Valley of the Dolls

Normally I find dolls kind of creepy, but raggedy cloth dolls I find cute and adorable. I think it’s because I had raggedy Ann and Andy dolls as a little girl.

In a small deserted village nestled deep in the valleys of Shikoku Island, Japan, resides Nagoro: The Valley of the Dolls. Once a bustling center with a big dam hydro-power company and hundreds of inhabitants, this now empty village is home to hundreds of raggedy dolls. Sadly the residents moved to bigger cities over the years searching for better jobs, leaving the village now abandoned permanently. Today, Nagoro has only 37 living inhabitants, and of course, many times more dolls. Artist Ayano Tsukimi is the creator of some 350+ life-size dolls who populate the empty village, each one representing a former villager.


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Giant Red Velvet Mites

Thanks to The Oatmeal, I learned that Giant Red Velvet Mites (Trombidium Grandissimum) are real. They are called Bhir-buti in Hindi, which translates to “Rain’s Insect”. They live in soil and semi-desert areas of Northern India and spend most of their time hiding until the rain softens the soil for them to come out. T. grandissimum is one the largest known mites and can reach a size of around half an inch or so. The Giant Red Velvet Mite is exposed to hundreds of bacteria, worms, bugs and fungi on a daily basis and secretes anti-fungal oil. The mites circulatory fluid, hemolymph (a kind of bug blood) is also anti-fungal. Its poisonous nature would explain why its deep bright red; to ward off any predators. Its fuzzy body would also make it distasteful to any creature that dare make the mite its prey.

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Botanical Glass

Four months is a long time to go without blogging, but I decided to say something about art.  I rarely talk about art mostly because art hardly moves me.  I do however admire technique and skill.  Jason Gamrath is a master glassblower based in Seattle who has that skill. With glass he creates enormous detailed orchids and carnivorous flowers to help people appreciate the minute details of the plant kingdom.


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Theo Chocolate Factory

On Valentine’s Day, I took Sig to Theo Chocolate for a tour of their factory at 3400 Phinney Avenue North in the Seattle Fremont Neighborhood. For a $7 tour, you get a quaint history lecture, a tour of their factory floor, chocolate samples and a modest 10% discount at their confectioners counter. You also get hair nets, which you must wear for obvious health reasons. If you have a beard net you must also wear a beard net.

The Building

Theo Chocolate was founded in 2005 in a historic brick building in the Fremont neighborhood in Seattle. The building was built in 1905 and it has housed an interesting array of tenants. It sheltered Seattle’s electric trolley fleet until 1941. After being a transportation hub, the building housed painters and artists in the later part of the 20th century. Then Redhook Brewery in 1989 moved in and opened an adjoining pub called the Trolleyman. You can learn more about the building’s history by taking the Fremont Historical Society’s walking tour.

The Chocolate

According to their presentation, Theo Chocolates gets their name from the scientific name of the cacao tree: Theobroma cacao. Theobroma means “God Food” – theos for “god” and broma for “food”. They did have a small cacao tree, but there is a better specimen on display at the UW Botany Greenhouse which actually flowers when in season. Or you can visit Hawaii’s Big Island or Kauai Island for tours of cacao plantations.

Theo is the first roaster of organic and fair trade cocoa, from “bean-to-bar” as they put it. Fermented beans sourced from Costa Rica, Madagascar, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Peru, Ecuador, and the Congo travel all the way to this Seattle factory. On one factory floor they sort, roast, mill, mix, conche, mold and package.

The air in the factory has a biting chocolate smell, mostly coming from the acetic acid. Tanks of chocolate paste is conched, or gently ground for smoothness, and heated to over 70ºC. Conching refines flavors and drives off the acetic acid produced during cocoa bean fermentation. There are more floral (South America) or earthy dark (Africa) smells depending on where the beans come from

In the Confection Kitchen, they make all kinds of sweets and even offer classes on how to make truffles, toffee, caramels and really anything you want to learn about making chocolate treats.

Dr. Chocolate: Better Science Through Chocolate

Andy McShea COO of Theo Chocolate is also known as Doc Choc, and his personal motto is “Better Science Through Chocolate.” He had no prior chocolate experience before joining Theo, but he knows how to develop an assay and focused on the quantitative analysis of cocoa. For on-site experiments, he has a small research space at the chocolate factory, behind a door marked “super-secret chocolate laboratory.” He’s worked with collaborators from Seattle to Cleveland to Manchester, England. This international chocolate team has developed chromatography and mass spectrometry methods that generate profiles of the volatile compounds released by fermented cocoa beans. The goals are to find biomarker compounds and specific chemical profiles that indicate bean quality, and possibly country of origin.



Valentine’s Day

For South Koreans Valentine’s Day is when women shower men with chocolates! Japanese women also gift chocolate to all men around them ranging from love interests to co-workers and bosses. In the Philippines, V-day is celebrated in the same way as their western counterparts, greeting loved ones with “Maligayang Araw ng mga Puso” — literally translating to “Happy Day of the Hearts”.

