among the peaks of the Karakoram mountain range in northern Pakistan, belies its violent origin. In January 2010, a massive landslide possibly triggered by an earthquake came crashing down the mountains and buried the village of Attabad, in Hunza Valley, in the Gilgit Baltistan region, about 760km away from Islamabad. Rocks and soil dammed the the Hunza River's drainage area which quickly filled to maximum depth and created a new lake, ...

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2020-01-09 15:58:00



Karl Patterson Schmidt: The Herpetologist Who Documented His Own Death For Science  

Karl Patterson Schmidt was an eminent American herpetologist—one who studies amphibians and reptiles. He worked for the American Museum of Natural History in New York and then for the Field Museum in Chicago, during which he made several expedition to Central and South America to collect specimens for the museum. He was also the president of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists. During his long scientific career, Schmidt handled countless deadly snakes. But in 1957, he mad...

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2020-01-08 17:23:00



HMS Zubian: The Conjoined Ship  

It is not unusual for navies to cannibalize ships decommissioned or rendered unserviceable by accidents for parts, but rarely an entire new ship was created by welding together the ends of two ships. In 1909, the Royal Navy launched two Tribal-class destroyers named HMS Zulu and HMS Nubian. The Tribal-class destroyers were powered by steam turbines and used oil-fuel rather than coal in their boilers. These ships had high fuel consumption, which shortened their ranges severely limiting their rad

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2020-01-08 15:58:00



HMS Porcupine: The Warship That Became Two  

In 1939, the British Royal Navy ordered Vickers-Armstrongs on the River Tyne to build a new P-class destroyer named HMS Porcupine. The ship was delivered in June 1941, but it wasn't until the summers of 1942, that HMS Porcupine was placed in active service. On December 9, 1942, HMS Porcupine was escorting the depot ship HMS Maidstone from Gibraltar to Algiers, when it encountered a German U-boat northeast of Oran. The U-boat fired four torpedoes at Maidstone and missed, but one hit Porcupine...

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2020-01-07 16:44:00



Glass Flowers And Sea Creatures: Leopold And Rudolf Blaschka's Ultra Realistic Glass Models  

A glass flower at the Harvard Museum of Natural History. It is nearly impossible to preserve a dead specimen in a pristine manner. Large vertebrates can be taxidermied, but invertebrates such as sea anemones and jellyfishes when sealed in a jar of alcohol or formaldehyde, lose their color and shape, eventually becoming little more than colorless blobs of floating jelly. Preserving botanical specimens also poses a challenge. Flowers were traditionally pressed between two sheets of papers unt

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2020-01-06 19:21:00



Theremin: The Musical Instrument That You Can Play Without Touching  

The theremin is probably the world's strangest and spookiest musical instrument ever made. It has no keys, no strings, just two metal rods that you don't even touch. You just move your hands in the air around the device, and an eerie quivering, disembodied voice, like that of an opera singer, emerge from the instrument. The theremin was an accident. In 1919, the young Russian physicist Lev Sergeyevich Termen, or Leon Theremin, as he is known in the west, was working on a high-frequency o...

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2020-01-04 16:07:00



The Abandoned Cryolite Mining Town of Ivittuut  

Near the southern tip of Greenland, lies the old mining town of Ivittuut, now a collection of ramshackle houses and sheds and scattered pieces of old machinery. Ivittuut was once the world's largest source of cryolite, an extremely rare mineral that was historically used in the extraction of aluminium from bauxite ore. Although cryolite has been found at other places on earth, Ivittuut was the only place where this mineral was extracted commercially. Cryolite was first discovered in Ivittuut ...

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2020-01-03 16:29:00



Tron: Scotland's Public Weighing Scales  

The tron at Stenton, East Lothian, Scotland. Image credit: Studio Karel/Shutterstock.com This is the village of Stenton, in East Lothian, Scotland—a small agricultural village made up of a couple of buildings and patches of farmlands. In the medieval period, the main produce of the village was grain, hides and wool, which were sold at the markets every week. The cross like arrangement seen in the image above marks the site where the markets were held up to the middle of the 19th century. ...

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2020-01-03 13:10:00



The Mathematical Bridge of Cambridge  

The Mathematical Bridge is a wooden footbridge across the River Cam, connecting the old and new parts of Queens' College in Cambridge. The bridge is much admired because of its intriguing design—it is constructed entirely out of straight timbers, but has an arched shape. In The History of the University of Cambridge, author Edmund Carter praises the bridge as "one of the most curious pieces of carpentry of this kind in England". The timbers of the bridge are "curiously joined toget...

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2020-01-02 16:49:00



The Meteorite That Changed The Course of Christianity  

For more than two centuries, Christianity suffered under the Roman Empire. Christians were arrested, tortured, mutilated, burned, and starved. Christian buildings and the homes of Christians were torn down and their sacred books burned. The religious persecutions came to an end when Emperor Constantine ascended the throne. Unlike his predecessors, the emperor was a great patron of the Church. He built an extraordinary number of basilicas around the length and breadth of the empire, granted privi

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2019-12-31 18:27:00



Why do People Spit on The Heart of Midlothian?  

Spitting on the streets is not quite gentlemanly behavior, but on the Royal Mile in Edinburg, it is almost a ritual. The object of contempt is an innocuous heart-shaped mosaic set in the cobble stones of the street, just to the west of St. Giles Kirk. Known as the Heart of Midlothian, the sign marks the spot where the infamous Old Tolbooth prison once stood. It was the place where the people of Edinburgh gathered for public hangings and spit at the door in disdain for those imprisoned inside.

