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193. The Skin of Big Nose George

In August 1878 a Union Pacific train was making its rounds through rural Wyoming, America. The day was warm and the steam train pulled along through the uneventful landscape. Meanwhile George Parrott or Big Nose George as he was also known, was with an outlaw gang, lying in wait by the straight tracks. They were ready to make mischief on a whole new scale. The plan was simple, derail and rob the train.

As a group they loosened a few sections of track and moved them enough to destabilise the train, then they lay in wait. Then some section hands came along, found the damage and repaired it immediately. The train was safe; this was the cause of some disappointment for the gang, and they aborted the robbery.

The section hands immediately reported the tampered track to the authorities and two men set out to investigate the track tampering and lay down the law. These men were Sheriff Robert Widdowfield and Special Railroad Detective, Harry ‘Tip’ Vincent. The gang fled to a temporary camp in the nearby ‘Rattlesnake Canyon’ but the investigators were hot on their tracks and discovered them within days. Upon entering the camp they found recently extinguished embers, they were still hot. The gang was there still laying in wait. Up to twenty shots rang out through the canyon and the two investigators lay dead. Shot by Parrot’s cruel collective.

With two bodies on their hands the group partially buried the bodies and then dispersed. Then the long arm of the law began to extend its grasp. Surveyors near the canyon reported hearing the sounds of gunshots rebounding off the rock faces. Some twenty men were assembled to deal with the case. They rode out and eventually found the canyon encampment but no sign of the gang. What they did find were the bodies of the two men, shot to pieces. Widdowfield’s corpse had 7 bullet holes in the skull alone. The two rapidly decomposing bodies had been loosely covered in dust and gravel the week before. The hunt for the gang was on. A prize of $10,000 was offered for the capture of the group. Very quickly Union Pacific doubled that offer.

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Posted by on November 18, 2011 in Articles

 

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188. Death by Utopia

Calhoun relaxing in Universe 25

In the late 20th Century, John B. Calhoun decided to make Utopia; it started with rats. In 1947 he began to watch a colony of Norway rats, over 28 months he noticed something, in that time the population could have increased to 50,000 rats, but instead it never even rose above 200. Then he noticed that the colony split into smaller groups of 12, any more and groups would split apart. He continued to study rats up until 1954. Then in 1958, he made his first lab.

He bought the second floor of a barn, and there he made his office and lab. For four years he had Universe 1, a large room homing rats and mice alike. It was split into four spacious pens connected by ramps, each filled with rats. The thronging mass of rats produced an overpowering odour, it took a few minutes before anyone could breathe normally. After 4 years he moved away from the farm, in 1963 he produced his most famous creation, Universe 1. The worlds first mouse mortality-inhibiting-environment.

2.7 metres square with 1.4m high walls. The ‘Universe’ was surrounded by 16 tunnels leading to food, water and burrows. No predators, no scarcity, the mice would have to be blind to not see the utopia around them. That is how it started, Utopia. Then the mice, four breeding pairs in all, were introduced into Universe 1. After 104 days they adjusted to the new world and the population began to grow, doubling every 55 days. Day 315 and the population reached 620, then it stopped. The population grew much more slowly as the mice came against the limit of space, their only frontier.

Then the societal breakdown, young were expelled before they had been properly weaned and the attacking of young. Dominant males couldn’t defend their territory and females became more aggressive, non-dominant males became passive, not retaliating to attacks. The last healthy birth came on the 600th day. Then there were no children. Then came extinction.

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Posted by on October 14, 2011 in Articles

 

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184. Deadly Dough

In San Diego the sun beat down mercilessly on every available surface, metal  singed fingers and waves of air rose off of the tarmac. Outside of a small shop there was a car parked, from inside came a muffled bang, no-one outside noticed. The figure inside the car reached up cautiously to the back of its skull then collapsed limply.

Over time the people passing in and out of the shop noticed the slumped figure with her eyes closed and windows rolled up. The figure was one Lisa Burnett, a 23 year-old blonde-haired figure who was now by some contrivance of circumstance inert in the front of a rapidly heating car. Eventually one person who had been in the shop for over an hour became concerned and carefully approached the car.

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Posted by on September 16, 2011 in Articles

 

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182. The Mojave Desert Phone Booth

At the intersection of two dirt roads in the Mojave Desert and 15 miles from the road in the middle of nowhere existed the Mojave telephone booth. From the 1960’s it existed to service remote miners working nearby in all of its hand-cranked glory. In the 1970’s it was upgraded to a touch-tone and then it was left. The miners then left and many mines abandoned. The telephone booth held its position but became ever more infrequently used, on the edge of nowhere. At some point it was shot. After being shot it became rather more interesting.

