The Hexacoto

Listening to the sound of one hand clapping

Month: January, 2014

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Reblog: See the Inner Anatomy of Barbie, Mario and Mickey Mouse — Bones, Guts and All

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From the Smithsonian:

Oftentimes, when parents first see Jason Freeny‘s sculptures that reveal the inner anatomy of cherished childhood toys, they get a little worried that their children will be disturbed. Most kids, though, have a rather different reaction.

“Kids aren’t scared by them. They’re fascinated,” says Freeny, the New York-based artist who’s hand-sculpted hundreds of these inner anatomies, built into commercially-available toys, over the last seven years. “I believe that being frightened by inner anatomy is a learned thing. It’s something that’s taught to kids by society, rather than something that’s innate.”

Freeny himself responds to supposedly morbid anatomical features—like, say, a Lego’s intestines, or Mario’s lungs—the same way kids generally do. “I love anatomy,” he says. “As an artist, I’ve always been a big fan of drawing organic shapes, because of their complex detail.”

Freeny, who now creates the sculptures and other art full-time, documenting their creation on his Facebook page, began working on the project in 2007 on the side, while he still worked his day job as a designer at a tech startup. It began when, while digitally illustrating a balloon animal, he decided to try his hand at drawing its inner anatomy. “I started by drawing its skeleton system, and I was just fascinated by the completely grotesque skeletal system that its shape was dictating to me,” he says.

After illustrating the innards of several other characters (including a gummy bear), his startup closed, and he was laid off. Eventually, he moved from his 600-square-foot Manhattan apartment to Long Island—where he had enough space in the garage to do some sculpting—and embarked on his first 3D anatomy project. “I started cutting into a little Dunny toy, and decided to give it a clay skeleton anatomy,” Freeny says. “That’s when it all really took off.”

In the years since, Freeny has anatomically-supplemented dozens of different characters from video games, movies and even brand advertisements. For each sculpture, he begins by buying a high-quality toy (“If it’s a crappy toy to begin with, the sculpture is going to end up looking crappy too,” he says), then cuts away a portion of it. Using clay, he sculpts the character’s bones and a few internal organs, then paints them what he imagines to be realistic colors. Working on several pieces at a time, he completes about four or five per month, and sells the hand-built sculptures on his website along with his other artworks.

Hypothesizing the proportion of each character’s innards is the trickiest part. “It’s like a reverse forensics project,” Freeny says. “The exterior shape dictates what the skeleton looks like.”

He generally uses scientific illustrations to make the sculptures as accurate as possible. However, because the characters themselves are fictional, that’s sometimes impossible. “Mickey Mouse, for example, is a mouse, but he walks upright, like a person,” he says. “So his body, like many characters, ends up being more of a version of a human skeleton, distorted to fit inside the character. It’s a balancing act.”

One of Freeny’s current projects—Sid, the sloth from Ice Age—has proven to be particularly difficult. “His body’s just very extreme, and cartoony,” he says. “At first, I was approaching him as a human, and it just wasn’t working, so I used some sloth anatomy proportions. Almost the entire length of their bodies are ribcage, which solved a lot of anatomical problems for me.”

Initially, Freeny was unsure what reactions his unconventional work would garner, but they’ve been overwhelmingly positive. In some cases, he’s even gotten praise from the creators and manufacturers of the characters (although he’s also had a couple of corporate legal teams tell him to stop making the sculptures, alleging intellectual property infringement).

Although he recognizes the value of his sculptures as tools for scientific education—and has seen his own kids learn from the dozens of pieces lying around his workshop—his original intention was never to teach anyone anatomy. “I just love exploring these characters, and seeing what they look like inside,” Freeny says. “I want to see the grotesque, weird anatomies that these toys dictate.”

So much bad reporting about the Obamacare-Little Sisters brouhaha

Little Sisters of the Poor. Courtesy of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

Image credit Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

One of the news stories that came out around the turn of 2013/14 was the story of a religious group of nuns, the Little Sisters of the Poor, who aid the elderly. The story reported by many publications basically says this:

Obamacare is forcing a religious group of nuns to provide contraception to their employees! Shame on Obamacare!