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2019-12-31 12:18:00



The Christmas Lights Powered by an Electric Eel  

Visitors to the Tennessee Aquarium in downtown Chattanooga, the United States, are treated to a shocking Christmas attraction this December. An electric eel by the name of Miguel Wattson is powering a festively decorated Christmas tree near its tank. Every time Miguel Wattson releases a jolt of electricity, sensors in the tank pick up the signals, amplify it and feed it to the lights decorating the Christmas tree. Whenever you see the lights flicker, you know that Miguel Wattson is up to someth

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2019-12-30 23:56:00



The Ruins of Washburn A Mill, Minneapolis  

The tasteful ruins on the banks of the Mississippi River from which rises the Minneapolis' Mill City Museum serves as a reminder to the site's dramatic history. The site was the location of Minneapolis' largest industrial building and the largest mill in the world. The Washburn A Mill was built in 1874 by Cadwallader Washburn, a businessman from LaCrosse, Wisconsin. The building was seven story tall, and housed a flour mill powered by the flowing waters of the Mississippi River, which w...

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2019-12-28 12:56:00



Child Birth by Centrifugal Force  

In 1965, George and Charlotte Blonsky, a childless New York couple were granted patent for a peculiarly weird invention—an "Apparatus for Facilitating the Birth of a Child by Centrifugal Force". The apparatus consist of a turntable over which the pregnant and ready to delivery woman is laid, with her legs pointed outwards, and is strapped down. The table is then rotated at high speed. When a sufficient speed is reached, the baby slides out of the birth canal propelled by centrifugal forc...

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2019-12-27 15:56:00



Corona Spy Satellite: The Humble Beginning of Satellite Espionage  

There is not a square-inch of earth that has not been photographed and mapped by satellites today. These spying eyes, flying hundreds of miles above the earth's surface are capable of imaging the entire earth many times over in a single day. Arriving at this level of technological brilliance was no small matter. Back in the 1950s, high-altitude surveillance was carried out using special reconnaissance aircraft capable of flying at ultra-high altitudes, in excess of 60,000 feet. For comparison...

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2019-12-24 16:55:00



Creepy Victorian Christmas Cards  

Victorian Christmas cards were a mixed bag of iconography, ranging from religious to everyday things. But one theme common in these seasonal greetings was humor, but not always of the kind we can appreciate today. A dead robin, a frog stabbing another, and Saint Nicholas stuffing a kid in a sack. The significance of these bizarre imagery is lost, but it is important to remember that the tradition of Christmas was still new, and its iconography had not fully developed. © Amusing Planet

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2019-12-24 15:06:00



The Australian Floating Hotel That Ended Up in North Korea  

For little more than a year in the late 1980s, a seven-story five-star hotel floated over John Brewer Reef, about 70 km off the coast of Townsville, in Queensland, Australia. It had two hundred rooms, discos, bars, a gym, a sauna, and two excellent restaurants, specializing in seafood. Outside the hotel, a tennis court floated. It was such a novel enterprise that many Townsville residents old enough to remember the hotel still have fond memories of it. © Amusing Planet, 2019.

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2019-12-23 16:01:00



The Termite Mounds of Okavango Delta  

The Okavango Delta is a place like nowhere else on earth. It's a vast swampy inland delta where a river disappears instead of emptying into an ocean. The Okavango River arises in the Angola highlands in the north, carrying rainwater from the mountains. It takes a couple of months for this water to reach the Kalahari, flooding the desert and turning it into a watery paradise that attracts all kinds of animals from kilometers around creating one of Africa's greatest concentrations of wildlife....

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2019-12-23 10:21:00



Sargasso Sea And Sargassum  

The Sargasso Sea in the North Atlantic Ocean, near the Caribbean, is unlike any other sea in this planet. The boundaries of the sea are defined not by landmasses, but by four currents that swirl clockwise around the Bermuda forming a vast whirlpool called the North Atlantic gyre. The Sargasso Sea is part of this gyre. These ocean currents bring marine plants and debris from far away and deposit them into the gyre, yet the ocean water in the Sargasso Sea has a deep blue color and exceptional clar

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2019-12-21 10:25:00



Villa Girasole: The House That Rotates  

In the hills of northern Italy near Verona stands an L-shaped house called Villa Girasole, which means "sunflower" in Italian. And just like the flower after which it was named, Villa Girasole rotates on a large turntable following the sun across the sky. It's owner and architect, Angelo Invernizzi, designed it so that his house can soak in as much sunlight as possible to "maximize the health properties of the sun". © Amusing Planet, 2019.

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2019-12-20 16:08:00



Britain's Hundred Million Pound Banknotes  

Scottish banknotes are weird. Although they are used all over Scotland and the rest of the UK, they are not legal tender, which means a shopkeeper can refuse to accept them and you can do nothing about it. Three Scottish banks are authorized to print bank notes in Scotland, yet none of them are central banks. This power to print banknotes was vested upon the private banks by the Bank Notes (Scotland) Act 1845, under the condition that the issuing banks deposit an equivalent sum in pound sterli

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2019-12-20 11:26:00



Australia's Rock And Ocean Pools  

A defining feature of the Australian coastline, particularly in New South Wales, are the rock pools—outdoor swimming pools carved out of the rocks at the ocean's edges. The waves regular crash into the pool filling and replenishing it with seawater. Rock pools or ocean pools began to appear in the 1800s, when the prudish Victorian-era people banned daytime swimming at the beach, causing wealthy individuals to build pools on the rocky surf coast. Others were build through community subscrip...