So it sat there with its broken light by the crossing of two trails of dirt, until it was discovered again. In 1997 when it received a little visit. Anonymous Los Angeles man ‘Mr. N’ was just looking at a map of the nearby area when he discovered a peculiarity — a dot. Beside said dot sat the word, ‘telephone.’ Mr N heard the call and set off, in his Jeep, in pursuit and in a pair of fine pair of Wingtip shoes. After many hours he did find it, and a surprise. He returned home satisfied and wrote a letter to a small, underground magazine which described his findings. Contained were the words ‘it works’ and the number so that anyone curious could call the desert. (760) 733-9969. Despite the chances, the phone company had been remarkably charitable and had let the phone stay connected for an extremely small number of people. Soon the number was to increase.

On the 26th of May Godfrey Daniels read the letter and became mildly obsessed. Calling it every day, leaving notes around the house, ‘Did you remember to call the Mojave Desert today?’ says the one affixed to his mirror. Each call was taped, while it rang he would automatically dictate the time, date and purpose of the call. Every visitor to his house was coerced into also calling the number. He was by his own admission ‘prepared to call for years’. Fortunately for his phone bill and confused house guests he succeeded in contact within a month.

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Posted by on September 2, 2011 in Articles

 

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180. Space Invaders Versus The Japanese Mint

Image courtesy of Gil De Los Santos

From a slow start in 1978 Space Invaders experienced a meteoric ascension to become a true icon as it is today. The mere image of one of the ‘aliens’ instantly brings to mind video games as a whole. Its sudden rise in popularity after its initial 2 months was on a scale never seen before. In Japan, the home of video games, it became so popular that it managed to cause a thankfully temporary 100 yen shortage, a feat so notable that it was recorded in the 2008 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records. It also forced the Japanese to further increase the amount of 100 yen coins they were producing each year.

Within 2 years of release the game was making some serious ground. Arcades with nothing but Space Invaders machines opened up, and it was seen by many as the first case where games came even close to competing with major forms of entertainment such as Film. Video games were much more marginalised in the 1980’s, but Space Invaders came to the fore, its success was a precursor to the position video games now occupy in the 21st Century, the largest of all the entertainment forms.

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Posted by on August 19, 2011 in Articles, Trivia

 

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173. The Great Rolling Hotel and the Sahara

Subsaharan Africa is an inhospitable place at best, life maintains a tenuous grasp on that hot and arid landscape. It has long presented a great challenge to travelers, expeditionaries and nomads alike. Crossing  the Sahara even today is quite an undertaking. In 1969 humanity first set its footprints into the lunar dust, in the Shara another frontier was being broken. Overshadowed by the moon landing but still deserving of its own plaudits. For in 1969, humanity also first crossed the Sahara, in a bus. Well I say bus, really it is more than that. Not so technically advanced as the space shuttle but something equally as novel. It was ROTEL.

ROTEL is a simple concept from Germany, a hotel on wheels. Check in, tour the world then check out. To this day ROTEL still runs, operating tens of buses visiting over 150 countries. Touring from Baghdad, Bali, Scandinavia, the Arctic circle to just about any other country. For over 40 years ROTEL has provided the lazy explorer with the world. All in relative comfort, not decadence but at least from a position most unique. Where else after all, does the room itself take you to your destination?

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Posted by on July 12, 2011 in Articles, Trivia

 

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171. So Many Flags

The 15 stripes flag

For the majority of its life, the United States flag has had far less than 50 stars. In fact the number tends to move a lot, since its inception the United States flag has changed 26 times.

The original was only 13 stars and 13 stripes, that lasted for 18 years. The Vermont and Kentucky joined, the flag was changed, increasing the number of stripes to its maximum. 1975 to 1818 America managed to have 15 stars and 15 stripes. then more states joined and someone, namely President James Monroe, decided to take away the two extra stripes and just add a new star for each state.

Thanks to the rapidly increasing number of states, the United States did run through flags very quickly, in fact there have been nine flags in total which have only been in use for a year before being phased out. Unlike Denmark which has had the same flag for at least 500 years.

In this vein, one can praise the United States for being prepared; in case some new states are suddenly added the United States Army Institute of Heraldry has ready-designed flags with up to 56 stars. The current American one has lasted 50 years, nothing compared to Denmark, but a long time for the U.S. In fact it is their flag with the longest ‘lifespan’ so to speak. Maybe it’s time to change it. Possibly add a state here, or take one away, the possibilities are endless.

Bonus Fact : There are 6 U.S. flags on the moon, that’s more flags than any other nation – for the moment at least.

 
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Posted by on July 10, 2011 in Articles, Misconceptions, Trivia

 

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