Archive for January, 2010

House in Pozuelo de Alarcón by A-cero Architects

30 Jan

A-cero Architects designed the house in Pozuelo de Alarcón, in Madrid, Spain.

Full description after the photos….


House in Pozuelo de Alarcón by A-cero Architects

The house is hided behind a harmonious sculptural set of curved walls made of stone dark granite and marble travertino that seem to emerge from a big water plate arranged in the house entry.

In addition to the beauty of this structure, it offers a high grade of privacy and tact between the exterior (street) and the house.  Other more, this structure goes to the back part, as a front, where is a natural, clear and kind scenery.

This block disposition and the house plot (a descending slope towards a lake) are used to distribute the house in two plants: a high floor, with exterior access, and a low floor. Both of them are looking to a wide terrace with a pergola and to the garden house.

In the high plant, we find a very wide and luminous hall provided with natural light for top skylights, and with two plates of waters dominated by two bronze lions. In addition it is used to lead to the kitchen, wine vault, dining room, lounge, office – library, and to the most private area: the principal bedroom, dressing-room, bath, interior swimming pool and small gymnasium. Also we find the stairs that descend to the low floor where there are a games lounge and a movies room, kids and guests bedrooms and the service area with two bedrooms in suite and with a wide area for the housework. All the house rooms are provided with wide large windows in a dark safety glass. These windows (that also works as doors) and a lot of house elements are completely computerized and motorized: lighting, safety, blinds, air conditioning … everything is centralized.

The high floor communicates with a terrace. In the lounge the access to outside is made by a long large window that provides a continuity sensation from the interior space to outside.

This terrace is covered by a pergola made of an aluminium structure that supports the sculptural premeditation of the building. In one of the side parts of the garden, there is a relaxation area with a pond of Buddhist inspiration.

Photographer: Ferran Silva (A-cero)

Visit the A-cero Architects website – here.



Flickr to double its Commons collection

30 Jan
Jayel sez, "Flickr staff Cris Stoddard has commented on the Indicommons blog that the Flickr Commons will double the number of participating institutions this year from 31 to 60 GLAMs (art galleries, libraries, archives, and museums) this year alone. I believe that the Commons is Flickr's singularly most important cultural contribution to the world. And it doubling in size means more of the world's photographic heritage and history will be shared with its citizens."

The Commons: Vital, virile, virtual and viral


The Slate Walloped the State in Social Media [Infographics]

30 Jan

Two events dominated discussion last week: the unveiling of Apple's iPad and President Obama's State of the Union address. Leading up to last Wednesday, many wondered if Apple's event would overshadow Obama's. On social media, that was certainly the case.

Monitoring Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, blogs and the rest, social media analysts at Viralheat found over half a million mentions of the two happenings. Those mentions were overwhelmingly related to Apple's new tablet computer.

As the infographic explains, however, even if Apple had the buzz, Obama brought the honey. Generally, 42% of Apple's mentions were positive and 46% were indifferent, whereas 65% of his mentions approved of Obama's address and only 19% were indifferent.

On one hand it's surprising that the iPad generated so much more discussion than the State of the Union address, but in a sense it wasn't a fair fight. Whereas Obama's address is a routine, annual affair, the hype leading up to Apple's event suggested it was going to be one of a kind. Perhaps that's why the internet reacted so overwhelmingly with ":|" when the familiar-looking device was unveiled. [Mashable]


Privacy: Managing the New Currency of the Social Web

29 Jan

privacy imageMollie Vandor is the Product Manager for and Media Director for Girls in Tech LA. You can find her on Twitter and on her blog, where she writes about the web, the world and what it’s like to be a geek chic chick.

The privacy policy might seem like just another box you have to check when signing up for a site. But in today’s web world, privacy is much more than just another barrier to registration, and it will only become more important as we move into the social, semantic world of web 3.0.

Privacy is the core currency of the social web, and like any other type of currency system there’s an exchange rate. In this case, the equation boils down to how much privacy the user is willing to give up in exchange for the features and functionality a site provides. It’s a tricky equation, and the answer varies for every user and for every site. But, with targeted advertising, connected social networks and constant lifestreaming becoming more mainstream by the day, privacy is poised to become one of the core issues that defines the relationship between users and websites. Understanding how and why that relationship works — or doesn’t work — is going to become a hallmark of both smart sites and smart users.

