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Things I Learned In Utah

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I started this post three weeks ago, on the way back from a whirlwind weekend in Park City, Utah. If you're looking for stuff to do in the Beehive State, a better source of suggestions came from readers in response to my initial entry, "When in Utah..." For now, let me offer a few tidbits picked up on my journey, live on tape delay.

If you're reading this near the Wyoming-South Dakota border, I'm 37,000 feet above your head. My left foot is tapping furiously to Rick Allen's contagious and odds-defying drumbeat from Def Leppard's "Let's Get Rocked." This is one of 1,600 songs made available to me through Delta's in-flight entertainment system.*

This foot tapping was not a problem until the in-flight beverage service placed a Coke precariously close to my trusty iBook. I'm very worried about a spill and the subsequent stickiness.

adrenalize.jpgLet me pause to pound my soda.

This rendition of "Let's Get Rocked" is from Rock of Ages, a Def Leppard anthology I didn't know existed. My last Def Leppard CD was Adrenalize, off which "Let's Get Rocked" was the first single. They played this number at A Concert for Life, the 1992 Freddie Mercury tribute "“ a strange choice for an AIDS benefit unless you think "rocked" means "educated on the finer points of HIV transmission."

I know I possessed this album from 1992 to 1997, but don't remember bringing it to college. Ten years is a long time to not own something, and so I've ascribed Adrenalize a possibly unwarranted sense of nostalgia.

Adding to the list of entities about which I'm overly nostalgic: the state of Utah. I was only there for parts of three days, and only left an hour ago. Most of the weekend was dominated by scripted activities: rehearsal dinner, wedding ceremony, cocktail hour, reception, passing out completely winded seconds after returning to our hotel, brunch. These were all a great deal of fun, but not fodder for an article on a trivia website. We did manage to squeeze in some sightseeing between family obligations, so let me show you what I saw.

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Utah's state bird is the sea gull. As the legend goes, these birds saved Mormon pioneers from the horrors of crop-eating crickets in 1848. There is some debate over this story's legitimacy, but it's a far cooler reason to anoint a state bird than my own state of New Jersey's reasoning. In 1935, the Eastern Goldfinch earned this status because, as the NJ Senate resolution puts it, "Forty-four of the States have already designated State birds."

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Utah has some interesting alcohol laws. According to FortOgden.com, "if a restaurant derives more than 30% of its profit from alcoholic beverage sales, it can lose its (liquor) license." Real beer can only be purchased at state-owned liquor stores "“ and is marked up 75% (a six-pack can cost $10). More widely available is "near beer," with 3.2% alcohol by volume. This drives a lot of traffic to Wyoming, where prices are normal. (By the way, that is not my hand holding the Polygamy Porter. I found that image on Allan Willis' blog, "Are You My Wife?")

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A luge is tiny. As Jerry Seinfeld joked, "The luge is the only sport I've ever seen that you could have people competing in it against their will, and it would be exactly the same." One of many lessons learned at Utah Olympic Park, a shrine to the Games of the Nineteenth Winter Olympiad.

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Ski jumping is just as cool without snow. I spent much of my free time watching the Australian Ski Team doing flips into a swimming pool during practice. I submit that this variation on ski jumping be incorporated in the Beijing Games.

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Dumb & Dumber was actually filmed in Park City, not Aspen. Though we now know the beer here does not, in fact, flow like wine. The Aspen scenes were a combination of Park City, Utah, and Breckenridge, Colorado.

behindeveryman.jpgFellow mental_floss writer David Israel is a great novelist. During my trip, I read Behind Everyman "“ and you should, too. Worthy of all the great press it received. Polish this off before the movie comes out.

Thanks again for all your recommendations and advice. We did get to see the Mormon Temple, the Great Salt Lake, Saltair and Karl Malone Toyota. But I'll have to make it out that way again.

*This might sound like paid product placement; I assure you it is not. I would much rather be watching the Yankees-Red Sox game, but the satellite TV portion of the in-flight entertainment package is not working right now. Nevertheless, Delta landed sky miles ahead of my expectations. Before last week, I did not know they were still in business, let alone streaming Def Leppard's greatest hits..

