Category Archives: Blog

My blog and occasional comment on current affairs.

Our Solar System is a vortex

I'm not a scientist, but there are a few glaring errors in this picture.

I’m not a scientist, but there are a few glaring errors in this picture: orbits, scale, alignment, etc. But it looks pretty.

Apparently the standard animation showing the planets rotating around the sun doesn’t really show the whole picture. This video says the helical model is incorrect and we should embrace the vortex, but I think we can just say it is a different perspective and just get along.

What is true, for me at least, is that although I knew the solar system was flying around the super black hole at the middle of the galaxy (which is itself on the move), I never really envisage that movement. This clip shows that movement thanks to nifty graphics and it turns out to be really cool. Not only is the visual fascinating but it has allowed me to write phrases like ’embrace the vortex’ and ‘super black hole’. Which is always satisfying. Now watch, learn and by inspired by the awesome vortex of gravitational power!

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Happy Chinese New Year!

Happy CNY!

Happy CNY!

Happy Chinese New Year from everyone here at the Word of Ward offices. I was born in Hong Kong and spent 21 years there so I will use the Cantonese version – Gung Hey Fat Choy! 

In Mandarin, they say Gong Xi Fa Cai.

20160208_191910Obviously the best place to be for Chinese New Year is Hong Kong. They have one of the most spectacular fireworks shows on the planet. This is a place that has a pretty damned impressive laser and light show every day lighting up skyscrapers and the harbour, so when they try to impress, they know what they are doing. I imagine the rest of China has fun stuff going on too as do a lot of Chinatowns. Or, as I did, you can go to the EmQuartier shopping mall in Bangkok and see a 40 meter shining silver robotic dragon come to life and fire steam and light all over the place. Oh, and there were dancers, drummers, aerial acrobats, the Monkey God Hanuman and some kind of hot Chinese Princess rising up over everyone (she was probably representing someone famous but I am an ignorant soul).

20160208_202206I even uploaded a video to Youtube, I was that impressed. In the video below, the dragon bellows for a couple of minutes, but you can see the dancers and so on at the bottom. Then on the right a lady rises up and there is a brave chap spinning around in the air.

If you were there it was bloody impressive. Gung Hey Fat Choy and enjoy.

 

 

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Far Cry 4 review

far_cry_4Welcome to roughly forty hours of my life. Far Cry 4 is a colossal sandbox adventure in the fictional kingdom of Kyrat – which is basically a fictional Nepal or Tibet. There are Himalayan mountains and jungles and generally a ton of gorgeous scenery. And Shangri La.

You play a fellow called Ajay Gale and as the game starts, you learn that you are an American but you have some kind of major connection to the Kyrat. In fact by the end of the opening scene (see below), also seem to have some connection to the nutcase who is in charge of the place. As the game progresses, you slowly learn more about yourself. What is most important to know, however, is that you go from a bumbling tourist to a one man, highly be-weaponed killing machine in about half an hour. Your/Ajay’s parents were highly skilled terrorists, so maybe familiarity with weapons and ridiculous levels of murder are genetic.

far_cry_4

Jump on an elephant and kill!

Far Cry 4’s story is actually pretty good but the most important question is – is it fun? Obviously the answer is yes, or I would have to have been a pretty bored individual to play it for forty hours. As well as the main story, which can actually be done in probably 10 hours or less, there are a million other side missions and quests and sub plots and so on. You can go hunting, ride an elephant into an army base goring enemy soldiers as you go along. You can hand glide through stunning scenery then drop down into a lake to find hidden treasure. You can even go into an arena and take part in gladiator-style battles armed with a machine gun and fighting psychopaths and tigers. There are also weird adventures in Shangri-La, sub-plots featuring a serial killer who leaves possessed masks around. Also, and these are a lot of fun, there are missions where you try out various drug cocktails and go on insane drug-induced escapades. Oh, and there are also yetis.

When adventuring in Shangri-La you get a pet tiger. Called Mr Fluffington (joke).

When adventuring in Shangri-La you get a pet tiger. Called Mr Fluffington (joke).

So there is a shitload to do and you can do it all online with a friend to help you out, if you want.

