Gear knob.

On my drive home from work today I passed a new Nissan GTR, which got me thinking about the age-old debate: manual (“stick-shift” to any North Americans reading this) or automatic? Of course, the Nissan GTR actually has both fully automatic and semi-automatic “paddle-shift” transition modes, and as a supercar whose least powerful model still puts out an almighty 419 kilowatts of power you have good reason to want to keep both hands on the steering wheel. Of course in such high power vehicles dual clutch transmissions (always auto or semi-auto) are nearly essential; the greatest limiting factor to acceleration times would otherwise be the driver’s shifting technique, reaction speed, and judgement.

But, outside the statistic-obsessed world of performance automobiles, the debate rages on. Even in my household growing up my dad always drove manual cars (as do around 80% of Europeans, or so a cursory google search tells me) whereas my mum won’t get behind the wheel of anything with a gearstick (a sentiment clearly shared by the majority of Americans; statistics suggest as many as 96% of cars on roads in the USA are automatic, a degree of homogeneity I must confess I struggle to fathom within the context of such a significant and competitive market in such a large populace).

The truth is that there is no right answer other than personal preference, which will depend on a colossal range of factors. Having personally driven both types of transmission, my preference – as a commuter and keen driving enthusiast – is manual transmission. My reasoning for this choice is a very simple and primitive one: it is a part of the driving experience I really enjoy. As I have previously discussed at some length, the thing I love most about driving is the sense of freedom and control that it brings me, and this extends in part to my control over the mechanical chariot itself. There is something especially satisfying about a particularly smooth gear change, whilst the frustration of an accidentally (or over-ambitiously) skipped gear or poor shift – and the resulting sluggish acceleration or jarring deceleration – only serve to reinforce the idea that driving a manual car requires a degree of skill eliminated by the automatic gearbox. Something about having to change gear myself, requiring attention to be paid to the feeling of the motor and demanding the physical involvement of all four limbs, just makes the driving experience feel more symbiotic.

Yeah, well, you know, that’s just like, uh, your my opinion, man.

X.

Don’t wake me this time.

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Today, I did the same thing I do every working day: I woke up (slightly earlier than I’d have liked), ate a quick but nutritious breakfast, and went to work. Some 9 hours later I left the lab, grabbed my skateboard and shoes from the boot of my car, and went for a skate. These after-work skates clear my head like nothing else can; it’s me and the board, and nothing else – not that I have a choice, if I want to stay on my feet anyway… It’s a ritual that has quickly become essential. I do it everyday after work, come what may – I’ve skated in the pouring rain, on ice, and in near total darkness amongst other potential hindrances. Today I worked up such a sweat that I soon found myself wearing only the t-shirt I had on under my work clothes, despite it being a nippy 5°C.

Sometimes my session alone isn’t enough to satisfy my skateboarding needs, however, and today was one of those days. The cure today came in the form of Polar Skate Co.’s I like it here in my mind. Don’t wake me this time. The movie (which you can watch in its entirety here: https://polarskateco.com/theatre/ – though I own a physical copy nevertheless, worth owning [in my opinion anyway] for its packaging’s aesthetic alone) is a genuinely unique project work of art.

As much an art film as it is a skate video, Pontus Alv’s brainchild mixes early avant-garde (especially surrealist/dada) cinema, cartoons, and artistic shots of landscapes – amongst other tidbits – with the skating itself. The whole project is gloriously lo-fi, combining aged-looking grainy shots (in both black-and-white and colour) and higher quality shots (after all, this is in fact a skate film made between 2011 and 2015) with visual effects and transitions reminiscent of 1970 TV (as is the project’s 4:3 aspect ratio). Even the soundtrack, between the occasional philosophical monologue, includes songs from some of the skate classics of yesteryear…

Oh, and the skating’s good too. Check it out.

X.

Candour: a haiku trilogy.

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Don’t think I’ll forget
the way you spoke the things said
distant, reticent.

Pleas fell on deaf ears
like tears on comfortless sheets,
drowning me in grief;

today I feel fine,
and yet I still ask myself
why you had to leave.

– Alejo X.

P.S. Many thanks to my father, a detail of one of whose artworks accompanies this poem.

Happy Birthday, Stephen.

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As a young boy (from around five years old, in fact, or so my parents tell me) I lay awake many a night in the grip of existential dread. Or, more accurately, I would lie awake for hours before running into my parents room late at night in floods of tears, waking them up only to confront them with unanswerable questions, my unwavering need for proof and understanding preventing any of my parents’ answers from satisfying my juvenile mind.

“When did the universe begin?” “What lies outside the universe’s boundary?” “Is there a boundary?” “If not, how can anything be infinite?” “What will happen when I die?” “If existence isn’t infinite, how could an infinity of non-existence be possible either?”

Today a man who has dedicated his life to contemplating at least some of these most difficult of questions turns 75; Stephen Hawking. Hawking is remarkable in many ways: turning some of the most intimidating and inaccessible facets of physics into bestselling books, and his remarkable work in such fields; for the innumerable accolades and titles he has amassed, as evidenced by the collection of letters that succeed his name; and for being alive at all, having been told he had at best two and a half years to live some 54 years ago when he was first diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as motor neurone disease and Lou Gehrig’s disease) – the disease’s longest survivor known to medical science.

