28 September 2014

Sunday Short Movie: Pizza Verdi Starring Norm Lewis

An apparently everyday pizza delivery spirals into an edgy game of cat-and-mouse. Giuseppe Verdi provides the soundtrack for this quintessential New York tale. This is something that you must really not stop watching until the denouement as otherwise you will just not get it!

Pizza Verdi was written and directed by Gary Nadeau and stars Marie Zamora and Norm Lewis. In case you are wondering the song Caro Nome is from the opera Rigoletto. Ms Zamora does not simply mime the song either – she actually sings it! This reminds me a little of the old Roald Dahl TV series Tales of the Unexpected where we were consistently reminded to never judge a book by its cover!

Alaskan Summer

If you think that summer never lasts for long, spare a thought for your average Alaskan.  At around four weeks in length, summer in Alaska takes a long time to arrive and then is gone before you barely get used to it. However, with around twenty three hours of daylight, plant life here at the edge of the Arctic bursts in to life. There is a side to Alaska that does not necessarily always have to involve the white stuff.

A landscape of Fireweed in the shadow of Mount McGinnis. Although Alaska is home to lots of ice and snow, summer warms some of it up quite nicely. The state's second city, Anchorage, is protected by the Alaskan Range and the Chugach Mountains.  Add to that the warming currents of the Pacific Ocean with low humidity and the summer temperature can rise in to the 70s.

4 September 2014

Adolfo Farsari – The Man Who Shot Japan

In the 1880s at a time when most Europeans were denied access to the Japanese interior an Italian photographer managed to capture many images of Old Japan. These were then beautifully and realistically hand painted and serve as a remarkable record of a world long since disappeared.

30 August 2014

Elgin Park – Remarkable American Town Frozen in Time

Imagine a town as time capsule, where nothing has changed since the 1960s. Certainly, there are examples the world over but for the most part these towns have been abandoned, left to their own devices due to the ravages of war, nuclear pollution or simply changing demographics.  However, there is one town in America that still looks just as it would have in the decade that gave birth to rock and roll.  Welcome to Elgin Park.

The minutia of everyday American life is there to be seen. The Top Toys store is there on the corner, pristine and just how it was all those decades ago.

29 August 2014

ROA – Mysterious Belgian Street Artist

You may not be aware of the distinctive art of ROA but the first thing you will acknowledge is that this mysterious Belgian street artist likes animals. No, let’s put it in a better way – there is an obsession here. Growing up in Ghent, Belgium in the eighties the artist had modest artistic beginnings, with art under bridges and walls.

23 August 2014

The Deadly Dewdrops of the Drosera

Look closely, but be wary of touching.  Those beautiful glistening drops of dew at the end of the plants you can see in these photographs are not quite what they seem.  In fact, rather than being dew, that jewel of the earth, these gleaming globules are in fact mucilage. Muci-what?

17 August 2014

The Art of the Japanese Manhole

The Japanese have a wonderful relationship with their manhole covers: they treat them as art.  Here is a selection of the ornate, the artistic and the slightly bizarre.

13 August 2014

The Dandelion - Whimsical World-Wide Weed

The humble dandelion. From your garden to almost the ends of the earth this small but conspicuous plant flourishes. Gardeners do not appreciate its presence, considering it a weed, even though its flowering usually indicates the beginning of the honey bee season and could be seen as a welcome sign. Its simplistic looking structure hides a few surprising secrets and its cultural resonance, especially in Europe is strong. Here is a short but sincere homage to one of the small wonders of our botanical world.

Let’s start with the names, both common and scientific. In English, dandelion is a corruption of the French. Originally it was called ‘dent de lion’ and the name came over in 1066 with a certain William and his Conquerors. It means ‘lion’s tooth’ and many people mistakenly believe it refers to the orange colored flower head, confusing the words beard and tooth.

7 August 2014

Haw Par Villa – Unusual Singapore Theme Park

In 1937 two brothers from Singapore had a dream – they wanted to help people to learn, remember and pass on traditional Chinese values as expressed through myth, legend and the tenets of Confucianism.  They already had a small venue – the Tiger Balm - but wanted to broaden the appeal to a wider audience.  So was born the idea of extending the place to incorporate a garden in which Chinese legends would come to life.

Let the monkey warn you, however.  If you are of a nervous disposition, perhaps it is time to consider whether you wish to continue on this particular journey.

5 August 2014

Hidden Treasures: The Socio-political Cartoons of Winsor McCay

Winsor McCay, cartoonist and animator died in 1934 but he set the standard in animated movie making that others, including Walt Disney, were duty bound to follow.

He was also well known for his newspaper comic strips, Gertie the Dinosaur and Little Nemo in Slumberland. However, his socio-political cartoons have been somewhat overlooked, perhaps because of the success of his strips and animations.

Here is a selection of those cartoons from the years 1929 and 1930 – in some ways very similar to our own. 80 years may separate the days the cartoons were drawn but has so much really changed?

