Hillsborough: 30 Years On

Last Monday, the fifteenth of April, saw the thirtieth anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, when what should have been an enjoyable day out for thousands of football fans turned into a horrific and avoidable catastrophe that saw ninety-six people dead and 766 injured. After thirty years, the disaster is still prominent in the consciousness of the British public, not just for the devastating emotional impact it had at the time, but for the injustice and cover-ups that followed; the families of the victims have had to fight for a long time for the truth to be officially recognised, and the search for justice is not fully resolved even today.

On Saturday 15th April 1989, Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield – the home ground of Sheffield Wednesday F.C. – was acting as neutral ground for the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. Due to fears of hooliganism, the opposing fans were to be kept well away from each other; the Liverpool fans, who were coming to Sheffield from the west, were allocated the North and West Stands of the stadium. As over 24,000 Liverpool fans arrived for the match, the stadium entrance at Leppings Lane was the only place where they could enter their allocated stands. 10,000 of them were headed for the standing terraces of the West Stand’s lower tier, and there were only seven turnstiles to handle those spectators. As the 3pm kick-off approached, thousands were still outside the turnstiles, anxious to get in, and the bottleneck of people was becoming overwhelming.

David Duckenfield, the police chief superintendent who was match commander for the day, determined not to delay the kick-off. Instead, he ordered that an exit gate bypassing the turnstiles be opened, in the hopes that this would relieve the pressure outside the ground. The gate was opened, and the crowd of fans flowed into the stadium. Past the turnstiles and gate, a single tunnel led to the West Stand’s central pens, 3 and 4, which were already full; if this tunnel had been closed off, the crowd could have been directed into the emptier side pens from outside. But it wasn’t, and little to no direction was provided; as a result, most of the crowd followed the natural route into Pens 3 and 4. Once inside, fencing prevented people from either moving sideways into adjacent pens or forwards onto the pitch – this was, again, an anti-hooliganism measure. As more and more people piled into the central pens, those at the front were trapped and crushed. Some managed to escape by climbing over the fence; others were pulled up and out by people in the upper tier. But they were the lucky ones.

The match kicked off on schedule at 3pm, but six minutes later, the referee called a halt as the seriousness of the West Stand situation became clear. The emergency response was hindered by the confusion, and lack of detailed communication on what was happening: the ambulances that arrived outside the stadium were held back by the police due to the perceived crowd issues, and only two eventually made it onto the pitch, while uninjured fans and St John Ambulance officers had to provide medical assistance in the meantime. Ultimately, ninety-four Liverpool fans died in the stadium or shortly afterwards; another died in hospital on 19th April, and one more victim was in a vegetative state until March 1993 when his treatment was withdrawn, bringing the final death toll to ninety-six. The youngest victim, Jon-Paul Gilhooley – a cousin of future Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard – was ten years old.

The disaster would have been tragic enough on its own, but what followed made things worse, as the police made efforts to cover up their mistakes by blaming the fans for what had happened. David Duckenfield, who had contributed to the crush by ordering the exit gate opened, reported that the unruly crowd had forced it open themselves. Further claims along these same lines were fed to the media: on 19th April, The Sun newspaper’s front page accused Liverpool fans of pickpocketing the dead while also attacking and urinating on police officers; this inspired a particular anger towards The Sun in Liverpool that continues to this day.

A subsequent inquiry into the disaster found that the police’s failure to control the situation was the main cause, and also gave recommendations to improve stadium safety, such as the removal of fencing and standing terraces at major stadiums. However, that was far from the end of the matter: the initial coroner’s inquest found the deaths to be accidental, while only considering what happened up to 3:15pm on the day, on the grounds that all victims were either dead or beyond any help by then. The victims’ families refused to accept this and spent many years campaigning against it.

After more than two decades, new coroner’s inquests were finally held. In April 2016, they reached their conclusion: the victims had been unlawfully killed, and the fans themselves bore no responsibility for what had happened. (The verdict was front-page news in most British newspapers – but conspiciously, not in The Sun.) Prosecutions of the people held responsible are still ongoing: earlier this month, David Duckenfield’s trial for 95 counts of manslaughter by gross negligence ended with the jury unable to reach a verdict.

