Wednesday, June 30, 2010



Let the Sun Shine: Solar Decathlon Europe 2010 Winners

Posted: 30 Jun 2010 10:00 AM PDT

[ By Delana in Art & Design, History & Trivia, News & Politics. ]

Every other year, some of the best and brightest college and university students come together to built amazing solar-powered home designs. Designs are judged based on their efficiency, their comfort, and their architectural structure, among other factors. The 2010 Solar Decathlon took place in Madrid, Spain, marking the first time that the competition was held in Europe. One of the main focal points of the contest is to highlight the fact that eco-friendly dwellings can be exceptionally modern and attractive, contrary to many assumptions. The designs that came out of this year’s competition were some of the most forward-thinking and creative solar homes that the world has ever seen; these five were the judges’ top picks.


(image via: afagen)

Lumenhaus, the winning 2010 design from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University team, is a fantastically open home that emphasizes a “whole building” design. The shape and overall look of the home were influenced by the all-glass Farnsworth House designed by Mies van der Rohe. The two glass exterior walls of the Lumenhaus, along with its open floor plan, bathe the entire house in natural sunlight. A distinctive mixture of high-tech features and low-tech features are what make this design a winner: a solar roof, radiant in-floor heating, an energy-efficient central computer system, grey water recycling, and the use of passive energy. Moreover, the modular design is extremely portable and units can be added with very little effort, making the Lumenhaus the perfect expandable Earth-friendly home for the family of tomorrow.


A very close second place went to the team from the University of Applied Sciences, Rosenheim for their Ikaros design. The Ikaros house features a visually striking exterior design, but that’s far from being its only impressive side. The house produces four times more solar energy than it uses, meaning that future residents could sell their “extra” electricity to the power company and make some extra money every month. That distinctive exterior design serves to shade the home so that it will require less energy to cool in the summer months, and excess energy from the home’s systems is used to keep the home warm in the winter.


The team from Stuttgart University of Applied Sciences walked away with third place for their home+ design. The glittering home is covered in lovely photovoltaic cells that lend a very distinctive look to the exterior while producing far more energy than the home’s residents would need. The idea behind the home was to produce a prototype that uses the least amount of traditional grid power possible but that was comfortable and pleasant to look at. The home+ design includes a wind tower (for passive cooling), phase changing-materials for moving heated or cooled air to where it’s most needed, and a modular design that lets users configure the four-part dwelling in whatever way works best for them.

Armadillo Box

Despite its funny name, the Armadillo Box from the Ecole National Superieure darchitecture de Grenoble team is serious about solar design. Like the desert-dwelling creature that shares its name, the Armadillo Box is great at conserving energy and withstanding brutal heat. The home features a nucleus that houses all of its technical equipment, keeping it safe while acting as the “heart” of the sustainable, flexible home meant for two people. Large windows help to provide natural sunlight, while overhangs reduce the amount of heat that seeps in through those windows. And of course, a massive photovoltaic array is prominently featured on the exterior of the house.


Team Finland rounded out the top five with its simply beautiful Luukku design. The team drew inspiration from traditional Finnish summer houses which use slightly elevated foundations and natural materials to make beautiful and functional buildings. The overall feel of this design is one of simplicity: sustainable wood, water heated by solar collectors, high-efficiency insulation and windows, and – naturally – a large and effective photovoltaic system. What’s best about the Finnish design is that it’s meant for cold climates that don’t get much sun – so even in Finland the home can produce at least as much power as it needs for the family living inside.

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The weekend city breaker – How you can save an average of 41% on your city break accommodation: Travel Blog

The weekend city breaker – How you can save an average of 41% on your city break accommodation: Travel Blog

Link to Travel Blog

The weekend city breaker – How you can save an average of 41% on your city break accommodation

Posted: 29 Jun 2010 01:56 PM PDT

For a long time, the weekend city break has been popular amongst holidaymakers. Whether you're setting off with your partner to enjoy a romantic weekend in Venice or enjoying the astonishing architecture of Barcelona, you can save on your hotel costs by booking accommodation just 5 miles outside of the city centre itself.

Research conducted by has shown that on average, city breakers can save 41% (£53 per room per night) on their accommodation costs by booking equivalent hotels just 5 miles outside of the city centre, rather than booking a hotel within the centre itself.

