Category Archives: Blog

My blog and occasional comment on current affairs.

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

 

This is very Rock and Roll

Last week Dave Growl broke his leg and carried on performing. Then the lead singer of the band John Coffey, a fellow called David Achter de Molen, does this. Apart from sniffing cocaine off strippers, it doesn’t get more rock and roll than this.

Australia, Morocco, Thailand. Three true travel stories

BookcovertraveltalesI haven’t done this for a while, so it is time to publicise one of my incredibly cheap books. “Australia, Morocco, and Thailand. Three True Travel Stories” is a collection that costs a pittance and seems to entertain. I usually give the blurb I wrote but instead I thought it would be nice to include a couple of reviews written on the US Amazon website. I promise I don’t know them. They are ‘Top 1000 Reviewers’ and I should be so lucky to know such important people.

A review:

“Some young folks hit the backpacker trail to gain self-enlightenment and seek spiritual awareness and save the world. With admirable honesty, the author admits that (at twenty-one) he was looking for fun, with the emphasis on avoiding boredom, staying drunk, and getting laid. Not surprisingly, he had more luck in the first two areas than in the third.

Don’t make the mistake of dismissing this as a stoned-and-stupid Spring Break saga. This man is a professional writer and a damned good one, and he knows how to tell a story. He also has a keen eye for the absurd, even when he’s looking in the mirror. The first (and longest) section recounts an adventure in Australia when he and three friends try to earn traveling money picking pears. Unfortunately, the beautiful farm of his imagination (think A TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL) turns out to be an “outback gulag” and the friendly, generous rural inhabitants consist of a hostile, dishonest farm owner and a pair of hard-working (and hard-drinking) Albanians.

The second story involves getting stranded in the Atlas Mountains during rainy season and taking a hair-raising ride back to civilization (or closer, anyway) in a van packed with Berber tribesmen. Why are the windows covered? “Il est preferable de ne pas regarder.” (It’s better not to look.) The third finds our hero living in Bangkok with his American-educated Thai fiancee Nim where he experiences a strange (typically Thai) overthrow of the government. The Prime Minister is unpopular, so the military steps in, sends the police home, the King okays the deal, and Happy Hour goes on. (That was in 2006 and the former PM is still in exile, but his sister is now PM!)

My only complaint about the book is that it is far too short and I wasn’t ready for it to end.”

Another glowing review:

“‘Ladyboys from the Mambo cabaret strode confidently down the cracked pavement on ridiculously high heels. Further down the road, another elephant mingled with the traffic. “Everything looks pretty damn normal,” Chris said.’ Funny stuff from 3 “paid holidays” focusing on the highlights (or lowlights depending on one’s perspective) of the author’s encounter with a giant Australian spider covering his chest nipple to nipple, riding along with a vanload of Moroccans as it teeters on the edge of a waterlogged roadway, or surviving what is (hopefully) a bloodless coup in Thailand while being serenaded at a downtown bar. So, all I have to say is what three destinations are we headed off to next? Very entertaining book!”

You can buy Australia, Morocco, and Thailand. Three True Travel Stories here and I’d be ever so grateful:

 

 

 

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History of the world in 2 minutes

From when God decided this to now

From when God decided this, to now

Some kid got asked to do a a video for his class and came with a clip that shows the history of the world in 2 minutes. It is really well done, although I am pretty sure Tom Hanks wasn’t around in the particular time period he appears in – you’ll know what I mean. It’s a bit human-centric as we should technically just appear in the last second or so, but I guess it’s not really following proportional timeframes. I look forward to the movie. Anyway, time’s a wasting. Enjoy.

 

 

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Mad Max Behind the scenes

hqdefaultI assume you have seen Mad Max: Fury Road by now. If not, just stop reading and go and see it. It is absolutely superb. As well as being ridiculously entertaining, it is without a doubt one of the most visually spectacular movies ever made. That is quite a lot of hyperbole but I stand by it. Definitely see it in a cinema if you can.

If you have seen the film, I’m sure you’ll have assumed a fair amount of blue screen. There was some blue screen, but not as much as I initially thought going by the behind-the-scenes clip below. The clip is 18 minutes long but is pretty damned interesting. It is the B Roll and contains some interesting scenes showing how certain parts were made. It turns out there are a lot of brave stunt men, George Miller is a superb director, and the variety of ways you can shoot with a camera these days is highly creative. I feel I should reiterate at this point that you should go and see Mad Max: Fury Road, if you haven’t already.
(*Please note that there is no audio until about 50 seconds in, but it doesn’t matter much.)

 

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Lily Camera – amazing new drone

This is the control

This is the control

Just when I thought I had all the gadgets I need, along comes the Lily Camera. This is very cool indeed. It is a drone that follows you around and films you in the most high-tech selfie way possible. It seems great if you are doing outdoor sports. I don’t know how great it will be if you are in a dense urban environment. I live in Bangkok and you can barely walk around without ducking so I doubt it would work well here. You could get some great beach shots though.

Rather than have me explain what the Lily Camera can do, why not watch a video? I wish I had this thing when I was in the Lake District. It seems really easy to control too, just wear a cheap looking watch thing (pictured above). Have a look:

 

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Hawkeye sings about his powers

Hawkeye Avengers

Hawkeye Avengers

I was fresh from watching the Avengers: Age of Ultron (which was superb) when someone showed me this. When watching the Avengers I always think it is pretty cool that Hawkeye and Black Widow are basically just really incredible humans.

