27 February 2011

A Postcard from Egypt

Back to the Drawing Board, Mr Cameron..

Mondo Curio - The Photography of Paul Cook

Sometimes you find a website that is really worth talking about – and suggesting to others. So it is with Mondo Curio which is run by photographer Paul Cook. Cook takes photographs and then manipulates them to challenge our perceptions of what is original, investigating balance and equilibrium as a holistic aesthetic.

You will find a variety of images at his site, from animals and trees to bones and architecture which he has changed to present them to us in new and unexpected ways. His experiments with mirror imaging using photomontage really are quite remarkable. He had a sold out exhibition last year, (un)Natural History which was even licensed for use in a television pilot.

From May he will be showing a new exhibition, Parallel Universe at the Contact Photography Festival in Toronto, Canada, which we hope to feature here at Kuriositas. In the interim, here are two of his new pieces with some older ones below for you. Click on any to get to Mondo Curio and more of Paul Cook’s amazing photography.

Poles Apart


When you move to a big city it is more than easy to feel isolated.  In this case, Pang Pang is the only Panda in a town full of large polar bears that do not seem to take his size and his dietary needs terribly seriously.  Pang Pang does make attempts to fit in but to little or no avail – his efforts are generally met with patronising laughter.

Until one day...

Poles Apart was made in 2007 and has won a number of awards both in its home of Australia and elsewhere.  Made for their degree at the Griffith Film School it was created by Sean Wong, Steven Smith and Paul Lalo.
Of course, it isn’t just a story about a panda trying to rub along with a set of polar bears – it is a story about overcoming prejudice.  While most people don’t get the opportunity to prove their worth like Pang Pang is does remind the rest of us that everyone should be given a chance.

20 Minutes of Oxygen


It’s always good to see a band making a science fiction video especially if they approach the genre with respect but not too much reverence.  This is a particularly good example, especially when you take in to account the fact that it was made for a budget of only $1500.

The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets is the name of the band (bit of a mouthful, chaps!) and this track, 20 Minutes of Oxygen, is taken from their album Spaceship Zero.  There is a moral to this little tale – but we will let it be revealed to you at the end of the video – but there are plenty of atypical spaceman situations and dilemmas in this video to keep you amused for four minutes.  Of course without a song that is any good the video would fail – and this is a very catchy song. If you have not heard of the band before, they are an indy nerd-core band with a small but rabid following.

The video was made by Mike Jackson of Steampowered Films who cut it and created all the FX in After Effects. It was shot over the space of a single weekend on three Canon 7Ds. Toren Atkinson, who plays the astronaut in trouble, had to learn his lines backwards for the re-entry shot but we are assured that no astronauts were harmed in the making of this film.

To see where the band are coming from more fully you should go to their website.  However, if you take a look at their most recent gig poster (left) you may well get the idea. They also have the (nowadays obligatory) Facebook page.

Cthulhupalooza 2 brought  a Rock Band contest, the Call of Cthulhu movie, and Darkest of the Hillside Thickets show together to help raise money for the Child's Play Charity in Vancouver BC.

The rest of The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets comprise Jordan Pratt, Merrick Atkinson and Warren Banks who have recognizable roles in the music video if you have ever seen Star Trek.

I would, however, have to admit that there is probably a little more of Red Dwarf in here than of Rodenberry’s Baby.

25 February 2011

The British Census Looms...


(Just in case you need an explanation – in the last British census, over one hundred thousand people stated on their form that their religion was Jedi.  This was a concerted campaign to complain, in a very British way, about the additional questions that had been placed on the form and were seen as an invasion of privacy.  Many did it just to poke fun at the government, however. The Jedi census phenomenon as it became known gave rise to a movement to establish "genuine" Jediism.)

24 February 2011

Egyptian Children Define Democracy


This is interesting – and prescient to say the very least. Don’t give up on it in the first minute; subtitles do kick in when the kids start talking. Last year Emad Attia Botros and his colleagues decided that they wanted to create a short film that would allow the young people of Egypt to talk about democracy so that it could be used to teach and educate their peers about what it means.

Children aged 7-16 were filmed and asked to tell stories to illuminate what they meant and to elaborate metaphorically on the concept. Interestingly one of them chose to talk about how the people in a village united together to overthrow their landlord who had been dictating to them the way in which they should live. Just a few months later in January and February of this year that is exactly what the people of Egypt did en masse.

