Top 10 Most Unusual Christmas Trees of 2011

Every December, we hear reports of bizarre Christmas trees in the making, and on display. We bring you a roundup of 10 of the most unusual trees that caught our attention in the Christmas season of 2011.

The Japanese Gold Tree

We’ve previously featured this tree made completely of pure Gold, here on OC. A creation of Japanese jeweler Ginza Tanaka, the tree is worth $2 million and unusual enough to make it to our top 10. It weighs 12 kg, is 2.4 m high, and is decorated with plates, ornaments and ribbons – all made of gold. Talk about a golden Christmas!

Researcher Proves You’re Washing Your Clothes More Often than You Should

Would you dare to sniff a pair of jeans that haven’t been washed in three months? If the very thought of it seems disgusting, wait till you hear this. This March, there’s going to be an exhibition of thirty such pairs at the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia.

The unusual collection of dirty jeans is the result of an experiment conducted by Tullia Jack, a researcher from Melbourne. In an effort to prove that people wash their clothes way too often, she recruited thirty volunteers to wear their jeans unwashed, five days a week, for three months. Ms. Jack is a student at the Melbourne University and a fashion lecturer at RMIT. “Not washing your jeans isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds,” she says. The experiment is a part of her Master of Philosophy thesis and she wants to use the findings to challenge our ‘extreme clean’ culture.

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Creative Artist Makes Artworks with GPS Maps

For Michael Wallace, the streets are his drawing board and maps, his canvas. For a paintbrush? He uses his bicycle! GPX Riding is what he calls his art. Confused? So was I, at first.

When I got a hang of what he’s been doing, I was simply amazed. He explains his artwork on his website in simple terms, “GPX Riding is my general term for using a GPS device to track and record my location while riding my bicycle. In short, I use GPS technology to record where I go in a planned effort to create massive images.” Massive images indeed, his gallery of artwork displays pictures of guns, hammers, snails, monsters, scorpions and more. Pretty basic stuff if you were drawing on paper, but very complex if you are tracing it out with your bike.

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Juhyou – The Beautiful Snow Monsters of Japan

The words “beautiful” and “monster” don’t usually go well together, but when talking about a breathtaking natural wonder like the snow-and-ice-covered trees known as juhyou in Japan, we thought we’d make an exception.

Every year, during the cold winter months, snow monsters make their appearance on the snow covered slopes of Japan’s northern prefectures. But instead of running out of their way, tourists flock to these places to admire their natural beauty. Every one of these juhyou monsters is uniquely shaped by Mother Nature, who uses strong winds as her tools and thick layers of snow and ice as art mediums. Juhyou translates as “frost-covered trees” and is a popular phenomenon that takes place in many of Japan’s northern ski resorts.

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Ferret Legging – A Truly Bizarre Animal Sport

Most people couldn’t stand something as small as a cockroach up their trousers. And then there are the brave ferret leggers who endure not one, but two fully grown adult ferrets trapped in their pants. The weird sport, called Ferret Legging, is a test of endurance or just the ability to “have your tool bitten and not care”.

Also known as ferret-down-trousers and put ‘em down, the rules of the sport are pretty tight. Competitors have two ferrets placed inside their trousers, which are tied firmly at the ankles and belted up at the waist, thereby eliminating any point of escape for the furry creatures. The competitor then stands before judges, enduring the misery of the razor-sharp claws and teeth of the ferrets. Other rules state that competitors cannot be drunk and the ferrets must not be sedated. Also, the ferrets must have a full set of teeth that have not been blunted or filed. The man who stands the longest, wins.

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Mysterious Female Superhero Helps Beijing’s Poor

Ever fancied meeting up with a superhero? Well you could have, had you been in Beijing this past Christmas Eve. For that was the day a real-life superhero walked the streets of the city, helping out the poor. She calls herself the ‘Chinese Redbud Woman’.

Dressed in low-cut black tights and wearing a blue mask, her pictures leave us wondering if she attracted attention for more than just her generosity. Jokes aside, she did do a pretty good job of helping out – handing out food, warm clothing and gifts to beggars and homeless people. Why she didn’t put on some of the warm clothing herself on a cool December night, is something we don’t have an answer to. The appearance of this mysterious woman did cause a stir of sorts among the residents of Beijing. People started talking about her on the internet and in local media. Pictures of her acts of kindness at public places such as the Xidan subway station and in front of the Wangfujing bookstore have been doing the rounds ever since the night of Christmas Eve. The superlady herself communicates with the world through a microblog, written in Chinese. She currently has over 7,000 fans online.