In this clip from the Tonight Show (with Jimmy Fallon), Jeremy Renner aka Hawkeye sings about his powers to the tune of Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud”. It is genuinely funny and Renner/Hawkeye sings pretty damn well. Below the clip are the lyrics. Enjoy.

The lyrics:
When you’re on a team with the Hulk and Thor
And we’re all up there on the movie screen,
Will the people believe that I’m not quite as tough?
Will anyone even notice me?

But listen I’ve got powers too, they’re pretty sweet.
I promise I can do so much more than just archery.

I’m serious guys.
I’ve got a collection of scarves and berets.
I play trombone in a ska band.
I once got to second base on my Tinder date.
And my cat has got its own Instagram.

I tell you now
I kick ass at Mario Kart.
This year I played an extra in Paul Blart.
I can open a pickle jar.
I’m friggin’ Hawkeye.
Maybe I’m as super as they are.

So maybe I still haven’t lost my virginity.
But when I bowl I always score at least 70, after six beers

Yes I know ’bout Captain America’s strength.
Hulk becomes a towering man.
But I got seventh place in my fantasy league.
And I once butt-dialed Jean-Claude Van Damme.

When I go to Chipotle I get free guac.
I flirt with the cashier and she says I rock.
I own water-resistant socks.
I’m friggin’ Hawkeye.
Maybe I’m as super as they are.

Maybe I’m as super as they are.
Maybe I’m as super as they are.

 

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Whisgars Bangkok

Whisgars-logo

Whisgars Bangkok

Being a manly kind of chap I occasionally get a craving for combat, lascivious women, whisky, and cigars. Happily I live in Bangkok where all these things are plentiful and found on most street corners. For legal reasons however, my lawyer has advised me to concentrate on the latter two. But where in Bangkok can you get decent whisky and cigars?

In case you are confused about what Whisgars is all about.

In case you are confused about what Whisgars is all about.

I could do one of those “Top 10” articles but frankly, in Bangkok, you might as well go to Whisgars – it’s superb. They obviously do whisky/whiskey (sorry but my grandad was Irish and I need to include that spelling) and cigars, but it is done in such style and with such expertise, you can’t go wrong. There is more than one branch (as I write, I think there are four) but the one on Sukhumvit soi 23 is my personal favourite but that is mostly because it is the one nearest to my condo.

Just in case I incorrectly skew their sales angle, here is the blurb from the heavily proofed, highly cigar-fumed mouth of Whisgars itself:

“Whisgars is a unique concept bar throughout Asia consisting of high-end Single Malt Whisky and Premium Hand-Rolled Cigars in carefully selected locations. Our bars are completely cigar-friendly and designed to cater to the highest levels of luxury. Our staff is very well trained in providing our customers with the very best in service and creating the ultimate experience at all of our locations.”

Whisgars' hunidor

Whisgars’ hunidor

I have spent many a happy evening in Whisgars (some even spectacular) and can’t recommend it enough. I quit smoking three years ago so really enjoy the occasional cigar and Whisgars not only has a walk–in humidor, but it also has a helpful expert on hand. Usually, coincidentally, it’s an attractive female expert and they give you great advice on your personal choice of luxury inhalant. Their drinks list is also superb and I can vouch for not only an awesome whiskey selection, but also a superlative gin and tonic and cocktail menu.

Thailand is not exactly a famed whiskey producer – even the whiskies that are made here are actually rum – but thanks to places like Whisgars that is not an issue. I highly recommend it.

Next entry – fighting, hunting, beard trimming and women!

For more information have a look at their website:

http://whisgars.com

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FPV Quadcopter racing in a forest

Quadcopter

Quadcopter

Remember that scene in Return of the Jedi where they fly on hover bikes through the Forest of Endor? Well this is a little bit like that minus the explosions, stormtroopers, stupid Ewoks, etc. FPV means First Person View, in case you were wondering.

Quadcopter racing seems pretty fun from this footage but clearly having jedi-like reactions helps quite a lot as they crash frequently.

 

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Free Eyesight Test

I seem to be posting a lot of things about being observant and weird visual effects recently.   I am just following internet trends and it is all the fault of that accursed burgundy and Magrathean lilac coloured dress.

This is not an illusion but different people will see different things. This is because people have varying ocular prescriptions. Or to put it another way – some people need better glasses. I am basically giving you a free eyesight test. Have a look at this:

Einstein or Monroe?

Einstein or Monroe?

Who do you see in the picture? Albert Einstein or Marilyn Monroe? If Monroe, then you’d better pop to the opticians. There is some quite cool science behind this but it basically boils down to how we recognise faces. The picture is a hybrid image that fuses a detailed picture of Einstein with a blurred picture of Monroe. If you vision is a bit blurred, your brain goes with the overall shape of what is can see – which is Monroe. If you see Einstein, then step further away from your screen, or squint, and you might see him turn into Monroe.

You’re not allowed to just say, “I see dead people.”

I spent thousands of pounds on eye laser surgery and can see Einstein from up to a mile away. I hope you fare as well. This free eyesight test is on the house.

Here is a short video explaining this much better than I am:

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