Diversions: The Incredible Disappearing Town

Damn potholes
Damn potholes

Welcome to Centralia, Pennsylvania, Population: 7. Mind the roads. They haven’t been cared for in a little while. None of the town has been cared for in some time, really. In fact you’ll find most of the town is missing, having been reduced to rubble and reclaimed by nature.

Incorporated in 1866, the Pennsylvania borough was born out of what would eventually be the cause of its demise: coal mining. Significant coal deposits were found beneath the land where the town would soon be built. Five separate mines were open and operating by the time the town gained official status.

Centralia hit its peak in 1890 with a population of 2,761. Things took a change for the worse with the stock market crash of 1929. Five major coal mines closed down. Those series of events heralded the start of the towns decline. Most of the remaining coal mines closed down by the early 1960’s. It was specifically an event in 1962 that sounded the death knell for the tiny community.

The town hired five volunteer firefighters to clean up the town landfill that May. They finished by setting the site on fire to burn off remaining trash. The fire was not fully extinguished at the end of the burn, as it should have been. This allowed the fire to unknowingly breach the seal on an abandoned mine and enter the mine system.

Did I mention that they put a burn pit right next to an abandoned coal mine? Because they totally put a burn pit right next to the an abandoned coal mine.

Many fingers have been pointed and alternative explanations (and expletives) bandied about over the years. However events unfolded, the end result was a fire that steadily grew out of control deep beneath the town of Centralia. The scope of the problem first came to public attention in 1979 when the temperature of the gasoline tank at the local gas station was measured at 172 degrees f.

Concerns heightened considerably two years later when a twelve year old boy fell into a sinkhole that had opened up in his backyard. His cousin was able to pull him out before he fell the rest of the way in. The hole measured 4 feet wide and 150 feet deep, and was releasing toxic gas. I will not make a joke about this(the boy was okay, though.)

The government acted to relocate residents to other communities starting back in 1984. A small contingent of townspeople refused to acknowledge the danger and refused to relocate. The government of Pennsylvania invoked eminent domain on the borough in 1992 in an effort to force the remaining townspeople to move.

As is the american way, the people of Centralia brought their own lawsuit to allow them to continue living in the town. The suit was settled in 2013, and the remaining 7 residents are free to remain for the rest of their lives. The fires continue to burn below them.

The remains of the town have become somewhat of a tourist mecca in recent years, much to the chagrin of remaining residents and local law enforcement. Various spots in town continue to belch out gas and radiate heat. Various houses not razed by the government have been swallowed by the ground.

“Visitors” have become far more belligerent in recent years, spreading graffiti and trespassing on private property. The state government has warned off people wishing to visit the borough, as have the angry residents. There are plenty of pictures and webpages dedicated to the town, however. Wikipedia is a great place to start looking.

Least Wanted: The Most Monstrous Inmates

Some prisoners have trouble adapting to their new environment.
Some prisoners have trouble adapting to their new environment.

Everybody has their own special talent. Some people are great at creating art. Some people are known for carrying a tune. Some people are known for kicking other peoples’ asses. The following two people fall squarely under that last talent, though one also qualifies for the first.

Oh, hai!
Oh, hai!

We’ll start with the uh, more colorful of the two inmates. Allow me to introduce you to Charles Bronson, born Michael Gordon Peterson, formerly Charles Ali Ahmed. I know it’s hard to tell from that photo, but he can be quite the character.

Mr. Bronson started his illustrious prison career all the way back in 1974 after being convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to seven years imprisonment. Mr. Bronson had trouble… adjusting. He went on to be transferred between prison and medical facilities well over a dozen times in as many years.

Some of Charlie’s escapades: Attacking an inmate with a glass jug, damaging prison property, straight-up punching prison officers in the face, trying to dig a tunnel out of his cell, staging rooftop protests and even at least one case of attempted murder. He did manage to make it out of prison briefly in 1987 (those naughty things he did stretched his sentence a bit) and enjoyed a short stint as a bare-knuckle boxer. He changed his name to Charles Bronson at that point on the suggestion of his manager.

