Miss Cellania's Blog Posts

What Is It? Game 257

W00t! It's time for another collaboration with the always-excellent What Is It? blog. Can you guess what this strange object is used for?

Put your guess in the comment section below (click the +). One guess per comment, though you can enter as many guesses as you'd like. Please do not post any web link or URL - doing so will void your entry. You have until the answer is revealed on the What Is It? Blog tomorrow.

Two prizes: the first correct guess and the funniest yet wrong one will win a T-Shirt from the NeatoShop.

IMPORTANT: Please write your prize selection alongside your guess, so visit the NeatoShop and take a look around. If you don't write your prize selection, then you don't get the prize. I think you'll like the selection of funny t-shirts and science t-shirts -or even t-shirts of your favorite blogs and websites.

For an additional picture of this thing, go to What Is It? Blog. Good luck!

Update: the odd tool pictured is for cutting into grapefruit and removing the individual sections (patent number 2,637,899). Parrot Head was the first who knew the correct answer, and wins a t-shirt from the NeatoShop! Samantha Simons had the funniest answer: "It's the Queen of Heart's makeup trowel. She uses it to stamp on the hearts on her cheeks." That's clever enough for a t-shirt, too! Congratulations to the winners, and be sure to find out the answers to all the mystery items of the week at the What Is It? blog.

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New T-Shirts from the NeatoShop:

New Trampled Snow Art from Simon Beck

Simon Beck makes art by stepping in snow. Even with sturdy snowshoes, it's hard work, and takes a special talent to get it right. Beck (previously on Neatorama) has been busy the past few weeks tramping out new designs in the snow at Les Arcs ski resort in France. You can see some of the best at Colossal. Link

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Back to the Future LEGO Set

Suggested by fans, the LEGO company will be rolling out a Back to the Future LEGO Set in mid-2013. And better yet, the designers are donating their royalties to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's research. Link

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The Bloody Truth About Serbia's Vampire

Last month, we posted a story about the Serbian village of Zarožje, when town officials issued a warning about a vampire that may have been disturbed. To get the lowdown on such superstitions, National Geographic News talked to Mark Collins Jenkins, author of the book Vampire Forensics, and forensic archeologist and anthropologist Matteo Borrini.

Is it crazy that the town council issued a public health warning?

MCJ: Historically speaking, it's not that crazy. In past centuries, outbreaks of vampire hysteria, especially in Central and Eastern Europe, often coincided with outbreaks of tuberculosis and deadly plagues. Peasants had no other way of explaining why everyone was dropping dead but by blaming it on witches and vampires or other supernatural creatures. In 19th-century New England, tuberculosis wasted entire families, one after another. Superstitious people believed that the first to die was somehow feeding on his surviving family members. (Related: "'Vampire of Venice' Unmasked: Plague Victim & Witch?")

Why did people begin believing in vampires?

MB: Especially between the 16th and 18th centuries, little was known about what happens to the body after death. During plagues and epidemics, mass graves were continually reopened to bury new dead. People sometimes exhumed the bodies of the diseased to look for possible causes. Reports about vampires describe exhumations weeks or months after death, during the body's decay.

MCJ: Bodies weren't embalmed back then. They rot, to be quite frank, in grossly different ways. If a bunch of people in the village started dying in mysterious ways, they'd dig up the first one to die, see that his corpse didn't look quite right, assume that was blood flowing down those cheeks (it's called purge fluid in modern forensics, a natural byproduct of decomposition, but it's not blood), and generally burn the body. End of vampire.  

Read the rest at NatGeo. Link

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What Is Boxing Day?

The day after Christmas is Boxing Day, a holiday observed by a large part of Europe and most of the former British Empire -except for America, who broke away fairly early. Mental-floss has a roundup of Boxing day facts for those who aren't familiar with the customs of this odd holiday.

