29 April 2017

Arrival: A Short and Very Sweet Coming Out Film


It’s 2017 and so, surely, no one needs to fear coming out as LGBTQ anymore?

If that’s the case then no one told the Chechen authorities who seem, currently, to be paving the way towards a new dark-age for those who do not identify as hetero.

Rare was the person, ever, who was able to spring blithely and fully-formed from the metaphorical closet but in many countries it is still almost impossible to do so without some form of repudiation, denunciation or reprobation.

So this short film, for me, was something of a breath of fresh air. Arrival tells the story of a young man who has a close bond with his mother.  Yet when he moves to the big city and not only discovers himself but also the love of his life, he is unable to share this amazing happening with his mother.  To see how this is resolved you will have to watch this beautifully made animated short film, written, directed and animated by Alex Myung.
Even today, in the most liberal of societies with the most liberal of parents, people still struggle to share their true nature with their loved ones leading to a ripple effect which makes everyone unhappy.  You could see this short two ways: first it is super-contemporary and very political: it is after all societal structure and its dictat that to be ‘normal’ is to fit in which makes so many young LGBTQ people unhappy and as such this is a plea for change and for enlightenment.

At the same time this is also (and predominantly) a very, very sweet story about the relationship between a mother and son and how, ultimately, their bond overcomes the obstacles that the social order puts in its way.


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28 April 2017

Who Wants to be a Multibillionaire? Or, how to Choose which Lottery will (inevitably?) Make you Rich


Who doesn’t love playing games? And it’s no secret that people love games they can win at, especially if they can win a considerable sum. Look at the gamification trend in general, for instance, or even the achievements trend in video games - they're all little prizes promised to their players for their efforts, and help motivate and entertain them. And then there's games you can actually win big prizes at. Hope and wishful thinking are traits we all share, so perhaps this collective optimistic predisposition is to account for the popularity of lottery games and the like. But are our hopes unfounded? Exactly how many chances have you got of purchasing the golden lottery ticket – and how much could you actually win?

Powerball makes history
On January 13th, 2016, the US Powerball jackpot awarded a staggering 1.6 billion USD – making it the largest jackpot in the world. The winning amount was split three ways, among two couples and 70-year old Maureen Smith of Melbourne Beach, Florida. She reportedly played the lottery for years, always betting on the same six numbers, before she struck gold.

Source: Powerball, via Facebook
Granted, Maureen’s story proves that sometimes all it takes is patience and devotion before you can be rewarded. But statistically speaking, what exactly are your odds of winning the US Powerball Lottery? Launched in 1992, Powerball was the first ever lottery game to use two drums to draw numbers from, allowing for more complex prize levels, low overall odds of winning and high jackpot odds. Powerball draws take place twice a week, and players are asked to choose five numbers from 1 to 69 and a "powerball" number from 1 to 26. Powerball itself explains that the overall odds of winning a prize are 1 in 24.87 –fairly easy, right?– but the chances of winning the Grand Prize are 1 in 292,201,338.00. But don’t be disheartened – past winners come from all walks of life, so who knows if you’re not the next in line?

A Merry Spanish Christmas
If you find yourself on the other side of the pond, then keep this in mind: the Spanish surely know how to celebrate Christmas. The Spanish Sorteo Extraordinario de Navidad (Spanish Christmas Lottery) or simply Lotería de Navidad is held annually since 1812. It even continued uninterrupted during the Spanish Civil War, when the lottery draw was moved from Madrid to Valencia, where the Republicans were forced to relocate their capital. After the overthrow of the Republican government by the Spanish General Franco, the lottery continued without break under the new regime that lasted 36 years, making it the second longest continuously running lottery worldwide.

Source: Lotteria de Navidad via Facebook
Nowadays, families around Spain gather around their TV sets each year on December 22nd to find out who is the lucky winner – set to have an unforgettable Christmas. It is widely considered to be the largest lottery game in the world, as measured by the largest prize payout and the largest first prize/jackpot. In 2015, the maximum total prize pool would be €2.52 billion Euros and the total prize for the first place jackpot –affectionately nicknamed El Gordo ("the Fat One" or “the Fatty”)– would be a €720 million Euros. In 2016, the total amount available for all prizes was a whopping $2.310 billion Euros – or 2.414 billion USD.