Not surprisingly, he landed his ass back in jail because of committing… armed robbery. I could go on and on about this man, but I won’t. You seriously need to check out his wiki page. I’m just scratching the surface, here!

NOT farmer John
NOT farmer John

Charles Bronson is most definitely a violent man, but one thing that can’t be said of him is that he is a murderer. Thomas Silverstein on the other hand can make no such claim. Meet one of the most notorious prisoners in history who also looks like he could be your next door neighbor.

Mr. Silverstein made it into prison a few years after Mr. Bronson, in 1977. He used the same tactic to get there though: armed robbery. He was sentenced to fifteen years at Leavenworth.

He joined up with the Aryan Brotherhood while there. This led to his first prison murder in 1980. The victim, Danny Atwell, reportedly refused to serve as a drug mule. He received a life sentence and was transferred to a high security prison. The conviction was overturned in 1985 however, when it was revealed that testifying inmates had perjured themselves.

That didn’t make much difference, seeing how Silverstein struck again in 1981. His new victim was Robert Chappelle, a member of the D.C. Blacks prison gang. Silverstein said he didn’t do it(of course,) but newly-transferred Raymond “Cadillac” Smith, national leader of the D.C. Blacks said oh yes he did and immediately set to trying to kill his ass. Silverstein and another inmate killed Smith first, stabbing him 67 times.

Silverstein’s last victim was correction officer Merle Clutts. Silverstein managed to get out of his cuffs while being transferred from the showers and stabbed Clutts to death with a shank obtained from another prisoner. He didn’t deny that one.

Thomas Silverstein is currently housed in a supermax facility in Colorado. He will be eligible for release in 2095. Surprisingly, he is not the artist in the bunch. Seriously, go read more about Charlie!


Opposite Day: The Biggest Little Train Set

One of the more boring parts of this train set, believe it or not.
One of the more boring parts of this train set, believe it or not.

Today’s Opposite Day post finds us on both sides of the fence: Witness Miniatur Wunderland, the largest, miniature train set in the world! It’s the biggest little train set!

Miniatur Wunderland (literally “Miniature Wonderland” in case that wasn’t obvious,) located in Hamburg, Germany features an expansive miniature train system as the center attraction, but surrounds it with much, much more. The nearly 40,000 feet of HO scale train track ribbons through over 12,000 square feet of miniatures that represent multiple countries. Planned expansions extending all the way into 2026 will see England and France added to the mix.

Miniature Las Vegas
Miniature Las Vegas

While the trains are the main focus of the miniature, the real draw is the insane level of detail and animation that’s been poured into every inch of the attraction. Real locations have famous buildings and landmarks recreated in exacting detail. You can see cars driving about, amusement park attractions whirling around, even miniature people going about their daily lives.

The Knuffingen Airport, modeled after the Hamburg International Airport, is among the most impressive parts of the model. You can watch scale model passenger jets taxi, take off, and land. Meanwhile cars, taxis and emergency vehicles mill about the airport. Support vehicles on the airport landing strip drive around and tend to the landed planes.

Not the Architect's matrix control room.
Not the Architect’s matrix control room.

What goes on behind the scenes is just as incredible. The control room alone has dozens of monitors showing the attraction “on stage” and behind the scenes, along with screens showing diagnostics and conditions of various mechanics. Every single moving vehicle (essentially programmed, radio controlled vehicles) reports its location and state of charge.

The system is smart enough to know when vehicles need recharged or repaired. The affected vehicle will drive itself through a backstage access point and into a charging station, for example. A duplicate will be activated and sent out to follow its route until the first vehicle is ready to leave again.

Venice, Italy is currently under construction, with England scheduled for completion by 2021. See a video of the attraction here.


Preservation Protocol is Coming!

Pretty sure, anyway...
Coming this fall

It’s been hinted at, and now it’s official. I’ve been working on my second novel almost from the moment After was published. As of this writing I’m about two-thirds through writing my next novel: Preservation Protocol.