Boxing Day is observed every year on December 26. Before it took on its feistier name, the holiday was known as St. Stephen’s Day.
Many historians think the holiday’s name is derived from the church practice of opening alms boxes the day after Christmas and distributing money to the poor.
Historically, British employers followed the church’s lead by sliding workers and servants gifts or cash on December 26. Merchants tossed servants a few coins, too, for bringing in a household’s business.

And there's more. Who knows? You may want to try out the traditions. Link

(Image credit: Flickr user rubyblossom)

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The 13-year-old Veteran

Calvin Graham was only 12 when he became a seaman in the United States Navy. He had already left home to escape an abusive stepfather, and the military was desperate for manpower right after the Pearl Harbor attack that drew the US into World War II. Graham was assigned to the USS South Dakota, which was full of new recruits when it set off for the Pacific theater. In November, Graham turned 13 and the ship was involved in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal.

Later that evening the South Dakota encountered eight Japanese destroyers; with deadly accurate 16-inch guns, the South Dakota set fire to three of them. “They never knew what sank ‘em,” Gatch would recall. One Japanese ship set its searchlights on the South Dakota, and the ship took 42 enemy hits, temporarily losing power. Graham was manning his gun when shrapnel tore through his jaw and mouth; another hit knocked him down, and he fell through three stories of superstructure. Still, the 13 year-old made it to his feet, dazed and bleeding, and helped pull other crew members to safety while others were thrown by the force of the explosions, their bodies aflame, into the Pacific.

“I took belts off the dead and made tourniquets for the living and gave them cigarettes and encouraged them all night,” Graham later said.  ”It was a long night. It aged me.” The shrapnel had knocked out his front teeth, and he had flash burns from the hot guns, but he was “fixed up with salve and a coupla stitches,” he recalled. “I didn’t do any complaining because half the ship was dead.  It was a while before they worked on my mouth.” In fact, the ship had casualties of 38 men killed and 60 wounded.

Graham first received a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. Then he was jailed for lying about his age. When he was released, his was stripped of his medals, his military benefits, and even any record of serving. When he turned 17, he joined the Marines to avoid being drafted by the Army, since he had no military record. It took many years, but Graham finally received an honorable discharge from the Navy in 1978, and the last of his medals were restored in 1994. Read Graham's story at Smithsonian's Past Imperfect blog. Link

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Augmented Reality TARDIS

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The running joke on the TV series Doctor Who is that the time machine disguised as a police call box is bigger on the inside than on the outside. Greg Kumparak built a model TARDIS that really is bigger on the inside, by using augmented reality technology. Read about how he did it at his site. Link -via Metafilter

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Cosmic Sans

Cosmic Sans is a series of space-themed typography art, with each letter a contribution from a different artist. Designer Brad McNally came up with the idea based on the title pun, and he and his wife, printer Sarah McNally, recruited the artists within 48 hours. The framed art prints were all sold though an exhibit and raised over $1,000 for 826 Seattle, a nonprofit writing and tutoring center. Shown here is Q by Jess McCarty. See the rest of the works at the online gallery. Link -via Design Taxi

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The Best Gift

Behold, the joy of science! Redditor templ001 posted this photo of his niece Laeana with the most awesome present Santa Claus left. Oh yeah, she also got Barbies and stuff. Link

See more about baby and kids at NeatoBambino

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This ad get pretty yucky as it goes along. It bet it causes quite a few people to head for a restaurant after Christmas. You can see a longer version if you really want to. -via Daily of the Day

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Behind the Cover

The following is an article from Uncle John's 24-Karat Bathroom Reader.

With CDs and digitally distributed music, album covers aren't as important or as memorable as they once were. But from the 1950s to the 1990s, some became iconic pieces of popular art unto themselves, and many have great stories about how they came to be.

