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21 March 2019

On 20th Anniversary of the Matrix, MIT Game Industry Veteran To Release The Simulation Hypothesis

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The Simulation Hypothesis - Front Cover
The Simulation Hypothesis - Front Cover (PRNewsfoto/Rizwan Virk)
At the Game Developers Conference (GDC), bestselling author, renowned MIT computer scientist and Silicon Valley video game designer Rizwan Virk announced that his book, The Simulation Hypothesis, will be released on the 20th anniversary of the release of the film, the Matrix

  • This is the first serious book by a video game industry veteran to explain one of the most consequential theories of our time, that we are living inside a sophisticated video-game.
"When the Matrix came out in 1999, it was in the realm of science fiction," said Virk. "In the 20 years since, with the evolution of MMORPGs, Virtual Reality, AR, AI, and Neuroscience, we are getting closer and closer. In this book, I lay out a clear path from today's tech to building the Matrix."
Virk is the founder of Play Labs @ MIT, a video game startup incubator at the MIT Game Lab, and co-founder, advisor and investor in many video game startups including Discord, Telltale Games, Funzio, Gameview, Tapjoy and Sliver.tv.

Pulling together concepts from computer science, artificial intelligence, video games, quantum physics, and both ancient eastern and western religious texts, Virk shows how all of these traditions come together to point to the idea that we may be inside a simulated reality like the Matrix.

Science fiction writers like Philip K. Dick have explored the idea of a simulated reality. More recently, prominent figures like Elon Musk, and scientists like Neil deGrasse Tyson and others have spoken about the idea. 


Futurists like Google's Ray Kurzweil have popularized the idea of downloading consciousness, and Oxford's Nick Bostrom published a paper in 2003 that concluded we are living in a simulation.

The book explores the history of video game development and brings together arguments from these diverse thinkers. The Simulation Hypothesis is for computer scientists, science fiction fans, video game enthusiasts, and spiritual seekers looking to understand the nature of reality.

The book includes endorsements by Noah Falstein, Tessa B. Dick, Jacques Vallee, Dannion Brinkley, Brent Bushnell and Diana Walsh Pasulka. 


SOURCE: Rizwan Virk


20 March 2019

Theresa May Requests Short Brexit Extension: How To Understand This Reckless Move

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Theresa May
Theresa May (PA)
Before the October 1964 general election, Harold Wilson was reported to have stated “a week is a long time in politics”.

Never has that maxim been truer than in relation to the politics of Brexit and the publication of prime minister Theresa May’s letter to Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, requesting an extension to the Article 50 period until June 30 2019.

Less than a week earlier, a day after MPs had for a second time rejected May’s European Union withdrawal deal by a thumping majority of 149, her own de facto deputy prime minister David Lidington had told the House of Commons that the government was opposed to seeking a short extension rather than a long one, stating::
"In the absence of a deal, seeking such a short and, critically, one-off extension would be downright reckless and completely at odds with the position that this House adopted only last night, making a no-deal scenario far more, rather than less, likely. Not only that, but from everything we have heard from the EU, both in public and in private, it is a proposal it would not accept."
Less than a week later, without parliamentary support for her deal, May has sought that very short, one-off and “downright reckless” extension, which is completely at odds with the House of Commons’ position.

A number of important consequences are likely to follow on from May’s actions on what may become known as her “Reckless Wednesday”.

Her request for a short extension is, for a start, unlikely to be accepted by all 27 European Union member states without more concessions from the UK. Upon receiving May’s letter, Tusk said the extension would be possible if MPs approved her deal first.

The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier had previously reiterated that the EU27 would only countenance such an extension if it received “a concrete plan from the UK” which increased the chances of ratification of the withdrawal agreement, or if the UK requested more time to rework the non-binding political declaration setting out the rough plan for the future relationship between the UK and EU.

Tusk is meeting with EU leaders this week
Tusk is meeting with EU leaders this week. (EPA/Olivier Hoslet)
May’s request letter has not set out a persuasive “concrete plan”. She cannot guarantee that any third meaningful vote on her EU Withdrawal deal will see her deal passed by MPs. She cannot even guarantee, at this stage, that a third vote will happen – given that the speaker of the House of Commons has warned that she cannot ask MPs to vote again on exactly the same proposal. In her letter, May merely states that it remains her intention to put the deal to the house for a third vote, without saying how that is to come about.
Nor has May requested more time to rework the political declaration. She has instead requested that the European Council approve the supplementary documents to the withdrawal agreement and political declaration agreed with Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission – precisely the deal rejected by the House of Commons.

Was this a resignation letter?

What’s more, by ruling out a much longer extension, May has increased the odds of a no-deal Brexit. A longer extension might have enabled a clear plan to be implemented to enable cross-party support to be built for an alternative to her own withdrawal agreement. That seems unlikely in the shorter timeframe.