If you would like to learn more, I recommend Phil Scraton’s book Hillsborough: The Truth, the most recent edition of which was published in 2016, after the results of the new inquests.

Advertisements
Posted in Football, History | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Film review: Shazam!

Shazam!_theatrical_poster

It’s hard to be certain where Warner Bros’s DC Extended Universe – having produced more films rated rotten than fresh on Rotten Tomatoes thus far – is currently headed. For one thing, Warner Bros is apparently producing DC-based films that won’t be considered part of that universe, like the upcoming Joker solo film. While Shazam is technically part of the DCEU, it fits in with everything else in what I think is a good way: not too close, and not too far. It acknowledges the existence of Batman and Superman on multiple occasions, but doesn’t really tie in to specific events of the previous films. It’s free to be its own entity. And while it’s not perfect, it’s a reasonably entertaining experience.

Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is a troubled teenage boy, recently placed in the latest of a long series of foster homes, and making no effort to fit in with anyone around him. Then one day, he is abruptly transported to another realm where a wizard (Djimon Hounsou) names him his champion; now, by saying the word ‘Shazam’, Billy transforms into an adult (Zachary Levi) with a variety of extraordinary powers, from super-strength to lightning bolts. While the immature Billy is not exactly the ideal choice to be champion, the wizard’s hand has been forced; Dr Sivana (Mark Strong), who was tested and rejected by the wizard as a child, has now acquired the power of seven demons called the Seven Deadly Sins, and threatens to wreak havoc on the world unless Billy can stop him.

The main problem I had with this film at the start is that in the first half, it feels like two different films squashed together. When Shazam kicks off, it’s pretty depressing: we have a prologue detailing Dr Sivana’s childhood and motivations, which features his father angrily calling him a “miserable, whining little s**t”; Billy being presented as an unhappy, self-centered child, lost by a mother who never came looking for him; and a foster family who aren’t very engaging at first. Then he is transformed into Shazam, and the previously humourless film suddenly becomes a goofy comedy in which he uses his new adult body to buy beer, and tests his powers in a montage set to Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’. It’s uncomfortably jarring, especially when all the wackiness is interrupted by a scene from the previous film we were watching, where Sivana walks into a boardroom and violently slaughters everyone inside. (One unfortunate man gets his head non-graphically bitten off in a moment reminscent of Venom.)

By the time we get to the second half, however, more time has been spent on the lighter side of things, which helps to make up for what came before. The comedy is truly funny, helped a lot by Zachary Levi clearly enjoying himself as he plays a teenage boy in a grown man’s body, and a grown man with superpowers at that. I also became a lot more invested in Billy’s character growth, and his relationships with his foster siblings, as time went on. When Billy starts out as Shazam, he shows off and exploits his powers for his own gain, as you would expect from an egocentric teenager; it takes not only the appearance of a supervillain to make him learn the error of his ways, but some life lessons courtesy of his new family, who also become more likeable as the film goes on and they are developed more. While Mark Strong’s Dr Sivana starts out with an interesting motivation, I ultimately cared less about him and his generic demon allies than the character development between the good guys.

Overall, while Shazam suffers from not establishing its primary tone at the start, it features a lot more good than bad, and is a great deal of fun at its high points. Rating: 3.5/5.

Posted in Film Reviews | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Blue Planet II Live in Concert

IMG_0088

Blue Planet II, the David Attenborough-narrated nature documentary on life in the oceans, was the most watched TV programme of 2017, with a peak audience of over 14 million viewers. As well as presenting fantastic footage of marine life, and raising awareness of conservation issues – most notably plastic pollution – the series was accompanied by an especially good musical score, created by one of my favourite film composers, Hans Zimmer. Yesterday, my dad and I headed to the M&S Bank Arena in Liverpool to experience that music in the form of a live concert, which is currently on tour across the UK.

The blue globe that appeared on the main screen before the show started was beautiful on its own, and gave us a good idea of what we were in for. Then the City of Prague Orchestra took their places onstage, and quickly launched into the programme’s opening theme, accompanied by vivid and dramatic clips. It felt truly epic, especially once the choir kicked in.