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Chateau Guédelon – A 13th Century Castle in the Making

It is sometimes unbelievable how beautiful architecture was created in ancient times, without the use of modern technology. A medieval construction project in Treigny, France, aims at understanding exactly how this was possible. Guédelon Castle is a project that is being completed with only the materials and techniques that were available to man in the Middle Ages. Of course, it’s going to take decades to complete.

The construction of Guédelon Castle started back in 1997. Michel Guyot, the owner of the nearby Saint-Fargeau castle, first got the idea of the project when he was restoring his own property. Over the years, the project has matured in terms of complexity, and has become a major tourist attraction. Today, it has created over 55 jobs and draws around 300,000 people every year. It also acts as an educational backdrop for school excursions. The design of the castle is based on the architectural canons laid down by the King of France,  Philip II Augustus, in the 12th and 13th centuries. The work done is mostly manual and slow, involving materials such as wood, earth, sand, stone and clay. The blueprint of the castle includes a moat and six towers. What’s even more fascinating is that the workers dress in the garb of medieval times.

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Man Spends $16,000 for Virtual Video Game Sword

For those of us who aren’t online gaming enthusiasts, the actions of a Chinese gamer this holiday season may seem a tad bizarre. But for him, it’s perfectly normal to spend $16,000 on a sword that isn’t even real.

While it has become common practice for many people to spend small amounts of money on online games, this gamer from China has indeed outdone most others. He won a bid for a virtual sword to be used online. What’s even more surprising is that the game for which the sword was purchased hasn’t even been released yet. Age of Wulin is a martial arts MMO that is set to release its first Chinese beta version in the spring of 2012. The English version will follow soon after. Snail Games, the developers of Age of Wulin, organized an online auction of various exclusive virtual items that players could bid for. While the sword was by far the costliest one to be sold, several other items fetched good amounts of money. A sheath for a Lordly Spear went for $2,500, while the Hook of Departure sheath followed closely at $1,600. Pre-paid time cards and enhancement materials were sold for smaller amounts.

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MIT Develops Suit That Lets You Feel What It’s Like to Be 75 Years Old

If you’ve ever wondered why your ageing parents or grandparents aren’t as fit and fast as they used to be, here’s a way to find out exactly what they go through each day. An age suit developed at MIT allows the people wearing it to live life as an aged person.

The MIT AgeLab is a part of the Engineering Systems Division, and works on improving the way services are delivered and products are designed for the elderly. The recent creation of the AgeLab is AGNES (Age Gain Now Empathy System), a suit designed to provide an experience of the flexibility, dexterity, strength, motor and visual skills of a person in their mid-70s. AGNES comes at a highly relevant time, when the population of people over 65 years of age has been rapidly on the rise. It is expected to hit 72.1 million by the year 2030. This increases the design challenges faced by engineers and designers to create products that cater to the older demographic.

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Shijiao – Where Christmas Lights Go to Die

Ever wonder what happens to Christmas lights once you toss out into the trash at the end of every holiday season? Turns out a lot of things are made from them, including slipper soles.

Shijiao, in China, has been designated as the world’s capital for recycling old and unusable Christmas tree lights that are thrown away by Americans each year. There are at least nine factories in this small town that process large volumes of tree lights. Yong Chang Processing is one of them, the company recycles 2.2 million pounds of lights each year. Overall, the factories of the town go through over 20 million pounds. Shijiao is known for its cheap labor costs and low environmental standards. These factors make it an ideal place for a recycling zone. It has been so for around 20 years now. Needless to say, the burning of the wire from the lights causes huge amounts of black smoke to rise up in the air, which is clearly visible from the fields around town. The process adopted is the fastest way to extract copper from rubber and plastic, and hence there isn’t any alternative.

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Meet Qamar Hashim, an 8-Year-Old Professional Photographer

Qamar Hashim looks like any other 8-year-old. But the cute Iraqi lad has a unique talent of his own – he’s a national celebrity for his photography skills.

