Eating Time

Something was wrong. Nothing seemed to be quite right with anything he set his eyes on. The street lamps seemed to be several inches shorter than he had remembered; the park through which he walked through every day for the past forty-five years seemed just a little too cramped. The trees were overgrown, and yet they hadn’t grown an inch. The sidewalks were too close together, as if the civil engineers had intended the park for children not yet ready for their first year of school. The birds around him were flying way too close to his head, and yet, nobody around him seemed to think or act any differently to these clearly obvious changes in reality.

Harold was a tired, lanky man in his late seventies. He had lived his entire life in the suburbs of Paris, and he knew the city and its outskirts like the back of his weathered, wrinkled hand. His dog had been the only love of his life, and just sixteen years ago he had died of a cancerous tumor on his hind leg. Ever since that tragic day, Harold knew he would forever live alone. His flat had only ever really been intended for one person, and he was content with the intimacy he kept within his walls.

Harold always walked. He had traversed these paths to and from work for many years, but even following his retirement, he had continued to walk about the city throughout the day. He enjoyed the fresh air, the sound of the city, and the warmth of the sun on his aging face. He kept his wits about him and rarely ventured into the touristy parts of the city. He had no desire for crowds, and it was precisely this discomfort that felt exaggerated all around him today.

Along the Seine, he knew he was find the space to breathe. Perhaps he was just a little too tired today. He made his way out to the river, and sat down on a bench. It was the perfect fall day in Paris. Just chilly enough for a cardigan, just warm enough for a relaxing rest in the sun. And yet, as Harold tried to relax, he felt like the sound of the river below him was just too loud. The cars driving behind him sounded as if they were about to crash into him sitting on the bench. He got up again, and started walking onward. He would have to visit his favorite bakery today to ease his nerves.

Forty minutes into the afternoon, Harold walked up to La Dolce Vita, an Italian bakery set on the corner of a back street in the Parisian landscape. The little cafe façade was nothing particularly special. The flower box on the front of the old wooden door gave it a bit of charm, coupled with the lead-paned windows that were anything but modern. Two unsteady iron tables guarded the front door, though their tottery appearance disregarded their centennial patrol of the sidewalk.

The rusty chain from the sign on the door inviting guests in, clinked against the glass as he stepped in. The aroma of the bakery was his favorite olfactory memory in the world. He often paid for things he had no desire to eat, simply to smell the deliciousness wafting through the air.

Something was wrong. There were no smells coming from the kitchen. Mme. Biscoyne wasn’t bustling to and fro in the alley clearing dirty dishes and setting out works of art from her staff. Empty porcelain trays lined the case next to the register, crumbs of pastries and scones from yesterday lining the blank white porcelain like a feast for mice. There was no hint of espresso on the air, no milk frothing, no steam from the tea kettle.

And yet, peculiarly enough, Harold realized he had never seen La Dolce Vita so incredibly busy in his life. Every table inside was seated to the maximum, the line at the counter was twice as long as he had ever imagined the little shop could hold, and Messrs. Francis and Renois were busier than ever at the cash registers.

Harold looked around. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He felt sure that he was dreaming. This could not possibly be reality. A woman to his left had just bitten the corner off a lamppost that he recognized from the park. A man next to her had sipped water from the Seine from his demitasse, and the man behind him was breaking off a chunk of the cane with which Harold, himself, had been walking all day long. Harold looked down, and suddenly realized he was much closer to the ground than he had remembered when he woke up this morning.

Everything around him was morphing into things much smaller than he had ever known. No one seemed to notice or care that everything was shrinking, that everything was disappearing, that everything was not as it should be. As he turned to leave, for he knew he was making a terrible mistake and surely needed to simply wake up, a man from the long line of customers in front of him brushed his shoulder, turned to apologize, and offered Harold the “am” of his “4:00am” on the plate in front of him.

Harold stared blankly back at the man. But before he could summon a polite reply, he belted, “Have you all got nothing better to do with your time!? This world needs help!”

Gravity: A Commoner’s Review

Dr. Ryan Stone aboard the Soyuz spacecraft in the movie 'Gravity'

Dr. Ryan Stone aboard the Soyuz spacecraft in the movie ‘Gravity’ (digitaltrends.com)

There are spoilers to the new movie, ‘Gravity’, in this article. Please do not read before watching the movie.

True, this is not a post detailing another odd frame of thoughts in my mind that I’ve spun into a “creative story”, but I feel compelled to write about this incredible movie, ‘Gravity’. I am no movie critic, and I am certainly no master of the art of filmmaking. I love many things in life, but one of my biggest passions is watching inspirational, adventurous, impressive and non-traditional movies. Some people may think that “going to the movies” is for keeping kids entertained, for romantic dates, or even for people who have nothing else to do with their time. But for me, it’s an adventure into an unexplored world, it’s an escape from everyday life, it’s a step into the unknown. It’s an opportunity to look at my own life in a different way, to understand other thoughts and opinions, to think about problems or facets of life in unique ways, and to gain an appreciation for the human elements of emotion, intrigue, surprise, happiness, devastation, sadness and most importantly, growth.

