margin-top: 28px; The Unlikely Times: February 2008

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Big catch off the Isle of Wight

I always enjoy a good piece about animals being caught in unexpected places, or being bigger than expected.

August, 2007: a 14-foot tresher shark caught off the Isle of Wight (U.K.). It took Danny Vokins and several men over two hours to reel it in, and it weighed an estimated 500 pounds. The shark was tagged and released, and was therefore not weighed and not eligible for the record books. Kudos. I'd rather have a living creature than a dead number.

The Hampshire Chronicle adds that "the shark's movements are now being tracked by the National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS) in the US." The NMFS has a good page of info about the thresher shark here, though I admit I was surprised to see "Nutrition Facts" get top billing!

Link: The Daily Echo (Aug. 6, 2007) with photo and comments

Link: Hampshire Chronicle (Aug. 7, 2007)

Link: Podcast interview (Aug. 13, 2007)

Link: Danny's photography site (Why not?)

How badly do you want that big screen TV?

Not as badly as some people. Here's a story about a guy in Newcastle (U.K.), who stole a big plasma TV from a local school, by running through a pane of glass to get into the room. This happened on Feb. 23, 2007, and was caught on closed-circuit TV. The man paused for a moment, then smashed through the window, dusted himself off and stole the TV, then went back out through the hole he had made. Sounds like a scene from a Terminator movie.

What's odd is that old-style glass would have broken into jagged pieces and probably caused severe injuries; a tougher modern glass might have taken the blow, leaving him banged up; but it was just the type of glass where the stunt might work.

Link: The Northern Echo (Mar. 6, 2007)

Yes, one category of human story I like are bizarre and stupid crime stories.

Watch out for trees, too

During the coverage of our Valentine's Day storm, there was a report of a man who was driving on the 163 (a major 6-lane divided freeway) when his car was hit by a falling tree. It's not a forested area. It's wide open, mostly scrub except down by Balboa Park, and if there's one thing I don't think of when I think of the 163, it's trees. But apparently they're out there ...

I haven't been able to find the story online. The man in the news report was smiling and telling his story, which is good. It could have been worse.

And, given endless time and space, you can count on something uncommon to happen again (even that tantalizing "something worse"), so here you go:

January 11, 2005 - three injured and one killed when a tree falls on cars on the 163, after more than an inch of rain. Link: (Jan 11, 2005)

But the recap of the storm has: "An 18-year-old woman died and five others were injured Tuesday when a 50-foot tree fell fell across state Route 163, California Highway Patrol officials said. The tree was one of two that fell onto the freeway near downtown San Diego at about 4:30 a.m. Tuesday ..." Link: (Jan 12, 2005)

One thing that makes certain events seem unlikely is our short memories. But just as we can increase our search radius to find more and more trees falling on highways and killing people, we can increase our time span and get the same results. The most bizarre things have probably happened before, and can be expected to happen again.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Big surprise from Cuba

I'm not usually impressed by unlikely news with human causes. After all, people will do crazy things just to get noticed, so it's hardly noticeable when someone does something crazy. But the hallmark of good "unlikely news" is that it makes me stop, assume I heard wrong, and double check. Even better if I still don't believe it and have to check again.

Here's one from the department of "things I never thought I'd hear on the news":

Fidel Castro retired.


For the heap of news stories, here's Google News.

I'm not sure just why it hit me from so far in left field. Part of the surprise is that he has lived to be 81, considering the forces that have been opposed to him. While retiring and letting his brother (Raul, age 76) take over is a sound decision, for as long as I've been alive it seemed that only a revolution could replace him. So, I really don't know what to say, other than point out how unlikely it all seems -- although nothing lasts forever, few things have been as permanent, at least in modern politics. 81 years is nothing to a block of sandstone, but for a revolutionary? Weird.

1,001 places ... or none

We're wired to detect coincidences. Most of what happens on a typical day is ordinary, so when anything "odd" pops up, it can get our attention.

Here's a weird moment that just happened: I was going through a few straggler bills sent to my Mom (who died in November) and sending out photocopies of death certificates to get them to buzz off. One of them was a book club, and I sure don't need them sending unwanted book that I'll have to return. So we took a certificate and put it in the envelope, only to see the featured book of the month: "1,001 Places to See Before You Die." Good book. Lousy timing.

