Review: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield

[Contains no spoilers]

Reading this book has all over again made me want to become an astronaut when I grow up. Chris Hadfield tells an incredibly personal story of how he became an astronaut, the challenges he faced, the adventures he had, and what he learned along the way that helped him become the person he wanted to be.

I’ve seen online that some people call this a self-help book, which isn’t necessarily true. Hadfield manages to apply what he learned in his astronaut training to everyday life and in turn offers us various suggestions on how to properly carpe that diem, take criticism as a good thing, and generally not be a total arse.

What’s great is he doesn’t say “you need to do this to become a good person.” But instead offers us with “I did this and it helped me become a good astronaut, try applying it to your life if you want.” I’m personally a little sceptical about all those ‘self-help’ books that you find advertised online. A lot of them are great if you want to make big changes and are willing to get out of bed 3 hours earlier to have time for some yoga before whizzing yourself up a green smoothie and heading off to work in your running shoes. But if, like me, you’re still just working things out but wouldn’t mind a little push in the right direction, Hadfield has some great ideas that can be applied to almost every situation.

At times I found the 300 pages a little information heavy and it was hard to keep track of the timeline and different meanings of Hadfield’s various jobs as test pilot, astronaut, guitar player, and CAPCOM. And there were moments when I got a little bored of reading about all the skills and qualities needed to be good at making sure you pushed all the buttons in the Soyuz in the right order. However, Hadfield always managed to end the chapter on a high note, whether it was with a useful explanation on how to be a great group contributor (something we’d all like to be good at now and then) or by telling an exciting story of how he was stuck, blinded, on the outside of the ISS for over an hour.

I initially bought this book for the geeky space side of it, and while it does include lots of useful advice, it certainly doesn’t lack in geeky space stuff as a result. Hadfield has taught me that being an astronaut isn’t all about flying around in rockets like I thought, but there are so many different elements to it that I never imagined existed. For example: he writes about the fact they have to take Russian lessons for months on end to be able to communicate with the cosmonauts on board, about the various traditions and ceremonies that take place before and after a mission, and (hilariously) about the ways the astronauts on the ISS entertain themselves by having zero gravity races through the corridors. I suddenly realised that there was even more to being an astronaut than what meets the eye.

It was also really interesting reading Hadfield’s descriptions of their training and of life aboard the ISS. Somehow he manages to make the science easy to understand and describes their day to day life in space in a way that allows you to imagine yourself floating around, looking out at the shimmering oceans of earth through the Cupola.

Overall, this book is a brilliant read with lots of really interesting space-geek orientated stories and insights. But this also doesn’t overshadow the books central message of how to become the person you want to be by taking life into your own hands and influencing what you want to do.

You can buy An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth off Amazon here!

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Lights, Camera, Action, and Me

I have been fascinated with the ‘silver screen’ ever since I was little. From the earliest age I would spend as much of my day as I could watching Disney films on VHS tapes instead of playing outside like other kids. I loved how films could transport you to a new world; I could be in the vast green jungle with Mowgli, or exploring under the deepest sea with Captain Nemo.

As I got older I was determined to become an actor. I was that annoyingly geeky kid who would always put abnormal amounts of effort into school plays, memorising everyone else’s lines as well as mine just so I could show off. But I really wanted to act in the blockbusters of Hollywood. Christmas nativity? Pah! My final goal (which seemed doable to an eight year old) was to play the next James Bond. I could see myself flying across the screen in the swanky cars, defeating the bad guys and saving the world…

I then reached high school and opted to take drama as a subject. That was when I realised something that put my dream into perspective: I was a terrible actor. Back to the drawing board!

Despite being a miniature action junkie, I still loved animated comedies. I remember being perched on the edge of the sofa watching ‘Creature Comforts’ with my parents when I was about six years old. Of course, as a six year old, I didn’t quite understand the rules of the Grand National, or really care about what people thought of the current financial situation, but I thought it was really cool how they could make the dogs and cats talk. Wallace and Gromit was another favourite. At nine years old, I got curious and wanted to know how the world worked:

“Dad, how do they make Wallace and Gromit? I mean I know they’re made from clay but how do they move them? You don’t see their hands?”

Naïve little kid that I was. That day, my dad explained to me the idea behind stop motion animation, handed me a camera and a bucket of clay, and like a fish to water, I was hooked. Poor fish.

