19 February 2017

Modular Origami: The Ancient Art of Kusudama Evolved

Kusudama is a traditional Japanese art form which has evolved in to what is now generally referred to as modular origami.  With some remarkable examples, here is the basic difference between the two.

The form of Kusudama goes back to before written history.  The general consensus is that they were used to hold bunches of herbs or flowers as urban culture took hold.  Before this the plants would have been hung on their own and the kusudama evolved as an aesthetically pleasing receptacle for both potpourri and incense.

Particle Flow

The video above records a kinetic motion study created by Michael Schmitz and team for a well known stryenics provider.  I think it’s best to hand the rest over to Mr Schmitz:

“Granules are driven by gravity and topography forming an analogue particle system. A moving slanted plane and a grid of motorized stamps control the elements to form infinite variations of behaviors and patterns. The result is a zen-like experience that is both: fascinating and contemplative. Software controlled motion follows a complex choreography and enables precise steering of physical particles in a variety of ways: from subtle to obvious, from slow to high paced, from random-like to symmetric.”

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Dancing on Air: When Indoor-Skydiving becomes Ballet

This is quite incredible to watch.  Professional dancer Inka Tiitto just happens to be a champion indoor skydiver too.  However, at some point she decided that to combine the two was a great idea.

She is right – it is – and she is something to behold as she seemingly effortlessly counters high speeds of up to 180mph.  However, when you watch this you realise that her hope – that indoor skydiving can evolve in to a performing art – is not unrealistic.  Can you imagine Swan Lake being recreated like this?  This video was created by Great Big Story.

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Courage: What it Takes to Stop Bullying

So many people witness bullying but do nothing about it as they often fear that they will end up being bullied themselves. This short by The Mary Foundation in Denmark shows that – actually – often all it takes to stop bullying is for one person to have the courage to intervene. It can be amazing what happens next – when liberation from the psychological group control of bullies occurs. Grab a hankie before you press play – you may need one.
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Do you know your alphabet?  My best guess is that your answer is in the affirmative but as anyone who ever watched the BBC in the 1970s knows, there’s nothing quite like a repeat.  Except this animated alphabet isn’t quite your run of the mill run through of the letters between A and Z.  Hypnotic is the word I would probably use. Alphabetic was created by Ariel Costa of blinkmybrain with sound by Marcelo Baldin of Combustion.

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18 February 2017

Jabuticaba – The Tree that Fruits on its Trunk

No, this is not a belated April Fool’s prank. They look as if they may have been pinned there by an over enthusiastic gardener to impress the neighbors but the fruit of the Jabuticaba really does grow off the trunk of the tree.

Otherwise known as the Brazilian Grape Tree (Plinia cauliflora), this plant is native to South America, notably Paraguay, Argentina and (obviously from its name) mostly from Brazil.  The fruit, a succulent looking purple color can be plucked and eaten straight from the tree.

The Swimming Pigs of The Bahamas

Ever fancied a lifetime frolicking on a beach somewhere in The Bahamas?  You might not achieve that particular dream but these pigs have. At some point a number were abandoned on the small Bahamian island of Big Major Cay.  As it is uninhabited and the ‘owners’ never returned the pigs have thrived.  A few years ago their presence was discovered and they have since become something of a tourist destination in their own right.  They love nothing more than taking to the water for a dip –and, of course, for the tasty treats that passing yachts bring with them.  For the story and some great pictures, pop over to The Ark in Space.

Image Credit cdoborek
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17 February 2017

Haidama - What Happened when Japanese Americans were Freed from Internment?

There had been a number of laws in the USA which had prevented American Asians from being able, among other things, to own land, vote or even testify against white people in court.  When it came to the Second World War, one might think common sense would dictate an assumption that people of Japanese origin had decided to make their homes in the US for something other than subversion: there was no hiatus when it came to discriminatory law-making, however.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942.  It paved the way for 120,000 people of Japanese origin, two thirds of them American citizens, to be interned for the duration of the war.  This happened despite the Munson Report of 1940, commissioned by the President, which stated that “There will be no armed uprising of Japanese” in the USA.  So why did this happen?

Perhaps this extract from an extraordinary editorial in the Los Angeles Times might go some way to explain it.  I will let you join the dots – it is hardly a challenge and may ring a few more recent rhetorical bells than comfort might allow. “A viper is nonetheless a viper wherever the egg is hatched... So, a Japanese American born of Japanese parents, nurtured upon Japanese traditions, living in a transplanted Japanese atmosphere...notwithstanding his nominal brand of accidental citizenship almost inevitably and with the rarest exceptions grows up to be a Japanese, and not an American... Thus, while it might cause injustice to a few to treat them all as potential enemies, I cannot escape the conclusion...that such treatment...should be accorded to each and all of them while we are at war with their race.”

