28 October 2020

Where does the word "Casino" come from?

At some point in our adult lives, most of us step foot into a casino.  Old casinos, new casinos, posh casinos, scruffy casinos – they certainly don’t come as a uniform mass.  Yet, for a lot of people our only experience of casinos is from movies like the James Bond franchise where they feature large, opulent surroundings full of glamorous people who don’t look as if they have had to work a day in their lives. So curiosity leads us through the doors.

For me, as many of you know, the pleasure is more often in the word than the experience.  Casino is a word with immediate cachet.  We all know what it means.  Where, though, did it originate? To learn that we have to roll back a few centuries and visit a certain European country.  From the lovely roll-on-the-tongue sound of the word, any guesses?

Yes, it’s Italy.    In Italian, the word for a house is “casa”.  To get the diminutive, Italians add “ino” at the end of their nouns.  So, casino literally means a “little house”.  This implies that it is not necessarily lived in by a family but the creature comforts that they might expect at home are also available there.  As the word evolved and became its own noun rather than simply the diminutive of one, it expanded to mean more.  It could be a summerhouse, a villa in the country or a social club.  That was the origin of the word in the sixteenth century.  Later it would come to mean more.

Flash forward a few hundred years and the word certainly evolved.  In the 1800s it came to be inclusive of other public buildings – anywhere, really, where enjoyable and pleasing activities took place.  Usually built in the grounds of larger buildings, these casinos could hold any number of different things, from concerts to dancing, civic functions, sports to, yes, of course – gambling.

This coincided with the mass emigration of Italians to the land of the brave, the home of the free – and they took their words with them.  The word casino was adopted in America and soon devolved to a single meaning, that with connotations of gambling.  So that’s why the word casino all over the world – down to the Americans as much as the Italians.  However, although that’s how it went it the US of A, back in the word’s home country of Italy, things evolved even further.

If you ask a twenty first century Italian what the word casino means they will probably tell you to go and look in a dictionary.  If, however, they are feeling linguistically generous they will inform you that the word means a mess, a noisy place or a confusing situation.  If you ask about gambling they will tell you that it has an accent - casinò.  That little squiggle on top of the ‘o’ changes the meaning of the word entirely but it is not something that the rest of the world has decided to emulate.

Mind you, in Spain, if you ask for a casino you will get sent to the nearest army barracks where the word means an officer’s mess.  That sounds very much like a story for another day, so for now let’s leave this particular word to itself...! 

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22 October 2020

Deutsche Welle's Great New Video Exposes the Worries of a Dictator


This is great. I don’t know about you but my eyes often roll and my shoulders seem to be permanently shrugging when it comes to how biased the news seems to be. Fortunately, there are still some broadcasters who have the guts (some would say temerity!) to show us what is really going on out there in the wider world.

The international broadcaster Deutsche Welle is responsible for the short film above – which has already had millions of hits worldwide. In it an unknown dictator suffers a bout of somnambulistic paranoia. What causes it? He is worried that freedom of speech is being upheld by broadcasters which are showing the truth about what he is really up to in a measured an unbiased way.

As such it’s a breath of fresh air - Deutsche Welle has been broadcasting for over 50 years and although based in Germany has massive international reach. That’s just as well – it’s easy to assume that the press everywhere is as free as in one’s own country. However, that simply isn’t the case – which makes initiatives like this which promote free speech all the more important. The fact that it comes from a broadcaster is also reassuring – we are reminded that at least one has not forgotten the importance of free speech and all the complex issues around that which make unbiased broadcasting so important for healthy democratic lifestyles to exist. 

If you would like to access more information about DW’s mission to provide unbiased information and the steps they are taking to promote freedom of speech, please go to https://freespeech.dw.com

You can see more about Deutsche Welle’s mission to give the world unbiased information at their English language website. Also of interest might be “The 77 percent”, Deutsche Welle’s online magazine for young Africans. It is so named because currently 77 percent of Africans are under the age of 35 and have little political power. All to often the only information they get are from the likes of the dictator in the video at the top of the page! So this magazine aims to share the stories, dreams and challenges faced by young people in Africa. It is well worth a look as it takes on controversial subjects, trending topics and is not afraid of breaking a few taboos!

18 October 2020

Downward Dog

A dog becomes increasingly lonely but nevertheless philosophical as his owner loses interest in him.  It doesn’t sound like a very good premise but this is put together so beautifully that you will come to accept that a dog is cataloguing life’s sad ironies to you.  It’s also very funny! Created by Michael Killen and Samm Hodges, and produced by the team at Animal (animalstudio.com), “Downward Dog” is the original web series that provided the inspiration for the upcoming ABC comedy of the same name.

