G'day folks,

This modern sundial uses ancient methods to tell time and date perfectly. 

 The Calendar Sundial in Galway, Ireland tells both the time of day and the month of the year. Located in Brigit’s Garden, a local park, the Calendar Sundial, built in 2006, is the biggest in Ireland. Its five-foot spike of bog oak, situated near the center of a stone circle, casts a shadow that can be used to determine much information with beautifully simple techniques. 


Elliptical lines carved in the stone show the passage of the shadow during the different months of the year, while the length of the shadow determines the time of day.

The Calendar Sundial can show the time and date to great accuracy using methods that have been available for thousands of years. Ironically, it sits in a country famous for its frequent rainy days.





G'day folks,

 People spend their whole lives looking for whatever it is that makes a perfect home. For some, it’s as simple as a walk-in closet or space in the yard for an herb garden that looks just so. For others, nothing can compare to grandiose dreams of a seaside villa or a mountain chalet. Not so for Francisco Gonzalez Grajera.

Francisco Gonzalez Grajera was an artist and he did not want a normal home.


So Francisco set about building something special, with his bare hands, that would satisfy his creativity both while he lived there and while he built it. Before long, he had created a startlingly unique estate – one that fits right in with the whimsical outsider art sculpture house of Peter Buchs, or Ed Leedskalnin’s coral castle.

Clad in elaborate mosaics built in the trencadis style of broken tiles, the house of Francisco Gonzalez is a sprawling castle-shaped villa, flanked with towering ramparts and spires made to look like the points of a massive royal crown. Tourists now drop by the Gonzalez home, still a private residence, just to see the odd house the locals always talk about.

If you were to speak to Francisco himself, he would tell you there’s nothing odd about this place. To Francisco, it’s just home.


19 February 2023 - SOVIET 'SPY HOUSE' in VIRGINIA, USA




G'day folks,

Conveniently located within binocular range of a nuclear bunker, this "summer camp" area was a painfully obvious spy house. 

On April 23, 1966 the Associated Press reported that the Soviet Ambassador in Washington had finally settled on a location for a new “camp and summer recreation area” for the children of his embassy employees. The site in question was a beautiful mansion on the Shenandoah River in Northern Virginia, 40 miles out of D.C.

The elephant-sized omission from the news report was that the house was strategically positioned at the base of Mount Weather, home to a key U.S. continuity of government site and a massive underground nuclear bunker. The “summer camp” was a dreadfully obvious ruse, but both the State and Defense Departments inexplicably gave their authorization to the Soviet summer campers.


Mount Weather was something of an open secret among locals who rubbed shoulders with military men at the town bar and could see the black helicopters run mock evacuation drills. After the Soviet summer camp plans became known, a local Clarke Courier reporter blasted the State Department for permitting such a blunder, calling it a “stupid move that tempts the fate of the unknown.” “Maybe we have been wrong, along with everyone else in the area, in thinking that Mt. Weather is a hush-hush project,” the Courier opined. “Perhaps it should be classified as merely a weather station which, of course, it isn’t.”

It’s unlikely that the Soviets could have used their spy station to listen in through Mount Weather’s blast-proof walls. But there were plenty of useful clues to be gathered in the open source from such an opportunely located lookout—namely monitoring the front gates for motorcade arrivals and the skies for helicopters. The unexpected arrival of a mass of visitors from Washington could be a tip off that a surprise nuclear attack was underway against the Soviet Union.

The Soviet summer spy camp has been alluded to in several histories of the Cold War period, but the exact location of the house was a mystery. Comparing an AP archival photograph with modern Google Earth imagery and real estate listings reveals a likely address. It’s unknown when the Soviets moved out of the area, but it seems their old spying summer camp is presently used as a veterinary stable.


16 February 2023 - WEIRD MOSAIC TILE HOUSE in USA




G'day folks,

Welcome to something different - a rainbow-hued local gem in Venice, USA. 

Venice Beach is known for its boardwalk filled with colorful, eccentric people. The houses, buildings, and structures that dot this area also reflect this “rainbow coalition” of people. From simple beach bungalows to ultramodern homes, Venice is truly a unique place to live. But none of these places quite capture the effervescent essence of Venice like the Mosaic Tile House. 

Though it’s not well known to the public, the moment you enter this large-scale artwork-in-progress structure, it’s like walking inside a coral reef. Most of the tiles are in the red, yellow, and orange spectrum, but bold colors radiate throughout the space. Almost every square inch of the home (including the outside) is covered in mosaic tiles. Cheri Pann and Gonzalo Duran, a husband and wife team, are responsible for this local masterpiece. Pann is the docent guide if you visit.