If you have played Far Cry games before, or any sandbox game really, you will know what to expect. What sets titles like Far Cry, Skyrim, Fallout 4 and GTA apart are that they are fun, inventive and damned well made. They are also colossal and look gorgeous, which is a bonus. I have seen a photography exhibition based on photos taken purely within games and I imagine quite a few masterpieces will come out of Far Cry 4.

Apart from all the death, it's a really nice place.

Apart from all the death, it’s a really nice place.

I could go on but I can’t be bothered. I have some writing targets to hit and some wasteland to explore in Fallout 4. Here is the intro to Far Cry 4 and If you look below that there is a spoiler as to how you can finish the game in 15 minutes – and it is absolutely genius and a masterful bit game writing.

Enjoy:

SPOILER:

Ok, so if you sat through all that you will know that the crazy mad guy, Pagan Min, said to wait. In the game, you don’t. You get up and wander about and then get caught up in a mad adventure. At the end of 40-50 hours of killing, you battle your way back to the fortress and confront Pagan Min. He tells you about your past and his relationship with your mum, and shows you a shrine before handing the kingdom over and flying off in a helicopter. BUT, if you had just waited at the opening section like he told you, the same thing happens. Obviously you don’t then get to play the whole game, so it is probably only of interest to those who have finished already. Anyway, I thought it was a cool Easter egg and thought I’d share.

Holiday snaps of Kyrat

Holiday snaps of Kyrat. Thanks for the memories Far Cry 4

 

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Temple of Art

templeofartThe Temple of Art is a documentary (and website) about what it is like to be an artist. Although not just an artist, just generally creative. There are lots of writers, musicians, directors and actors, etc, featured, and the end result is damned inspiring.

Although I work as a writer for my day job, it is a non-fiction / journalism type of scribing, not really all that creative. As you can see at the top of your screen however, I am starting to publish some fiction and travel writing. It is surprisingly nerve wracking releasing something you have created out into the big wide world. You open yourself up to criticism and possibly even ridicule.  There has not been a book written that hasn’t got some ass-hat on Amazon giving it a shit review. (Seriously, search any well-known novel.) On the other hand, as Ricky Gervais said on Twitter: “It’s better to create something that others criticise than to create nothing & criticise others. Go create! Have fun :)”

So create stuff and screw everyone.

Temple of Art

templeorartteamHere is the blurb from their website:

“Temple of Art is a documentary that sets out to explore the questions around the people who dedicate their life to art. The film looks at what it means to be an artist, how to fail beautifully, and proceed with courage. Coming 2016.

From Good Bully Collective (Co-creators Allan Amato & Olga Nunes), score by Jason Seigler. Featuring Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Dave McKean, Amanda Palmer, Kevin Smith, Chuck Palahnuik and over forty more artists.”

For more info and to pre-order the documentary, look here: http://templeofart.net/shop/

Here is what got me all inspired in the first place. It is one of many ‘Temple of Art’ trailers and features Ben Folds, Neil Gaiman, Amanda Palmer, Grant Morrison, Chuck Palahniuk, Kevin Smith, and Billy Bob Thornton.

Temple Of Art: Permission from Olga Nunes on Vimeo.

 

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Cooperworld – a short story

I recently wrote a long short story called Cooperworld. Or a short novella. Whatever. It is 17,000 words. If you have a shiny new Christmas kindle or tablet, here is something to put on it. My gift to you. Except you have to pay a few pennies, so it is also a gift to me. It is science fiction, but it is more philosophical than a lot of my stuff.

Cooperworld

Screen Shot 2015-12-15 at 3.25.49 PMCooperworld is a 17,000 word short story. Which is quite a long short story, I’ll grant you, but it is the length it needs to be.

Here is the blurb:

In the near future, AI research is strictly controlled by paranoid governments. When a renowned Artificial Intelligence expert illegally decides to create digital life in an simulated universe, he doesn’t at first realise the implications of what he has done. Implications not just for him, but for everyone.
In this short story, journalist and writer Jason R. Ward has a light-hearted but fairly philosophical look at what constitutes consciousness and has a good hard look at how we perceive reality.

