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BIG LIST: Freaks of Nature
Friday 13 January 2012, 01:42PM
We all know that scientists are really just the world’s biggest pranksters. I mean, they created a giant-headed supersoldier ant just because they could (see left). So, instead of imagining what other kinds of crazy mutants they’ve knocked up on their lunch break, we’ve made a list.   Got milk? Have you ever looked at a cow and thought, ‘Man, I wish that gorgeous beast had a nice ol’ set of human breasts I could drink from’? Scientists in China apparently have, creating genetically modified cattle that produce “human” milk in a bid to make cows’ milk more nutritious. Professor Ning Li, the scientist who led the research and director of the State Key Laboratories for AgroBiotechnology at the China Agricultural University, insisted that the GM milk would be as safe to drink as milk from ordinary dairy cows, but why should we trust someone who thinks it cool to drink milk from a cow?    Rodent’s revenge: If human breastmilk’s not your thing, how about a nice refreshing glass of rodent nectar? It’s all about lactoferrin, apparently, a substance in breast milk that boosts infant immune systems. Human milk contains only four to five grammes of the stuff per litre, but mice milk that includes up to 160 grammes. Scientists must anesthetise the mice and then attach tiny pumps to their itty-bitty mouse teats to harvest negligible quantities of milk (yes, just like in The Simpsons). This process is admittedly hilarious but extremely inefficient and difficult to produce on an industrial scale.    Venomous veggies: Remember when your mum always told you to finish your greens? Well she may as well have told you to finish eating your scorpion poison glands, because that’s what future children may have to look forward to. Scientists have recently taken the gene that programmes poison in scorpion tails and looked for ways to combine it with cabbage. Why would they want to create venomous cabbage? To limit pesticide use while still preventing caterpillars from damaging cabbage crops. These genetically modified cabbages would produce scorpion poison that kills caterpillars when they bite leaves — but the toxin is modified so it isn’t harmful to humans. So who wants to try it first?    Buzz off: Hands up if you hate mosquitoes. Now everyone put your hands down. It should please you then to know that the same British biotech company involved with the GE bollworm has created mosquitoes that are specifically programmed for sudden, early death, kind of like the computers of the insect world. The idea is to release quick-dying males to mate with wild females, passing on lethal genes that kill the young before they can reproduce. The short-lived bugs could help control the spread of dengue fever and other diseases. Despite having some critics, the only real down side of this terminator gene is losing out on the satisfaction of a mosquito killing revenge rampage.    Fluro felines: In 2007, South Korean scientists took the GloFish and stepped it up notch, altering a cat’s DNA to make it glow in the dark, and then took that DNA and cloned other cats from it — creating a set of fluffy, fluorescent felines. Here’s how they did it: The researchers took skin cells from Turkish Angora female cats and used a virus to insert genetic instructions for making red fluorescent protein. Then they put the gene-altered nuclei into the eggs for cloning, and the cloned embryos were implanted back into the donor cats – making the cats the surrogate mothers for their own clones.
Cat: meat hot pot
Friday 13 January 2012, 01:41PM
It was supposed to be a civilised chat over a casual meal of, ahem, cat meat hot pot. But police in southern China have detained a man suspected of murdering a billionaire tycoon over a financial dispute by poisoning the cat meat they shared. Long Liyuan, who made his fortune running a forestry company in wealthy Guangdong province, died last month after sharing a dinner of cat meat hot pot – a local delicacy – with two associates. Last Monday authorities in Yangjiang city, where the incident occurred, said police had detained one of the two associates, Huang Guang, a local forestry official, on suspicion of poisoning the meal after a business deal went sour. “Huang, who was helping Long take a lease on a forest, had himself used funds provided by Long. This led to an economic dispute and gave Huang the idea to kill Long with poison,” a statement on the city’s official microblog said. Long’s brother claimed at the time that the billionaire, a Guangdong provincial people’s congress delegate, had been poisoned, and his family posted a 100,000 yuan (B5 million) reward for information about his death. All three men fell ill after eating the meat on December 23, but Huang and the third diner recovered, the Southern Metropolis Daily newspaper reported on Tuesday. The paper said that Huang had snuck into the restaurant kitchen to poison their food. “He tasted the cat meat, saying it needed to boil longer, then asked the owner of the restaurant to go fetch him three bottled beverages,” said the Guangdong-based daily. “Her [the owner’s] husband then went out to buy cigarettes, which is when Huang is now suspected to have slipped in some gelsemium elegans,” it added, referring to a poisonous plant native to China. Before the dinner, the three men had gone to inspect woodlands that Huang wished to sell to Long, the report said, adding that the official had previously helped the tycoon buy woodlands and got other officials to grant permits and public development funds. Long or his firm appeared to have paid Huang a total of 3.5 million yuan (B17.5 million) for various services and Huang had recently been trying to raise more money to settle debts, it said. Huang, who earlier told the newspaper of his “great sadness” at Long’s death, had sent a text message to the billionaire giving him his bank details, the paper said.
