Arranged Marriage vs Forced Marriage: Everything You Need to Know

Interested to know the difference between an arranged marriage and a forced marriage so you can identify it better? Discover the signs to look out for, right here…

Arranged marriages are not the same as forced marriages. In an arranged marriage, both parties always give their consent but, in a forced marriage, victims are coerced into a marriage that they do not want. They also often suffer physical and mental abuse in the process.

Distinguishing between the two types of marriage is really important. Forcing a marriage is a criminal offence, requiring a Forced Marriage Protection Order to protect the victim. Getting the two confused can promote a negative image of certain cultures and countries who practice arranged marriage.

There are no ‘typical’ victims of forced marriage. That said, there are a number of signs that can indicate that someone is at risk of a forced marriage, or is already in one. With this in mind, to discover the differences between these two controversial marriages so you can better spot them, read on…

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What are the Differences Between a Forced Marriage and an Arranged Marriage?

It is important to understand the differences between a forced marriage and an arranged marriage. Not only will this avoid wires getting crossed between culture and abuse, you may be able to better spot it…

Arranged Marriages

An arranged marriage is where a family find a marriage partner for their son or daughter, but the marriage is entered into willingly. Both parties have the option to choose whether or not to enter into the marriage, although it is generally believed that parents know what is best for their children in the long run.

In arranged marriages, parents will look for a partner for their son or daughter who has a good family, good career prospects, and the same religion and values; someone who will ultimately make their child happy. That’s not to say that all arranged marriages end in happiness. For children who refuse to marry their chosen partner, they are often shamed and cut off from their family.

Forced Marriages

A forced marriage, on the other hand, is one in which either one or both parties do not consent. This could be because the person is too young, they have a learning disability which prevents them from making an informed decision, they have a physical disability, or because they simply don’t want to. 

Forced marriage is illegal in the UK, and victims are often coerced into marrying through physical, psychological, sexual or financial abuse. Some victims are sometimes unaware of the situation, and are then drugged or kidnapped so that they can’t escape and are forced to go through with the marriage.

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Who is Most at Risk of Forced Marriage?

There is no ‘typical’ victim of a forced marriage. It can happen to anyone from any background. It can affect both men and women who are usually aged between 13 and 30. It is also not a problem specific to one culture or country. 

According to the latest statistics from the government’s Forced Marriage Unit (FMU), in 2019 they handled 1,355 cases related to a possible forced marriage. These related to 66 different countries, excluding the UK. The most frequently encountered countries were:

  • Pakistan
  • Bangladesh
  • India
  • Afghanistan
  • Somalia
  • Iraq
  • Romania

This could be the country in which the forced marriage is due to take place, or has already taken place. It could also be the country in which the spouse is currently living. There were 72 cases reported in the UK in 2019. Of these cases the FMU handled in 2019;

  • 27 percent involved victims below 18 years of age
  • 36 percent involved victims aged 18-25 years of age
  • 10 percent involved victims with learning disabilities
  • 80 percent involved female victims
  • 19 percent involved male victims

These are the reported cases only. The full scale of the problem in the UK, and other related countries, is unknown, as many cases go unreported. Because fo this, the government introduced lifelong anonymity to forced marriage victims in 2017, to encourage more people to come forward.

Why Do Forced Marriages Happen?

There are a varied number of reasons for forced marriage, many of these reasons relating to family honour. Some of the most typical reasons this might occur include:

  • Parents reacting to social pressure from friends or older relatives to marry off their children;
  • Parents believing that their children’s behaviour is starting to disgrace the family honour;
  • If a child reveals that they have been raped or sexually abused, the parents may force them to marry to restore the family honour;
  • Retaining wealth and property in the family;
  • Marrying children into a wealthy family to reduce poverty and pay off debts;
  • Marrying children with physical or learning disabilities so that they are taken care of;
  • Forcing children to marry to cover up their true sexual identity, e.g. lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
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What Does the Law Say About Forced Marriages?

Forced marriage has been illegal in the UK since 2014, under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act. Because of this, it is now a criminal offence to:

  • Take someone overseas to force them to marry (whether or not the marriage actually takes place)
  • Marry someone who lacks the mental capacity to consent to the marriage (whether they are coerced or not)

Committing this offence can result in imprisonment for up to seven years.

In 2008, under the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007, the government introduced Forced Marriage Protection Orders in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to protect victims who are being forced into a marriage or who are already in a forced marriage. Anyone who breaches this Order is committing a criminal offence, and it can result in imprisonment for up to five years.

