Archive for July, 2010

Venice – on Climate Change

Posted: July 21, 2010 in Info News

You will notice St. Marks Square is now knee-deep under sea water. See the coffee tables half-submerged.

See what climatic changes have done to Venice …

Sunset at the North Pole

Posted: July 21, 2010 in Info News
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sunset at the noth pole

This is the sunset at the North Pole with the moon at its closest point last week.

A scene you will probably never get to see in person,
so take a moment and enjoy God at work at the North Pole.

And, you also see the sun below the moon.

1) Col de Turini, France

Situated more than 1 mile above sea level, Col de Turini is a mountain pass situated in south of France in the Alps. It’s also part of a 20 miles rally stage of the Monte Carlo Rally of WRC, which combines 34 challenging  hairpins and long stretches where cars top 111 mph. 

It is one of the most exciting roads on Earth.  The pass was featured in the very first episode of Top Gear series 10,
when the presenters went in search of the greatest driving road  in the world. At its highest point, Col de Turini  is 1607m high. In the north, the Col de Turini starts  with a dazzling series of hairpins. Finally, we end up riding in a gorge, with a wild river on the left, and a steep rock-wall on the right.

2) Stelvio Pass, Italy

Located in the Eastern Alps in Italy, the Stelvio Pass Road connects the Valtellina with Merano and the upper Adige valley. This mountain road pass is situated at an altitude of around 1.7 miles above sea level. The road is particularly challenging to drive due to the presence of 48 hairpin bends, with the road becoming exceedingly narrow at some points, and some very steep inclines.  With a height of 2757 meters, it is the highest paved mountain pass  in the Eastern Alps and the second highest in the Alps, after the 2770 m high Col de lIseran. While it might not be  as dangerous  as the other routes, it is certainly breathtaking. The  toughest and most spectacular drives are from the Prato side. The mountain pass is  one of the best continuous hairpin routes in the world.

3) Leh Manali Highway, India:

The Leh-Manali Highway is situated in India and spans over a length of 297 miles among the Himalaya mountain range.  It passes through some of the worlds highest mountain passes in the world, with a mean altitude in between 2 to 3 miles above sea level. The road is one of the most complicated and challenging roads  in the world, with snow, landslides and terrain making the journey exceedingly difficult for anything other than a capable four wheel drive vehicle. The road was built and is maintained by the Indian Army.

4) The Puxi Viaduct, Shanghai:

This is one of Shanghai’s busiest and largest interchange that caters to thousands of vehicles every hour. It has five levels of bridges that help connect two of the cities busiest highways, directing vehicles without much fuss.

5) The Judge Harry Pregerson Interchange, LA

The Judge Harry Pregerson Interchange is situated in Los Angeles, CA and is one of the most complicated interchanges in the country. It permits entry and exit in all directions between the I-105 and the I-110. It’s a stack interchange with layers of bridges making a complicated network of roads allowing smooth flow of traffic though both the interstate highways.  This interchange was opened in 1993. It is a 4 level interchange  with a restricted access lane that can be used by high-occupancy vehicles.

6) The Road of death, Bolivia

The North Yungas Road (also known as the El Camino de la Muerte, (Road of Death in Spanish) is a 43 mile road connecting La Paz and Coroico, 35 miles northeast of La Paz in Bolivia. Famous for its extreme danger, it was christened as the world most dangerous road, in 1995 by the Inter-American Development Bank. The single-lane width, extreme drop offs, and lack of guardrails, only add to the danger lurking behind. Further, the fog and rain can make visibility poor and the road surface muddy, loosening rocks from the hillsides above. It is estimated that 200 to 300 travelers are killed per year on this treacherous road. Although, the old North Yungas Road is  much less used by traffic nowadays, an increasing number of adventure bikers  travel it for the thrills.

7) Russia’s Lena Highway, the Highway from Hell:

The last 600 miles of the Russian Federal Highway from Moscow city to the Siberian city of Yakutsk is called the Lena Highway. This bizarre road runs parallel to the River Lena on the final leg to Yakutsk. As if the road of mud was not a big problem, Yakutsk is considered one of the the coldest cities on earth, with January temperatures averaging -45 F. But surprisingly,it is only in the summertime that the road becomes impassable. Whenever it rains in summer, the road virtually becomes a slush pit making it impossible for the vehicles to pass through it. This being the only road to Yakutsk makes the traffic heavy and  even more complicated to negotiate.