Cyclone hits Soccer Match

Keeping with the "freak storm" theme, here's a dangerous blast of wind ripping up a stadium while a soccer game is underway:
Link to the video on YouTube

Those are some huge chunks of signage flapping around, and some near decapitations. The picture says it all. It's not obvious what kinds of wind this is, but it's it the range of a weak tornado or a microburst.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Twister with Personality

I admit it, I do a lot of very weird searches on Google. Here's a story about a waterspout hitting Belize, from the San Pedro Sun, August 29, 2002. I just love the style of reporting. It gives the storm some personality unheard of in the big papers:

"The 'freak storm' first made land at the Blue Water Grill and decided to reorganize the tables and chairs, causing chaos." (I can just picture it like a big finger, thinking: the green chair goes over HERE ... and is that some dude hiding behind the snack bar?)

"... it made its way to the San Pedro Airstrip. There, the monstrous funnel swallowed a six-seater Australian Airbus." (A good source of iron and other alloys.)

"Still hungry for more, the twister continued on its way to the San Pedrito Area where it tore the roofs off of three homes in that neighborhood leaving the affected occupants in shock." ("I know there's munchies & cruchies in here somewhere.") (Okay - WHAT movie is that darn line from? Was it "Labyrinth" or "The Never-Ending Story?")

Nobody was badly hurt. You can find the whole story here:
San Pedro Sun

It's a good example of how being human colors what we see around us. Rather than chaotic air currents following invisible pattenrs of air pressure, we see intent, hunger, and mischief.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Those burning piles of leaves

I've done my share of road trips, and I've seen my share of people burning leaves and trash outside their homes. It never seems like a good idea. I always wondered if anyone got hurt doing that. Well ...

Link: "Woman Fell Into Leaf Fire, Died" (Jan 9, 2008): an 84-year-old woman is found dead in her leaf fire, probably slipped and fell down an embankment into the fire. No foul play suspected.

Video Link: Here's the story on A Google search will show this story on 20 or 30 other news sites. Sometimes, the smallest news becomes big news. It's nice to know small tragedies can still be noticed.

I suspect I will find similar stories, if I search enough. However, an inspired set of search terms came up with the perfect companion piece:

Link: My Mortimer died by leaf fire.: Ahem. Apparently, the Sims (the game) simulates things so well ... here's a post about a guy whose sim died in a leaf fire while working in the garden! Pictures and all. The very first response is from a fellow player who says, "I had a serious garden fire too, but no one died there."

This beautiful convergence has been brought to you by our search-engine-driven bizarro world. ;-)

Freak Storm hits San Diego

When I posted that last item, I mentioned that it was raining a little. In fact, the unexpected edge of a cold winter storm blasted our area. It was windy and windows rattled a bit, but it was a surprise to watch the evening news and see flooding, mudslides, stranded cars, and the obligatory reporter in a winter coat looking uncomfortable for our benefit.

Over an inch of rain in places, which sounds harmless, bad after October's wildfires killed all the scrub that was holding the soil in place ... many sections of road were covered in mud and rocks, other parts were undercut and not safe to drive on. There was snow as low as 1,500' elevation, which is very rare around here - normally if we have a dusting on Palomar Mountain (6,000') it's a sight to see. And over a foot of snow at the highest points.

Link: Stranded drivers found shelter in some local casinos -- (SignOnSanDiego - Feb 15, 2008)

One of the comments to that article said, "Southern California people need to get out more. This is nothing." But all events need to be seen in their proper context. As you widen an area, more and more things become common. Snow within 20 miles of me is rare, that's a fact. Within 100 miles there are a few ski areas, like Idyllwild, so it's less rare. Within 10,000 miles, that's the whole earth, and snow is guaranteed. Context is important.

If you include the rest of the solar system, it's even snowing methane somewhere.

BTW: I know ... I'm going to have to think of a phrase other than "freak storm" ... since I have so many other reports lined up.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Tonga hit by freak storm (Feb, 2008)

Okay, I happen to like unexpected weather phenomena. There's not much info here, but Tonga got hit by a major deluge, dropping up to a foot of rain in a single day.

Link: (Feb 11, 2008)

Right now, we're getting rain here in San Diego, which, according to the song "It Never Rains in Southern California" is a bit odd. And yes, I have a link for the SONG, too.


Postcard arrives after 79 years

One of my favorite categories of story are ones involving huge delays in mail service. I'm a stamp collector, and love a cover with lots of redirections and postmarks. Here's a postcard from Yellowstone, mailed from Seattle in June, 1929, which was just received in Boston after 79 years.

Link: North County Times (Feb 14, 2008)

Thanks to Carmen for finding this one.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Tornados strike a third time?