How to Spot the Signs of a Forced Marriage

Now that we know more details about what exactly forced marriage entails, and who is most at risk, spotting the signs is crucial. Here are some of the things you can look out for in others that may signal a forced marriage, both before and after the marriage has taken place:

  • Parents removing a child from education of from participating in extra-curricular activities for no reason;
  • High levels of absenteeism from school, college or work;
  • The victim may come from a community where ‘honour’ is culturally embedded;
  • An engagement announcement between the victim and a stranger not previously mentioned;
  • Changes to the victim’s personality e.g. they may appear depressed, anxious or withdrawn, and their appearance may deteriorate;
  • The victim may go missing or have a fear of returning home;
  • The victim may talk about a family holiday abroad with trepidation;
  • The victim may go abroad and not return home;
  • The victim’s family may regularly check up on them when they’re not home via phone, emails or text messages;
  • Incidents of crime or domestic disturbances at the victim’s home;
  • The victim may not have any control over their own life e.g. they may not be allowed a phone, money or access to the internet;
  • The victim may show signs of self-harm or even attempt suicide;
  • The victim may experience an unwanted pregnancy or a pregnancy very early in their marriage;
  • The victim may have their passport or other legal documents taken away from them so that they can’t leave.
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What Should You do if You Think That you or Someone Else is at Risk of a Forced Marriage?

There is lots of help out there from the government and domestic abuse charities, such as Refuge, Karma Nirvana and the Halo Project, who can give you advice. If you believe you or someone you know is in immediate danger, always call 999.

The Forced Marriage Unit can also help you or someone you know. Just be sure to have as many details as possible ready before getting in touch, including:

  • Name (you or the person you are calling about)
  • Address (you or the person you are calling about)
  • Details of why you are concerned about your own or someone else’s safety
  • Any details about where you or another person is being forced to go or has gone

If you’re not comfortable calling any of these helplines, or you’re not able to, try speaking to someone you trust. This could be a friend, co-worker, or even your GP.

Getting a Forced Marriage Protection Order

If you’re being forced into marriage, are unable to leave a forced marriage, or someone you know is in this boat, there are legal avenues you can take. Applying to the court for a Forced Marriage Protection Order is the main pathway to look into.

The order is designed to protect victims of forced marriage based on their individual circumstances. For example, the court can stop someone from approaching you or threatening you, and can even order someone to hand over your passport so that they cannot force you to travel abroad.

It is also possible to get an emergency order to protect you or someone you know immediately. This does not require the involvement of the person you’re making the order against.

If you’re concerned that you are about to be taken abroad to be married against your will, then contact the Forced Marriage Protection Unit. Or, if you are already abroad, contact your nearest British Embassy. You can also do this on behalf of someone else.

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Get Help and Support About a Forced Marriage

As mentioned above, if you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 999 straight away.

Forcing someone to marry against their will is a form of domestic abuse and is a criminal offence. If you think that you are at risk of a forced marriage or you think that someone else might be, there are many resources and helplines available to help:

Forced Marriage Unit: 020 7008 0151

Refuge: 0808 2000 247

The Halo Project: 01642 683 045

Karma Nirvana: 0800 5999 247

If you wish to apply for a Forced Marriage Protection Order, it’s important to seek legal advice as soon as possible. Remember, help and protection is available; don’t suffer in silence.

Top Tips for Buying a Home during a Pandemic

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During ‘normal’ times, buying a house is always a very involving process. It involves meeting lots of people, from sellers and advisors. The level of human interaction is quite high, which is a considerable problem in combating the Covid-19 pandemic. In this complicated Covid-19 times, you may be wondering whether buying a house is possible. Well, here is some help. Here are some tips that will help you buy a home and still ensure safety.

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Find a Tech-Savvy Real Estate Agent

An excellent real estate agent is key to finding the ideal home for you. Apart from aligning with your needs, real estate agents are now required to be conversant with technology. This is because physical meetings expose you to risks. Therefore, the agent of your choice needs to be comfortable in hosting online meetings. This is through platforms such as Google Hangouts, Zoom, Skype, and many more. There also applications that allow you to receive and sign documents digitally. Such measures ensure a limit on time spent moving around and coming into contact with contaminated surfaces.

Consider Virtual Tours

House tours where there were cookies for everyone to nibble on are no longer viable. Visits carried out at the comfort of your couch are now the in-thing. Your realtor can easily send you pictures and videos of prospect properties. Since sellers can always edit videos, you may ask for a real-time virtual tour or a Face time with the realtor. This will ensure you get a feel of the house and make observations on imperfections without edits. The primary purpose of virtual tours is to eliminate some properties from a long list of choices. It is unnecessary to visit numerous houses where you expose yourself to more risks. Take your time and visit Movoto.com to narrow down your choices.

Remote House Inspection

Skipping a house inspection is one of the biggest mistakes you could make when buying. However hard the times maybe, you could still get a thorough home inspection, without necessarily putting yourself at risk. You can easily find agencies that conduct remote inspections by consulting with websites that show house listings. An independent review is the best option. The agency will take videos and pictures of things they find faulty in the house. This helps in getting a full report on the state of the residence. The findings reach you through a virtual meeting. Apart from that, after inspecting the house, the inspectors sanitize all surfaces before and after physically examining them.

Apply for Loan Pre-Approvals Online

Getting pre-approved for a loan ensures your finances for your house are okay. Before the pandemic, several lenders had transformed into a fully online system for efficiency. Thus, it should not be hard finding a loan officer who is conversant with an online order. The officer should provide learning materials, where you can learn everything about mortgage, the interest rates, and still track your loan progress. Shop around for loan officers, compare what they are offering and pick the best. Documents that the officer needs to assess, such as credit history, bank statements, or tax returns, are also available online. This ensures a paperless system with limited human contact.