Preservation Protocol takes place in the year 2097, in New Wave City. It follows the life of police detective Max Kincaid. He quickly finds himself becoming entangled in a far-reaching conspiracy involving the mob, the government, and Synthetics: Artificial humans designed to be nearly indistinguishable from the genuine article.

Max must fight his prejudices against Synthetics while helping young Daryl Marston, an innocent victim of a secret organization’s darkest machinations. The lines between right and wrong, human and machine, friend and foe, soon become blurred as the story unfolds. Will Max unravel the conspiracies whirling around him in time?

And now, a sneak-peek of Preservation Protocol:

          Detective Max Kincaid stared up and up at the shiny blue glass façade of the Synthetics International building off in the distance. The late midday sun was peeking around its side. He flared out his trench coat as he hoofed it down Trenton Boulevard.   

           He supposed the good thing was that the age of the trench coat-wearing private Dick was a good 150 years in the past. There weren’t that many people around in 2097 to call him out for dressing like a stereotype. That suited him just fine.

          As far as Max was concerned, he was carrying on a fine tradition. He tipped his fedora to an older lady as he passed her by on the sidewalk. She smiled. Most girls saw the charm of his getup, which always helped things.

          He had to admit that today the coat was just burning him up. He’d been on the beat all day, and didn’t have much to show for it. The mark he’d been chasing had proven especially slippery. All he wanted to do now was sit.

          Sam’s Diner, home of the world’s best coffee, and his favorite place to escape from work. He pulled open the old-timey door and absent-mindedly held it for a bot toting a doggy bag. The white and blue biped nodded and said “Thank you.” Max nodded back.

          Most people nowadays went out of their way to ignore the existence of the robots around them. He couldn’t help but be polite to them. They were programmed to be polite to him. Max was programmed to be polite by his mother. He figured, what’s the difference?

          Synthetics were a different matter. For him, Synthetics fell neatly into the uncanny valley in more than just looks, and deserved all the scorn he had for them. Let’s just say they were a little too human for his tastes.

          Max shook the thought out of his head and dropped himself down on the stool at the far end of the counter. He fit right in at Sam’s Diner. With shining chrome, vinyl-lined booths, and art-deco flair, the diner hit all the hallmarks of a mid-twentieth century eatery.

          Samantha Dee, owner and sole proprietor of Sam’s Diner, still looked stunning in her waitress’ outfit for a gal pushing fifty. She was a little old for Max, but he reveled in flirting with her whenever he came in. “Well if it isn’t New Wave City’s prettiest little thing.”

          Sam smirked and leaned on the counter in front of Max. “The prettiest, am I? You must be angling for another free coffee.” She winked and flicked his fedora.

          Max smoothed his dark brown hair and settled his hat back into place. “I just can’t help but point out the obvious. I will take that coffee, though.”

          Sam sauntered over to the coffee station and grabbed a mug. “You’re going to spoil me, Max Kincaid.” She placed the coffee in front of Max and leaned in. “What’s wrong, sweetheart?”

          Max grimaced. “That obvious, huh?”

          “You may only have one good eye, but it tells me all your secrets every time.”

          Max turned away. One iris was pale green, but the other was turquoise, artificial. “Trying to cheer me up again, are ya?”

          Sam sniffed. “Oh, don’t be like that. I think it makes you look exotic.”

          “It makes me look like a freak.”

           “Exotic, freak… Same difference.” Sam flashed her signature smile. Max smirked. That grin could melt an ice cube on Mt. Everest.

          Max sighed. “I’ve been tailing a mark all day. I’ll be damned if I can keep him nailed down. Victor Esposito… You know him?”

          Sam stared at the white tiled ceiling for a moment before shaking her head. “Doesn’t ring a bell. If you are looking for him, that’s probably an okay thing.”

          “He’s just a peon. Think he’s been cleaning cash for Don Adesso.”

          “Jeez, Max! Maybe you’re better off leaving him alone. I don’t think you want to be getting on Adesso’s bad side.”