Crystalapse: Frozen in Timelapse

Iceland never ceases to cause wonder and this beautiful footage, captured in March 2014 is no exception.  You will witness both the Northern lights and the phenomenon of the ice caves in their surreal beauty thanks to brothers Patrick and Henrick Shyu who make up Blue Eden.  Plus if you are something of a hopeless romantic then hang around till the end for something that may not make the ice melt, but almost certainly your heart.

The Pont du Gard Aqueduct Bridge – Masterpiece of Ancient Building

The question what have the Romans ever done for us? Was famously asked in the Monty Python film Life of Brian and certainly you might think that a few thousand years later that question is potentially redundant.  However, a one look at the Pont du Gard aqueduct bridge may put paid to that idea.

They certainly made things to last.  Although the Pont du Gard is no longer a functioning aqueduct bridge, the very fact that it isclose to two thousand years old and still standing is testament to the skills of its builders (although of course it has had renovations over time).  The fact that it has gone from being useful to simply decorative is neither here nor there.

3 October 2020

Very Little Stars

Jaw, meet floor. This is one of the most astonishingly good timelapse films you will see for a long time.  Created by Timelapse Inc, the short was photographed and edited by Ben Wiggins with the accompanying music being The Alley by DeVotchKa. Very Little Stars showcases the newest development in timelapse the adopted name for which at the moment is hyperlapse.

What is a hyperlapse? You may well ask.  Essentially it involves moving the camera while still shooting at a speed normally associated with timelapse.  It’s a new technique and one that has been evolving recently – what Wiggins does here is move it on to the next level by making these movements huge.  Sit back, go full screen and if your machine will take it, switch to HD. Remember to hold your chin in your hand to avoid the jaw/floor moment.

A Very Brief History of Humankind

For the first time in a number of years ordinary Europeans have been talking about the possibility of imminent nuclear war.  As Belarus continues to tear itself apart and no one offering  any kind of real solution people are increasingly worried that the conflict (putative civil-war, essentially) will escalate over the borders of this beleaguered country and travel west.  When that happens who knows what will come next. A hundred years ago a little known archduke was assassinated and the rest, as they say, is history.

The Grand Circle

The Grand Circle is a stunning, immense expanse of land located in the South-western United States. It encompasses parts of five states – Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Nevada. Not surprisingly it also holds the largest concentration of national parks and monuments in the country. It takes in Arches National Park, Monument Valley, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Antelope Canyon, the Grand Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, Mesa Verde, Natural Bridges, Canyonlands, and Grand Staircase-Escalante.

If the description is attractive enough, wait to you see this mesmerizing piece of timelapse film by Blue Eden (collaborative project by Patrick Shyu and Henrick Shyu). Shot with the Nikon D800 and Sony a99 there were moments where I had to halt the film and play it back – and I still can’t quite fathom how they managed to capture the shots. Amazing.

Moving Through Saint Petersburg

Take a whistlestop tour through the streets of St Petersburg. From 1732 to 1918 the city was the Imperial Capital of Russia and its many famous landmarks are testament to its history.  This timelapse was created by Geoff Tompkinson with an original soundtrack by with original music score by Vincent Jacq.

The video shows some of the best examples I have seen of hyperlapse techniques.  involves moving the camera while still shooting at a speed normally associated with time-lapse.  It’s a new technique and one that has been evolving recently - Tompkinson and his ilk are comfortably taking it to the next level with some huge, sweeping shots that make you wonder exactly how they were done.

A Rift Runs Through It: Iceland’s Divergence of the Plates

Thingvellir, Iceland: the landscape is wild and desolate but hauntingly beautiful.  Yet the serene magnificence of the surroundings belies an astonishing fact.  It is here as a result of massive, geological trauma.

Image Credit Flickr User Andrew Gibson
This is one of the few places above sea level where you can see with your own eyes what happens when two major tectonic plates drift away from each other.  In fact, Iceland owes its very existence to the tectonic processes which have played out along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge for millions of years.  It was born of the ridge, which runs right through it.

Love in the Time of Advertising

An animated musical love story about a young man who lives inside a billboard and is charged with updating the advertisements. When he falls in love with a beautiful lady living across the highway, he has to use the only method he knows to get his message across - advertising.

Love in the Time of Advertising was co-written, co-directed by David and Matt Berenty

The Frogs that Carry Their Tadpoles on Their Backs

You might not automatically put frogs on your list of good parents.  After all, they just seem to take to the water, spawn and leave.  Not these frogs, however. There are a number of species who go against this amphibious grain and look after their tadpoles with something approaching devotion (not that I want to anthropomorphize too much).  These species actually carry their tadpoles around on their backs.  Find out what they do this over at the Ark in Space today, replete with a great selection of photographs of tadpole carrying frogsters.

Image Credit Flickr User Pasha Kirillov