The debate still rages today (both at home and abroad) about US interventionist policies in other countries.  At the end of the 20s isolationism - almost the opposite - took a significant hold on both the people and the politicians.  The crash of '29 made the country more inward looking and determined to fix its own problems rather than interfere with those overseas.  For McKay, who spent the last eight years of his life at The American newspaper creating editorial cartoons for Arthur Brisbane, his flair for cartoons put him in the right place at the right time. His job was to engage the reader’s eye and so persuade them to read the editorial. As such he was to tackle many of the social issues of the day, including the economy, prohibition and human nature in general.

31 July 2014

Valencia – Astonishing City of Arts and Sciences

There are not many places you can visit on Earth that enable you to imagine that you have been transported to a city of the future or, indeed, to an alien culture many light years away from our third rock from the sun. However, the City of Arts and Sciences is just that sort of place.

The City of Arts and Sciences is something of a Phoenix in nature. Its home is the old bed of the river Turia. In 1957 the city of Valencia suffered a great flood and the river was diverted, which enabled the area where the City of Arts and Sciences now stands to become a park in 1980. The city itself started construction in 1994 and the last finished great project there was opened in 2005.

26 July 2014

Watch This Toddler Have Her First Paragliding Adventure

Luisa is a very lucky little girl if you ask me, even though I am not quite sure how I would have reacted being hundreds of feet above the ground when I was her age.  I probably would have screamed my head off for the duration but Luisa takes it in her stride and with such easiness that it looks as if she has done it a hundred times before  In fact I would probably scream my head off for the duration even now.

23 July 2014

Bless You

You may have had a moment or two like this: you spend an age working on a project only to get bored with it.  This is the case with the architect in this animated short by Philip Watts.  He decides to spice things up a little with his creation by introducing something that will set the (not quite proverbial) cat amongst the pigeons.

Philip Watts is a film and television editor, but since the early 90's he has been producing animated motion graphics for the television industry. He has also worked as a freelance cartoonist on a few occasions, and recently he started combining these two interests and making my own animated short films, hence Bless You which is a very cunning mix of traditional animation, tilt shift photography and something pretty much like Flash (that’s a guess by the way).  Who cares how it was made, ultimately – it’s great fun and executed with great panache.

7 May 2014

First Steps

Commander Liam Scott becomes the first American on a newly discovered planet and recalls some important first steps he made years before.  A tad jingoistic this may be (I would like to imagine countries coming together for space exploration!) but this is a beautifully created piece of film by Ramiro Cazaux.  The cinematography is wonderful but the one stand out for me is the space suit – epic! (Take a look at our 10 coolest space suit designs feature).

27 April 2014

Indila - Dernière Danse

This is just amazing.  Indila is a French singer who released her first album at the end of last year.  This is the first single taken from the album and it’s wonderful, ethereal and enigmatic.  Lyrically it is all about her having one last dance before the pain and suffering of love overtakes her again.  Marry that to a pitch perfect video by WeKapture and you get this little slice of heaven (ok, Gallic angst but it's still fabulous because that's what it is).

26 April 2014

Mercury Beating Heart

If you were lucky enough to have a cool science teacher you may have seen the mercury beating heart in class. If not, here it is for you!  It is an electrochemical redox reaction which causes a drop of mercury in liquid to oscillate – and it looks (at times at least) like a beating heart.

In fact you may have guessed there is a little more to it than just mercury and liquid.  When the mercury is placed on a glass surface (in this case it looks like a watch glass or something similar) the liquid used is sulphuric acid.  This is an electrolyte (something that acquires a negative or positive charge by gaining or losing electrons when it is mixed with water).  It contains an oxidizing agent, which is something that can accept electrons from another source. 

The source in question is the slither of iron which has been placed, almost touching the mercury.  The oxidizing agent in the sulphuric acid oxidizes the mercury which forms a layer of mercury oxide. This layer reduces the surface tension on the mercury droplet which means it flattens out and comes in to contact with the iron.

The mercury sulfate oxidizes the iron to the iron and is reduced back to metallic mercury. When it is all metallic again the drop rounds back up and the contact with the iron is lost. Then the process begins all over again.

People have been having fun with the mercury beating heart since it was first observed by a no doubt startled Carl Adolf Paalzow in 1858. It’s probably just as well it wasn’t a century or two earlier – this may have looked a little too much like witchcraft for anyone foolish enough to announce their observation to have survived for long!

Still interested? Then here is an experimental sonification (the use of non-speech audio to convey information or perceptualize data) of the redox reaction.

18 April 2014

Dalek Made From An Egg - Eggsterminate!

How cool is this?  A Dalek made out of an egg – looks like a brilliant homemade present for a friend or a member of the family who just can’t get enough of the Science Fiction TV show Doctor Who.  But just how do you make one?  We just know you want one, right?

Here is a step by step guide, from egg carton right back to the egg carton - courtesy of Flickr User PugnoM.  Yes, you too can create your own species of Daleks from the original race, the Kal-eggs (ouch).  You won't even need a sonic screwdriver.

1 April 2014


Los Angeles - 2023. James Striker is on the verge of bringing down the oppressive government that has crushed all freedom in the United States in Shifter, a short live action science fiction movie by the Hallivis Brothers. But before he can take them on, Striker must get past a homicidal drone and an elite squad of EFT soldiers. His only advantage is the SHIFT, a process that allows Striker to transfer his mind into an identical clone body. New body, Same mission: Bring the whole system down.

8 February 2014

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

1 February 2014

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.

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