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15 Must-Watch Facts About The Ring
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DreamWorks

An urban legend about a videotape that kills its viewers seven days after they see it turns out to be true. To her increasing horror, reporter Rachel Keller (then-newcomer Naomi Watts) discovers this after her niece is one of four teenage victims, and is in a race against the clock to uncover the mystery behind the girl in the video before her and her son’s time is up.

Released 15 years ago, on October 18, 2002, The Ring began a trend of both remaking Japanese horror films in a big way, and giving you nightmares about creepy creatures crawling out of your television. Here are some facts about the film that you can feel free to pass along to anybody, guilt-free.

1. DREAMWORKS BOUGHT THE AMERICAN RIGHTS TO RINGU FOR $1 MILLION.

There were conflicting stories over how executive producer Roy Lee came to see the 1998 Japanese horror film Ringu, Hideo Nakata's adaptation of the 1991 novel Ring by Kôji Suzuki. Lee said two different friends gave him a copy of Ringu in January 2001, which he loved and immediately gave to DreamWorks executive Mark Sourian, who agreed to purchase the rights. But Lee’s close friend Mike Macari worked at Fine Line Features, which had an American remake of Ringu in development before January 2001. Macari said he showed Lee Ringu much earlier. Macari and Lee were both listed as executive producers for The Ring.

2. THE DIRECTOR FIRST SAW RINGU ON A POOR QUALITY VHS TAPE, WHICH ADDED TO ITS CREEPINESS.

Gore Verbinski had previously directed MouseHunt. He said the first time he "watched the original Ringu was on a VHS tape that was probably seven generations down. It was really poor quality, but actually that added to the mystique, especially when I realized that this was a movie about a videotape." Naomi Watts struggled to find a VHS copy of Ringu while shooting in the south of Wales. When she finally got a hold of one she watched it on a very small TV alone in her hotel room. "I remember being pretty freaked out," Watts said. "I just saw it the once, and that was enough to get me excited about doing it."

3. THE RING AND RINGU ARE ABOUT 50 PERCENT DIFFERENT.

Naomi Watts in 'The Ring'
© 2002 - DreamWorks LLC - All Rights Reserved

Verbinski estimated that, for the American version, they "changed up to 50 percent of it. The basic premise is intact, the story is intact, the ghost story, the story of Samara, the child." Storylines involving the characters having ESP, a volcano, “dream logic,” and references to “brine and goblins” were taken out.

4. IT RAINED ALMOST EVERY DAY WHEN THEY FILMED IN THE STATE OF WASHINGTON.

The weather added to the “atmosphere of dread,” according to the film's production notes. Verbinski said the setting allowed them to create an “overcast mood” of dampness and isolation.

5. THE PRODUCTION DESIGNER WAS INFLUENCED BY ANDREW WYETH.

Artist Andrew Wyeth tended to use muted, somber earth tones in his work. "In Wyeth's work, the trees are always dormant, and the colors are muted earth tones," explained production designer Tom Duffield. "It's greys, it's browns, it's somber colors; it's ripped fabrics in the windows. His work has a haunting flavor that I felt would add to the mystique of this movie, so I latched on to it."

6. THERE WERE RINGS EVERYWHERE.

The carpeting and wallpaper patterns, the circular kitchen knobs, the doctor’s sweater design, Rachel’s apartment number, and more were purposely designed with the film's title in mind.

7. WATTS AND MARTIN HENDERSON HAD A FRIENDLY INTERNATIONAL RIVALRY.

Martin Henderson and Naomi Watts star in 'The Ring' (1992)
© 2002 - DreamWorks LLC - All Rights Reserved

The New Zealand-born Henderson played Noah, Rachel’s ex-husband. Since Watts is from Australia, Henderson said that, "Between takes, we'd joke around with each other's accents and play into the whole New Zealand-Australia rivalry."