The Common Ground

Like most transactions, privacy on the web is generally governed by a contract, often known as the “privacy policy.” There is some boilerplate language you can expect to see in pretty much every privacy policy on the web. Most sites will save your cookies, track your IP address, and store your login, registration and contact info. Despite the “Big Brother is watching” fears sometimes associated with words like “tracking” and “cookies,” you can rest assured that most publishers respect the fact that with great tracking power comes great responsibility. So, they’re using this information to serve up more appropriate ads, help you log back in if you forget your password, and make sure that they’re legally covered in case you turn out to be a 12-year-old kid in a place you’re not supposed to be surfing.

Publishers are generally pretty cautious in how they use this information, and sites are certainly learning from the very public battles web giants like Facebook have fought when their users feel uncomfortable with their privacy policies. Of course, there are different comfort levels for different users on different types of sites, particularly in the social media sphere. Although many privacy policies start with the boilerplate blah-blah-blah, the modern social network seems to fall into one of three categories when it comes to crafting their particular balance of privacy and functionality.

The Social Network: Share & Share a Lot

Since the Friendster days, social networks have walked a fine line between protecting a person’s personal information and helping their members meet each other. Recently, with the rise of real-time social search and the development of entire app-based ecosystems, that line has become even blurrier as social networks struggle to stay both open and private at the same time.

It’s in the best interests of sites like Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn to make their users feel safe and secure in sharing their information. The more they can convince you to feel comfortable sharing within their walled-off networks, the more incentive there is for other people to use their particular platform to stay up to date on what you’re up to. However, it’s also in these sites’ best interests to keep connections flowing between members, developers, and the major search engines.

Social networks have always had a vested interest in helping members find each other, often by making certain types of information publicly searchable by default on their sites. There’s also a relatively new and growing demand for social network statuses to show up in third-party search engines, and that demand will only continue to grow as more and more customers come to expect everything on the web to arrive in real-time.

These sites have a good reason for wanting to open their data up to search engines now, and they are expecting that consumers will be more receptive to these real-time deals. After all, if you want to see Facebook updates in your Google results, you’re going to have to accept that, at some point, Google had to index those updates. And Facebook — amongst other sites — seems to be banking on the idea that you might be willing to let that wall down a bit in order to gain those Google results.

As a result, many major social networking sites have recently started splitting the information you give them into different categories, some of which is considered public by default, and some of which isn’t. This distinction appears in privacy policies from MySpace to Meebo, where categories of information tend to be broken up into personal, profile information, and publicly posted content and activity. Users can then control who sees these different categories by defining different groups of connections with different levels of access.

Regardless of the site, these groups all start at public and end at totally private, which is nothing new. However, the definition of “public” has changed. Whereas “public” was once considered to mean “open to all users of a social networking site,” it has now become synonymous with “the entire Internet.” This adds a whole new layer of people with access to the privacy pyramid.

A similar shift in privacy expectations is also occurring as social networks become more open to third-party developers who seek to link their applications to the rich networks of data that large social networks have to offer. With 14.3 million users allowing the Mobsters app to access their MySpace data, and 69 million users playing Farmville, it’s clear that people are willing to open up their profiles and forgo some of their privacy in exchange for the services a third-party app developer has to offer. That’s why many sites are now adding clauses allowing them to connect third-party developers to your personal profile information — provided you approve that connection.

LinkedIn’s privacy policy is a perfect example of the balance many sites are trying to strike between encouraging third-party development and protecting your privacy. It explains that the site will “enable you to share your information and communicate with other Users, or provide (usually at your option) your personal details to third parties offering combined services with LinkedIn.” By putting the onus on the user, LinkedIn and sites like it allow the millions of users who want to exchange their information with developers to do so, while keeping the default settings at a more conservative level of privacy.