Scientists create new ‘supersoldier’ ants
Friday 13 January 2012, 01:39PM
Nightmarish “supersoldier” ants with huge heads and jaws have been created by scientists, though it’s unlikely they’ll be taking over the world anytime soon. Rather, the monsterous ants may be a genetic throwback to an ancestor that lived millions of years ago. Scientists created the ants by activating ancient genes that trigger their development. They showed that ordinary ants of the species Pheidole morrisi contain all the genetic tools needed to turn them into supersoldiers. By dabbing their larvae with a special hormone, they were able to induce the development of “supersoldiers” instead of normal worker and soldier ants. Supersoldier ants can occur naturally in the wild, but only rarely. In the deserts of America and Mexico, their job is to protect the colony from raids by invading army ants. The supersoldiers use their enormous heads to block the nest entrance and attack any enemy ants that get too close. Scientists in Canada created the monster ants in the laboratory by activating the ancient ancestral genes. Authors Dr Rajendhran Rajakumar, from McGill University, Canada, and colleagues wrote: “We uncovered an ancestral development potential to produce a novel supersoldier sub-caste that has been retained throughout a hyperdiverse ant genus that evolved 35 to 60 million years ago.” The results suggest that holding on to ancestral development toolkits may play an important role in evolving new physical traits, say the researchers. The results also suggest that science can be awesome.
BIG LIST: 2011's best mugshots
Monday 9 January 2012, 09:42AM
Okay, so a police mugshot is rarely going to capture you at your best. But a few people last year were definitely caught at their worst.   This camouflage might work well in nature, but it really stands out in the police station. Officers only found Gregory Liascos when a police dog bit what appeared to be a patch of grass – which yelped in pain.   Some people have guilt written all over their faces, and others, like assault suspect Robert Norton Kennedy, have apologies. The tattoo reads: “Please forgive me if I say or do anything stupid.”   Cory Smits, 29, was found guilty July 7 on his fifth offence of operating a vehicle while intoxicated. Mind you, if you looked like this guy, you’d probably spend your whole life intoxicated too.   Oneal Morris is accused of posing as a doctor in Florida and filling a woman’s buttocks with cement, mineral oil and flat-tyre sealant. Police say Morris was born a man but identifies as a woman.       Colorado native Michael Campbell is a sex offender who was arrested for being within 200 metres of a public pool. He was released later that day. He is pictured here in 2007 and then again in 2011.   Rodell Vereen, twice pleaded guilty to having sex with a horse. He was released from prison this year after serving 16 months behind bars. The horse was condemned to a lifetime of trauma.   Authorities in Georgia, USA, found Ranaldo Jack stuck in a woman’s chimney. He was charged with attempted burglary when it was revealed he was not in fact Santa Claus.   Police in Jefferson County arrested Levi Miller, Johnny Mullet and Lester Mullet of Bergholz, Ohio, for the alleged forcible cutting of the beards of several fellow Amish men.   Sheriff’s deputies in Arizona say Albert Tejeda’s unique tattoos – and lengthy rap sheet – leave him with a face they’ll never forget. Tejeda fled during a traffic stop and was later found with a samurai sword.    If you’re going to commit a crime, wait until AFTER your haircut. David Davis assaulted another man by stabbing him with scissors…while he was getting his overgrown hair sheared off!
Snakes on a plane (almost)
Monday 9 January 2012, 09:39AM
Monks brawl at the birthplace of Christ
Monday 9 January 2012, 09:38AM
German institute at the fore of skin research
Thursday 5 January 2012, 12:57PM
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute in Stuttgart, Germany, recently created the ‘Skin Factory’, and if that name doesn’t alarm you, the details of it probably will.The ‘Skin Factory’ is an advanced piece of lab equipment designed to use foreskin taken from babies to grow patches of human skin used in the place of animals to test products, according to the German Herald. A spokesman for the Institute said the ground breaking equipment may be able to eliminate animal testing altogether and, if developed on a larger scale, could be useful in developing treatments for cancer, pigmentation diseases, and certain skin allergies. So how does the miracle machine work? Just to reiterate, it runs on baby foreskins. First, the foreskins are heated to roughly 37°C. Next, robotic hands meticulously extract cells from the now human body-temperature foreskins, all samples of which must come from boys aged four-and-under. “The older the skin is, the worse the cells function,” Andreas Traube, an engineer at the institute, said. Scientists then take the cells extracted from the foreskin and incubate them inside tubes, where they multiply hundreds of times. The cells are then mixed with collagen and connective tissue to create skin about 5 millimetres thick. The whole process takes about six weeks. European authorities have yet to authorise the Skin Factory for use in product testing. In the meantime, scientists are continuing to develop the machine and are producing skin at a rate of 5,000 samples per month.