Perhaps I was too young to fully appreciate the work when I read it, but as much as I found A Brief History of Time interesting, it was The Grand Design that truly enthralled me. This book, co-authored with fellow physicist Leonard Mlodinow, was not met with such critical acclaim as his earlier works (though this may have a lot to do with his assertion that, whilst not explicitly disproving such notions, a God is unnecessary for creation), but aspects of the multiple universe (or “multiverse”) theory explained within excited me beyond belief. Perhaps this is due to my longstanding hope for proof that life exists beyond this planet – not because I believe in aliens (though I do love the X-Files), but because I find the thought that life may not have emerged only once on one solitary planet reassures me somewhat that our very existence may not simply be the result of an incredible, yet meaningless, happenstance. Or maybe it’s the magnitude of such a claim that excites the scientist in me; that science is not only alive and well, but is still as exciting and controversial as ever.

Whilst I still have no answers for the grand questions that continue to haunt me as I fall asleep, some of Hawking’s work has helped me feel less alone. And for that, I will always be grateful. Many happy returns.

X.

AWOL.

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After a promising start, with 39 consecutive days of blogging, life forced me into a three week hiatus: between birthdays, Christmas, New Years Eve (here’s hoping 2017 is a good one!), and work (I only got two days off for Christmas and one for New Years), I have found any free time being eaten up helping my mum move house, entertaining guests, and have been otherwise preoccupied with a couple of serious medical situations that two people very close to me are unfortunately currently facing.

As succinctly put by Paulo Coelho,

“Life has many ways of testing a person’s will, either by having nothing happen at all or by having everything happen all at once.”

And of late it has certainly seemed that life has presented me with the latter challenge… However, after 21 days without blogging I am back, and intend on picking up right where I left off – with daily blogs!

See you tomorrow.

X.

Poisoned!

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This blog is up a little late, but for good reason: I accidentally poisoned myself.

If you’ve read some of my previous posts, you’ll know that I work in a laboratory, and it is here that I accidentally inhaled phenol fumes. Soon thereafter I began to struggle to focus on written words and verbal communications alike, becoming increasingly light headed. Being so close to the end of the day I battled through the final minutes of my shift but upon reaching my car to head home I recognised that I was in no fit state to drive, so called the NHS (the British public healthcare service) non-emergency number to ask for advice on how best to proceed…

Before I knew it I could hear sirens in the distance, and for the first time in my life they were coming for me. The ambulance staff were incredibly kind and well mannered, helping to keep me relaxed and even putting a smile on my face. They performed some basic tests to check my blood pressure, pulse rate, blood oxygen and glucose levels, before performing an ECG. Whilst my condition appeared to be stable, the specialist toxicology team with whom the ambulance staff were consulting requested that I be taken to A&E for further evaluation. As my workplace is outside my home county, and given my stable condition, the ambulance staff asked if I had a family member available that could take me to a hospital closer to my home – but that if not they would ask for permission to work within a different remit and take me there themselves.

I am blessed to have the mother I have. She had just received the keys to her new home, and had hardly taken a step inside when her phone rang, but not even twenty minutes later she pulled up next to the ambulance to take me to our local A&E herself. Despite the devastating effects phenol poisoning may present, after eight hours of constant observation, regular ECGs, several blood tests, and chest x-rays later I was discharged.

I am very lucky that the exposure I suffered lead only to mild intoxication and nothing more serious, but am glad that I took action when I did and didn’t try to just tough it out. There are times when it’s good to be a little tough, but sometimes you’ve got to know when to play it safe. May this serve as a reminder that you can never be careful enough when working in a potentially dangerous environment.

X.

 

POV BMX.

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Today I gave the birthday present I recieved from my parents, an Akaso EK7000 Action Cam, a little test run by jumping down a couple of small staircases near my home with the camera mounted to my bike’s handlebars. The camera shoots in stunning 4k resolution, but I reduced the quality to 720p HD to reduce the upload time. I will definitely be getting a lot of use out of this impressive little thing!

X.

23!


Today I turned 23. The age nobody likes you when you still act like you’re in freshman year (according to Blink 182’s What’s My Age Again?, anyway). Jordan’s iconic jersey number. An isolated prime number, made of two consecutive prime numbers. The usual number of chromosome pairs in a human…

Whatever significance (or not) one may choose to bestow upon the number 23, if my 23rd year on earth can be even a fraction as good as my 22nd I really cannot complain. I was intending on writing a list of my goals and ambitions for the year, but in all honesty if I am fortunate enough to be blessed with another year of good health for my loved ones and I, I couldn’t ask for more.

I can’t wait to see what this year holds; onwards and upwards!

X.

Richmond.

Today I didn’t skate, but instead headed straight for the London Borough of Richmond after work, where I would spend my last evening as a 22 year old. I met up with my good friend Samantha at the station, and took off exploring the area! This evening was crisp but dry and clear, and so it was lovely to walk the streets and take in the ambience, catch up on life and have a laugh.

During our adventures we stumbled upon an amazing “games cafe” called The Library Pot that has hundreds of board games (over 450 unique titles) that you can pluck off the shelves at will and play with friends and strangers alike. Not only do they host several gaming events every single day (check their website for details), but if you get tired of playing around you can relax by dressing up in the many adult-sized costumes and accessories dotted around the shop, or by heading to their underground ball pit. Yup, they have an adult ball pit

This friendly little shop is definitely worth a visit, but if planning a trip it is worth bearing in mind that it has such a strong community that weekends now require a booking just to get in (via their site). I’ll definitely be back soon!

X.