For US customers:

For UK customers:

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Happy New Year!

beachnyHappy bloody New Year! I hope it is going well for you so far and that you haven’t already failed miserably at keeping your resolutions. I have never really gone for resolutions but I will be making some minor alterations to my lifestyle. Mostly my writing lifestyle. Even though my full-time day job is writing, I also write for pleasure. My websites and increasingly, fiction, provide a welcome release valve for the sort of thing I usually write at work.

I am only sharing this because psychologists have proven that sharing your goals really increases your chances of achieving them. I won’t quote sources here, because I am not at work and you clearly have access to Google. So: this year I will write more on my websites and publish more fiction. Fiction like Cooperworld, which is a short story I wrote that you can see at the top of the page. Feel free to take a peek or buy copy. (FEEL FREE! DO IT!)

I hope at least some of you are doing ok with your resolutions and have set some achievable goals. If you have failed already… have fun! Happy new year!

 

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Merry Christmas

funny-santa-memes1007Merry Christmas from all of us here at the Word of Ward! (i.e. me.) Happy New Year too. I hope you all got what you hoped for this festive season. I know I did! Thanks Lord Santa. The ideal place to be reading the Word of Ward for the next few days is on your shiny new device, on your comfortable old couch, with a bellyful of food.

Eat drink and be merry no matter what you believe in. Cheers!

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Ford tells Trump: It was a movie

I just saw this short clip and it made me laugh. In a recent interview, Donald Trump had praised Harrison Ford as being the heroic president in Air Force One saying “My favourite was Harrison Ford on the plane. I love Harrison Ford. He stood up for America”.

Harrison Ford, utter legend that he is, was asked about what he thought and his reply was this:

 

Adele’s Hello by the Movies

adeleWe live in an age where geniuses with time on their hands can produce pointless things that are no longer limited to 15 minutes of fame on a local TV news show. Their 15 minutes of fame can now go global thanks to the internet. So it is with a man called Matthijs Vlot. He has taken Adele’s Hello and remade it with movies because… well no one else has. Or something. Whatever his reasons, it is brilliantly done. To be fair, he has had a over a million views and has links to his stuff, so he is probably doing ok from it. Here it is and enjoy:

I assume that if you can read this, you will have heard Adele’s Hello. If not, kudos to you, you must be very precise in your modern cultural exposure. Here is the original:

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Amazing image of the Earth and the Moon

Screen Shot 2015-12-02 at 10.04.27 PMI saw this on iflscience and thought I should share as it is great. Because of the atmosphere, the Moon looks quite close – whereas in reality, it’s really, really far away. Sorry if I am getting too scientific but the actual distance and scale are pretty damn easy to forget.

When the Japanese satellite Hayabusa 2 took a photo on its way to some asteroid or other, it took a photo of Earth and the Moon from 3 million km / 1.9 million miles away. The result is the amazing picture above. It reminds me of the Pale Blue Dot and now I feel all insignificant again.

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Map of musicians from each London borough

I saw this the other day and thought I would share. It is a map of top selling London musicians from each London borough created by a redditor called wittybrits. There are a few problems with it, such as why is Zeppelin where it is, but it is fun. This map of musicians is based on where an artist was born, or where the band formed, or where they were discovered, or something more tenuous. I’d love to live in David Bowie-land, but Brixton – not so much. My own part of London is Coldplay and Rod Stewart. Not sure how I feel about that. Happier about the latter, certainly. Anyway, here you go:

Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 10.49.23 AM

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Meteors over Bangkok

Bangkok meteor

Bangkok meteor

Although this website is supposed to be a blog as well as a review/rant/whatever-I-find-interesting kind of a site, I don’t actually ‘blog’ all that much. It seems a bit self indulgent and really, exciting though my life is, who cares what I am up to outside of family and close friends? Occasionally, however, things I find interesting happen to me or near me and this is one such case.

Less than two months ago, a meteor was spotted over Bangkok. You can see it in the picture above. Sadly that happened at 8:30 in the morning, when only the gainfully employed or insane are awake. I live in Bangkok and I missed it.