8. Gravelly Hill Interchange, Birmingham, UK:

Gravelly Hill Interchange, nicknamed �the Spaghetti Junction,is the 6th junction  of the M6 motorway, where it joins
the A38 Aston Expressway in Birmingham, UK. The name Spaghetti Junction was coined by Roy Smith, a journalist from the Birmingham Evening Mail in the 1970s. The areal view of the junction sure tells us why it is called the Spaghetti Junction. Spanning an impressive 30 acres, the junction serves 18 routes  and includes 4 km of slip roads. Across 6 different levels,there are 559 concrete columns, reaching up to 24.4 m in height. The engineers had to elevate 13.5 miles of the motorway to accommodate 2 railway lines, 3 canals, and 2 rivers. It’s the most complicated junction in United Kingdom.

9) Russian-Georgian Military Mountain Roads:



When they are not covered in sheets of snow, then it’s the thick, grueling mud. These remote highways would probably swallow your car in the snow or mud. Though neither affect the locals who drive  their Lada cars down it regularly. Situated in the Caucasus mountains, these roads are to be tackled only by the Russian military  which probably explain why they lack any official designation. The harsh surface, along with the problems posed by snow,  makes this road almost inaccessible during winter.  The seldom used road connects Russia and Georgia and assumes of strategic
importance for both countries.

10) Guoliang Tunnel Road, China

The magnificent tunnel road in the Taihang mountains was built by 13 local villagers headed by their chief, Shen Mingxin, and took around five years to finish. Many villagers lost their lives in accidents during construction of the tunnel but the others continued relentlessly. The tunnel was opened to traffic on May 1st, 1977.The 1200 meter long tunnel is about 5 meters high and 4 meters wide.It is located in the Henan Province of China.The Guoliang tunnel is another addition to most dangerous and complicated roads to travel. Dubbed as the road that does not tolerate any mistakes,most accidents in the tunnel are primarily caused by the neglect of the traveler. Nonetheless, it is an extremely scenic route and is a key destination on the Chinese tourism map.

11) Taroko Gorge Road in Taiwan (Chungheng):

The Taroko Gorge Road in Taiwan is another mountain route made by carving out rocks, like the Guoliang Tunnel road. The road passes through the Taroko national park alongside the Taroko Gorge. The road is an appeal to the tourist, as well as a mode  of transportation of marble found abundantly in the Gorge.

12) Pasubio (Vicenza), Northern Italy:

This is a hiking trail made out of an ancient road trail. The road serves mostly for motorcycles and certain types of car. The road is dangerously narrow and slippery, spanning many cliff faces and tunnels with stunning scenery, making this a popular destination for adventurous travelers.

13) The Halsema Highway in the Philippines:

The Halsema Highway runs through the Central Cordillera Valley in Philippines. It is also called the Baguio-Bontoc Road. The road is approximately 150 miles long and is mostly unpaved. The road runs through  steep cliff faces which barely have any guard rails or other safety devices installed. The narrow roads and steep cliff faces make the road almost impassable during the rainy season. It’s known for the rock slides and mud slides and buses driving dangerously fast on its narrow passage. There are plenty of accidents and many overturned buses on a yearly basis. There are sheer drop offs of more than 1000 feet without a safety guard rail. This route is for sure one of the most dangerous roads in the world.

14) Trollstigen in Norway:

The Fjord in Norway has many roads that attract tourists. The most notable among them is the Trollstigen which is a series of stunning roads with a breathtaking view of a few waterfalls.The word Trollstigen means the Troll Ladder. The road, though not lacking in safety standards, takes a lot of concentration and driving skill to conquer. The vertigo-inducing steep inclines,intense set of hairpins and narrow roads leave no margin for error. However, once you are at the top, the view is just breathtaking. The narrow road leaves us with extremely few possibilities for vehicles to pass each other. The frequent rockfalls in the region have resulted in some upgrades to the road in 2005. At the top, there is a viewing balcony which overlooks the road and the Stigfossen waterfall, a 320 m long waterfall which falls down
the mountain side.

15) Los Caracoles Pass in Andes:

This road passes though the Andreas Mountains on the way between Chile and Argentina. Los Caracoles is a series of hard switchbacks on an extremely steep incline. The road has many steep inclines and hairpins without any safety guard rails. The road is covered with snow for the most part of the year. The snow together with nature of the road requires extreme patience and skill to negotiate. However, this road is maintained pretty regularly and does not have a morbid accident record. Cargo trucks and even double-Decker tourist buses travel through the road on a daily basis, and it’s quite an experience.

16) Iroha-zaka winding road, Japan:

Iroha-zaka winding road is the main route that connects central Nikko and Oku-Nikko. The First Iroha-zaka is used to come down,and the  Second Iroha-zaka to go up. Each corner has an ancient Japanese alphabet, and you will see it in alphabetical order starting from I-ro-ha and hence the name. The road was used by ascetics in the past. The number of curves on the road was 48, matching the 48 letters of the ancient Japanese alphabet. Therefore, the tourist guides started to call the slope Iroha-zaka. After the construction of the second Iroha-zaka there were 50 curves, but 2 were decreased to remain corresponding with the 48 letters.  How’s that for complicated?