The show was fairly simple overall. Some of the best scenes from the series were shown on the screen with accompanying music from the orchestra: these included orca hunting herring in Norway, giant trevally leaping after young sooty terns, and a walrus mother and calf struggling to find an ice floe to rest on (a reminder of the effects of climate change). In-between clips, the host, Anita Rani, would come on stage and give some brief narration leading into each new clip.

The live performance, and the absence of Attenborough’s narration, certainly allowed us to appreciate the music even more than when it was on TV, as well as the spectacular wildlife footage it was complementing. Musical highlights for me included the surfing dolphins, the hopping Sally Lightfoot crabs, and the Portuguese man o’ war, whose theme was highly reminscent of the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack (which Zimmer was a composer for). Overall, it was a really wonderful experience!

Posted in Out and About | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Film review: Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel

There’s certainly been a lot of fuss on the Internet about Captain Marvel in the weeks and months leading up to the film’s release. Rotten Tomatoes was hit with so many negative ratings for the film – well before it had even been released – that the ability to leave pre-release comments on the website was disabled as a result. I’ve found it hard to understand all of the reasons for this negativity: whether it’s because there really are people who don’t like that it’s the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first female-led film, or because Brie Larson’s comments about wanting a more diverse press pool were misinterpreted as meaning she didn’t care about the opinions of white men, or because the character of Captain Marvel was being pushed too hard as the MCU’s next big thing. The main thing that mattered to me was whether the film was good or not. Happily, it is. In fact, I found it to be one of the strongest films in the MCU to date.

Taking place all the way back in 1995, the film begins with Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) – or Vers, as she is known – living among an alien race called the Kree. (This race of mostly blue warriors will already be familiar to those who watch Agents of SHIELD.) Armed with super strength and energy-blasting powers, but with only fragmented memories of her past life, she is a member of Starforce, a commando squad who play an important role in the Kree’s war against their mortal enemies, the shape-changing Skrulls. When a mission goes wrong, Vers is captured by the Skrulls, and her subsequent escape sees her crash-landing on Planet C-53, otherwise known as Earth. After meeting future SHIELD director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Vers sets out to uncover the truth about her past on Earth – while also battling the Skrulls as they try to obtain a secret locked inside her head.

This film certainly follows the “Marvel formula” in that it contains pretty much everything we’ve come to expect from MCU films: action, humour, emotional moments, and a soul-seeking journey for the hero. But that’s not to say that Captain Marvel is stale – far from it. The film finds a good balance between its different elements: the action is very watchable and not overdone, and the humour is as effective as ever. Many of the best jokes come courtesy of a cat named Goose, and pointed reminders of how primitive 1990s technology was compared with today. And for all the familiar bits and pieces, the whole thing feels perfectly fresh, mostly thanks to the particular conflicts and character traits of Carol/Vers that propel the story. Although much of the audience will probably know more about Carol’s true identity than she does at the beginning of the film – and the central twist about halfway through isn’t that hard to see coming – that doesn’t take anything away from the experience of watching her fill in the blanks herself. I found Carol very easy to get behind, and by the end, I was really rooting for her to give her enemies a pounding.

Brie Larson has to take a lot of credit for making Carol/Vers such a great protagonist. She is able to show off a good range in the role: starting off as a self-assured soldier, she gradually becomes more emotionally vulnerable as her journey progresses, before finally coming out the other end as a hero that it’s a pleasure to watch. I enjoyed a lot of the small expressive moments in her performance, like how she smiles brightly and claps her hands after getting them out of restraints. Samuel L. Jackson gives what is probably his best performance in the MCU so far, as a more casual, less battle-hardened Nick Fury; he and Larson spend most of the film together and play off each other very well. Jude Law as Vers’s mentor Yon-Rogg, and Ben Mendelsohn as the Skrull general Talos, also give enjoyable performances. Clark Gregg finally gets to re-appear in the films as Agent Phil Coulson, though he doesn’t get very much screentime.

In conclusion, Captain Marvel is fun and engaging from beginning to end, with just about everything that a fan of superhero films could want, and I look forward to seeing where the franchise is going to take Carol Danvers from here. Rating: 4.5/5.