Qamar is the youngest certified photographer in Iraq. He has several beautiful photographs to his credit, many of which have been displayed in prominent exhibits in Baghdad. He showed interest in the art and began to take pictures at the age of four. At the time he was only imitating his father who is a photo journalist. He started by taking pictures of the Tigris river, birds, old houses, and places of historical importance. While Qamar’s father does not permit him to photograph violent happenings in the city, he did manage to make his way through security detail once, and took a picture of the Mayor of Baghdad. After this incident, the government official presented him with his very first digital camera. In his sweet, innocent child’s voice, he tells reporters, “When I see something I like, I look at it through my lens, zoom in if it’s far away and click. As for my height, I am not short, I can reach.” He says that the biggest difficulty he faces is when the camera runs out of battery.

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Bavarian Villagers Build Church Entirely Out of Snow

A church built entirely out of snow and ice – sounds magical, and looks pretty too. It was built this year in the Bavarian forest by the villagers of Mitterfirmiansreut, Germany. Located close to the Czech border, the church is bathed in a beautiful blue light. It was opened to public on Wednesday evening, blessed by Dean Kajetan Steinbeisser. Although the villagers had hoped to have it open before Christmas, the lack of sufficient snow caused a delay in their project.

The snow church was constructed in commemoration of a similar church built in 1911, exactly 100 years ago. The older one was actually a sign of protest. In those days, the nearest church was in Mauth, a 90-minute hike away, which wasn’t always easy to complete. The residents of the secluded Mitterfirmiansreut village then came up with the idea to build the snow church, in the hope that it would draw attention to their plight. The winter of 1910/1911 was rich in snow, and the construction of the church began in Feb, 1911. Both men and women worked hard to place blocks of solid snow bricks, building a strong and sturdy church. The final structure was 14m long , 7m wide and 4m high. The first worship was held on the 28th of March, 1911.

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Snorting Crushed Candy, a Growing Trend Among Sugar-Loving Teens

It’s amazing, the new things that kids these days keep coming up with. It’s also quite disturbing. The latest trend among students in the US is “Smoking Smarties”. The term refers to the crushing and inhalation of certain types of candy. This has become a cause of concern among drug educators.

The students, who are often in middle school, crush candy such as Smarties or make use of powered candy such as Pixy Stix. Powder drink packets such as Kool Aid are also widely used. They snort the powder into their noses. Some of them even inhale the powder from a packet directly through their mouths, blowing out fine granules that look just like smoke through their nostrils. It’s their own way of imitating smokers.

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Colombian City Inaugurates Giant Outdoor Escalator

The last time we spoke about the Colombian city of Medellin here on OC, it was about the tours based on the life of deceased drug-lord Pablo Escobar. Now the city is in the news again, for an entirely different reason. The residents of Medellin who have long been victims of war and urban violence have a reason to cheer – a giant outdoor escalator worth $6.7 million, installed by the Colombian Government. It was unveiled on Monday.

Comuna 13 is a relatively poor hillside neighborhood in Medellin, whose residents have to make a 35-minute hike uphill every single day to get home from the center of the city. This is roughly equivalent to climbing 28 flights of stairs. Now, thanks to the initiative of the Colombian officials, they do not have to make the exhausting journey any longer. The new escalator will allow residents to complete the trip home in just 6 minutes. What’s more, it’s completely free of cost.

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Olive – The First Cinema Film Shot with a Cell Phone

It had to happen sooner or later. Olive is the world’s first feature film of cinematic-quality to be shot using a smartphone. The film was released in Santa Monica’s Nuart Theatre this week.

Olive is the first film of director Hooman Khalili. He shot the entire film with the Nokia N8 smartphone, which has a high-resolution camera. The camera was adapted with a 35-mm lens to give the film additional depth. The project was quite low on budget, costing just $500,000. It was partly funded by Chris Kelly, a Silicon Valley attorney and former Facebook executive. According to Kelly, films that are shot using smartphones are important because they give everyone access to creating high-quality content. In this context, Olive may just have marked the beginning of a change in the way the film industry functions. Kelly points out that with this kind of film-making, big studios wouldn’t control the industry anymore, and the very pricing and economics of making a film could change.

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