Archive for the ‘Videos’ Category

world news | documentary: north korean labor camps

I found this documentary of North Korean labor camps by Shane Smith (founder) at Vice both fascinating and hilarious (not so much the parts about the labor camps, but that’s really only about half of the documentary). Shane is either brave or stupid (or both) to put himself in this situation, and his narration is playful and honest:(to watch the videos and skip Shane’s intro, just scroll down)

Shortly after I arrived in Siberia, our British editor, Andy Capper, texted me: “You’ll love Siberia. Everything is so close and the people are so nice.” He was of course being facetious (or British: same thing) because everything is 18 hours by train and the people are very mean indeed. Some might start out nice, but after the vodka starts flowing—which is always—so does the malevolence. There are exceptions to the cranky-Russian rule, but they’re very few and very far between. One such exception was a lovely, lovely man named Billy the Fish—not his real name, of course. His nickname was the Fish, and I added the “Billy” in because I was drunk.

Billy was a local mafia type from a remote Siberian town that had no police and little regulation, save him and his boys. This would prove to be literally lifesaving, because we were after a very dangerous quarry in the middle of nowhere—North Korean slaves—who don’t want anyone to know they are actually there. Billy, clearly game for some hijinks, agreed to take us into the forest to find them.

At the first camp we found, the North Korean guards threatened us and tried to throw us out. Billy the Fish laughed—a great gold-toothed guffaw—and then smiled. “This is Russia,” he growled, eyes glinting. Motioning to the vast expanses around him, he declared, “This is mine.” Then to our camera crew, “Keep shooting. They can do nothing.” So we did.

Later, when we were deep in the forest, we came upon cadres of North Korean workers. A group of them approached and quickly surrounded our truck. One of them was swinging an iron bar, looking like he was going to bash our imperialist brains in. Billy took it from him, looked at it, and remarked calmly, “This your lights-out switch?” Sniff. “You’re going to need more than that.” He smiled and chucked it into the forest.

Later, we had lunch by an old woodpile—spam, hard bread, paprika chips, vodka, beer, and, for dessert, vodka with juice. Billy pulled out some old shotguns, and we released some built-up tension by shooting at our empty beer bottles. It was like being 15 again; naughty boys in the forest. When we came around the corner there were the North Koreans, waiting for us, but cowed and much less aggressive. “Did you know they were there?” I asked Billy. “Of course.” Sniff. “Where else would they be?” Classic Billy.

After an afternoon of playing cat and mouse with North Korean slaves, Billy took us to a freezing cold Siberian river for a swim to “clean it up,” then more vodka to “warm it up,” and then home to his family for the only good meal we ate in Russia. After eating, the Fish family took us to the bar (read: room with lights) for a night of boozing and drunken hugging with hard men whose nicknames included Stalin, Bear Killer, and, my favorite, plain old Killer. Tears, more vodka, giving of cheap presents, and finally the two-day train ride back to “civilization.”

But the North Koreans were waiting for us on the train… And so began the worst 48 hours of my life, which ended with the FSB (the modern version of the KGB), the local militia, plainclothes police, and assorted thugs removing us from the train and placing us into custody. Finding myself wishing for Billy and his ability to effortlessly sort things out, I texted him that the FSB had detained us. He replied, “Of course they have. Just leave.” So we took off, racing across Siberia to the Chinese border (Billy told us about the smugglers’ route) and finally… to freedom.
Check out the documentary below, in 6 parts. Vice also did a travel guide to North Korea (ha) here:


art | the house of small cubes, a beautiful short cartoon

I’ll let the film speak for itself:


random | 2 x Universe = Tube!


technology | beware online “filter-bubbles”

In this interesting TED talk, Eli Pariser talks about some hidden pitfalls that come along with algorithmic internet behavior-typing (google and facebook services determining what content you should get in your search results based on your internet behavior). My personal opinion is that we hold most of the blame, not google or facebook — it’s our behavior that determines the content we receive. That said, the fact that search results and returned content is not a neutral space as one might assume is an important one to keep in mind.


If this video causes some concern in you (I hope it does), check out the add-on for Firefox and Chrome, called Disconnect:

I found some interesting comments on the net regarding this video:

The only gatekeeper to knowledge over the internet is your own desire for knowledge and your own competence in using a search engine.

Also, everything on Facebook is garbage in the first place. If you don’t want internet garbage, don’t browse Facebook. Just like if you don’t want garbage food, don’t go to McDonalds. It’s really quite simple, and people have nothing rational to complain about here.

