15 January 2017

Jaçana – The Big Foot of the Bird World

This is the Jaçana. A fairly unprepossessing wading bird, but take a look at those feet and claws! This really is the big foot of the bird world! Above is the African Jaçana, one of eight species which inhabits the world's tropical zone from Asia to the Americas. Our sibling site, the Ark in Space has the story of this unusual bird as well as some incredible photographs. Go take a look!

Image Credit Flickr User Lip Kee
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Atomic


A group of students at the Columbus College of Art & Design were recently given a rather neat assignment.  Under the guidance of their tutor Adam Osgood they were asked to create an animated short visualizing various elements from the periodic table.  Each student was given six seconds to animate their chosen elements and the most compelling were included in the finished piece above.  Like I said, neat (now there’s a word which needs to be brought back fully in to the language!).

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The Light


As visual metaphors go, this is rather lovely.  A lonely street light finds purpose when its light encourages growth through the winter.  Created by Yuta Sukegawa, the story is very simple – yet as is often the case, profundity can be found in an uncomplicated tale.  When you ‘translate’ this in to the human universe it shows us the extremes that are visited in ordered to protect those which we have nurtured and love.  One of the nicest animations I have seen for a long time!

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Han Solo: A Smuggler’s Tale

What do you call a Star Wars movie set before A New Hope?  That question has recently been answered (Episode 3 ½) but here’s another.  Who would you get to play a young Han Solo?

My vote, after watching this short but very well made fan film is Jamie Costa.

Not only does he look a little like Harrison Ford he has obviously spent a long time studying the nuances of the character: from the facial expressions to the delivery of lines, Costa is spot on.  Han Solo:

A Smuggler’s Tale was written and directed by Keith Allen.
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The Red Menace: Anti-Communist Propaganda of the Cold War

Every age has its bogeyman.  If you grew up in 1950s and 60s America you would have been bombarded with anti-communist propaganda. In hindsight it is perhaps easy to raise a wry eyebrow.  Yet at the time the threat was taken very seriously indeed. Here, hysteria intact, are a few of the stranger messages delivered to the American people.

Is your washroom breeding Bolsheviks?
“Employees lose their respect for a company that fails to provide decent facilities for their comfort” goes the by-line for this advertisement.  Yes, quite possibly, but does that really mean that they are going to turn into rampaging Bolsheviks because the paper towels at work are rough on their hands?  This apparently was a real danger back in the fifties and sixties.  Fortunately the introduction of soft tissues on a massive scale helped to avoid the commie takeover of the western world. 

8 January 2017

The Gelada: Unique Primate on the Roof of Africa

High up in the Ethiopian mountains lives the Gelada. It lives nowhere else and, isolated in these remote Ethiopian Highlands, the primate has developed a way of life all of its own. To begin with there is that patch of red skin; one might guess something with which to attract the opposite sex, but why there? Moreover the gelada exhibits behavior that has led scientists to believe that deceit, crime and punishment are not simply human traits after all.

The Ark in Space has a photo-filled feature on this amazing primate in the wild.

Image Credit Flickr User copepodo
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The Unseen Afghanistan


Afghanistan has never been filmed like this before so the unique landscapes of its valleys are here now for us to see – and they are quite an eye-opener.  Whatever your preconceptions of this country, this will probably do something to change them.  Short earlier this year by Afghani director and filmmaker Khyber Khan, this was created as a ‘passion project’ by him to show his homeland in a new way, one which has never been seen before.

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How Did Anthropology Begin?


The history and roots of anthropology can be difficult to trace but if you want to know how the methodology evolved then this video is for you.  It traces the study of various aspects of humans within past and present societies to its modern roots when the question what does it mean to be human was first asked in a particular way.

This entertaining and educative animation was created by Visual Effects and Motion Graphics compositor Glyn Jenkins for the School of Anthropology of the University of Wales.