The Communication Platform: For Everyone’s Eyes Only

everyone imageTumblr, Yelp, and Twitter are all social sites with distinct characteristics and uses. But when it comes to privacy policies, they all share similar struggles and similar solutions, making them more alike than you’d think. At their core, all three types of sites share the same purpose — to help the user broadcast information to a network of (presumably) interested people, many of whom the user may not know, or may not know very well.

Unlike the social networks discussed above, these sites don’t have to worry so much about creating different categories of connections, since they’re already assuming that you’re likely using them to broadcast on a one-to-many basis. So, these sites tend to protect only the most private of your personal information by default. For example, on Twitter, the standard privacy settings make a user’s name, bio and tweets publicly available, and the privacy policy clearly states that “Most of the information you provide to us is information you are asking us to make public.” However, geotagging is one of the few features that is disabled by default for all Twitter users, meaning that you must actively give the company permission to annotate your content with your location. Clearly, Twitter has decided that most users will accept their content being made public by default, but that location is something their users are not willing to exchange so easily.

Yelp does something similar in that their privacy policy posits that all content you create on Yelp is public, but they do promise to protect your most personally-identifying information when sharing that public content across the web. Yelp’s privacy policy says, “When we distribute your submissions to third parties, we typically include your account name (but not your personal information unless you include your personal information in your submissions).”

Tubmlr takes a similar approach, promising to protect your personally-identifying information while also warning the user that “if you submit information to ‘chat rooms,’ ‘forums’ or ‘message boards’ such information becomes public information, meaning that you lose any privacy rights you might have with regards to that information.” By refraining from specifically defining what a “forum” or “message board” means in the Tumblr universe, the company puts the burden on the user to figure out where their information will be public and where they can expect it to remain private. With monthly unique visits in the millions, it seems that Tumblr’s users don’t mind that very much. Clearly, the users creating content on these communication platforms are expecting an exchange rate that favors finding friends, followers, readers and reviewers to maintaining personal privacy.

Ultimately, these communication platforms do rely on that particular attitude towards privacy being a core attribute of their main user base, and so they provide policies that allow for a lot of information sharing, streaming and searching by default. Of course, users can always restrict the flow of that information by setting their profiles to private or protecting their status updates, but the reality is that for sites like these, it’s often as much in the user’s interest to broadcast to many as it is for the site itself.

The Location-Based App: Where You At?

Like communication platforms, location-based apps have a bit of a luxury when it comes to putting their privacy policies together. They know their users are already open to the idea of giving up a certain amount of privacy in exchange for a certain level of connectivity. After all, why else would you use Foursquare, Loopt, Gowalla, or any other service that exists for the sole purpose of sharing your location with friends? The tricky thing for location-based services is figuring out how to make users feel safe sharing something as private as location with an entire network of people, while also allowing those users to do the things they signed up for in the first place.

That’s why these apps tend to be the most conservative when it comes to the privacy exchange rate — their very functionality hinges on users exchanging information. Loopt explains it well when they write “Loopt uses your personally identifiable, registration, profile, and location information to operate, maintain, and provide to you and other Users all of the features and functionality of the Loopt Services.” Users give information to get access to the service. If a user chooses to disclose less information, they receive fewer benefits of the service.

For example, in Gowalla’s case, the site automatically adds you to the feeds of a particular location when you check in there. Should you choose to turn that feature off, Gowalla says, “your check-ins will not be credited in the spot feed nor will you appear in Top 10 lists amongst other things.” Similarly, you can’t become the mayor of a place on Foursquare unless you upload a profile picture.

Users looking to make the most of a particular location-based app are also increasingly turning to third-party services like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace to share their statuses with their entire social networks. This presents another privacy policy challenge to these sites, as they must address the way user information is shared outside the relatively close confines of their protected, proprietary networks.

Foursquare recently revised its privacy settings to allow users to specify very specific kinds of information to be sent to each site they connect their account to. A user can specify different levels of privacy for their friends on Facebook and their followers on Twitter. They also built a caveat into their privacy policy that allows them to share certain pieces of profile information in search results — both within the network and outside of it. They couched this caveat in the promise that sharing the really personal stuff would still be up to the user, since that information would only be viewable by the user’s friends. Loopt also puts the onus on the user to dictate their own privacy policy by specifying that Loopt will only share personally identifiable information with third parties based on the user’s personal settings.

