Thinking About Sherlock Holmes

Recently, I started listening to the audiobook of Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection, narrated by Stephen Fry. Covering the four novels and fifty-six short stories written by Arthur Conan Doyle about Holmes – and with a foreword by Fry himself at the start of each novel or collection – it’s a very long audio production at nearly 72 hours; fortunately, it’s divided into six sections, so you don’t have to download it all onto your device at once. Even though I’d already read the Holmes stories, and even though I had another audiobook on the go – The Dead Zone by Stephen King – I’ve still been using most of my recent listening time to listen to Holmes. Maybe that’s because The Dead Zone is often a depressing and disturbing story and I’m often in the mood for something more familiar and comforting. Or maybe I like Stephen Fry’s voice. But of course, the stories themselves are great too, especially since it’s been a while since I read most of them; not so long as to forget the solutions, but long enough to enjoy being reminded of the details.

Sherlock Holmes may not be a character you can warm up to in terms of personality – he’s aloof and conceited – but he is extremely admirable as a hero. He has a style all of his own, using his intense powers of observation and deduction, combined with an extensive background knowledge of crime, to solve mysteries. He stands apart among other people, and yet doesn’t feel unbelievable, as we are given logical explanations as to how he reaches his conclusions. You could view him as a superhero with no actual super powers, like Batman – though unlike Batman, Holmes gets by without a limitless supply of money to fund his battle against crime.

In terms of the audiobook, I’m currently up to the beginning of The Hound of the Baskervilles, meaning that the last full story I listened to was one of my favourites, The Final Problem. This is the story in which Holmes apparently dies, falling into the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland while wrestling with his ultimate nemesis Professor Moriarty. Fry narrates this one particularly well, with his Dr Watson sounding close to tears as he reads the final lines. Listening to it, I found myself thinking about the interesting real-life circumstances behind the story, and how Doyle had seriously intended it to be Holmes’s final adventure.

Sherlock Holmes, and his companion Dr John Watson, made their debut in the novel A Study in Scarlet, which was published in Beeton’s Christmas Annual in 1887 and initially attracted little notice. A sequel, The Sign of Four, appeared in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine in 1890. Between 1891 and 1893, Doyle then wrote twenty-four short stories about Holmes which were published in the Strand magazine, and it was at this point that the great detective’s popularity really took off.

However, Doyle wasn’t especially happy about this. He preferred writing historical fiction; the detective stories were just meant to be an additional source of income. Gradually, Doyle grew tired of Holmes, but the public still loved the character and demanded more. Finally, in 1893, Doyle decided enough was enough: in The Final Problem, he had Holmes die heroically in the process of defeating a criminal greater than any other, and thought that would be that.

Except it wasn’t. Holmes’s fans were terribly dismayed; the Strand magazine lost around twenty thousand subscribers after the story was published. For the following eight years, Doyle was pressured to bring the character back – then, in 1901, he relented and wrote another Holmes novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles. This was not a true resurrection, however, as the events of the story were supposed to take place before The Final Problem. It wasn’t until The Adventure of the Empty House, published in the Strand in 1903, that Doyle brought Holmes back with the revelation that he had survived the incident at Reichenbach Falls after all. (It was fortunate that Watson hadn’t actually witnessed Holmes’s “death” with his own eyes, so his escape didn’t have to be too contrived.) Doyle would then continue to write stories about Holmes, publishing his last one in 1927.

Since then, of course, Sherlock Holmes has lived on beyond the original Doyle canon, with new stories being written by other creators, and old ones adapted into various mediums. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Holmes has been portrayed more times on film and TV than any other literary character with the exception of Count Dracula. We’ll never know how long the character would have lived on in people’s minds if Doyle had been allowed to finish him off in The Final Problem, but given that more than half of the canon would not have existed in that case – including The Hound of the Baskervilles, arguably Holmes’s most popular adventure – it seems unlikely that he would be so well known today. Personally, I find it impressive that a fictional character can grip the minds of their fans so powerfully, that their original creator finds themselves unable to put them to bed when desired. To create a character who achieves such immortality might seem wonderful for many authors, but I suppose it could be a mixed blessing.