With that longer extension and threat to Brexit now explicitly ruled out by May, many of the hardcore of European Research Group Conservative MPs will feel that a further defeat for the government in any third vote will increase the likelihood of their preferred no-deal scenario. It will also have the bonus effect of ridding the Conservative Party of a leader and prime minister they have openly opposed, but failed to unseat in last December’s vote of no confidence.

In effect, May has set out the timetable and personal terms for her own resignation and departure as prime minister. If, as seems probable, the House of Commons rejects her EU withdrawal deal for an historic third (and likely final) time – so that Tusk cannot agree to a short extension – and then votes to seek an extension from the European Union beyond June 30, in order to allow sufficient time to negotiate an alternative Brexit or to hold a general election or further referendum, May will have little choice but to resign.

In the foreword to her party’s 2017 election manifesto, May stated: “Brexit will define us: our place in the world, our economic security and our future prosperity.

Rarely were truer words spoken. Brexit has defined May’s premiership. It has been a shambles from first to last. It has put at risk the UK’s place in the world, and compromised its economic security and future prosperity. It was for precisely those reasons that, on April 25 2016, May herself had advocated the UK remaining in the EU.

Article 50 was triggered by May without a concrete plan for its delivery which could command the support of her own MPs, let alone a majority of the House of Commons. Now, on her own “Reckless Wednesday”, May has sought an extension to Article 50, again without a concrete plan which can command the support of her own party or the House of Commons. By her own hand, May has written her own political obituary as prime minister.The Conversation

About Today's Contributor:

Simon Lee, Senior Lecturer in Politics, University of Hull

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

Koichi Sakamoto, Director behind "Ultraman," "Kamen Rider," "Super Sentai" and "Power Rangers," Creates New Era of "Ninja Super Hero" Ready to Be Released Worldwide

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BLACKFOX: Age of the Ninja
BLACKFOX: Age of the Ninja ((C) PROJECT BLACKFOX)
Samurai Drama Channel, Japan's paid television broadcasting exclusively Japanese period dramas, announced on March 20 the release of a new Japanese special-effect period drama called "BLACKFOX: Age of the Ninja" produced by director Koichi Sakamoto. 

  • This will be the world's first project interlocking animation and Samurai drama, with the original SF action animation "BLACKFOX," produced by director Kazuya Nomura of Studio 3Hz.
The Japanese special-effect action costume drama has a female ninja in the leading role and, while the animation version tells the story of a ninja clan descendant set against a near-future backdrop, the live-action drama is set in the past, going back to the ninja and samurai era.

Director Koichi Sakamoto
Director Koichi Sakamoto
Director Sakamoto, who is known as a key person in the Japanese special-effect "Tokusatsu" film industry, was looking to take on a new challenge: "I have included in the production everything I know, particularly what I learned from my time in Hollywood -- a sense of tempo, commitment to action and homage to my favorite work." While adding that he is delighted with the final result, he said he is ready to inspire people from Japan and elsewhere in the world.
  • The first video trailer of the live-action version will be released on March 23 on the official website and the official SNS account as well as at a BS Fuji booth and an Infinite booth at "AnimeJapan 2019" that is being held at Tokyo Big Sight on the same day onwards. 

BLACKFOX - the animation version
BLACKFOX - the animation version ((C) PROJECT BLACKFOX)


19 March 2019

The Burden of Secret Keeping in HBO's Game of Thrones

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Game of Thrones - Varys and Tyrion Lannister
Game of Thrones - Varys and Tyrion Lannister
Game of Thrones is full of secrets. Characters keep secrets, exploit secrets, and reveal secrets to build alliances. New research by Columbia Business School Professor Michael Slepian reveals the extent that Varys and other characters in Game of Thrones are encumbered by secrets—both their own and others'. 

As HBO's blockbuster series airs its final season this spring, Slepian's scholarship suggests that one of the greatest burdens its characters have carried through the eight-season mega-drama is not physical, but the mental weight of secrecy.

Slepian, who has used examples from Game of Thrones to illustrate negotiation principles in the classroom, says this scene of Varys promising to keep a secret for Tyrion Lannister underscores the upside and the downside of keeping others' secrets:
"Secrets are worth more than silver or sapphires," says the character Varys, who trades in secrets as the official "master of whisperers."

"Rest easy my lord," Varys says to Tyrion Lannister in an early episode, "I am very good at keeping secrets."

"Your discretion is legendary, where your friends are concerned," responds Tyrion, realizing that he is trapped under a burden of secrecy with Varys.
On the one hand, says Slepian, Varys is taking on a burden because he will have to think about, and conceal, Tyrion's secret. But Varys is also creating a bond of confidence and trust, which is something in short supply among the dueling personalities of Game of Thrones.

Game of Thrones - Lord Varys
Game of Thrones - Lord Varys  (image via Zimbio)
Slepian's research shows that secrets are not all equaling taxing. Across four different studies, Slepian, along with co-authors James Kirby of the University of Queensland and Elise Kalokerinosof the University of Newcastle, reviewed 1,000 participants keeping more than 6,000 secrets and found that we think more about secrets that cause us shame than those that cause us guilt.

