18 July 2019

Shatili – Medieval Fortress Village in Georgia

The village of Shatili squats on the northern slope of the Greater Caucasus mountains in Georgia. Even today the area is considered isolated and remote but in centuries past the villagers could not rely on distant authorities to afford them protection. In early medieval times the villagers hit on a solution which was to shield them from their enemies for hundreds of years. They made their village in to a fortress.

The village is very near the border with Chechnya and its inhabitants were constantly at risk from incursions in to their territory from their neighbors. In the twenty first century the village is usually only accessible between the months of June and the end of September so in more feudal times something had to be done to avert death and disaster. As the village persevered, the architecture evolved. What would normally be small stone dwellings grew taller and developed in to watchtowers.

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.

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!

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.

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.

12 May 2019

Kelimutu – Indonesia’s Tri-Colored Lakes

They are located on the same volcanic peak yet each of the three crater lakes atop Kelimutu in Indonesia is a markedly different color. It is the only place on earth where this amazing color variation takes place.

 The three lakes all have different names and local people have for centuries believed that the lakes are the spiritual resting place of their ancestors. It is said the lakes change color according to the mood of the spirit – and if that is the case then the souls’ moods are constantly restless.

5 May 2019

Here Be Dragons: Amazing Statues and Sculptures of Dragons Around the World

In the Middle Ages the words hic sunt dracones (here be dragons) appeared on a number of maps to indicate dangerous or unexplored territories.  Yet dragons are still among us, dotted all over the globe.  From Europe to Asia and over to the Americas, ferocious beasts (and some a little less so…) protect our cities and temples.  Here is a collection of amazing dragon statues and sculptures from around the world.

Sneinton, England
Image Credit

28 April 2019

The Garden of the Monsters

In sixteenth century Italy the nobility would often leave testimony of their greatness through the form of religious art.  Not so Pier Francesco Orsini.  He wanted to be remembered in an entirely different way – through his Park of the Monsters. He did not want his monuments to please – he wanted them to astonish.

Tucked away in Bomarzo almost seventy kilometers from Rome, the gardens are located in a section of woodland near to the bottom of the valley in which the Orsini family castle was built.  Here, after a career as a mercenary, the latest of the Orsini line settled in to a life of middle-aged Epicureanism.  The park is perhaps holds a mirror to his imagination (or even state of mind) after a lifetime of political and social turmoil.

27 April 2019

Stellar Moves: The Story of Pluto

The hottest dance group in the universe, The Planets, has eight members but they might begrudgingly allow another entry in to the team if they can be suitably impressed.  A competition is held to find the missing planet so that eight might become nine. At home, young Pluto does not think he has what it takes, but receives encouragement from his best friend, one of his satellites you might say! 

Charmingly made by the creative team of Millivette Gonzalez, Tabia Lees and Valerie Sattazahn this will have you rooting for the little guy of the solar system all over again. Stellar Moves is – and you may not believe this such is the high standard of animation - their senior thesis short film. It was produced at Ringling College of Art and Design (if you want to study computer animation in the USA, then this is always in the top three places to go). No doubt they will be inviting the trio back to give talks to their undergraduates in a few years.

The Largest Cave in the World: Hang Son Doong

Its name translates as mountain river cave from the Vietnamese and it is easy to see why. This immense cave – the largest in the world – only became properly known to the outside world in 2010. Now, thanks to filmmaker Ryan Deboodt we can take an otherworldly voyage by ground and air in to this magnificent subterranean world. It is an extraordinary spectacle.

Iron Mountain

When an iron mountain appears on the plains of your homeland then such a threat must be met with force.  So a vast army is gathered and the monstrous trespasser is confronted.  Yet what lies within?  A single warrior hold the future in her hand.  This interesting and entertaining science fiction short was created by students at ArtFX, Europe’s premier special effects and 3D animation school.

The Forgotten Battle: The Japanese Invasion of Alaska

In the early morning of 6 June 1942, 500 Japanese soldiers landed on Kiska, one of the Aleutian Islands of Alaska.

They took the only inhabitants of the island, a ten man (and six dog) US Navy Weather Detachment by complete surprise and quickly took control of American soil.

Today, the island is one of the USA’s National Historic Landmarks: the aftermath of the Japanese invasion can still be seen on the rolling hillsides of Kiska.

It is now known as The Forgotten Battle but the invasion caused widespread outrage in 1942.  Pearl Harbor was still a fresh memory, having been attacked on December 7 of the previous year.

Yet a Japanese military force had stepped foot on American soil – and the 500 had grown to over 5,000 men.  Although Kiska and neighboring Attu (which had been overrun two days previously) were part of the distant Aleutian Islands they were, nevertheless, American. Plans were immediately drawn up to retake the island, known as the Aleutian Campaign. The campaign would not succeed for over a year and would claim many American lives.

24 April 2019

The Rise of Casinos in Macau

Macau is today the main destination for gamblers from Asia, with a healthy flux of tourists from other continents as well. The Chinese city acts as a magnet for people who enjoy casino games and often play live roulette online, especially those who can’t legally play them in their country. Players from China, South Korea, Thailand, Indonesia and other countries from Southeast Asia flock to Macau for gambling entertainment. The city acts as a hotspot for highrollers and players can afford to bet huge amounts, but is also appealing to casuals and tourists.

