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Airline Offers Flight to Nowhere, Sells Out in 10 Minutes

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  • You know the pandemic has changed the world when this ends up being a profitable business idea

The coronavirus pandemic that still keeps ravaging countries around the world has had a crippling impact on many businesses. One of the possibly worst impacted industries is travel.

COVID-19 has forced the cancellation of thousands upon thousands of flights. Similarly, businesses and location relying on tourism have lost potentially millions of dollars in income.

But travel restrictions don’t impact just the economy, but the travelers themselves too. Who knows how many summer vacations, honeymoons, and trips to see friends and relatives got ruined?

To many people, being on the move is second nature. While some of us are couch potatoes to whom quarantine didn’t really change things all that much, others find being confined within four walls intolerable.

While you can still, for example, camp and bike while safely socially distancing, it doesn’t suit everybody. Some people just like flying to places and going on city escapes, as far away from bug-filled tents and other nuisances.

With that in mind, Australian airline Qantas had a brilliantly stupid idea. As a company they naturally like money, and because their planes could fly nowhere, why not sell a flight precisely there?

Nowhere.

Imagine the board meeting where someone pitched this idea. And that the rest of the company’s management liked it enough to make it reality.

Man, the ‘Rona does weird things.

“Oh hey, I can see my house.”

Reach No Place, in Comfort!

Despite how ridiculous it sounds, in mid-September Qantas started offering the Great Southern Land scenic flight. The flight takes off from the Sydney Domestic airport and – seven hours later – lands back in the same place.

The company says the travel simulation package is aimed at “those who are missing the excitement of travel or are keen to wave to friends and family interstate”. If you’re thirst for the thrill of takeoff, or the slight nervousness just before landing, then you’re in the target audience.

A total of 134 passengers – 104 in Economy, 24 in Premium Economy, and 6 in Business class – will take to air in a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. The plane is usually reserved for long international flights, says Qantas, but due to its relatively huge windows, it has been repurposed for the sightseeing flight.

The tour will fly over various locations in Queensland, the Northern Territory, and New South Wales. The passengers can gaze at the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef, the Uluru and Kata Tjuta rock formations, Byron Bay, and Sydney Harbor.

The company’s website also promises some surprises during the flight. Not having been there, we couldn’t tell you what they are, but there’s something about a celebrity host.

Passengers who have bought the flight also get to enjoy a pre-flight breakfast in the Qantas lounge at the Sydney airport. On the plane, the flight attendants will serve a lunch menu designed by the famous Australian chef Neil Perry.

The one downside is that on-flight entertainment will not be available. Man, we really wanted to empty our bank accounts so we could watch last year’s blockbusters on a tiny, smudged airplane screen.

Is it Safe, Though?

But wait, you say. This flight is supposed to be a travel simulation to comply with coronavirus restrictions, right? Then why are they cramming more than a hundred people on one plane?

That’s an excellent question. And the answer is… Well, they can.

Of course, the flight will be performed according to Qantas’ COVID-19 precaution measures. To begin with, all passengers are encouraged to wear masks, which will also be provided as part of the flight package.

Some researchers also say that you’re much less likely to catch the virus on a plane than on, say, a bus or a train. The air circulation system on planes operates in a way that sucks most airborne bugs away from the passengers.

Plane travelers are also not sitting face-to-face, which lowers transmission risk.

“While the risk of COVID-19 inflight transmission remains extremely low, we’ve introduced a range of measures to ensure a safe environment onboard,” the company says.

Some of Qantas’ COVID-19 measures include hospital-grade HEPA filters in the air circulation system and enhanced cleaning.

‘Fastest Selling Flight in History’

Though the idea about the flight to nowhere is pretty weird, it wasn’t only the Qantas management and investors that liked it. When the tickets went on sale in September, the whole plane sold out in less than ten minutes.

“It’s probably the fastest selling flight in Qantas history,” Alan Joyce, Qantas’ CEO, told CNN.