In one study, nearly 200 participants were asked to recall a secret as well as the associated feelings of either shame or guilt on a rating of 1 to 7. Participants then reported the number of times over 30 days they spontaneously thought about the secret or felt the need to conceal the secret.

"When a secret evoked feelings of shame, the secret was more likely to intrude upon one's thinking in irrelevant moments," according to the paper. This consuming nature of shameful secrets might give new context to season five of Game of Thrones, when a humiliated Queen Cersei—who has long hidden a shameful secret of infidelity—must walk through the streets of King's Landing while a clergywoman cries "Shame! Shame! Shame!"

Game of Thrones - Queen Cersei
Game of Thrones - Queen Cersei (image via Wrath Of The Geek)
Secrecy can have an upside, however. In a separate paper, Slepian and Katharine Greenaway of the University of Melbourne measured the burdens of keeping our own secrets versus others' secrets—and the potential benefits to intimacy.
According to the research, at any given time, we are each keeping an average of 15 secrets for other people. Across three studies with more than 600 participants holding more than 10,000 secrets, the researchers found that the burdensomeness of others' secrets is a function of how often one must actively conceal the secret on their behalf due to an overlap in social circles.

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18 March 2019

Monopoly Was Designed 100 Years Ago To Teach The Dangers Of Capitalism

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Monopoly was designed by a progressive writer to teach players the dangers of wealth concentration.
Do not pass GO! Monopoly was designed by a progressive writer to teach players the dangers of wealth concentration. (Shutterstock)
Have you played Monopoly lately? Or maybe snakes and ladders? These board games are examples of 100-year-old games that many still play today.

But the way they are played today may not be teaching the lessons their designers hoped to share.

At the start of the 20th century, children were part of the regular workforce. They possessed few toys. When U.S. manufacturers created games, they built them to market to parents: to teach as well as to entertain.

Progressive writer Elizabeth Magie Phillips created Monopoly in 1904 to teach players about the dangers of wealth concentration. Originally called The Landlord’s Game, it celebrated the teachings of the anti-monopolist Henry George whose widely read book, Progress and Poverty, published in 1879, argued that governments did not have a right to tax labour. They only had a right to tax land.

Monopoly didn’t become a hit until the Depression. Its original message that all should benefit from wealth was transformed to its current version — where you crush opponents by accumulating wealth — by its second developer, an unemployed heating engineer named Charles Darrow. By the mid-1930s, orders for the game had become so extensive that employees of Parker Brothers stared piling the order forms in laundry baskets.
Gavitt’s Stock Exchange (1903), a precursor to the modern day card game Pit.
Gavitt’s Stock Exchange (1903), a precursor to the modern day card game Pit.(Strong Museum of Play, 109.11515)

Games with meaning

Many of the games in circulation today are more than a century old. Pitt (originally Gavitt’s Stock Exchange) was made during economic panics, railroad failures, speculation and anti-monopoly movements. Patented by Harry E. Gavitt in 1903, the game was designed (as the rulebook says), to reproduce the excitement and confusion generally witnessed in stock and grain exchanges.

Players work to gain a monopoly over an economic market. They gather all the copies of one product and inflate its value to reap substantial profits.

Monopoly and Pitt taught economics while Chutes and Ladders focused on morality.
Chutes and Ladders was inspired by games played in South Asia about 1,000 years ago. Many of these games had explicit Hindu religious themes. They had different names: Nepal (Nāgapāśa); Tibet (The Game of Liberation); and India (Jñāna Chaupār). A Buddhist monk, Sa-skya Pandita, created the Game of Liberation for his sick mother in the 13th century. He likely based it on earlier forms of the game he encountered as part of his pilgrimages.

In Nāgapāśa, players attempted to reach a realm of one of the Hindu gods. In the Game of Liberation, they aimed to reach nirvana.

British and American manufacturers stripped the game of its religion, but they kept its emphasis on morality and the game stayed much the same: moving upwards on the board represents good moral decisions; falling back is a punishment for poor choices.

Teaching tools

Toys and games offered a way for teachers and parents to prepare children for their adult lives. Parents used mechanical toys to teach engineering to boys. They used dolls to teach sewing, ingenuity, and household management to girls. It was one way to take complex ideas about society and translate them into forms children could understand.

Playing games could also be a way to learn history. During the the Philippine-American War, game designers created Merry War to teach children about the conflict.
Merry War: A Battle Game for Boys (1899) has U.S. and Filipino soldiers battle against one another.
Merry War: A Battle Game for Boys (1899) has U.S. and Filipino soldiers battle against one another. (Strong Museum of Play, 107.3631)
In 1899, a newspaper columnist in The Seattle Post-Intelligencer wrote that toy makers…are as watchful as politicians and scientists to keep abreast of the events of the day.”

Market changes

By the 1960s, manufacturers began to advertise directly to children, rather than to their parents. They emphasized the excitement of their products over their educational value.

At the same time, civil rights unrest, the rise of feminism and rapid technological innovation made the world seem unpredictable. How could you prepare your children for their adult lives when the future seemed so difficult to understand?