I know the old adage says, "lightning never strikes the same place twice." And I know it depends on how large an area you define as "the same place," but nevermind all that. How about tornados? While I was following last week's tornado swarm in the Southeast, this odd story showed up down under ...

Link: New Zealand Herald (Feb. 07, 2008).

Apparently, Union University in Jackson, TN was hit by tornadoes in Feb 2008, Nov 2002 and "a few years before that."

The University itself has a good news archive, and here are the 3 storms:

  • Feb 2008
  • Nov 2002
  • Jan 1999

  • No shootings at all?

    From the department of "unlikely, but in a good way:"

    "For the first time since 1996, the San Diego County Sheriff's Department went a year without any deputy-involved shootings, it was reported Monday."

    I like the role-reversal on this one. It does seem much more likely that, in a city of a few million people, given the usual percent of criminals, that someone would get shot by the authorities. Just not this year. The past few years, 7 to 10 shootings were reported. That's not to say some other department didn't kill anyone, of course, but it's still a jot of good news.

    Link: North County Times (Feb 12, 2008)

    How Not to Find a UFO

    I sat through an episode of UFO Hunters last night. Mostly because it was a local story about UFOs around Catalina Island. Unidentfied Flying Objects and the new rage, Unidentified Submerged Objects (USOs). I'd love to see some proof of alien visitors, really. But the evidence is just so minimal. Some guy said he saw something, so they find some other guy who saw something. Zzz. Most of the episode was a searching for a sunken Piper Cherokee supposedly downed by a USO. They didn't find it. And rather than admit that it can take years to find a small wreck, their conclusion was that the plane "might have been moved by the aliens." I don't know long they were searching. It's essentially a treasure hunt, and such shows are notoriously short on measurable data. It looked like they spent maybe two days looking. Maybe just one. The expected result is: NOT finding anything. And of course they rolled their eyes at the skeptic at the end, and ran the credits in a hurry. Proving nothing. Please don't be fooled by this stuff. It's just entertainment.

    Odd fact: Both the History Channel and the SciFi Channel have shows in production called "UFO Hunters." the History Channel one is a spinoff of a 2005 one-off show called "UFO Hunters" and the SciFi one is a spin off of "Ghost Hunters." A post on said they were both trying to trademark the name & concept ... like you can really own a name. Still, two TV shows with the same name -- unlikely! Representatives of UFO Hunters duking it out in court (probably in expensive suits) -- also unlikely.

    Personal oddity: I once got tricked into driving someone to a UFO Society meeting because I thought she had said "USO" -- she was about 50, and I thought she had a military husband, so the United Service Organization was what I figured. Nope. UFOs. It was a weird gathering; the people all picked apart each other's UFO stories while defending their own, and there was a lecture on ancient astronauts that presented perfectly reasonable "establishment" ideas and laughed at them, based on next to nothing. Anyway ... during this "UFO Hunters" story about USOs, who should advertise but the USO! Really -- they showed an aircraft hanger full of people preparing care packages for our troops! I couldn't believe my eyes. Unlikely ... or just mistakenly targeted advertising?

    Sleeping Man Kills Sleeping Man

    We had a story here in San Diego last week where a man (allegedly) fell asleep at the wheel of his car and ran off the road. The car hit a boulder and flew into a bunch of trees where a homeless man was sleeping, killing the poor fellow. The driver suffered only minor injuries.

    Odd detail: "The car was launched about 65 feet in the air after striking the boulder." In case you wondered if THAT ever happened.

    Odd fact: On the topic of "unlikely (and unfair) but true" it reminds us that drunks and sleeping people are less likely to be hurt in a car accident.

    Link: North County Times (Feb 1, 2008)


    Unlikely things happen all the time. But this doesn't mean all things are possible. Without getting into the pits of probability, there's a huge difference between something that has a 1 in 1,000 chance of happening (getting hit by a car today) and a 1 in a billion chance (getting hit by a car today while waking up on Broadway in your pajamas). Yet those super longshots, like two black holes colliding, will happen, given enough time.

    I want this blog to be entertaining -- but along the way I think it's important to point out bad arguments. There are so many websites full of unsupportable rubbish, and people trying to convince us of nutty things everywhere we turn. Even the History Channel shows things that aren't even slightly historical! What has the world become? What fun is the weirdness if it's just baloney?

    These things we call "weird" are like a fine wine. Okay, maybe fine cheese. A taste that can be developed. We should be able to put on our Mythbuster caps at the end of a story, and say "Plausible" or "Not."