I made my first short animated film that day and a little while later it was featured on a quiet corner of the CBBC website. My first glimpse of stardom! Or that’s what it felt like to a nine year old anyway. The year after I received a clunky, low-res video camera for Christmas, which at the time, I’m sure was the bee’s knees. It was my absolute favourite thing and went everywhere with me. By this point, I had changed my mind: never mind being an actor, I was going to be the next Steven Spielberg.

I continued making films throughout school and as a friendless nerd who had no one to do it for them, I learnt how to direct, edit, use a camera, edit audio, place lighting, and everything else you need to create a film. Despite this lone wolf approach I’ve had to filmmaking, one of the most fun projects I’ve been involved with was last year when a group of young folk from here, there, and everywhere, worked with a professional filmmaker and a professional dancer to create a short film about our relationship with the city we were in. After an intense week of learning, filming, and being rained on a lot, the team had created ‘OWN’…

One of the greatest things about being involved in making this film was that we were all invited to attend a fancy pants premiere in a proper cinema. It was incredible to see our project on a real cinema screen, and all of our names appear in the credits at the end. I had finally attended my first film premiere and it was amazing.

Now however many years since that first day behind a camera at nine years old, I still make films when I can. I’m slightly limited by time and resources – my main camera is my phone – but my head continues to swim with ideas.

And now I’m off to study Film and Television at university (more on that in a later post) and I can’t wait!

Okay, so in some ways that has felt like a slightly pointless post. The whole time I was writing it I kept thinking ‘and the really useful point I’m trying to get across here is…?’ Honestly, I’m not sure there is one. However, it has perhaps acted as an introduction to a series of potential future posts about making films. Who knows? If nothing else, now you know a little bit more about me. And I have learned to plan posts next time instead of just writing them…

365 Seconds – A Second a Day for a Year | 2016

A year and three months later, this post is finally here! Yay!

It would have been up at the beginning of 2017 but my video software broke in the Christmas holidays just as soon as I’d psyched myself up for the big edit. But now it’s done, uploaded, and waiting for views.

On the first of January 2016, after seeing a similar idea on Facebook, I decided to film one second of video footage every single day for a whole year. So I did. And boy was it harder than I thought it would be. Only filming a second worth of footage sounds like a relatively easy task, and it was. What was difficult was actually remembering to do it and finding something vaguely interesting to film. There were a few times when I would get to the end of the day, about to go to bed, and I suddenly remembered I had completely failed to film anything at all, let along anything interesting (as you will be able to see).

The other thing that was quite tricky was trying not to film things twice. I tried to make sure every shot was unique, but by the time November came around, I had mostly forgotten what I’d filmed in March, a whole 2.102e+7 seconds ago…

One of the things I enjoyed most about making this video was reviewing everything that had happened in 2016 when going through the footage. For many people, 2016 was the year of catastrophes. Meow. But going back through it, it was funny seeing all the great new things that did happen last year…

  • It snowed!
  • I went to Glasgow to see my very good friendly friend
  • I attended the British Juggling Convention
  • I finished school
  • I ate cake
  • I started learning to drive
  • I read a lot of books
  • I went to Italy!
  • I caught up with the family in England
  • I tried sushi
  • I started two new jobs
  • I attended a premiere of a film I worked on in a proper cinema
  • And I got to work with professional filmmakers
  • I went to the Circus Works festival in Edinburgh and met some awesome people
  • One of my best friends started university
  • I was involved with another massive Halloween spectacular
  • I won a bowling game
  • I travelled abroad alone for the first time
  • And I went grape picking in France and got to see some old friends
  • I swung a lot of fire about
  • I had a great Christmas with the family!

And yes, 2016 had its moments: we said goodbye to our dog and Grandad, Trump was elected, and Britain voted to leave the EU. But hey, we live and learn and ultimately came out the other side having been able to eat a lot more comfort cake than we would have done had these things not happened.

Finally, thanking you muchly to all those who appear in the video. Oscars all round. However, if anyone objects to being on screen for a second, do feel free to contact me at: littlemishaps@if-I-remove-you-it-will-spoil-it.com No cake for you…

Anyway, I’m already three months late, and all this waffling isn’t getting anyone to the video any quicker. So here we go. A year of my life in six and a half minutes. I’m not saying it’s going to be interesting, but there’s the occasional giggle worthy clip…

Hoping you enjoyed, dear chums. À bientôt!

Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

[Contains no spoilers]

Ready Player One can be summed up quite simply as ‘the ultimate geek book’. I’ve heard other people describe it as a ‘nerd utopia’, and they’re certainly not wrong there.

The story begins in 2044 in an almost dystopic world. Climate change and global warming has taken its toll, civilisation is in decline, and most of the world is over populated and penniless. In these dark days everyone looks for a distraction – something that can make them forget about the real universe they live in, and provide some sense of hope and happiness.

Enter, the OASIS. The OASIS is an online massively multiplayer simulation game that allows the players to create an account and login for free to control a virtual avatar of themselves with their headset and haptic gloves. Through the OASIS, players can do any number of things whether it’s attend school, go to work, watch films, read books, or explore the huge world and complete various quests, challenges, and games.

The story focuses on the main character, Wade Watts, in his attempt to complete the biggest quest of all while battling enemies, living in poverty, and trying to impress the girl he loves. When the creator of the OASIS, James Halliday, dies, he leaves his entire fortune to whoever manages to find a hidden ‘egg’ within the simulation. To do this, players must use clues and riddles left by Halliday to find three keys and unlock three gates in order to reach the end of the game and find the prize.

Now jumping straight into it. One of the biggest parts of the plot to Ready Player One is all of the references to 80’s pop culture. James Halliday was a teen of the eighties and so uses films, games, TV, and music references to create the ‘Easter egg’ hunt and leave behind clues. Initially I wondered if this would just make it a very boring read to anyone who didn’t understand the references – but how wrong was I?! I was born in the 90’s so completely missed the decade that the book so frequently references, and somehow, through Cline’s brilliant research and explanation, I was still able to laugh along at the inside jokes and find the book incredibly exciting!

I think the whole idea of Ready Player One is very clever. If you want to write a book where the story involves wizards and aliens and dungeons and robots all in one chapter, then set it within a game where anything can happen. This allows it to be believable and take place in the real world. There’s no need to create alternative universes that often appeal only to the geekiest of geeks.

Ready Player One also addresses some interesting subjects, the biggest being how we have come to rely upon technology. The main character describes how, with the energy crisis, people have come to rely solely on the simulation to find any kind of happiness. The book is set in the future so is by no means a description of how we use technology now, but perhaps could be used as an allegory to describe how it could become.

The great thing about Wade Watts, the main character, is that for a lot of teenagers, he is very relatable. He prefers to spend his time playing games and watching films instead of being outside. Wade struggles at school and has found it hard to make friends, especially in the real world. However, what really makes me like this character is his determination to stand up for what he believes in. This is what sets him apart from being the antisocial school dropout and instead turns him into someone who is relatable, but equally someone we can learn something from.

I have seen a lot of people say the endless references in this book to 80’s pop culture can be a little unnecessary at times. I say nah! Okay, some of them do not hugely add to the story, but 9 times out of 10, they’re really funny.

This brings me onto my final and possibly only semi negative point. Who is this book for? The style and plot of the book makes me think it fits into the young adult category. But the references, humour, and jokes are clearly aimed at folk who remember the 80’s. Yes, it’s all understandable and funny to anyone not from that decade, but I still wouldn’t be sure what section to display the book in at Waterstones.

In conclusion: I loved this book. It held my interest the whole way through and I thought it was brilliantly witty, exciting, and full of action. It’s incredibly well researched and the descriptions are written in a way that makes you feel like you’re in the simulation yourself. So nerds, geeks, gamers, teenagers of the 80’s, and anyone who just fancies reading something a little different, I would highly recommend Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – and you can buy it off Amazon here.

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It feels like my reviews are getting longer. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Does anyone have any suggestions? Is it just getting boring halfway through? Or is it okay finding out a little bit more about a book? Help!

I Ran Away with the Circus. Sort of.

It was a dark and stormy night. The lions rattled their cages, the acrobats slept a broken sleep in their rickety caravans, and the clowns drank merrily under the cover of the big top, their still painted faces flashing bright, smeared colours with each flash of lightening…

Probably. At some point. But that had nothing to do with me.