BIG LIST: Crazy Kim
Thursday 5 January 2012, 12:55PM
He may have been one of the most ruthless dictators in modern history, but the late North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il was also an endless source of entertainment and an international laughing stock for his unusual antics. Here are some of the more amusing ‘facts’ about his life:     He kidnapped little people: Kim reportedly used pamphlets advertising wonder-growth drugs to lure “small people” into traps, from where they would be deported to “uninhabited islands” to remove their “substandard” stock from the gene pool. It turns out height was a bit of a sensitive spot for old Kim – no official records list his height, however estimates have him measuring in at only about 5’3”.  He was born under a double rainbow: According to Kim Jong Il’s official biography, he was born in a secret military camp on Baekdu Mountain during North Korea’s Japanese occupation, and his arrival was prophesied by a double rainbow and marked by the sight of a new star and a swallow in the sky.  He was the world’s greatest sportsman: According to national media, in 1994 Kim Jong Il shot a record-breaking round of golf in which he achieved 11 holes-in-one, and a total score of 38 – by far the greatest score in history. Even more amazing was that it was the first time he had even touched a club, having never before played the game before. No other media organisation picked up this amazing feat however, but it’s not like North Korean media ever lies, right?  He was God: According to reports, the former leader could make it rain or directly control the weather on demand, depending on his mood. He kidnapped two directors to remake Godzilla: Kim kidnapped two respected South Korean directors in 1978 (Shin Sang Ok and Choi Eun Hee) and forced them to remake Godzilla. (That’s right, of all the movies this supposed ‘film buff’ could have picked, it was a cheesy Japanese monster flick). Their movie, Pulgasari, only emerged after the couple were forced to remarry in 1983 having spent years inside labour camps. They eventually escaped on a trip to Vienna, where they fled to the US embassy in 1986.  He liked the creature comforts...: According to Russian emissary Konstantin Pulikovsky, who travelled with Kim by train across Eastern Europe, Kim had live lobsters air-lifted to the train every day which he ate with silver chopsticks.  He drank $700k worth of cognac a year: According to a study by Dr Jerold Post, a former CIA psychologist, Kim  loved Hennessey cognac – which sells for around US$630 a bottle in North Korea, or just under the average annual income (US$900). According to the study, he averaged around US$650,000 to US$720,000 of cognac a year.  He did not use toilets – because he didn’t need to: According to an official biography posted on the North Korean state web site, that has since been removed, Kim Jong-il did not defecate. Ever. Which begs the question as to where all that rabbit, lobster and cognac went after it entered his mouth.  He was a rice obsessive: According to a nephew of Kim's first wife, Lee Young Nam, the leader had female staff inspect each grain of rice he ate to make sure it adhered to strict standards of length, weight and colour.  He was the hamburglar: North Korean newspaper Minju Joson once reported that Kim Jong-Il had invented something called the “double bread with meat” and created factories to produce them in order to feed his students and teachers. Kim's great invention looked remarkably like the humble hamburger.
BIG LIST: Ridiculous Robberies
Friday 23 December 2011, 04:39PM
Most normal criminals rob banks, steal cars, or maybe just take your wallet. But where’s the fun in being normal? Over the years creative crooks have entered the spotlight for targeting much less conventional goodies – Christmas trees, grain (see opposite), or any of the following: Burning bridges: If someone offered to sell you the Golden Gate Bridge, you’d probably have the good sense to know it was a scam. But if someone in Khabarovsk, Russia, were to offer you a 200-tonne steel bridge, they might actually deliver. In January 2008, employees on their way to a remote heating plant were forced to find an alternate route after the 15-metre-long steel bridge they crossed the day before vanished. While the workers slept, scrap metal thieves dismantled the span and supports and loaded it all onto trucks for a quick getaway. At the time, the plant’s owners estimated it would cost around US$40,000 to build a new bridge. This time, though, they will use concrete. Lifting lingerie: During the 1992 LA riots, while some looters were busy stealing TVs and VCRs, others broke into Frederick’s of Hollywood and made off with around US$200,000 in women’s undergarments. The company also suffered the loss of a few one-of-a-kind items from the store’s lingerie museum – a bustier with gold tassels that Madonna wore in the music video for Open Your Heart, a pair of Ava Gardner’s bloomers, and a push-up bra worn by Katey Sagal as Married…With Children’s Peg Bundy. A few days later, a man known only as Jim B came forward to return Peg’s push-up and Ava’s undies. Madonna’s bustier was never recovered, despite a US$1,000 reward from the company. We like to think it made someone very happy though. A deer friend: Escaped psychiatric patient Leon Hollimon stole an ambulance in Lexington, North Carolina, and led police on a cat-and-mouse chase for hours, travelling through four different counties in two states. One of the cops likened the chase to an episode of Dukes of Hazzard. Eventually, the culprit ran off the road and was apprehended wearing a stethoscope, carrying latex gloves, and sporting a mohawk. It was an odd enough crime, but it got really weird when authorities found, splayed in the back, a dead deer with an IV stuck into its body. There was also evidence that Hollimon had tried using a defibrillator on the animal. Hollimon was taken to a nearby mental health facility for evaluation. Ashes to ashes: After Kurt Cobain’s death in 1994, most of his ashes were spread over the grounds of a Buddhist temple in New York and in the Wishkash River in Washington state. His wife, Courtney Love, kept what was left inside a pink, bear-shaped handbag, hidden in a closet at her Hollywood home. In June 2008, Love said that a former friend had broken in and stolen the bag. The ashes’ whereabouts were unknown until a few months later, when German performance artist Natascha Stellmach claimed she acquired them, mixed them with marijuana, and planned to smoke the whole thing as part of an art installation entitled Set Me Free. Of course, no one is able to substantiate whether Cobain’s remains were in the joint or if it was just a publicity stunt. Either way, the ashes were never recovered. Full Nelson: Shawn Nelson was a typical man whose life got a little tough, so he decided to steal a 57-tonne M60 Patton Tank from his local National Guard armoury. As it turns out, tanks don’t require keys to start. Yes, the hatches were locked, but police theorised he used a crowbar to break into three different tanks before finding one that would start. (Yup, the only thing stopping Al Qaeda from taking over an armoured division was that they didn’t know about the crowbar thing.)  The ensuing 23 minute chase ended only when Nelson managed to get the tank stuck on a barrier. At that point, the cops jumped on the war machine, opened the hatch and shot Shawn to death.