Although it might be argued that this was scripted the way in which the children deliver their stories is, on the whole, far too spontaneous to be a learned piece. The whole short film is rather well done with animations used to illustrate the children’s’ stories.

As Egypt has a young population, these are the people who will be (democratically, one hopes) running the show in a few years. If these kids represent a cross section of Egyptian society then the future for the country is brighter than many suspect.

It did make me ponder. If I was to gather a similar group of European or American kids and ask them to define democracy would the answers they give be half as articulate as the ones we see here?

23 February 2011

20 Amazing Examples of High Speed Photography

High speed photography is almost one hundred years old – the first recorded attempts were made in Germany in 1916. Almost a century later the technology available to us has changed dramatically, allowing us to see moments in time captured in a way that we could never have experienced before. Here are twenty amazing example of high speed photography. You will guess what some are in an instant – others may leave you rubbing your chin a little!

Sunny Side Up


This is an in-house stop motion project by Rocket Science Animation, a studio based in Gurguan, India.  Perhaps if you are afraid of flying you should think twice about watching this!  The story is about Mr Bhurjee, a very nervous passenger, who finally meets his maker rather unexpectedly.

Stop motion is incredibly difficult to get right so hats off to the animators at RSA for pulling this off – eggs are notoriously wobbly objects after all!  One thing though.  I realize that Mr Bhurjee is supposed to be an Indian egg, as it were – but did anyone else notice a distinct resemblance to a certain German dictator who joined the great omelet in the sky in 1945?

22 February 2011

The Heart Knows - Best Wedding Video Ever?


I had to share this with you because I thought it was simply quite amazing.  I can;t say I ever expected to see myself putting a wedding video on Kuriositas, but this is particularly clever.

Anuja Gupta and Nirav Shah, the two leads in this very short film make up a couple in real life.  The path of true love never did run smooth and this charts the tentative beginnings of their relationship. He was a shy Medical Doctor, she a pretty pharmaceutical representative.  It took them a while to introduce themselves to each other and this film shows how it came to pass.

Yes, this is a wedding video but one with a difference.  I have seen many (haven't we all?) and this is by far the most original I have seen.  Bollywood inspired, this of course has to feature a song and dance routine for both Anuja and Nirav as they try and work out just how (or whether) to make the first move.

I can only imagine the astonishment of the guests when this was shown on two big screens at their wedding.  It seems that there are one or two minor embellishments but it is pretty much their story as it stands.  One thing, though.  The pair most certainly overcame their shyness when it came to making this short movie.

It is also done with an immense sense of fun and joie de vivre which is quite contagious.  I was really rooting for the pair of them within the first minute or so.

As a record of the start of their relationship it is marvelous. They may not be sending one of their children to college, however.  This was not done on a shoestring!

Between Two Points


Every now and again – rarely though – a music video comes along that not only hosts a great piece of music but pushes the boundaries of animation, making people sit up and take notice. Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer from the way back when springs immediately to this old mind.

Here we have another one of those rare beasties. It is a track called Between Two Points and the artists are The Glitch Mob featuring Swan. I have to admit rather shamefacedly to not having heard of the artists involved here but to my ears they sound like a cross between the Cocteau Twins and Portishead – which gives them an unusually large thumbs up from this quarter.

The video is about the weight of dependency and is exquisitely done by the Motiphe team, who describe themselves as the four-headed collaboration of Katja Flachberger, Florian Juri, Sven Skoczylas and Rafael Mayrhofer, who came together each one throwing in some passion, talent or skill to create animations.

This is the first ever video for the LA based band The Glitch Mob (pictured left) and is taken from their album Drink The Sea.

The gorgeous voice you can hear is that of Swan. Since 2004 she has worked within the San Francisco Bay Area and West Coast underground music scenes, writing, recording, and performing her own original music as well as joining forces with many independent producers and bands.

Wonderful sound, wonderful video. Perfect!

The Drinking Bird – Scientific Toy for the Ages

He looks a little ridiculous, a fuzzy headed bird with a top hat and a big bottom.  Yet in the 55 years since it was patented generations of children (not to mention those who refer to themselves as grownups) have laughed at his bobbling, dipping and nodding.  Yet behind the chortles and chuckles there is some serious science – this drinking bird seems to violate the laws of physics.