Today, lessons remain embedded in many board games, but they sit apart from games just for fun. Board games are no longer a key venue to transmit information across generations.

Yet for all that has changed, we still play these old games, even if we don’t remember their lessons.The Conversation

About Today's Contributor:

Benjamin Hoy, Assistant Professor of History, University of Saskatchewan


This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

#FarscapeNow: The Hit Sci-Fi Series Farscape Available On Amazon Prime Video On Tuesday, March 19th

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Farscape
Farscape (Image via YouTube Farscape Official)
Beginning Tuesday, March 19, The Jim Henson Company's groundbreaking sci-fi series Farscape will be available in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Nordics, and several other countries around the world on Amazon Prime Video. 
All four seasons in HD (88 x 60'), plus the Emmy-nominated mini-series finale – also newly remastered in HD - will be available. 

Die-hard fans and sci-fi aficionados can binge, watch, and re-watch the entire award-winning cult favorite that has earned its place in science fiction canon.
Throughout the coming year, fans will have multiple ways to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Farscape, which first premiered on March 19, 1999. In addition to the launch on Prime Video, enthusiasts can expect fan events and various licensing initiatives including a special edition vinyl soundtrack release from Music.Film Recordings and Varèse Saraband this summer.

Collectors can look for products from Chronicle Collectibles, Toy Vault, and Trevco in the coming months. 'Scapers' (Farscape fans) are encouraged to follow the official Farscape social channels using the fan-created hashtag #FarscapeNow for specific Prime Video territory details and any upcoming announcements.
"Farscape is one of my most favorite productions, and I am so honored by the 'Scapers' who continue to love it and share it with other sci-fi fans. Premiering the series and the beautiful HD remastered mini-series on Prime Video is a great way to celebrate the 20th anniversary with the Farscape community," said Brian Henson, chairman of The Jim Henson Company and executive producer of Farscape.
Fusing live-action, digital effects, and state-of-the-art puppetry and prosthetics from Jim Henson's Creature Shop, Farscape has been hailed by TV Guide as one of the 25 Best Cult TV Shows. 

Emmy-nominated and winner of two Saturn Awards, Farscape, created by Rockne S. O'Bannon, was the first original series to air on SYFY. It went on to gain a loyal international fan following that has propelled multiple ancillary products including comics, collectibles, games, and publishing. 
Farscape (Courtesy of the The Jim Henson Company)

About Farscape:



Farscape follows astronaut John Crichton who, during an experimental space mission, is hurled across a thousand galaxies to an alien world. In his quest to return to Earth, he finds himself aboard a starship populated by escaping political prisoners from a variety of alien cultures. 

Crichton must rise to the challenge of surviving in a world he barely understands, keeping one step ahead of the pursuing Peacekeepers, a race of deadly mercenaries who will stop at nothing to capture him.

About The Jim Henson Company:

The award-winning Jim Henson Company has remained an established leader in family entertainment for over 60 years and is recognized worldwide as an innovator in puppetry, animatronics, and digital animation. 

Best known as creators of the world-famous Muppets, Henson's most recent television credits include Dot., Word Party, and Doozers, and the Emmy-nominated Splash and Bubbles, Sid the Science Kid, and Dinosaur Train

Television productions include Fraggle Rock, The Storyteller, and the sci-fi series Farscape

  • The Company is currently in production on the upcoming Netflix original series The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance and Guillermo Del Toro's Pinocchio.

17 March 2019

Sir Richard Branson Proposes Strategy to Tackle Climate Change

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Richard Branson
Richard Branson (Image via virgin.com)
Sir Richard Branson has shared his vision for a Clean Energy Dividend which he hopes will tackle climate change.

Writing in his blog today, amid scenes of climate change marches around the world, he states his belief that there will be an opportunity to create millions of jobs whilst also driving down the price of fuels in the long term.

Sir Richard Branson wrote: "I believe there is an extremely simple way to whip climate change and I plan to set it out below. It's wonderful to see children all over the world marching today for such an important cause and they are absolutely right that if we don't implement ideas immediately then their lives and their children's lives are going to be imperilled.

Many people working on this subject believe the world needs a carbon tax on dirty fuels - coal and oil - to solve the problem. However, the problem with a carbon tax is that it has so far been impossible to impose without governments falling. The Australian government tried to bring one in and they were kicked out - the new government cancelled it. In November 2018, the state of Washington voted against a carbon tax for the second time in two years.

Carbon taxes are of course well-intentioned. But others are sceptical that they will raise enough resources to tackle the problem, or if the money will actually even be spent on the issue. So aside from being unpopular with the companies, carbon taxes are also often unpopular with the public and unpopular with governments. There are really no winners - except ultimately the globe and the environment

So I would like to propose the following: a Clean Energy Dividend."
The Virgin Group founder went on to add important points around why companies around the world should support this dividend adding:
"Every company in the world should accept a Clean Energy Dividend to be imposed on the fossil fuel they use and the carbon emissions they cause. The dividend could be the equivalent percentage that a carbon tax would have been, and based on cutting pollution at the rate the climate science shows is necessary. However, unlike a carbon tax, that money wouldn't disappear into government coffers, but would be used specifically to be invested in generating clean energy through wind farms and solar panels, as well as the development of more low carbon fuels and other breakthrough technologies. The companies, through those investments, can get that money back, plus dividends (it would be wise to have some independent governance to make absolutely certain that all companies comply with this remit.)