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7 January 2017

Luke I’m Your Father


If you happen to be two things today then this will amuse you.  First, you would probably have to be something of a Star Wars fan and secondly you should really be in a slightly silly mood as well.  This song was created by writer, filmmaker and video editor Rohan Francis for his students in an after school program he used to work for.  Well, that’s his excuse, at least but I think you will agree that this doesn’t really need one!

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10 Female Assassins and their Intended Victims


History shows us that the vast majority of assassins are male. Every now and again, though, the fairer sex let the side down (or not, depending on your perspective).

However, there is a lamentably short list of female assassins in the annals of history and – more often than not – they fail to kill their intended target. Perhaps that is nothing to be ashamed of, after all.

Here, though, are 10 of history’s female assassins and their intended victims.

Shi Jianqiao
1935, Tianjin, China. Sometimes the only way to kill someone is when they have their defenses down. So it was when Shi Jianqiao slipped in to a Buddhist temple and fired three shots in to Sun Chuanfang’s head while he was praying. She then threw the gun down and explained her act to terrified and astonished onlookers.

She had even taken the time to print up and copy a document explaining her actions. Chuanfang was not mourned. He had been involved in the repression of strikes in Shanghai, opium trafficking and was a well-known collaborator with the Japanese. Jianqiao was opposed to all of these actions.

Moreover, he had had her father executed by decapitation and had ordered his head put on a pike outside a railway station for all to see. So, quite rightly she was angry – very angry. She was put on trial with three different courts handing out contradictory verdicts. With public opinion resoundingly on her side she was eventually released and was given a full pardon. She died in 1979.

1 January 2017

If You Have Never Wanted to Visit Rome, You Will After You Watch This


It is difficult to catch the spirit of a city on film especially one as enigmatic as the capital of Italy, Rome.  However, cinematographer Alex Soloviev achieves just that in this short portrait of this most energetic of cities.  If you like to people watch as much as sight-see then you should thoroughly enjoy this as Soloviev not only captures the places but that which brings them alive - the people.

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19 December 2016

Redeem: The Beginning - Multi Award Winning Sci-fi Short


In another time, another place, a young woman is surplus to requirements and so subject to elimination by a death squad.   Yet she was given time till sundown to redeem herself – something gave her a second chance.  This multi-award winning short by Dennis Peterson is hopefully to be made in to a feature film, so catch the original while you can!
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Krampus: Santa's Sadistic Sidekick

The song lyrics have never been truer.  Oh You better watch out,  You better not cry,  You better not pout, I'm telling you why.  Yet it isn’t Santa Claus that you have to watch out for – it is his sinister and somewhat sadistic sidekick – Krampus. He has a whip – and he is going to use it.

What on earth has this creature of the night – more orc than elf – to do with Christmas?  If you have children you may well be aware of the mantra – if you don’t behave then Father Christmas won’t bring you anything.  The idea behind Krampus is similar – only the threat is not that Santa won’t bring them anything but that Krampus will whip them in to the New Year.

17 December 2016

15 Witty Grammar Jokes for You


There have been a lot of grammar memes over the last ten years and when you see them on social media they are beginning to look their age.  So, Teaching and Learning Resourcesfor Me on YouTube has decided to have a little fun (well, it’s Christmas, I guess) and has put 15 of the funniest in to a new video.  It may not completely satisfy your inner grammar nerd but it’s a start!  You can decide for yourself whether the title of this post is ironic, sarcastic, both or neither.
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Lost, Missing and Found Posters - The Funny Side

You have all seen them – you may have even appeared on one yourself – posters proclaiming the loss of a dear pet or relative.  Although some disapprove of them for their intrusion on public space most would not dream of removing them in the hope that whatever was lost will be found. And then there are those who embrace them as a form of alternative art.  Their alternative lost posters amuse and irritate with, quite possible, equal measure. We prefer to see the funny side – and so here are some of the best on the net.

10 December 2016

The Supertrees of Singapore

They look like a set from a forthcoming science fiction movie but these supertrees in Singapore are very much of this world.  A collection of eighteen of these trees, varying in size from 80 to 160 feet (25 and 50 meters), creates an amazing backdrop for Singapore's central business district.  What is more, they actually mimic real trees.