Pann and Duran’s “visual feast” began as a weekend project to install bathroom tiles, and it later developed into a lifetime love affair that’s lasted more than two decades. Cheri is an artist who creates contemplative large-scale oil paintings with mythic themes, and Gonzalo, canvases in vignettes of their life together. 


For the house, Cheri creates the tiles, and Gonzalo shatters them and distributes them over every square inch of their home. Since 1994, the couple has been transforming their once bland, beige stucco home into the structural kaleidoscope that it exists as today. The Mosaic Tile House is still a work in process–there are still sections where it has not yet been completely covered in tiles–but what is completed is more than enough to give the average person a visual overload. What might catch your attention is a fruit tree and vegetable garden incorporated into all the tile landscaping, and a black fridge stuffed with dolls that Pann has described as the dark part of her imagination.

So if you ever find yourself visiting Venice, once you’ve had your fill of Abbot Kinney and the Boardwalk, head east a mile or so, and visit the Mosaic Tile House. 





G'day folks,

This stunning sea creature-shaped home blends into the landscape like a fantasy villa. 

What’s large, gray, and shingled all over? Mission Canyon’s very own “Whale House.” Camouflaged in the woods of a suburb of Santa Barbara and a stone’s throw from the city’s Botanic Gardens, this stunning home feels like a fantasy hideout come to life.

The home, now available for vacation rental, is aptly named. Its somewhat whale-shaped exterior is made up completely of undulating rows of gray cedar shingles. The unusual abode was designed by architect Michael Carmichael and completed in 1978 after three years and with the help of 20 craftsmen.



The one-acre lot the Whale House sits on is so magical, it’s the main element that inspired Carmichael to experiment with organic design in the first place. In the tradition of Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí, whose nature-based designs exemplified the Catalan Modernist movement in Barcelona, Carmichael was moved to design a home that did not detract from its natural surroundings, and in fact bowed to them.

The Whale House has no flat walls and virtually no straight lines. Three bedrooms (which can sleep nine) and 3.5 bathrooms let people live comfortably within the belly of the sea creature. A 75-foot lap pool leads to the tail of the whale (read: a detached guest house). Further playing upon the home’s name, Carmichael littered the entrance with rocks to emulate a whale’s mouth full of teeth, and used a high-sitting stained glass window to serve as the mammal’s eye.

12 February 2023 - KGB SPY LAMP POST IN LONDON




G'day folks,

 This overlooked street light once served as a KGB dead letter box.

London has a particular association with spies: the Special Operations Executive, MI5, MI6, 007, and all that. However, there is more to London’s espionage heritage than tuxedoed, suave operatives with a preference for how they like their martinis.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union’s KGB had numerous agents at work in London. While some could operate under diplomatic cover, many others did not. These “illegal” agents, after gathering their information, needed some way to pass it discreetly onto their KGB superiors. Their reports would be left at selected drop sites, also known as dead letter boxes.


One such dead letter box was an inconspicuous lamp post in Audley Square, just outside the University Women’s Club at No. 2. Starting in the 1950s, agents would leave their documents behind the small door to the rear of the post. To indicate there was a message waiting, a chalk mark was made near the base.

The existence of this dead letter box was only revealed to British Intelligence after the 1985 extraction of their secret agent Colonel Oleg Gordievsky from under the watchful eyes of the KGB in Moscow. In a strange coincidence, back in the early ’60s No. 3 Audley Square was used as an office by Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman when they were casting the role of a certain James Bond—all the while unaware of the real-life spies who may have been lurking just outside.





G'day folks,

At the centre of an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean is a deep chasm ringed by tall waterfalls. 

Réunion is an island in the Indian Ocean, sandwiched between Madagascar and Mauritius, a thousand miles from the east coast of Africa. Despite its remote location, as a “department” of France it’s actually part of the Eurozone, and with nearly a million inhabitants and some of the lushest and most magical landscapes in the world, the volcanic outpost has a robust tourist industry.


Tourism in the area centers around the coastal regions of Réunion, but at the island’s center is one of its most extraordinary sites, a canyon that reaches nearly a quarter mile (300 meters) into the Earth, ringed by a chorus of six tall waterfalls. Trou de Fer (the “Iron Hole”) is a collapsed crater of an ancient volcano, fed by bubbling rivers and streams, but dangerous to descend.