Related arguments include: The Obama administration doesn’t think the Little Sisters are religious enough to qualify for church exemptions; the government shouldn’t force religious entities to do anything that goes against their moral beliefs.

Currently, the majority of news sites that tout this stance are mostly Op-Eds, as well as, of course, Fox News, and some others infamous for being less credible news sources, such as the NY Post.

However, given some of the facts of the case that were made available from the beginning of the case that really undermines the Little Sister’s standing, it’s unbelievable that writers are still deliberately ignoring those points and writing pieces with only side of the story — much bad journalism indeed. Well, I suppose sensationalising stories is nothing new, especially with some news sites whose purpose are not so much to enlighten but to build narratives.

However, some sites, such as the Huffington Post and the Denver Post, have also been guilty of reporting only one the side of the story where the Obama administration is being the overpowering encroacher. For them, it shouldn’t have been hard to do a quick search to find out what the facts are, should it?

I’ll summarise the facts and developments of the story:

  • On January 1st, 2014, a mandate from the Affordable Care Act (ACA), popularly known as “Obamacare,” would require employers providing insurance to is employees to include contraception coverage, or face fines.
  • Religious organisations, such as churches and synagogues, are exempt.
  • The Little Sisters of the Poor is a religious-affiliated non-profit, not a religious organisation, so they are still required to provide contraception coverage.
  • However, a provision in the ACA states that religious-affiliated groups, such as the Little Sisters, can opt out by filling out a conscientious objection form.
  • The objection form will then pass the burden of providing contraception coverage onto a third-party insurer.
  • Little Sisters says that even signing the form goes against their religious beliefs, because it makes them complicit in providing of contraception.
  • However, their arguments have a flaw: their employees are using a “church plan” insurance, which pre-dates the ACA, and under the church plan, the Little Sisters doesn’t have to provide contraception coverage anyway.
  • Little Sisters appeals for an injunction of the ACA mandate on them, appeal was rejected. On December 31, one day before the ACA mandate takes effect, Justice Sotomayer grants a stay on the rejection of the appeal, until a decision is reached.
  • The U.S. government has asked the Supreme Courts not to extend the exemption

There is a law, the Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), that sets the standards for benefits provided to employees, should employers choose to provide them, and those under the church plan provision of ERISA don’t have to provide contraception coverage. Since it pre-dates the ACA, it limits the federal government’s authority over the health plan that the Little Sisters has, the Obama administration argues, and under ERISA the Feds couldn’t intervene or penalize it.

“There is no statutory authority to regulate the third-party administrator of a self-insured church plan and no legal compulsion for that administrator to provide contraceptive coverage where an eligible organization with a self-insured church plan invokes the accommodation, ” the government lawyers argued in an earlier Circuit Court brief.

So the Little Sisters is essentially just against the signing of the form, where if they do sign it, nothing changes from status quo — no contraception coverage will be provided, not even by third-party insurers. Yet if the Denver group doesn’t invoke that “accommodation” by self-certifying, it is still subject to hefty fines under the Affordable Care Act, at $6,700 a day, or $4.5 million a year, which comprises a third of their budget. Are they then petitioning against potential spiritual complicity, not even actual spiritual complicity, where signing the form equates to providing for the possibility of complicity, where if I sign, were I not under a church plan, I’d possibly have to provide contraception coverage, and that is against my moral beliefs? Can people actually petition against a counterfactual situation? The Becket Fund for Religious Freedom, which is also defending a similar case for Hobby Lobby, a private company that refused to provide contraception coverage because of their religious values, has taken up the Little Sisters’ case.

There is no deadline for court action, and Sotomayor can make the decision herself or refer it to the whole court, in which case all nine justices will decide.

Reblog: This suave chap is apparently a girl! Don’t believe us? We don’t believe our eyes either

I swooned

Would you like an Obama bun?