          Max shook his head. “Part of the job. I nab Esposito and get him to sing… I might be able to put Adesso somewhere he won’t be able to touch me.”

          Sam leaned on the counter. “You know as well as I do that bars aren’t gonna keep Adesso from doing what he wants, sweetheart.”

          Max stared at his coffee. “Yeah… Part of the job.”

          “It might be part of the job, but so is taking care of yourself. You look tired. Why don’t you call it a day?”

          “I suppose you’re right. There’s a mook downtown Adesso hangs out with sometimes. I might be able to chat him up… You’re kidding me.” Max stared out the window at a passing black sedan.

          He focused with his synthetic left eye. It cast a blue-violet hue on the scene outside. The lens snap-focused on the plate on the back of the sleek sedan and zoomed. He tapped a finger on his left temple.

          A list of plate numbers appeared in the bottom-left of his vision. Each number glowed white in rapid succession, finally stopping on one in particular. It was a match. “Well, hot shit.”

          Max stood up, eyes still trained on the quickly-disappearing car. “Put it on the tab, Sam. I got a bite!”

If all goes well, Preservation Protocol will be available in early Fall. Stay tuned to Fat Mop Zoo and my Twitter account for updates. Thanks for reading!

Daddy Dearest

Making sure you're still there...
Making sure you’re still there…

To celebrate Father’s Day, I thought I’d follow my lead from Mother’s Day and look at a rugged daddy. I immediately thought of daddy Emperor penguins. These doting dads show insane patience with their teeny tiny charges.

It all starts in late May or early June, when the mama penguin shoots out an egg. The shell of the egg is extra thick as far as eggs go. That’s because the mama penguin is about to pass the buck.

The mama calls over the daddy and goes through a very careful egg-transfer process. This is the first test for the dad. If the egg is fumbled, the baby will most likely die before it has much of a chance to grow. The egg won’t crack, but the extreme cold of the ground will prove too much for the chick.

Regardless of what happens to the egg, the mamas are out of there like it’s Ladies Night down at the local beer tap. In this case, Ladies Night lasts for two months. Apparently pooping out an egg is more draining than any of us realized.

This means the daddy is left standing more or less in one spot, balancing the egg on his feet, drooping his flappy belly all over it for those same two months. It um, it takes a while for the baby to grow. They will have lost about half their weight during this time, all the while braving temps below freezing and winds as high as 120 mph.

Go. Dad.

Despite being emaciated at this point, the daddy penguin will squeeze something akin to cheese curd out of his esophagus to feed the newborn chick. Yum-O! This sustains the fledgling chick until the mama returns (hopefully) a few days later.

It is at this point that the daddy penguin finally gets relieved of duty. The now well-fed mama takes over baby holding duty. The hangry daddy penguin goes off on the mother of all fishing trips for about three weeks to pack on the pounds once again.

So let’s recap, shall we? The mama penguin poops out the egg, says “Woo, I’m tired,” and goes on a two-month eating binge. Meanwhile daddy penguin stands in one spot for TWO MONTHS with a silent egg and Chris from next door that talks WAY TOO MUCH.

Then, FINALLY, his little baby is finally born! It was all worth it! Hi, champ! Have some regurgitated cheese turds from my throat, although I’m deadly thin! But lo, here comes the mama.

Goodbye, baby I just saw born. I’m going to go eat for a few weeks. Maybe you’ll remember me when I finally get back. Who knows? At least the poor S.O.B. gets to finally eat, eh?

In the end, just like in real life, the kids are slowly coddled less and less. Eventually they are left to fend for themselves while mama and daddy penguin go off for some alone time. Then they can do it all over again next year! Yay?

So yeah, moms are pretty cool. Dads can be pretty cool too, though. Get it? Cool? They’re like, penguins? Sorry… Go daddy penguins!

And Happy Father’s Day to all. 🙂

Space: The Ultimate Hangout

"Leaving me... Ha ha, guys... guys?"
“Leaving me… Ha ha, guys… guys?”