In Paris you could save even more, as the average saving is 48%. And by venturing 5 miles out of the French capital, you can get a 4 star hotel cheaper than a 1 star hotel in the centre of Paris. The central 1 star Le Petit Belloy Saint Germain is offering a room for £132 per night, while the 4 star Golden Tulip Paris – Porte de St Cloud has a room for £100 per night.

Of course it's not only Paris that this is true for. The research shows the same pattern for 5 major cities that are popular with tourists, including London, Venice, Madrid and Barcelona. A 3 star hotel in London can be found around 60% cheaper just 5 miles out, with a saving of £94 per night.

One point to bear in mind is that you should look for hotels away from major stadiums or convention centres such as Canary wharf in London and La Defense in Paris, as even though these aren't situated in the centre, they are popular business locations and hotels in these areas can come with expensive price tags.

But staying outside the city centre doesn't mean you have to miss out on all the fun. All of the hotels selected in the research were situated within one mile of a metro or bus station, enabling easy access into the heart of the city and all the major attractions.

Of course metro or bus ticket prices will vary depending on the city you visit, your age and whether you wish to travel during peak or off peak times. Visiting a city during the weekend will see you paying the cheaper off peak prices. You can buy single individual tickets or day tickets, depending how often you need to travel during your stay. Most cities offer all access day tickets or travel cards that let you use different forms of public transport including buses, trains, underground trains and for Venice, waterbuses.

But the cost of the transport is easily offset by the savings you can make on your accommodation. Take London for example. A hotel 5 miles outside the city centre will put you roughly in zone 3 on the tube map. An adult, off peak day travel card will cost £6.30 per person and allows unlimited access to the city's public transport system from zones 1 to 4.

Therefore taking the most expensive scenario, an adult couple spending a weekend in London, the daily travel costs would be £12.60 per day. When you are saving on average £53 per room per night, that's still an average saving of £40.40 per day (nearly £81 over the course of the weekend) to stay in a hotel in zone 3/4 rather than zone 1. And the reality is that even if you were to stay centrally, you would be very likely to purchase day travelcard anyway.

Some travelcards also come with special offers. For instance, the London travelcard, if bought from a railway station (as opposed to a DLR or underground station) gives you 2 for 1 entry for London's major attractions like the tower of London and the London eye, saving you even more money.

Our top tips for saving money on city break hotels:

- Look for hotels 5 miles or further from the centre.
- Avoid hotels near stadiums or business areas
- Book a hotel close to a Metro or bus station for ease and quick access to the city's attractions.
- Check travel cards for promotions, like 2 for 1 entry to major attractions, giving you additional savings (terms and conditions apply, please check relevant websites for more details).

Guest post by Michael Wade of the city breaks team at

Research conducted by Correct on 14/06/2010
Based on 2 adults, 1 double room, room only. Dates of: 16th-18th July (Friday and Saturday night)
Prices per room per night.
Data compiled on 5 cities of London, Venice, Paris, Madrid and Barcelona

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

My Round the World Adventure

My Round the World Adventure

Why I’ll Never Stop…

Posted: 29 Jun 2010 02:45 PM PDT

This last weekend was the 2nd annual Travel Blogging Conference (this year in New York City). During one of the panels, they showed a video about travel. More precisely, it was about backpacking but the thoughts, ideas, and themes apply to all travel. Sometimes I think “maybe I need a break.” Sometimes I feel like I’m over it all. Sometimes I’m just bored with it. Then along comes something like this and I am refreshed, renewed, and re-inspired all over again.

(Video from SMU Travel Bug, which is sadly not updated anymore!)

Since I got the link to that video, I have probably watched it a dozen times. I was feeling a little down about traveling lately but now I’m set right and I realize that I’ll never change my life. I love what I do too much.

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Ugly By Nature: The World’s 13 Ugliest Animals

Posted: 29 Jun 2010 10:47 AM PDT

[ By Steve in Animals & Habitats, Nature & Ecosystems, Science & Research. ]

Nature, you scary! While it’s too much to expect the animal kingdom to look like the Magic Kingdom, some creatures appear to have taken multiple hits from the ugly stick – and then came back for more. These 13 ugly animals are the curdled cream of the crop.


