30 June 2019

Hierve el Agua - Mexico’s Freeze Frame Falls

As you approach Hierve el Agua you would be forgiven for thinking that you are about to witness close up one of nature’s magnificent sites – that of a large, full flowing waterfall. However, closer inspection would reveal to you that what you thought was water cascading down the side of a hill is something else entirely.

Very much of the beaten track and little visited the waterfall is in fact a natural formation of rock. In Spanish the name means the water boils but it looks more as if it has been frozen – perhaps there was some irony on the lips of the person who gave the place its name. Later, however, we will discover the reason for the name.

29 June 2019

The Lucky Old Mill of Vernon and its Less Fortunate Bridges

The old town of Vernon nestles at the side of the river Seine about 75 kilometers away from Paris.  It has, as you can imagine, a long history and has been through periods of momentous change both in France and Europe as a whple.

When change happens there are always winners and losers. In Vernon, architecturally speaking, perhaps it is the old bridge which could be considered most unfortunate – it no longer exists.

In fact it has been rebuilt and destroyed often enough for us to consider it perhaps the unluckiest bridge in the world.

The lucky survivor, in that case, is the old mill house (le vieux moulin) which straddles the first two piers of the ancient bridge. Vernon itself is first mentioned in the archives of the Frankish King Pepin the Short (or the Great, depending on which history books you read) around the 750AD mark.  Vernon as a city was founded in 950 and the first wooden bridge was built at some point in the early twelfth century (though there is argument there among historians too).

15 June 2019

Reading for Structure Quiz (for GCSE English Language)

This quiz was designed to help students doing their GCSE English Language exam (in the UK except Scotland) a qualification in a specific subject typically taken by school and college students aged 16 upwards. However, feel free to do the quiz, wherever you are!

Please read the short story below and then answer the questions.  You may need to sign in with a google account.

 I had lost.  I was lost.

I lay on the ground: prostrate, humiliated, defeated.  Around me the cries of the mob filled the amphitheatre like a thunderous admonishment from the gods.  The merciless jeers of those who once jubilantly sang my praises cut as deeply in to my spirit as the wound in my side.  I gasped for breath and my hands clutched the hot sun-baked sand of the arena floor.  I felt blood trickle from the wound on to my fingers, congealing in the blistering heat of the Roman summer.

Above me, gladius* poised in mid-air, the upstart, undefeated Thracian looked towards the Emperor.  The muscles on his arm quivered as he held his frozen position, looking to this god on earth, this lunatic child, to indicate with a thumb up or down whether I would live or die.

9 June 2019

Ani – Ghost City of 1001 Churches

Ani – some call it the City of 1001 Churches, others the City of Forty Gates.  Yet no one has called it home for more than three centuries.

Abandoned by its once prosperous and powerful inhabitants, it is situated on the Turkish side of a militarised zone between the border of Turkey and Armenia. The city of Ani is no stranger to death, destruction and desertion.

It is a ghost city today but once its Armenian inhabitants numbered close to 200 thousand.  In its heyday it was a metropolis which rivalled Constantinople, Cairo or Baghdad as a center of culture and enterprise.  Although it was never on traditional trade routes its sheer size and power commanded visits by merchants from all directions.  Yet what happened to reduce this once magnificent and regionally dominant city to virtually dust?

30 May 2019

Wondering What’s There in all those Mystery Boxes Youtubers are Buying off the Dark Web? - Here’s What...

Anyone who has done even a bit of research on the Dark Web would know the hotbed of secrets it is. You can find anyone and everyone ranging from Silk Road drug dealers to child pornographers on it. It has also served as the ideal space for journalists to carry out under-cover operations and political dissidents to organise movements. However, it isn’t perceived to be the kind of place where you will type in your house address and receive a package like it came from Amazon Prime!

Still, there are some YouTubers who have garnered millions of views by ordering mystery boxes from the dark Web and creating YouTube videos of the un-boxing process. Let’s throw some more light on this unique phenomenon.

What is Dark Web?
A hidden and free-for-all place on the Internet, Dark Web can only be accessed with the help of anonymous browsers such as 12P or Tor. You can buy and sell all kinds of contraband on the platform, including stolen objects, guns, drugs and more. It’s the same place where the WikiLeaks came from as it is quite secure for receiving and sending information. However, Dark Web is largely unavailable to the regular Internet user.