Whichever basket you choose to put your eggs in, remember – folk wisdom claims that there is nothing like the enjoyment you get when you’ve earned your money by working hard. Now go, prove them wrong!
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La Geria: Lanzarote’s Volcanic Vineyards

When volcanic activity caused the emergence of the Spanish island of Lanzarote 15 million years ago it was a desolate, lifeless place.

Settled only three thousand years ago, the island's volcano could still erupt again.

Although the last major eruptions started in 1730 over a period of six whole years and the volcano has been dormant since 1824, even today agricultural exploitation of the island is a difficult process.

Yet in the La Geria region of the island, farmers have come up with an ingenious way to grow their grapes.

Cambodia – Aerial Cinematography


Roberto Serrini was recently in Cambodia and so took the opportunity to explore the country’s truly cinematic beauty from the air – using Phantom and a F550 drones.

What he has captured here is truly wondrous to watch, particularly the looks on the faces of the children as the drone takes flight overhead. This is a truly outstanding piece of film-making.
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World War II – Timeline


This animated short was not intended for educational use but still serves as a great overview of the events of the (first half) of the Second World War.  Created by Abhinav Nikam, it serves up the pivotal events up to 1942 in a very modern style incorporating photos, film and imagery from this global conflict.  If you like your history you will probably love this.

Part 2 to follow soon, we hope!
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The End


Science fiction comes in many forms and The End is different in a number of ways, not least because of its gentle pace, understated narrative and lack of hi-tech gadgets. And I like fast paced sci-fi full of thingamajigs that do cool things.  Yet that notwithstanding, I found this film, written and directed by Ted Evans (no relation) one of the most touching and thought-provoking shorts I have seen for a while.

The film starts in the past and ends over thirty years from now.  It charts the lives of four young people from 1987 – 2046.  They are different: not telepathic mutants or alien fifth columnists, however.  They are deaf.  The End envisages a cure for deafness and then follows the consequences of such on the lives of the protagonists and, indeed, on deaf culture.

Created in a documentary manner (very similar to those you see which visit their subjects once every decade or so) the four children grow to adulthood and their decision whether or not to take The Treatment has a profound effect on their lives.  The End raises questions not only about the nature of disability but our compassion as a species and our willingness to cleanse what frightens or disturbs us.
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Gone in a Split Second

There are moments when a photographer knows that they have almost no time to take a shot – and that in a second the opportunity will be lost forever.  Whether the moment is caught by skill, luck or sheer accident, the results can be breath-taking.  Here is a selection of amazing photographs which capture a moment otherwise gone in a split second.

Image Credit Flickr User John&Fish
This Taiwan Blue Magpie, taken at Yangmingshan, Taipei City did not appreciate this dog trespassing in its nesting areas. Needless to say, the plucky bird was perhaps mistaken in its attempt to shoo off the excitable intruder.

20 April 2017

Here Are Four Things You May Not Know About Japan

You may have noticed that here at Kuriositas we like to cover a plethora of topics, including but not limited to the goings on in Asia. Well, more specifically the mysterious land that is North Korea and the glorious sub-continent of India. As the cherry blossoms –or sakura – are beginning to bloom, we’re going to take a look at Japan, home of ninjas, noodles and anime. It turns out that there’s some fun stuff happening over there, here are just a few of those:

Japan Loves Playing Pachinko
Source: Life Of Pix
This is probably no surprise, but the Japanese love playing games. They particularly love playing pachinko, a national pastime that resembles a cross between western slot machines and pinball where players are rewarded with tiny silver balls. These extremely loud, clanging balls are usually cashed in for tokens which are in turn swapped for real money. What is extremely surprising about this is that while the Japanese love gambling, casinos have literally only just been legalised throughout Japan. Where the heck have they been playing pachinko? Well, in pachinko halls, it turns out. Huge casino operators from around the world are so excited about this decision that they are quick to apply for a place in the brand new market. According to Michael Kaplan of 888casino, analysts believe that the Japanese gambling market could be worth as much as $40 billion each year once they get the dice rolling.

A Very Phallic Festival
Throughout the first week of April this year, the Japanese city of Kawasaki was celebrating a pretty peculiar part of the human body. The festival is called Kanamara Matsuri, which basically means Festival of the Steel Phallus and actually is based on quite an interesting legend. The story goes that a young woman’s lady parts were cursed by a demon, which inevitably led to her first two husbands being castrated on their respective wedding nights. Eventually, the local blacksmith decided to create a steel phallus to break the curse and the noble smith is celebrated to this day.