Posted in Film Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Crew Dragon: The First Test Flight

Since the Space Shuttle program ended in July 2011, the United States has had no way to get its astronauts into Earth orbit besides paying for seats on the Russian Soyuz. In fact, when Virgin Galactic’s sub-orbital spaceplane VSS Unity reached an altitude of 51.4 miles in December 2018, it was technically the first U.S. spaceflight since the last Space Shuttle mission – and that’s only if you accept the U.S. Air Force’s official definition of space as beginning at an altitude of 50 miles (other countries define it as 100 kilometres, or 62 miles). But this year, one or two new means for astronauts to reach the International Space Station will hopefully be opened up – and early this Saturday, SpaceX is planning to take a big step towards that goal by launching an unmanned Crew Dragon on its first test flight into space.

With NASA still busy developing its own Orion spacecraft, the agency has been providing funding for external companies to develop their own spacecraft and service the ISS. Currently in the lead is SpaceX, which has been launching Dragon cargo spacecraft to the ISS since 2012; it is the upgraded model, the Crew Dragon, which is intended to carry astronauts. Meanwhile, Boeing are currently developing the CST-100 Starliner, whose first unmanned test is scheduled for April of this year.

The Crew Dragon will be launched by the Falcon 9, SpaceX’s reusable rocket which has already proven itself time and time again. Assuming that the spacecraft makes it to orbit safely, it will dock directly with the ISS (as opposed to previous Dragons, which were captured manually by the station’s robotic arm) and deliver cargo, before returning to Earth just short of a week later. If this flight is a success, the next step will be for SpaceX to test the abort system in flight, to ensure that astronauts can escape if anything goes wrong during launch (as occurred with the Soyuz back in October). After that, the Crew Dragon will finally carry astronauts – Space Shuttle veterans Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley – in a flight currently pencilled in for July.

The Demonstration Mission 1 launch from Cape Canaveral is presently scheduled for Saturday 2nd March at 2:48am Eastern Time – pretty amenable for European viewers if you don’t mind getting up early on a Saturday, which I always do anyway. Here’s hoping for a good flight!

Posted in News, Science | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Film review – Alita: Battle Angel

Alita_Battle_Angel_(2019_poster)

These days, when I first learn about a new film in production, it’s usually through social media, or maybe the news. It’s not often that I first learn about a film from seeing the trailer in the cinema, or that the trailer quickly convinces me that I should go and see it. But that’s how it was with Alita: Battle Angel; although I had never heard of the film or its manga source material before (even though it was being co-produced and co-written by no less than James Cameron, and directed by Sin City’s Robert Rodriguez), I was immediately drawn to the first teaser: the action looked fun, and the main character looked intriguing, right down to her overly large eyes. After being put back a couple of times, Alita: Battle Angel is finally out in cinemas, and I’m happy to say that it fulfilled the expectations created by the teaser.

In the post-apocalyptic cyberpunk world of 2563, scientist Dr Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) discovers the remains of a cyborg in the form of a teenage girl. Repairing her and restoring her to life, he names her Alita (Rosa Salazar) and comes to see her as his daughter. Alita has no memory of her past life, until one night when she gets into a life-threatening battle and has a flash of recollection: she was once a soldier, fighting in the war that decimated Earth. Determined to learn more and embrace her true identity, Alita seeks out further conflict, which proves easy to find as malevolent forces seem determined to destroy her and unlock her secrets.

The action and the visuals are definitely the stand-out aspect of the film. In a world where CGI and special effects are taken for granted, what matters is how you use them, and Alita uses them very well. The world of the film is full of variety, with rich, well-populated backgrounds, and cyborgs ranging from people with simple robot arms to more disturbing creations that are almost completely machine. You never feel lost or confused in the fight scenes, which see Alita and her enemies using a range of weapons from swords to metal tentacles. The scenes involving the fast-paced local sport, Motorball, bring back memories of the Wachowski Brothers’ Speed Racer. Alita herself, created through CGI and motion capture, looks great; I personally felt that her giant eyes added to her charm and made her look just the right amount of alien, without straying too far into the Uncanny Valley.