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2019-12-19 15:58:00



Seljavallalaug: Iceland's Hidden Swimming Pool  

Tucked in a narrow valley in South Iceland, a short hike away from the Ring Road that encircles the country, is an outdoor swimming—arguably, the most famous one in the country. It is nestled on the hillside, deep in the valley, surrounded by black volcanic sand and moss. The Seljavallalaug pool was built in 1923 as a place where children could learn swimming. Iceland, despite being a country of fishermen with a deep connection to the sea, swimming was not widely practiced back then. Today, ...

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2019-12-19 12:43:00



Fata Morgana Mirage  

The atmosphere plays unusual tricks with light in the polar regions, especially at sea, creating strange shapes like a looming island, a floating ship or a false wall of water to appear above the horizon. These mirages confounded early explorers. In 1818, when British explorer John Ross entered Lancaster Sound while seeking the Northwest Passage, he saw a mountain blocking his ship's course and decided to sail no further. Ross named the mountain range the Croker Mountains, but a later expediti...

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2019-12-18 19:55:00



Döllersheim: The Village That Hitler Destroyed to Crush a Rumor  

About one hundred km northwest of Vienna, in northern Austria, lies a small village called Döllersheim. Eighty years ago, this tiny Austrian village was wiped off the map by a certain German dictator with a comically short moustache in an attempt to erase the disreputable origins of his family. It was here, in Döllersheim, in the year 1837, that a woman named Maria Schicklgruber gave birth to an illegitimate child. That child was Alois Schicklgruber, the father of Adolf Hitler. The identity ...

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2019-12-18 13:14:00



The White Cliffs of Iturup Island  

Stretching from Hokkaido, Japan to Kamchatka, Russia, separating the Sea of Okhotsk from the north Pacific Ocean, are a string of volcanic islands called Kuril Islands. The archipelago belongs to Russia, but Japan claims the four southernmost islands, including the two largest ones—Iturup and Kunashir. Iturup was Japanese territory until the end of the Second World War in 1945, when Soviet forces took possession of all the Kurils and forced out Japanese residents. Japan has been trying to r...

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2019-12-18 11:12:00



China's Trackless Trains  

After two years of testing, a new futuristic train that runs on virtual tracks was launched for the first time in Yibin, in the province of Sichuan, China. Instead of steel tracks, these tram-bus-hybrid run over tracks painted on the asphalt in white. © Amusing Planet, 2019.

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2019-12-17 20:53:00



The Moon Villages of South Korea  

After the Korean War ended in 1953, many war refugees and other impoverished people moved to the rapidly developing urban centers and began squatting, often on hillsides. These downtrodden, gritty neighbourhoods came to be known as "moon villages" or daldongnae in Korean, signifying its high elevation and therefore closer proximity to and a better view of the moon. These villages are characterized by the utter lack of planning, with steep hills, winding alleys and small pockets of communal s...

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2019-12-17 15:53:00



The Elephant Bird  

Not too long ago, a gigantic, flightless bird roamed the island of Madagascar. It stood nearly 10 feet tall and weighed 700 kg. For centuries, their existence was like a folklore. Marco Polo mentioned hearing stories about them during his travels to the East as early as the 13th century. In the 17th century, Étienne de Flacourt, a French governor of Madagascar, mentioned "a large bird which haunts the Ampatres and lays eggs like the ostriches; so that the people of these places may not take...

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2019-12-12 21:45:00



Haystacks of Rishikesh  

Haystacks are often constructed around a central pole, or a tree. Bales of hay are loosely arranged around the central structure to prevent accumulation of moisture and promote drying. The pole or the tree provides stability. In the holy town of Rishikesh, in the foothills of the Himalayas in northern India, villagers build haystacks not around trees but on top of them. Rishikesh is one of the wettest places in northern India with a mean annual rainfall of over 2,100 mm. This means that the grou

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2019-12-12 16:09:00



The Hellfire Club And Caves  

Throughout history men have formed clandestine clubs where rich young aristocrats met and indulged in drunken orgies, gambling and carousing. But few clubs have attained so much notoriety as the Hellfire Clubs established in Britain and Ireland in the 18th century. The original Hellfire Club was founded in London in 1718 by the Duke of Wharton, a licentious character who was said to lead two lives—one a "man of letters" and the other "a drunkard, a rioter, an infidel and a rake." The c...

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2019-12-11 10:33:00



Machine de Marly  

Water features form an impressive part of the gardens in the Palace of Versailles in Paris. There are fountains, cascading waterfalls, calm pools and grand canals. Close to the palace, by the two water parterres are a series of sculptures depicting wild animals in fight—a lion conquering a wild boar, a tiger subduing a bear and a bloodhound bringing down a stag. From the mouth of each of these animals water gushes into a basin. The Dragon Fountain, which is actually a python, is one of the old...

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2019-12-09 16:14:00



The Unbelievably Delicate Marble Sculptures at Cappella Sansevero  

In the late 16th century, the Duke of Torremaggiore, Giovan Francesco di Sangro, after a miraculous recovery from a serious illness, erected a chapel to thank the Virgin Mary in the gardens of his family home in the heart of Naples, Italy. This chapel, called "Cappella Sansevero de' Sangri", is today home to some of the most extraordinary pieces of art by leading Italian artists from the 18th century. Among these, in the center of the nave, there is a reclining figure of Christ, covered ...

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2019-12-07 15:45:00



Khuk Khi Kai, The Chicken Poop Prison  

Chicken poop has a strong and suffocating smell of ammonia that's hard to stand for more than a few minutes. The odor causes a variety of adverse reaction in humans ranging from vomiting, headache, and irritation to even stress and depression. Ammonia when it enters the body reacts with water to produce ammonium hydroxide, which is very corrosive and causes burning in the nose, throat and respiratory tract. Long-term exposure and inhalation of compounds released by chicken poop is harmful to h...