And that’s even in the face of the fact that most people on the sightseeing flight won’t be able to do that. As with any flight, the limited window seats will be first to sell out. You’d imagine that be doubly the case with this one.

Since Qantas doesn’t allow seat swapping to limit any possible coronavirus transmission, you’ll be stuck sitting on a plane for nothing, really. Nonetheless, people swarmed to get onboard and the tickets sell like hotcakes.

“People clearly miss travel and the experience of flying. If the demand is there, we’ll definitely look at doing more of these scenic flights while we all wait for borders to open,” Joyce said in September.

The demand must’ve been there, since the next scenic flight is scheduled for October 10. If you’re in Australia and want to take wing, you can check for seats, but we’d imagine they’re sold out by now.

Don’t worry, though. Airlines in Japan and China are organizing similar flights, and if the trend catches on, others will surely do so as well.

After all, who doesn’t like sitting on a plane for hours on end to get absolutely nowhere.

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Stores Drop Coconut Milk Products After PETA Accusation of Monkey Slave Labor

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  • Your coconuts are drenched in the blood of a thousand monkeys! Or so they say.

It seems these days the consumers are growing more health-conscious by the minute. That’s especially true if you look at the amount of plant-based alternatives to animal-sourced products that are flooding the marketplace.

Dairy products are one of the areas where alternative products are increasingly popular. That’s not necessarily because of any animal welfare-related concerns, either. A lot of people (like your humble author) simply can’t drink regular milk without a seriously upset tummy.

From almond to soybeans, milk alternatives are varied and plentiful. Among them is the ever-so-popular coconut milk.

Which brings us to a dose of bad news for those who have adopted coconut milk as their go-to replacement for real dairy. A number of major U.S. grocery store chains are pledging to not stock coconut products from Thai suppliers accused of using slave labor to harvest their coconuts.

But it’s not people the producers are enslaving. Instead, they are using monkeys to pick the nuts from their palm trees.

Such big name grocers as Walgreens, Food Lion, Giant Food, and Stop & Shop have all stopped stocking coconut products from the accused producers. Now, Costco has also joined their ranks, reports USA Today.

Monkey slavery. Just when we thought 2020 couldn’t get any weirder. What’s next, snail labor camps?

Let’s see what this whole hubbub is about, shall we?

Labor Like Pulling Teeth

The monkey slavery accusations are made by none else than by the notorious People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, better known as PETA. According to an investigation by the organization, Thai coconut producers are using questionable monkey labor to harvest the nuts.

PETA claims that upon visiting eight coconut farms – including those owned by Thailand’s largest coconut producer Chaokoh – it found disturbing proof of how the animals are mistreated.

“Terrified young monkeys in Thailand are kept chained, abusively trained, and forced to climb trees to pick coconuts,” the report bluntly states.

“According to an industry insider, most coconut that comes from Thailand was picked by monkeys.”

The organization also claims that the monkeys face harsh punishments if they try to resist the training. Among the punishments is the forceful removal of their canine teeth to make them less likely to harm their handlers.

Additionally, the monkeys allegedly participate in “circus-style shows” in order to raise further profits from tourists.

“An investigator saw monkeys being transported in cramped cages that were barely large enough for them to turn around in and others left in locked cages in the back of a pickup truck, with no shelter from the driving rain,” PETA reports.

Questionable Claims

PETA itself has a somewhat dubious reputation as an animal welfare organization. As such, some may be inclined to take this news with a grain of salt. And by all means, it’s always healthy to be critical about your news sources.

Among the accusations piled against PETA, it allegedly kills a staggering number of animals housed in its animal shelters. PETA associates have also stolen animals straight from people’s yards, only to kill them hours later.

This time around, though, PETA may be on to something. Tourism Thailand, for example, lists the Samui Monkey Center as one of the attractions to see in the country.