17) Van Zyls Pass, Namibia:

Van Zyls Pass, or the DR3703, located in Namibia, is a classic extreme road. It is not exactly a road, just a route made over the mountain by the travelers over time. The outrageously steep pass provides a pure adrenaline rush, but the route that leads up to it is a 10-15km of tough driving where one has to dodge their way through rocks, boulders, badlands and ravines. At the end, the road descends to the ancient glacial valley called Marienfluss valley, which is one of the planet’s most beautiful sights that await only the brave-hearted.

18) El Espinazo Del diablo, Mexico:

El Espinazo Del diablo or The devils backbone is the mountain pass in Durango, Mexico. It’s about 5 hours long, and it was the only road from Durango to Mazatlan Sinaloa for a long time. We have heard many cautionary  tales about crossing the devils backbone, El Espinoza Del Diablo, But the road is exceptionally well maintained and  there are many cautionary signs marking most of the hazards. Of course these are in Spanish, so keep an electronic translator
or a dictionary, handy. Pull out spots are frequent, so you can easily stop anytime you want. There are some tight curves, too. So tight that a truck needs all  of the road to make it around. These hinder potential two way traffic
in these regions. However, stunning rock formations rising around you and the lush, green vistas stretching on for impossible distances make every inch of the drive breathtaking.

19) Lysebotn Road, Norway


Posted: July 17, 2010 in Info News

For the vast majority of moviegoers, the Hollywood summer of 2010 will be remembered with great fondness for Toy Story 3. For me, writer/director Christopher Nolan’s mind-manipulating, brain-bending Inception is THE defining movie of the season, if not the entire year. It’s one of those ultra rare movies that actually lives up to the hype and even surpasses the most fanatical expectations.

Because my full enjoyment of the movie was slightly diminished by a Hollywood review that revealed and spoiled a crucial detail about one of the female characters, I won’t provide a detailed plot summary here. Suffice it to say that there’s so much more to Inception than was hinted at in the trailer. Yes, one character’s mind is the scene of a crime, and yes, the crime’s perpetrators are a team of specialists played by Joseph Gordon Levitt, Ken Watanabe, Dileep Rao, Tom Hardy, Ellen Page and led by Leonardo DiCaprio. But this is merely the setup. The specifics of this trippy, breathtaking ride through the mazes of the mind will surely be the most intellectually absorbing 145 minutes you’ll spend in a movie theater this year and for many years to come.

Leonardo DiCaprio stars in Inception


I can’t think of any other film which enthralled its viewers not mainly with its grade A cast, pixel-perfect visual effects and other flawless production values, but with its provocative IDEAS. Though only theoretical, the assertions which writer/director Chris Nolan makes in Inception about dreams and the subconscious all make sense, because he’s able to relate these to familiar, common experiences. Most of us have experienced what it’s like to fall from a height in a dream (a key plot point in the film), and we’ve all woken up from a dream that felt like it unfolded not just over a few hours, but over several days. In terms of inspiring viewers to want to know more about a particular topic, Inception will probably do for dreaming what the Indiana Jones movies did for archeology, and what The Da Vinci Code did for Leonardo Da Vinci. This is no small achievement, especially for a film which sprang from the mind of a filmmaker whose greatest prior success was The Dark Knight, the top-grossing movie ever made about a comic book superhero. Thanks to Inception, there will probably be thousands of young folk out there who will now want to devote their lives to studying dreams and the subconscious.

Also praiseworthy is the manner in which Nolan handles all his tricky exposition onscreen. The discussions about dreams never become dull because the characters use words and analogies that are easy to understand. Also helpful are the mesmerizing performances of the actors, who deliver their loaded lines quickly but efficiently, with no desire to waste the audience’s valuable time. These and the tightness of the editing are the reasons why Inception, even though it clocks in at 2 hours and 25 minutes, does not feel a minute too long or too short. That’s all the more stunning when you experience the film’s white-knuckle climax and see how Nolan and his editor successfully stretched six seconds of real time into a 15-minute tour de force involving an army of snow mobiles, a corridor with zero gravity, and an old man whose last moments on earth recall the finale of another mind-bending movie classic, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Was that a dream or is it real? This is the question that you will repeatedly ask yourself as Inception unravels. The events depicted in the movie aside, Inception is, thankfully, very very real. Thank you, Christopher Nolan, for sharing this dream of a movie with us, and for assuring movie lovers everywhere that there’s still hope for those who constantly dream of better movies to behold during their waking hours.

Rating: ..  5 out of 5 OT Hours

data as of February, 2010