Last night, the Mrs and myself were relaxing at home and out of the corner of my there was a bright flash. At first I thought it was lightning from an approaching storm – it is the end of rainy season here and storms with lightning are common. Mrs Wordofward is more alert than I am, especially on a Sunday, and she said it was a green/blue flash that lit the sky. I grunted in a vaguely interested way and then social media started going a bit crazy about it.

Apparently we are in the midst of the Taurid meteor shower and this year is a good ‘un. There are supposed to be more meteors and I am now glued to the skies. Which is going to be dangerous in a place where pavements are full of stray dogs, missing manhole covers, people cooking with oil and coal, and tons motorbikes, but I will chance it. Here is a video. You will see why I think this is worth a share. Bring on the meteors!

 

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Create a hologram with your smartphone

Hologram on your smartphone

Hologram on your smartphone

This is very cool and I will be giving it a go the moment I have the free time and can be vaguely bothered. With just a couple of basic items it is possible to create a cool hologram with your smartphone. If you are relatively young, you will need something called a CD case – ask your parents. I have seen this done on a larger scale with an iPad and I might try that too, depending on how well the small scale version goes. And again – when I have the time and can be arsed.

I have explained enough and will now hand over to a clever man on Youtube:

 

 

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Salt of the Earth – Sebastiao Salgado

Salt of the Earth

Salt of the Earth

Salt of the Earth is a documentary movie about the life and photography of Sebastiao Salgado. It is astounding. If you are into photography, adventure, nature, films, etc, you will love it. Frankly, if you have a hint of a soul, you should see it. I was pretty blown away.

The film begins with a voice over talking about how photography means “drawing with light” and I started to get concerned this would be a two hour arty borefest. I don’t mind some art films but the linguistic pretension and false intellectualism they often employ, seem like they are trying too hard to impress. Thankfully, Salt of the Earth isn’t like that.

Soon after that opening statement there was a series of photos that made me realise I was seeing something that might change me. They were images of a gold mine / pit from hell, called Serra Pelada in Brazil, and were powerful, especially on a big screen. The imagery and photographic skills are awe inspiring and a great introduction to the abilities of one of the greatest photographers of all time. See it on the biggest screen you can find. Salgado captures the staggering sight of 100,000 men toiling in a colossal hole (see below), as well as capturing the people involved on a more personal level. As Salgado points out, this is a scene from history – this is what the building of the pyramids would have looked like. Thousands upon thousands of people working in heat without a piece of machinery in sight. Amazingly, none of them were slaves. This was a gold rush.

Brazilian gold mine

Brazilian gold mine

I started to think that maybe that maybe Salt of the Earth was simply going to be about this mine, but then we are off on a modern adventure with Sebastiao and his son Juliano (who partnered with the Wim’s to make the documentary). They are trying to take photos of walrus at the north pole but they get pinned inside their shelter by a polar bear. Then a trip to Papua New Guineau to see those tribespeople where the men but their todgers in rolled up bark. And then… You get the picture.

While this is happening, you also learn about Salgado himself. The documentary shows his family, what shaped his life,  his work, how his major projects came about. It is always fascinating but it is when he started to photograph humans and the mass escape of people from conflict and famine (frequently linked) that things get pretty dark. There are some horrifying images of the famine in Ethiopia and some incredible scenes from the burning oilfields of Kuwait.

Kuwait's burning oilfields

Kuwait’s burning oilfields

It was the atrocities in Rwanda that finally seemed to really get to Sebastiao Salgado. Then the war in Yugoslavia causes him to realise he has had enough. Even as a documentary viewer you have to admire how he survived such horror for so long. The way Salt of the Earth is structured, running in parallel with Sebastiao’s life, you can see why he returns home to plant trees and go a bit introspective. He is pretty disgusted with humans and you can see why. We really suck.