As I was writing about chopstick innovation and learnt how a design company, Nendo, attempted to innovate the chopstick while keeping with the traditions of lacquerware-making from the Wakasa province, a historic province that is today part of the Fukui prefecture, and I learnt a lot about the lacquerware type unique to Wakasa called Wakasa-nuri 若狭塗り.

The Wakasa province is renowned for its exquisite lacquerware, including its signature chopsticks, and the ancient capital of the Wakasa province is a town called Obama 小浜市.

Yes this lacquerware hub of ancient Japan shares its name with the current U.S. President Obama.

“Obama,” which means “little beach” in Japanese, has many of the temples during the Yamato dynasty. Needless to say, when President was first senator and ran for presidency, the city gained worldwide attention.

From Wikipedia:

The city of Obama has received much publicity because it shares its name with U.S. President Barack Obama. It began when Obama as a Senator gave a 2006 interview to Japanese television network TBS where he noted that, when passing through customs in Narita Airport, the official who inspected his visa said that he was from Obama. The Obama City Hall heard about the interview and the mayor, Toshio Murakami, sent Senator Obama a set of the city’s famous lacquer chopsticks, a DVD about the city and a letter wishing him the best. As Senator Obama’s presidential campaign progressed, more local businesses began to organize primary parties and put up “Go Obama!” posters, sell “I love Obama” T-shirts, and produce manjū (a type of Japanese confectionery) with Senator Obama’s face on them. A hula group began in the town in honour of Senator Obama’s home state of Hawaii. The troupe visited Honolulu in June to perform at the Pan Pacific Festival.

President Obama has since thanked the town for their gifts and support, saying “I look forward to a future marked by the continued friendship of our two great nations and a shared commitment to a better, freer world”.

Check out these Obama buns

Of interesting note, the card says: Obama Manjuu, Oba-man, using the typical Japanese practice of making portmanteaus

Also, unsurprisingly, Obama, Fukui’s Wikipedia page has been vandalised. Under “Demographics,” someone wrote, “The population of Obama consists of Japanese aboriginal groups mixed with Indonesians, mulatos, Texans and Koreans.

van

Chopsticks innovation

Chopsticks are such simple tools that rethinking, redesigning, and improving them seems like an impossible task. But, if something as simple as the umbrella can be redesigned, so too can a pair of chopsticks.

Oki Sato from Japanese design company Nendo was asked to redesign the chopstick, and looking at the kind of problems that people run into when using chopsticks (square chopsticks are too pointy, round chopsticks too slippery, chopsticks are messy to store, etc.) Take a look below at the concepts he came up with for re-imagining chopsticks and how they can be made better.

hanataba 花束 (bouquet)

“Round chopsticks are slippery to use, but overly square-cornered ones aren’t as comfortable to hold. We explored ways of increasing the surface area of chopsticks in the hand, as a way of improving holding comfort, and discovered the natural form of the pleated cross-section. When viewed as a cross-section, the chopsticks look like flowers, so a bunch of chopsticks kept together into a cup turns into a ‘bouquet’.”

jikaoki 直置き (direct placement)

“We designed new chopsticks in collaboration with Hashikura Matsukan, a manufacturer who continue Obama’s traditional manufacturing techniques today. The firm’s expert artisans carefully carved away the chopsticks’ tips to fine points, so that they float above the tabletop when the chopsticks are laid down for cleanliness, even without chopstick rests.”

sukima 隙間 (gap)

“The world is full of patterned chopsticks, so we wondered if it wouldn’t be possible to create pattern in the space between the chopsticks. We came up with four patterns: hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades. The two chopsticks are carved into different shapes for all patterns but the diamonds, but it’s possible to use one of the diamond chopsticks as the top chopstick with a spade, or the bottom chopstick with a heart, for a total of four different patterns from the four different chopstick pairs. The carving made the chopsticks so thin that they weren’t strong enough with wood alone, so we embedded a carved aluminium core in the wood to solve the problem.”

kamiai 噛合い (engagement)