When we first started hurtling people out into the cold vastness of space at 17,500 miles per hour, we didn’t leave them hanging up there for too long. How long astronauts got to live in space became longer as technology progressed and space stations became a thing. Also, some of the things we shot off into space both before and after haven’t necessarily dropped back with any expediency either. Let’s look at some numbers, shall we?

Things got a lot more comfy for astronauts around the time the Russian space station Mir was put into orbit. It was only a little longer than that before we started seeing some serious records set. In fact it was a Russian cosmonaut by the name of Valeri Polyakov who has the honor of staying up in space for the longest amount of time. Mr. Polyakov went up into space on January 8, 1994 and didn’t fall back down until March 22 of the next year, for a total of 437 days. Hope he had some good books to read.

The Mir space station was de-orbited in 2001, but the International Space Station continues to rock it in Earth orbit. First launched in 1998, the ISS continues to house brave men and women, having done so for nearly seventeen continuous years and making it the current record holder. Some estimate that the station could be useful for up to thirty years.

For the longest anything sent into space by man, we turn to the Vanguard 1. The satellite was launched all the way back in 1958 to obtain geo-something something… It measured scientific stuff. Despite losing contact with it in 1964, the little metal ball that could is still swinging around our big blue marble. It’s estimated it will continue to do that for at least two more centuries. Now that’s staying power!

The Mall That Would Be a City: The Mall of America

Does YOUR mall have an amusement park?
Does YOUR mall have an amusement park?

The Mall of America may not be the largest shopping mall in the world(it actually ranks only 33rd,) but it is unquestionably one of the most well-known. Located in Bloomington, Minnesota, the ever-growing mall sprawls across 4.87 million square feet, or 922 square miles. Within that area is a whole lot of history.

That history goes all the way back to 1956. That’s the year the Metropolitan Stadium (nicknamed “The Met”) opened it’s doors. It was home to the Minnesota Vikings and Twins teams until the Humphrey Metrodome opened in 1982. Four years later that an agreement was signed to build the mall. Groundbreaking on the project took place in 1989. The Mall of America opened in 1992, becoming the second-largest mall in the US at the time.

The mall is home to over 520 stores, three of them “anchor” stores. Amenities include over fifty restaurants to choose from and a Radisson hotel directly connected to the mall. There are also 14 movie theaters showing the latest movies in 3D. Go visit the Nickelodeon-themed theme park in the middle of the mall, or hang out at the smaller Crayola experience. Barring that, you can always buy tickets to visit the flight simulators or the Sea Life aquarium.

Never one to sit still, the Mall of America is on the grow. Construction is underway to increase the size of the mall. At least one extra attached hotel will be added, along with a Bass Pro Shops location. A full-sized ice rink and entire water park are also being planned. Additionally, there will be 200,000 square feet of added retail space. If all their plans come to fruition, the mall will effectively double in size. The mall would potentially become the third-largest in the world.

And since you asked… Yes, the mall has it’s own zip code. Why wouldn’t it?


Diversions: Walking in a Nuclear Wonderland

Fun for the whole family!
Fun for the whole family!

Fans of the Fallout series of video games will be familiar with the premise: The land has been devastated by nuclear Armageddon,  leaving an empty wasteland where few human beings may be found. Nature grows up to reclaim what was left behind as the old signs of civilization slowly crumble away. Oh, and radiation… lots of radiation.


This isn’t a video game, though. This is Chernobyl. You see, Russia started screwing with Ukraine a long time ago. That’s because Ukraine used to be part of the Soviet Union, and that’s where the Chernobyl nuclear disaster took place.

The disaster is the worst nuclear disaster in history, pegging as a level 7 event on the International Nuclear Event Scale(fun reading.) On April 26, 1986 the #4 reactor at the nuclear power plant went critical. The resulting steam explosions released at least 5% of the reactor’s radioactive core into the surrounding atmosphere.

