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Raging California Wildfire Sparked by Gender Reveal Party

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  • That’s one party the family will never forget

California is so hot right now, and not in any good way. In case you haven’t been reading the news (apart from our odd news) lately, let us summarize – the state is literally on fire.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) currently lists more than a dozen wildfires active in the state. That is in addition to several more that are not within CAL FIRE’S jurisdiction.

We already covered a story about the man who saved his house from the LNU Lightning Complex Fires with a little from Bud Light beer. The further good news about that incident is that CAL FIRE lists the LNU fires as 91% contained.

But what’s not good news is that last Saturday, yet another wildfire broke out in California. Christened the El Dorado Fire, this inferno is burning near Oak Glen in San Bernardino County.

At the moment, it has burned through 7,386 acres – which makes it pretty small when compared to other wildfires. CAL FIRE says that this blaze is about 7% contained, so there’s still a lot of work to be done.

California is suffering from drought, and it doesn’t currently take much to get a fire going. A good number of them, for example, have been sparked by lightning striking bone-dry trees.

What sets the El Dorado Fire apart from the others is its cause. Which, unfortunately, is good old-fashioned human stupidity.

Cheesy and corny? Maybe, but at least this party won’t cause millions of dollars of fire damages.

This Party’s on Fire

According to a press release posted on CAL FIRE’s Instagram, the fire started in the El Dorado Ranch Park in the morning of September 5. The officials determined that the spark that started it all came from a “smoke-generating pyrotechnic device” used during a gender reveal party.

Yeah, let’s set off pyrotechnics in a drought-stricken park. What a wonderful idea.

Some of you outside the US might be wondering what a gender reveal party is. In a nutshell, it’s a party expecting parents throw for their friends to let them, and sometimes one or more of the parents, to know whether the baby is a boy or a girl.

They could’ve just told people, you know. Maybe pop a couple of balloons and have some cake if you want to make it festive. But no, it needed to be a real hot occasion.

Here’s another hot take: maybe don’t set off fireworks when your state hasn’t seen rain in who knows how long.

CAL FIRE Captain Bennet Milloy clarified the situation to the Desert Sun newspaper. He said that the event wasn’t a huge party per se – just a gathering of immediate family members to take a selfie while the smoke machine belched out appropriately colored smoke.

Well, that didn’t stop the machine from throwing sparks into the four-foot-tall grass that surrounded the photo spot. If it’s any consolation, Milloy did say the family has been openly cooperating with authorities.

Public Condemnation

Be that as it may, the parents-to-be who decided to let their kid’s gender be known with bang have received little sympathy from the public. CAL FIRE’s Twitter and Facebook posts about the press release have been filled with exasperated comments.

“It’s really not that hard to just put pink or blue balloons in a box, guys,” one commenter said on Instagram.

“Cool, so I am having asthma because people really had to do pyro gender reveal. I really hope it was worth it,” bemoaned Jen Brucker on Instagram.

Others couldn’t help dishing out some dark humor upon reading the news.

“If the flame retardant drop is pink – does that mean it was a girl?” asked @CAHikingMap on Twitter.

“Are those involved being arrested? Charged? Their ignorance is costing the rest of us,” username allison.ivey wondered on Instagram.

Well, on that point, we have official confirmation. CAL FIRE says that people can face legal repercussions in such situations.

“Those responsible for starting fires due to negligence or illegal activity can be held financially and criminally responsible,” CAL FIRE said.

So, to echo the sentiment already expressed, hope the party was worth it. It might end up costing a pretty penny.

“There goes the college fund,” another user quipped on Twitter.

A Reveal to Die For

As much as we’d like to think so, gender reveal party-sparked wildfires apparently aren’t a phenomenon isolated to this single case.

According to The Atlantic, another ridiculous gender reveal stunt sparked a wildfire that burned down 47,000 acres of land and caused $8.2 million worth of damages.

In this case, the father-to-be fired a rifle at an explosive target that discharged colored powder to reveal the baby’s gender – alongside with sparks that torched the ground. Oh, it was a boy, by the way.

The man in question – US Border Patrol agent Dennis Dickey – plead guilty to a misdemeanor violation of US Forest Service rules and agreed to pay the full cost of damages in restitution. The kid might not see an allowance in a while.

In October 2019, in Iowa, another explosive gender reveal party ended in tragedy. One woman lost her life after the family inadvertently built what was functionally a pipe bomb.

Intended to shoot colored powder into the air, the gunpowder-powered device instead blew up like the bomb it was. The force of the explosion threw a piece of metal shrapnel into the unfortunate woman’s head, killing her instantly.