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2019-12-06 15:54:00



Medieval Book Curses  

In the days before the printing press, book-making was a very laborious process. Each and every book had to made by hand, starting with the preparation of parchment, to the writing, the illumination and finally to the binding. Often a number of scribes, usually monks, worked together in a manuscript carefully forming letters in beautiful calligraphy with ink-tipped feathers, accompanied by rich illustrations. They had to be careful not to make errors, while also making sure that the lines were s

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2019-12-05 16:09:00



Inuit Snow Goggles  

This man, wearing a pair of strange goggles is not trying to make a fashion statement. He is just getting ready for a trek across the frozen tundra. The Inuit, Yupik, and other Arctic peoples have been making and wearing such extremely primitive but nonetheless effective pieces of eye protection for thousands of years. These snow goggles are fashioned out of whatever material the remote Arctic offers. Driftwood, animal bones, walrus ivory, and caribou antlers are the most obvious choices. But

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2019-12-05 13:13:00



Abandoned Cars in Hawaii  

In Hawaii, it is easier to dump your old car by the side of the road than have it legally disposed—an attitude that's causing big headaches for the authorities. Every year, the state spends hundreds of thousands of tax payer's money to tow away abandoned vehicles and there are still an overwhelming number of them rotting in the fields and among the trees. Hawaii is full of transplants who are constantly moving on and off the islands. When people leave Hawaii for the mainland, they often le...

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2019-12-04 20:35:00



The Mosaics of Villa Romana del Casale  

Many Roman villas, private residences, as well as public buildings, were lavishly decorated with mosaic floors. Mosaics served as a symbol of wealth and status, and many powerful and wealthy Romans commissioned them to impress their guests, choosing themes that reflected their status. Some depicted scenes from everyday life, such as athletics playing and ladies bathing. Others were full of drama and violence—gladiator fights, hunts and exotic creatures from mythological episodes. Like any work...

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2019-12-03 16:55:00



The Pigeon Breeders of Cairo  

Perched on rooftops across Cairo, like water tanks on elevated platforms, are rickety wooden cages where Cairenes keep their pigeons. Pigeon keeping is a tradition that is older than Ancient Egypt. For thousands of years Egyptians have reared pigeons both for sport and for food. References to pigeon husbandry can be found in hieroglyphics and Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets from more than 5,000 years ago. Unlike in the US, where pigeons are considered little more than rats with wings, pigeon mea

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2019-12-02 16:11:00



Vladimir Lukyanov's Water Computer  

Early computers were mechanical machines built using gears and levers. These parts or components could be moved with precision and were connected to other components in a way that simulated the relationship between different variables in a mathematical equation. By moving a gear or pulling a lever, one can change these variables and the results of these actions can be viewed in another set of gears, whose newly acquired positions gave the answer the operator was seeking. In 1936, a Russian engi

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2019-11-27 21:00:00



Repurposing Old Industrial Sites As Public Parks  

The public park Landschaftspark in Duisburg-Meiderich, Germany. Image credit: mini_malist/Flickr Landschaftspark, or "landscape park", of Duisburg-Meiderich, Germany, was once an industrial site that was adapted and transformed into a stunning public park by the design firm Latz + Partner in the early 1990s. Attempt was made to preserve as much of the existing site as possible. Giant blast furnaces and loading bridges of the former coal and steel production plant still looms large above the...

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2019-11-25 21:32:00



Bomb Crater Garden  

On September 20, 1940, just over a year after Hitler's army invaded Poland triggering a six-year war, a German airplane dropped a bomb over London as part of the Blitz. The target was the Westminster Cathedral. By good fortune, the airmen miscalculated the trajectory and the bomb missed the church. It fell in the square between the choir of the cathedral and Morphet Terrace, and exploded leaving a large crater. The crater was left intact until the following spring, when the caretaker of the ca...

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2019-11-25 15:44:00



Out of Place Ski Jumps  

Competitive skiing as a sport developed in Norway in the later part of the 19th century. Sondre Norheim, who is recognized as the "Father of Ski Jumping", won the first-ever ski jumping competition which was held in Høydalsmo in 1866. Later, Norheim migrated to the United States and started developing the sport in that country. By the 1920s, skiing had become a popular enough sport to be included in the 1924 Winter Olympics in Chamonix, France. The 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New Y...

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2019-11-22 21:16:00



Star Jelly: The Mysterious Phenomenon That Inspired 'The Blob'  

For hundreds of years, people have reported blobs of strange gelatinous substances on the ground that they presumed had fallen from the skies. Old texts dating as far back as the 14th century have described them as translucent or grayish-white slimy goo, that tended to evaporate shortly after having "fallen." The 13th century English physician, John of Gaddesden, mentions stella terrae (or "star of the earth") in his medical writings, describing it as "a certain mucilaginous substance ...

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2019-11-21 21:47:00



Hameau de la Reine: Marie Antoinette's Pretend Village  

Marie Antoinette, the last Queen of France, is often portrayed as a frivolous, selfish, and immoral woman whose decadent lifestyle emptied the coffers of the national treasury. She was recklessly wasteful, indulging in excesses even at a time when the country was going through a period of acute financial crisis and the population was suffering. She wore flour wigs when her people went without bread, and dressed in indienne, a textile of Indian origin that was so popular that the Royal French Ord

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2019-11-20 21:23:00



Rod Stewart's Model Railway  

For the past 26 years British rock star Rod Stewart has been secretly building a massive model railway in the attic of his Los Angles home. The model spans 1,500 square feet and is based on the city of New York and Chicago as they were during the 1940s, the rock legend recently revealed in an interview with Railway Modeller magazine. Stewart has named his model the Grand Street and Three Rivers City. © Amusing Planet, 2019.