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Raise the Titanic: The Book vs The Film


One of the films I reviewed as part of my Titanic Month back in April was 1980’s Raise the Titanic, a massive box-office bomb which I felt suffered from poor pacing and lacklustre acting. This month, however, I took at the original novel upon which the movie was based, to see if it was any better. It was published in 1976 and written by Clive Cussler – who, incidentally, was so unhappy with the film that he did not allow another one of his books to be adapted until 2005’s Sahara.

The overall plot of the book and film is basically the same: during the Cold War, a secret program is underway to build an advanced defence system against nuclear missiles. The trouble is, this system can only be fuelled by a rare radioactive mineral named byzanium. A little investigation by the project directors reveals that in 1912, an American mining team was sent to secretly extract byzanium from Russian territory; most of the team were subsequently killed by enemy agents, but the leader survived long enough to place the byzanium onboard a ship heading to America –  the ship in question being the Titanic. With this knowledge, a major operation commences to raise the wreck of the Titanic and recover the byzanium, led by Cussler’s recurring protagonist, adventurer Dirk Pitt.

The book is the kind of basic thriller that you would buy in an airport bookshop, filled with adventure, political intrigue, and a multi-talented macho protagonist. Certainly it is better than the film in multiple ways. As often happens with adaptations, the film ends up leaving a lot out and simplifying the original story. For example, in the book, the original 1912 mining team are hunted by French agents, since the US government had conned the French into financing the expedition and were going to steal the byzanium out from under their noses; in the film, it’s just Russian agents instead. All the extra detail in the book – including the technical side of things, which Clive Cussler’s background as an underwater explorer lends itself well to – does make it more interesting and satisfying.

Then there’s the pacing. In the book, very little time is spent searching for the Titanic before the wreck is found, and the ship is successfully raised less than two-thirds of the way through. From that point onward, the conflict and adventure comes from the combination of a hurricane passing through the area and the Russian antagonists attempting to seize the wreck for themselves. In the film, on the other hand, the Titanic breaks the surface around the three-quarter mark, and the threat posed by the Russians is dealt with far more easily. This means that a lot of time is spent on the relatively dull search for the wreck, and the buildup of the Russian conflict doesn’t have as much of a payoff, neither of which do the film any favours.

I suppose I can understand the reasoning: with the story being told in a visual medium, the moment where the Titanic is raised is going to be the money shot, the part that the audience are waiting for, so it makes a certain amount of sense to treat that as the climax. But then comes the issue that much of the book’s most engaging content comes after that point, a problem that the film fails to adequately compensate for on either side of the raising.

While the book lacks many of the film’s problems, it does unfortunately have issues of its own. One is that the dialogue often feels more like prose than something real people would say, something that often causes me to disengage from a story when I encounter it. But the thing I found especially distracting and off-putting about the book was the sexism. The film only has one female character of anything approaching significance, and she only appears to be there to provide some kind of female presence. The book includes more women, but is often cringe-worthy in how it utilises them. Most of the female characters’ dialogue revolves around men or relationships; there are multiple overgeneralisations about women overall; and male characters can frequently be found leering after, or making references to, attractive ladies. Here are some examples:

Young peered over the top of his glasses as the waitress hurried to the kitchen. “If only someone would give me that for Christmas,” he said, smiling.

“A man accepts the thankless burden of responsibility. We women do not. To us, life is a game we play one day at a time. We never plan ahead like men.”

Very few women are blessed with mechanical inclinations, and Dana was definitely not one of them.

“The bottom here is as flat as my girlfriend’s stomach.”
“You mean chest,” Woodson said. “I’ve seen her picture.”
“Nobody’s perfect,” Giordino conceded. “However, considering the fact her father is a wealthy liquor distributor, I can overlook her bad points…”

I’ve already said that I don’t recommend the film of Raise the Titanic. As for the book, it’s worth a read if you like the genre, but nothing spectacular – and I guess it hasn’t aged especially well.

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Sputnik 1: 60 Years On

Today, there are thousands of artificial satellites orbiting Earth; so many, in fact, that debris is becoming a significant problem for space activities and there are fears that it might eventually prevent us from doing anything in low Earth orbit. But it was sixty years ago today that the age of the satellite actually began: on 4th October 1957, the very first artificial satellite was launched from what is now the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Its name was Sputnik 1.

To celebrate the anniversary, here are seven facts about this 83-kilogram pioneer.