This, basically, is the lead up to his most recent work – Genesis. He goes to places that haven’t been royally fucked by humanity. His friends express concern that he is not a ‘nature’ photographer and he simply says that it is something he will have to learn. And he does. Like this:

selgadoAnd this:

fo_salgado_genesis_int-2b1There are other photos in jungles, deserts, snowy wastes; of exotic animals and rare tribes and more. He went pretty much everywhere and photographed everything and the pictures are consistently staggering.

sealsI have always been a fan of Ansel Adams and Cartier Bresson, and Sebastiao Salgado is a mixture of the two and by far my favourite photographer of all time. Seeing his work introduced and discussed by Salgado himself, along with a variety of others, is a great way to get to know his work and the thought processes behind it. I saw Salt of the Earth in the cinema and the way the documentary is structured, coupled with seeing the pictures on a big screen, made it a pretty emotional experience. Both my wife and an unknown lady on my left were weeping at the end. I, manfully, was fine but had a slightly itchy eye. A mixture of the documentary’s journey coupled with unbelievable imagery, made it pretty hard not to be moved.

As I said, I was blown away by this film and have waffled on way longer than normal. I kind of want to be a photographer as well as a writer now.

Here is a trailer:

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The Solar System to scale

This picture is wrong

This picture is wrong

I saw this video about recreating the solar system to scale and it’s really well done. My thoughts were provoked. So I thought I would share. To quote Douglas Adams and the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space.”

This video puts things in perspective. If you feel insignificant now, just wait till you have seen this. Enjoy.

 

 

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Apple phone controls ants!

This clip has been doing the rounds recently, so I thought share in case you got too excited or impressed. It is basically supposed proof that Apple phones scramble your brains. When the phone receives a call, the ants circle it as if worshipping it in a primitive ant-like way. And if you have seen Ant Man you will know that ants are pretty smart. It’s a bit like the opening of an Apple store in fact. Here you go:

If you watch this full screen in HD you can see something even more incredible. In the top right hand corner, you can actually see ants disappearing from existence! So either this an even more terrifying threat than I thought, or some dick has wasted everyone’s time and used CGI. I suspect the latter. Which I why I cautioned against getting too excited. Sorry about that.
 

Best public transportation systems in the world

I currently live in Bangkok and transport is pretty dire/awesome depending on how you see it. When I first spent more than a couple of hours here in the early 90s, public transport was basically buses, taxis, tuk tuks, motorbike cabs, riverboats, songthaews, random elephants, blah and so on. There are now two skytrain lines, an underground line and an airport link line which are all pretty ok. They are a generally sane bet in a city that thrives on chaos.

Bangkok taxis

Bangkok taxis

The thing about Bangkok however, is that there are about a million taxis (give or take probably hundreds of thousands). There are a lot and they are ridiculously cheap. And this was even before the heady days of Uber. It takes me about 40 minutes in a cab to get to my thrice a week day job and that costs about 110 baht. Or £2. Even with Uber. The main problem, is that in rush hour the limited public transport fills up and Bangkok turns into a colossal traffic jam. Also, if you are a tourist you will get massively ripped off and pay triple what locals and expats pay (tip – use the meter!).

I have previously lived in Hong Kong, London and Sydney so how do their public transportation systems fare?

Sydney – I never really went that far. I lived in King’s Cross for months and there are bars everywhere. I then got a shared flat in Bondi and there is a beach and bars everywhere. I was also unemployed. Occasionally I did travel around a bit and the system seemed fine. I met someone who advised that you shouldn’t travel at night but frankly it seemed safer than the King’s Cross of 1993, so maybe maybe they were just paranoid.

Hong Kong – it was a bit different when I was growing up in the 70s and 80s but Hong Kong exists about 5-10 years in the future compared to everyone else and plans accordingly. I remember the government announcing the underground system they were going to build and that it would take about 10 years. Exactly 10 years later, an entire underground system opened (the MTR). It still works like that there. Hong Kong thinks ” Where will need transport be needed in the future and how long will it take to build?” Then it builds it. Transport there is awesome.

London underground 100 years ago. On a personal note, my grandad was alive in London when this pic was taken

London underground 100 years ago. On a personal note, my grandad was alive in London when this pic was taken, which is pretty amazing

London – Like the city, it is rough round the edges but it works. London had the first underground system in the world, so it has been desperately trying to clean up and modernise for over a 100 years. The height of some tunnels was decided on the average man plus his top hat for fuck’s sake, so cut it some slack. The tube goes to a hell of a lot of places and is bloody handy. All proper Londoners have almost the whole map in their head and can tell any tourist the best route. So it shows how often the tube is used by locals. (Routes may be debated among Londoners, however, but only by them.)