(images via: Wikipedia, Hedweb, African Safari Pictures and Perlgurl)

Cross a hog with a toad and mix in a little rhino just for fun, and what you get is a Warthog (Phacochoerus africanus). This wild member of the pig family has got a face that makes barnyard porkers look like movie stars. Warthogs are considered to be non-endangered and are commonly found roaming Africa’s savanna grasslands for young green shoots and tubers. Their “warts” are actually bony protrusions on their skulls, more prominent in males where they are used to fight with rivals. Warthogs also have several pairs of tusks – actually overgrown canine teeth that curve wickedly like sabers. Impressive, yes. Attractive, no.

(image via: BBC)

At least somebody loves warthogs. Much like the way cleaner birds are allowed to remove parasites from creatures such as rhinos and crocodiles, warthogs will tolerate Banded Mongooses grooming them, either singly or in groups. The mongooses’ reward? All the tasty tics, fleas and other skin parasites they can eat.


(images via: Gamespot, MSXlabs, Elojo del Buitre and Restricted Note)

The Blobfish (Psychrolutes marcidus) inhabits deep sea waters in the vicinity of Australia and Tasmania, and is rarely seen by humans… which is fine with us, and presumably OK with them as well. Blobfish don’t have gas-filled swim bladders, instead having evolved gelatinous flesh that raises their net density to just above that of seawater. Another name for the Blobfish is Fathead… these guys get no breaks at all.

(image via: Motifake)

“I’m melting, I’m melting!”… Well, not really, but like the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz, Blobfish may not be long for this world. The ocean floor off eastern Australia where Blobfish are found is one of the world’s busiest bottom-trawling grounds and often Blobfish are brought up with the other creatures fisherman really want. As for the Blobfish, nobody wants them – they’re usually tossed back into the ocean but exposure to the surface’s lower pressure either mortally injures them or kills them outright.

Naked Mole Rat

(images via: Cornell U and Brian Akira)

Not only do Naked Mole Rats (Heterocephalus glaber) look bizarre, they ACT bizarre as well. The critters’ lifestyle is more akin to that of ants or bees than to mammals. They’re nearly hairless, have poor vision and lack the ability to feel pain – sounds like my neighbor, actually. On the plus side, Naked Mole Rats do not appear to get cancer and health researchers consider them very attractive subjects. Nobody else does, though.

(images via: Oinkernet and Buddy TV)

Have Naked Mole Rats gone Hollywood? Alas, it’s true – meet Rufus, a cute & cool character on the animated series Kim Possible. Rufus can fix appliances, chew through metal and has mad martial arts skills. He’s pink, but in a good way: like bubble gum, and not a wrinkle to be seen. Plus, his oversized incisors are as white as the driven snow. That’s Rufus in the above image… er, on the right.

Wolf Spider

(images via: Opoterser, Dreamstime and KozmicDreams)

What is it about seeing spiders close-up that gives us the willies? Especially big, hairy spiders… like that Wolf Spider on your thigh. Heh, just kidding, let go of the chandelier and keep reading. Wolf Spiders (family Lycosidae) have eight eyes like most spiders but the central pair are much larger than the other six, giving its shaggy, fanged face an especially sinister aspect. Wolf Spiders are found in virtually every part of the world not covered with ice or snow, and their bodies can grow to just over an inch wide.

(image via: The Sun UK)

An interesting (or repulsive) characteristic of Wolf Spiders is their curiously affectionate style of child care – theirs, not yours. After carefully carrying her egg case with her as she hunts for food, the female Wolf Spider allows herself to become a combination taxi and nursery when dozens of baby spiderlings hatch and climb up onto her abdomen.

Sphynx Cat

(images via: Purple Slinky and Distractible)

How’d you like to wake up in the middle of the night, during a thunderstorm, and find THIS staring at you from 6 inches away? Sphynx Cats, or “Canadian Hairless” if that makes them somewhat less creepy sounding, are a recognized breed of cat with little or no coat. Oddly, the skin of Sphynx Cats is pigmented in the same pattern as the cat would display if normally furred. Sphynx cats have wedge-shaped, Yoda-like heads with large ears and heavyset bodies. Can’t believe it? That is why you fail.

