25 February 2017

Einstein and the Honey Bee

It is said that Einstein calculated that if the honey bee were to disappear then humanity would die out in four years.  The bee population of the UK halved by the year 2007 due to Colony Collapse Disorder, the reasons for which are unclear. If Einstein was right then we have real reason to worry and the reasons for the collapse of so many bee hives must be addressed immediately.

Yet was Einstein correct? This short animated film by Lucy Cash explores his (supposed) statement and takes a look out our ongoing and enduring relationship with that most special of insects, the honey bee.

The Painted Monasteries of Romania

You would reasonably expect a monastery to have frescoes - inside.  Yet a number of monasteries in the Romanian region of Moldavia have centuries old frescoes on the exterior of their katholikon (main church) which have, incredibly, survived the years and the elements.  Perhaps the most famous, which you can see here, is the Voronet Monastery with its bright azurite background – known to Romanians as Voronet blue - but it is not alone in this remarkable tradition.

The Wolf Eel: The Old Man of the Sea

Possibly not what you might want jumping out at you when you are on an ocean dive! This is the wolf eel – it can grow to eight feet long and has teeth that can easily crush human bone. Something to be avoided at all costs, then?  You might think so but then the truth is often stranger than fiction.  This old man of the sea turns out to be something of a pussycat and will gladly let divers stroke and feed it – and it’s just as curious about us as we are about it.  Find out more about the wolf eel over at the Ark in Space with great pictures and an awesome video to boot.

Image Credit Flickr User Ed Bierman

Once There Was a King - A Polish Lullaby

This is a rather startling animated version (by Tytus Majerski) of an even more startling Polish lullaby.  Once There Was a King tells the story of a monarch and his two companions, all of whom meet rather grisly deaths.  You begin to scratch your head about how exactly this was designed to allow children to get to sleep without nightmares (and possibly years of therapy) until you get to the third and final verse and then things are (fortunately!) set straight.

The lullaby itself was written by Janina Porazińska, a famous Polish writer who was born in 1882 and who died in 1971. The writer was enamored of Polish folklore and created her own stories which drew from this rich seam of literature. Her books have been translated into many languages. The song is performed by Maria Peszek.

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.”

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.


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.

18 February 2017

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

17 February 2017

Taidama - 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.”

TADAIMA - Japanese American WWII short film from Robin Takao D'Oench on Vimeo.

So we come to Taidama – which literally translates as “I'm home”.  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).

Taidama 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 Taidama 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 Taidama 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.

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?

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

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.

5 February 2017

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!

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.

1 February 2017

Just a Theory...

We all know that some people are better versed in FAB (the Fine Art of Bull….) than others but, like anything, it needs practice.  And for the novice, it must seem that whenever you come up with something that might just pass the FAB test there is always someone else who can put you in your place – in this case with just two words.

Captured by photographer Michael Coghlan on a wall in Adelaide, South Australia, one can only picture the pursed lips of the originator of this little thread when he (almost inevitably a he) saw the reply. Yet, aren’t theories (philosophical ones, at least) there to be put to the test?

What to Do in a Zombie Apocalypse

If you sighed – even ever so slightly – when you saw the title of this post, I know, I know.  A million and one websites have featured articles on what to do and where to go if and when the zombie apocalypse happens.

However, there is a distinct lack of public information films on the subject and here at Kuriositas we’re more than happy to help sort out that particular situation.  This survival guide to surviving Z-Day has all you need to know – and more – about your options come the day…

I am guessing that animator and director Michael Douglas is from the UK because he does a great job at informing this piece with some peculiarly British detail and humor.  Using the format of a public information film is pretty much a British comedy staple and here it is delivered with great panache.  Plus you just know that Mr Douglas had his heart (and his brain, too, unless our zombie friends got to it) in this project as it bleeds through the visuals.  Love the side swipes to a number of zombie movies, too!  Just bear with the intro music which goes on a little too long and you will be rewarded with everything you need to know in case of z-emergency - and a right old chuckle at the same time.
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