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2019-11-20 16:03:00



Richard Trevithick And The Steam Circus  

Twenty five years before Robert Stephenson decisively proved the superiority of steam locomotives over horse drawn carriages during the Rainhill Trials, a British inventor named Richard Trevithick built the first full-scale working railway steam locomotive. He used his locomotive to haul the first ever passengers over a distance of 10 miles in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales. A replica of Richard Trevithick's last locomotive, Catch Me Who Can, in Bridgenorth. Image credit: nigelmenzies/Flickr © ...

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2019-11-19 15:40:00



The Zeppelin Spy Basket  

One of the most perilous positions in the crew of a German Zeppelin during the First World War was that of the aerial lookout, whose job was to observe the ground for enemy position and bombing targets while dangling at the end of a long tether suspended from the belly of the aircraft. The lookout sat in an observation car called the spy gondola or spy basket that was lowered from the zeppelin through the cloud, while the zeppelin itself stayed shrouded within the cloud layer and out of enemy vi

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2019-11-18 21:29:00



Caligula's Pleasure Ships of Lake Nemi  

Two thousand years ago, the debauched Roman emperor Caligula ordered the construction of two large floating pleasure barges on the relatively small Lake Nemi so that he could indulge in many of the depravities attributed to him. Lake Nemi is a small, shallow crater lake in the Alban Hills, approximately 30 km southeast of Rome, that has long been a vacation getaway for Romans, and now Italians, from the intense summer heat. Emperor Caligula, like his predecessor Emperor Tiberius, liked to spend

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2019-11-15 15:33:00



Cinder Lake Crater Field: The Simulated Moon NASA Created to Train Astronauts  

Two Apollo 15 crew members, riding a Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) simulator, participate in geology training at the Cinder Lake crater field in Arizona. Before the Apollo astronauts set foot on the moon, they underwent a routine of rigorous training in order to prepare themselves for the mission. While much of the training took place inside classrooms, simulators and at testing facilities, NASA also gave the astronauts hands-on experience in geology and taught them how to collect geological spec

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2019-11-13 21:57:00



The Rainhill Trials  

Nearly two centuries ago, a small hamlet lying between Liverpool and Manchester became host to one of the strangest competitions ever held. The Liverpool and Manchester Railway had just completed laying the rails but they were unsure whether to use a self-propelled steam locomotive or a static winding engine to pull passenger wagons by cables. In the end they decided to hold a competition to find out whether a boiler on wheels was better than a boiler bolted to the floor. The idea was that if a

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2019-11-12 19:39:00



Communal Coffins And Burial Clubs  

The St John and All Saints Church in the town of Easingwold, in North Yorkshire, England, dates to the 13th century, or perhaps even earlier. It's a typical mediaeval-era English parish church with stone walls and slate roof and large Gothic three-light pointed windows. Inside the church is a 17th century communion table with 'gouty' legs and a curious addition—a coffin. The oak coffin in question is undeniably old, and dates back to the time when families who were too poor to afford...

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2019-11-12 10:35:00



The Last Victim of Smallpox  

In the summer of 1978, the World Health Organization stood on the brink of a remarkable achievement—smallpox, the disease that terrorized people for three thousand years and killed millions, had been eradicated through a rigorous mass vaccination program lasting 10 years. The last reported case of smallpox was in October the previous year, ten months ago. A 23-year-old cook named Ali Maow Maalin, working at a hospital in Merca, Somalia, had come down with the disease. Maalin was unvaccinated b...

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2019-11-09 14:49:00



Kongo Gumi: The 1,400-Year-Old Company  

Less than two months ago, the renowned British travel agency Thomas Cook laid off more than 21,000 employees the world over and liquidated its assets, bringing to an end an era that lasted 178 years. At the time they folded, the company was pulling in more than £9.5 billion in revenue per year and making a profit of £163 million—a hardly partly sum. In the past few years, we have seen many corporate behemoths—companies "too big to fail"—failing spectacularly. Lehman Brothers, Saab Au...

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2019-11-07 21:18:00



The Historic Hanford Reactor That Made Plutonium For The Nagasaki Bomb  

Sitting squarely in the middle of the now decommissioned Hanford Site, a nuclear production complex on the Columbia River near Richland, Washington, is B Reactor—the world's first large-scale nuclear reactor ever built. For more than forty years, B Reactor, along with eight others, pumped out enough plutonium to build over sixty thousand nuclear weapons that comprises the majority of America's vast nuclear arsenal. B Reactor is one of the few facilities constructed during the secretive Man...

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2019-11-06 20:58:00



The Century Old 'Dream Mine' That's Yet to Produce Gold  

On the foothills of Wasatch Mountains, east of Salem, in the US state of Utah, is a mine waiting for a miracle. The mine was first excavated in 1894, and in the 125 years of its existence, it has produced not even the tiniest nugget of gold. Its seven thousand plus stockholders and supporters are hopeful. They believe that when the time is right, the mine will yield untold amount of gold and treasures enough to see the believers through the worst of times. The Dream Mine's ore processing mi

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2019-11-05 16:30:00



Bridges With Buildings—Part 2  

During the Middle Ages, it was common to have buildings built on top of bridges. These spaces were rented out to shopkeepers and merchants, and the money raised from the rent went towards the bridge's maintenance. Only a handful of such bridges exist today. In an earlier article, we saw four such bridges—Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy; Krämerbrücke in Erfurt, Germany; Rialto Bridge in Venice, Italy; and Pulteney Bridge in Bath, England. In this installment, we have tracked down five more...