Thursday 15 December 2011, 10:44AM
  Dive shop manager and writer of blog site Jamie’s Phuket, as seen every week in The Phuket News.   How long have you lived on the island and why did you move here?  I came to Phuket in 1999 looking for work as a dive instructor, and did not plan to stay more than a year or two, but the diving was great, and then I met my wife who was also working in a dive shop... and we’re still here!   What is best thing about living here?  Phuket is a great place – not perfect, but it’s easy to avoid the bits I don’t like (Patong!). There is excellent local food but its also easy to find any other kind of food if I feel the need, many beautiful places to visit in Phuket and nearby. Good place to raise a family, good schools, medical facilities and so on.   What do you do to relax?  Explore Phuket! We like to find new places, either in Phuket or in the area. Just last week we visited a national park that we’d not been to before, just a three hour drive from home. And then some days, relax means stay at home, play with the kids, do the gardening, and head to a nice quiet beach for sunset, a few beers and tasty food.   What hobbies or sports are you interested in?  Work and family take up most of my time. My hobby for the last few years has been blogging and photography. The aim of starting my Phuket blog five years ago was to show people that there is a lot more to Phuket than beaches and obvious tourist attractions. It’s nice to be able to explore, the whole family enjoys new experiences. A couple of weeks ago for example we took the ferry to Koh Yao Noi and rented scooters for the day, kids loved it, great day out. Sports – well, I don’t participate nowadays, used to run and cycle a lot... enjoy watching football, rugby, cycling.   Favourite food or dish?  Thai food seems to have endless variety. I love yam kung seab (dried shrimp salad), nam prik kung seab (a dried shrimp spicy sauce), kuay jap noodles (noodle soup), tom yum, massaman curry, kana moo grob (fried crispy pork with vegetable), anything with moo grob (crispy pork) really... chicken with cashews, yam tua pu (spicy mixed vegetable), hor mok (fish curry wrapped in banana leaf). Also love a fried egg sandwich! And mango with sticky rice. I eat a lot more Thai food than Western, but a burger now and then is needed or an Indian curry or a pasta dish... and the occasional English breakfast.   What kind of music are you into?  Pretty much anything except boom-boom dance music. In my car right now is Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Bob Marley, Paul Simon... I like blues, I can even handle a lot of new pop music (have to, since the kids like it). Anything from Frank Sinatra to Led Zeppelin.   What is the best tip you have for people moving to Phuket?  Phuket is as cheap or as expensive as you want it to be. You can live the fancy ex-pat life, or something a bit more local. Phuket is a big place, get out and explore. There’s more here then meets the eye! Read my blog!   What is the funniest thing that has happened to you while living on the island?  Hmm... I am not one of those people who stores up “funny” anecdotes. The best thing that has happened – meeting my wife and having 2 wonderful kids.   The person you admire the most and why?  My mum. She’s battled cancer three times, has been at death’s door and is more active than ever. Mum and dad are coming over here again in September. It’ll be exhausting! I like to have some days at home, but she really likes to get out and do something every single day!   If you could come back as any other person who would it be and why?  Part of me says .. I’d like to be my son... I envy the excitement in those six-year-old eyes. Life is new and full of surprises.  