1. When the Soviet Union made the decision to launch a satellite for the International Geophysical Year (July 1957 – December 1958), the original first satellite – named Object D – was intended to weigh more than a ton and carry a large assortment of scientific instruments. When Object D fell behind schedule, however, it was decided instead to fly a much simpler satellite first, rather than run the risk of the United States beating the Soviet Union into space. The resulting satellite was Sputnik 1, whose name means “fellow traveller”.

2. Weighing 83 kilograms, and with a diameter of 58.5cm, Sputnik 1 consisted simply of a metal sphere with four antennas, batteries, equipment for regulating temperature and monitoring internal pressure, and a radio transmitter. While relatively small, it was still much larger than the United States’ intended first satellite, Vanguard, which weighed 1.4kg.

3. Sputnik 1 was launched using an R-7 rocket, which had originally been designed as an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering nuclear warheads to America. A variant on the R-7 is still used today to launch Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station.

4. Sputnik 1 did not carry any proper scientific instruments, but scientists were still able to learn from it: the density of the upper atmosphere could be analysed from the behaviour of its radio signals, and the rate at which its orbit decayed.

5. People all over the world were able to observe Sputnik 1 as it crossed the night sky, but they weren’t actually seeing the satellite itself, which was too small to be viewed with the naked eye. What they actually saw was the much larger rocket booster which placed the satellite in orbit, then continued to follow it through space.

6. The fact that the Soviet Union had launched the first satellite came as a great shock to the United States. It even led the US Government to direct more money into scientific education, in the hopes of addressing the country’s apparent inadequacy.

7. Radio contact with Sputnik 1 was lost on 26th October 1957 when its batteries died. The satellite burned up in the atmosphere on 4th January 1958, having completed over 1400 orbits of the Earth.

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NaNoWriMo: It’s That Time Again…

October is almost upon us, which means one thing: it’s almost time for the annual ritual of National Novel Writing Month! Since this is my ninth year taking part in this challenge, I find it hard to remember a time when I didn’t spend almost every day in November determining which scene I would write in what spare time was available, feeling proud when I managed to get ahead on my word count, and fearing the inevitable mid-month slump.

I always need to plan out what I’m going to do, and that’s what October is for. So I always want to go into that month with a definite idea already in mind. This year, as with the last, I was having trouble seizing an idea that I could summon real enthusiasm for – and to complete NaNoWriMo, enthusiasm is essential. I thought I had a premise all the way back in the summer, but I couldn’t think of an actual plot for it. Gradually, after going through my old notebooks of ideas, I narrowed it down to four possibilities, and then to two. The first of these looked easier, at least in regards of “writing what you know”, but the second niggled at my mind like a dog wanting attention. It was pretty clear that this was the one I needed to pick.

The idea in question is for a historical novel, a follow-up to the one I wrote in 2016, featuring the same protagonist, Sylvia. Sylvia began life as a side character in my Camp NaNoWriMo project back in 2012; last year, I upgraded her to the main character, in a story set aboard the last voyage of the Lusitania in 1915. This year’s NaNoWriMo project will take place two years later, in Russia – obviously a significant and chaotic time in the history of that country.

While I don’t have a full plot laid out yet, I do have some basic ideas for scenes, characters and the setup. I’ve already started doing research for the historical background: I’m currently reading Caught in the Revolution by Helen Rappaport, which details the Russian Revolution as seen through the eyes of foreigners present in Petrograd (Saint Petersburg) at the time. So, October should be fun!

Are you taking part in NaNoWriMo this year? If so, do you have an idea of what you’re doing yet?

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Roman Holiday (My 400th Post)

Rome has been on my list of places I want to go for a long time. I’ve been to Italy a few times, visiting Venice, Florence, Pisa, Naples and Pompeii, but never Rome. This year, I decided to rectify that and take a short city break to the capital. Once I arrived, I only had two-and-a-half days for sightseeing, but with help from a guidebook, I had already planned things out.

I was afraid of being the most obvious tourist in the city with my backpack, baseball cap and sunglasses, but of course there were plenty more. Using the metro system wasn’t difficult; I even ended up helping an Australian couple who were a bit more befuddled by it. When walking around, however, you had to keep your wits about you. Traffic was constant and unpredictable: the appearance of the little green man at a crossing was not necessarily a guarantee that a car or moped wouldn’t cross your path. And I had to pull out my map a lot, as there were plenty of side streets to get lost in. What certainly weren’t hard to find, happily, were pizzerias and gelaterias; I enthusiastically made use of both.