Artist: Van Halen

Album: 1984 (1984)

Story: When the art department at Warner Bros. Records asked Van Halen what they wanted for the cover of their sixth album, singer David Lee Roth said, "Dancing chrome women." (He didn't say why.) The Warner Bros. art department brought in Margo Nahas, an airbrush artist and cover designer with a knack for photo-realism. They'd used Nahas before -she'd done Stevie Wonder's Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants and Autograph's That's the Stuff, which actually did depict a metallic woman. Nahas signed on, but after a few weeks, she just couldn't get the chrome women to look real enough to suit her. So she sent her portfolio to Van Halen, hoping it would give them some ideas. But instead of being inspired, they picked one of Nahas paintings that was already done: a winged cherub smoking a cigarette. Naha had painted it from a photograph she'd taken of a friend's four-year-old son (holding candy cigarettes). 1984 went on to sell 10 million copies.

Artist: Rolling Stones

Album: Sticky Fingers (1971)

Story: The Rolling Stones liked to shock and titillate, and they aimed to do the same with the cover of Sticky Fingers. They knew they'd get something controversial if they hired legendary pop artist Andy Warhol to design it. Warhol's idea: a photo of a man's crotch in a pair of tight blue jeans. Warhol then hired several male models and invited them all to his New York studio, The Factory, for a photo shoot. In all, six men were photographed, but Warhol never took notes about who they were and never revealed whose image actually ended up on the album cover. Among the candidates: Jay Johnson, the twin brother of Jed Johnson, who was Warhol's lover at the time, as well as Painter Corey Tippin. (It definitely wasn't, as an urban legend suggests, Mick Jagger.)

Continue reading

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"Happy Xmas (War is Over)"

Neatorama presents a guest post from actor, comedian, and voiceover artist Eddie Deezen. Visit Eddie at his website.

John Lennon and the Beatles have a fairly substantial number of Christmas-themed records. The Beatles recorded a special Christmas record for their fans every year from 1963 to 1969. These seven records are not only very funny, but are now quite nostalgic to listen to, so many years after the band's breakup.

After the Beatles split in 1969, three of the four Beatles paid Christmas a special tribute on record. Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime" (1979) is typical McCartney lighthearted entertainment. It has remained a classic annual song at Yuletide. Ringo Starr recorded a full Christmas album in 1999 called I Wanna Be Santa Claus. Only George Harrison omitted a Christmas record or album from his solo resume. George did, however, put out that rarest of rare, a New Year's Eve record, called "Ding Dong Ding Dong" in 1974.

In 1969, John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono had giant poster-billboards put up around the world in various major cities featuring the inscription (in black letters on a stark white background) "War is over! If you want it. Happy Xmas from John and Yoko." The posters appeared in Paris, London, Hollywood, Athens, Tokyo, Berlin, Rome, and Toronto. Perhaps most pointedly, one also appeared in Times Square, New York, directly across the street from a Marine recruiting center. This was right in the heart of the most political phase of Lennon's fascinating career (the late '60s and early '70s).

John and Yoko jointly composed a song to go along with the posters in a New York City hotel room. The song's actual melody and chord structure were taken directly from a folk song about a race horse called "Stewball."

The John and Yoko song, called "Happy Xmas (War is Over)," was recorded at the Record Plant in New York City over October 28th and 29th in 1971. The song was produced by John's old friend Phil Spector. It featured four guitarists: Hugh McCracken, Stuart Scharf, Chris Osborn, and Teddy Irwin. Famed bassist Klaus Voorman was scheduled to play, but his plane was delayed on the day of recording and an unknown player filled in for him. Nicky Hopkins played "keyboards, chimes, and glockenspiel" along with Yoko. Jim Keltner played drums. The Harlem Community Choir (30 kids strong) sang the chorus. When the song was released, it was credited to John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band with the Harlem Community Choir.

Continue reading

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Cartoonist Kate Beaton illustrated the story of how she spent Christmas in 2005, working the night shift by herself in the tool crib at a mine, a long way from home. I've spent a few holidays like that myself. Only a small portion is shown here; go read the rest at Hark! A Vagrant. Link

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Carol of the Mehs

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Sure, you can sing along, even if you don't know the words …because there aren't any! A Christmas treat from Glove and Boots. -via Tastefully Offensive

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Brave Squirrel

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This squirrel is either insanely brave or just insane. Or maybe he realizes that squirrel meat is not nearly as tempting to an eagle as the human with a camera sitting high in a tree. -via Daily of the Day

Update: this is from a webcam trained on the eagle's nest. -Thanks, Monitorhead!