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2019-11-05 10:29:00



The Legend of The Lost Cement Mine  

Gold mining in California. Lithograph by Currier & Ives, 1871. Image courtesy: Everett Historical/Shutterstock.com Hundreds of million years ago, a multitude of geological forces colluded to deposit billions of dollars worth of gold in the mountains of California. This gold was first discovered 170 years ago, and the rush that followed made (and broke) the fortunes of thousands of people. Gold was so abundant in California's gravel beds that early miners simply panned the rivers and strea...

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2019-11-01 15:53:00



Why Mediaeval Europeans Slept Inside Boxes  

For much of human history, privacy during bedtime was an alien concept. Many poor families lived in small houses, where there was only one or two rooms, the larger of which functioned as bedroom and living room both shared by every occupant of the house, including any guests. Even in large houses and palaces, it was not uncommon for servants to sleep in the same room as the master's. When King Henry V bedded Catherine of Valois, writes Bill Bryson in At Home, both his steward and chamberlain w...

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2019-10-31 19:27:00



The Berlin Candy Bomber  

Following the end of World War 2, Germany was broken up and divided among the Allies as one divides war booty. The western half was occupied by the United States, the United Kingdom and France, while the eastern half went to the Soviets. Berlin itself was divided into four zones, but it was completely surrounded by the Soviet-controlled Eastern Bloc. This allowed the Soviets to act as gatekeepers controlling the flow of goods and people in and out of the capital. © Amusing Planet, 2019.

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2019-10-30 15:13:00



That Time When Britain Had Its Own Rocket  

For a country as technological advanced as Great Britain, it sounds almost implausible when you say that the British do not have a space program. But fifty years ago, they almost did only to have the parliament throw it away, becoming the first, and so far, the only nation to develop satellite launch capability and then abandon it. © Amusing Planet, 2019.

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2019-10-29 16:40:00



The Abandoned Mansions of Bishops Avenue  

Bishops Avenue, in North London, dubbed the "Billionaire's Row" is one of the wealthiest streets in the world. The average value of a property here is around £5 million, but some of the more grander mansions cost many times more. The palatial Toprak Mansion, for instance, originally owned by the Turkish tycoon Halis Toprak, was bought by the President of Kazakhstan in 2008 for £50 million making it one of the most expensive houses in the world. © Amusing Planet, 2019.

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2019-10-29 16:27:00



Soda Locomotives  

An interesting type of locomotive engine that found very brief and limited use in Europe, as well as in America, was the soda locomotive. A soda locomotive was essentially a steam locomotive, but instead of a firebox to burn coal and heat the boiler, it used chemical reaction to generate heat. © Amusing Planet, 2019.

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2019-10-28 16:34:00



The Submarine Sunk By Her Own Torpedo  

The U.S. Navy submarine USS Tang off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, December 1943. Photo credit: U.S. Navy Throughout the Second World War, American submarines were plagued by a variety of torpedo problems such as premature detonation and incorrect depth gauge. The most notorious of these was the tendency to circle back on the firing submarine. This is known as circular run. Early torpedoes were only straight-running, like bullets fired from a gun, but in the early 20th century before t

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2019-10-28 16:34:00



The Crin­kle-Cran­kle Walls of Suffolk  

A crin­kle-cran­kle wall is an unusual type of garden wall found in the East Anglia region of east England, but popular mostly in the county of Suffolk. A crin­kle-cran­kle wall is wavy with al­ter­nating con­vex and con­cave curves like a sinusoid. While this might seem like an unnecessary wastage of bricks, it actually is not. A straight wall requires buttresses in order to make it stand, which can either be provided by a wide footing or supporting posts every f

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2019-10-25 12:06:00



Reindeer's Eyes Change Color With Seasons  

All animals, including humans, can adapt their eyes to the changing level of light. In dark conditions, muscles in the irises contract to dilate the pupils and allow more light into the eyes. When it's bright again, the irises widen and the pupils shrink. The same thing happens to reindeers. But when the arctic winter brings perpetual darkness for months on end, something more happens to reindeer's eyes causing them to change color. The arctic reindeer is the only mammal whose eyes shine a d...

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2019-10-25 12:05:00



White Volcanoes of Harrat Khaybar  

Of the millions of pilgrims that visit the holy city of Medina, in Saudi Arabia, every year to pray in the Prophet's Mosque, few people are aware that the city is build upon the basalt flows of a past volcano, with the now dormant volcano lying very close to the city. This volcanic field, known as Harrat Khaybar, contains some of the rarest examples of white volcanoes, so called because of their light colored rocks caused by the presence of a kind of alkali and silica-rich light blue-gray igne...