What does Macau have to offer?
There are many similarities between Macau and Las Vegas, the biggest gambling hubs in the world. These two cities are famous for the gambling opportunities they present to players, but also for the exotic forms of entertainment. More than 20 million people come here every year and the number is on a steady growth, so new records are expected to be set in the foreseeable future. The hotel space has also increased greatly over the last couple of years, even though it trails Las Vegas by a factor of seven.

Macau is a city of luxury and glamour, so it comes as no surprise that both the hotels and the casinos appeal to those who can afford a luxurious lifestyle. The costs are significantly higher than Las Vegas, but the city tries to offer similar forms of entertainment. A vibrant nightlife, countless shopping malls and shops selling luxury items are scattered across Macau. The main attraction remains the gambling industry and there are more than 30 major casinos welcoming an international audience.

Venetian Macao-Resort-Hotel on Cotai, the City of Dreams, the MGM Grand or the Wynn look and feel different but they are all charming in their way. Recreational players and those who don’t necessarily travel to Macau for gambling, will still get plenty of action here. Visitors should observe the dress code, which can vary from casual to formal, but otherwise they can expect a fun gambling experience.

Macau is the place to be for highrollers
Las Vegas might be well ahead of Macau in comes to hotel space, entertainment and even the number of casinos, but there is one area where the Asian gambling how reigns supreme. This is the ultimate destination for highrollers, especially those who fancy no limit games of roulette, blackjack and baccarat. Huge amounts are wagered at these tables and most casinos have at least a couple of Texas hold ‘em games running throughout the day.

The audience is diverse and tourists entering one of the glamorous casinos in Macau can expect to find everything from recreational players to grinders and big spenders. Highrollers have their own VIP tables and private rooms where they can play their favorite games away from the prying eyes of regular players. The bottom line is that Macau has something to offer to everyone who loves gambling, but can also cater for tourists who seek an entirely different form of entertainment.

Image Credit

20 April 2019

When Blooms the Coffee

Forget roses or lilies…. for millions of people around the world these are, perhaps unknowingly, the most important flowers in their lives. Without them mornings would most likely be quite different.  The urge to sleep might not be foiled, the two-glasses-of-wine-too-many pounding at the temples would not be relieved and almost certainly the amount of work-based homicides would rise.  Some people might not manifest any discernible personality at all throughout the entire day.

This is the coffee flower and upon its gentle bloom civilization as we know it depends. Not only that, it’s gorgeous.

Image Chip and Andy

14 April 2019

Moving London

Moving Cities is a cross-cultural initiative created by Jevan Chowdury manifests into an ongoing collection of short films using dance to present the now of cities and it is now a year old. The purpose since 2014 is to strengthen intercultural understanding through the arts. To celebrate the anniversary the team have returned to where it all began – London – where we can witness again the bizarre and unusually harmonious relationship dancers have with cities.

The Way Home

A mouse needs a house.  And when you have a house you need things to put in it.  The Way Home is a very sweet combination of live footage and animation which tracks the journey of our new murine friend as he gathers new belongings with which to decorate his humble abode.  The animation was created by students of Liu Song, a tutor at Hangzhou Normal University in Zhejiang Province, Eastern China.

Alien Communications

How do you finally bond with the boy that you have crushed on for years? By discovering an alien probe in the woods and making sure that he’s the first person you call about it.  Yet even then the course of true love never does run smooth.  This charming and funny coming-of-age short was created by Pennsylvania based Something's Awry Productions and stars upcoming actors Evangeline Young and Luke Baxter.

Jantar Mantar – Immense Astronomical Instrument of the Maharajahs

These remarkable constructions appear to all intents and purposes as if they could have been built to create the set for a new science fiction blockbuster set on a planet light years away from Earth. Yet these are centuries old instruments, designed and used in Jaipur, India, to explore the heavens. Their production was ordered by a great Maharaja in the early decades of the 18th century and they have been in constant use ever since.

Jai Singh II was born in 1688 and at only eleven years old became the Maharaja. He was born in to a life of extreme privilege but inherited a kingdom which was on the brink of impoverishment. The Kingdom of Amber (what would eventually become Jaipur) was in dire straits with a cavalry of less than a thousand men. Yet by the time he was in his thirties he would have turned this around and built Jantar Mantra.

6 April 2019

The Century Old Color Photographs of Prokudin-Gorsky

In 1909 a remarkable project was initiated by Russian photographer Sergey Mikhaylovich Prokudin-Gorsky. His mission was to record – in full and vibrant color – the vast and diverse Russian Empire. Here, with his story, is a selection of his amazing century old full color pictures.

Just over one hundred years ago a Russian photographer, began a remarkable project. With the blessing – and funding – of the Tsar, Nicholas II, he embarked on an extraordinary journey to capture the essence of Russia in full color photographs. Many of these pictures look as if they could have been taken yesterday, with only the costumes worn by the people captured in their moment of time betraying the age of the work. The first shows two men crossing a small river.
Amung Feedjit
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