Since before we were married, we’ve been celebrating Valentine’s Day the way the Japanese and Koreans do: me making sweets for Sig and planning a special day just with him. Come March 14th, Sig will have his turn.

If you’re single you can celebrate Black Day (블랙데이) on April 14 by gathering your single friends and eat jajangmyeon (noodles with black bean sauce) and celebrate your singledom.

vday cookies


Chelyabinsk Meteor Olympic Medals

February 15, 2014 will mark the one-year anniversary of the meteorite strike that caused much damage in the Russian city of Chelyabinsk in the Urals.

Last year in 2013, the Chelyabinsk meteor exploded in an air burst over Chelyabinsk Oblast, at a height of around 18 miles. The explosion generated a bright flash, a hot cloud of dust and gas, many surviving small fragmentary meteorites and a powerful shock wave that boasted a kinetic energy of 500 kilotons — 20–30 times more energy than was released from the atomic bomb detonated at Hiroshima.

lake hole

In the hours following the visual meteor sighting, a 20 ft wide hole was discovered in Lake Chebarkul’s frozen surface. Scientists from the Ural Federal University collected 53 samples from around the hole the same day it was discovered. In June 2013, a 2 foot wide meteorite buried in the mud at the bottom of the lake was found near the lake hole, and in October 2013, a fragment was raised from the bottom. With a total mass of 1,442 lb, this was the largest found fragment of the Chelyabinsk meteorite. Initially, it tipped and broke the scales used to weigh it, splitting into three pieces.

Some Olympic winners who will win their gold medals on February 15 will receive medals embedded with tiny fragments of last year’s Chelyabinsk meteorite. Fifty medals have been struck in all. Ten of them will be sent to the Olympic Committees of those countries whose sportsmen win gold medals on February 15, and another 40 will be sent to private collections.

Olympic Medal Metiorites


Of Wolves & Viral Marketing

In 2010, a YouTube video showing a pack of wolves going wild in downtown Moscow and ‘charging’ at Russian traffic cops, became the latest online hit, scoring over a million views. Eventually, the truth revealed itself – with a brand of vodka being behind the viral hit. It appears it was part of a highly-focused ad campaign for Eristoff, a spirits-maker which is trying to launch itself onto the Russian market.

Due to strict Russian policy on alcohol advertising (no TV), digital became a main channel for the campaign launch. The successful campaign includes 5 viral videos 1 brand video and ad campaign materials. This viral campaign was called “WOLF IS BACK” and was flawlessly created and executed by Firma Agency for Bacardi-Martini’s Eristoff Vodka brand launch.

Firma Agency Wolf Ad

$130 Million

$130 Million USD is how much Cecil Chao Sze-tsung, a Hong Kong-based property and shipping tycoon, offered to any man who could woo his gay daughter, Gigi Chao, into marriage. A year ago he was offering $65 Million, but upped the “dowry” when initial efforts by courting men failed.

Gigi married her partner of seven years, Sean Eav, a year ago in France.

The amazing part is her loving reaction to her father’s efforts, “I understand that he loves me, it’s just he’s from another time and it’s difficult for him to understand the plight of the LGBT.”



A Street Named Frodo

Geldrop is a small town in the southern part of The Netherlands, with a population of 28,000. Not much information on this place is available online, but it seems like a perfectly ordinary Dutch town.There’s not much that’s special about it, except for the names of all the streets in one of the neighborhoods are taken out of J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

They’re all organized by category: The north part of the neighborhood has the Gondorian streets – Boromir, Faramir, Aragon, Denethor, and Palantir. The dwarf section lies westward and includes Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Balin, Dwalin, Dori, Ori, Fili and Kili. A little bit to the South are Gimli, Pippin and Peregrin. Towards the East, you can find two popular characters – Gandalf and Samwise – and the Rohan section with Eowyn, Eomer and Theoden. Up North are the Numenor folk – Elros, Amandil, Silmarien, Elendil and Valandil.

The main road which runs across the heart of the area is named after the master himself: “Laan van Tolkein” which translates into Tolkein Avenue

Bilbo Baggins, doesn’t have a single street to his name. Gollum also does not have a street name. There aren’t any streets named after evil characters, except for Saruman.

The neighborhood was built in 1998 to 2000 and consists of 107 exclusive houses, designed by the architect office Van den Pauwert.



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Boggie’s New Perfume

Hungarian Pop star Boggie’s, real name Csemer Boglárka, new music video titled ‘Nouveau Parfum’ shows her being transformed in real time. Even though such real time editing software is far from reality, but the message this video conveys is strong and deep. Nouveau Parfum is the song about resisting the fashion labels and beauty industry that markets their products with heavily edited and digitally transformed photos to lure customers in to believing how the magical product can change your looks in minutes.

The video is directed by Nándor Lőrincz & Bálint Nagy, as the film-makers shot four different videos during the time of make-over and using different lights. Rest of the stitching work is done in After Effects giving it the appearance of being edited real time in a software.

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