“We designed new chopsticks in collaboration with Hashikura Matsukan, a manufacturer who continue Obama’s traditional manufacturing techniques today.We put a gap on one of the four sides of the square shaped chopstick, and embedded a magnet, so that the two would snap together in one piece when they are flipped and fitted to each other.
We placed the magnets towards the outside of each chopstick, so that the chopsticks don’t come together accidentally while someone is using them to eat.”

udukuri 浮造り

“We used the udukuri process, in which the wood surface is carved away with a metal brush, leaving only the hard wood grain, then lacquered the chopsticks and polished them again to bring out the wood grain as pattern. The traditional technique, in which materials clamshells, eggshells and gold leaf are applied with the lacquer then polished away to reveal a pattern is known as ‘togidashi’ (literally ‘to polish and show’), and is particular to Wakasa-nuri. Unlike patterns drawn by hand, this combination of processes allows patterns from nature to appear organically.”

rasen 螺旋 (helix)

“We designed new chopsticks in collaboration with Hashikura Matsukan, a manufacturer who continue Obama’s traditional manufacturing techniques today. Chopsticks ordinarily come in pairs, but the rassen chopsticks are a single unit. They’re separated into two for eating, then rejoined into one form when not in use. We used the artisans’ hand skills and a multi-axis CNC miller to create these unusual chopsticks.”

All photos by Akihiro Yoshida

Miyazaki: Not retiring from making retirement announcements any time soon

hayao-miyazaki

Good news for all Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli fans. Miyazaki is (once again) not retiring! The studio’s iconic film-maker’s apparent retirement was disputed when Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki talked about Miyazaki’s current project.

From the Guardian:

The news that the 72-year-old film-maker is continuing to draw was broken by Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki on the Japanese TV show Sekai-ichi Uketai Jugyō. “I think he will serialise a manga,” said Suzuki when asked how Miyazaki was enjoying his retirement. “From the beginning, he likes drawing about his favourite things. That’s his stress relief.” Suzuki then confirmed the project’s Warring States setting, but added: “He’ll get angry if I talk too much. Let’s stop talking about this.”

This marks the seventh time Miyazaki has announced his retirement, and came back each time:

  1. 1986: Castle in the sky
  2. 1992: Porco Rosso
  3. 1997 : Princess Mononoke
  4. 2001: Spirited Away
  5. 2004: How’s Moving Castle
  6. 2008: Ponyo
  7. 2013: The Wind Rises

In this freezing weather, blow bubbles

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From Komo News:

What to do when you’ve got a creative mind, a knack for photography, and temperatures are hovering near single digits?

Go blow bubbles! Then take pictures of what happens next.

Arlington’s Angela Kelly of Kelly Images and Photography has been featured in this blog before for her beautiful natural displays of dew drops and melting frost.

But when she heard we were about to be invaded by a chilly arctic wind, she decided to try her hand at something new: Frozen bubbles.

“When I learned that we were expecting to see our coldest temperatures last week since last February, I knew I had to try to capture the ice we were bound to see it in its best (and most interesting) form,” she told me.

So she and her 7-year-old son ventured out on some very frigid mornings last week when the temperatures ranged from 9 to 12 degrees.

Then, using a homemade solution from a recipe that she found on the Internet that combined dish soap, karo syrup and water, they gave Jack Frost several individual easels for him to paint his magic.

“We blew the bubbles across the top of our frozen patio table and also upon the hood of my car and then we watched in awe as each individual bubble froze with their own unique patterns,” Kelly said. “We noted how they would freeze completely before the sun rose but that once the sun was in view they would defrost along the tops or cease freezing altogether. We also noted how they would begin to deflate and implode in on themselves making them look like alien shapes or in some cases shatter completely leaving them to look like a cracked egg.”

She said it was so cold that some of the smaller bubbles would freeze mid-air and drop like stones to the ground.

“Are we ever too old to play with bubbles?” she asked, rhetorically. “I really think that this is the most fun, unique and beautiful series I’ve done yet!”

You can see more of her amazing natural photography — frozen bubbles, melted frost and others, on her Facebook page.