The first place that I visited was the Pantheon, a church which was previously a Roman temple, dating from 126 AD. What blew me away as I stepped inside was the size of the dome, or at least how large it felt; its height and its diameter are exactly the same, 43 metres.


From there, I walked to Piazza Navona, recommended by my guidebook as a particularly attractive square. It certainly didn’t disappoint. At the centre was the Fountain of the Four Rivers, designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1651. The central obelisk is surrounded by four figures who represent major rivers from the different continents: the Danube in Europe, the Nile in Africa, the Ganges in Asia, and the Rio de la Plata in the Americas. One thing I really loved about a lot of the artwork I saw in Rome was how so many little details had deeper meaning: for example, the figure representing the Nile is hiding his face, because the source of the Nile was unknown when the fountain was constructed. Close by where I sat as I looked at the fountain, a man was playing an accordion, and I felt a true sense of where I was.


I then walked towards the River Tiber, crossing the Ponte Sisto from which I could see the dome of St Peter’s Basilica, and into the neighbourhood of Trastevere. My aim was to get up Gianicolo Hill, which was supposed to offer a great view of the city. It was a long climb, which might have been even more difficult if not for all that running I’ve done in the last few months! And it was indeed a lovely view at the top, which granted me my first look at the far-off Colosseum. I also made sure to check out the northern side of the hill for a closer look at St Peter’s.


It was around 5:30pm when I started heading back down, so I stopped at a pizzeria in Trastavere, before heading into a nearby gelateria and getting a Snickers-flavoured ice cream cone. As I ate my ice cream standing on the Ponte Sisto, with a street musician playing ‘La Bomba’ on an electric guitar in the background, I enjoyed a feeling of great contentment. This was in spite of the fact that I wasn’t quite sure how to get back to my hotel; I didn’t feel capable of walking back all the way that I had come, there were no metro stations in the neighbourhood, and if I took the bus, I couldn’t trust myself to make the right transfers. I decided to walk to what looked like the nearest metro station, beside the Colosseum. I was glad I did this, as it took me right past the Roman Forum, and allowed me to see the Colosseum close up before I finally headed underground and back to my hotel for a rest.

For Day 2, I had already booked a tour in Vatican City, the smallest independent state in the world. As I followed the rather imposing walls of the city towards the entrance of the Musei Vaticani, I turned a corner and found the pavement divided in two, with one side to direct people who already had reservations and so could avoid the main queue; it was well organised. The tour began with the Vatican Museums, which you have to go through if you want to see the most famous part, the Sistine Chapel. Since it is prohibited to take photographs or speak inside the Sistine Chapel, our tour guide gave us the history of that part first, before we entered the museums.


The museums had some truly spectacular artwork. I especially liked the ancient Roman artefacts in the Museo Pio-Clementino; the Gallery of Maps, which features frescos of different regions of Italy along with a beautiful ceiling; and the Raphael Rooms, which feature colourful frescos by Raphael himself. The guide pointed out artistic features used by Raphael which were unique at the time, such as depicting light reflecting off a surface.

Then we got to the Sistine Chapel itself, which is smaller than you might expect: 41 metres long, the same size as the biblical Temple of Solomon. As explained to us at the beginning of the tour, the side walls feature frescos of biblical scenes by a variety of artists; there is a depiction of the Last Supper among these, but it’s not the Leonardo da Vinci version, which is actually in Milan. The ceiling, which depicts scenes from Genesis (including the famous image of God creating Adam), and the Last Judgment on the far wall, is the work of Michelangelo. Again, the tour guide had noted features of the artist’s style that would become influential: while the frescos emphasise their detailed and colourful backgrounds, Michelangelo’s images place more focus on having the figures pose and twist in realistic, dynamic ways. I thought that the first few images of God creating the Earth gave an especially impressive sense of power and movement. It was certainly great to see.


The tour ended in St Peter’s Basilica, another breathtakingly lavish building. My favourite thing in here was the Pieta, a sculpture by Michelangelo of Mary holding the body of Jesus. It is protected behind bulletproof glass, after a crazy man attacked it with a hammer in 1972. There were also lots of impressive monuments to Popes, and – rather unnervingly – a few deceased Popes themselves, on display in glass cases, their bodies embalmed and faces covered by wax.