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2019-10-24 16:20:00



The Goiânia Radiological Accident  

A radiation therapy unit in a hospital. Photo credit: Thomas Hecker/Shutterstock.com Radioactive isotopes have a very niche use in medicine, where they are used both in diagnosis as well as in treatment. The most widely used is radiotherapy, where a concentrated dose of radiation is directed towards a malignant tumor or group of cancerous cells to kill them. Sometimes tiny doses of radioactive materials called radiotracers are injected into the bloodstream of a patient, and the gamma rays they

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2019-10-23 20:30:00



Rotary Jails  

Some problems require ingenious solutions. The rotary jail was not one of them. Designed by two American engineers, William H. Brown and Benjamin F. Haugh, the system consisted of a cylindrical cell block divided into several sectors, each functioning as individual cells. This was surrounded by a circular iron cage with only one opening. The entire block was mounted on a central column such that it could be rotated while the cage remained stationary, allowing prisoners to enter or leave a cell o

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2019-10-22 10:45:00



Carl Wilhelm Scheele: The Unlucky Chemist  

You know Bad Luck Brian. Now let me tell you about Hard-Luck Scheele. Carl Wilhelm Scheele was born in 1742 in Stralsund, in present day Germany. His father was a well-known merchant, but Scheele chose to practice chemistry. At age 14, Scheele went to work with a pharmacist in Gothenburg, Sweden, where he first had hands-on experience with chemicals. The large variety of chemicals at his disposal excited him, and often after work, he experimented with them late into the night. The story goes tha

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2019-10-22 10:44:00



The Cavern of Lost Souls  

Just how difficult can it be to tow an old car to the junkyard to be dismantled, crushed and recycled? Too much, if you ask the council of Corris Uchaf in north Wales. For decades, residents of this small village have been dumping their unwanted vehicles, old television sets, refrigerators and other household items through a hole in the mountains. Photo credit: Robin Friend © Amusing Planet, 2019.

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2019-10-19 20:26:00



Bayan Obo: The Chinese Mine That Makes All Gadgets Possible  

In the image above, captured by NASA's Terra satellite in June 2006, we see some deep scars in the desert—the result of nearly sixty years of mining. The area imaged lies in the west of Inner Mongolia, which is, despite its name, a part of China. The whole of Mongolia was once under Chinese occupation, but once the Qing dynasty fell in the early 20th century, Mongolia declared independence. A part of Mongolia was retained by China, which became Inner Mongolia. The rest, which is still refer...

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2019-10-17 19:31:00



A Natural Land Bridge on The Moon  

On the morning of July 29, 1953, John J. O'Neill, science editor of the New York Herald Tribune turned his telescope, a 4-inch refractor, towards the moon and began studying the western rim of Mare Crisium, a vast oval-shaped plain more than five hundred kilometers in diameter with a flat floor and a ring of wrinkle ridges around its boundaries. The low sun hit the region's lofty peaks and exaggerated their heights and at the same time created tiny islands of light in a black sea of shadow...

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2019-10-15 20:17:00



The World's First Skyscraper  

The word "skyscraper" was used to describe a tall building for the first time during the construction boom that rippled across many America cities in the late 19th century. But the idea of multi-storied buildings was hardly new. In the desert city of Shibam, in Yemen, there are mudbrick residential buildings as tall as ten stories, built in the 13th century. In San Gimignano, in Italy's Tuscany, there was once more than seventy towers, two hundred feet tall, all constructed before the 15th...

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2019-10-15 10:46:00



Port Arthur And The Convict Tramway  

In the middle of the 19th century, Tasman Peninsula, on the southeast coast of Tasmania, became home to one of Australia's most dreaded penal colony. The peninsula was selected as a penal settlement because it is geographically isolated from the rest of Tasmania, it being surrounded by water, which the administration rumored was infested by sharks. Its only connection to the mainland was a thirty-meter-wide isthmus known as Eaglehawk Neck that was fenced and heavily guarded by soldiers, mant

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2019-10-12 16:34:00



Disposable Ships  

Before the Industrial Revolution, the British shipbuilding industry was completely dependent on the countries around the Baltic Sea for timber and for other materials such as masts, tar and pitch needed to build ships. As a strong maritime nation, this frightful dependence on other countries for raw materials not only undermined Britain's defense, it also worsened the growing trade deficit Britain had with the entire Baltic region. Only a small percentage of Britain's demand for timber was f...

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2019-10-10 21:36:00



The Spiral Hives of Sugarbag Bees  

Not all bees sting. There are about five hundred bee species out of twenty thousand that have lost that ability, but they do exhibit other defensive behaviors like biting or showering intruders with a rain of wax, plant resin and mud. Larger predators are often engulfed by the sheer strength of their numbers. There are fourteen species of stingless bees that are native to Australia. Among these, the sugarbag bee or bush bee is particularly notable for the beautiful hives they make. Photo credi

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2019-10-10 10:22:00



Chinese Medicine Dolls  

For hundreds of years until the early 20th century, getting medical help for a Chinese woman was tricky. In those times the Chinese placed enormous importance to the chastity of a woman (many cultures still do), which meant that a woman couldn't show too much skin to a male who was other than her husband. This implied trouble as doctors were mostly men, and if a doctor couldn't get his female patients to undress so that she could be examined, a diagnosis and treatment was impossible. So a so...

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2019-10-08 16:39:00



Bouvet Island: The Uninhabited Island With Its Own Top-Level Internet Domain  

As far as islands go, Bouvet is pretty insignificant—a speck of rock located in the South Atlantic Ocean over 1,600 kilometers off the coast of Antarctica. It is the most remote island in the world. Its nearest inhabited neighbor is Tristan da Cunha, an isolated spot by itself, located 2,260 kilometers away. Bouvet Island is less than 50 square kilometers in size and is almost entirely covered by a glacier. But underneath that ice lies a fiery volcano that's still warm to the touch, so to s...

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2019-10-07 13:05:00



An Incredible Move: The Indiana Bell Telephone Building  

The relocation of the headquarter building of Indiana Bell Telephone Company in Indianapolis remains one of the most fascinating moves in the history of structure relocation. The headquarters of Indiana Bell, a subsidiary of AT&T serving the US state of Indiana, was housed inside an 8-story, 11,000-ton building built in 1907. In 1929, the phone company decided they needed a larger building, but they couldn't just demolish the old building because it was providing an essential service to th...