The New Yorker’s guide to playing Nostradamus for 2014

Want to sound like you know what’re you’re talking about, when prompted for opinions on the outlook for 2014 when at a dinner party? The New Yorker provides a cheat-sheet on world events that will matter in 2014 based on the developments of the previous year, so that one can make impressive-sounding informed predictions for the year.

1. Can Obama recover? Sure he can. After all the troubles of the past couple of months, his approval rating is already rebounding a bit. According to the Gallup daily tracking poll, he ended 2013 with a forty-four per cent approval rating. That’s not great, but it’s higher than his numbers throughout much of 2010 and 2011. Surprisingly enough, it’s also higher than his ratings in the summer of 2012, just before he waxed Mitt Romney in the general election. How high can Obama go? That depends upon the answers to the next two questions.

2. Will the economy accelerate? Yes. Barring some great cataclysm, this should be the year when G.D.P. growth finally rises above three per cent—a rate of expansion it hasn’t seen since 2005. According to the latest figures, all the major sectors of the economy are picking up, withmanufacturing and construction leading the way. Job creation has increased, and economic-policy decisions are helping. The Fed remains committed to keeping interest rates at record lows, and the recent budget deal between Democrats and Republicans means that fiscal policy will be a bit less restrictive than it was last year, when it reduced growth by about one and half percentage points.

3. Will Obamacare work? Yes, but there will continue to be problems. On New Year’s Eve, the government announced that six million Americans had already signed up for health coverage. About 2.1 million have found private insurance policies through the online exchanges operated by the federal government and the states; another 3.9 million have signed up for the expanded Medicaid program. So much for the idea that the Affordable Care Act was unworkable.

The potential problems are threefold. Enrollment through healthcare.gov, although it has picked up sharply, remains below the Administration’s projections. And it’s not clear who is signing up. If, as some observers suspect, it is mainly older people and folks with preëxisting conditions, then this will create problems for the insurance companies, who will be tempted to raise prices for 2015. That could lead to more complaints about people losing their existing policies and being forced to buy more costly plans.

4. Can the Republicans take the Senate in the midterms? It’s not out of the question. To gain control, the Republicans need to gain six seats, which is a big swing. But the Democrats are defending seats in seven states that Mitt Romney carried in 2012: Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota, and West Virginia. Early polls show the G.O.P. candidates leading or close in all of these states. Democrats will be hoping to hold at least a couple of them. Two of their best bets may be Louisiana and North Carolina, where the Democrats, Mary Landrieu and Kay Hagan, have plenty of money and strong organizations. In Georgia, Democrats also have hopes that Michelle Nunn, the daughter of former senator Sam Nunn, will take the seat being vacated by G.O.P. senator Saxby Chambliss. Throughout the country, much depends on whether the Republicans can put up mainstream candidates, or whether, as in 2012, they will be burdened with Tea Party extremists.

5. Will Hillary Clinton launch a second bid for the Presidency? Yes. In a recent interview with Barbara Walters, she said that she would decide in 2014. She has a lot of support in the Democratic Party; her poll ratings, although they have slipped back over the past twelve months, are still decent; and, since she is now sixty-six, this is probably her last chance to become the first female President. Not long ago, I spoke to somebody close to Hillary who said that the chances of her running were seventy-thirty. I reckon the real figure is about ninety-ten.

6. Will the Iranians agree on a permanent nuclear deal? Only Ayatollah Khamenei and his fellow mullahs know the answer. So far, they have supported President Rouhani’s outreach to the West, which resulted in an interim agreement that suspended nuclear enrichment in return for limited relief from sanctions. But talks on a broader agreement have already run into difficulties,and reaching a deal would necessarily involve the Iranians making a series of concessions that they have hitherto stoutly rejected. “It remains uncertain if Iran recognizes the extent to which it will have to roll back its infrastructure to reach a deal,” Robert Einhorn, a non-proliferation expert at the Brookings Institution, told the Wall Street Journal.