(image via: Izismile)

A Sphynx Cat named Pierre, born in Paris, France on February 1st of 1964 holds the record for the longest lived pedigree cat: 34 years. In dog years that’s like, umm, immortal… not surprising at all.

Goblin Shark

(images via: Big Ugly Fishes, Revolution MySpace and Australian Museum)

The Goblin Shark (Mitsukurina owstoni) is one of the more hideous looking deep sea creatures – then again, pretty much ALL deep sea creatures are hideous to some degree. Goblin Sharks stand out because, well, because they’re sharks and that adds fear to disgust. They’re also pink, but like Naked Mole Rats, not a cheery, girly pink: more like a feverish, rashlike pink that comes from their skin being very thin and lacking in pigment. That tepid pinkness is really their living flesh, visible through translucent skin.

(image via: Its Nature)

Goblin Sharks have an unpleasant way of eating as well. Upon coming in contact with their prey, their jaws balloon out, Alien-style. This creates a comparative vacuum in their expanded mouths that seawater (and the unlucky prey) then get sucked into. Resistance is futile, escape near-impossible because a mouthful of prickly, snaggly teeth ensure the trip inside is one-way only.


(images via: Andrea Harner, Critteristic and LOLlemurs)

The Aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis) is native to Madagascar, where is fills the ecological niche normally occupied by woodpeckers. It does this in an unusual way: after tapping on tree trunks to determine the presence of grubs, it gnaws a hole in the wood and then picks out the insect larva using an elongated middle finger. Aya-ayes are primates, which may account somewhat for it superficially resembling a scary old dude.

(image via: National Geographic)

The Aye-aye hasn’t only been hit WITH the ugly stick, it’s being hit BY them – held in the hands of people living in forest villages. The jarring appearance of big-eyed Aye-ayes looking down from the trees on surprised villagers caused the creatures to acquire a reputation as omens of bad luck, leading to… see beginning of paragraph.

Elephant Seal Bull

(images via: Rough Gem, Ólafur Ingólfsson and Arkive)

The Southern Elephant Seal (Mirounga leonina) patrols the beaches – dominant bull males are known as “beachmasters” – of Argentina, South Africa, New Zealand, Antarctica and the islands of the Southern Ocean. Graceful and powerful swimmers, Elephant Seals are also champion divers, plunging as deep as 6,000+ feet (2,000+ meters) in search of squid, octopi, skates, rays, and eels. They’ve been known to supplement their diets with penguins and even the odd small shark.

(image via: CTAP)

Male Elephant Seals grow much larger than the females, in fact the largest Elephant Seal ever recorded tipped the scales (probably literally) at 11,000 lb or 5,000 kg; and measured 22.5 ft (6.9 m) from the tip of its “trunk” to the end of its tail. Numbers like these make Elephant Seals the largest carnivores on Earth. Perhaps the ugliest as well: between its jiggling fleshy proboscis, fulsome blubbery girth and drab gray coloration, bull Elephant Seals are some ugly customers… just don’t say it to their face.

Tasmanian Devil

(images via: How Stuff Works, Animal Diversity and Australia Forever)

Those who’ve never seen a real Tasmanian Devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) and wonder if Looney Tunes got it right with Taz… well, they pretty much did. Tasmanian Devils are voracious eaters, known for loud vocalizing (especially when eating) and are prone to fight amongst one another – often when eating.

(image via: LiveScience)

Speaking of eating, Tasmanian Devils are mainly scavengers but can also bring down live prey such as wombats, small kangaroos and even sheep. Devils can eat up to 40 percent of their weight at a sitting and they’re remarkably efficient, consuming meat, fur and bones using the strongest bite of any living mammal: up to 5,100 psi. Here’s a short video presentation on the Tasmanian Devil:

Bite of the Tasmanian Devil, via National Geographic

(images via: TassieDevil, How Stuff Works and DeadlyPhoto)

Though ugly in appearance, disposition and deportment, Tasmanian Devils deserve our sympathies – they’re rapidly dying off from transmissible cancer and may become extinct in the next 20 to 40 years. Devil Facial Tumor Disease (DFTD) is spread when Tasmanian Devils meet, fight, and bite each other on the face – which is the standard greeting procedure. First seen in 1996, DFTD afects between 20 and 50 percent of Tasmanian Devils and has caused them to be declared Endangered by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) in 2009.