“In the center, the monkeys will be trained to collect coconuts. Each training session takes about four months and requires a trainer and a student,” the site says.

The site also says that there are other “monkey shows” to see at the center. Among the listed monkey activities are jumping through hoops, memorizing numbers, playing guitar, and untying knots.

Whether the monkeys are mistreated as part of their training, we don’t know. But at least it seems that the monkey training and labor PETA is talking about actually takes place in Thailand.

Companies Taking Action

Costco, and many of the other chains, take PETA’s claims – if not at face value – then at least seriously enough to take action. In a letter to PETA, Costco vice president and general merchandise manager of corporate food and sundries, Ken Kimble, explained the company’s reasoning for dropping Thai coconut products.

In the letter – dated September 29 – Kimble said Costco has stopped buying products from Chaokoh.

“We will continue to monitor the implementation of the harvest policies and once satisfied will resume purchasing,” Kimble said according to USA Today.

“We have made it clear to the supplier that we do not support the use of monkeys for harvesting and that all harvesting must be done by human labor.”

According to Kimble, Chaokoh has said that it is reviewing harvest policies at its coconut farms.

Kroger, another U.S. grocery chain that operates the Fry’s brand supermarkets, said it’s also reviewing the monkey labor situation.

“We have re-engaged our suppliers, as well as other stakeholders, on this issue to re-confirm they are also protecting animal welfare,” Kroger told USA Today.

On its part, the Chaokoh brand’s owner Theppadungporn Coconut, denies knowingly using monkey labor.

“It is not only our duty, but our integrity to take care of nature, human and wildlife, as a whole,” the company’s managing director Aphisak Theppadungporn told FOX Business.

“We have a clear-cut policy on this issue to ensure that our business will not tolerate any sign of animal and wildlife labor or abuse.”

Are the Thai coconut farms engaging in monkey slavery, or is this a case of PETA hyperbole? We at Oddee fully encourage you to look into the facts and make your own determination. Let us know what you think in the comments!

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Engineer Designs Bot to Check if McDonald’s Ice Cream Machines Are Broken

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  • It brings a tear to our eyes to see such selfless work for the benefit of the greater good.

Among all the huge names in the American fast food business, one stands above the rest. McDonald’s is such a ubiquitous presence around the world that it needs no further introduction.

The burger chain is so omnipresent that The Economist uses the price of a Big Mac as a way to measure the purchasing power of different global currencies. That’s right, it’s called the Big Mac Index and it’s a real thing.

In addition to the Big Mac, McDonald’s also offer other iconic dishes on its menu. Among those are the Quarter Pounder (with cheese), the Chicken McNugget, and the McRib. Well, that last one is there only whenever it seems to feel like it.

But the McRib is not the only temperamental McDonald’s menu item. There is one that taunts us with a promise of a frozen treat that may or may not ever come… The McFlurry.

Now don’t get us wrong, the soft-serve ice cream is a staple of the McDonald’s menu. The problem here are those ****ing ice cream machines.

The Mickey D’s ice cream machines are notorious for never, ever working. The restaurant itself even recognizes that there’s just something about them that always breaks.

How many late night snack cravings have been ruined by a non-functional McFlurrinator? Oh, wouldn’t it be grand if there was some way to know whether your location has a working machine?

Welp, take your hat off for a 24-year-old German software engineer. He’s devised a way for you to check just that.

McBroken Dreams

The man in question is Rashiq Zahid, resident of the Kreuzberg district in Berlin, the German capital. On October 22, he launched McBroken.com, a website that tracks whether or not a McDonald’s location’s ice cream machine is working.

The spark to launch the site came to Zahid in July. He was craving something cold and sweet so he popped into a Kreuzberg McD’s to order a McSundae.

If the name sounds weird, it’s a European trademark that the company has. Basically, ice cream with a drizzle of one or other kind of sauce.

