Vacant Earth

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Fragile Earth by Mixtaped Monk (also known as Arka Sengupta) is one of my favourite independent albums of 2018; I loved it the minute I first heard it.

I’ll let him describe it: Imagine waking up one day and discovering that there are no human beings present around you. You have all the essential supplies of the world at your disposal. But you are left to fend for yourself. What would you feel? How would you react? What would you do with your time? How would you lead the rest of your life? Will you accept your fate? Or would you ceaselessly search for others like you?

Inspired by a dream a dear friend of mine had once, “Vacant Earth” tries to answer the questions mentioned above. Through sounds (and their associated emotions) the album tries to relate the story I imagined, with me as the protagonist, when my friend had first told me about her dream. Sonically, the album borders around post-rock, neo-classical and ambient music.

Note: You can see all my favourite albums in 2018 here.

International Space Station

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Today marks 20 years of the International Space Station, with the launch of the first element (the Zarya module) occurring on 20 November 1998. From this initial launch, the station has been built up bit by bit to the structure it is today. It’s easily seen when it passes over your location (there are many apps that notify times and dates) as it orbits the globe every 92 minutes. British astronaut Time Peake has been a crew member of the ISS, and I’m currently reading his excellent book (pictured above). It’s an easy read and tells you everything you need to know about his life as an astronaut and the ISS, and would make an excellent present for someone (or yourself).

Discovery Museum in Newcastle

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Towards the end of our summer holiday 2018, we visited the Discovery Museum in Newcastle (just a few miles down the road from our home in Wallsend). It was a chance to see Stephenson’s Rocket which was on loan to the museum at the time of our visit.

Entry to the museum is free, but they do suggest a £5 donation. Even without the Rocket, there’s plenty to see and do for all ages. In the time we had at our disposal it wasn’t possible to see and do everything, so we’ll definitely be back for a return visit sometime.

The museum is a science museum and local history museum situated in Blandford Square in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. It displays many exhibits of local history, including the ship, Turbinia. It is one of the biggest free museums in North East England, and in 2006 was winner of the North East’s Best Family Experience award at the North East England Tourism Awards. It is managed by Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums. Wikipedia

Click here for the Discovery Museum website.

Listen to Apollo 11

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As a boy I was fascinated by the Apollo Moon landings, starting especially with Apollo 8 when men travelled to the moon for the first time (without landing) and culminating in Apollo 11 (the first landing) and subsequent missions – so much so that I kept a scrapbook and folder of memorabilia at the time.

NASA has now uploaded 19,000 hours worth of audio from the historic Apollo 11 mission which saw the first humans walk on the Moon. You can search the archive or click ‘Surprise Me’ on the website: app.exploreapollo.org

The Need for Sleep

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Sleeping is the best thing we can do to improve our overall health; it’s so simple that it’s often forgotten or ignored. I’m currently reading an excellent book about why we sleep, and I’ve been surprised at the very negative effects lack of sleep can have on our mental and physical health, especially if we are building up a sleep deficit over a long period of time.

We all need both quantity and quality of sleep to function normally in our everyday lives. Unfortunately, there are those who boast about how little sleep they need, and there’s also an implied societal view that sleep is somehow lazy and unproductive; these can be easily demonstrated to be false and unhelpful.

Prolonged lack of sleep weakens your immune system, doubles your risk of cancer, and increases the your chances of suffering heart disease and stroke, for example. It also adversely affects your mental health, contributing to anxiety, depression and suicide. Worryingly, many road traffic accidents are caused by lack of concentration, drowsiness and microsleeps.

Although I’ve been aware of the effects of being sleep deprived for a while, I’m now more determined to do something about it – even if having three young children doesn’t make it easy, but as an older father I owe it to them to be healthy.

Note: I’ll post about the book in due course and give some tips on improving sleep.

Eureka!

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The exclamation ‘Eureka!’ was allegedly uttered by the ancient Greek scholar Archimedes as he got into a bath and noticed the water level rise, suddenly realising the volume of water displaced must be equal to the volume of the part of his body submerged. Consequently, Eureka (Greek: Εύρηκα) has become an interjection used to celebrate a discovery or invention.

It’s also the name of The National Children’s Museum in Halifax which I visited with my family today. We first visited earlier in the year, but thought it was about time for a return visit; especially because you ‘pay once, then play for a year’ with an annual pass. There’s lots of interactive fun for all ages of children, and adults are not admitted unless accompanied by a child – so it’s a safe space.

The focus is on learning through play. It’s run as an educational charity and not-for-profit organisation. It’s aimed at families with children aged 0–11 and encourages hands-on inter-generational learning.

We had a great day, even though it was a long drive, and can wholeheartedly recommend it. No doubt we’ll be there again before our passes expire.

How to Build a Universe

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I always like to be reading a popular science book, and I’ve recently finished this excellent book by Professor Brian Cox & Robin Ince. It’s based on the acclaimed BBC Radio and podcast The Infinite Monkey Cage. It’s witty and comedic, an irreverent celebration of science and the wonders of the universe; totally silly in places and incredibly thought-provoking and mind-blowing in others.

Having three young children has meant that my reading habits have declined of late, but this was one of the books helping me get back into it; not least because this one is in a magazine format with diagrams, photos and lines drawings enhancing the text and dividing into manageable size chunks.

The title The Infinite Monkey Cage comes from the infinite monkey theorem which states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare. In fact, the monkey would almost surely type every possible finite text an infinite number of times. However, the probability that monkeys filling the observable universe would type a complete work such as Shakespeare’s Hamlet is so tiny that the chance of it occurring during a period of time hundreds of thousands of orders of magnitude longer than the age of the universe is extremely low (but technically not zero). Wikipedia