Seeming to do something and doing something are, of course, entirely different things and the drinking bird, also known as the dipping, dippy or even bobble bird is not, as some have suggested, a perpetual motion machine.  The bird ducks, takes a sip of water and bobs right back upright, rocking gently.  However, instead of becoming still the rocking becomes progressively wilder until he dips down and takes another drink.  This seems to go on and on – perpetually as it were. So what exactly is going on here?

The intervention of feline saboteurs aside, as with almost any invention of genius, the design of the dipping bird is deceptively simple. Basically the dipping bird is a glass tube and at each end there is a bulb, it’s as uncomplicated as that.  You can tell the top from the bottom easily.  The tube does not extend in to the top bulb but goes almost completely inside the lower bulb.

All the air is removed from the device when it is manufactured so the space inside is crammed with vapor, evaporated from the liquid, usually Methylene chloride.  A beak is placed on to the upper bulb and the head is covered with felt or a similar material.  Over the years variations on a theme have appeared but generally you get the beak, eyes, some tail feathers and that gloriously silly top hat.  The finishing touch to the contraption is the adjustable crosspiece upon which the glass shape pivots.

When the dipping bird seems to contradict the laws of physics it is in fact obeying them but the almost tromp l’oeil effect is what attracts us to it.  Perpetual motion machines do not (yet?) exist because in order to do so they would have to break the second law of thermodynamics.  The law insists that that the entropy of an isolated macroscopic system never decreases – to put it simply, you can’t break even.

One can only wonder if the inventor of the dipping bird, Miles V Sullivan broke even from his invention.  The idea began years before the patent and originally, as you might suspect, it had nothing to do with the bird.  Sullivan was an inventor-scientist at Bell Labs but as a young man he enjoyed evenings out.

It wasn’t the music or the lights but the bubbles in the tube at the sides of a juke box that grabbed his attention (see left, image credit Dawn Perry).  He noticed that the energy wasn’t going anywhere and the inventor determined that something could be done with them.  What he wanted to do was to harness motion- the idea of the bird came along later to make it more entertaining.  Of course, while it is simply for fun it is the science behind it which makes it work.

The contraption is what is known as a heat engine.     This is something that can be built when there are temperature differences that create energy.  To start the bobbing the head of the bird must be unceremoniously dunked in water.  The bottom bulb is room temperature.  The heat there raises the vapor pressure of the liquid inside to a higher degree than it is up in the head.

The liquid inevitably rises, making it top heavy – then it tips.  When it dips in to the water the temperature drops down.  It cools the vapour, the liquid drops back down to the bottom and the bird straightens up.  As long as there is water it can go – seemingly forever.  Time for a dipping bird face off.


Many assume that the liquid is colored water but it is Dichloromethane, an industrial paint stripper, degreaser and solvent. This organic compound is used since it has an accelerated rate of evaporation. Methylene chloride will irritate the skin and lungs but as long as the glass does not break, you are safe.  If it does spill, ventilate the room well and it will soon evaporate.

The bird, selling in its millions, ended up out of Sullivan’s hands.  He was in it simply for the fun – but he was at least named inventor of the year in 1979.  For a toy, however, it displays several physical laws and is a great tool with which to teach children something about chemistry and physics.

Among the laws it exhibits are the combined gas law, the ideal gas law and Maxwell-Bolztmann distribution, which is perhaps the most interesting.  It shows that molecules in a given space can vary in energy level and so can exist in more than one phase at a single temperature – in other words that they can be liquid or gas at the same temperature.

It also demonstrates enthalpy of vaporization, which shows that substances can give off or absorb heat when they undergo Maxwell-Bolztmann distribution.  Additionally, the dipping bird also shows torque, which the tendency of a force to rotate an object about an axis, not to mention center of mass, the position of the center of mass is fixed in relation to the body.

All in all, for a toy – it’s pretty clever.  It must be right up there in the pantheon of best toys of all time. Admit it, you want one – again.

On a final note, here at Kuriositas we would normally be the first to encourage the don’t dream it, be it mentality.  However, any maxim, those valuable principles that an individual uses to make decisions, can be taken to extremes.  In this case we think we might stick to don’t dream it, buy it instead!
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