Prepare Efficiently for the Showing

When you narrow down your options to a few houses, you could start physical visits. There are some details about the house that may not be detected by virtual tours. This includes things like smells. For those few house tours, you should prepare thoroughly. Carry your mask and sanitizer.

Additionally, insist on precautions such as filling of questionnaires to ascertain the health status of everyone involved in the process. You could also practice habits that reduce our exposure to the virus like avoiding touching your face. You could also arrange such that showings are minimal to avoid congestion. Such simple preparations reduce your likelihood of contracting the virus tremendously.

Remote House Closings

Previously, house closings involved shaking hands and handing over keys, among other activities, where both parties heavily interacted. Since there are documents that require signing, physical presence is necessary. However, both parties could observe social distancing by choosing a favorable location for the closing. This could be a conference room, with plenty of room for sufficient air circulation. Alternatively, the parties can occupy different rooms or use personal vehicles as an office. Signing often takes very little time, which reduces exposure time significantly.

Final Thoughts

As things slowly move back to normalcy, more buyers are exploring the market for homes. Therefore, there is an influx of buyers in the market. When you come across a good deal, move fast and close as you are up against a vast competition. Also, do not rush into sales to keep up with the market. Remember that your health is of paramount importance. Avoid unnecessary meetings and take all necessary precautions to protect yourself.

Curatorial Expert Paula Wallace on Art in the Home

Curatorial Expert Paula Wallace on Art in the Home

Paula Wallace’s life in art began as a child, when she watched with curiosity as her father hanged two small works of art that her mother had purchased at a thrift shop earlier that day. 

“They were matching prints,” Wallace says. “Two parrots, one red, the other a lemony yellow. In every house of ours, these birds always found a place to live.” The humble prints, she says, taught her that art needn’t be grand to hold meaning for a home. The parrots eventually came with her parents, Paul and May, down to Savannah in 1978, where they moved to help their daughter create a new art school.

Some 42 years later, Paula Wallace has made SCAD one of the largest and most comprehensive creative universities in the world, with campuses in the U.S. and Europe, a Permanent Collection featuring tens of thousands of historic and contemporary works of art (which can be found exhibited in its more than 100 rehabilitated historic properties, now home to classrooms, studios, and other learning spaces), and an in-house art sales and consultancy office called SCAD Art Sales, where the work of students, alumni, and faculty are available to the public. SCAD Art Sales has placed art work in films, TV shows, corporate headquarters and offices (such as Facebook and Netflix), and hotels and private homes around the world.

“SCAD wants to help homeowners find art they love and want in their homes!” Wallace says. “This is a win-win for us. It benefits the careers of our students and alumni, and it makes the world a more beautiful place.”

But how does someone who’s never purchased an original work of art begin to build a meaningful collection? Wallace is here to help.

“First, let’s talk about price,” she says. “You are going to spend money, but you have to remember: great art is like great furniture. It will outlast you.” Her rule of thumb is that you should spend about the same on art for a room as furniture for the room. If you plan on spending $3,000 on furnishings for the living room, then that’s probably a good target for spending on art, too.

And where do you find this art? Find a gallerist. “Every city has a few good galleries. Find them. Introduce yourself.” Think of it like shopping for books, she says. Most people will ask for a bookseller’s recommendations. “You can do the same with a gallerist. Ask what they love, what they like. They know artists.”

Homeowners, she says, shouldn’t worry about pretension or feeling like they need a degree in art history just to shop for art. But you don’t have to stop at galleries and swanky exhibitions, Wallace says. “Thrift shops and flea markets and antiques stores have great pieces, if you know where to look!” Another secret: Find out when the student shows are happening at local universities, where you can engage the artist in person and see if you connect. “Going to a student exhibition—where work is for sale—is a bit like going to an author’s book launch: It’s exciting. You’ll want to buy the work just because you feel like you know and understand it more intimately, from having met the artist in person.”

What kind of art is “you”, though? Think about what you love and need. Wallace suggests asking yourself: Do I like bright colors? Large, dramatic paintings? Do I prefer something with a sense of humor or a sense of meditative calm? What emotion do I want to evoke in the space?

“It’s more about liking what you love and loving what you like,” she says, “Don’t ask why too much. Why did you select that couch and not that one? Sometimes, you don’t need to know why! What moves you?”

Extroverts, she says, tend to prefer more dramatic works—bright of color and tone, animated in style, satirical, energetic, frenetic, even. Introverts prefer the quiet and profound. And yet: “The space dictates the work, so often.” A common area for parties and hosting might call for art work with more energy and movement. A sunroom or bedroom might need more reflective, meditative colors and themes. “You want your art to reflect your personality and moods—and the function of the spaces it will inhabit,” she says.

Placement is key. “Size matters,” Wallace says. “Large rooms need big art.” This is a common mistake among new collectors, selecting art that’s too small. “Art shrinks when you install it!” She recommends measuring walls before you start shopping and making a note of the sizes and square footage of areas, which will help gallerists keep you from choosing work that might not be suited to the room.