Nope, instead, my story starts six years ago with a shy, reluctant little kid grumbling about having to miss their English class to go to some weird ‘thing’ in the drama department. Rumours had been going around the first-years about these clowns teaching them to dance. Or was it acrobats teaching them to act? Or was it actors teaching them to juggle? Nobody really knew what it was, but we did know it was one of those inclusion and team building exercises that the head honchos of the school would always get the younger pupils to do. Looked good on reports I suppose: “The children enjoyed a wonderful afternoon making friends and learning to juggle, plate spin, and worked together to make human pyramids.” See, good on report. Truth is, last thing on a Friday afternoon before the summer holidays, everyone thought it was actually all pretty boring…

Well, everyone but me. I took to juggling like my dog takes to carrots (very well), and launched myself head over highwire into the crazy world of circus.

This company, ‘Modo’, that taught us at school teaches what’s known as ‘social circus’. Social circus is this fantastic idea of taking young folk who are hard to reach, disengaged, painfully shy, or just desperately looking for something fun to do, and throwing them up on stilts and having them perform to hundreds, sometimes thousands of people, in an attempt to turn their life around.

(That is a very short definition, for a slightly better explanation, check out this page here!)

And that’s exactly what it did for me. Gradually, my skills and confidence grew and I became a volunteer for Modo. I now had a purpose, and something I could finally say I was good at and could call my own. I stood a bit taller, spoke a bit louder, and smiled a whole lot more. I was now teaching folk who were just like me – shy, mainly – and I was helping them to build their skills and do what I had done.

Obviously I got a bit of stick for it at school and for a long time was known as ‘that creepy kid that juggles’. Hey, well at least I can juggle! With the confidence I’d gained from volunteering and interacting with new people on a daily basis, I was able to ignore it and not let it bother me – not something I’d have manged to do a few years before.

Since that afternoon at school, I haven’t looked back which has been one of the best things I’ve ever done. As a result I can now juggle nearly 5 balls, walk on stilts, ride a unicycle, spin plates, breathe fire, and clown around. I’ve worked with hundreds of people, from professional directors to members of the public, all of different ages, backgrounds, and abilities. I’ve been in two professional touring shows and have travelled to France, Belgium, Italy, London, and Edinburgh to take part in festivals and exchanges. I have made friends from all around the world. I’ve been on a flying trapeze, a German wheel, and a Chinese pole. I’ve watched incredible shows from all around Europe. I’ve been part of a team that puts on a huge Halloween spectacular every year to thousands of people in a small local park. I’ve performed in parades and cabarets. I’ve become more confident, learned how to interact with people no matter what language they speak, and I’ve learned to work as a team. To name a few.

All of which isn’t generally seen as the norm when you live in a little corner of Scotland. I may be ‘the creepy kid that juggles’, but if that means having done the things I’ve done and seen the things I’ve seen, I’ll take it. In many ways, I did run away with the circus. Or rather the old me did. And the me that came back is a bouncier, more experienced version.

However, after reading this, please don’t get the wrong idea: we are not all clowns, we don’t wear big red shoes, we don’t sleep in a tent, we don’t tame lions, and we can’t all do triple backflips through a ring of fire. We’re normal people, with a passion for being silly and helping anyone that needs it.

Now, I am employed by Modo and hope to continue with the circusy adventures for many years to come. Have a look at Modo’s website here to find out more about what we do, who we are, and why we do it.

 

Hoopla! And there we have it. It felt a bit odd not having anything written on here about one of the biggest parts of my life, so that’s the main reason for this post. I apologise for it all being quite ‘me’. It’s tricky for that not to happen when you’re writing about yourself. But hopefully back to neutrality next week! À bientôt!

Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

[Contains no spoilers]

I promised to review this book sometime in November last year. Clearly I got distracted by giant man eating space worms – or some other equally credible excuse.

Set in 2035, The Martian tells the story of the Ares 3 space crew and their mission to determine whether Mars can become habitable to the human race. Or at least that’s what it would have been about, if it hadn’t been for a freak storm that forced the crew to abort their mission only six days in, resulting in their crew mate, Mark Watney, being left behind. On Mars. By himself. Oops.