8. THE TWO WEREN’T SURE IF THE MOVIE WAS GOING TO BE SCARY ENOUGH.

After shooting some of the scenes, and not having the benefit of seeing what they'd look like once any special effects were added, Henderson and Watts worried that the final result would not be scary enough. "There were moments when Naomi and I would look at each other and say, 'This is embarrassing, people are going to laugh,'" Henderson told the BBC." You just hope that somebody makes it scary or you're going to look like an idiot!"

9. CHRIS COOPER WAS CUT FROM THE MOVIE.

Cooper played a child murderer in two scenes which were initially meant to bookend the film. He unconvincingly claimed to Rachel that he found God in the beginning, and in the end she gave him the cursed tape. Audiences at test screenings were distracted that an actor they recognized disappears for most of the film, so he was cut out entirely.

10. THEY TRIED TO GET RID OF ALL OF THE SHADOWS.

Verbinski and cinematographer Bojan Bazelli used the lack of sunlight in Washington to remove the characters’ shadows. The two wanted to keep the characters feeling as if “they’re floating a little bit, in space.”

11. THE TREE WAS NICKNAMED "LUCILLE."

The red Japanese maple tree in the cursed video was named after the famous redheaded actress Lucille Ball. The tree was fake, built out of steel tubing and plaster. The Washington wind blew it over three different times. The night they put up the tree in Los Angeles, the wind blew at 60 miles per hour and knocked Lucille over yet again. "It was very strange," said Duffield.

12. MOESKO ISLAND IS A FUNCTIONING LIGHTHOUSE.

Moesko Island Lighthouse is Yaquina Head Lighthouse, at the mouth of the Yaquina River, a mile west of Agate Beach, Oregon. The website Rachel checks, MoeskoIslandLighthouse.com, used to actually exist as a one-page website, which gave general information on the fictional place. You can read it here.

13. A WEBSITE WAS CREATED BY DREAMWORKS TO PROMOTE THE MOVIE AND ADD TO ITS MYTHOLOGY.

Before and during the theatrical release, if you logged into AnOpenLetter.com, you could read a message in white lettering against a black background warning about what happens if you watch the cursed video (you can read it here). By November 24, 2002, it was a standard official website made for the movie, set up by DreamWorks.

14. VERBINSKI DIDN’T HAVE FUN DIRECTING THE MOVIE.

“It’s no fun making a horror film," admitted Verbinski. "You get into some darker areas of the brain and after a while everything becomes a bit depressing.”

15. DAVEIGH CHASE SCARED HERSELF.

Daveigh Chase in 'The Ring'
© 2002 - DreamWorks LLC - All Rights Reserved

When Daveigh Chase, who played Samara, saw The Ring in theaters, she had to cover her eyes out of fear—of herself. Some people she met after the movie came out were also afraid of her.

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European Space Agency Releases First High-Res Land Cover Map of Africa
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Land Cover CCI, ESA

This isn’t just any image of Africa. It represents the first of its kind: a high-resolution map of the different types of land cover that are found on the continent, released by The European Space Agency, as Travel + Leisure reports.

Land cover maps depict the different physical materials that cover the Earth, whether that material is vegetation, wetlands, concrete, or sand. They can be used to track the growth of cities, assess flooding, keep tabs on environmental issues like deforestation or desertification, and more.

The newly released land cover map of Africa shows the continent at an extremely detailed resolution. Each pixel represents just 65.6 feet (20 meters) on the ground. It’s designed to help researchers model the extent of climate change across Africa, study biodiversity and natural resources, and see how land use is changing, among other applications.

Developed as part of the Climate Change Initiative (CCI) Land Cover project, the space agency gathered a full year’s worth of data from its Sentinel-2A satellite to create the map. In total, the image is made from 90 terabytes of data—180,000 images—taken between December 2015 and December 2016.

The map is so large and detailed that the space agency created its own online viewer for it. You can dive further into the image here.

And keep watch: A better map might be close at hand. In March, the ESA launched the Sentinal-2B satellite, which it says will make a global map at a 32.8 feet-per-pixel (10 meters) resolution possible.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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