The location-based apps expect their users — or at least their power users — to be willing to give up a certain level of privacy in exchange for features and functionality. The amount of people doing so tends to be much higher on these sites than it does on the traditional social network. However, these location-based sites also put users in control of the exchange rate, allowing them to easily manage the publicity of their updates and information.


Ultimately, it is up to users to take that kind of control on all social sites. The only truly effective privacy policy is the one a user sets for himself by being conscious of the value of privacy as currency and making informed decisions about these exchange rates. And while that consciousness starts by understanding why different sites treat privacy the way they do, it ends with the user making educated choices about what to share and where to share it. The best privacy policies are not written by coders, copywriters or corporate lawyers. They’re the ones observed by people who know what they want from the web, and what they’re willing to give up to get it. That makes privacy a much more important issue than that innocuous little checkbox seems to imply.

More social media resources from Mashable:

- Why Facebook’s Privacy Changes are Detrimental to Users
- HOW TO: Use Facebook Privacy Controls on Your Fan Page
- How Social Media Creates Offline Social Good
- Zen and the Art of Twitter: 4 Tips for Productive Tweeting
- 3 Ways Educators Are Embracing Social Technology
- 5 Ways Foursquare is Changing the World

Images courtesy of iStockphoto, gulfix, exdez

Reviews: Facebook, Foursquare, Friendster, Google, Gowalla, LinkedIn, Meebo, MySpace, Tumblr, Twitter, Yelp, iStockphoto

Tags: facebook, foursquare, gowalla, linkedin, loopt, myspace, online privacy, privacy, privacy policy, social media, social media privacy, social networks, tumblr, twitter


“Utopia” Comes to Sundance [NSFW] [Utopia]

29 Jan

This week an intriguing new film, Utopia in Four Movements, screened at Sundance. It explores the way people in the past imagined the future. We can't wait for it to bust out of the festival circuit.

So far only a few handfuls of people have seen the film (a "live documentary," screened with performances by San Francisco musician David Cerf and Brooklyn band the Quavers).

Utopia looks at various disparate seeming images and issues — Lenin's revolution, the J,G. Ballard/George Romero-like abandonment of the world's largest shopping mall, Esperanto and nudist communes.

Peggy Orenstein touched on the movie in a recent article in The New York Times Magazine, "The Coast of Dystopia," about how economic and cultural pressures were moving California out of the "utopia" category:

This month, Sam Green, a documentarian who, like me, is a Midwestern transplant to the Bay Area, will screen "Utopia in Four Movements" at the Sundance Film Festival. The movie explores early-20th-century faith in a perfectable, socially engineered future - for instance, that adopting Esperanto as a universal language would put an end to war. "In general, that joy in imagining the future doesn't happen anymore," Green told me. "People can only envision it as a continuation of current problems. And in California, rather than having this fantastic notion of what could be, people are now just trying to hang on. It's such a lowering of ambition and expectation."

Here is a whimsical interview with Green — whose The Weather Underground was nominated for an Academy Award — on The Rumpus, and here a video interview with the director on the world's largest shopping mall.

Here is a slide show of images.

Utopia, of course, means "nowhere" or "not place" in Greek, so it's no surprise that this impulse for perfection doesn't always end well.

Images courtesy Utopia in Four Movements


The 19 most complex and dangerous roads in the world

28 Jan

Sure, it feels fantastic to traverse the vast stretches of the best roads in the world via adrenaline pumping speeds. How about a complicated road, one that twists and turns, or has downright congested traffic, or unforgiving terrain? They might give you a headache, but it sure feels good when you’ve conquered them. Here is the  list of the world’s most complicated and dangerous roads. Some of these complicated mountain passes can be dangerous if not negotiated with utmost caution, while others are complicated sets of roads and bridges, erected to ensure a streamlined flow of traffic at busy junctions. Without further ado, we present our top 19 list…

1) Col de Turini, France



photo credits : 1,2

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



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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 l’Iseran. 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


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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

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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


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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

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Photo credits:  1, 2

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’s 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