With the tour over, I left Vatican City and went to check out other notable places in the northern part of the city centre. I went to the park area Villa Borghese, though I didn’t stay long as there wasn’t that much to see there. Then I went south to the Spanish Steps, making sure to climb them despite how tired I was after all that walking around the museums. Finally, I headed to the Trevi Fountain, which is actually quite hidden away compared to other landmarks in the city. The space around it isn’t that big, and was extremely crowded with tourists; it was the only place I found where the crowding felt really oppressive. A little down-hearted by this, I didn’t bother to throw a coin in.

The final day would be dedicated to exploring ancient Rome, one of my favourite historical subjects and my main motivation for wanting to see the city. The Colosseum, Roman Forum and Imperial Forums are located in the same area, and an admission ticket is valid for both the Colosseum and Roman Forum. The tour I’d booked for the Colosseum was scheduled for after 12, so I went exploring the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill first. One of the seven hills of Rome, Palatine Hill features the palace of the Emperor Domitian, including what looks like a small-scale stadium for horse racing, but was actually a garden. The Forum, once the heart of the city, was full of amazing temples and other remains. Down the road from this site, the remains of other Imperial Forums could be seen from the street, including those of Augustus and Trajan.


And then there was the Colosseum. One thing I hadn’t known was that the name ‘Colosseum’ was given to it in medieval times; the Romans originally called it ‘Amphitheatrum Flavium’. What remains of the structure today is a skeleton; much of its material was used for building churches in later centuries. It used to be covered in white marble, of which there are still remnants in a few spots. Our tour took us to areas where tourists don’t otherwise go, such as the underground area, which is exposed today but would have been beneath the timber floor of the arena when it was in use. Those entering the arena would do so via trapdoors operated by slaves and counterweights; on a typical day, shows involving wild animals would take place in the morning, and the gladiators would fight in the afternoon. Following this, we climbed up to the third and highest ring of the Colosseum, where the plebs would have sat; the lower your social class, the higher you sat and the further you were from the action.


So, in two-and-a-half fast-paced days, I managed to see just about everything I wanted of Rome, and I enjoyed it very much. Coming in September was a good decision: it was warm and sunny without ever being uncomfortable, and the crowds were mostly manageable. Aside from needing to dodge traffic every now and then, I really liked Rome as a place too. It had a very nice atmosphere and out of all the places I’ve been to in Italy, I would say it’s my favourite.

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Kerbal Space Program: Interplanetary Voyage, Take Two

Much of the time I’ve spent playing Kerbal Space Program since my last post on the subject has been focussed on collecting as much science as possible by landing on different areas of the Mun and Minmus, using my space stations. As a result, I’ve been able to unlock the majority of the game’s available parts via the tech tree. I’ve also been trying to figure out how to complete the more ambitious contracts that I signed up for, such as building a Mun base, or extracting a large amount of ore from the Mun and returning it to Kerbin. I haven’t progressed too far with these: not only are Mun base components going to be big and heavy, but they ideally need to be attached to each other on the surface rather than in orbit. I currently have an unwieldy laboratory with wheels attached orbiting the Mun, with a lone Kerbal scientist onboard and only a sliver of fuel in its tank; and aside from determining a landing site based on scanning for maximum ore concentrations from orbit, that’s as far as I’ve got with preparing a Mun base so far.

I decided to pursue some other contracts involving asteroids, which I at least had a little experience of. One was to place a Class A asteroid (the smallest variety) into orbit around Kerbin; the other was to place a Class B asteroid into orbit around the Mun. As I happened to discover a Class B asteroid first, that was what I began with, launching the same spacecraft I had used previously with Jebediah Kerman aboard.

Catching asteroids is considerably harder than performing a rendezvous with something in a stable orbit. The asteroid almost certainly won’t be coming in anywhere close to an equatorial path, so you have to launch at a wonky angle. Also, you only get one shot at encountering the asteroid before it flies by Kerbin and heads back out into space. And it’s going to be moving very fast as well, so you need enough fuel to decrease the relative speed for a rendezvous to be possible. It was this part that almost scuppered my Class B capture mission: I stumbled clumsily through various manouvers to get my spacecraft as close to the asteroid as possible, using up lots of fuel in the process. Finally, the spacecraft became attached to the asteroid with its giant claw – but what about the second part of the contract, putting the asteroid into orbit around the Mun? I had an idea as to how I could manage it: lowering the orbital plane until it intersected with the Mun’s, time-warping until the spacecraft and the Mun happened to encounter each other, then firing up the engine and placing the spacecraft and asteroid in orbit – job done!