BIG LIST: Eccentric Eateries
Friday 11 November 2011, 10:50AM
  Buns and Guns – Beirut, Lebanon At Beirut’s Buns and Guns everything is military themed – from the camouflage décor and weapon-adorned names of dishes to the helicopter sounds that play constantly in the background. It apparently reflects the under siege mood of the city during Lebanon’s 2006 war with Israel – because that’s the kind of thing people want to remember. You can order yourself an M16 Carbine meat sandwich, a Mortar burger, or, our particular favourite, a Terrorist meal (which, ironically, is vegetarian).   Nyotaimori – Tokyo, Japan ‘Nyotaimori’ in Japanese literally means ‘female body plate’ – you can pretty much guess where this is going, right? Guess again. Picture an edible body, with dough ‘skin’ and sauce ‘blood’ wheeled into the room on a hospital gurney and placed upon a table. The hostess then cuts into the body with a scalpel and hungry patrons dig in, operating on the body to reveal the edible ‘organs’ inside. Bon appetit.   Cabbages and Condoms – Bangkok, Thailand The only restaurant in the world dedicated to birth control, Cabbages and Condoms offers not mints on your way out the door, but condoms and a ‘Wheel of Fortune’ with various STDs. Their slogan, emblazoned on T-shirts in the gift shop, is “Our food is guaranteed not to cause pregnancy”.   Modern Toilet – Taipei, Taiwan At Modern Toilet, yup, you guessed it, hungry customers take a seat on a toilet (Western style, not Asian squat, for the record) and enjoy faeces-shaped chocolate soft serve in miniature toilet bowls (among other more conventional dishes). Toilet rolls are hung over the tables for use as napkins, and drinks come served in miniature urinals. It’s not clear what the actual toilet is like in this place.   Maid Cafes – Tokyo, Japan Japan (surprise) scores another mention on this list with any of the many maid-themed cafes in the Tokyo area. Giggling women in cartoonish maid costumes call patrons ‘master’ and pat them on the heads like babies. Unsurprisingly, it’s not about the food here – which is usually overpriced and less than appetising (think spaghetti topped with ketchup). It’s about the service, which often includes playing games like Barrel of Monkeys (for a fee, of course) and, uh, complimentary ear cleaning.   Pitch Black Restaurant – Beijing, China It’s often said that if you take away one or more of your senses, the remaining ones become stronger. That’s the idea behind Pitch Black, a Beijing restaurant where patrons eat in complete darkness. Illuminating devices like cell phones and watches are strictly forbidden, and it’s so dark you can’t see your hand in front of your face – you’ll just have to assume the meals are amazingly presented. Don’t think you can get away with any funny business, either – the waiters all wear night-vision goggles.   New Lucky Restaurant – Ahmadabad, India The name of this place is more than a little deceptive. There’s probably nothing lucky at all about being surrounded by coffins while you eat. It’s probably even less lucky when those coffins are occupied. The New Lucky Restaurant began as a tea stall outside a centuries-old Muslim cemetery, and grew to encompass it over the years. Business is brisk, and the owners say that the graves bring good luck.   The Hellfire Club – Manchester, UK The Hellfire Club, with its Gothic decor and creepy theme, might not seem like a place to enjoy a world-class meal, but if it’s any consolation, the food is apparently pretty good. It’s located in a reportedly haunted 19th century building and resembles a dungeon, with skeletons, coffins and red lights strewn throughout. Menu items include steaks named ‘Kiss of the Vampire’ and ‘Cannibal Holocaust’. No word if the God of hellfire himself, Arthur Brown, makes a ghostly appearance.   Vampire Café – Tokyo, Japan Continuing the theme of death and pretty much everything else you don’t want to think about while eating, the interior of Tokyo’s Vampire Café (yes, yet another Japanese entry) is almost entirely blood red. Guests are ushered down a long hallway with red blood cells superimposed on the floor, while inside the decor includes heavy velvet drapes, black coffins dripping with red candle wax, skulls and crosses. Many of the meals are vampire-themed, and diners drink red cocktails from martini glasses.   Eternity Restaurant – Truskavets, Ukraine When a group of undertakers set out to open a restaurant, you know it’s going to get a little weird. Eternity Restaurant in the Ukraine is a windowless building shaped like a giant coffin. Inside you’ll find funeral wreaths, black shrouded walls and human-sized coffins. Menu items include dishes with names like “Let’s meet in paradise”. Ummm, let’s not?   Hobbit House – Manila, Phillipines Long before the Lord of the Rings trilogy debuted on theatre screens, the Hobbit House was founded in Manila by former Peace Corps volunteer and Tolkien fan Jim Turner. Don’t expect to find the sort of lush Middle Earth scenery that filled the movies, however – what you’ll encounter instead if you stop at the Hobbit House are ‘the smallest waiters in the world’. That’s right, check your political correctness at the door – this is one group of little people who are okay with being referred to as hobbits.  
Search for the corduroy king
Friday 11 November 2011, 10:46AM
  The most important date in the history of New York’s Corduroy Appreciation Club (no jeans allowed, probably) is here and the club is still searching for its “messiah”. The band of fabric fans are seeking a child who turns 11 on November 11 – or 11/11/11 – the date the club says most closely resembles the ribs of its favorite ridged textile. “That child is the messiah of corduroy,” Miles Rohan, founder of the club, told the New York Daily News. “We liken it to finding the Dalai Lama.” The New York-based club said it had already been contacted by twins from Wisconsin who will turn 11 on November 11, but are looking for a locally based child to attend their “grandest meeting” in Manhattan on that date. The child will be installed on a throne and generally treated like textile royalty after being carried into the meeting. Members who attend the meeting will also be required to wear three items of clothing made of corduroy, instead of the regular two. The club celebrates twice yearly, on January 1 – or 1/1 – and November 11, and has about 250 members. Mr Rohan said he first created the club as a joke and a way of poking fun at secret societies, but his brother – a Massachusetts professor – has given lectures about the “relationship between corduroy and art history”. “[He] is keen on the historical figures who have worn corduroy. It’s the fabric of intellectuals, poets, and Woody Allen.” According to its website, the Corduroy Appreciation Club “wishes to cultivate good fellowship by the advancement of corduroy awareness, as well as, understanding, celebration, and commemoration of the fabric and all related items”.  