Love cute animals? View more at Lifestyles of the Cute and Cuddly blog

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Prickly Pete Rescued from Cactus

The Arizona Humane Society sent its emergency team to respond to a report of a cat stuck in a cactus in north Phoenix. They found the cat had escaped the cactus, but took parts of it with him as he became stuck in a fence!

The vet techs rushed the unfortunate feline, now dubbed “Prickly Pete”, to the Humane Society’s Second Chance Animal Hospital. Vets spent two long hours, painstakingly removing cactus spines, one by one, from Pete’s muzzle, eyelids and mouth.

Now recovering in Second Chance, Pete will remain on pain medication and antibiotics to prevent infection.

If Pete's owner is not found before he recovers, he may go up for adoption. Link -via Arbroath

Love cute animals? View more at Lifestyles of the Cute and Cuddly blog

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JibJab Year in Review 2012

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Jib Jab's annual year-end wrap-up is one for the records, just like 2012 was.

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Happy New Year Version 2.0.13

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It's almost 2013, and once again, Rhe DeVille has updated my favorite New Year song, this time as a club mix and a story in the video. When the credits roll, the song is not over. Let's hope your new year is this happy! -Thanks, Rhe!

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Music From Space

Canadian astronaut Colonel Chris Hadfield is spending his Christmas holiday aboard the ISS. He recorded the original Christmas song "Jewel in the Night" at the space station yesterday and uploaded it to SoundCloud. Link -via reddit

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Where is Santa From?

Although Santa Claus supposedly lives at the North Pole, many nations would love to claim him. Scandinavia and the World (SATW) is a webcomic that helps explain the dynamics of the different nations of Scandinavia, and often other European nations, to English speakers. A couple of years ago, it laid the question of Santa's ethnic origin to rest. Sort of.

Everybody knows Santa’s sledge is pulled by reindeer, lives somewhere cold and even the Finns say he lives in Lapland.

In other words, Santa is a Sami. Just look at this [link] and deal with it.

The Sami people are the “Indians” of the North and they belong in the same group as Native Americans and Aboriginals. They live in Lapland, an area that stretches from north Norway over Sweden and Finland to Russia.


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The Story of the Christmas Truce

Of all the stories that came out of World War I, the one about the Christmas truce is the one we most enjoy retelling. It wasn't an official truce -in fact, officers on both sides were appalled and took steps to make sure it never happened again. After all, we can't have soldiers from enemy sides drinking and singing together! But it happened on that magical Christmas Eve in 1914, in several areas of the front lines between British and German soldiers.

The first signs that something strange was happening occurred on Christmas Eve. At 8:30 p.m. an officer of the Royal Irish Rifles reported to headquarters: “Germans have illuminated their trenches, are singing songs and wishing us a Happy Xmas. Compliments are being exchanged but am nevertheless taking all military precautions.” Further along the line, the two sides serenaded each other with carols—the German “Silent Night” being met with a British chorus of “The First Noel“—and scouts met, cautiously, in no man’s land, the shell-blasted waste between the trenches. The war diary of the Scots Guards records that a certain Private Murker “met a German Patrol and was given a glass of whisky and some cigars, and a message was sent back saying that if we didn’t fire at them, they would not fire at us.”

Some of the German soldiers spoke enough English to communicate, and whiskey and Christmas carols were understood by both sides. Another thing the soldiers had in common was soccer, and there are several reports of Christmas games. Alas, by Christmas evening all had returned to their respective trenches, and the war resumed on the 26th. Read the entire story of the Christmas truce at Past Imperfect. Link

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Operation Christmas Drop

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The people of Micronesia live on small, isolated islands, with little traffic and few modern amenities. The U.S. Air Force has delivered Christmas through Operation Christmas Drop for 60 years now. It's an assignment every Airman wants.

