Saturday, July 31, 2010

Centralia, Pennsylvania

Centralia is a borough and ghost town in Columbia County, Pennsylvania, United States. Its population has dwindled from over 1,000 residents in 1981 to 12 in 2005, 9 in 2007, and 7 in 2010 as a result of a mine fire burning beneath the borough since 1962. All properties in the borough were claimed under eminent domain by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1992 (and all buildings therein were condemned), and Centralia's ZIP code was revoked by the Post Office in 2002. However, a few residents continue to reside there in spite of a failed lawsuit to reverse the eminent domain claim.

It is not known for certain how the fire that made Centralia essentially uninhabitable was ignited. One theory asserts that in May 1962, the Centralia Borough Council hired five members of the volunteer fire company to clean up the town landfill, located in an abandoned strip-mine pit next to the Odd Fellows Cemetery. The firefighters, as they had in the past, set the dump on fire and let it burn for a time. Unlike in previous years, however, the fire was not extinguished correctly. The fire remained burning underground and spread through a hole in the rock pit into the abandoned coal mines beneath Centralia. Attempts to extinguish the fire were unsuccessful, and it continued to burn throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Adverse health effects were reported by several people due to the byproducts of the fire, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and a lack of healthy oxygen levels.

In 1979, locals became aware of the scale of the problem when a gas-station owner and then mayor, John Coddington, inserted a stick into one of his underground tanks to check the fuel level. When he withdrew it, it seemed hot, so he lowered a thermometer down on a string and was shocked to discover that the temperature of the gasoline in the tank was 172 °F. Statewide attention to the fire began to increase, culminating in 1981 when 12-year-old resident Todd Domboski fell into a sinkhole four feet wide by 150 feet (46 m) deep that suddenly opened beneath his feet in a backyard. Only the quick work of his cousin Eric Wolfgang in pulling Todd out of the hole saved Todd's life, as the plume of hot steam billowing from the hole was measured as containing a lethal level of carbon monoxide.

The only indications of the fire, which underlies some 400 acres spreading along four fronts, are low round metal steam vents in the south of the borough and several signs warning of underground fire, unstable ground, and carbon monoxide. Additional smoke and steam can be seen coming from an abandoned portion of Pennsylvania Route 61, the area just behind the hilltop cemetery, and other cracks in the ground scattered about the area. The underground fire is still burning and will continue to do so for a predicted 250-1000 more years.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Wilmer McLean

The initial engagements of the Civil War on July 18, 1861, in what would become the First Battle of Bull Run, fought on July 21, took place on McLean's farm. Union Army artillery fired at McLean's house, headquarters for Confederate Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard, and a cannonball dropped through the kitchen fireplace. Beauregard wrote after the battle, "A comical effect of this artillery fight was the destruction of the dinner of myself and staff by a Federal shell that fell into the fire-place of my headquarters at the McLean House.”

McLean was a retired major in the Virginia militia, but was too old to return to active duty at the outbreak of the Civil War; he made his living during the war as a sugar broker supplying the Confederate States Army. He decided to move because his commercial activities were centered mostly in southern Virginia and the Union army presence in his area of northern Virginia made his work difficult. He undoubtedly was also motivated by a desire to protect his family from a repetition of his battle experience. In the spring of 1863 he and his family moved about 120 miles south to Appomattox County, Virginia, near Appomattox Court House.

On April 9, 1865, the war came back to Wilmer McLean when Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant in the parlor of McLean's house near Appomattox Court House, effectively ending the Civil War. Later, McLean is supposed to have said "The war began in my front yard and ended in my front parlor".


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Lake Kaindy

Kaindy Lake is a 400 meter long lake in Kazakhstan that reaches depths near 30 meters in some areas. It was created by the result of an enormous limestone landslide. This resulted in the submersion of a large portion of the nearby forest. The track to Kaindy lake has many scenic views to the Saty Gorge, the Chilik River valley and the Kaindy gorge. Dried-out trunks of submerged Picea schrenkiana trees rise above the surface.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Naga fireballs

The Naga fireballs are a phenomenon seen in the Mekong river—in Thailand and in Laos—in which glowing balls rise high into the air. The balls are reddish and about the size of chicken eggs; they rise a couple of hundred meters before disappearing. The number of fireballs is variable, being reported at between tens and thousands per night. The fireballs are most often reported around the night of Wan Awk Pansa at the end of the Buddhist rains in October. It has been proposed that the balls are produced by the fermentation of sediment in the river, which can supposedly combust in the particular river and atmospheric conditions of the nights in question.


Sunday, July 4, 2010

Dave Soldier

Dave Soldier (born November 6, 1956) is an American composer and performer residing in New York. Some of his work is based on unusual collaborations. In the Thai Elephant Orchestra he built giant musical instruments on which he trained a group of elephants to improvise. The Thai Elephant Orchestra, located at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center near Lampang, has recorded three CDs, consists of up to 14 elephants, and is listed by Guinness as the world's largest orchestra by weight, claimed to be roughly equivalent as much as three Vienna Philharmonics.

He created specially designed instruments for music played by zebra finches and pygmy chimpanzees, the latter in collaboration with Gordon Shaw, the physicist who popularized the Mozart effect. He has a repertory for music, the Brainwave Music Project, played by performer's brainwaves using electroencephalograms in collaboration with the computer musician Brad Garton.