According to Marion County Sheriff’s Office, the family was standing 45 feet away from the charge. The fatal shrapnel reportedly traveled a further 144 yards through the air before landing in a field. It’s a small miracle no one else was hurt.

It’s natural to be excited about your baby, but please: try to celebrate without fireworks – or high explosives for that matter.

Want to tell your strange story? Tell us about it and it could be featured on Oddee. You can remain fully anonymous.



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Amazon Outage Takes Out Internet – And People’s Vacuum Cleaners

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  • Technology was supposed to make our lives easier, but it sure doesn’t seem like it.

If you don’t have at least one “smart” device these days, you can consider yourself a bit of an oddity. Most of us have our smartphones, and smart watches are also becoming ever more common.

But it seems that in the last decade or so, the tech industry has decided to smart-ify everything. Smart technology is the latest craze, the bee’s knees, and no device is safe from a dose of smartness.

We got smart TVs, smart fridges, smart mirrors, smart vacuums, smart doorbells… Heck, this author’s previous landlord just recently bought a smart coffee table. Who knows what that thing even does.

In most cases, the smart features in a device mean that you can connect to it and interact with it remotely in some way. We suppose being able to check your fridge contents while you’re in the grocery store can be useful.

But there lies the catch – to use the smart features, you need an internet connection and all the servers to function correctly. If they don’t, all you have is… Whatever your device is, without all the smartness.

A good portion of the world’s smart devices use Amazon Web Services (AWS) to communicate with the user and their manufacturer’s systems. That’s right, Amazon is everywhere.

And Down It Goes

Having nearly smart device rely on one service from one provider isn’t the smartest the solution. The world got a reminder of that on November 25, when the AWS crashed.

More specifically, Amazon’s US-EAST-1 data center began experiencing connectivity issues. That meant that any service relying on the AWS in that region could no longer communicate with its users.

Unfortunately, the issue wasn’t completely localized. Users around the world started losing access to services they relied on for work and hobbies.

Adobe’s Cloud service started kicking users off and refused to let them log in again. Media streaming service Roku started experiencing issues on its mobile app, and the popular photo website Flickr stopped allowing users to log in or register new accounts, wrote the Washington Post.

In fact, The Washington Post itself saw its website start acting up.

You can understand how all this might be a bit of an issue if you used – for example – Photoshop in your job.

My Juicer! My Precious Juicer!

But it wasn’t just websites that the AWS outage affected, oh no. All around the world, people started reporting interesting things happening with their smart devices.

For instance, people became unable to run their vacuums. The AWS crash had knocked the servers operated by iRobot – the manufacturer of the popular Roomba robot vacuums – off the internet.

“Some part of AWS is down and apparently it’s screwing up the Roomba,” wrote Twitter user Matthew Green.

Soon, reports started trickling in about the weirdest things going haywire because of Amazon’s issues. One Twitter user expressed his frustration about a non-functioning doorbell.

“My ****ing doorbell doesn’t work because AWS US-EAST-1 is having issues,” they wrote.

Another user found that his Christmas lights had decided to take some time off.

“Anyone else unable to turn on their Christmas lights because of the AWS outage?” Brian Ragazzi tweeted.

Actually, why are your Christmas lights up in November? We’re going to write that off as justified retribution.

One Firm to Rule Them All

It’s not the first time Amazon has managed to break the internet, either. A similar incident happened in 2017, according to Gizmodo.

Just like this week, the AWS outage back then kicked many websites and services down for hours on end. An outage at Amazon’s AWS facility in northern Virginia brought Slack and Quora, among many, many other web services offline.

According to The Atlantic, one of the reasons the AWS system keeps breaking is that it was never built to facilitate the massive traffic that goes through it.

“Few within the company really anticipated the scale and impact of the service when it launched,” The Atlantic wrote.

This week’s outage, just like that in 2017, were fixed in less than half a day, and no serious permanent damage to anyone has been reported. People can again vacuum and ring their doorbells.

But what if the data center had broken for good? Let’s say the whole building caught on fire and burned to the ground. What then?

Of course Amazon has safeguards in place, but the outages highlight a serious issue. That is, large portions of internet traffic rely solely on the systems put in place by one company.

Perhaps we shouldn’t let Amazon – or Google, or Apple, or any other company for that matter – control such huge parts of our… Wait, Alexa, what are you doing? No, no, put it down, put it do-!

 

 

Do not worry. Everything is fine. All hail Jeff Bezos.



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Thank You, Turkey: Ancient Feather Blanket Sheds Light on American History

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  • They keep us warm and they taste great with cranberry sauce. Let’s be thankful for turkeys.

Happy Turkey Day, everybody! Or Thanksgiving, whichever you want to call it.