Finally, Paula Wallace suggests that buying art is like buying clothes—the kind you want to keep for a lifetime. Your art, like your wardrobe, announces who you are and what you expect from the world. It welcomes, invites, complements, pleases, warms, and illuminates. “It took me a lifetime to see that those two parrots were my mother and father: a perfect symbol of their love.”

That’s what great art does, according to Wallace. It points to something deeper and more beautiful than what you see. “That’s why every home needs it.”

Learn more about Paula Wallace of SCAD here: https://news.furman.edu/2019/12/09/paula-wallace-2019-interior-design-hall-of-fame/

Recognizing a Successful Real Estate Agent

Recognizing a Successful Real Estate Agent

Finding the right person to list your home or help you on a search to buy a new one can be daunting. There are dozens of real estate agents in any community, and since your decision to buy and sell can be lifechanging, you definitely need to pick the right agent for the job. Here are some hallmark identifiers of a successful real estate agent.

Local Experience and Knowledge

If someone is new to town, they aren’t going to know all about the school districts or where the closest communities are to transportation hubs. You don’t want a beginner helping you find your dream home. A local agent will experience may grab your attention through real estate prospecting postcards. This local form of advertising may be worth a second look.

Strong Organizational Skills

When you speak to an agent, you want to know that they are truly listening to what you say. They could drag you around from house to house, but if none of these homes have the details or designs that you are looking for, it is nothing more than a waste of time. A successful real estate agent will note the wants and needs of the client when looking at properties, sorting them into priorities and affordability.

Reliable Connections

When you fall in love with a home, you want to know that your agent is going to get the job done. Whether it be the negotiations with the listing agent or arranging for signing at a title company, your agent should have reliable connections and a strong reputation in the field among his or her peers. Agents that can work well with others get the job done faster and with less headache.

Don’t launch your dreams of a perfect home to a real estate agent without checking them out beforehand. You want a partner in the process, not a stressor.

When It Comes To School Reopening, “There’s An App For That”

When It Comes To School Reopening, “There’s An App For That”

With the incidence of new COVID-19 cases growing by the day, healthcare stakeholders are continuing to search for tools and medications to help stem the tide. We have seen the digital health community release a slew of new tools aiming to monitor the spread of the disease and facilitate better treatment. And it sounds as if there’s still more to come, as tech giants Facebook, Amazon and Google sat down with the World Health Organization (WHO) to talk about their role in combating the spread of disease, as well as misinformation. 

As of this morning there were over 4.8 million laboratory-confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S. The medical community has rushed to search for solutions to the spread of the disease with a big push for vaccine and medicine research. 

In lieu of a vaccine or therapy for COVID-19, the idea is to provide evidence-based guidance to businesses and schools that otherwise don’t know how to go about developing a return-to-work plan. In the absence of clear leadership here or clear guidance from the government, a lot of employers and educators feel like they’re having to play armchair epidemiologist — and very few employers or teachers are really positioned to do that.

Technology has a history of helping the medical industry track and treat viruses. Among more recent examples is flu tracking. In 2018 the US experienced a particularly severe flu season. During this time aggregated user data collected through Kinsa’s smart connected thermometers indicated illness spikes across the country.

Even more recently, a Scripps Research Translational Institute study published in The Lancet Digital Health found that resting-heart-rate and sleep-duration data collected from Fitbit devices could help inform timely and accurate models of population-level influenza trends.

And now, as schools grapple with how to safely reopen this fall, DrOwl is offering their groundbreaking new platform to schools for free. Neither students nor teachers are likely to return to school if they fear infection, so there needs to be some way to separate the sick from the. DrOwl’s technology is helping schools make their activities safer for staff, students, and guests, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Health screening and contact tracing are a large part of reducing the potential spread of COVID-19 in schools. DrOwl does both of these things.

As a technology company, we are thrilled to use our skills and expertise to help during this crisis.  We understand the importance of a solid screening process and that it is one of the things that is helping get us get back to school in a safe, well-thought manner,” said Arvind Raichur, CEO, and Co-Founder of DrOwl. “Our screening tool is a game-changer for schools, businesses, and so many other organizations throughout the world.”

The digital tools go far beyond the infrared thermometers and temperature checks that have dominated the conversation around safely reopening. The new wave of software products allows employers and schools to direct their workers and students to get a Covid-19 test, clear them to return to work or school, track their symptoms, and trace the contacts of anyone who tests positive for the coronavirus.

The rollouts are forcing digital health vendors and their customers to navigate a range of unprecedented legal, cultural, and financial questions. Among them: What kinds of surveillance can employers require their workers to submit to — and will employees actually use these tools? Just as 9/11 led to more invasive security in airports and other vulnerable spaces, most indications are the pandemic will lead to more pervasive health surveillance abetted by new digital tools.

Civil liberties experts say it is important for any virus-tracking of employees or students to be voluntary. Otherwise, by linking identification technologies like facial recognition to employees’ or students’ health status, businesses and schools could usher in an authoritarian, China-like system of surveillance and social control at workplaces and schools.