Alfonso Cuaròn directing Bullock and Clooney inside the Soyuz spacecraft

Alfonso Cuaròn directing Bullock and Clooney inside the Soyuz spacecraft (nydailynews.com)

On October 4th, 2013, Alfonso Cuaròn released his fictional epic, ‘Gravity’, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. This movie has captured my attention and moved me in such a profound way, that I feel that it is both my duty and an honor to write about it. True, ‘Gravity’ has many inaccuracies within its 90 minutes of screen time, but it is the suspension of disbelief that is required to release one’s passion for the theatre.

Cuaròn directing Bullock and Clooney in a spacewalk scene (fstoppers.com)

Cuaròn directing Bullock and Clooney in a spacewalk scene (fstoppers.com)

First and foremost, Steven Price’s penultimate track, titled Shenzou, is among my top five favorite theatrical pieces known to me. The music perfectly captures the rush of emotions in the scene to which it is attached. Please YouTube, purchase on iTunes, or by some other means, experience Steven Price’s Shenzou. It is a piece I would not hesitate one moment to consider epic, euphoric, intimate, spiritual or profound.

Sandra Bullock does an amazing job portraying someone not intended for the brutality of space, and someone who both conveys the fragility of the human race and the determination of the human spirit at the same time.  I cannot think of more words to convey my emotional response to her character. I have never cared for George Clooney’s acting, but he is downright incredible in this film.

Dr. Ryan Stone about to make her way to the Chinese's Shenzou spacecraft (digitaltrends.com)

Dr. Ryan Stone about to make her way to the Chinese’s Shenzou spacecraft (digitaltrends.com)

I want to replicate an article that I found on the Forbe’s website. Instead of just linking to the site, which in time may become obsolete or broken, I am going to copy and paste the article here. It is written by former astronaut, Garrett Reisman.

—————————–

What Does a Real Astronaut Think of ‘Gravity’?

“Gravity” is the most realistic space movie ever. I mean, that Clooney guy looks just like me!

Actually I’ve been besieged with questions about what I thought about this movie ever since it came out. Just here at work at SpaceX last week, I was asked that question about a dozen times a day. I quipped that “What do you think of “Gravity”?” was becoming every astronaut’s least favorite question, surpassing even “How do you poop in space?”

So, to help me deal with this onslaught, here is my more serious attempt at a movie review:

First of all, it’s a great movie. The pace and story was definitely engaging and I think it was the best use of the 3-D IMAX medium to date. Rather than using the medium as a gimmick, “Gravity” uses it to depict a real environment that is completely alien to most people.

But the question that most people want me to answer is, how realistic was it? The very fact that the question is being asked so earnestly is a testament to the verisimilitude of the movie. When a bad science fiction movie comes out, no one bothers to ask me if it reminded me of the real thing.

The movie does an outstanding job of capturing what it is like to do a spacewalk – much better than any previous sci fi film. Having done three spacewalks myself, I can tell you – this is legit. The visual impact of having nothing but the glass of your helmet between you and the Earth is captured very well. (Although the Earth is a bit more sharp and vivid in the movie than the real thing. Plus there is almost always an interesting land-mass to look at when in reality you spend most of your time looking down at a less-interesting ocean view.)  Also, the movement and physicality of doing a spacewalk is rendered in a very accurate manner. The ease of starting a motion and the difficulty of stopping it in the vacuum of space is captured accurately in many scenes.

It’s amazing how many things “Gravity” gets right. When Sandra Bullock’s character turns the two valves to shut off oxygen flow to the Soyuz – those are exactly the correct valves to turn. When she wants to command the orbital maneuvering engine, the CKD, she pushes the correct button which is also labeled correctly. The interiors of the Soyuz and the International Space Station, are pretty realistic although the various modules are not the correct position.

And the danger of space debris is very real. During my first spacewalk, my partner, Rick, had to bring in a handle that was stowed on the outside of the station. When he got it inside he noticed a hole, about a millimeter in diameter, that was shot through the half-inch solid aluminum material by a piece of orbital debris. It looked like someone had taken a cocktail straw and shoved it right through the metal. He looked at me and said, “If that hit one of us…” There was no need to finish that sentence, since such an event would have been instantly fatal, although I pointed out that he is about 6′ 2″ tall and I am about 5’5″ so it was much more likely to hit him instead of me.

Ironically, the fact that the movie got so many things correct made it very disconcerting for me when the movie did get several things completely wrong.

SPOILER ALERT!! Stop reading now if you do not want key plot points revealed.

Yes, there are major violations of the laws of physics and minor violations of typical astronaut behavior in the movie. The biggest error is that there is no way to go hopping from one spacecraft or space station to another so easily. It takes tremendous energy and careful planning to change orbits. For example, as was made so clear in the aftermath of the Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy, even with it’s flight computer, a full tank of propellant and hundreds of people on the ground to support, there was no way for the crew Columbia to reach the safety of the International Space Station. You can’t just look around and see another spacecraft and then get there by simply pointing in the general direction with some soft landing jets and a fire extinguisher.