The Dark Web Challenge
Known as the Dark Web challenge, these mystery box unboxing YouTube videos have become extremely popular on you tube in the past couple of years. You get to see YouTubers revealing and unboxing, all kinds of strange items, ranging from clothing, bloodstained screwdrivers, pills, electronic items to toys.

Many a times these YouTubers purchase these packages from eBay, hoping to lay their hands on some expensive or scary stuff inside. But buying such boxes from the Dark Web is considered a more extreme step, which can often be very dangerous.

The danger
Jonathan Pace, a Phd who works with Stanford University told the press about these Dark Web mystery boxes. In his view, these boxes could be filled with fake identities, poorly made weapons or even toxic drugs. In the event that any of the mystery boxes is filled with some leftover inventory, it’s highly likely that the person has received a bottom-of-the-barrel contraband which didn’t sell in the market. Here’s an article which talks about the things that might happen if you spend a lot of time fishing for stuff on the Dark Web.

About the videos
The videos posted on the YouTube as a part of the Dark Web challenge have managed to get millions of reviews. A UK-based YouTuber going by the name Kill’em got over 4.7 million views on the video he created. He later claimed that it was the scariest thing he had ever done. His real name is Tom Stanniland and he has unboxed several packages obtained from the Dark Web. Some of these boxes contained a satanic children’s book, a drug-stuffed teddy bear, a murder weapon (with victim’s clothes), electronics, tools and a voodoo doll.
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27 May 2019

How Stanley Kubrick shot the Apollo 11 Mission

Did men really land on the moon back in 1969? Here is some behind the scenes footage of the Moon Landing of Apollo 11 directed by Stanley Kubrick in 1969. These documents were classified Top Secret since 50 years… until now.  This very effective video was created by Fabrice Mathieu with, we suspect, his tongue as much in his cheek as ever!
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The Rain Vortex: The World’s Largest Indoor Waterfall

You have to hand it to the Singaporeans; they don’t do things in half-measures.  April saw the opening of The Rain Vortex in the island’s Changi Airport.  It’s a stunning piece of architecture and the newest addition to the airport’s Jewel extension.  The world’s largest indoor waterfall has seen a huge upsurge in people going to the airport to fly absolutely nowhere but simply to gawp at this latest man-made marvel.

Image Credit
It’s certainly gawpable.  At 40 meters (130 feet) in height, it makes the airport an attraction in itself.
What do you do, after all, when you want to replace your old carpark?  Replace it with a waterfall and forest, of course – but don’t forget the retail…

The Armillary Sphere: The Marriage of Science and Art

You may have seen an armillary sphere before. At its heart there is something recognizable – the Earth. Around it is a bewildering array of rings, centered on our planet. All have distinct scientific functions yet the armillary sphere is also a profoundly beautiful object: art and science married in harmony.

Image Credit Flickr User ElDave
Although the armillary sphere was superseded (technologically speaking at least) in the seventeenth century by the European telescope, surviving examples remain objects of fascination and wonder. The first question, of course, is what does it do? The second is invariably who invented it?

26 May 2019

The Vampire Deer

Do you see something a little strange about the deer in the picture? The Ark in Space today features the rather perplexing vampire deer. If your eyes were immediately drawn to those fangs (which even Lestat would be proud of) protruding from its mouth, then your next thought might have been that this must be some sort of freak of nature, an accident of birth.  That isn’t how deers come, is it?  For the Water Deer, otherwise and popularly known as the Vampire Deer the answer is in the affirmative. For more information and some great photos, pop over to the Ark in Space.
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Montserrat: The Modern Pompeii

June 1995 is a month that those living on the idyllic Caribbean island of Montserrat will remember for the rest of their days. The island’s volcano, on the Soufrière Hills had been dormant for many hundreds of years. Yet in that fateful month it erupted – and it hasn’t stopped since.

Much of the island was devastated. A further eruption followed in 1997. In a short time the small island nation’s capital, Plymouth, founded in Georgian times, had been buried by almost 40 feet of mud and other debris. Much of the airport and the dock were destroyed and the entire southern part of the island, an overseas territory of the United Kingdom, was rendered uninhabitable.
Amung Feedjit
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