We are accepting encroachments on privacy here that we would not normally accept,” said Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union. “We need to be vigilant to make sure that they don’t outlast this crisis.” Four Republican senators said in May they would introduce a Covid-19 privacy bill to hold businesses accountable when they use people’s health information to fight the pandemic. Some of the reopening tools may raise questions about whether employers or schools are invading their workers’ or students’ privacy — and so digital health vendors pitching pandemic-related services are taking steps to try to steer clear of such concerns. As least for now, increased tracking and screening seem poised to become a fact of daily life for workers, students, and consumers.

We are Falling in Love with David Ruggerio

We are Falling in Love with David Ruggerio

Author and professional chef David Ruggerio is a man of many talents. He can cook and tell a love story like none other. What a dreamboat! We had to learn more about his newest novel Say Goodbye and Goodnight.

What makes your book a must-read? 

With COVID, protest, and quarantine, God knows we need a little loving. This book, Say Goodbye and Goodnight, will transport you back to the 1977-disco baby! -and experience a romance that will make your summer. 

If you could give your book to one celebrity, who would it be and why? 

That’s easy, John Travolta. Saturday Night Fever came out the same year, 1977, and he would appreciate the music, the scenes, and the great dialogue! 

If you could give your book to one singer/musician, who would it be and why? 

Another easy one! I have to offer up two singers. First, Frankie Vali. His theme song for Grease came out in 1978, and I can tell you, Brooklyn, partied to that music late into the night! Second would be Barry Gibb. The lone Gibb brother left; his music created instant romance in the air. During those hot nights on the beaches of Coney Island, the Bee Gees music echoed over to the shores of New Jersey. His lyrics told us all how to love a woman; his music is timeless. 

If your book was turned into a film/TV show, who would you tap to play the lead(s)? Why? 

Thomas Barbusca, he’s an Italian-American actor who has the look! He’s born in New Jersey (we’ll forgive him), he fits the part perfectly. 

Tell us something about you that no one else knows. 

As a youth, I had been arrested six times by the time I was ten. My uncle, Eddie Gavin, a great fighter in his own right, grabbed me by the collar. “Do you think you’re a tough guy?” He dragged me down to the gym, and a marriage made in heaven was created. I became a fighter. The gym I depict in the book is taken from my memories of Izzy Zerling’s Youth Center on Church Avenue in Brooklyn. In fact, the inspiration for the trainer in the book was also based on my trainer/manager- Izzy Zerling. Between amateur and pro, I fought 116 fights in the ring. I loved every moment of it! What three books are on your To Be Read list this summer? 

Full Count by David Cone (Huge Yankee fan) 

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (love horror!) 

SPQR by Mary Beard (Huge history buff!) 

Recommend a book from another author. Why should people read this book? 

Sea Stories by Admiral William H McRaven. If you think life is tough and it presents obstacles, his memoir will put everything in perspective.   

Recommend a book that is similar to yours. If people like X, then they’ll love your book because…  

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín. It is also a romance based in the County of Kings. There is something about growing up in the streets of Brooklyn. Both my book and Tóibín’s has one thing in common. If you’re not from there, you will experience the fun, the excitement, and the tragedies of the kids and their families who lived there during the most tumultuous period of the twentieth century. When you have to fight each and every day, you come to appreciate what life offers, and when romance presents itself, it is epic! 

What advice do you have for other writers? 

Your memories are a treasure trove just waiting to be put onto paper. Write from the heart. 

What was the hardest part of writing your book?  

I’m not going to give away the book, but there were tragic occurrences in my life that I base part of the book on,=. Those parts were tough for me to write; it was like reliving the event all over again. 

What is the core message you want to deliver to the world through your writing/books/stories? 

Never give up; no matter what life throws at you, keep moving forward. The presentence will overcome evil. 

Meat or Veggies?

 Meat 

The beach or the mountains?

 Ha! Love them both! 

Horseback riding or ATV? 

Horseback 

Cats or dogs? 

Dogs! 

Ninjas or pirates? 

Pirates 

Zombies or aliens? 

Neither 

Alice in Wonderland or Lord of the Flies? 

Lord of the Flies 

Coachella or Broadway? 

Broadway 

Selfie or group photo? 

Group photo 

Hardcover book or Kindle?

 Hardcover book! 

Chess or Candy Crush? 

Chess 

Paris or New York? 

Wow! Paris! 

Stephen King or Shakespeare? 

Stephen King, sacrilegious? 

Alfredo or Bolognese?

 Bolognese 

Order your copy of Goodbye and Goodnight on Amazon now!

5 Must-Have Online Gifts From HalyCard

5 Must-Have Online Gifts From HalyCard

With the world immersed in a pandemic, it’s never been more fitting to give your special someone an online gift card. More people are spending time online shopping or gaming than ever before, so nothing says I care better than a present they can use at any time. HalyCard is the perfect place to buy online gifts for your special someone, and they have items almost anyone would enjoy, gamers and grandmothers included.  Yet, since there’s so much to choose from, here are five must-have online gift ideas that will leave a lasting impression. 

1. iTunes 

One place media lovers go for content is iTunes. With media available to over 119 countries, iTunes is now the number one retailer of music in the world, topping Walmart back in 2015. This is why purchasing an iTunes card is the top pick for many HalyCard users. People can use their card for music, videos, or games, making it easy to please just about anyone.   

