Animating Selfies through Technology

At times I think that the social media world is driven by the propagation of selfies, those self-portraits that you can find anywhere on the web (however you decide to take them). Selfies are often used as character photos for any number of social media sites, especially in popular places like Facebook. But just imagine if selfies interacted with you, winking or smiling when you liked a post or maybe showing an angry face when you give a disparaging response. A group from Tel Aviv University is working to make this possible, and they have developed a process of animating selfies that could make it practical for social media applications.

Animating Selfies
Image Credit Tel Aviv University Researchers

Animating Selfies

The process incorporates mapping the target image onto a pre-existing driving video created through the use of a model. The target image, once mapped to the driving video first image, is then warped and stretched as needed to match the video as it changes from frame to frame, The result is a process that makes animating selfies possible.

The software does not rely on warping the original image alone, since it will also add in fine detail items that convince us the video is real. Such things as creases and wrinkles are added to the subject through the fine detail portion if the process.

The software is not finished yet since it does have to generate some facial features that are missing from the original image. For example, a selfie that has a closed mouth will probably need to have teeth added to the final rendering if a smile is involved.

Interactive Preview Available

You can see a preview of the process on the group’s website, and the results do look promising. I think it will be only a matter of time before such technology is animating selfies everywhere, from Facebook streams to instant messages. No doubt this will be very entertaining and add to our interactions with otherwise static content.

Caution needed?

In the past, users provided their selfies as a means of identifying themselves and promoting their own self-image. However, by animating selfies the hosting site is actually promoting actions done on and for the site, not necessarily actions desired by the image holder. For example, you may not like it when someone you dislike gives a like to your latest post, but your animated doppelganger smiles at them just the same.

I can imagine that agreements will soon be in place forcing the end user to give modification rights to the hosting site, along with some kind of release if the emotions presented do not match up with your desired response. This can be a slippery slope since the use of one’s image to present emotions outside of the user’s actual intent could be misconstrued by the end viewer. Just imagine if the language allowed the use of the generated images with ads and other promotions. How powerful would the message be if your friends saw you smiling and promoting a brand of cereal or a new movie?

As we go forward with the manipulation of our images on social media, we may need to be cautious as to what rights we give up for the use of the site – if there is even an option. But one thing is certain – animating selfies is fascinating to watch, and I think that the time for static images as profile images is probably short lived.


Review: Netflix’s Time Traveling Series Dark is Binge Worthy

I like a good time travel show and have for years. I think it all started with reading The Other side of Time by Keith Laumer at an early age, and I still enjoy them. So it should be no surprise that I was drawn to Netflix’s new German time traveling mystery series, Dark. The show is now streaming on the entertainment website, ready for perusal if you have a Netflix membership. But is it worth your time to watch? Let’s take a look, hopefully without exposing any spoilers along the way.

Dark Netflix Series
Image Netflix

To start with, if you like mystery shows, science fiction, or thrillers, it might be hard to NOT find something to like about Dark.  The 10 episode first season spans everything from government conspiracies to science fiction, with some child abduction and adultery thrown in for good measure. The show moves between three different time periods, so it can be a little challenging to keep everything straight. At least that seems to be the case at first, but it all settles down an episode or so into the series.

Dark Netflix Series
Image Netflix

There have been some comparisons to Netflix’s other streaming series, Stranger Things, no doubt due to the younger characters that make up a lot of the show. But make no mistake, Dark is the bolder, adult version of that kind of story. The tone is set from the start of the series, and it doesn’t let up throughout the duration. The well-crafted show presents some strong performances from the ensemble, and even the music score serves well to keep the tone on an edgy beat.

Dark Netflix Series
Image Netflix

The show is in German, but by default English speaking listeners will get an English-dubbed version to watch. While we have extolled the virtues of dubbed shows before, it really is up to the end user to decide if they want the original subtitled version instead. If so, just switch the language over to German and select the English subtitles.