So we come to Haidama – which literally translates as “Here I am”.  It takes place after the war.  A Japanese American family has been released from an internment camp and its members make their way back to their Californian farm.  They do not find it as they left it.  (Full film here).

Haidama is a film of few words.  Yet its exposition of events is profound and it tells its story without sentimentality or Walton's Mountain style romanticisation. There is some gorgeous golden hour photography by Mingjue Hu, juxtaposing the natural beauty of the Californian countryside with the dread in the heart of the returnees, giving the cast a certain luminosity This is particularly true of Mackenyu Maeda who plays the son and who also serves as a symbol of the future of Japanese American citizenry.  We’ll be seeing a lot more of Mackenyu in 2018’s Pacific Rim: Uprising but I suspect that Haidama has revealed much more of his acting talents than the monster movie will (perhaps I’m too much of a snob to comment honestly there).

His character’s love of America in Haidama is represented through his baseball obsession and it is left to the viewer to decide whether or not he will ever play again.  His retrieval of the long-buried baseball cards he hid before the family were removed from their home might suggest that, but the beautifully shot closing sequence is a little more ambivalent (although we can perhaps dare to be optimistic).

This may not necessarily provide perfect closure for the audience but it surely reflects the way that many of the 120,000 must have felt on their release.  Re-integration must have been tentative, with the caution that accompanies disappointment and betrayal an everyday feeling for many years afterwards.

Although Mackenyu is the beating heart of the film he receives excellent support from Toshi Toda (who you may remember for his portrayal of Colonel Adachi in Letters from Iwo Jima), Vivian Umino who is mostly known as a producer and director, with work including Captured (2002) and newcomer Jordyn Kanaya.

Haidama was written and directed by Robin Takao D'Oench whose grandfather was one of the 120,000 Japanese Americans interned during the war.  He dedicates it to all of them.  Try and catch it on Vimeo now before it goes to OnDemand (ie you have to pay to watch it) in March.
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14 February 2017

Zombie Insects: Bizarre and Terrifying Parasites

While World War Z is less than likely to happen anytime soon, zombie-like behavior has been scientifically recorded in a wide variety of animals. These natural occurrences are usually the result of vicious parasites, that have the power to eerily influence their hosts’ behavior before ultimately killing them or, in some cases, forcing them to kill themselves.

One of the creepiest of cases is the way a species of Costa Rican wasp, the jewel wasp, enslaves orb spiders for reproduction. The wasp will lay its eggs on the spider’s abdomen in an Alien-like manner and right before it’s ready to cocoon the larva injects a chemical that induces a bizarre phenomenon. The spider, before it eventually gets killed and eaten by the larva inside it, begins building a web but not in the manner it instinctively does. It builds an entirely new kind of web designed to support the larvae’s cocoon, who will build it once it’s done eating the poor spider.

Rivaling this larva species is the female jewel wasp, whose usual victim is a cockroach. The host is eventually consumed for sustenance once it is done acting as living crib of her young. Once she finds her target she injects venom into the cockroach that paralyzes its front legs, and with a second sting to the head the venom disables the roach’s ability to control motor function. The cockroach is now immobilized, much like a gambler glued to a slot in a losing streak, but the wasp has plans for her prisoner. She then guides him by the antennae to his doom, which involves being snacked on for several days and keeping the mother’s larvae warm once she burrows her young into its body.

Wasps are by far not the only parasitic animal to zombify other creatures for their benefit. In fact, the final parasite is not even an insect, but a fungus. The Ophiocordyceps is a microorganism that can not only recognize different species of ants but can induce a mind-controlling brain chemical that forces specific activity in hosts.

This creepy fungus only targets certain species of ants, the theories behind this selectiveness range from different ant life cycles to the fact that the fungus is only able to control the brains of certain species. The few it has targeted, however, have all been administered a unique blend of chemicals, demonstrating that the fungus is more than capable of recognizing different species of insects and altering its techniques to adequately control each one.

What usually happens is that an unfortunate ant will come across the spores of this fungus when looking for food. Once it does it is immediately infected with a cocktail that takes over the creature’s nervous system, forcing it to unwillingly climb up a nearby plant before killing itself on a leaf. The microorganism is then ideally placed for its spores to continue to infect more ants below it once it grows out the back of the dead host’s head. Who needs science fiction when you have real science?
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12 February 2017

Caminito del Rey: The Most Dangerous Pathway in the World?