I’ve travelled to a lot of places and frankly this list could go on for hours. Most of Europe is pretty good, places I have been in India, Laos, Morocco, etc, are pretty bad. Seriously, just hire an aggressive taxi. Other places like Berlin, New York, Paris, Singapore, are pretty good. Which is just vague. So here is an infographic with the some of the best as worked out by the good people at businessinsider. Mmmmm stats….

The best public transport systems in the world

The best public transport systems in the world

Thanks to http://www.businessinsider.com/best-public-transportation-systems-around-the-world-2015-8 for the infographic.

 

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Real life robots preparing for the singularity

Atlas Robot

Atlas Robot

No matter how often science fiction writers keep warning about this sort of thing, we are continuing research into both AI and robots. When the singularity comes and robots rise up and take over there will be quite a lot of gloating  and ‘I told you so’s. The main problem is that robots are kind of cool, so we will keep building them. Who knows, maybe they will want to be our buddies like in Star Wars or Asimov’s work (mostly). People shouldn’t necessarily allude to an impending apocalypse.

So check out this clip of Google/Alphabet owned Boston Dynamics’ real life robots wondering around outside. It looks a bit they are taking a drunk Terminator for a walk but it is still pretty impressive. As is the sort of robot dog with a hand for head. Enjoy the apocalypse, it is going to be shiny. (Damn, I alluded… so… hard… not to…)

The full length video is here:

 

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China to build Mega City One, Jing-jin-ji

Mega City One from Judge Dredd - around 100 years from now on east coast of US

Mega City One from Judge Dredd – around 100 years from now on east coast of US

China is going to build a real-life Mega City One. As I am sure you are aware, Mega City One, according to 2000AD, is due to exist around a 15-20 years from now stretching from Washington to New York and, after a few decades, from Florida to Canada. But that is just awesome fiction, whereas China’s Mega City is about to become a reality. (I will stop capitalising it now it is a real concept, rather than a name.)

China’s idea is to build a mega-city called Jing-jin-ji that encompasses the nine major conurbations that surround the Pearl River delta. There is no hyperbole when I state that this plan is going to be absolutely fucking uber huge. 132 million people in a place twice the size of Wales huge. (According to the Guardian).

Guangzhou, one of the cities in the plan in the smog.

Guangzhou, one of the cities in the plan in the smog.

China has been talking about Jing-jin-ji for a while but the plans seem to be more in place in the last week or so, and it finally has a name. I have spent around 20 years in Hong Kong, 20 years in London and am now living in Bangkok where I have spent over 3 years, so I clearly love a megalopolis. I suspect the problem with Jing-jin-ji will be that it will be impossible to breathe. Pollution in China is legendary and even when I lived and grew up in Hong Kong, the air that drifted over the border was a problem. Combining colossal cities in China makes my lungs quiver in fear.

While I love a major city, even mega-city, I am not 100% sold on this. Cities are supposed to grow and have character and develop a personality. When they are merged or artificially created, they can be weird. I have been to New York and Mumbai and whatever their faults, they are more charming than, say, Canberra (sorry but apart from the weed laws I hated it as a 21 year old in the early 90s). A combination might be better than a new city, but China’s air is godawful. As mega-cities go, I will have to wait for mega-city two.

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The Fallen of World War 2

It is hard to imagine horror and scale of certain wars. World War 2 in particular. You can read the facts and figures but it is still really hard to visualise. This video from historian Neil Halloran helps put things into perspective. It basically shows the figures in a very visual way and some of it is pretty shocking. I knew the Russians and Chinese had a particularly nasty time of it but this really drives home just how bad.

I will soon be going back to topics like astronomy and science, because frankly I prefer to be filled with wonder and hope at what humans can achieve, rather than be reminded how much we can suck. Anyway, ‘The Fallen of World War 2’ is well done and I thought it deserved a share.

The Fallen of World War II from Neil Halloran on Vimeo.

 
Written, directed, coded, narrated by twitter.com/neilhalloran