Is Dark worth your binging time? I do think so, and I am looking forward to hopefully season 2. Things can get confusing if you don’t pay attention and the final episode will leave you grasping at the conclusion. It’s definitely a thinking person’s series, but it does have you guessing along the way. It’s the kind of show that is satisfying when the pieces fall into place, even if you do have to figure out a few for yourself.

Blood Red Skies Over China 300 Years Ago – Here’s Why

Imagine that you are living in China (or even Korea or Japan) three hundred years ago, and suddenly you see the skies turn a chilling blood red. Understandably, this could have caused a great deal of fear and trepidation from those living there at the time. And the fear from the blood red skies wasn’t to dissipate anytime soon – it remained a threatening shade of crimson for eight more nights.

Blood Red Skies

The September 10, 1770, event was recorded in palace diaries and other such historical documents, preserving the event for generations to come. Now, 300 years later, researchers have been digging through all the records in an attempt to explain what exactly happened on that dark day. The attempt was not done in vain because the researchers believe they have it solved. The cause for the historic event – a massive magnetic storm.

Magnetic Storm Caused the Blood Red Skies

Of course, to have the reach to satisfy the conditions reported, it would have to be one of the largest ever recorded in human history. That is exactly what the researchers have come up with as their solution, a magnetic storm so large that it rivals the most powerful one on record, the Carrington Event of 1859.

Similar Geomagnetic Storms

The Carrington Event, so named because it was first explained and observed by astronomer Richard C. Carrington, was epic in its scale. Induced auroras were seen as far south as the Caribbean, and miners in the Rocky Mountains experienced a glow so bright that they assumed it was morning. The telegraph systems of the day were heavily hit, with the pylons throwing off sparks, starting fires, and shocking operators. Some operators even reported being able to send and receive telegraphs even though their power had been blown out by the storms.

These magnetic storms are known as Geomagnetic Storms, and they are caused by the Earth’s magnetosphere (and its collection of electrically charged particles) being disrupted and charged by solar eruptions from our sun. There was another such solar storm recorded in 2012, but luckily it passed the Earth’s orbit without actually striking the planet. But it would seem that we were not so lucky in 1770.

Sunspot Drawings Back Up The Storm Theory

The researchers also searched for drawings of sunspots, which usually accompany such a solar event (as well as ultraviolet activity). The evidence found indicates that sunspot areas were twice as large for that period of time as it was noted for the Carrington Event. This would suggest that the 1770 storm was the more powerful of the two. The dates involved would also back up this claim since the 1770 event was recorded over nine nights while the Carrington Event only lasted four nights.

Modern Day Disaster

If a geomagnetic storm the size of the Carrington Event were to be encountered today, the estimated cost of damage in the U.S. alone could be as high 2.6 trillion dollars. If the event was the size of the 1770 storm, the damage would be even larger, potentially setting back progress and requiring years of rebuilding to fully recover.

It is amazing to think that blood red skies from 300 years ago would give us a warning that we should heed today, but that appears to be the case. The records from that time serve to help scientists build a pattern of solar activity, even though our written records are far too short in length to fully predict the next cataclysmic solar storm. We may have a warning, but too much is already in place that is susceptible to the effects. Maybe that saying, “Red sky at morning, sailors take warning”, has a lot of wisdom to it when it comes to magnetic storms as well.


Why Dubbing Is Better Than Subtitles In Foreign Films

With all of the fantastic movie productions going on in the world today (including those fun superhero movies), it would be a crime to limit yourself to media productions only in your native language. Since you don’t have the time to learn a foreign language just to appreciate a given work, the alternative is to use either dubbing or subtitles to let you follow along with the plot. But which is better dubbing or subtitles? I’m here to tell you that dubbing is better for the majority of titles you would like to experience. Why? Let’s a look.

Dubbing Is Better Than Subtitles

Dubbing Allows Multitasking

If I had to pick one and only one reason why dubbing is better than subtitles, this would be it. You can simply get more done if your eyes aren’t glued to the set, literally reading every word. I don’t know how you spend your movie watching time, but I am usually doing something else during the show, from working on the computer or tablet to fooling around with a hobby or building something. I do try to give the media my undivided attention, but there are only so many hours in a day for each of us, and I need every one of mine.