The result: Complete melt down of the core. Immediate radiation levels at the core registered at 30,000 RPH. 400 RPH is fatal after one hour of exposure. The heat from the radiation was such that it created a kind of radioactive lava underneath the reactor. The incident resulted in 31 deaths directly attributed to radiation exposure. Evacuation of nearby Pripyat did not begin until more than a day after the event.

That's... that's not normal.
That’s… that’s not normal.

It has been long enough since the event for radiation levels in Chernobyl and Pripyat to drop considerably. It will likely be quite a few more years before either area is safely inhabitable. Pripyat is relatively safe to visit now, but precautions have to be taken. Average exposure to radiation is equivalent to receiving a CT scan. That said, you want to keep your visit short and your eyes open. Certain areas and objects have shown radiation levels three times the annual allowed dose for radiation workers every five years.

So what I’m saying is, maybe you should just stick to exploring Fallout’s wasteland. You’ll probably live longer.

Standing Tall: The World’s Immense Statues

Now that is a big toe.
Now that is a big toe.

I’ve learned two things researching this post: Statues are apparently only measured by height(whatever happened to man’s obsession with length?), and that famous statues aren’t as big as we’d like to think. Let’s start with the second one.

I started off thinking that, say, the Mount Rushmore monument would surely be in the running for the largest statue in the world. Well, it’s not. Believe it or not, the faces are only sixty feet tall. The dearth of the girth: I was able to find zero information on the width of the monument, which may be one reason it’s not on “World’s Largest” lists. Height-wise, Mount Rushmore is the pits.

So what about the Sphinx? The sizable kitty certainly is taller at a height of sixty-six feet. I can actually say it’s an impressive 241 feet long, but it still doesn’t register in the top five largest statues. I have to wonder again about the whole tall-bias again.

Let’s give the US a shot again: The Statue of Liberty. The old gal stands much taller at an impressive 151 feet from base to torch. As incredible as that is, it’s less than a third the size of what’s considered the world’s tallest statue.

That record goes to the Spring Temple Buddha in China. It’s mind-boggling height adds up to 502 feet. That’s over forty stories tall. Even removing the height of the building supporting it, the statue itself still stands 420 feet tall, dwarfing the Statue of Liberty. That’s the statue’s toes pictured up there at the beginning of the post.

One Tough Mother

No, seriously, don't mess with mama.
This is one mama you definitely don’t want to mess with.

I heard today people were celebrating something. It had something to do with women I think. I’m not sure. Anyway, I had this weird idea to specifically focus an article on mothers… Specifically specifically cheetah mothers.

The first thing to understand about the toughness of cheetah mamas is that they are effectively single mothers. Cheetah daddies eff right the hell off after knocking up the mommies and are never seen again. They don’t have to wait long for company, however.

Gestation for cheetahs is a speedy three months. An average of three to five cubs plop out of mama and immediately become dead weight. She’ll literally drag and carry them from place to place for six weeks before the little freeloaders start walking there themselves.

Throw a capital F on freeloaders, too. It will be no sooner than six months before the little ones will start scoring their own small kills. Mama’s more… special cubs can take up to fifteen months to figure this whole killing thing out!

And providing for that many hungry mouths is no mean feat. Mother cheetah accelerates up to between 40 and 60 mph to capture the next family meal. The act is extremely draining, and can leave mommy dearest panting for up to an hour before she recovers enough to enjoy her meal.

Even then, she might not get to enjoy the fruits of her labor. Larger predators such as lions and especially hyenas may attempt to steal the kill, or even injure or kill one or more of her cubs. The mother cheetah will almost invariably allow the kill to be stolen in exchange for the safety of her and her cubs.

This grueling schedule continues for the mama for an average of thirteen to thirty months. The boys of the family, much like human boys, will wander off to form their own groups and find some fine booty to plunder. The girls will sometimes linger with mama, but eventually drift away as well.

Unlike human boys and girls, they stay away, abandoning the mama cheetah forever. All that work and mother cheetah is left to her own devices. She may eventually be rolled into another group only to be impregnated and left alone once again.

Now if you ask me, that’s one tough mother.

Happy Mother’s Day!