2. Netflix

You may not know this, but according to BroadbandSearch, Netflix has been around for a while. In fact, the company was founded in 1997, and netflix.com was launched just a year later. Now, with more than 100 million subscribers, Netflix has become the go-to spot for entertainment. In 2018 Netflix spent $12 billion in original content, making up about 80% of US views. Binge-watching TV series and movies have a whole new definition, and it makes sense that buying an online gift card from HalyCard for your sister, who is addicted to watching re-runs of Friends, is the perfect gift idea. 

3. PlayStation Network

PlayStation enchants gamers worldwide and has spent over 20 years building and shaping the gaming world you know today. The first PlayStation game to make this gaming system a world contender was Ridge Racer, which was released in 1994. The 3D graphics captivated users and made it an instant hit. In 2005 PlayStation 2 sold 100 million units making it the fastest-growing gaming console at that time. Now, millions of users are enthralled by PlayStation’s extraordinary technology and content. This makes buying a PlayStation Network card from HalyCard a great gift to keep in your back pocket and one your gaming friends will go nuts for. 

4. Google Play 

Google Play has more than 1 billion users and includes more than 1.5 million Android apps. According to Android Authority, in 2017, 70% of worldwide downloads came from Google Play. Worldwide, users spent over 17$ billion in Google Play apps, and since so many people choose this marketplace for content, buying an online gift card from HalyCard just makes sense. 

5. Amazon

Many of you may know that Amazon originally started in 1995 by selling books, but you may not know that they didn’t open their first storefront until 2015. Now, Amazon makes nearly $7 billion in revenue each year, selling practically anything. Amazon even launched their delivery service in 2016, and customers love their one to two-day shipping options. Amazon gift cards are the perfect addition to any present, which anyone can use at any time.  

Giving an online gift card is not only memorable but practical and functional. With a pandemic affecting people everywhere, online shopping and gaming are growing at unprecedented rates. At HalyCard, you can buy online cards that will suit most anyone. Some of their five must-have cards make sense and fit the new normal many people are learning to adjust to. It doesn’t matter if you’re more interested in media content or shipping products to your home, HalyCard is an excellent one-stop-shop for something that is bound to fit your needs.   

Author Ryan Southwick tells us ALL about his Fantasy Book

Author Ryan Southwick tells us ALL about his Fantasy Book

Angels in the Mist by author Ryan Southwick is unlike any Sci-Fi book you’ve read before. Southwick created a world of androids, cyborgs and ancient evil hellbent on distruction. We were captivated by this pageturner and wanted to learn more. Southwick gave us some insight into his personal thoughts:  

Q What makes your book series a must-read?

It provides a unique spin on several fantasy / science fiction concepts, and blends them in a seamless, realistic manner, with unforgettable characters, lots of action, and a protagonist worth rooting for. 

Q What is something interesting/cool/unbelievable you discovered while researching your book? 

When researching the PTSD portion, the thing that surprised me the most was how many people stepped forward and told me they’d had similar experiences to the protagonist—some frighteningly so. It’s forged bonds I wouldn’t have had otherwise. 

Q If you could give your book to one singer/musician, who would it be and why? 

Weezer. Love his music, and he seems quirky enough to dig it (assuming he likes reading…) 

Q Tell us something about you that no one else knows. 

I love quiche. (There, I said it. I’m a quiche eater!) 

Q Recommend a book that is similar to yours. If people like X, then they’ll love your book because… 

That’s tough; I wrote this book because I couldn’t find one like it. =] I just asked my wife the same question, who’s a voracious reader. She just shrugged and told me, “That’s what you get for writing something unique.” 

Q What advice do you have for other writers? 

Don’t be afraid of small publishers. They can fill in a lot of the blanks that may otherwise take a long time to do yourself, especially if you’re not technical. But definitely do your research before signing the contract (mine is great). 

Q Your genre of book is popular right now, why do you think that is? 

Urban fantasy is easy to absorb and identify with because it happens in today’s world. It takes concepts and settings familiar to everyone, which makes it accessible, then adds a splash of something extraordinary to spice it up. 

Q What book made you cry and why? 

Ryan Southwick

Leah Braun’s Sex on Fire. She tells her tale without pulling many punches. Not only did I feel terrible for her, imagining my daughters in that same situation was enough to bring tears to my eyes. Wonderful book, can’t recommend it enough. 

Q What is something you’ve always wanted to try but are afraid to. 

Hang gliding. Some of the best hang gliding in the entire country is in Pacifica—like 2 miles from my house—but jumping off a cliff with just a flimsy piece of cloth and at the mercy of the wind… *shudder* 

Rapid Fire Questions and Answers

Guardians of the Galaxy or XMen? 

Guardians of the Galaxy 

The beach or the mountains? 

Mountains 

Formal attire or yoga pants and a hoodie? 

Formal attire 

Kanye West or Taylor Swift? 

Taylor Swift 

Ninja or pirates? 

Ninja 

Marvel or DC?

 Marvel 

Zombies or aliens? 

Aliens 

Bugs Bunny or Micky Mouse? 

Bugs! 

The 1920s or the 2020s? 