Eleven of these immense structures are fitted with solar panels.  The sunlight caught by these energies is converted in to energy which helps to run this thriving business center.  They are part of an area known as Gardens by the Bay.  Yet it will be many years before the energy they create recoup their initial cost.  The entire garden, despite its energy-efficient and green credentials, not to mention its increasing reputation as a conservation area for rare plants, cost three quarters of a million US dollars to build.

Fight!

Over at the Ark in Space there is a terrific set of photographs of animals caught in the act of fighting. Some of these conflicts are simply play - but in others you can see a real tooth and claw (or beak and wing for that matter) struggle going on. Wild!

He that fights and runs away
May turn and fight another day
But he that is in battle slain
Will never rise to fight again.
Tacitus


Image Credit Flickr User fPat
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Beyond – Action Adventure Short


Fancy a Spielbergian adventure movie but only have ten minutes to spare? Then try Beyond – it has all the required elements but has the additional attraction of being quite brief on its side too.  Written and directed by Jeremy Haccoun, the short film centers on young Leo. When a rock fall traps his parents inside a burning car, he must find the hero within him in order to save their lives...

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The Moment


A stranger asks an artist to draw his portrait and the moment becomes pivotal to her life.

This lovely animated short film explores, very simply, the idea that all that we see on the surface is perhaps of little importance to the profundity that lies beneath. It is also beautifully animated. The Moment was Written, Directed, and Animated by Karis Oh.

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When Were Slot Machines Invented?

Let’s face it, over the centuries people have created any number of ways to gamble.  It is even said that Keno, an ancient form of lottery invented by the Chinese helped to fund the building of the Great Wall of China.  Today we associate slot machines with online casino bonus software but their origin is not that much older (at least when we take the whole sweep of human history in to account!).

Whenever you see a machine with three or more spinning reels operated by a single lever at the side then you are in the presence of a slot machine, variously known as fruit machine, the slots, or pokies depending where you are from in the English speaking world. The lever today is mostly gone from designs but a number of new machines keep it as a kind of homage to history.

The precursor of the slot machine was developed in 1891 by Sittman and Pitt in New York.  Although it proved very popular there was no direct payout mechanism – this was considered too complicated as it used five drums.  If you won you had to show the proprietor of the bar and a prize would be given from a pre-written list.  As the prizes depended on the proprietor they could vary enormously.  What was needed was a simpler payment mechanism.

This came about in 1895 when San Francisco based  Charles Fey invented a system based on three spinning reels and five symbols: the Liberty Bell plus horseshoes, diamonds, spades and hearts.  This simplified the complexity of reading a win which meant that payoffs could be made.  The biggest was set if you managed to get three bells appearing in a row – the princely sum of 50 cents would be yours.

Ironically, California banned what became known as the Liberty Bell but Fey found it hard to keep up with demand elsewhere!  This is generally seen as the beginning of the mechanical gaming device industry.  By the turn of the century Fey’s machines (and their copies) were all over the continental United States.

It would take until 1963 for Bally Manufacturing to develop the first fully elctromechanical slot machine.  Known as the Money Honey it was the precursor of all electronic games which followed.  The lever would become defunct (we could even say vestigial) with the advent of these machines.  Fast-forward to today and the online games we play still echo these first machines.  The internet would seem quite foreign to those people who played the Liberty Bell back in the 1890s but the overall concept remains the same.

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If You Have Never Wanted to Visit China, You Will after You Watch This


China from Above is, as you have probably guessed, drone footage. Using a DJI Phantom 4, traveling videographer Stef Hoffer has captured some truly awesome landscapes as he crossed the country. This video takes us from the northern 'rust belt provinces' to the beautiful mountain landscapes of national parks like Zhangjiajie (often named as an inspiration for the Avatar movie) and Jiuzhaigou.  Sit back and take it all in and then, if it not there already, put China on to your list of places to visit!

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