So rugged is the terrain at Trou de Fer, and so rain-soaked most of the year, the deep chasm wasn’t fully explored until 1989. Not that climbers hadn’t tried to reach its depths—they just never made it back out. Today it is a relatively easy hike to get there, just a couple of miles of well-groomed trails with a viewing platform at the end. From the high vantage point, you can see the surrounding mountains, tropical forests, and all the waterfalls that make their way to the bottom. 




G'day folks,

Beirut's thinnest building was the result of feuding brothers. 

A sliver-thin house in Beirut, built in 1954, is the ultimate display of how deep sibling annoyance can go. Known as The Grudge, or Al Ba’sa in Arabic, the house is just a bit over 13 feet at its widest point, and just around 2 feet at its narrowest.

At a side view, the “house” built of brotherly spite looks more like a wall than a place to live. But despite its narrow dimensions, Al Ba’sa is habitable, and is the skinniest building in the city. 

As the story goes, two brothers inherited land from their father. They couldn’t decide how to split the land between them, a dispute complicated further by the fact that one part of the property had been cut over the years by various municipal infrastructure projects, leaving a portion of the land a small and sort of odd shape. 

One brother decided to take that small, oddly shaped bit of land and build on it, constructing a building that fit the confines of the land with the added bonus of blocking his brother’s ocean view. Not only would his brother not be able to enjoy his spectacular sea view, but because he was now facing what was essentially a wall his property values would sink, too. The perfect plan.

Over the years, there have been some tenants in the house that sibling rivalry built. Each floor of the structure contains two apartments. For years, one was in use as a brothel, while the others served as refuge for a family fleeing the war.

Today the house stands as a reminder of a long-ago feud, and it probably will for a very long time; current city zoning laws state that the plot of land the house sits on is too small to build on. If The Grudge comes down, nothing else can be put in its place, making the land more profitable with the house than without it. As architect Sandra Rishani pointed out in her essay on the house, Al Ba’sa “continues to exist grudgingly and also defiantly in one of Beirut’s most prime locations, only time will tell what will become of it.”




G'day folks,
 An unassuming stone building houses New York City's oldest seismic station almost 30 feet below the Bronx.

Fordham University’s Rose Hill campus is home to the oldest seismic station in New York City, and one of the oldest in the United States. Installed in the basement of the university’s main administrative building in 1910, it continues to chart seismic activity from all over the world to this day.

The station is maintained by Fordham’s physics department, where data is transmitted to the adjacent academic building, Freeman Hall. While mainly used by the physics department, that data is available to students across several disciplines, notably environmental science.

Originally, data was gathered using a Wiechert seismograph, a precarious pendulum-dependent machine that graphed vibrations using a system of levers, kerosene-smoked paper, a weight, and a rod. It was so sensitive that in order to avoid skewing data, a horse was kept on campus to maintain the grass outside of the station instead of usual lawn-mowers.

Of course, this seismograph has since been replaced by computerized broadband seismometers, which lie in a vault nearly 30 feet below the ground, picking up trembling of the Earth’s tectonic plates and even of trains heading to Grand Central from the nearby Metro-North Fordham stop.


About a decade after that first basement seismograph, Fordham constructed a new seismic station using money donated by William Spain, who then named it after his son, William, a physics student of the university who died some years before. While the actual seismograph is subterranean, it is inside a small stone cottage flanked by trees and wildflowers with a stone path leading to the entrance. There is a bronze plaque of St. Emidio on the observatory’s side, the patron saint of protection against earthquakes.

Today, the William Spain Seismic Observatory, using a strong motion detector, partners with a U.S. government program to assess earthquake risk in metropolitan areas. This particular data is also streamed to a government data repository in Boulder, Colorado. Fordham is also a member of the regional Lamont Cooperative Seismic Network, which allows the 21 other seismic-observatory members across the eastern U.S. to share data and equipment like geophones and seismometers for further research projects.






G'day folks,

Welcome to a tribute to a Ukrainian heroine who went undercover and killed several Nazi operatives. 

Tatyana Yossifovna Markus was born in Ukraine in 1921 and lived only for 22 years, but within that short span of time, she became a formidable underground agent the Nazis feared.

In 1941, when the Germans entered the city of Kyiv, a young Markus was there to greet them, congratulatory flowers in hand. Instead of graciously handing them over to the triumphant soldiers, she threw them, and the grenades hidden underneath them, at the approaching contingent, killing four soldiers. Her father threw a second grenade, to prevent them from retaliating. 