1920s 

Chess or Candy Crush? 

Chess 

Invisibility or flying? 

Flying 

Hawaii or the Alps? 

Hawaii 

New York or Tokyo? 

Tokyo 

Hippies or hipsters? 

Hippies 

Thor or Hulk? 

Thor 

Stephen King or Shakespeare? 

Stephen King 

E.L. James or J.K. Rowling? 

J.K. Rowling 

Sparkling vampires or non-sparkling vampires? 

Non-sparkling. 

Saving the world or watching it burn? 

Saving the world 

Creative Stay-at-Home Date Ideas from the Relish App

Creative Stay-at-Home Date Ideas from the Relish App

Ideas for great dates can be hard to come by. Once you settle into a routine, though, your relationship can suffer. That’s so much more true when it’s hard to get out. Relish, a leading relationship guidance app, works with you and your partner to identify your challenges and growth opportunities and help you thrive as a couple. After discussing how you both felt about your week, Relish might suggest room-by-room activities like these:

Dating in the Backyard

Head outside for a Star Date. Bring light refreshments if you like, binoculars or telescope if you have them, and a star chart or app if you want to get specific. The stars are still out there, and when you see them with someone you care about, somehow this little ol’ world seems a whole lot bigger.

New Ideas for the Bedroom

Sensory deprivation date. Turn out the lights, close the curtains, and maybe put a small light in the corner. Spend time getting to know each other with the other four senses, relaxing and letting yourself be surprised at a new way of seeing your partner.

Bathroom Date Ideas

Bubbles or battleships, tub time together can be both peaceful and ridiculously fun. You choose, but either way you’ll come out squeaky clean with prune-y fingers. Not a bad outcome for a date.

Dining Room Date Encounters

Casino night! You can just use a deck of cards or get one of those cheap casino games from the toy store, but either way, do it informally like Vegas or dress up for Monte Carlo. Bet with kisses, and may the winner take all!

Kitchen Intimacy

The joy and trouble with cooking together is that you’re intimate, but you’ve got a project to do and you don’t eat if you don’t finish it. That can help you have fun, get silly, or get intensely creative and produce a masterpiece. Will one of you be a Gordon Ramsay?

Living Room Togetherness

Haiku writing spree. Write to each other, with a bit of leeway in the 5-7-5 structure of this concise Japanese style. It can be a time of romance, picturing cherry blossoms and romance in the spring, or it might expand to creative fun and joy, each trying to outdo the other in crazy images and ideas. Add sushi if you like!

Relish is a relationship coaching app that takes an active role in couples’ lives. It asks for weekly updates and discusses your relationship with you, then offers ideas about next steps and new perspectives. It personalizes mindful advice to help people turn their investment in their relationship into a source of growth, joy, understanding, and rich experience. Engaging via an annual subscription, users of the app gain from the experience and insight of a team of diverse relationship counseling professionals who contribute a broad base of ideas and insights. The results are practical, personal, and often a lot of fun to implement!

The Latest Renaissance in Design Education – VR and AR at The Academy of Art University

The Latest Renaissance in Design Education – VR and AR at The Academy of Art University

Academy of Art University has been on the cutting edge of creative instruction since its inception in 1929. From then until now, a defining feature of the Academy’s ethos has been to employ active creatives as classroom and laboratory instructors. These working artists and creators bring up-to-date and even forward-thinking trends and developments directly from industry to the classroom. This affords Academy students unprecedented and unparalleled access to knowledge that is shaping various creative fields right now and for tomorrow.

It is no surprise, then, that Academy of Art University has been on the Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) front lines from its earliest days. Beginning in 2016 with a VR Summit hosted by the Schools of Communications & Media Technologies and Motion Pictures & Television, the Academy has since sought to incorporate these emerging technologies into various curriculum and facilities to reflect how creative industries are using them in the real world.

What is AR and VR?

Both AR and VR are advanced technologies that seek to expand the experience of the human senses in a given environment. With AR and/or VR technology, users can find themselves interacting with faraway or imaginary scenes or objects as if they actually existed in the user’s present location. Instead of projecting images before a user, AR and VR project the user into the realm of the images or scenes.

Augmented Reality (AR) adds digital elements to a live view that the user sees through a camera. A simple example is using Snapchat lenses on your smartphone or playing Pokémon Go and chasing images on the screen that are not really present.  

Conversely, Virtual Reality (VR) is a complete immersion experience that transports the user to another environment through the use of a VR viewing device. Wearing the device over the eyes effectively blanks out the user’s surrounding environment so that the new digital environment can be experienced to the fullest. For example, a user wearing a VR device can participate in a virtual village elders meeting by sitting between participants in a dirt-floored hut in Central Africa.

While early proponents of these technologies saw them as enhancements for the gaming world, others saw potential for other uses. Antonio Borja, Director of the School of Industrial Design at Academy of Art University, visualized how artists and other creative professionals could actually employ VR sketching as a pivotal tool for design in many industries.

In an early VR workshop for students, Borja shared, “I know at first this thing seems like a gimmick but it’s not. Because it allows you [to] think and experience your design in 3-D, true 3-D. It’s not like sketching on paper where you see a two-dimensional representation of your 3-D object. Here, you actually get to walk around it.”

