RECENT POSTS

What is Inflation and Why Does it Happen? [An Animated Explainer]

Includes videos

Inflation. We hear about it an awful lot. But what’s it actually mean? What causes it? And why is grandpa always complaining about stuff getting more expensive? Stop motion guru Josh Kurz explains it all in this two-part video (you can also watch the whole thing as a single video here).

Continue reading

How Chinese Memes Circumvented Censorship on Tiananmen Square Anniversary

Includes photo and video

UPDATE: The rubber duck meme was NOT censored this year (only in 2013). Even the most subversive memes, it turns out, have limited shelf life.

Yellow-rubber-duck-008

Tanks are replaced by giant ducks in this photoshopped version of the iconic Tienanmen Square image that was posted on a popular Chinese microblog last year before being removed by censors.

It’s safe to say it was the first time the term “Big Yellow Duck” had ever been censored.

But had you searched for it (in Chinese) on June 4 last year on Sina Weibo, China’s biggest microblog site, a message would tell you it couldn’t be shown “according to relevant laws, statutes and policies.”

So what gives?

Continue reading

The Math of Credit Card Debt, Explained

Includes animated video

Beware the lure of that plastic in your wallet!

According to the Federal Reserve data, the average indebted U.S. household in 2013 shouldered credit card debt of more than $15,000 (although that figure is skewed by a relatively small number of extremely debt-ridden families). While U.S. credit card debt has fallen since the height of the recent recession, and pales in comparison to average mortgage debt (about $148,000) and student loan debt (about $32,000), it still remains a major burden for millions of U.S. consumers who cumulatively owe upwards of $850 billion to credit card companies.

So how do credit cards actually work? And more importantly, how do the credit card companies make their millions from all your swipes? Animator Josh Kurz explains.


Josh Kurz started out as an embryo, 53 times smaller than a US nickel. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, he began at an early age fusing the abstract concepts of science and comedy. Now he works as an independent filmmaker specializing in humorous science explainers ranging from the economics of voting to why some people (like he himself) hate cilantro. His work has been featured on WGBH, ABC, PBS, NPR, TEDed, and Radiolab.

What Are Your Odds of Winning the Lottery?

By Joe Golling

If you gamble on faith — not on odds — you might want to stop reading this now. Because the chances of winning just about any big stakes lottery game — like Mega Millions  — is just north of impossible. Let’s take Powerball, for instance. Odds of winning the jackpot: about 1 in 175 million. By comparison, your odds of getting hit by lightening — a presumably less favorable outcome — are significantly higher. So, be sure to take shelter during thunderstorms, and, if you play the lottery: you might not want to quit your day job just yet. But hey, you never know, right? People win all the time. In this animation and accompanying infographic, animator Joe Golling explains how to calculate the mathematical possibilities of buying the winning ticket.

Continue reading

The Math of Trash: A Music Video

Includes animated video

How much trash do you think you produce in a day? How about a year?

It adds up a lot faster than you might  think — especially in the United States, which collectively generates more garbage — or municipal waste — than any other nation on earth. With only five percent of the world’s population, America creates roughly 25 percent of the planet’s waste. On average, each American produces more than seven pounds of trash a day (or 2,555 pounds a year) according to a recent Columbia University survey. That’s a big pile of garbage, and it’s the cause of some unsettling consequences. But it’s also great fodder for a catchy animated music video, composed by the folks at Explainer Music for The Lowdown.
Continue reading

The Math of Percentages and Discounts Explained in Three Animated Acts

Includes animated videos

Part I: The Basics

Quick shopping quiz:

That $130 pair of shoes you’ve been eyeing for weeks is now marked down 20 percent. To sweeten the deal, you have a coupon for 10 percent off your entire purchase. In other words, you’re looking at a discount of: 10% off 20% off $130.

So … how much would you end up paying?

Percentages. You can run, you can hide … but they’ll find you.

From sports to the news, to — most importantly — shopping, they are pretty hard to avoid. And if you’re among the 80 percent of our population who doesn’t really understand the math behind percentages (OK, so maybe I just made that percentage up), then you’re missing out on a whole bunch of important information (fabulous shopping discounts included). In these three short videos, animator and explainer extraordinaire Josh Kurz, breaks down the basic math behind common percentage conundrums.

Continue reading

Thinking Twice About California’s Three Strikes Law

Includes original video and additional multimedia resources

On November 6, California voters will decide whether the state should revise it’s tough-on-crime three strikes law. If passed, Proposition 36 would reduce sentences for second and third strike offenders. Opponents of the measure warn that doing so will lead to an increase in violent crime. San Francisco State University film students Owen Wesson, Aaron Firestone, Marine Gautier, and Daniel Casillas took to the road this fall to collect a range of perspectives on a thorny, emotionally-charged issue that questions how best to handle crime prevention and fairly administer justice in California.

Continue reading

What Is The Safety Net (and who uses it)?

Includes original animation

What’s the deal with “the safety net”? The presidential candidates spend a lot of time talking and arguing about it, and the Democratic and Republican party platforms both seem to have pretty different perspectives on the role it should play in our lives.

So what is it? And who needs it? And why’s it gotta be such an issue?

In short, the safety net is a general term for the many government-funded social welfare programs intended to keep lower-income citizens from falling through the cracks – things like food stamps and subsidized health care. But the thing is, these programs aren’t cheap, and deciding how much of our tax revenue should go to pay for them is always a major point of contention – especially in hard economic times. Liberals often argue that providing necessary public services to society’s lower classes is not only the moral path, it’s actually good economic policy, in that it helps lift folks out of poverty and into more economically productive roles. Conservatives, though, often contend that the safety net is another example of big government reaching too far into our private lives. It’s and inefficient and financially irresponsible system that makes poor use of our hard-earned tax dollars, and creates a cycle of dependency, not independence.

So who’s right?

Check out the video, produced for The Lowdown by the folks at Explainer Music.

To Kill or not to Kill? California’s Death Penalty Debacle

Original video on California's death penalty

For the first time in nearly 35 years, California voters will decide on the fate of the state’s death penalty law. Proposition 34, on this November’s ballot, proposes a full repeal of the law, prohibiting the use of capital punishment. If passed, the measure would convert the sentences of all current death row inmates to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Not surprisingly, Prop 34 is among the most emotionally-charged issues on this year’s ballot, marking yet another chapter in California’s ongoing, soul-searching debate on justice and punishment. Filmmaker Jazmin Jones examines the emotional complexity and widely conflicting political views of an issue that has long divided Californians.

Continue reading