7. Will the civil war in Syria end? No. Now that both the Obama Administration and many of the Islamist rebels have effectively given up on the Free Syrian Army, the only victor in the war is likely to be Bashar al-Assad and his government forces. But the United States, along with Assad’s traditional enemies Turkey and Saudi Arabia, will be loath to accept this reality. Together, they’ll provide enough weapons and logistical support to keep a hodgepodge of anti-Assad forces in the field, while the international community tries to cobble together some sort of face-saving peace deal. The likely result: more bloodshed and more refugees.

8. Will John Kerry produce a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians?No. With its security policies working, and Palestinian terror attacks greatly reduced, the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu sees no need to make the sort of compromises that a peace treaty would entail. Earlier this week, as Kerry arrived in Tel Aviv to try and revive the peace process, Ze’ev Elkin, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, said, “The Jordan Valley must be under Israeli sovereignty forever.” He added that “the 1967 borders are Auschwitz borders.” A great many Palestinians, meanwhile, see the 1967 borders as the basis for a negotiated solution.

9. Will the Chinese economic miracle continue? Yes. After thirty years of rapid growth, the Chinese economy is now threatening to overtake the U.S. economy as the world’s largest, according to some measures. But there’s still plenty of scope for so-called “catch-up growth.” In terms of G.D.P. per person, the United States is still about five times as rich as China. Even middle-income countries such as Latvia and Chile are twice as rich. But with the formerly Communist nation still spending close to fifty per cent of its G.D.P. on infrastructure projects, education, and other forms of investment, the gap is likely to keep closing for some time. That’s what happened in other fast-growing Asian economies that industrialized earlier, such as Japan and Korea, and there’s no reason to expect China will be different.

10. Will the bitcoin bubble burst? Perhaps. In recent months, the online currency has gone from a cult object to an economic phenomenon that governments and investors are starting to take seriously. Even Ben Bernanke said that such currencies “may hold long-term promise.” But that doesn’t mean that bitcoins are worth their current price in the market. Underlying all the hype and discussion is a bit of a contradiction. If bitcoins are the next-generation means of payment for global online commerce, which is what some of the currency’s techie boosters believe, we are going to need a lot more of them in circulation. But once there are lots more of them going around, their scarcity value will diminish, and so will their price.

11. Will the stock market crash? Over the long term, U.S. corporations are a much safer bet than bitcoins, but this year could be a tricky one for the market. It’s not just that prices have gone up a lot—in 2013, the Dow jumped thirty per cent. The bigger problem is that long-term interest rates are rising, which often portends trouble for stocks. Paradoxically, the biggest danger is from a strong economy. If G.D.P. growth accelerates dramatically, investors will start to worry about the Fed shifting back to normal faster than expected, and this could lead to a sell-off in stocks. Wall Street is hoping for the “Goldilocks” recovery to continue, with growth strong enough to boost corporate profits, but not strong enough to spook the Fed.

12. Will Brazil win the World Cup? No. With an experienced coach in Luiz Felipe Scolari,and gifted young stars like Neymar (Barcelona)Oscar (Chelsea), and Bernard (Shakhtar Donetsk), Brazil has the talent to match anybody. But in such a soccer-made nation, and with a relatively inexperienced team, the pressure of winning at home will prove too much.

The changing face of the New York Time’s webpage

 

 

nyt

The New York Times launched their new webpage today.

From the Atlantic:

This week, The New York Times will be launching a redesign of its website. The updated version of NYTimes.com, the paper promises in a promo, will be “sleeker,” “faster,” “more intuitive,” and “enhanced” than its forebears*. “We’ve streamlined our article pages,” the paper explains, “and created a more responsive interface with faster load times.”

Another thing that’s being streamlined? The site’s homepage. The front door to the country’s paper of record has been remodeled, with a new emphasis on interstitial spaces and sleek blacks and whites. Above, you can see that evolution in action—via a GIF featuring screen-captures of homepages dating from the past to the present: the years 2001, 2004, 2007, 2012, and the soon-to-come version of 2014.

Hat tip Chris Heller