But an action film’s entertainment value is limited without a good story, and characters the audience cares about, alongside the cool set pieces. Alita delivers in those areas too: the story is well-paced, never dragging, and the titular heroine is easy to love. Played excellently throughout by Rosa Salazar, Alita has an endearing, sometimes naive charm in times of peace, and deadly determination in times of conflict. I also liked seeing Christoph Waltz playing a good guy for once, his character trying to find a balance between keeping his adopted daughter safe and giving her what she needs, managing to be more than the cliche overprotective father. Among the side characters, Ed Skrein as the cyborg bounty hunter Zapan easily has the best screen presence.

Some elements could certainly have been handled better, like the villains, which mostly don’t make enough of an impression – not even Mahershala Ali in a crime boss role similar to the one he handled so well in Netflix’s Luke Cage. Perhaps what’s holding them back is the repeated reminder that the true bad guy is a puppetmaster lurking behind the scenes, but we don’t learn enough about the character in question to fully appreciate his role. That links to another problem with the film: much of the story feels unresolved by the end, apparently relying on sequels that are by no means guaranteed.

I enjoyed Alita: Battle Angel very much as an action/sci-fi film – it provided a satisfying if not exceptional experience on every level. Rating: 4/5.

Posted in Film Reviews | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Asperger Syndrome and Driving

How does having Asperger Syndrome affect driving? As it takes me at least half an hour to drive to and from work every day, driving is a significant part of my weekday routine (and weekends if I have anywhere to be). I don’t tend to experience sensory overload while driving, as some people with Asperger’s or autism do, but the condition certainly has an effect. First, I prefer having a degree of predictability in most situations, but of course driving is unpredictable: even if you’re using a route that you know very well, you can’t predict what other drivers you will encounter or how they will behave, and unforeseen obstacles like temporary traffic lights may pop up one day without warning. Second, my thinking is very detail-oriented, so I can become focussed on details before and during a journey (e.g. moving into the correct lanes at the correct time), and on obeying the rules of the road. The number of details to consider can make me feel nervous if I’m driving somewhere I’ve never been before.

The experience of driving varies greatly for different people on the autism spectrum, but a good instructor will take you through the controls and basic concepts gradually in the first few lessons, so you can get an idea of how you will take to it. I passed my driving test on the second attempt; however, as I mentioned in my previous Asperger’s post, I ended up having a stressful time on my first solo drive, when unexpected roadworks forced me to make a detour. Perhaps this left an impression, as I often felt nervous about driving in the years that followed; it could take time to work myself up to go out driving, and minor errors or surprise obstacles would make me anxious. This may also have been because I didn’t need to drive every day, so I wasn’t spending enough time doing it to regain confidence. Eventually, I sold my car and spent several years relying on public transport.

Then I got a new job that was significantly further away than my old one, and impractical to get to by bus or train. Suddenly I had a real reason to get a new car and start driving again. With so much time having passed since I had last driven, I took a couple of refresher driving lessons, which proved to be a real confidence booster; I was surprised how quickly the controls came back to me, and that I felt much more at ease than I had done the last time I drove. Maybe it was because I was able to approach it from a fresh standpoint after so many years, or maybe I had just grown up a bit.

Having to drive regularly, turning it into a routine, has certainly contributed to the increase in confidence I’ve experienced. As time passes, you experience new situations which can potentially be worrying at first, but I log them and then know what to do in the future without having to get stressed about it. I also make sure I know as much as possible about the conditions before going on a journey, such as by checking a traffic website. If I’m going somewhere I haven’t before, I spend some time studying the route: the street view of Google Maps is very useful for this, allowing me to note landmarks and the right lanes when changing direction. Keeping things simple by reducing the journey down to the most important landmarks, or a road or junction number, helps me keep things clear in my head; it also helps to write the different steps of the journey down (though of course I never look at the notes while driving!) If it’s a long journey, I sometimes bring a satnav for extra reassurance.

It’s now almost two years since I started driving regularly again. Not only am I much less anxious than I once was, I actually enjoy it. I’ve become able to embrace the freedom that having a car offers, and go on journeys that would have made me too uncomfortable during my first driving phase, an hour or more’s drive from home. I’ve gained enough confidence to use the motorway, which I often find less stressful than the A-road, which is more likely to turn up encumbrances like tractors and roadworks. All in all, I feel very proud of how I’ve come along as a driver.