Photo credits: 1,2

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


Photo credit: 1

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



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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




Photo credits: 1,2

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)

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Taroko Gorge Road in Taiwan (Chungheng)

Photo credit: 1

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

Pasubio (Vicenza), Northern Italy1

Pasubio (Vicenza), Northern Italy2

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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

Halsema Highway1

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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

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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

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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

Irohazaka 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 Zyl’s Pass, Namibia

Van Zyl pass

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Van Zyl’s 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

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El Espinazo del diablo

Photo credits: 1, 2

El Espinazo Del diablo or ‘The devil’s 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 devil’s 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

Lysebotn Road

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This is probably the most fun road you can travel on four wheels, and then maybe on your two legs checking out the various hiking trails leading from the area. In fact, this might be considered the most breathtaking place in Europe. It all starts with the narrow road up the steep walls of the Lysefjord, Norway. It has 27 switchbacks and a 1.1 km long tunnel at the bottom, with 3 switchbacks inside. The last 30 km of Lysebotn road is a true roller-coaster! It’s narrow but has a perfect surface, winding left and right all the time. If you happen to ride a motorcycle in Norway, then this is the road you simply cannot afford to miss!


The CG House by GLR Arquitectos / Gilberto L. Rodríguez

28 Jan

GLR Arquitectos / Gilberto L. Rodríguez have completed the CG House in Monterrey, Mexico.

Full description after the photos….


The CG House by GLR Arquitectos / Gilberto L. Rodríguez

The CG House rests on a generous 17,250 sq. ft. site adjacent to the Sierra Madre mountains. While the site’s steep slope presented a number of design challenges, the dramatic views it afforded of the city of Monterrey provided the architect with a number of opportunities as well.

From the street, two massive oak tress rise to provide privacy and welcome shade to the swimming pool terrace above. Due to the sloping nature of the site, a massive, exposed concrete wall defines and encloses the swimming pool and garden areas of the house and sets the tone for the design of the house itself, which is clad in brown/black volcanic stone, IPE wood, white stucco and steel.

A wide exterior granite staircase lead to an intimate garden of palm trees. Directly ahead is a 12 feet-high dark oak door whose grand scale offers a hint of the dramatic scale of this 10,650 sq. ft. home that lies beyond, beginning with an entry foyer whose 15 feet-high walls are adorned with silver leaf. A massive sculptural piece of coconut roots, steel and rocks was designed specifically for this space.

The living room, as well as the dining and family rooms, all have large windows with views of the garden, allowing light to penetrate deep within the spaces as well as creating a seamless interplay between the interior and exterior spaces. Also, within the house, subtle level changes between rooms not only add interest to the interior layout but these changes also reflect the site’s topography.

In the private areas of the home, which is articulated through a long corridor, the occupants have access to a second garden, located at the highest point on the building site, which is less formal and more recreational.

Project Team: Enrique Salas, Tomas Güereña, and Felipe González
Photography: Jorge Taboada

Visit the website of GLR Arquitectos – here.




Is Avatar Too Realistic For Its Own Good? [Rant]

21 Jan

Chinese writers condemned Avatar, a branch of the Russian communist party condemned it, the Vatican has weighed in, and other groups are endlessly debating its political meaning. What makes people respond so strongly to this flick? It's the realism.

But how can such a blatantly fantastical movie be realistic? This is a movie about blue cat people who ride dragons and bond with six-legged horses. The whole thing takes place on the moon Pandora, whose lush mega-forest is actually wired up with synapses so that the moon can think like a giant brain. Plus, one of the most memorable features of Pandora, other than its bizarre flora and fauna, are its floating mountains that hover inexplicably over a weird magnetic anomaly that's never explained.

Nevertheless, this is realism of the highest order. I'm not just talking about the special effects, which are as close to photorealistic as you can get with computer animation. I'm also referring to the extreme levels of detail in the way director James Cameron presents this world. He's said in interviews that he thought about everything from handles on boxes (they need to fold in to get through narrow doorways on spaceships) to how the six-legged horses would breathe (through airholes in their necks). Pandora and the human military base aren't just vaguely sketched-in concept art that we view in backgrounds. They are vividly realized, and our brains rarely have to fill in little details to flesh out the fantasy of being on another world. All those details are already there.