The good news about this approach is that:

  • Clean energy will have literally billions poured into it over the next few years - enough money to switch the world from dirty to clean energy. This is important because what climate change initiatives are still lacking at the moment is major investment.
  • Companies investing this money should be happy because the investments they make should be secure ones.
  • Millions of new jobs will be created through a climate change revolution.
  • The public should be happy because although some fuel prices might increase in the short-term, the competition from clean fuel will rapidly drive prices of both dirty and clean fuel down very quickly and they will stay down forever.
  • Governments should be happy because the lower fuel prices will result in a great boost to the economy. Lower fuel prices are politically attractive and politicians will also be able to say that by implementing this, they have made a major move towards getting on top of climate change.
This is a win-win all-round. It's a win for companies, a win for the people who work in them, a win for the public, a win for creating new jobs, win for governments, and most importantly of all a win for our beautiful globe."

Richard Branson
Richard Branson (Image via virgin.com)


16 March 2019

"From the King's Court to Kickstarter: Patronage in the Modern Era" The History of Artist Sponsorship

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"From the King's Court to Kickstarter: Patronage in the Modern Era" dispels the myth of the starving artist and provides a roadmap for entrepreneurial artists of all kinds who want to create the kind of art they are passionate about and make a great living doing it.
"From the King's Court to Kickstarter: Patronage in the Modern Era" dispels the myth of the starving artist and provides a roadmap for entrepreneurial artists of all kinds who want to create the kind of art they are passionate about and make a great living doing it.
They say that history repeats itself, and art patronage is no different. From emperors, kings, and noblemen to small businesses, large corporations, and the public, art patrons have helped shape our culture and society as a whole. 

The symbiotic relationship between artist and patron has fluctuated from the hired hand commissioned to entertain royalty, to the entrepreneurial artist making fortunes creating their own art and charting their own destinies.

Prior to the Renaissance, most artists were unknown craftsmen working on commission. But thanks to the infusion of capital under the powerful Medici banking family, the number of working artists and celebrity artists increased. 


The period of the Renaissance changed art as we know it. Suddenly art was accessible to everyone, not just royalty and the elite.

The millennium brings with it another big change in art patronage. 
"We're entering a new Renaissance," says Austin, "a digital Renaissance, that not only makes art accessible to everyone, but patronage as well. There's never been a better time in history to be an artist. With crowd-funding, corporate sponsorship, grants, venture capital, and angel investors, there's no reason for an artist not to make a living."
"From the King's Court to Kickstarter" (available on Amazon) traces the history of entrepreneurial artists and their relationship to patrons. 
Many times patronage can mean the difference between being a starving artist and a wealthy one. And today there is enough patronage to go around.
Julie Austin
Julie Austin
Julie Austin comes from an entertainment background as a TV and film actor and film distributor, but also has a business background as an inventor and innovator with a NASDAQ-winning product that's sold in 24 countries. She is an international in-demand motivational innovation speaker.

SOURCE: Julie Austin


15 March 2019

Get Ugly With STXfilms' 'UglyDolls Factory' Custom Character Creator

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UglyDolls - Movie Poster
UglyDolls - Movie Poster
To celebrate the upcoming release of STXfilms' star-studded animated feature film UglyDolls on May 3, 2019, the studio has launched the UglyDolls Factory, a custom tool for fans to design their very own UglyDoll characters. With dozens of unique features and accessories to choose from, the UglyDolls Factory has everything needed to create a special and perfectly imperfect addition to Uglyville.
Earlier this week, the film's star Kelly Clarkson kicked off the fun on Twitter with a one-day #WelcomeToUglyville activation. Thousands of fans were able to engage with @UglyDolls to share what made them unique, while a team of digital artists transformed them into a personalized UglyDoll character in a matter of minutes.
Now, with the launch of the UglyDolls Factory, anyone can log in and design a custom UglyDoll with just a few simple clicks. 

To reward the community for their creativity, a select number of fan-created characters from the UglyDolls Factory will be given the unprecedented opportunity to be featured on the big screen during the end credits of the UglyDolls film.

The 
UglyDolls film is directed by animation veteran Kelly Asbury and features an A-list cast of music superstars and global talent including Kelly Clarkson, Nick Jonas, Blake Shelton, Janelle Monáe, Wanda Sykes, Emma Roberts, Gabriel Iglesias, Bebe Rexha , Charli XCX, Lizzo, and Pitbull. 
Also headlining the cast is Wang Leehom, who is hailed as the king of pop in China.