This large-scale humanitarian mission had relatively humble beginnings. According to the 36th Wing historian, the exact origin of the operation is unknown, but legend has it that the first supplies were dropped around Christmas in 1952. An aircrew, assigned to the 54th Weather Squadron at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, flew a WB-29 aircraft over a tiny island and saw the villagers below. The crew then packed a box and sent it down on a parachute used for weather buoys. This became tradition and continued each year until Operation Christmas Drop was officially named and organized in 1958.

Read more about the mission at Airman magazine. Link -via Buzzfeed

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Wrapping Gifts with a Cat

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Chatty doesn't want these gifts to be wrapped! This is another reason why it's hard to get anything done during the holidays. -via Daily PIcks and Flicks

Love cute animals? View more at Lifestyles of the Cute and Cuddly blog

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A More Advanced Useless Machine

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You've seen the world's most useless machine (previously), but now it's new and improved! The openly thing a useless machine does is turn itself off. However, this one goes the extra mile. It came about when a printer was rendered useless by a broken printhead. But the mechanics of the machine still worked, so why not turn it into something entertaining? Get the specs at Stuff. Link -via Viral Viral Videos

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Spaceship Bed

Jeremiah Gorman built his son Finn a spaceship for the fifth birthday! Surplus electronics from a TV station became the cockpit controls, set under his bunk bed with proper lighting that looks like stars. See pictures of the build at Makezine. Link

See more about baby and kids at NeatoBambino

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Earliest Christmas Audio Recordings Yet

The Cromwell Wall family of England had a wax cylinder phonograph on which they recorded family events, including Christmas celebrations, from 1902 to 1917. The Museum of London obtained the cylinders in 2008, and now they are digitized for all to hear.

The sound is thought to be the oldest Christmas recordings on record, as they date back to 1902. There’s even one from Christmas Day that year of the family singing Angels from the Realms of Glory and We Wish You a Merry Christmas.

It was an unusual find at the time, not only because of the age and good condition, but because the phonograph and cylinders were so expensive in 1902. To record so much, let alone own one in the first place, required considerable wealth.

A video at Geek.com tells how the sound was recovered digitally, and has sample sound clips. Link to story. Link to recordings. -via Fark

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Funky Fungal Holiday

In the mycology lab at the J. Craig Venter Institute, Stephanie Mounaud and her fellow fungus folk put a little bit of holiday spirit in their work. This Christmas tree is made of different kinds of growing fungus!

Fungal Christmas tree. Top: Talaromyces stipitatus; Tree: Aspergillus nidulans; Ornaments: Penicillium marneffei; Trunk: Aspergillus terreus.

Also see a snowman and a white tree at their website. Link-via Nag on the Lake

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Rolling in the Deep on Handbells

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Talk about teamwork! This is a high school handbell ensemble performing Adele's "Rolling in the Deep. -via Uproxx

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Andy Lewis

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Andy Lewis is a highliner and a trickliner, and a master slack liner. Don't know what those things mean? Then watch what he did in 2012. -via Breakfast Links

Check out more amazing talents over at our Mad Skills blog

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Who Really Wrote “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”?

The poem published as "A Visit from St. Nicholas" is usually credited to Clement Clarke Moore, but it's very possible that we will never know for sure who wrote it.

When it was first appeared in the newspaper on December 23, 1823, there was no name attached to it. It wasn’t until 13 years later that Clement Clarke Moore, a professor and poet, stepped forward to claim authorship and said that his housekeeper had, without his knowledge, sent the piece he wrote for his kids to the newspaper. In 1844, the poem was officially included in an anthology of Moore’s work. The problem? The family of Henry Livingston, Jr., claimed their father had been reciting “A Visit From St. Nicholas” to them for 15 years before it was published. Here’s the view from both sides.

The evidence in an article at mental_floss seems to point to Livingston, with even more in the comments. Link

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Profile for Miss Cellania

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