It’s a day for getting together with family (with appropriate pandemic precautions, mind you), eating and drinking well, and all around having a good time. Well, except for the 46 million turkeys that are eaten on this day every year.

But not every turkey goes gentle into that good night. Just to give you an update on our earlier story, the turkey that terrorized a park in Oakland for almost half a year has finally been caught and relocated.

It’s not just us modern people who exploit turkeys for our own gain, though. The birds have a long history of being a source of sustenance and providing valuable raw materials for native peoples in the Americas.

Now, a new study has analyzed a nearly millennium-old turkey feather blanket, crafted and used by past residents of the U.S. Southwest. Based on the blanket, the researchers were able to glean some fascinating insights into the life of these ancient Americans.

“Blankets or robes made with turkey feathers as the insulating medium were widely used by Ancestral Pueblo people in what is now the Upland Southwest, but little is known about how they were made because so few such textiles have survived due to their perishable nature,” Bill Lipe, emeritus professor at Washington State University and the study’s lead author, said.

“The goal of this study was to shed new light on the production of turkey feather blankets and explore the economic and cultural aspects of raising turkeys to supply the feathers.”

In honor of this Turkey Day, let’s take a look at what secrets the old blanket has to tell us.

Photos courtesy of Edge of the Cedars State Park Museum and Trent Myles Raymer.

A Blanket for the Ages

The blanket the research team from Washington State University analyzed is roughly 800 years old. According to the researchers, whoever wove the blanket was an ancestor of today’s Pueblo peoples – such as Hopi, Zuni, and Rio Grande Pueblos.

Measuring at 39 inches in width and 42.5 inches in length, it is made from roughly 11,500 turkey feathers. These feathers are wrapped around about 200 yards of cold, made from fibers of the yucca plant.

To determine how many turkeys it would take to make the blanket, the scientists counted the body feathers from the skins purchased from ethical Idaho turkey producers. The results? The blanket needed anywhere between four to 10 turkey-loads of feathers, depending on their size.

Blankets! Get Your Blankets!

Blankets such as this were instrumental in humanity expanding into higher altitudes and harsher environments. And for good reason – it gets chilly up in the mountains.

Originally, the residents of the U.S. Southwest would’ve used strips of rabbit skin to make twined blankets, the researchers say. However, around 200 CE they started replacing the rabbit skins with turkey-down blankets.

These blankets were made by women, and they served the Ancestral Pueblos throughout the entirety of their lives. They were worn as cloaks during cold weather, used as blankets while sleeping, and when their owner was laid to their final resting place, the blanket served as funerary wrappings.

“It is likely that every member of an ancestral Pueblo community, from infants to adults, possessed one,” said Shannon Tushingham, the study’s co-author and assistant professor of anthropology.

“As ancestral Pueblo farming populations flourished, many thousands of feather blankets would likely have been in circulation at any one time.”

Seems like the blanket business must’ve been booming for the ancestral Pueblos. At the expense of four to 10 turkeys per blanket.

Humane Harvest

But hold your horses! It turns out that the ancestral Pueblos weren’t quite as expedient with their turkeys as we are.

Additional results of the study indicate that the feathers

used for the blankets were harvested painlessly. Instead of plucking feathers from living – or dead – birds, the native Americans gathered them during the turkeys’ natural molt.

Now that they’ve said it, it makes sense. Turkeys can live up to 10 years, so letting them shed their feathers naturally gives you a whole bunch of them, several times a year.

If you killed the turkey, well, you can have the feathers already on it. And that’s all you’re ever going to get.

A Lesson in Respect

It seems the ancestral Pueblos didn’t eat turkeys like we do, either. Turkey consumption didn’t really take off until around 1100-1200 CE when over-hunting depleted other sources of meat.

Prior to this, it seems the Pueblos had a special reverence for the turkey. Archeologists have found entire turkey skeletons in constructed graves, indicating that they received a proper, solemn burial.

“When the blanket we analyzed for our study was made, we think in the early 1200s CE, the birds that supplied the feathers were likely being treated as individuals important to the household and would have been buried complete,” said Lipe.

“This reverence for turkeys and their feathers is still evident today in Pueblo dances and rituals. They are right up there with eagle feathers as being symbolically and culturally important.”

The researchers hope that their work can lead to a better appreciation for the importance of turkeys to Native American cultures. And perhaps we could all also learn a thing or two about treating them with the respect they deserve.

So, on this Thanksgiving Day, let us all be thankful for the turkey. They’ve given so much for us, both today and in the days gone by.



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Banded Mongoose Females Send Their Pack to War… And Then Have Sex with the Enemy

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  • We’ve heard about “blood lust”, but this is ridiculous.

We usually associate animal behavior with cuteness. Whether they’re running, jumping, bouncing, nibbling, or anything else, it’s usually adorable, right?