BIG LIST: Incredible insurance polices
Friday 14 October 2011, 10:20AM
  There are some things that money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s insurance. Here are some of the more ridiculous policies that have been taken out by people with valuable ‘assets’ to protect.   MARVELOUS MERV While playing for Australia’s national cricket team from 1985 to 1994, Merv Hughes took out an estimated US$370,000 policy on his trademark walrus-style mustache. Of course his cricketing talent was also pretty valuable, but clearly not as valuable as the mo.   LEGGY BLONDE German supermodel Heidi Klum has both of her legs insured, but strangely enough, one happens to be worth more than the other. The former Victoria’s Secret brand spokeswoman’s right leg is insured for US$1.2 million, but her left only US$1 million. Why the discrepancy? A little scar on her left limb, not that most men on the planet would care in the slightest.   OFF HIS CHEST Believe it or not, Welsh crooner Tom Jones used to be considered a sex symbol. These days, however. 71 year-old Jones lives in fear. Sure, he’s remained famous for half a century, and probably sexed enough women to populate a small and very satisfied country, but he believes it all could come crashing down with a single accident that in any way damages his luxuriant pelt of chest hair. Seriously. To keep his sexiness intact, he’s insured it for a princely sum of US$7 million.   DOLLY BIRD Everyone loves country star Dolly Parton’s music, right? Well just in case that ever goes out of style, Parton has insured each ginormous breast for US$300,000.   EGADS EGON In 1957, world-famous food critic Egon Ronay wrote and published the first edition of the Egon Ronay Guide to British Eateries. Because his endorsement could make or break a restaurant, Ronay insured his taste buds for US$400,000 – sure to leave a bad taste in the mouth of the insurers if he makes a claim. Boom boom.   PROBING THE LIMITS “Alien abduction, impregnation, and consumption”: Non-celeb Paul Hucker would get US$1.5 million should any of those things happen. The policy is actually not as uncommon as you might expect: some 20,000 Americans supposedly have it in some variant. The truth is out there.   REAR-ENDED Jennifer Lopez has a US$27 million insurance policy on her distinctively large rear end – after all, it’s not like the music and movie thing were going to work out forever, as 2003’s Gigli proved.   ¡AY, CARAMBA! When the Mir space station re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere, American fast food chain Taco Bell said that if it hit a floating target the company had set up in the middle of the ocean, everyone in the US would get a free taco. Taco Bell hedged their publicity stunt with an insurance policy to avoid going completely bankrupt. For the record, it missed.   JAKE AND THE FATMAN A British male stripper named Frankie Jakeman insured his penis for US$1.6 million in case of damage in the line of duty. Oh behave.   WHAT A YO-YO Representing the Cheerio Yo-Yo Company of Canada, 13-year-old Harvey Lowe won the 1932 World Yo-Yo Championships (a real event, apparently) in London and toured Europe from 1932 to 1935. While there, he taught Edward VIII, the Prince of Wales, how to yo-yo. Cheerio had Lowe’s hands insured for the then princely sum of US$150,000.
BIG LIST: Homeless humour
Friday 7 October 2011, 12:56PM
  Homelessness is never a laughing matter, but this week we have scoured the planet to find people on the street who have chosen to advertise their plight in a variety of creative and entertaining ways.   KISS ME QUICK “Kissing lessons” – This man is a trailblazer for sporting a completely original way to advertise his homelessness – around his head. With reasonable rates ($25.00/hr without teeth, and only $1.50/hr with teeth), and Visa and MasterCard accepted as well as cash – how can you say no to a quick snog?   ANGER MANAGEMENT “Tell me off for 25c” – This man provides a cathartic outlet for displaced aggression, and for a bargain price to boot. Just picture your boss, employees, or conniving ex-girlfriend’s head on his shoulders and let the profanities fly. It’s certainly cheaper than seeing a therapist, and you’ve got to love the afro.   WHEELS OF STEEL “Give me some money or I’ll kick you in the face” – There is nothing like smiling in the face of adversity. For his sense of irony, we think this American man deserves more than a little change.   MOUNTING DOOM “Why lie!! I need a cold beer” – Oh Gandalf, where’s Frodo with a brewski when you need him most?   KUNG FU FIGHTING “Ninja’s killed my family – need money for kung-fu lessons” – Despite confusing Japanese and Chinese martial arts, not to mention grammar, we still think this man deserves a fighting chance.   OUR TWO CENTS “Wife has been kidnapped. I’m 98c short for ransom” – He’s definitely two cents short of a dollar.   ROBO-BUM “Replaced by CGI please help” – In his day, this shiny cyborg was a big screen regular in the films of George Lucas and others. Now he’s turning tricks on the street with his lightsaber. Damn that CGI.   POLITICAL MAN “Obama ain’t the only one who wants change” – Even among the homeless, political satire thrives.   BACK TO THE FUTURE “Time traveller. Help! Need $$ for new flux capacitor.” – Great Scott, Marty McFly is stuck in 2011!   THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK “Help me. I am a disabled clone war veteran. Need $$ to build death star.” – He might be Luke’s father, but even Darth Vader is not immune to the Great Recession. May the force be with him.   MAD SCIENTIST “Need cash for alcohol research” – Forget cancer, this man’s researching the big issues.  