From there, the book is made up of log entries made by Watney where he documents his life as the only human being on the entire planet…

To start with, I was a little surprised that the book was written almost in the form of a diary. It wasn’t quite the first thing my mind went to when I thought ‘thrilling science fiction’. However, a short way in, I realised how well it worked. With Watney being the only person on the planet, his log entries enabled us to share his feelings of loneliness and isolation because he was describing it as was, there and then.  It also allowed us to connect with the character. Mark Watney is, for lack of a better word, a smartass, and this comes across very well through the way the book is written. The character is able to tell jokes to us, share worries and concerns, and generally tell us what went on in his day. We’d lose all of this if it were written in third person, since there’s no one else on the planet for Watney to tell his jokes to…

One of the biggest things I loved about this book was how realistic it seemed. Realism adds to excitement because we believe it could happen to us. Sure, Godzilla is exciting. I mean whose ears don’t prick up when they hear about a giant prehistoric monster rampaging through a city? Do we believe it could happen tomorrow? Even in ten years? Not so much. But a space mission to Mars going wrong? Now that could happen, and possibly makes us just a little bit more interested in finding out how.

The two biggest reasons The Martian seems so realistic is how genuine the main character comes across, and how well researched the book is. I mean I don’t know about you, but if people start throwing around big scientific words that I haven’t heard before, I tend to think they know what they’re talking about. Because I certainly don’t! This book is full to the brim with scientific references, equations, calculations, and jokes. And I think it’s this excellent research by Weir that backs up the whole plotline and makes us believe it’s possible.

But have no fear, nerds of the arts world! If you’re like me and dropped maths and science as soon as you could at school so you could take extra art and English, this book is still for you! The thing that surprised me most was how much I actually understood what was going on. Or I did at least most of the time. Watney does indeed talk a lot about how E=MC2 and how speed=distance over time and all that jazz but nine times out of ten, he then goes on to explain what this means or why he did this or what the result of this experiment was. And then it’s as easy as pi(e) for us laymen to put two and two together and make 3.14.

(My only reservation here is that I couldn’t quite work out how to read some of the words and how they should be pronounced in my head when I read them. Not a problem though – I generally just made up my own way. Which turns out to be quite funny when you watch the film and find out you were totally wrong!)

Finally, I really liked how the book didn’t let you relax for a single moment. Whether it was in Watney’s logs or between the scientists in a panic back on earth, there was always something happening. And usually, that something was going wrong. But it made it exciting, and you could almost feel the tension that everyone in mission control feels when they’re staring at that giant countdown clock and hoping nothing will explode. As cheesy as it sounds, I couldn’t put this book down until I thought everyone was safe and nothing was going to go wrong immediately at the beginning of the next chapter.

To conclude: Just like a great science fiction book, The Martian is packed with humour, suspense, bad puns, and relatable characters. Every single page is a new adventure as we root for this character tackling all the challenges he has to face. And in the good old edge-of-your-seat style, there seems to be a new, terrifying problem on every page, right up to the very end.

I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone whether they’re a syfy fan, aspiring astronaut, poet, hater of maths, or giant man eating space worm.

You can buy The Martian by Andy Weir here! That rhymes…

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Terrible, Terrible, Terrible…

That is what I am. Terrible. I haven’t posted anything for months! Terrible!

So everything has been a little busy. Or that’s my excuse anyway. November to Christmas was spent trying to keep my eyes open at my desk, over Christmas we had the whole city of Bethlehem come to stay, and in the New Year I was desperately trying to get a tedious application in for university!

I had been planning that my next post would be all about the video project I have been working on. However. I haven’t finished it yet. While I had time over Christmas and was all raring to go, my editing software broke. Terrible.

So then I planned to put up a post about applying to university when I had got my application in. Then I realised, hidden in plain sight – that’s my excellent attention to detail – that I had less than two weeks to submit an accompanying folio. Terrible.

After that, I thought I would put up a post about becoming a trainee adult since I had suddenly out of nowhere turned 18. But as usual, time ran away and I got completely distracted hunting for film and youth circus jobs around the world. Terrible. (But if anyone knows of anything…)

And now here we are. With a post after three months that only tells you lovely readers that I’m incapable of making good excuses.

So excuses aside. From now on, I will try my hardest to have more adventures, write more regularly, and share snippets of what I get up to on this funny little blue rock we live on.

In the meantime, here’s a chilly picture of a lighthouse…