Posted in Asperger's/Autism | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Book review: Akresha

akresha

Lancashire-based author Jay Tomkinson has recently published his first novel, Akresha – and after learning about it, I was interested to check it out.

The protagonist, Jake, has recently been released after the latest of several spells in prison, and is determined that this time, he will turn his life around. However, he doesn’t get long to consider his next steps before he begins to hear a voice in his head; it belongs to Akresha, an immortal, dimension-hopping being that feeds on emotional energy and wishes to use Jake as a conduit for recharging itself off humanity’s emotions. Jake agrees, not realising that Akresha was exiled by its race for wreaking havoc on other worlds, and intends to use him to become powerful enough to find its way home and seek revenge.

I liked the initial buildup before Jake and Akresha come into contact for the first time. The story cuts back and forth between two different planes: the small-scale actions of Jake trying to figure out how he’s going to make a fresh start; and above him, the plotting of Akresha, whose existence is beyond human comprehension. As the story unfolds, while it is mostly Akresha’s actions that drive the plot, we spend a great deal of time inside Jake’s head, as he tries to deal not just with having an alien telepathically talking to him, but more ordinary aspects of his life like falling in love and deciding how to move forward. The development of the characters’ thoughts and relationships over time is compelling, and definitely one of the story’s biggest strengths.

The three main human characters – Jake, his girlfriend Kat, and her dad Joe – are all likeable, and have relatable thought processes, from their motivations to their insecurities. When we are first introduced to Joe, I expected him to be the typical overprotective father who doesn’t want Jake making moves on his darling daughter; but even though it would actually be reasonable for Joe to act that way based on his background, he turns out to be a refreshingly open-minded sort. We also get a good idea of what makes Akresha tick, even though it obviously thinks very differently from the human characters. I found the sci-fi element interesting – the nature of Akresha and its race, and some of the more impressive things we see it do – and even though the reader knows from the start what Akresha really wants, there is still an element of mystery elsewhere in the plot to add more intrigue.

There were a couple of aspects that I felt could have been improved upon. Firstly, the story could have used more descriptions: there’s not much sense of what the characters look like. Second, the dialogue doesn’t always feel natural (e.g. characters saying ‘cannot’ rather than ‘can’t’) and the characters’ voices can become indistinct; Jake sounds a little overly eloquent at times.

In conclusion, Akresha is an enjoyable novel, which I would recommend to fans of sci-fi and character-driven stories. Rating: 4/5.

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

The Black Arrow: When Britain Launched A Satellite

black arrow

The second and third stages of the fifth and last Black Arrow rocket to be built, at the Science Museum in London.

In the news this week, the battered first stage of a Black Arrow rocket has arrived in Scotland, after spending over forty-seven years resting in the Australian outback, where it crashed down following its successful launch. But what’s so special about this rocket to justify shipping it halfway across the world? Well, it was the only British rocket to launch a satellite.

The Black Arrow was a follow-up to another British missile, the Black Knight, intended to see if a rocket capable of launching satellites could be developed on the cheap from the existing technology. It was a three-stage rocket, standing thirteen metres tall, with a single eight-chambered engine in its first stage. Each rocket was assembled on the Isle of Wight, before being shipped to the Woomera Test Range in South Australia. The British had been testing rockets at Woomera since the 1940s, Australia having much more empty space for rocket debris to fall than the area surrounding Britain.

The first two launches were suborbital tests – the first, in June 1969, failed; but the second, in March 1970, reached an altitude of 340 miles. On 2nd September 1970, the third Black Arrow was used to try and launch the Orba satellite; unfortunately, the second stage shut down too early, and the rocket failed to enter orbit. Not long after that, the British government questioned whether the Black Arrow programme was economically worthwhile: its practical capabilities were limited due to the relatively small payload it could carry, and ultimately it would be cheaper to pay for British-made satellites to be launched on American rockets.

In July 1971, the Black Arrow programme was officially cancelled – but since the fourth rocket had already been built and shipped, it was decided that it might as well be launched. On 28th October 1971, the United Kingdom became the sixth country to launch its own satellite, as the fourth and final launch of the Black Arrow successfully placed the 66kg Prospero satellite in orbit, where it would measure micrometeoroid impacts and test new satellite systems. Prospero is still orbiting Earth today, though it is no longer being monitored; it is only expected to fall back to Earth about a century after its launch.