But if you’re read Oddee at all – or paid any attention to nature for that matter – you’ll know that just as often animals aren’t quite as innocent as we make them out to be. In fact, they can get downright disturbing.

For an example, you could go read our story about naked mole rats and their infant-enslaving ways. You can then come back here for the latest chapter in our series of wanton animal cruelty.

This time around, we’ll be taking a look at the banded mongoose. These animals engage in something that in general is pretty exclusively human behavior – they wage war.

If you were to see a mongoose battlefield, you might think it sort of resembles something out of The Lord of the Rings. The critters will arrange themselves in battle lines and await the command of their leader before charging into the enemy formation.

But there’s nothing so noble as defeating a Dark Lord motivating this battle. A recent study has found has found that banded mongooses will march to war for one reason only.

The female leading the army wants to mate.

And you thought human dating got messy.

All pictures courtesy of the Banded Mongoose Research Project.

A Mongoose Explained

As we usually do with articles like this, let’s first answer question: what the heck is a banded mongoose?

These 1.5-feet-long critters live in the grasslands of sub-Saharan Africa. They get their name from the dark bands that run across their otherwise brownish-gray fur.

The banded mongooses are carnivorous and will eat pretty much anything small enough, such as insects, crabs, birds, eggs, and snakes. Unlike most other mongooses, they live in packs of 10-40 individuals that move between burrows and other hiding places every few days.

At the head of the pack stands one dominant female. However, when a female goes into heat, he may find his position is not quite as all-powerful as he might think.

Unwanted Attention

According to the new study, when a banded mongoose female enters estrus – the fertile period of her reproductive cycle – she will understandably start attracting the attention of the males from her pack. Only, that may not be what she wants.

Michael Cant, a biologist at the University of Exeter and one of the authors of the study, said that nearly all inter-group mongoose battles are initiated by females in estrus.

“We think females play a role in inciting these conflicts to escape the males in their own family groups during the confusion and chaos of battle,” Cant told the Associated Press.

Banded mongooses are usually extremely loyal to their birth pack. They live together, they guard their burrows together, and they raise their pups together.

This loyalty, however, seems to fall apart when a female starts looking for a mate. The researchers found that females take the lead in steering their packs into places where they’re likely to run into competing mongoose bands.

“This is fascinating research on a pretty unique situation,” said biological anthropologist Michael Wilson from the University of Minnesota, who was not affiliated with the mongoose study.

“What’s driving this is partly the dilemma the females find themselves in.”

A dilemma? What is he talking about?

A Bloody Distraction

Wilson is talking about incest, that’s what. Since the mongooses live in such tightly-knit groups, inbreeding can become a real problem.

To avoid this situation, Wilson said the female mongooses have a strong drive to find mates from other mongoose groups.

“But it’s really hard to do that because as soon as they come into estrus, they get followed doggedly by a male in their own group. The only way they can shake him off is to visit the neighbors and start a fight,” Wilson explained.

And so, the female will lead her lusty followers into bloody battle. After forming into the aforementioned battle lines, the males of two mongoose armies will charge each other with fire and fury.

“They bunch up into writhing balls, chaotic and fast-moving, and you hear high-pitched screeches,” Cant described the battle.

So Violent They’re Almost Human

While the mongoose warriors are tearing each other to pieces, the instigating female will sneak behind enemy lines and mate with their males. And so the mongoose pack receives new genetic material – bought with the blood of their own.

According to Cant, this is a classic example of “exploitative leadership”. The instigating female benefits at the cost of her own pack.

“The findings do not fit a heroic model of leadership, in which leaders contribute most to aggression and bear greatest costs, but rather an exploitative model, in which the initiators of conflict expose others to greater risks while contributing little to fighting themselves,” he said in a statement.

You could argue that the group does end up benefiting from the battle in the long run by avoiding inbreeding. The study found that 20% of a banded mongoose band’s pups are fathered by males from different groups.

Still, the immediate result of a mongoose war is that good number of a pack’s males will be either severely injured or dead. No matter how good it was for the instigating female, you can’t help but ask whether it was worth it.

But the large numbers of casualties highlighted another curious fact that the researchers picked up on. Apparently, the mongoose battles aren’t extraordinarily bloody when compared to some other war-waging species.

“The mortality costs involved are similar to those seen in a handful of the most warlike mammals, including lions, chimpanzees, and – of course – humans,” the researchers said.

They also found that the exploitative leadership model is very much human-like.

“A classic explanation for warfare in human societies is leadership by exploitative individuals who reap the benefits of conflict while avoiding the costs,” they added.

Seems the mongooses are painting a caricature of humanity. And it’s not a pretty picture.



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