In last week's newsletter—yes, we have a newsletter; the sign-up box is on the right—I reprinted a few emails from a reader who, with the help of a story by our own Scott Allen, tracked down her childhood horse. It's a good story, so I'm re-reprinting those emails here on the blog.
We get lots of, shall we say, intriguing email. Last week a woman wrote to inform me that she had a large chicken-wire ram ("suitable for topiary planting or paper maiche") that she wanted to donate to a school with a ram for a mascot. Since we had recently posted a round-up of bizarre high school mascots on the blog, she figured we could help.
But every so often, we get a very touching email, and I'd like to share one with you today. Back in April, Scott Allen wrote a story about the surprisingly strict horse-naming process. People started weighing in with horse-naming stories of their own. Like Patricia:
A horse with no name is entered into the system as an 8*, so, my last horse became Eight Asterisk written out. I always found it clever. I loved Risky dearly.
A couple months later, Robyn found the post, saw Patricia's comment, and responded:
Patricia - I ended up with a horse who I later found out was named Eight Asterisk (aka Risky) and never knew much about his history. Can you tell me more about the horse you had? Bay gelding about 15.3 hands with a small star-stripe-snip by any chance??
A reply from Patricia:
I don't know if you'll see this, but that is either a very precise description of Risky or a bizarre coincidence. I'm in complete shock as I am fairly sure that we are dealing with the same horse through a very odd twist of fate. (We were separated in a bit of a hard way and I would do anything to know what came of him.) Please, e-mail me if you see this, Robyn!
After reading that comment, we put Patricia and Robyn in touch. Patricia just brought us up to speed:
About two weeks ago, you guys were instrumental in connecting me with Robyn. You will be happy to know that the horse we suspected we had both ridden as teenagers was indeed the same horse! As my father sold the horse during my parents' difficult divorce, I never had a chance to give him a good-bye and know where he went or to whom; however, your assistance in connecting us has allowed me to know my childhood horse's fate. I cannot express to you the comfort that this has given me, as Robyn took such wonderful care of Risky, even retiring him to a 40-acre hayfield in which to enjoy his golden years. Sadly, Risky passed away two years ago, but knowing that he was always loved, safe, and happy truly means the world to me.
Thanks so much for sharing your stories, Patricia & Robyn. Now if we can only find a home for that chicken-wire ram, our summer will be complete.
[Note: It turns out that schools with ram mascots are sorely lacking in chicken-wire rams suitable for topiary planting. Since this newsletter went out last week, we've received over 100 emails from people interested in the ram. I'm waiting to hear back from the woman who offered it to figure out the next step.]
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 saidthe 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.