More About The Movie:

(via STX Entertainment)
"Unconventionality rules in UglyDolls, STXfilms’ new animated musical adventure starring the acting and singing voices of Kelly Clarkson, Nick Jonas, Janelle Monáe, Blake Shelton and Pitbull.   

The film is inspired by the unique and beloved global plush toy phenomenon launched in 2001.

In the adorably different town of Uglyville, weird is celebrated, strange is special and beauty is embraced as more than simply meets the eye. Here, the free-spirited Moxy and her UglyDoll friends live every day in a whirlwind of bliss, letting their freak flags fly in a celebration of life and its endless possibilities.  

The endearingly unique residents of Uglyville  occasionally look to the sky above the town, where a new UglyDoll will appear and be embraced by the community.

Moxy (Kelly Clarkson) loves her square-peg life in this round-hole town, but her curiosity about all things leads her to wonder if there’s something – anything – on the other side of the mountain which nestles Uglyville.  Moxy gathers a group of her closest friends and sets off to find what’s on the other side.  

They discover another world – Perfection – a town where more conventional dolls are trained in protocols before they graduate and are sent to the “real” world to find the love of a child.

In Perfection, Moxy and her crew are subject to the manipulations of Lou (Nick Jonas), the perfect doll in charge of training recruits.  

Here, the UglyDolls will confront what it means to be different, struggle with their desire to be loved, and ultimately discover that you don’t have to be perfect to be amazing because who you truly are is what matters most."
Created in 2001 as a plush toy line by David Horvath and Sun-Min Kim, the UglyDoll brand quickly gained a cult following around the world and in 2006, was named Toy of the Year by the Toy Industry Association. Beloved by children, teenagers and adults alike, UglyDoll characters are distinct for their endearingly "ugliness," in a wonderful "uglyverse" where differences are special and unique. 

SOURCE: STXfilms

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14 March 2019

Toto Tells It Like It Is… "Let the Truth Be Known" - An Epic "Wizard of Oz" Adventure for the 21st Century Reader

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The Wizard Was Odd Trilogy - Front Cover
The Wizard Was Odd Trilogy
A couple of days in Oz equals a year in Kansas where Uncle Henry is dying; If the Wizard will provide the cure, will Dorothy return home…and in time?
Alongside Toto, you will ride in the front seat of a thrilling and emotional roller coaster throughout the magical Land of Oz…and beyond. This Wizard of Oz takeoff is a multidimensional plot-twister that includes an updated original cast and a host of other wondrous quirky social misfits. This complex and intriguing parody has as much tongue-in-cheek humor as it does original content, adventure, mystery, fantasy, and romance. 

Yesteryear

First published in the year 1900, electrical lighting, indoor plumbing, and automobile ownership were not widespread. There were less than 8000 cars on the road and no more than ten miles of paved roads. "Technology" was a train that could travel in six days that a covered wagon would take six months.

Today

"Technology" means medical miracles, lasers, drones, stealth bombers, satellite surveillance, space station, cyber warfare, and quantum computers. Incredible graphics in games, like Minecraft and Fortnight, and in films, like Harry Potter and Star Wars, have raised the bar. Today's fantasy lovers expect "fantastic" and it takes "awesome" in books and films to meet those expectations.

The Wizard Was Odd trilogy has that kind of universal appeal. The glorious Lands of Western Oz, with elements of fantasy, steampunk, and science fiction coupled with its bizarre inhabitants, and their extreme subcultures will draw today's fantasy readers and game-minded fans into an Oziian world unlike any other.

Kiss of the Good Good Witch
Kiss of the Good Good Witch
  • The Library of Congress has declared The Wonderful Wizard of Oz "America's greatest and best-loved homegrown fairytale" and "the most watched film ever." It has also been said that one fifth of the world's population has in one way or another enjoyed one version or another of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

More About The Wizard Was Odd Trilogy:

Book One, "Toto's Tale" and Book Two, "Trail of Tears" form a complete series. In Book Three, the title, settings, themes, plots, and new characters will be chosen from the ideas of contributing readers of "Toto's Tale" and "Trail of Tears".
The overall theme: A couple of days in Oz equals a year in Kansas where Uncle Henry is dying; If the Wizard will provide the cure, will Dorothy find her way home…and in time, to make a difference?
Toto's Tale, the first of The Wizard Was Odd trilogy brings the 21st century reader a cast of new and updated characters. Often bizarre and always unique, their personalities have depth and a complexity in tune with our times.

The story line, situations, and characters’ relationships, though off-world, are real-world with complicated plots, unexpected twists, subtle romance..., mystery, lots of wonder, and some serious magic. Toto's Tale, loosely follows Baum’s yellow brick road to the Emerald City. However, not all yellow brick roads are the same. With larcenous literary and artistic license, copious wit, and tongue-in-cheek humor, Toto’s Tale will appeal to readers of all ages.

In Trail of Tears, the second book of the trilogy, much of the setting takes place with new characters and in the lands of Western Oz where the comrades agree to accept a mission from an eccentric Wizard to secure an all-seeing spyglass held by the Black Queen of the Western Commonwealth.