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2019-10-05 11:40:00



Shadwell Forgeries: How Two Illiterates Fooled Victorian Archeologists  

During the middle of the 19th century, London's antiquarian market was flooded by the sudden arrival of a large number of supposedly mediaeval leaden artifacts of unknown origin. Questions about the authenticity of the items were raised, but the general consensus was that they were real. The objects were eventually revealed to be forgeries made by two lowly criminals with no background in either history or archaeology. In fact, they were illiterates. As expected, their products were also inept...

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2019-10-02 20:56:00



Megapode Egg Fields  

Most birds incubate their eggs with body heat, but not megapodes, a chicken-sized bird with heavy body, short rounded wings and large, strong, four-​toed feet. Birds in this family bury their eggs in soil and incubate them using natural heat sources. Depending on the species and its location, megapodes may lay their eggs in burrows dug in sun-warmed beaches, or geothermally active areas, or they may build large incubation mounds and fill them with organic matter such as leaves, and derive heat...

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2019-10-01 20:20:00



Fist Fights on Venetian Bridges  

Throughout the Middle Ages and the early Modern Period, Venice was divided into many administrative districts and rival factions, who displayed incredible unrestrain when it came to getting at each other's throat. Armed raids on another's territory were common, and as if these violent interludes were not enough, these gangs mutually decided that it would be nice to meet once in a while in a public place and sort out their differences with fists and sticks. © Amusing Planet, 2019.

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2019-09-30 16:01:00



Fatberg: The Fatty Monster of The Sewer  

Blockages in sewers are pretty common in cities across the globe. But how large a congealed mass of filth has to be before it gets its own name? In 2013, after a 15 ton mass of wet wipes, condoms, sanitary products, and other trash that people shouldn't flush down their toilets was removed from a London sewer under Kingston upon Thames, a new term was born—fatberg. A worker cradles a fatberg in her arms in a London sewer. Photo credit: Adrian Dennis/AFP © Amusing Planet, 2019.

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2019-09-28 10:18:00



Fanny Burney's Gruesome Mastectomy  

In the days before anesthesia, the prospect of having to go under the knife was far more horrific than the affliction the procedure was supposed to cure. Without the means to render the patient unconscious, surgeons administered opium or liquor in a vain attempt to numb the pain, but many patients mercifully passed out halfway through the process. Anybody who didn't had to endure the physical pain as well as the mental trauma of watching their own operation. Even if the patient did survive the...

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2019-09-26 16:11:00



Russia's Circular Warships  

In the latter half of the 19th century, ships began to transition from wood to iron and many engineers thought the time was ripe to experiment new forms. John Elder, a Scottish shipbuilder, advocated that making a ship wider in the beam would allow it to carry heavier and more powerful guns. Such a design would also have a shallower draft and only a moderate increase in power would be required to match the speed of a normal ship. The concept greatly interested Andrei Alexandrovich Popov, a rear

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2019-09-26 16:11:00



The French Chateau With The World's Largest Private Collection of Warplanes  

Among the rolling hills of Burgundy's wine country, surrounded by vineyards and forested land, stands a 14th-century castle belonging to Michel Pont, an avid collector of anything that moves fast—racing cars, motorcycles and even fighter jets. He has turned his castle in the French commune of Savigny-lès-Beaune into a vast museum with over 250 motorcycles, 30 racing cars and an impressive collection of nearly 80 warplanes and helicopters— the world's largest private collection. Airp...

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2019-09-25 22:06:00



The Ottoman Sultans Who Were Raised in Cages  

Topkapi Palace from across the Bosporus, Istanbul. Photo credit: Faraways/Shutterstock.com Situated in the heart of Istanbul and visible from across the Bosporus, is the Topkapi Palace, an enormous complex that once served as the royal residence and administrative headquarters of the Ottoman sultans. A major part of this complex was dedicated to the Imperial Harem where the females of the royal family lived including the sultan's mother, his wives and concubines, their children and the servan...

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2019-09-23 21:45:00



Gloria Ramirez: The Toxic Lady  

Do you have people in your lives that you can't stand? A co-worker perhaps, or a family member, or a grumpy neighbor. You may call them "toxic", but there was a lady who was so noxious that people couldn't literally stand her. Her name was Gloria Ramirez. On the evening of February 19, 1994, Gloria Ramirez, 31-year-old mother of two, was wheeled into the emergency department of Riverside General Hospital in Riverside, California. Ramirez, a patient with terminal cervical cancer, was comp...

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2019-09-20 20:51:00



The Museum That Collects Houses  

The Weald and Downland Living Museum in Singleton, West Sussex. Photo credit: Anguskirk/Flickr In the village of Singleton, in West Sussex, there is an unusual museum dedicated to historic buildings—not reproductions, but real ones. Spread over 40 acres, the Weald and Downland Living Museum (formerly Weald and Downland Open Air Museum) showcases over 50 historic buildings, dating from the 10th century to the 19th century, that have been rescued from demolition. Each building has been carefu...

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2019-09-20 14:50:00



The Mountain Where Space Junk Litters  

The Altai Mountains in Central Asia is exceedingly beautiful with snow-capped peaks, rich pine forests and valleys studded with stunning alpine lakes and glaciers. The region is sparsely inhabited by various ethnic tribes, who lead a quiet and contented life herding sheep and buffaloes, raising bees, and growing grains and leguminous plants. But their peace is routinely shattered by debris from rocket parts that fall from the sky. Villagers collecting scrap from a crashed spacecraft, surrounded

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2019-09-19 11:10:00






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