At first glance many might think I might like to have a go at doing that.  Then you look down. For most people, might like quickly turns in to would never, ever in a million years.  Welcome to Spain's Caminito del Rey, quite possibly the most dangerous pathway in the world.

There are some places in this world to which even the locals say you would be mad to venture.  Sometimes this can be dismissed as exaggeration or hyperbole designed to encourage the traveler to go and take a look.  In this case they are absolutely, one hundred percent correct.  Travel along the Caminito del Rey and you really would put your life in peril.  Don’t look down, now…

11 February 2017

Fact about the Flu Vaccine you Need to Know

Are you thinking of having a flu jab?  There are many myths around the flu vaccine and the side effects it can cause – in fact around its efficacy in general.  Questions like whether the vaccine damages your immune system or even gives you the flu, how long the virus is effective for, what age groups are affected by flu and whether antibiotics can treat the flu are answered in this short video created by We Are Formation.
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Lost in the Wild

The longer name of this interesting short is The untold story of Robots learning to coexist with Nature.  It takes a science fiction approach to a well known nature documentary format (in fact whoever is narrating, they channel David Attenborough really well).

It serves as part of Rinus Bot’s work for their Masters program in Media Technology at Leiden University.  The rest (comprising a scientific paper and an interactive data visualisation) will be published on a unsuspecting world in the near future.

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The Case of the Missing Garden Gnome

Tim the garden gnome is missing and his owner has called upon the services of hard-boiled private eye Seamus Biggs.

He takes on the case, suspecting it is the work of the heinous Gnome Liberation Front but is dismayed when his estranged ten year old daughter is left with him. 

With some reluctance he teams up with his daughter and an adventure ensues involving a femme fatale, the gun toting gnome liberators and seriously flawed parenting.

The Case of the Missing Garden Gnome is hugely entertaining (with some language the type of which young boys tend to look up first in dictionaries) and was directed by student Emmy winner Alberto Belli and written by Joe Swanson.

It stars Rob Benedict who you may remember as writer turned prophet Chuck Shurley in the TV series Supernatural.

He is aided and abetted in this corny but cool caper by Holly Fulger as the ever so slightly demented Francine and the delightful Marti Cass as his daughter Jill.
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The Lifeguard Towers of Miami Beach

Lifeguard towers can be found the world over.  Yet not many places can boast as many unique examples of this form of architecture as those along the eight and a half mile stretch of Miami Beach.  All told there are twenty five towers guarding those who use the beach. At once functional and decorative, they contribute beautifully to the overall aesthetic of this Floridian resort city.

5 February 2017

Cry Me a River

A man writes off his ex-lover by manifesting a ‘river’ of female dancers to act as an extension of his indifference toward her.

Featuring the music of Justin Timberlake, Cry Me a River was directed and choreographed by Andrew Winghart.  It stars George Lawrence II and a host of women dancers too numerous to mention here (they are listed on the Vimeo page).
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The Break

Do you do a job which, little by little, has overtaken your life so that instead of doing a job you have become the job?  Spare a thought for Mo, then (we are calling him Mo even though he isn’t named in this short film!).  As a self-employed man, he has found himself with a little spare time between assignments and, do what he might, he cannot get his job out of his head.

Of course, when you’re a hitman that might be difficult.  Take a look at this entertaining, darkly comic short film directed by Nathan Turner of Roy's Boys Films and starring Greig Ritchie and see how this particular workaholic tries to resolve this particular issue.  It may not be quite what you expect!
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Alison Moyet Sings Shakespeare

This is rather lovely.  Alison Moyet sings Sigh No More from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.  The song reminds the audience that relationships are always full of difficulties and that men and women can be very different when it comes to their particular take on love. Men, this song suggests, are inconstant while women, at least by implication, are naturally monogamous.  Take that as you will, this short directed by Robin Mason combines the lyrics by man and the voice by woman quite beautifully, whether or not you altogether agree with the sentiments of the song!

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The Galileo Thermometer – Beautiful Science

Galileo Galilei was an Italian physicist, mathematician, astronomer and philosopher who had  a major role in the scientific revolution of the sixteenth century.  He was the first to discover that the density of liquid changes as a result of increasing or decreasing temperatures.

The thermometer named after him is made up of a sealed glass cylinder.  Inside there is a clear liquid and a series of bulbs.  Each bulb has a weight attached to it.  As the temperature changes, they rise and fall depending of a number of mathematical principles.  Yet the Galileo Thermometers has an aesthetic that goes beyond its function – it is a beautiful object in its own right.
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