Category Archives: Quirky

Orphan Black’s technological prowess set the bar for future TV

The competition between television networks and online streaming services currently is flaming hot. Powerhouses like Game of Thrones are bringing movie-quality battles and storytelling to television, and Netflix and Hulu are developing excellent originals such as Stranger Things and Black Mirror. I’ve never found so much TV to love! This upgrade in show quality also comes with an upgrade in special effects, but there’s one problem: these aren’t the early days. The typical CGI dragons and imaginary future tech no longer impress me; they’re expected! There is, however, one thing that does: the use of technology in the sci-fi series Orphan Black.

Beware: Spoilers right ahead!

Welcome to the trip, man

The concept of the Orphan Black mandates an authentic feel, as the show follows a group of women who find out they are clones. We don’t know exactly how many there are in the world, but the show features over a dozen, each played by Emmy award-winner Tatiana Maslany. Although I’d love to go all fan-girl and glow about the amazing job Tatiana does on the show, I don’t want to provide too many spoilers. Besides, even with her talent, the show wouldn’t be what it is today without a key piece of tech: the technodolly.

Every rule needs to be broken

The trip down technology lane all started with the idea that the clone scenes should look natural. The creators did not want to rely on industry tricks that often looked too fake for comfort, especially if the clones were to interact. Luckily, they found their answer in Technocrane s.r.o.‘s telescoping camera cranes.

Using the company’s motion-control technodolly, the crew’s camera can be both manually controlled and automated. First, the director manually controls the camera to get a good shot. Then, they turn it over to the camera. With the push of a button, it retraces the previous movements exactly. This allows Tatiana to act out a scene as one clone, opposite either a tennis ball placeholder or her double Kathryn Alexandre, then act out the same scene as a different clone.

The results speak for themselves. (Note: I chose early scenes that are not spoiler-heavy. There are much better ones in later seasons!)

The whole process that creates these life-like scenes is pretty cool. For instance, when the creators put each of the takes together, sometimes they wind up with Tatiana’s face and torso but Kathryn’s arm. It takes careful alignment and planning to get the clones just right, but boy are they good at it! So good, in fact, that clone hugs and fights look flawless.

Would you believe we’re clones?

The quality of the clones scenes has spoiled me, really.

I remember watching the fight scene between Chip and Dale on Baskets, and the part where Dale chokes Chip looked horrible to me.

The Parent Trap uses backside shots in the twin scenes, except for in short scenes where a still, close-up frame has the characters together, but nicely spaced apart.

Resident Evil: Afterlife does a decent job. There’s a scene where two Alice clones are fighting together, and although it doesn’t look forced, you could draw a line between the two sides of the screen and neither clone would cross.

Orphan Black Sarah and Alison
Sarah pats Alison on the leg in season 1.

In other words, no one does clones and/or twins quite like Orphan Black. While characters face the viewer, the clones actually touch. Instead of relying on the typical still frame shots, the camera flows though the scenes. These two small changes actually make a huge difference in making you see the clones as individuals, and if you ask any Orphan Black fan, making you forget it’s the same actress playing them all!

I just want to make, like, crazy science with you

Since we also love science around here, I’d be a horrible fan if I didn’t take a moment to also geek out on the reality-based scientific aspects of the show. Yes, we aren’t at the point of seeing human clones walking around yet…that we know of…but that doesn’t mean Orphan Black relies on wild, unrealistic ideas.

Recently, news broke of the first human embryo editing experiment in the United States. Using CRISPR, scientists edited the germline of human embryos to remove a gene that causes a specific disease of the heart, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. In the Orphan Black universe, similar tactics are used, except that intent was, obviously, to  implant the embryo.

There are many other cases where the show is just a step or two off from reality, and there are others that turn out to be current reality, no matter how far-fetched they sound. One example that won’t spoil the plot includes stem cell cosmetic treatment causing bone to grow in a woman’s eyelid. I thought it was something made up for the show, but it wasn’t. Lesson learned: don’t dismiss the science if it sounds outlandish with this show because it just might be reality.

Being a show that “follows the science,” it’s not surprising that it covers themes relevant to current and future scientific research. While there’s the well-known nature versus nurture dilemma, Orphan Black also touches on ideas that are becoming ever-more important to tackle as the science of gene editing advances. For instance, the ethics of experimentation has a constant presence: Is it right to experiment on humans if the product is less suffering and illness across humanity? Then, that ties into eugenics, and even bodily autonomy. Should a scientist get to decide the ideal genetic make up of humanity? If anything, Orphan Black makes you think hard about the questions we will have to answer in coming decades as science breaks through more barriers.

Not everyone will find these topics appealing, but if you’re a bit of a science nerd like me? The science is one of the major things that keeps me coming back for more.

You can’t leave me! No!

Now that I’m done hyping you up, I must break the news: There are only two episodes left of Orphan Black. But even though final episode of the fifth season airs Saturday, August 12th, on BBC America, that doesn’t mean it’s too late to join those of us in Clone Club; it means it’s the perfect time to binge it! 

If you’re ready for the trip, stream or download the show from any of the providers below, including directly from BBC America’s website.

Watch the original trailer:

There’s smartphones, then there’s…KFC smartphones?

Just how lit is the smartphone market right now? So much so that KFC won’t let Pepsi have all the fun. That’s right: KFC’s giving fans a chance to commemorate their favorite fast food chicken with a company-branded cell phone.

KFC has partnered with Huawei to celebrate 30 years of operation in China by releasing the KFC Huawei 7 Plus. The limited edition red phone features an engraved KFC logo on the back, along with KFC China’s inaugural year, 1987.