Avatar's realism goes beyond visual effects, however. While Cameron's dialog in this film may not be the most complex, his depiction of relationships between the characters is. Cameron easily evokes the kinds of relationships that form between soldiers on a base in a hostile land, and between scientists on a dangerous assignment. We immediately understand why Sully is loyal to the military at first, and it's easy to understand why he's able to fit into Na'vi society so easily: He's a trained soldier, and the Na'vi respect warriors. Sully and his comrades come across less as epic heroes and more as the confused, angry, lustful, and occasionally righteous humans we meet every day. They may find themselves in extraordinary circumstances, but they're not megabeings on a date with destiny.

It's worth noting that Cameron has long been a master of bringing a believably awkward human realism to his science fiction scenarios. The comraderie in Aliens between the marines, full of dirty jokes and bullet-riddled bonding, was hardly the stuff of outer-space adventure heroism, but it worked. People who've seen the movie years ago still remember both the minor and major characters because their tight-knit unit was so vividly portrayed. The family relationships in Terminator 2 were similarly believable. John Connor is a squeaky-voiced geek and his mother an unstable badass - even when they tangle with unbelievably futuristic robots, we never forget the relatably mundane details of John's life as a foster kid whose coolest possession is a dirt bike.

Given the intensity with which people have responded to Avatar, it would seem that Cameron got his wish for a fully-immersive fantasy that felt real. The problem - or maybe the benefit - is that when something feels so real, people react to it much more strongly. Instead of enjoying the movie as fantasy, they find themselves asking, "What if this were real? What would it say about my life?"

It's this kind of realism that has inspired Chinese people evicted from their homes to call the plight of the Na'vi their own. It's what turned representatives of the Vatican into film critics, evaluating whether this piece of fiction undermined Christianity with its portrayal nature-worshiping aliens. And it's what inspired me to write an essay several weeks ago about the race politics of a story about blue people. Even though we are well aware Avatar is fiction, all of us are behaving as if the events in this movie are woven into the fabric of our real lives.

If anything, Avatar has reminded us that realism isn't just the purview of drama, or even of science fiction that bends over backwards to get physics right. Realism is in the details of worldbuilding. It's about making a fictional space look as messy and complicated as our homes and neighborhoods do. Remember that scene in Avatar when the science team is fleeing the military to a remote lab, and when they arrive things are kind of broken and dusty and there's crappy food in the fridge? That felt like a more realistic environment than most of the "real life" spacious city apartments I've seen in dozens of so-called realistic dramas set on Earth in the present day.

Perhaps, for this reason, it was too easy to imagine ourselves into the world of Avatar. Maybe we are overreacting to what is after all a fictional story. Or maybe this film is a reminder that stories, when told realistically enough, can change people's minds and lives. And that isn't always a bad thing.


Nebulas And Neighboring Galaxies, Photographed From A Garden Shed [Space Porn]

21 Jan

Office worker Peter Shah took this picture by sticking an eight-inch telescope through the roof of his garden shed. He tells the Mirror, "It just goes to show that a window to the universe is there for all of us."

The above image of the NGC6960, the Veil Nebula, was taken using an ORION OPTICS UK AG8 Astrograph telescope. On his website he has a picture of his telescope with gold mylar wrapped around the pier, in a DIY fix for the fact that his concrete pier kept heating up during the day and then discharging the heat at night. Wrapping it in mylar solved this problem and cleared up his images.

Shah has a self-published book of his photos out called Mirror Image, which you can order through his site. Here are a few of the other amazing images he's posted. [Daily Mirror]

IC1318, in Cygnus

M42, the Great Orion Nebula

Ngc6888 The Crescent nebula

Sh2-115, in Cygnus


Polar Bear Makes a Friend, Photos by Norbert Rosing

20 Jan

Near Hudson Lake in Manitoba, German wildlife photographer Norbert Rosing spotted a polar bear coming near his sled dogs. He took pictures of what he thought would be the end of his dogs.
Apparently the bear came back every night for a week to play with the dogs.

Via [Now That's Nifty]