Circumstance require the comrades return East, to Oz, by Devil’s Walk through the Underworld. Deadly, dark, and dismal, this treacherous expanse is inhabited by unimaginable evil. The pocks, pockets, and caves that belch sulfur and volcanic heat harbor hungry Firewalkers, the spawn of Hell’s Hearth, Godless spider-like half-human miscreation’s.

Elsewhere, in the Valley of the Vegans, the sweet scent of nightshade and cool forest mist brings peace and contentment to the weary traveler while intelligent soul-seeking plants, spiritual vampires subtly work to seduce their victims.

Bedraggled and beaten, those who return come to realize that the Wizard they staked their future on is devious, treacherous, and probably lacking the sanity, magical skills, and desire to grant their wishes. Unpredictable twists of fate lead the reader to an ending unlike any other adaptation, spin-off, rendition, sequel, or Oziian reinterpretation.
A commemorative series from a unique perspective, Toto's! A multidimensional plot-twister w updated cast of wondrous, quirky misfits. Alongside Toto, you will ride in the front seat of a thrilling and emotional roller coaster throughout the magical Land of Oz…and beyond. This Wizard of Oz takeoff is a multidimensional plot-twister as told from Toto's perspective that includes an updated original cast and a host of other wondrous quirky social misfits. With many surprises along the way, this complex and intriguing parody has as much tongue-in-cheek humor as it does original content, adventure, mystery, fantasy, and romance. If blockbuster series with witches, wands, warlocks and magic kept you coming back, then "The Wizard Was Odd Trilogy" will grab you and won't let you go!
Valley of the Vegans: Manticore Saves Dorothy from the Seekers of Souls; Devourers of Life Force, Essence, and Spirit

About The Author:

Bob Moyer (pseudonym - Peeky) has been writing fiction for children, young adults, and adults young at heart for nearly ten years. The following childrens stories/writings will be posted to his website at Oziian.com or WizardWasOdd.com in the near future. 

"The Calamitous Attitude of Kat Katitude" is about teenage and young adult cats living together as roommates. Another is a bedtime ditty - "No Such Thing", "Fast Food" is a picture book without words about a slow spider trying to catch fast insects, and the list goes on. 

Bob began writing for children in 2010 and belonged to the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) for many years. In 2012, he and his wife Janet concluded a busy week with a night on the town. His opening question to her was, "So Dorothy, how is Toto?" From that nugget, he created a version of the Wizard of Oz featuring Toto as the main character. 

With the input of the readers first two books, he intends to create the third book of the trilogy by 2020. This series will be a celebration of the 120th year of the first printing in 1900 of the original "Wonderful Wizard of Oz" by L. Frank Baum.

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13 March 2019

Five Non-Invasive Ways to Treat Arthritis

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Old hands typing
 Old hands typing (Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay)
Arthritis is a common health problem among many people. Recent statistics indicate approximately 22.7% of adults in the United States have been diagnosed with some form of this condition.

If you’re one of them, you know how important it is to be familiar with various remedies and treatments. The following natural options are particularly worth your attention. They’ll help you relieve your arthritis discomfort without turning to medicine or invasive treatment.

Lose Weight

Maintaining a healthy weight is important for many reasons. Reducing arthritis pain is simply one of them.

When you’re obese, excess weight puts your joints under significant stress. Losing weight reduces the stress, thus reducing your pain as well.

Sticking to a nutritious diet is part of losing weight. However, you should also develop a safe exercise routine. Engaging in physical activity has been shown to alleviate pain and stiffness in people with arthritis. Just make sure you’re coordinating with a professional if your arthritis is particularly severe.

You may even want to contact a physical therapist in your area. For example, if you’re based in New York, direct access to physical therapy can put you in touch with nearby experts. This is a convenient way to learn how to combat your condition, especially because you want to make sure all exercises you perform are safe.

Use Topical Remedies

Traditional topical pain remedies have been shown to be ineffective at treating arthritis. However, new remedies have been developed for the specific purpose of alleviating arthritis discomfort. Although it’s too soon to tell how effective they are for the average patient, these anti-inflammatories may help you manage your condition. They are certainly worth trying.

Apply Capsaicin Cream

Capsaicin cream, when applied topically, has helped reduce discomfort in patients struggling with a range of chronic pain conditions. It’s also available without a prescription.

Researchers aren’t sure why it has this effect. Currently, one theory proposes that capsaicin may interfere with the transfer of pain information from the nerves to the brain.

Consider Acupuncture

Don’t dismiss acupuncture as a “fake” treatment. Studies have indicated it can relieve discomfort in people with arthritis. While results may vary on a case-by-case basis, you should consider trying it to find out if it works for you as it has for others.

Electrostimulation

Again, it’s important to coordinate with professionals when working to treat and manage your arthritis. Doing so offers many key benefits. For example, you may get access to treatment options you wouldn’t have known about otherwise.