Far more counterproductive to free and open knowledge than search algorithms are people’s own inherent tendencies to selectively pay attention exclusively to information that confirms their own beliefs or fits within their own world perspective. These search algorithms recognize this and cater to it, but only because we already do it ourselves. You can still use Google and get all the freedom of information you want; just phrase your searches in the right way.


technology | Improved realism in L.A. Noire spotlights truth and believability, raises the bar in video games development

Using new technology, the development team at Rockstar Games is improving the way that facial expressions, motion capture, and 3-D rendering all come together to create a new level of realism in video games. Not only is the new technology showcased in this video, but they take it a step further and show how the techniques add a new aspect to games, which I’ve never even considered until this point: truth and believability. Not believability in the sense that the character looks real and you believe it to be real, but how the ability to display realistic expressions allow game makers to create characters whose comunication and motives portray human characteristics like stress, confidence, and lying. I expect these techniques to really change how narrative, dialogue, and emotion are used in video games. Talk about raising the bar!

Check out the video, below:
(apologies for the proceeding obligatory advertisement, nothing I can do)


science | The Suprising Truth About What Motivates Us

I really enjoyed this RSA Animate, “adapted from Dan Pink‘s talk at the RSA <conference, which> illustrates the hidden truths behind what really motivates us at home and in the workplace.”


music | album of the moment: Rzewski – The People United Will Never Be Defeated!

Quite a title huh? The People United Will Never Be Defeated! was written in 1975 by Frederic Rzewksi, an American composer/pianist, and is easily one of the greatest theme and variations ever written (and for me, one of the most incredible works for solo piano). I was lucky enough to see it performed this year in Paris by the composer himself! The theme is based on the song of the same name (¡El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!) that emerged from the Unidad Popular coalition in Chile between 1969 and 1973, prior to the overthrow of the Salvador Allende government. Rzewski composed the variations as a tribute to the struggle of the Chilean people against a newly imposed repressive regime.

Technically, the piece is incredibly challenging. The pianist, in addition to needing a virtuoso technique, is required to whistle, slam the piano lid, and catch the after-vibrations of a loud attack as harmonics. Don’t be fooled by the opening theme – the piece is not an easy listen. There are very modern tonalities and elements throughout, incredibly beautiful writing, and all the while it is an absolute tour de force. In my experience, after enjoying the opening theme, making my way through the variations – struggling with some and relishing in others, by the time the piece reaches the end as a listener I feel like I’m starving for that original melody and when it finally comes it’s like enjoying a well-deserved meal after a hard day’s work. This is a piece that demands many listens – and is not music to just be played in the background – not only is it challenging to play, but to listen to as well. It demands attention and perseverance, and rewards both.

Amazon Link
iTunes Link Link

The youtube video below will play the piece in its entirety – nearly an hour. The performer in this recording is Marc Andre Hamelin, one of my favorite pianists. Hamelin is one of the greatest virtuosos in history, and takes pride in playing and recording music that is rarely played or heard due to its degree of difficult (like Alkan‘s piano works). I really hope you take the time to listen to the whole piece – I know it’s not easy but it is incredible. I’m generally not a huge fan of modern classical music, but this is one of my big exceptions.


music | album of the moment: ethiopiques

Ethiopiques is a series of albums, each one a compilation of music performed by musicians from Ethiopia and Eritrea in the 1960s and 1970s. The original record label, Amha Records, was founded in defiance of an Empirical decree requiring that all music production and import be approved by the government.


Ethiopiques provide a musical journey through an exotic landscape while still remaining very accessible and pleasurable to listen to. The music has deep roots in jazz and funk, which provide a foundation that makes it easy to listen to despite the odd rhythms and foreign modes (scales). My best one-line description would be: Funky grooves, jazzy rhythms and improv flavor, mixed with a bit of trance-inducing repetition, served warm on a vintage platter. Or, more simply: trip-hop meets jazz with live musicians.

You can listen to an NPR podcast here, featuring an an interview of the Ethiopiques curator Francis Falceto.

Nearly all of the albums have their own theme, whether it be a certain style, region, or featured artist. There are at least 25 Ethiopiques releases, and my favorite so far is Volume #4 – Ethio Jazz & Musique Instrumentale, featuring the music of Mulutu Astatke.

Amazon link
Itunes link
Musthear review

The Very Best of Ethiopiques: Hypnotic Grooves from the Legendary Series is another great album, featuring a wider variety of styles and artists.

Amazon link

Click the videos below to listen to some of my favorite tracks so far:

The track below was featured on the album Distant Relatives, a recent collaboration featuring Nas & Demian Marley:
(Yegelle Tezeta: Volume 4, track 5)

This one has a great laid-back groove:
(Munaye: Volume 4, track 6)

Chill vocal track:
(Tezeta: last track on The Very Best album, CD1)

Dreamy, wandering solo piano:
(Mothers Love: first track on The Very Best album, CD2)

If you want to venture out into the deep end of Ethiopiques, check out Volume #14 – Negus of Ethipian Sax, featuring Getachew Mekurya.


random | the mcgurk effect

my ears are lying!


random | hilarious presidential reunion skit

Check out this hilarious skit of Obama being given advice by past presidents. It features an all-star cast including Dana Carvey, Jim Carrey, Will Farrell, Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase, and the two SnL guys that play Clinton and Obama. Jim Carrey’s impersonation of Ronald Reagan is genius.