Sleeping On the Job Is Encouraged
Source: Pixabay
Plenty of people know about how ingrained the work ethic is within the Japanese culture, but what you may not know is they work so hard sleeping on the job is widely accepted. This is so common that the Japanese have created a term especially for it – inemuri. There are some rules, such as you must remain upright throughout, but those who indulge in inemuri are recognised as truly hard working business people. We have a sneaking suspicion that some employees may fake inemuri to avoid their bosses occasionally, its just human nature.

The Snaggle Tooth is in Style
While the rest of the world are spending large sums of cash on perfecting their smiles, the Japanese youth are spending time, money and effort attempting to get uneven snaggle teeth. The trend is known as yaeba, which means double tooth, and is even more mystifying than the phallic festival if we may say so. There’s even a famous girl group named TYB48 based entirely around the three members having snaggle teeth. This dental procedure can cost anywhere between £130 and £340 depending upon whether the patient wishes to get permanent or temporary uneven teeth.

This Earth is so full of so many different cultures, societies and styles it never ceases to amaze. Stay weird Japan, stay weird.

First Image Source: Pexels
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Warsaw: 24 Hour Timelapse


The Polish capital, Warsaw, here gets the timelapse treatment, with something of a difference.  Film-maker Maciej Margas gets up high in the city and shoots his film from buildings such as Cosmopolitan, Złota 44, Marriott, Millennium Plaza, Rondo 1, and the tower of the Saint Augustine's Church.  The result is a compelling portrait of one of Europe’s most intriguing and historic capital cities.
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Fathom


It always staggers me when an individual comes up with something like Fathom, especially given the millions often invested in animated movies by large corporations. This amazing labor of love was created by Joe Russ over a period of six year, working in the evenings and weekends. Inspired by both the death of his father and his commute from Brooklyn in to Manhattan, Fathom follows Sam, Evan and Hippo the cat as they struggle to survive in a world changed beyond recognition.
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The Haiku Stairs: Hawaii’s Forbidden Stairway to Heaven

In 1942 the US military needed to send low-frequency signals so that they could communicate with their submarines circling Japan. They needed a radio transceiver and they needed it to be really high, so the peak of Puʻukeahiakahoe mountain in Hawaii was chosen. A somewhat wobbly wooden pathway was made and the transceiver and its antenna cables were installed. The pathway is still there today, but is out of bounds to those who wish to climb this Stairway to Heaven as it has become known.

14 April 2017

The Campbell–Stokes Sunshine Recorder

Before the dawn of the computer age scientists who wished to record the amount of sunshine in any given place had to be inventive.

A variety of sunshine recorders were invented, with the Campbell-Stokes Recorder quickly becoming the most popular.  In fact many are still in use to this day.

The Reinvention of Gucci

Gucci is almost a century old.  In 2021 it will be a hundred years since founder Guccio Gucci first sold the company’s trademark luxury fashion and leather goods.  The company has had its peaks and troughs in the intervening years (imagine it as a person, for a second, and you know there will be ups and downs!).  However, perhaps the greatest challenge has been to reinvent itself for the age of social media.

It hadn’t really occurred to me, until I read The Watch Gallery’s very interesting piece today, that a company like Gucci would find it necessary to adapt to the times: one would assume, surely, that brands such as this would never go out of fashion.

Yet that is not the case, even for a company as widely known and successful as Gucci.  Perhaps a modern-day Darwin could write a new evolutionary tract about how companies, like species, must adapt to survive or otherwise perish.

As such, some companies have undergone complete transformations.  Nokia, known today for the mobile technology used to propagate stories like this on social media started off selling rubber boots.  The name of the oil and gas company Shell gives away its origins by its name. In the 1830s it was an importer of ornamental sea shells to the UK.  Nintendo was originally a manufacturer of playing cards.  The latter organisation’s evolution makes some sense: it takes something of a leap of the imagination to accept the development of the first two.

Gucci, of course, has persevered with products that its customers of a century ago would probably recognise.  However, its most recent manifestations have been a daring combination of self-reference (such as the comeback of the famous double G logo) and the artistic freedom of its new clutch of designers.

The piece, How Luxury Stays Ahead in the Digital Age, written by Emily Seares, focuses on the last two years, during which Gucci has undergone possibly the largest organisational transformation of its history thanks to two men, Alessandro Michele (above, with the beard) and Marco Bizzarri.  The turnaround has been staggering considering it has been brought about in such a short amount of time. As renaissances go, this is quite something.