Another huge error was – there was absolutely no reason for Clooney to sacrifice himself!!! Once Sandra caught him, he would be just floating there. A small tug on his tether would send him back to the space station. And as my wife put it, when you have a hold of George Clooney, only an idiot would let him go.

Of course, at the speed he was tumbling by her, there is no way she would have caught him in the first place. He weighs a few hundred pounds and his suit weighs a few hundred more. Try lying on a sheet of ice while a 500 pound weight goes flying by and then try to grab a tether attached to that weight while wearing a pair of gloves from a medieval suit of armor. Not so easy.

Also, how was Clooney going to beat Anatoly’s space walk record if astronauts apparently don’t wear either a diaper or a cooling garment under their spacesuits? That would be one smelly suit. Although I have to admit, that Sandra Bullock looked much sexier in her tank-top and boy shorts than I did when I took off my spacesuit:

Yes, I could go on and on about all the things “Gravity” got wrong. If you put me in a Chinese spaceship, there is no way I would be able to figure out how to fly it home. An astronaut that took joyrides around the Hubble Telescope with a jet pack shouldn’t even bother coming home. And a debris field in low earth orbit would never take out geostationary communication satellites.

But who cares?

All of these inaccuracies were done to help advance the plot or to add drama to the film which is exactly the artistic license we should be willing to grant the filmmakers. This is entertainment, not a documentary.

Recently, I was at an event where Neil Armstrong’s son talked about his father’s many wonderful qualities and one bad one – it was very difficult to watch a sci fi movie with his dad. He would complain if one instrument was out of place on an aircraft’s panel. He objected to the catapulting of fighters off the Battlestar Galactica – it’s not like they have to build up airspeed to get aloft – why not just plop them out the door?

With all due respect to one of humanity’s greatest individuals, I don’t want to be like that.

It’s just a movie – and a very good one.

(http://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2013/10/17/what-does-a-real-astronaut-think-of-gravity/)

—————————–

Dr. Stone and Lt. Kowalski adrift in space (news.yahoo.com)

Dr. Stone and Lt. Kowalski adrift in space (news.yahoo.com)

Please, go and see ‘Gravity’. The 3-D brings the emotions to life; the music will play the strings of your heart as you witness incredible cinematography of our home, our planet; from the cheesy humor and the devastating trauma, the music and the visual effects, you will leave the theatre proud to be whatever race, gender, nationality, or whatever you are. Sit back, go on an adventure, listen to the music, watch the movie, and take what is sure to be “one hell of a ride.”

You won’t regret it, I promise.

A Trusting Soul

BOS

Greetings from Boston! It’s certainly been a while since I last posted, but I’ve been wanting to get back into the blogosphere for some time now. I’ve decided to try my hand at some fictional writing… who knows if I have any skills whatsoever at creative writing, but it’s a personal blog, and I’ll give it a spin! I’d love to hear your thoughts. And no, I have no idea why I wrote what I wrote below… it came to me late one night while I was studying for my finance class midterm. Go figure!

It was ten minutes to midnight as Turner locked the door to his apartment, shut off the lights with a soft ‘click’, set his glass of water down beside his bed, and slipped between his sheets. He had come home from work several hours prior, exhausted from the day’s events. Needless to say, his efforts to maximize his company’s financial portfolio had been overwhelmingly successful, based entirely on a week’s worth of work and two final calculations he had made over fifteen years ago.

No one at the office had forgotten that week, and today, it had developed into the most profitable portfolio that his company had seen in over two hundred and forty years. As he recounted the financial impacts of his decisions in his head, he also reminded himself of the charitable and ethical outcomes. He would sleep very well this weekend.

Flashes of lightning pulsed through his blinds, and Turner relished the claps of thunder in the distance, the soft crescendo of rain drops beginning to echo throughout his bedroom.

He remembered a girl that he had once known quite well. They had been close friends in college, and he missed speaking to her on his birthday every year. She had always surprised him at school, bringing him an enormous cake in the middle of one of his classes to share with his friends. He had always appreciated that she would coordinate efforts with his professor to make sure he wasn’t entirely embarrassed.

He kept a card in his bedside table that she had written to him during their senior year. He didn’t even need to pull it out of the drawer, as he had read it every birthday thereafter.

Turner! It’s already that time of year, my man! I’m already another year older since I wrote you your last birthday card, but I think you’re just a year wiser. You teach me every day that new opportunities are waiting just around the corner. You give me perspective in life, and I cannot be more grateful. Here’s to you, my friend. May we be ever the wiser next year. – A.E.

“Life works in mysterious ways,” he thought to himself as he inched over to the cooler side of the bed. Four years had passed since her death, and each day was as painful as the last.

The Nor’easter of November 7

I love winter. Simple as that. I also love taking photos (if you haven’t been able to tell) so I thought I’d share some of my photos from today’s snow fall in Boston around the Kenmore Square / Brookline area. If you’re a Bostonian or a BU student, I’m sure you’ll recognize some of the buildings.

Wales 2011

IMG_1502

This gallery contains 63 photos.

Enormous thanks to Julia and Jim Kelly, of Penmaenmawr, Wales. Their extraordinary efforts to show me all around Northern Wales will forever be appreciated and remembered.

Rate this: