29 June 2010

Cisco Pavilion @ Shanghai World Expo

The Cisco Pavilion at Expo 2010 Shanghai was centred around a theatrette that presented a large, wide screen film, that worked as the high point for the entire pavilion experience.  You may find you cannot see the subtitles unless you go wide screen - but do, as this is well worth taking in!

The brief for the film was : to show how technology is going to be a seamless part of all our lives in 2030. The response was a fully dramatized film featuring characters in an extended family in a future Shanghai. Individual stories are followed through a typical day as the networked city around them eases them through a major storm crisis and into their happy family reunion.

Altogether, very, very cool!

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26 June 2010

How to Correctly Hold an iPad

Amazing Dance of Nao by Aldebaran Robotics (video)

You may have heard of Nao - he is the robotic creation of European company Aldebaran.  This, though, is simply brilliant.  The company, founded by Bruno Maisonnier who has had a dream for over twenty five years that robotics could become an everyday reality, is currently marketing their Nao robot like crazy - and you can see why here.

Perhaps we are one step closer with Nao, who we see here performing en masse in the French Pavillion at the Shanghai Expo, to realising the dream of robots in our lives.We may not be in the full realm of Spielbergian Artifical Intelligence but certainly a few steps closer thanks to Nao and his dancing feet.

Nao possesses four microphones which fitted into his head and a voice recognition and analysis system. You can supplement the words he already knows with words and expressions you want to add. These words can trigger any behaviour you choose. He has full bluetooth capacity and you can send him your music to play back to you later!

He can also read out any files that you store on (in?) him which can even be from an RSS flow so you can catch up with your favorite blogger (cough, cough!) through him.  He has speakers on either side of his head and he can even be configured to allow for voice alterations. Nao is also capable of detecting the source of a sound or voice to deal with that source and start interacting.

This is worth watching to the end just to see the really cute way he bows.


Many young men who live on their own tend to keep their appartments a little untitdy - and that can lead to infestations, all sorts of nasty little creatures can take up home unless something is done.  This great CG short film by ArtFx takes this premise to a rather unnatural conclusion and has the said young man's appartment invaded by a miniature human society.  This is very cleverly done work - a whole city is recreated in and around the detritus of a mid-twenties single man.

Perhaps he has a date.  Perhaps some sort of revelation occurs to him.  Whatever, one morning he decides to clean up...

Guernica - Picasso's Masterpiece in Animated Form

This is a wonderful piece of work in itself but tells the story of Guernica - considered by many to be Picasso's masterpiece.  Guernica demonstrates graphically the tragedy of war and the suffering that it brings to ordinary individuals, particularly innocent civilians.

The work gained monumental status and is a perpetual reminder of the consequences of war, an anti-war  symbol, and also an embodiment of peace. On its completion Guernica was displayed around the world in a brief tour and became famous and widely acclaimed. The tour helped bring the Spanish Civil War to the world's attention as the incident at the village of Guernica was one of the most unwarranted episodes in Spanish history.

This fantastic was made by Evgeny Popov and the sound production and the marvellous Spanish guitar is by Maxim Alechin.  Popov is a graduate of the Saint Petersburg University of Humanities and Social Sciences.  He works as a multimedia director, editor and CG artist - as well as being handy with a camera too.

Aqua Tower - Inspired Inventiveness and Vision in Chicago

Destined to be one of the most instantly recognized buildings in the world the Aqua Tower in Chicago has the simplest of ideas behind it.  The idea for the tower came from the eroded rocks that can be found around the Great Lakes.

The project is the work of Studio Gang Architects, led by its principal and founder Jeanne Gang and as such is the largest project to be given to a practice led by a woman.  It towers 82 storeys high and is used for both residential and business purposes.

The name reflects the nautical theme of the other buildings in the locality and you can see why, with the wave like balconies that give the tower an organic, almost living ambience.  The terraces on the balconies are refined so that solar shading is maximized.  Sustainability is a hugely important part of the structure, with energy efficient lighting and rainwater collection systems. 

The tower also boasts the largest green roof in the city of Chicago but it was not without its challenges, most of them lying beneath.  The building is directly above a ComEd substation which feeds the downtown district.  Furthermore, there were old freight tunnels which ran under the site and these had to be removed of debris before being grouted solid.

When you look at the building from the sidewalk its fluid form really does give you impression of the rock formations found around nearby Lake Michigan.  It is almost as if Gaudi has been reincarnated and has set the skyline of Chicago as his next city wide project, with the Aqua being the first of his triumphs (but of course the praise must go to Gang and her team, daydreaming aside).

Skyscrapers are often seen to be an expression of, to put it politely, male prowess and there has always been a certain my skyscraper is taller than yours not so friendly competition.  Perhaps the elegance and fluidity of this design is due to the fact that Gang is a woman – as is at least half of the staff on her team.

What is more, the complex facade has made the building much safer for our feathered friends.  Birds tend not to see sheer glass and the walls of many a skyscraper are adorned with the somewhat splattered corpses of birds.  As they pick up on irregularities of structure then the building’s very design makes it safer for them and easier to avoid a collision.

It could even, in its spare but complex beauty be seen as a kind of bird’s nest itself.  A thoroughly twenty first century nesting ground for high living urbanites.

CRAB Robot

Do you remember RoboCop?  Perhaps we are getting closer to that reality with this pretty intense 4D animation.  This is the CRAB robot which stands (rather worryingly) for Cybernetic Remote Autonomous Barricade or CRAB for short.  It comes from the mind of designer Jamie Martin and we think it is just a little bit scary.  Put it this way, it wasn't designed to help children cross the road!

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20 June 2010

Studio East Dining – A Perfectly Proportioned Pop Up Restaurant

Perched precariously above the sludge and sounds of the London Olympic site something new stirs Last week saw the opening of a new and exclusive rooftop dining experience in London, Studio East Dining.  However, if you want to partake of the many pleasures available at Studio East Dining, then you will have to be quick.  The purpose built pavilion will close down on 4 July.

So, a restaurant that will be open for just three weeks?  What is the thinking behind that? It is the brainchild of Westfield Stratford City and Bistroteque, the hugely popular French restaurant in Camden Town.  Bistroteque were the pioneers of what has become known as pop-up restaurants – eating spaces that last just a temporary few weeks.

The architects are RIBA award winning Carmody Groarke and the temporary pavilion offers amazing views of London’s key landmarks.  Carmody Groarke are a young firm of architects who are best known for their 7/7 memorial situated in the city’s Hyde Park. The restaurant is an ingenious set of boxes which, clad in polythene and scaffolding, radiate in to a starburst shape.

Rooftop dining is something of a rarity in London and this is an exquisite addition.  The pavilion overlooks the 2012 Olympic Park which is still under construction. The menu is something finished to perfection, however.  Diners have been spoiled by summery, communal feasts prepared by the head chef of Bistroteque, Tom Collins.

The private dining rooms seat up to thirty people and have their own dedicated staff who ensure that guests stay looked after as they admire the pavilion itself and the views it offers.  There are two gallery spaces: the cocktail gallery looks to the north east of the city while the dining gallery overlooks the Olympic stadium and the stunning skyline of London.

The restaurant is perfectly proportioned and shaped to take full advantage of the views, yet it also retains a privacy and closeness which are necessary for the dining experience. The architectural design ensures that the views do not commandeer the experience of good dining but the form of the restaurant creates a sense of inclusion which is fortified by the enormity of the views on its exterior.

Some of the features may seem rather spit and sawdust – but that seems to be part of the overall design plan rather than an indication of any sloppiness.  The sheer amount of plastic, scaffolding and bare wood is a very cool juxtaposition with the ongoing building of the Olympic site the restaurant overlooks.

The restaurant is, however, just part of a cultural initiative by Westfield Stratford City which hopes to identify and then support emerging artistic talent in East London.  Artists and creative innovators will have the opportunity to have their work embedded in the fabric of London’s Olympic Park and this is part of a showcase for this new talent.

Kuriositas would like to thank Flickr users Jamesup and FJ!! for giving us their kind permission to reproduce the pictures above.  They both have very cool photostreams - why not pay them a visit?

19 June 2010

What is Nano?

We are truly living in the age of nano technology, but would you be able, if asked, to explain what exactly the word nano means?  No, me neither.

This short animated film explains exactly what a nano meter is to a small girl, using a hair on her head as the starting point.  This animation combines excellent production standards with a clear remit of what is explained - and it is done in a way which will leave you wondering why you didn't know that already.

It is created by Zensoft Studios, innovators of digital media experience that educate, inform, and entertain. In their own words: Science Alberta Foundation put us to the test with the challenge to design two short animations that would clearly illustrate the concept of the nano scale and outline the careers that utilize nano materials or develop nano technology.

...and didn't they do a wonderful job!


The Neanderthal in You

Have you ever wondered what it means to be human? Well if you haven’t then many scientists, theologians and philosophers have given it quite a lot of thought over the last six thousand years or so. For that amount of time we have thought we were pretty much unique – a one of a kind.

However, new evidence shows that we are more related to our closes ancestors, the Neanderthals, than anyone had previously guessed. Here Stephen Nash, a Denver Museum of Nature and Science scientist explains this link to the Neanderthal, with the aid of some excellent visuals.

14 June 2010

Rain on a Strange Roof – The Singapore Skyline Casino Caper

Marina Bay Sands by anyone’s standards deserves a double take.  Take One. OK, you may think, that’s three pretty big towers with a great enormous boat thingy on the top.  Take Two.  A what on the top? A swimming pool, that's what!

It may not be a boat or a thingy, but this new feature of Singapore’s skyline is unusual to say the very least. The Marina Bay Sands comprises of three hotel towers, each of which is a towering 55 stories.  The three towers are connected by a sky terrace positioned precipitously on their roofs. A hectare in area (that is ten thousand square meters) this surprising addition is called Sands SkyPark.

The whole incredible structure is what the Singaporeans describe as an integrated resort.  What that basically means is that it is one great big Casino – gambling has only been legal in the country for five years since it was outlawed in 1826.  Marina Bay Sands (should we just call it MBS from now on? Perhaps not – Megabits Per Second, Medal For Bravery and Methodist Boys School among others) was designed by Moshe Safdie.

The 72 year old architect and urban designer does not do things by halves.  The whole resort measures six million square feet and the cost of the development is estimated to be somewhere in the S$8 billion – that is over $5.5 billion of your US dollars. As such, as well as being quite a challenge to build, the whole construction project is the most expensive integrated resort property which has ever been built.

What really seems to draw the eye, though, is the sky terrace.  It is the home to the longest elevated swimming pool in the world, and has a 475 foot vanishing edge which just sounds scary, to be frank.  At 650 feet above the ground swimmers might be forgiven for being a little nervous putting a toe in the water. There are even palm trees on the roof, poised picturesquely around the pool. You may have noticed them already.

Here is something even scarier for the nervous swimmer, however.  There are four movement joints beneath them.  They are vital when it comes to helping the 400,000 pounds of stainless steel which make up the pools withstand the motion of the towers.  The range of motion is almost twenty inches, which means that the pool should be able to withstand quite a sharp wind.

The hotel towers come with their own amazing statistics.  They hold 2,500 suites and rooms and come together with an Art-Science museum and a convention center (more of which in a little while).  All told the resort will be able to hold 45,000 people when it is working at full capacity.  Yet there is a rain falling on the strange roof of Singapore’s casino caper.

Ah, yes. There is the rub, you see.  In order to be able to generate the forecast $1 billion annual profit, the place has to be ready.  Marina Bay Sands was supposed to open in 2009 but eventually opened at the end of April this year.  The first conference was held there in May but some of the facilities were not finished and there was a power failure during an important speech.

At night the place looks amazing, with a helix bridge that can be used to reach it. However, it did not impress the first corporate customer. The conference organiser held back payment and was sued by the complex which was then counter sued by the organiser.  Words of a certain heat and texture have been exchanged.  It was, after all, quite a large bill (S$300,000).

The second phase opening is due to happen before the end of June 2010.  Hopefully the theater will be ready to host Disney’s The Lion King when it opens in October.  Or perhaps they can hold it on the SkyPark, with Simba held aloft to view the whole of Singapore beneath him.   The museum of arts and sciences is due to open by Christmas.

It can only be hoped that, ultimately, Marina Bay Sands will be a belated triumph, not least for the estimated ten thousand jobs that will rely on its success.

13 June 2010

Penguins in Heaven

What do penguins do for their holidays?  Why, they take a short plane ride to experience zero gravity, that's what. 

The fact that they can do this underwater, effectively, is besides the point, this is just so cool. 

Created by the French digital animators, delapostparis, this is a superbly realised animation and very funny in to the bargain.  Well, we laughed.