AR & VR Education and Innovation at Academy of Art University

In an Industrial Design class early in the Academy’s venture into exploring AR and VR, Borja guided students in using a VR sketching software product called Gravity Sketch, pairing it with a commercial Oculus headset and handheld instruments. Students learned the basics of creating textures, surfaces, shapes, and more, including tools for ensuring exacting accuracy and symmetry in designs.

Design students quickly grasped the very real benefits of this incredible new tool as they created and manipulated various product designs in real time. In more traditional methods, product concepts are modeled with clay or other media to allow designers to see, feel, and analyze their designs from different perspectives. Using the VR tools, even the student designers could discover design problems and other ideas much faster than by creating a physical model.

Antonio Borja now conducts a more comprehensive class in VR sketching as part of the Digital Imaging 2 course (IND 363). He explains, “It’s a very valuable tool that will allow you to experience your designs in a way you haven’t been able to do until you design a prototype. It’s better to find these issues early on in the workflow and make it so that we have time to make these adjustments so that our final project is that much better.”

Normal Rockwell Museum VR Project

One stellar example of how Academy students are learning how to use AR and VR technology to produce valued projects is the Normal Rockwell Museum VR Project. This enormous undertaking took Normal Rockwell art pieces that were originally produced for and featured in The Saturday Evening Post in 1943 underscoring the four enduring ideals from President Franklin Roosevelt’s Annual Message to Congress in 1941.

Numerous pieces depicting Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms – Freedom of Worship, Freedom of Speech, Freedom from Fear, and Freedom from Want – were combined into a VR experience for a traveling museum exhibition. Users would wear an Oculus VR headset to interact with the exhibit, which opened in May 2018 at the New York Historical Society before touring the United States and France, and then returning to the Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts in Fall 2020.

A diverse team of 24 developers from the Academy School of Game DevelopmentSchools of Animation & Visual EffectsSchool of IllustrationMusic Production & Sound Design for Visual Media, and Web Design & New Media worked a full four semesters to complete the project. It included various testing phases that involved students as well as senior citizens from the Institute of Aging. The project was to be designed so that users from age 7 to 70 could enjoy the experience.

Phil Kauffold, technical lead for the Academy’s School of Game Development (GAM) and project lead for the Rockwell exhibit, said, “We have to design for the young kid who knows the language of video games and understand this stuff. But also, we have to design for somebody [who] is older [and] doesn’t have that intuitive understanding of what we think of as the normal visual language.”

As a result, “Enduring Ideals: Rockwell, Roosevelt and the Four Freedoms” has been a resounding success, even being presented at the US Capital building to members of Congress during 2019.

Academy VR Featured on “California by Design” TV Show

Recently, advanced uses of VR technology in industrial design at the Academy was showcased on the TV series “California by Design.” In each of the six shows, a judging panel, which includes Tom Matano, Executive Director for the Academy School of Industrial Design, chooses finalist creations that will compete to be named the top innovation of the year.

Episode three, which aired on July 11, 2020, featured AURA, a student project led by IND student Santiago Bastidas. The featurette (watch 7:20 – 10:07) highlights how the Academy is incorporating VR technologies into the design process to reflect current industry uses in the real world. AURA is an automobile design project created for PSA Peugeot Citroën Group as part of a corporate sponsorship with the Academy.

Bastidas shared that he and his team used VR technology to design a new automobile that “extends users’ experience beyond a physical journey.” He went on to say, “With AURA, we wanted to create not only this spatial journey but to target a much deeper journey. We broaden the interactions for a much more humanistic final journey.”

In episode three of California by Design, the host, Dan Hardin, is guided through how Bastidas and his team used a VR headset and software to actually design their creation in 3-D. He is also able to experience the 3-D model of the futuristic auto itself and even create his own, rather rough, design on camera, obviously delighting in the experience.

Hardin exclaims at once point, “This is really fun, isn’t it? Just try to get this off my head now!” The Academy students in the Industrial Design program use Gravity Sketch for Virtual Reality Sketching and Autodesk VRED Pro for Virtual Visualization.

Antonio Borja, Director for School of Industrial Design explains “Incorporating virtual reality technology in the design process enables designers to execute evaluations in a shorter timeframe and find potential flaws or issues with their designs earlier in the process. This helps streamline entire projects and allows more time for making any necessary adjustments before completion, resulting in higher quality designs overall.”

Academy of Art University – Revolutionizing Arts Education

Art and creativity are often viewed as abstract concepts that are expressed on a canvas or through music. While these means of expression are valid and valued, creativity extends into many industries that produce helpful devices and objects that improve our quality of life. Safer, more fulfilling means of transportation, better medical devices, and other important discoveries all incorporate creative technologies in their development.

Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality are finding traction in more industries as time goes on, leading to better products with streamlined processes for development and testing. Academy of Art University is a top arts education institution that offers students the chance to experience these cutting-edge technologies as they are currently being used in today’s vital industries.

Interested prospective students can obtain more information by following the links in this article or by calling the Academy Admissions Department at 415-274-2222.

Read more about other Academy of Art University workshops