Consider electrostimulation. Physical therapists sometimes use this technique to reduce pain and swelling by targeting key nerves with electricity. It’s another natural remedy that may deliver the results you seek.

Keep these in mind if you’re looking for ways to reduce arthritis pain while staying away from treatments that may cause you to experience unpleasant side effects. Although you should always listen to your physician’s advice when you have this type of condition, you should also consider all your options. One or more of these may help you.

12 March 2019

Brexit Britain's Weakness Exposed in US Trade Deal Documents

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Theresa May and Donald Trump
Taking a tough stance. (EPA/Peter Foley)
The US has published its objectives for a proposed trade agreement with the UK – and its thinking highlights just how weak Britain’s bargaining position will be in the post-Brexit global economy.

The US trade representative outlines many of the usual ways to increase trade between the two countries – namely, reducing tariffs and ensuring both sides share the same standards and regulations. But the emphasis is very much on the UK aligning itself with US standards. This will have major implications. It will move the UK away from the EU standards it currently has, which will harm trade with its most important trading partner and generate potential hurdles in a future trade deal with the EU.

The US is taking a tough line from the outset on a number of issues. With a population of 66m and GDP of roughly US$3 trillion, the UK is dwarfed by the bloc it is leaving – the EU’s population is 500m and has a combined GDP of US$20 trillion. Plus, the UK has a transparent need to both replace existing EU trade agreements and create new ones.
In Britain, concerns over food safety have been at the heart of debate over a potential US-UK trade agreement. The expectation of American chlorine-washed chicken entering British markets as part of a deal quickly became politically contentious, splitting Theresa May’s cabinet twice in 2017.
Read more: Chlorine-washed chicken Q&A: food safety expert explains why US poultry is banned in the EU
But the quandary facing the British government extends well beyond concerns over the consumer safety implications of US mass production methods. With US agricultural imports would also come US agricultural and sanitary and phytosanitary standards, which are in place to protect against diseases. This will create hurdles for British agricultural exports heading to the EU, as it will no longer meet EU standards.

For British farmers, the wholesale removal of trade barriers with the US may also come at a time when the industry is particularly vulnerable. Following Brexit, British agriculture will lose access to the EU subsidies it receives through the Common Agricultural Policy. While the UK government has promised to replace these, questions about its ability to fund its many post-Brexit promises remain.

Beyond agriculture

British manufacturers face the same demands to harmonise their regulations from the US trade representative, creating similar difficulties for exporters targeting the EU. Then, when it comes to services, US demands are much more dramatic.

Britain’s service sector brings in a substantial trade surplus – something the US will be loath to add to its growing trade deficit. Central to US plans will be to privatise and deregulate British services, such as healthcare provision or utilities and infrastructure, to enable easy market access for internationally-engaged American enterprises. These same corporations are actively engaged in the trade agreement process on the US side.
There’s a lot more than just chickens at stake in a US-UK trade deal.
There’s a lot more than just chickens at stake in a US-UK trade deal.(Shutterstock)
American ambitions for bringing UK regulations in line with its own also extends to trade of digital goods and services, potentially causing a tremendous shift away from EU regulations, which concern everything from intellectual property rights to data protection and digital privacy.

Beyond trade

As part of the deep integration objectives, the US-UK trade agreement will cover additional non-trade issues. These include labour standards, environmental protection and anti-corruption measures – all areas where the UK arguably is currently tougher than the US.

It is telling that the wording of the US objectives focuses explicitly on the UK obligations in upholding these kinds of standards. In contrast, US objectives for negotiations with Japan refer to both “parties”, rather than specifically Japanese obligations.

Perhaps the differences in wording is a result of different teams writing the documents. But it could also reveal the extent to which the UK is viewed by the US team as the weaker party to their deal, which will likely have extensive effects on the concessions the UK negotiating team can manage to extract from the US opening position.

Relinquishing control, not taking it back

Rather than taking back control, the starting point for US-UK trade negotiations is one where the British government cedes sovereignty over a wide range of issues. Britain’s size and detachment from the EU single market limits its bargaining power with large trade partners, whose governments will have no concern for the effects on the British public.

While harmonising standards with the US will pose a barrier to future trade with the EU, the deal could also increase limitations on British foreign policy more broadly. The US is also pursuing a clause that allows it to withdraw from a US-UK agreement if the UK agrees to an agreement with certain countries such as China. Similar terms are included in the US-Japan trade agreement objectives, as the Trump administration tries to limit China’s economic influence across the globe. There is also a section in the US objectives that is designed to limit Britain’s independence over its Middle East foreign policy.

The hard line taken by the US, along with the wide range of concessions demanded of the UK clearly point to the UK’s weakened bargaining position outside the EU. And the US is not the only trading partner seeking significant concessions in exchange for a deal. India, Japan, and South Korea have all signalled similar expectations in preparations for their own deals. All of this sits in stark contrast to the Brexit campaign’s promise to “take back control”.The Conversation

About Today's Contributor:

Michael Plouffe, Lecturer in International Political Economy, UCL

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 


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