Except I soon realised that while I had enough fuel to adjust the orbital plane if I did it far enough away from Kerbin (lower orbital speed = less fuel required to adjust the plane), I did not have enough to slow down into Munar orbit. There was only one thing for it: launching an unmanned refueller with its own giant claw. With a rendezvous which was far more efficient than the one I’d needed to catch the asteroid, it attached itself to Jebediah’s craft; since this counts as a docking in-game, it could transfer most of its fuel, before releasing and being sent on a suicide dive into Kerbin’s atmosphere. Jebediah, meanwhile, could now place his asteroid in Munar orbit and finally go home.

When a Class A asteroid finally appeared in the vicinity of Kerbin – they appear to be rare – Jebediah was soon heading into orbit again. At least all that was needed here was to put it into orbit around Kerbin – but what about the task of catching it? After some experimentation through quicksaving, I managed to crack the secret: with some good timing and positions of manouvers, if I could get the spacecraft’s path to match that of the asteroid as closely as possible while getting an encounter at the point of closest approach, the relative speed was only a few hundred metres per second. As a result, Jebediah could rendezvous with the asteroid using far less fuel than on previous missions. And with the asteroid being so small, it was a simple matter to slow down and place it in orbit without its mass sending the spacecraft into a vomit-inducing spin.

With those two contracts out of the way, I started thinking about a second voyage to another planet: Eve, the in-game equivalent of Venus. After some deliberation about whether or not to try a manned mission, I decided to send a probe this first time round. I used the same basic template as my Duna probe, Watney 1, with some modifications based on the difficulties that the former probe had encountered. Watney 1 had had just enough fuel to land; the Eve probe would launch with extra engines and fuel tanks. When Watney 1 aerobraked in Duna’s atmosphere to save fuel, it lost its unretractable primary solar panels and had to rely on the smaller, static backups; I gave the Eve probe retractable solar panels, and a heat shield at the front for aerobraking. Watney 1 had not had enough electrical power to run all its experiments; I gave the Eve probe extra batteries. And finally, I scrapped the rover which had failed to work on Watney 1, and used the service bay for the science experiments instead.


Things got off to a good start: my probe, named Zeta 1, was still fat on fuel when it was sent on its way to Eve. Upon arrival at the purple planet, it didn’t lose quite as much speed as I’d hoped with aerobraking in the atmosphere, and had to use a lot of its remaining fuel going into orbit. But it got where it needed to be, and was soon transmitting science, even pulling off a close encounter with Eve’s moon, Gilly. Once I had done all I could in orbit, it was time to try landing. But this was where things went pear-shaped.

At some point when re-working the existing template for Watney 1, an attachment between two parts of the rocket must have shifted so that they were no longer physically joined; the game compensated for this by creating struts to hold them together, without me noticing. The result was that when I commanded the landing segment of Zeta 1 to detach from its booster, the magic struts continued to hold the two segments together. This meant that the landing heat shield was not being presented to the atmosphere, and that the craft was unstable as it descended. I could only watch helplessly as my lovely probe spiralled out of control, most of its parts exploding one by one from the heat of re-entry. Amazingly, when the flames died away, there were still some bits left: the service bay containing the scientific instruments, the parachutes, and the magic struts that had caused all the trouble. The parachutes still deployed, and slowed by Eve’s thick atmosphere, what remained of Zeta 1 drifted gently to the service. The instruments were even still working. But with the antenna having been destroyed, there was no way to transmit the data back to Kerbin and profit from the science collected.

Still, with all the data gathered from orbit, and the rewards given for achieving Eve-related milestones, the mission had been at least a partial success. And as with the first mission to Duna, it provided new experiences to learn from, for next time.

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Rotoscopers Review – Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas

I just got back from a city break in Rome – it was a brilliant trip which I’ll be blogging about soon. But for now, I’m posting about a film review I’ve written for Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, the last traditionally animated film produced by DreamWorks Animation. This was written for Rotoscopers – a hub for news, reviews and interviews relating to animated films and TV shows – as part of their DreamWorks Animation Countdown.

Check it out here!

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Richard COMPLETES A Triathlon!