In the tumultuous times of war, father and daughter had become members of the Kyiv underground, resisting Nazi rule. But her father was caught and killed shortly after the grenade incident.

Markus got further entrenched into the movement and took on the alias of Tatyana or Tatiana Markusidze, the daughter of a Georgian prince who had been killed by the Bolsheviks.

With this tragic (fake) backstory, she purported to hate the Soviet Union and joined the Germans. A young beautiful operative, she won the confidence of several German officials and gathered information that helped the Ukrainian rebels kill them. She even worked in a German officers’ mess and often lured soldiers into isolated areas and killed them herself.


With a number of Nazi soldiers dead, the Gestapo launched an operation to identify and catch her. As she was escaping, in August 1942, she was caught and interrogated brutally for more than five months, which intensified when her Jewish identity was discovered. But despite the torture, she refused to provide them with any information about her comrades. She was then killed in January 1943 and, according to some accounts, her body was thrown into the notorious Babi Yar ravine, where thousands were massacred by the Germans.

A few years later, in 1946, a Communist Party district report dealing with the period of occupation included her and spoke about the “brave Komsomol girl who knew no fear, Tanya Marcus, who was known as Markusidze. An active member in the sabotage movement, she personally killed dozens of soldiers, officers, and collaborators. She carried out very responsible operations on behalf of the organization by preparing sabotage operations, etc.”

After the fall of the Soviet Union, a statue of this courageous young woman who gave her life in the fight against the Nazis was unveiled in Babi Yar in 2009, just a few years after she was honored as a “Heroine of Ukraine.”

Let's hope this statue is still standing!






G'day folks,

Deep in the Negev Desert, the world's tallest solar tower looks like it's straight out of a science fiction comic. 

Thanks to drip irrigation, the roads to Be’er Sheva in Israel are fringed with fields that were once barren. A simple system of water-carrying pipes have transformed the Negev Desert into productive agricultural land. But a newer addition just south of Be’er Sheva, transforms the desert into something more akin to a science fiction movie.


The first sign of something unusual ahead appears just after you leave the city limits. If you look carefully, you’ll notice a pale orange flame floating just above the horizon. As you get closer, a tall dark tower appears, its pinnacle glowing as bright as the sun. Light radiates towards the ground, seeming like sunbeams. This is the Ashalim Power Station.

Opened in September 2019, Ashalim is the tallest solar power station in the world, standing 260 meters (853 feet) tall. Ashalim Power Station uses an array of 56,000 solar panels known as heliostats arranged around the tower to reflect sunlight onto the pinnacle. The heliostats are computer-controlled and follow the sun as it moves from east to west through the day.

From the barren hilltops surrounding the station, the tower and the heliostats look like a scene from a futuristic story. The system produces enough clean energy to power 120,000 homes, about five percent of all homes in Israel. And development at the power station is still ongoing. While electricity production has already started, further plans will allow Ashalim Power Station to combine solar thermal energy, photovoltaic energy, and natural gas.






G'day folks,

This monument is a stark reminder of the horrors of the Zanzibar slave trade.  

In 1873 the world’s last open slave market closed. The last vestige of this horrific institution was located in Stone Town, Zanzibar. Enslaved people were transported to Zanzibar via overcrowded dhows. With little food, rampant disease, and appalling conditions, not all of the captives survived long enough to reach Zanzibar. Those who didn’t were thrown overboard. For those that did make it, another ordeal awaited, as they were sold at this site and then were likely shipped off to various Arab countries.


Zanzibar was home to one of the largest slave markets in the world.  Although the slave trade took place all over the island, three major markets saw the bulk of these inhumane transactions. The market in Stone Town was infamous for being the most brutal. The pit and the Slave Market Memorial is in the same location where enslaved people were gathered to be brought and sold.  This memorial was created in 1998 by Clara Sornas of Scandinavia.

On one side of the memorial is a mansion housing the slave cellar, one of fifteen low-ceiling chambers. Dim, suffocating, and with no toilets, these chambers were crammed with enslaved people, where they awaited the auction block. Captives were summoned to the yard and marched to the pit. There, they would be inspected by potential buyers.

On the other side of the memorial is an Anglican church, from which you can see a mosque. A circle of white stones at the altar marks the place where the whipping post once stood  The value of enslaved people on Zanzibar was often based on how much pain they could endure at this post. An outer circle of red stones represents the bloodshed that took place. Unveiled in 1998, the Slave Market Memorial is a reminder of the sordid history of this island.