Star-Nosed Mole

(images via: Miss Ruta, Coizaradas, Discover and ScienceRay)

The Star-nosed Mole (Condylura cristata) is beyond ugly, it’s positively alien! Good thing it’s only the size of a small hamster. Even so, this creature gets a lot of bang out of its ugly buck. Those bizarre, fleshy, star-shaped nasal tentacles on its nose are packed with sensors called Eimer's organs – around 25,000 of them. It also uses its freaky nose to smell underwater – by exhaling on an object and then inhaling the bubbles.

(image via: Marielle Leigh)

The Star-nosed Mole has been recognized by the journal Nature as The World’s Fastest Eater, though you won’t see one scarfing down hotdogs at Coney Island anytime soon. The mole’s sensory system is so highly calibrated, it can determine whether an encountered object is edible in as little as as 8 milliseconds – the limit of brain neuron speed. The entire process of identifying and consuming a tasty morsel can take as little as 120 milliseconds. You can call the Star-nosed Mole ugly, don’t don’t call it late for dinner!


(images via: Pikaia, Sarita and Barrameda)

Most people have probably never heard of the Almiqui (Solenodon cubanus); most researchers have never seen one in the flesh. In fact, only 36 of these odd mammals have been caught since their discovery in 1861, and ZERO specimens were found between 1890 and 1970. Also known as the Cuban Solenodon, the Almiqui superficially resembles a large brown rat with a long, pointy nose and a scaly, hairless tail… except rats are WAY cuter.

(image via: Lilomag)

If its ratlike appearance and Cuban stomping grounds weren’t enough to get people to leave it alone, the Almiqui has got another ace up its scruffy sleeve: it’s one of the world’s few venomous mammals. Don’t let this guy drool on you; its saliva is poisonous. Escapees from Guantanamo Bay, take heed.

Proboscis Monkey

(images via: Smackamack, Naturspot and AppleBazaar)

The Proboscis Monkey (Nasalis larvatus) looks much like any other monkey… ahh, wait, that’s a female. The MALE Proboscis Monkey looks nothing like any other monkey, thanks to a nose that makes Cyrano de Bergerac look like Jude Law. The male’s, er, proboscis can grow up to 7 inches in length and is thought to be the male’s way of impressing the female. Oddly, that technique doesn’t work for humans unless accompanied by a similarly engorged bank account.

(image via: Wired)

Proboscis Monkeys are native to the Indonesian island of Borneo where they’ve acquired the nickname “Dutch Monkey”, presumably due to their resemblance to colonizers from The Netherlands who had large noses and pot bellies.

World’s Ugliest Dog

(images via: PetSuperfood, RetrieverMan and Daily Mail UK)

Man’s Best Friend, like Man himself, runs the gamut appearance-wise from heart-stoppingly handsome to Hunchback of Notre Dame horrible. Since the Internet is flooded with “see my cute doggie” images and this is a post on ugly animals, let’s scrape the bottom of the barrel and focus on the World’s Ugliest Dog – his/her Royal Heinous, as it were.

(image via: Daily Mail UK)

World’s Ugliest Dog competitions have been held for the past 22 years and typical winners are variations on the Chinese Crested – like Sphynx Cats, these hairless wonders tend to gross folks out. The 2010 winner, however, is Princess Abby, a 4-year-old purebred Chihuahua who could play Ren in a possible live-action Ren & Stimpy movie (hint hint, Hollywood). Princess Abby is a rescue dog, acquired by her owner from a local shelter after being found roaming the streets. According to celebrity vet Karen “Doc” Halligan, “She’s a poster child to spay and neuter your pets.”

(image via:

Beauty (or the lack thereof) is in the eye of the beholder to be sure, but these 13 “ugly” animals wouldn’t win a beauty contest if they were the only ones entered. Even so, nature has molded them into these forms over millions of years and if johnny-come-lately humans don’t like the looks of them, so be it. They’ve got faces only a mother – Mother Nature – can love, and in the contest of Life that’s really the only thing that matters.

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