Image Credit Daniel Marchand
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13 April 2017

Are You Lost in the World Like Me?


This amazing video for Moby’s Are You Lost in the World Like Me? is up for a Webby award, so if you are as deeply impressed by animator Steve Cutts’ work, then please follow the link and vote for it.  You could also take a look at the rest of Cutts' work on his Vimeo channel – as darkly humorous as it gets, your rose-tinted spectacles may need replacing once you have taken a dip in to his recent oeuvre.

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12 April 2017

Rangoli: Welcome Mat of the Gods

Throughout the predominantly Hindu country of India, a folk art has been practiced for many centuries. Known varyingly as Kolam, Muggu and Mandana (among other names in this huge and diverse nation), the art of Rangoli is created using dyed rice or sand, flour and the petals of flowers. It signifies a sacred welcoming zone for Hindu deities. It can be quite a welcome.

Image Credit Flickr User Shandi

Dance With Me


Dance With Me offers us snapshots of a relationship, beautifully transitioned to give us a sense of the dynamic between the couple.

Written and Directed by Cristina Molino, Dance With Me is a Think Mol & BalletBoyz film for the UK's Channel 4 UK in association with Arts Council England.  It is exquisite, elegant and elegiac.
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Sail Away


This is marvelous – especially if you have enjoyed the works of Robert Louis Stevenson. As a young boy Stevenson was beset by ill health, so much so that his nurse fondly called him Smout, which is a Scottish word for the runt of the litter. This particular runt, however, was not averse to flights of the imagination and here, thanks to five students of ESMA in Toulouse, France, we can witness one of them. Wonderful!
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How the Ancient Greeks Shaped Modern Mathematics


Number 536 in our What did the Greeks ever do for us? series.  Here, we take mathematics (thanks to 12foot6 and the Royal Institution.  It may blow away a few cobwebs for you if you don’t engage (consciously) with math on a daily basis with lots of great, pithy facts about dead Greek guys such as Pythagoras and Archimedes.  Sounds a bit dry? Take a look – it’s great fun.
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7 April 2017

30 Photos that will Make you Look Twice

We hope that you find Kuriositas visually stimulating. However, without the host of great photographers out there who make their work available under Creative Commons licenses, we would not be able to show you a fraction of the wonderful places the site has featured over the years. While sourcing these photographs we often come across ones accidentally – and these are real moments of serendipity. They may not be what we are looking for but they make us look twice. Here are thirty of those double-take moments for you to enjoy.

Daydream or Reality: Is Google Set to Overtake the Samsung Gear to Dominate Mobile VR?

Without doubt, virtual reality has been the hot technology topic over the past 12 months. Highly anticipated retail versions of the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR headsets were finally unleashed on an eager public, offering users transformative experiences in the realm of gaming, entertainment and more. Of course, despite already generating impressive sales figures of a combined 1.5 million units by the end of 2016, the aforementioned systems require a suitably powerful PC or PS4 (in the case of PSVR) in order to run, meaning that not only is the resulting package out of many users’ price range, it’s also no easy feat for players to take their VR experiences with them on the go.

It’s little surprise, therefore, that technology companies are increasingly turning their focus to the mobile virtual reality market. Offering consumers a much more affordable entry point than the likes of the Vive and Oculus Rift ¬– with headsets retailing at sub-$100 and simply requiring a compatible smartphone to tether to – mobile VR looks set to completely eclipse its less portable counterparts by the end of 2017.

With such immersive experiences on offer both at home and on-the-go, some developers have seen the opportunity to bring audiences closer to the action of their favourite sports and entertainment services than ever before. One such service, which falls into both the sports and entertainment categories, is the world of eSports.

Much like VR, eSports is a burgeoning yet fledgeling industry, whose growth is just as impressive. The industry is valued at $1 billion by market research firm SuperData, and if its backing by major brands is any indication, becoming more and more mainstream. BBC Three broadcast last year's League of Legends World Championship in its entirety to British audiences. In December 2016, Coca-Cola sponsored the first "eCOPA" tournament, where the efforts of eSports athletes competing in FIFA 17 were broadcasted live on Twitch. The catalogue of brands sponsoring eSports in one way or another interestingly includes an iGaming provider: sportsbook and online casino Betway sponsors the Swedish Ninjas in Pyjamas pro eSports team, whose players compete in Overwatch, Counter Strike and DOTA 2 (and whose sponsors also include Netgear and Xtrfy). In the case of Betway, the move towards eSports is not entirely surprising: the online gambling company expanded in recent years from betting to online gaming in the form of live casino and slots. It should also be noted that the same brand offers eSports betting; for many companies, the move into eSports seems like a natural transition and comes with opportunities on more than one level.