Today, of all the countries ever to launch a satellite, the United Kingdom remains the only one that can no longer do so, which is rather depressing. I like to imagine an alternate universe where the UK continued to develop its space-faring capabilities and is now regularly delighting space nerds with impressive launches. In July 2018, plans were announced for a spaceport to be built in the north of Scotland, where satellites can be launched into polar and sun-synchronous orbits; here’s hoping that this comes to fruition!

References

 

Posted in History, Science | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

The Mystery Blogger Award

mystery

Thank you very much to Petrel41 from Dear Kitty. Some Blog for nominating me for the Mystery Blogger Award! This award originates from Okoto Enigma, but unfortunately their blog no longer seems to be working.

The rules of the Mystery Blogger Award are:

  1. Put the award logo/image on your blog
  2. List the rules
  3. Thank whoever nominated you and provide a link to their blog
  4. Mention the creator of the award and provide a link as well
  5. Tell your readers 3 things about yourself
  6. You have to nominate 10 – 20 people
  7. Notify your nominees by commenting on their blog
  8. Ask your nominees any 5 questions of your choice; with one weird or funny question (specify)
  9. Share a link to your best post(s)
  10. Answer the questions your nominator gave you.

Three Things About Myself

1. One of my ambitions is to see every Apollo command module. So far, I have seen three:

london 046

Apollo 10 – Science Museum, London: photographed in 2008.

air and space 2

Apollo 11 – National Air & Space Museum, Washington DC: photographed in 2009.

apollo 14

Apollo 14 – US Astronaut Hall of Fame, Florida: photographed in 2007. (Those are my cousins in front!)

2. I was in an earthquake once, while on holiday on the Greek island of Kefalonia in 2003. It’s a memory that has stuck very vividly in my mind. I heard the rumble first, and I was just wondering if it was a low-flying plane when the apartment started shaking. My dad shouted “Everybody out!” and we all scurried out the front door, at which point the shaking stopped and we all started laughing nervously; the whole thing lasted about 20 seconds. The quake measured 6.4 on the Richter scale, but there was no real damage where we were. We were supposed to be going home that day, but our plane was several hours late, and I was extremely on edge waiting at the airport, even more so when there was an aftershock that made the windows rattle.

3. I am a dog person today, but I used to prefer cats. I did my high school work experience at an RSPCA centre, and I liked working with the cats simply because they were quieter and much more calm. Then my family actually got a dog and from then on, there was no looking back.

My Best Post

I’ll pick my review of the Pixar film Inside Out. The film itself really made me think, and the review itself was one I felt very pleased with.

Answering Petrel41’s Five Questions

1. Who is your favourite artist?

Ken Marschall, for his paintings of the Titanic and other ships.

2. Who are your three least favourite prominent people in politics or business?

Donald Trump may seem an obvious answer, but that’s the way of it: on top of much else that he’s done (and continues to do), a significant portion of my own judgement of politicians comes from their environmental policies, and in that area, Trump simply does not give a damn. In terms of my own government, I’m not happy about Brexit, but it’s difficult to narrow responsibility for that down to just a few people.

3. Which is your favourite bird species?

The peregrine falcon, the fastest animal on Earth and one of the most globally widespread of all birds.

4. Which is your favourite mammal species?

The killer whale, a fascinating animal in so many ways: it is a very successful predator with a variety of sophisticated hunting techniques, and the global population is divided into genetically distinct races which differ in social behaviour and preferred prey.

5. 2019 has only just started. What is the best thing which happened to you in this new year?

I managed a 20-minute run with an average pace of 4:58 per kilometre, the fastest I’ve ever run!

My Nominees

Baking Thad Books

Gallifreyan Ramblings

The Critiquing Chemist

Alex Raphael

My Five Questions

1. What city have you not yet visited that you would most like to?
2. What three books would you take to a desert island?
3. Do you prefer dogs or cats? (You can say neither if you like!)
4. What do you most enjoy writing about?
5. Literally a funny question: what was the last thing to make you laugh out loud?

Posted in My Thoughts | Tagged , | 4 Comments