Zahid tried using one of the automated kiosks to order the ice cream, but received only an error code. He then tried a mobile order. Same thing happened.

His dreams had been McBroken.

“I was like, there must be something that can be done about this,” Zahid told The Verge.

And, just like mom used to say, if you want something done, you have to do it yourself. That’s just what Zahid set out to do.

$18K Worth of Ice Cream

McBroken relies on the McDonald’s mobile order system to check whether the ice cream is available at a given location. The online order system will tell you that the ice cream is “currently unavailable” if the restaurant has no working machine to produce it.

Based on whether the cart addition was successful, the program will then place a marker on a map of McDonald’s locations. A green dot means ice cream is plentiful; a red dot tells you to not even bother trying.

“I reverse engineered McDonald’s internal API and I’m currently placing an order worth $18,752 every minute at every McDonald’s in the U.S. to figure out which locations have a broken ice cream machine,” Zahid tweeted upon launching McBroken.

Of course, the bot that he uses doesn’t actually finish the order. Otherwise, Zahid’s daily maintenance costs for the service would reach a fascinating amount of money.

After launching McBroken, however, Zahid soon found out that the one-minute interval for the check was too much. The McDonald’s app recognized McBroken as a bot and blocked its access.

So, Zahid changed the frequency of the check to 30 minutes. Now, the system works without interruption.

McBroken’s information is reliable, too. To verify the accuracy of his bot, Zahid biked to every McDonald’s location in Berlin to try and order ice cream manually.

Everywhere he checked, the bot’s report was correct. Satisfied with the results, he then expanded the system’s scope to cover the U.S. as well.

‘Such a Great Sport’

Within 20 minutes of its U.S. launch, McBroken crashed. More than 10,000 visitors flocked to the service as soon as it became available.

“I’m running this on a server that costs $5 a month, so it was bound to crash,” he chuckled. He brought the website after some troubleshooting and fine-tuning, and it now works as intended.

“I just made it for fun, but people were like: ‘Wow, this is the best thing I’ve seen this entire week’,” he said.

While McBroken provides a useful service, it operates in a bit of a gray area. Zahid reverse engineered the McDonald’s mobile app, and as such the company could have McBroken shut down if so wished.

At the moment, though, that seems unlikely. We’re saying that because a McDonald’s hot shot has recognized the value of McBroken.

“Only a true McDonald’s fan would go to these lengths to help customers get our delicious ice cream! So, thanks!” tweeted McD’s vice president of U.S. communications David Tovar.

“We know we have some opportunities to consistently satisfy even more customers with sweet treats and we will,” he added.

That’s marketing speech for “we know our machines break every five minutes, so this will actually probably be profitable for us”.

Zahid, on his part, appreciated the official recognition. He tweeted Tovar back, thanking him for being “such a great sport” about McBroken.

So, thinking of going out for some McFlurries? You now know where to check first. And if you want to support McBroken, Zahid has an option for you buy him an ice cream on the website!

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Fossilized Butthole Answers Long-standing Questions about Dinosaur Sex Life

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  • Dinosaur genital expert is one of those jobs you’d never think exists, but here we are

If you haven’t caught our last week’s article about the world’s first robot to operate inside a living butthole, you should go check it out. Then you can return here for some more butthole-related news!

Well, we suppose technically it’s not about buttholes. That particular piece of anatomy is really more of a mammalian thing, and today we’re talking about dinosaurs.

In any case, it’s a great day for any prehistoric butthole or butthole-like orifice enthusiasts. Scientists have discovered a fossil that contains the first preserved dinosaur cloaca.

In case you’re not clear on what a “cloaca” is, think of it as the Swiss army knife of orifices. It’s a single multi-purpose bodily hole used for excretion, laying eggs, and mating.

Out of animals that still exist today, reptiles and birds have cloacas. Considering that they’re either more or less related to dinosaurs – or directly descended from them as birds are – researchers have long speculated that dinosaurs, too, had these organs.