The Einstein Tower – Hobbit Astrophysical Observatory in Germany

If the denizens of The Shire had ever pursued sciences such as astrophysics or astronomy, then their observatory may well have look something like this.  The Einstein Tower in the German town of Potsdam looks like something a curious Halfling might visit to explore the skies above Middle Earth but is, in fact, a perfect example of early twentieth century expressionist architecture – of the human variety. However, just like that of the Shire, its history has not always been a peaceful one.

The idea for the Einstein Tower (or Einsteinturm in German) came about in 1917 and was funded and built through public donation.  It went in to operation in 1924 three years after Einstein won the Nobel Prize for Theoretical Physics and at a time when Germany was in social upheaval.

It was designed by the architect Eric Mendelsohn (seen on the left in 1931) who at the time was among the most prolific of the modern architects working in Europe at the time.  In Germany he was far better known than his contemporaries but his reputation has since been eclipsed by the likes of Le Corbusier and Van Der Rohe. We will return to Mendelsohn later, but for now let us return to one of his finest works.

Potsdam can be found twenty five kilometers to the south west of the German capital, Berlin and the Einstein Tower is perched on the summit of the town’s largest hill, the Telegraphenberg.  It is a relatively small tower but it is vigorously modeled.  Mendelsohn’s idea was that it would symbolize the greatness of Einsteinian concepts but remain a functional building.  The tower temporarily lost its name in 1933 when the Nazis took over Germany and it was heavily damaged during the Second World War.
Mendelsohn sought a building of complete plasticity in his design, a building without angles but with round and smoothed corners. Concrete is the ideal for this, as it can be forced to curve but at the time of building there was a shortage of the material and parts of the building were built from brick.  However, this combination of concrete and brick worked as the external effect was produced by rendering the surface material of stucco.  It is still viewed by many as one of the most uniquely brilliant buildings of the twentieth century.

Einstein’s Tower houses a magnificent solar telescope which was designed by the astronomer Erwin Finlay-Freundlich who was also a working associate of the great man Einstein himself. Below shows the inside the dome of the Einsteinturm - on the right is the heliostat, on the left, a mirror which reflects the beam of light down the tower.

Legend has it that Mendelsohn took Einstein on a tour of the tower and waited patiently for the nod of approval from the world famous scientist.  And waited.  And waited.  Much later when Einstein met with the building committee it is said he whispered a single word – organic.  To this day it is not known if this utterance was intended as approval or opprobrium.

One of the great ironies of this amazing building was that it enriched the lives of German citizenry at the time.  Yet the three men associated with it at the time, Finlay-Freundlich, Mendelsohn and Einstein all had to leave Germany in the 1930s because of their Jewish ancestry.  The bust of Einstein in the tower was reported to have been melted down during the Nazi era but after the end of the war in 1945 it was established that it had been hidden by workers at the tower.  The building was itself heavily damaged by allied bombing and had to be renovated, something that was undertaken again when during the celebrations of its 75th birthday in 1999.

Initial research at the Einsteinturm revolved around the 1911 General Theory of Relativity.  A predicted effect of the theory was a small shift of spectral lines in the gravitational field of the sun.  Known today as red shift, the Einsteinturm was designed to verify this phenomenon.  It soon became obvious that this was going to be a lot more difficult than previously thought because other solar influences obscured the shift of spectral lines.  So, the outer solar atmosphere and its behavior soon became the primary focus of the Einstein Tower.  Red shift was subsequently not proven until the 1950s. Solar Magnetic Fields and their behavior is the current focus at the Einstein Tower.

Most people know what happened to Einstein – he went to live and work in the USA.  What of the other two men, Mendelsohn and Finlay-Freundlich?  Both had to leave Germany because of the rampant anti-semitism of the thirties.  So what happened to them?  Mendelsohn (left) fled to the UK in 1933 and eventually went on to the USA.

There, among other things he helped the US Army build German Village.  This was a replica of working class housing estates which helped the Americans gain the necessary knowledge to firebomb the real thing in to acquiescence in 1944 and 5.  He died in 1953 having spent the remainder of his life on projects for Jewish communities.

What of Finlay-Freundlich (left)? He too was obliged to leave Germany in 1933 and he first went to Turkey where he worked at the University of Istanbul as a professor.  Following that he went to St Andrews in Scotland and then on to John Napier as professor of Astronomy.  In 1953 he proposed (with Max Born) an explanation of red shift.

The original function of the Einstein Tower had, by one of its instigators, finally been realized.