Dubbing Is Better For Following Along

I think I have accomplished a lot while multitasking during TV shows and movies, and for the bulk of my watching I don’t see that changing anytime soon. I have tried watching subtitled movies during such times, and I lose the plot rather quickly.  I mean, everything is going well with watching and doing, then suddenly everybody’s dead on the show and I have no clue as to what happened. With dubbing, I can follow along and get a warning when something is about to happen. Strangely, the backgr0und music doesn’t always work for this.

Dubbing Has Its Weaknesses

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to be said for viewing a movie or show in its original format. In many cases dubbing replaces the actor’s voice with a native speaker, and the results can be a mixed bag. Sometimes even the music gets changed, making the overall experience different in the new language than it was originally.

These are great points, but now you have to ask yourself one simple question – under what conditions are you going to be watching the title. If there is even a hint of normal multitasking while watching, go for the dubbed version.

Save The Subtitled Version For Those Really Special Titles

If there are any movies or shows that have special meaning to you, you’ll probably want to experience these in the original language with subtitles.  It would seem that the distinction could be made with a simple question – would you like to own a copy of this for yourself? If the answer is yes, you may want to go for the subtitles. But consider again how you will view familiar material – is there a greater chance that you will be multi-tasking while enjoying it? You might find that to be the case, once again swinging the pendulum into the dubbed side of the decision tree. This is a question everyone has to answer for themselves, whether it is Kagemusha or Grand Hotel.

It will, of course, depend on the individual and as to what degree they hope to enjoy the producer’s vision, but in many cases, a practical approach is needed when planning to watch a foreign work. It could be the greatest epic ever recorded, but if you spend the last half of the movie just trying to guess what the plot is, you end up pretty much missing it. My final word – if in doubt, go for the dubbed version.


Futuristic Pickup Design Can Work And Play

The pickup continues to be a popular vehicle for many buyers, and for good reason – it is truly one of the most versatile vehicle designs ever made. But the student of architecture Wojciech Jurkowski has reinvented the design with his RENAULT SUBTIL futuristic pickup, turning it into an SUV grade luxury vehicle that will definitely turn heads and still get the job done.

Designed By Wojciech Jurkowski


The design calls for a drivetrain consisting of four independent electric motors located within the wheels, saving the remainder of the space for passengers and cargo. The independent drivetrain allows for a new style of body design, permitting it to transform from a four-person car to a pickup mode on demand. The roof can also be opened, providing for an open-air driving experience.  The design can even carry two snowmobiles, multiple bicycles, or other larger gear, so theextreme sports fans would be at home in this futuristic pickup just as easily as the average handyman would find it convenient.

Futuristic Pickup
Designed By Wojciech Jurkowski

I love the advantages that the simplification of the drivetrain allows for vehicle design. The cars of the future may indeed take on all the practicality of a Swiss Army Knife, reconfiguring itself for the task at hand. Of course, not everyone would need this kind of futuristic pickup, but for your typical multi-need driver this could be almost perfect.

Designed By Wojciech Jurkowski

The RENAULT SUBTIL would also make a great touring vehicle, and it could change from the “travel mode” used in getting there to a spacious and airy (thanks to an automatic folding roof) “tour mode” once on site.  This kind of adaptability could even make the family vehicle an all-around workhorse while looking great doing it. In all, the RENAULT SUBTIL futuristic pickup can handle five different configurations.

Futuristic Pickup
Designed By Wojciech Jurkowski

I get excited when I see new designs such as this futuristic pickup because we are starting to see what the paring of new technology with new material sciences can offer the average consumer. In turn, this changes not only our expectations of what is available (such as new motorcycle styles) but also our interpretation of how it can be used. I think we’ll find new vehicle categories that transcend today’s choices, and with a design like this, we may have a new multi-tasking vehicle category before we know it.