Those days of speculation are now over, though. We finally have confirmation.

“Eyes up here, buddy.”

A Rare Discovery

The preserved butthole belongs to what’s known as a Psittacosaurus, or “parrot lizard”. This 6.5-foot-long creature lived in what is now Asia some 125-100 million years ago.

As a ceratopsian dinosaur, it’s related to the well-known three-horned Triceratops.

The discovery of the cloaca is particularly significant because it is soft tissue. While bones fossilize easily, it’s exceedingly rare to find preserved organs and skin is pretty much like winning the lottery for a paleontologist.

“The reproductive biology of extinct non-avialan dinosaurs is rarely interpreted from the fossil record,” the team behind the discovery says, in more sophisticated terms.

“To date, exceptionally well-preserved remains and the extant phylogenetic bracket have clarified details including their brooding behavior, nesting style and timing of sexual maturity. However, the anatomy and function of the cloaca has continued to remain elusive.”

A Window to the Past

What’s left of the cloaca gives at least the scientists a pretty good window into what its function was for the Psittacosaurus. The organ is just under an inch in length, doesn’t protrude out of the body like it does in some modern animals, and it has darker pigmentation than the surrounding area.

Unfortunately, only the external opening of the cloaca has survived to this day. The internal parts have been lost to time and decay. The precise functionality of the dinosaur butthole remains an enigma.

With that being said, even the outer parts give those in the know about such things a good platform to make educated guesses based on the anatomy of similar animals that are alive today. The scientists were glad to note that the dinosaur cloaca closely resembles that of current crocodiles.

“The gross morphology of the vent in Psittacosaurus, which combines a longitudinally opening vent with a rosette pattern of cloacal scales and transverse rows of quadrangular ventral scales, most closely matches that of crocodylians,” the researchers say.

The discovery makes sense. Crocodiles are ancient beasts that existed already at the same time as dinosaurs. They’re both reptiles, so it stands to reason that they would have similar private parts.

Speaking of private parts, there’s more knowledge to glean from the fossilized butthole in that regard…

What’cha Packing?

One question that has haunted both scientists and those with freaky-deaky interests is how did dinosaurs mate. Looking at their skeletal structures, it seems that the process of baby-making may not have been particularly easy for a lot of species.

Dinosaur intimacy has been a contentious topic in the paleontologist community. Some of them have posited that they did the deed like birds do.

That is, they just sort of… Rub their orifices together.

The act is known as “cloacal kissing” and we’ll leave it at that. You can do your own googling if you’re interested.

However, like we said, the crocodile-like Psittacosaurus cloaca now gives scientists ample opportunity to make educated guesses of what the dinosaur was packing. And their educated guess is as follows:

“The crocodilian-like vent of Psittacosaurus implies that, unlike lizards and later-diverging birds, Psittacosaurus probably had a muscular, unpaired, and ventrally-positioned copulatory organ and a ureter that was decoupled from the copulatory organ.”

In more colloquial terms, the dinosaur probably had a penis. Or at least some kind of a dong-like organ.

This seems to confirm the second prevailing theory about dinosaur sex, which is that they had penises. It’s a reasonably theory, particularly when you think about species like Stegosaurus or Diplodocus.

Seems like it’d be difficult for them to get busy without a… Yeah.

Unanswered Questions

Whether the long-since expired owner of the fossilized cloaca had a dong, though, we will never know. The scientists say that it’s impossible to determine the specimen’s sex from the parts available to them.

“In crocodylians, sex determination is entirely dependent on the inspection of the genitalia and has no relationship to the external morphology of the cloaca/vent,” they say.

The researchers note that there are some features that might suggest that the Psittacosaurus in question was female. That, however, is just a guess with no statistical support.

We suppose some things will just be forever lost to time. In any case, whether it be Sir or Madam, we thank this particular dinosaur for its contribution to science.

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