In fact, the link between eSports and VR is two-way. In addition to the inevitable opportunity to offer eSports VR tournaments, the growing appeal of eSports to audiences has already brought eSports to virtual reality for spectators. One of the world’s largest eSports companies, the ESL, recently began streaming its ESL One events in live virtual reality via the SLIVER.tv app, with VR headsets – including the Gear VR but not the Daydream View as of yet – allowing users to place themselves at the heart of it all with 360-degree panoramic views of the thrills and spills of live gaming action.

Samsung’s Gear VR has taken an early lead in the battle for mobile VR supremacy, having the benefit of being the first major system to hit the market, and selling a whopping 4.5 million units in 2016 alone. However, buoyed by the hype surrounding the release of its Pixel smartphone, technology giant Google looks to be emerging as a serious contender with its Daydream View headset, which was officially released back in October 2016. But can Google make up the early ground made by Gear VR – and ultimately overtake it?

Battle of the Headsets


Retailing at an initial price point of $99.99 (lowered to around $80 since) and requiring a compatible Galaxy smart device to tether to, Samsung’s first foray into virtual reality, the Gear VR, was released on November 27, 2015. Created in partnership with Rift creator Oculus, the system features a 96-degree field of vision and rotational tracking, and uses the Samsung smartphone or tablet it is attached to as its display and processor, while the headset itself acts as the main controller and handles tracking. The unit also packs in a touchpad and physical button, so users don't have to awkwardly try to deal with their mobile phone's touchscreens for navigation.

Unlike earlier forays into mobile virtual reality, the Gear VR has seen success in large part due to getting one key aspect right: having a sufficiently low latency. In other words, the Gear doesn't generally suffer from choppiness and "laggy" images, which have been noted for causing "simulation sickness" in users – a sure-fire way to ruin a person's immersion in the virtual reality world.

Meanwhile, the Google Daydream View was released on November 10, at an initial price point of $79. Unlike the Gear VR, Google has not revealed the exact field of vision its headset affords the user – although it's noticeably narrower than that of its competitor.

Much like the Samsung Gear VR, the Daydream View requires a compatible smartphone to be plugged into it, which acts as the system's display and processing unit. While at launch, only the Google Pixel line of smartphones were compatible with the Daydream View, Google has confirmed that other manufacturers including Motorola, Huawei, Asus and ZTE would all release handsets that support the system – offering it a clear advantage over the Gear VR. Review sites including Techradar have noted that Google's VR headset both looks more stylish and provides greater user comfort than its Gear VR counterpart, featuring a stylish and lightweight cloth finish.

Emerging Software Lineup


Of course, even with the greatest headset in the world from a hardware point of view, a system is worth nothing without a solid library of software applications and games for users to engage with. On this front, the Gear VR definitely has a clear lead. While the Daydream View supported only 12 games at launch, Samsung confirmed as of June 2016 that over 300 games and apps were available for its system, and that number is surely going to continue to rise over the coming months. From immersive "experiences" such as Colosse and entertainment services including Netflix VR, to a plethora of video games, the Oculus store on the Gear VR has already built up an impressive and sturdy backbone of applications on which developers will only build on further.

The Future of Mobile VR

While Samsung and Oculus have undoubtedly kicked ahead with the impressive library of titles currently available for the Gear VR, on the hardware front it does seem a little too close to call at present. While Samsung has a market-leading share of 21% of the mobile phone industry, the Daydream View has the advantage of being more versatile, with a platform seemingly open to more hardware manufacturers than simply Google themselves.

Google, of course, have a lot of work to do to catch up with regards to the Daydream's rather lacking software library. However, the fact that the firm were behind the widespread success of the Android operating system, and in turn, the Google Play Store, surely positions them as one of the few tech companies capable of eventually surpassing the Gear's current dominance.

Who do you think will end up on top in the battle for mobile VR dominance? Have your say in the comments section below.

Top picture Nan Palermo
Second Image Nan Palermo
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