Phone specs
  • 5.5-inch screen
  • Snapdragon 425 processor
  • 3GB RAM
  • 32GB storage
  • MicroSD storage expansion
  • 3,020mAh battery
  • Fingerprint scanner

To top it off, it even comes with 100,000 K-dollars to spend at the restaurant and a KFC K-music app that allows customers to choose music to play when visiting a KFC. I’m serious. Check out the promo video:

The device went on sale July 13th in China, but luckily enough for fans, the limited 5,000-phone release didn’t sell like hot cakes, so there’s still a chance to get one. And with the cost is only 1,099 yuan ($162 USD), what’s not to like? You could always hide your deep, dark, finger lickin’ secret with a case or cover.

Check out KFC’s other weird promos


Elderly driver in Japan? Surrender your license for a funeral discount!

After a recent series of deadly driving accidents in Japan, authorities and private companies are working to urge senior citizens to give up their licenses—and Heiankaku Co., a funeral home chain, is providing a unique incentive.

With 89 funeral homes in Aichi Prefecture, Heiankaku will offer a15 percent discount on funeral services to anyone who brings proof from police that they returned their licenses to authorities, whether they live inside or outside the prefecture. Family and close relatives can also bring proof for their loved ones.

The company is teaming up with a local police station to tackle what is one of the lowest license return rates in the country, sitting at 2.15 percent in 2015. Improving the number is important to both seniors and bystanders, as Aichi has seen the percentage of fatal traffic accidents caused by elderly drivers almost double since 2007, from 7.7 percent to 13.2 percent in 2016.

Discount programs for the newly unlicensed elderly aren’t new to Aichi, or to Japan.

The Sugakiya restaurant chain began giving 15 percent discounts on ramen, rice and salad at its 176 Aichi locations in 2016, and other companies offer savings on taxis and other services.

Osaka Prefecture began providing similar discounts a few years ago for people aged 65 and older who gave up their driver license, including various percentages off barber shops, restaurants, and services with the presentation of a certificate received from the local police station. As a result, the prefecture had the highest license return rate in 2015, at 5.41 percent.

Last year the Japan Times reported that the number of drivers 75 and older had doubled in the past 11 years, growing from 2.36 million in 2005 to 4.77 million in 2016. With the growth in elderly drivers also came a growth in fatalities, increasing from 7.4 percent to 12.8 percent in Japan as a whole. Common accidents among elderly drivers included wrong-way driving and confusing the brake and gas pedals.

Licensing authorities have increased renewal requirements for elderly drivers in recent years by mandating cognitive and memory tests, and the penalties for negligent driving can be assessed on not only elderly citizens but also their families or appointed guardians if they are senile. They also developed a nondriver ID for photo identification, which can also be used for discounts instead of carrying a certificate of license return.

The Japanese government is also eyeballing the use of automotive technology to reduce accidents by the elderly, urging small car makers to develop automatic safety measures such as automatic braking that can be installed on older model vehicles popular with senior citizens.

When ya gotta go, ya gotta go: Teens live stream protest from high school bathroom

Girls have had enough at a school in Yorkshire Dales, England, where they say that they are being denied access to the bathroom outside of specified break times.

The angry teens staged a live-streamed protest inside the girls’ bathroom at Bedale High School to draw attention to a new rule that even parents are upset about. Thirty-five girls and five boys were involved, states the Harrogate Advertiser

“I really hate to put this on Facebook but I wondered if anyone else is having issues with the High School refusing access to toilets?” wrote an anonymous parent on Facebook, reports The Telegraph. “I have recently complained to the school about their new rule which ONLY allows access to toilets between 11.05am and 11.25am, and 12.25pm and 12.45pm. I believe that this humiliating and undignified and is a breach of human rights to be denied access to toilets at any other time unless you have a medical need, and totally ridiculous to say that you cannot go to the toilet after you have had lunch.”

The parent goes on to state that the headteacher responded to complaints about the issue and stated that the rule would remain in place. The rule was apparently issued to “improve teaching.”

Planned the previous night on social media, thirty-five girls and five boys were involved in the protest, states the Harrogate Advertiser, which eventually moved to the school field, where it continued. 

Teachers at the school called the police to handle the protesters, but according to The Telegraph, they stated that it was not a police matter. 

“North Yorkshire Police was alerted to a protest involving students at Bedale High School this morning,” said a police spokesman. “PCSOs attended the school grounds and, after making enquiries, advised staff that this was not a police matter.” 

Student Caitlin Mclean told the Harrogate Advertiser that the students involved were suspended for a week and might not be allowed to attend prom. 

A spokesperson released the following statement on behalf of the school: 

Bedale High School has recently introduced a new behavioural code as part of an action plan to improve teaching and learning in the school.

The code includes a range of measures to ensure that students are focused and can get the most out of their lessons and wider school provision.

These measures include students having access to fresh drinking water at all times and being able to take bags into lessons so they have ready access to all the materials they need for learning.

The code also includes tighter rules on uniform and on reducing the numbers of students outside of classrooms during lesson time.

As part of this the school has reminded students that toilets are freely accessible during specific periods at lunchtime and break time but that students who need the toilet during lessons, or need access for medical reasons, will always be given access on request. Toilets are therefore accessible at all times.

Bedale High is a school of 580 students and the vast majority today have participated fully and calmly with their lessons and wider provision.

The school has stated that families and students were fully informed of the new behaviour code before half term and that many have given supportive feedback and view it as a positive step.

Caitlin Mclean disputes the statement’s assertion that toilets are always accessible when requested, stating “The whole reason why we went out is so nothing embarrassing happens to us again. It’s not just me that has been in that situation, it’s been a few of us and we wanted to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”