BIG LIST: Stupidly expensive everyday items
Friday 30 September 2011, 10:43AM
  Posh Instant Noodles – B1,290 Yep, even instant noodles come in luxury form. For just B1,290 a cup, you can own one of 100 exclusive Pot Noodle cups. Each posh noodle comes in a hand-flocked gold leaf pot, and because you like to be civilised while you eat your instant noodles, it also comes with a fork and table linen.   Gold-plated Staples – B5,250 If you’re really rich, you know that displaying your wealth goes beyond flashy clothes and a luxury car – a true measure of wealth is in the details. After all, you can’t possibly expect anyone to fully understand just how filthy rich you really are unless even your staples are gold plated. Snap.   Monogrammed Leather Keyboard – B18,000 Plastic? How quaint. When you have the perfect manly study, complete with rich leather chairs, a full liquor cabinet, and a roaring fireplace, would you have a cheap plastic keyboard on top of your solid mahogany desk? Absolutely not. You would have a Gokukawa soft leather keyboard with monogrammed keys to compliment your lavish surroundings – a bargain at just B18,000.   World’s Most Expensive Beer – B24,000 BrewDog, an independent Scottish brewery, sells the strongest and most expensive beer in the world suitably known as The End of History. Infused with nettles and juniper berries, the blond Belgian sells for B24,000 per bottle,and is 55 per cent alcohol. That probably explains why it comes presented in a stuffed stoat or grey squirrel. Though currently sold out, you can order other eccentrically named beers such as Tactical Nuclear Penguin and Tokyo*, described as ‘intergalactic fantastic oak aged stout’.   Tiffany Tennis Ball Can – B45,000 Since you’re playing to impress, why not get a fancy can to keep your balls in? Of course, because it’s Tiffany, this particular tennis ball can is made of sterling silver and will set you back B45,000. Ace.   Luxury Bullets – B90,000 If all bullets cost this much there would be a lot less violence in the world. Or just between rich people. The Bullet Forge designed 9mm bullets are made from white gold and diamonds, while the 45 ACP hollow-point is made of white gold with 90 diamonds positioned around an amethyst.   Concrete Aalto Doorstop – B105,000 While the rest of us are using cinder blocks for doorstops, somewhere in some mansion there’s a B105,000 chunk of cement holding a door open. You may (but probably don’t) notice that this doorstop is shaped like a world famous Alvar Aalto or Savoy vase, and that’s because it was cast in an original which was then shattered to let out the mold. While the Aalto doorstop looks pretty cool, it may just be a waste of a perfectly good vase (and B105,000).   Gold and Diamond headphones – B155,000 We’ve all seen blinged out iPods, but what about headphones that cost more than your computer? These 18 carat gold earphones feature 118 high quality diamonds and despite all the extra weight are said to be just as comfortable as your cheap plastic pair. Just much, much more expensive.   Louis Vuitton Skateboard – B250,000 If you’re a skater you probably have no interest in a Louis Vuitton skateboard. But to be fair, anyone interested in a B250,000 LV skateboard probably isn’t too interested in skateboarding either.   Crystal Ergoripado Vaccum – B570,000 Combine one average vacuum with 3730 Swarovski crystals and you have the Crystal Ergoripado, possibly the most expensive home cleaning appliance ever built – though with a price tag this high you probably won’t let the maid anywhere near it.   Diamond Computer Mouse – B800,000 With some 59 diamonds, this design by Swiss manufacturer Pat Says Now is not only being the world’s most expensive computer mouse, but also the world’s most useless computer mouse.   Diamond Encrusted Bluetooth Headset – B1.5 million If your wife is concerned that her big ugly plastic bluetooth is overpowering her gold and diamond earrings, why not compromise with this diamond encrusted headset from Plantronics?   Moon Landing Pen – B1.5 million One small pen for man, one giant chunk out of the bank account. The Omas Limited Edition Moon Landing Pen features a globe on the top and 3D imprints of Neil Armstrong’s footprints in the moon (or more realistically, some random guy’s because it’s not like they could cast them from the originals).   The Intimidator Pool Cue – B4.5 million The name says it all. Probably the most bad-ass pool cue ever made features four bladed wings that you wouldn’t want to get anywhere near your felt, or anything else for that matter. Made from a solid piece of stainless steel, this deadly cue took more than 1800 hours to craft and engrave.   Gold and Diamond Sauce Pan – B4.65 million Perfect for the housewife who’s bored with her Swarovski-studded vacuum cleaner, and already has the diamond Bluetooth headset, is this sauce pan with gold handles that’s studded with 200 diamonds.   Precious Fishing Lure – B30 million You read right, that’s a B30 million fishing lure. Made of three pounds of gold and platinum, this MacDaddy's product is encrusted with 100 carats worth of diamonds and rubies – 4753 stones in all. However, you have to wonder who in their right mind would cast this in the drink?  