After three months of gearing up, last Sunday was finally the big day of the triathlon, and so my dad, my sister and I headed down to Lancaster University.

Unfortunately, as we had feared, the weather was the exact opposite of what most people would want on the day of their first triathlon: we were hit by a downpour just wheeling the bike from the car park to the transition area. Hoping that any serious rain might hold off from that point onward, I set up my bike, gear and cycling/running clothes at the racks, then headed into the pool area to wait for my wave to start.

The swimming section consisted of 16 lengths up and down the pool. I thought this would be the easy bit, but as it turned out, no part of the triathlon was easy. I swam at a good speed, but whether because I was geared up, or because I was conscious of everyone behind me, I probably put a little more energy into it than I should have. Plus having to duck underwater beneath the lane dividers every other length – which I obviously don’t have to do in a normal swim – threw me off a little.

By the time I completed the last length, and ran outside in my trunks to the bike racks, I was already breathing hard – so it wasn’t ideal that the cycling segment began with a stretch up a steep hill to get to the main university campus, where we would complete nine laps for 20km. Taking it relatively slowly to begin with, I got my breath back and settled into a rhythm. But for the first three laps or so, the heavens opened with a vengeance, and hammered us all with rain.

This certainly wasn’t pleasant. But after a few minutes, a certain feeling came over me that I had experienced before, like when getting caught in an unexpected and massive downpour while dog-walking: I just didn’t care any more. Once I had reached a certain level of soaking, what more could the rain do? So on I went, for nine hard laps.

Then, finally, I turned off the campus and back down the hill to the transition area, to begin the 5k run. The rain wasn’t so hard now, but the running course had already sustained the impact: some parts took us over soaked grass and no shortage of mud. While I had to walk some of the way, I ran as much as I could, probably about three-quarters. And I made sure to run for the final stretch, up the last hill and round the corner to the finish line!

I completed my first triathlon in 1 hour, 58 minutes and 26 seconds – I’m especially pleased that with a swim time of 10 minutes 2 seconds, I was ranked in the top 50% for that individual portion. Crossing the finish line felt fantastic; having never been good at sports while at school, I would never have expected that I’d end up completing something like this. After spending so much time preparing for this event, I’m already wondering what I should do next! Though I feel a little rest is in order for the time being.

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My Top 10 Favourite Films

Today, I finished a project I’ve been working on every weekend for the past 10 weeks: making videos on my top 10 favourite films! This is something I originally intended to write about here on my blog, but when I set up a YouTube channel, I thought it would be fun to make videos instead. It’s certainly been a good opportunity to practice my video editing and presentation skills.

Check out the playlist here!

10. Spider-Man 2

09. William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet

08. Top Gun

07. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

06. Back to the Future

05. Jurassic Park

04. Forrest Gump

03. Terminator 2: Judgement Day

02. Apollo 13

01. Titanic

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Richard Tries A Triathlon – Part 2

Apologies that I haven’t been posting on this blog as regularly this past month or so. The truth is, I’ve been a bit low on both inspiration and motivation. But I’m sure I’ll rediscover both of them at some point.

It’s now just a few days until my first triathlon, so I thought I’d give a little update on how the training has been progressing. The thirteenth of August was a big day: that was when I ran a full five kilometres for the first time. Technically, I ran for a full 30 minutes (as per the last stage of the Couch to 5K program) and measured my final distance as 5.38km! It felt great, especially considering I’d never really run at all before signing up for this triathlon. When this is over, I intend to try progressing to longer distances.

I’ve also been practicing my cycling by doing laps on a 5km loop. The first time I did a full 20km, it was a very windy morning which made things extra hard! I’ve done two more 20km rides since then – and the last two, I followed up with some running to get a proper idea of how the triathlon would feel. It took a few minutes to get my knees working properly, and I wasn’t able to run all the distance that I intended – I had to walk a bit – but both times, I never stopped, and I was able to practice optimal pacing.

So, considering this is my first triathlon, I think I’m as well prepared as I can be – my main concern now is the itty-bitty details, particularly in the transitions, but I’m sure it’ll come together just fine. I think my chances of finishing are good, and I’m interested to see just what time I can manage. Unfortunately, there’s currently a strong possibility of wet weather on the day, but I haven’t put all this effort in to let a bit of rain stop me!

Bring on Sunday!

Posted in Miscellaneous | Tagged | 2 Comments