BIG LIST: Gallery of Gluttony
Thursday 22 September 2011, 04:10PM
  Proving that holding a world record requires nothing more than eating an awful lot of really awful stuff, here are some of the world’s more bizarre eating accomplishments. The only real question is, why?   – Don ‘Moses’ Lerman probably took ten years off his life when he ate seven quarter-pound sticks of salted butter in five minutes at the Fox Glutton Bowl in 2002. – Oleg Zhornitskiy probably took lost 11 years when he consumed four 32-ounce bowls of mayonnaise in eight minutes, making him the “undisputed world mayonnaise eating champion”, according to his online bio. We all have our claims to fame… – Joe Chestnut is probably the biggest name in the ‘sport’ of competitive eating (because apparently it is actually a sport, and people do actually care about it). Among his list of impressively gluttonous records though is his 103 Krystal Burgers in eight minutes on October 28, 2007. That’s just over 16 burgers a minute – or one every 3.75 seconds. – Sonya Thomas holds the record for the largest amount of fruitcake consumed in 10 minutes, scoffing down four pounds, 14 ¼ ounces of Wegmans Fruitcake on December 30, 2003. The record stands since 2003, so it’s probably fair to say that no one has bothered challenging it, if only for the fact that eating even one ounce of fruitcake is gag-inspiring. – Eric Booker is a big man, and obviously has an appetite to match, destroying 49 glazed doughnuts in eight minutes on October 2, 2002. – Perhaps the most impressive record on this list goes to 65-year-old Dick LeFevre, who put away six pounds of Spam from the can in 12 minutes at the Spamarama festival on April 3, 2004. It’s hard to decide what’s more disturbing – that someone ate six pounds of Spam, or that a Spamarama festival actually exists. – Most people know Takeru Kobayashi (if they know him at all) as a skinny Japanese guy who eats a lot of hot dogs. But he also boasts the record for the most cow brains with 57 (17.7 pounds) in 15 minutes. Picture human brains, but smaller and cooked a bit. Mmmm … makes you hungry, right? – With a name like Joey Chestnut, how could you not enter the world of competitive eating? And so it is that Mr Chestnut holds the asparagus record, downing 9 lbs, 5.2 oz of deep fried asparagus spears in 10 minutes at the Stockton Asparagus Fest on April 16, 2011. Mr Chestnut also holds the record for the most grilled cheese sandwiches, scoffing 47 in 10 minutes on June 10, 2006. Oddly, he holds no records for eating chestnuts. – Don Lerman ate six pounds of baked beans in one minute, 48 seconds. You can just imagine the after effects… – The honours for the most amount of pickled beef tongue, with 3 pounds 3 ounces in 12 minutes, goes to Dominic Cardo. – Charles Hardy consumed 6 pounds 9 ounces of giant cabbage in 9 minutes. – Juliet Lee downed 13.23 lbs of jellied cranberry sauce in eight minutes as part of Spike TV’s MLE Chowdown on November 22, 2007. – The record for eating live cockroaches is held by Ken Edwards of Derbyshire, England. In 2001 he ate 36 hissing Madagascar roaches in one minute. – On October 8, 2008, Eric Livingston defied all concepts of human revulsion and downed 3 pounds of Haggis in just 8 minutes. He’s not even Scots. – Eric Booker was understandably tearful after taking out the record for the most onions, ploughing through 8.5 ounces (three onions) in one minute on August 8, 2004. – Arturo Rios, Jr. ate 2.89 lbs of pigs’ feet in 10 minutes at the State Fair Meadowlands on June 23, 2007. – Sonya Thomas has a stomach of steel. Not only does she claim the honour of eating 36 dozen Acme oysters in 10 minutes on March 20, 2005; she also downed 38 Moon Pies in eight minutes at the Lady Luck Caruthersville Moon Pie Eating World Championship on October 16, 2010. For the uninitiated, a moon pie is a pastry which consists of two round graham cracker cookies, with marshmallow filling in the centre, dipped in chocolate. She’s also a turducken champ. A turducken is a dish consisting of a de-boned chicken stuffed into a de-boned duck, which itself is stuffed into a de-boned turkey. If even thinking about that isn’t enough to kill you, try eating 7¾ of this preposterous poultry dish. That’s exactly what Ms Thomas did in just 12 minutes on November 26, 2003. – But the champion of chow-down champions has to be Patrick Bertoletti, who set a record at the 7-Eleven Sports Slurpee competition on April 15, 2010, by downing a 22 oz slurpee in just 9 seconds. It’s not clear how long it took him to recover from the brainfreeze that inevitably followed. That’s possibly why, on May 1 this year Mr Bertoletti swallowed 275 pickled jalapeno peppers in eight minutes at the La Costena “Feel the Heat” Jalapeno Eating Championship this year. How long it took before he could rise again from the can is also not recorded. In between these two feats he set another record, this time on March 19, swallowing 7.5 pounds of fried catfish in 10 minutes at the Rhythm City Casino World Catfish Eating Championships. Enough? Not for Mr Bertoletti. He probably gained instant cholesterol problems after destroying 38 Mars Bars in five minutes at the Red Faction Mars Bar Eating World Championship on July 22, 2010. Oh yes, and in September last year Mr Bertoletti ate 5 lbs 11.2 oz of sour pickles in six minutes at the Isle Casino Pompano Park World Pickle Eating Championship.