The Art of Terracotta

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Latimer: Overnight trains in China are an experience, let me tell you! On my tour I think I ended up taking 4 of them. I was really worried about the first one, because I like my creature comforts; I’m not proper backpacker material at all!

So, standing in an unbelievably crowded Beijing train station waiting to board the overnight train to Xi’an, my mind was racing with the thought – “I really don’t want to do this…”

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Coming from a small Island where the longest journey from one end of the country to the other is probably about 6 hours, I sometimes get overwhelmed by the fact that 14 hours on a train doesn’t even take you from one end of China to another, not by half. It reminds me how vast the country is – I thought you could go to Beijing, see the Wall, then pop off to Xian and see the Terracotta Warriors, almost in the same day – oh what a fool!

The train to Xi’an could carry up to 1,000 people, and it felt like there were 1,000 people waiting to board it. I must have looked like a caged animal – there are more people living in Beijing than there are on the whole island of Ireland, I was well out of my depth!

The train ride wasn’t so bad in the end and by getting to Xi’an I was off to see the glorious Terracotta Army!

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Pit 1
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Pit 1
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Pit 1
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Pit 1
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Pit 2
Pit 3 (a lot left to find eh?!)
Pit 3 (a lot left to find eh?!)
Pit 3 (broken statues!)
Pit 3 (broken statues!)

The Terracotta Army belongs to Emperor Qin Shi Huang – he of the Great Wall fame.

He became the first Emperor of China at age 13yrs and started planning his tomb straightaway. He is buried inside a man-made mound that is overlooked by Mount Li (a scared mountain), in a valley that is considered to have excellent Feng Shui. The Emperor’s body is said to rest with his feet towards the Yellow River and his head towards Mount Li, because this is Feng Shui (which means ‘wind-water’).

The Emperor’s tomb has never been opened – it’s said to be an underground palace with rivers of mercury and Terracotta concubines. The reason it hasn’t been excavated is the technology doesn’t exist to open the tomb without damaging it. And the tomb is booby-trapped.

It’s also said to be full of great treasures. In fact, the whole city of Xi’an is said to rest on top of enough treasures of jade and gold to purchase the whole of America (I might take that with a grain of salt though!). No one’s excavated so it’s hard to know, but if it’s true there could be more amazing things yet to be uncovered in China!

The Terracotta Army stand in battle formation around the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. They face outward, ready to be led into battle by the Emperor. Each of the men in the army has a different face; this was a mandate by the Emperor, each warrior had to look as unique as any person did. If the artist failed to do this, he was executed and the warrior destroyed.

They used to be brightly painted but once they were excavated the paint faded and was destroyed. They were painted green, pink, gold and blue; bright colours that were lucky and said to fend off evil spirits. The one’s uncovered in recent times are sprayed with special chemicals to keep the paint from fading.

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When the Emperor died and was entombed, the army was buried in underground pits and covered over with wooden planks and grass to hide them from the rest of the world.

But after the Emperor died, there was a rebellion in China (called the Farmer’s Rebellion) and the rebels broke into the Terracotta Army pits to steal the bronze weapons that the army held. On the way out of the pits, the rebels set fire to the wooden planks, this caused a cave-in that smashed and buried the statues, so that today they find the warriors in pieces. There are always archaeologists in the pits trying to excavate the statues and piece them back together.

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3 pits have been uncovered to date. They contain; infantry, chariots (and horses), archers, lieutenants and generals. In the first pit there are estimated to be 6,000 warriors and only 1,000 have been excavated.

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The warriors were discovered in the 1970s by farmers. They discovered the head of one of the warriors in their field. They thought it was bad-luck (evil spirits) to their families and the village, so they smashed the head and brought it to a priest. The priest sent to the cultural department in Beijing and the excavation of the field began.

Today you can meet one of the old farmer’s at the site and shake his hand if you like!

Seeing the warriors, was amazing 🙂

On my way off the site, I managed to pick up my own mini warrior – it’s the General (pronounced Jun-Jwin in Chinese)… 🙂 well I couldn’t leave China without one!

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Previous post: Walking along a Wall

Study Woes

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I’m frreeeeeeee…… hehehehe

Latimer: Recently I found myself facing exams again. The sort of nauseating exams that force you into ‘study mode’ – a mode that no one, no one, wants to be in. It’s the mode that makes your heart recoil in your chest shrieking – ‘Dear god no! I don’t want to go back into the box!’

In short, I don’t like exams, but my predominant feeling towards them is always fear – abject fear.

When I study, and I remember Ridley saying the same thing, I get lots of ideas – I imagine a lot of things, totally unrelated to the exam. I think about cartoons, pictures I could draw, holidays I could go on, holiday’s I’ve been on… that bag of chips I had when I went to London when I was seven, and so on. Basically anything and everything except the dark tunnel ahead of me!

There comes a point in the study fever where I’m pulling out post-it notes and jotting down random plot holes in books we’ve written and sketching little cartoons of pictures I should draw; and then I’m surrounded my post-its and getting annoyed with myself for lack of focus.

As the years go on I’ve noticed how, I just ain’t as good at studying as I used to be. I looked back at my former selves (who were also shrieking at themselves for lack of focus) and I think, ‘wow, you were good once… once – now get back to work!’

Well thankfully the dark cloud of exams has finally lifted – leaving me looking forward to a holiday and putting all those random fever-induced sketches together into a cartoon summing up my experience…

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Yup, studying sucks!!

The Passion and the Glory

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Latimer: I’m not a sporty person in the slightest, but I think I had a weirdly profound experience at a rugby match last weekend.

Thinking back on it now, I’m feel like – ‘wow, I learned so much – about winning… about losing, and sportsmanship! Yet, I’m kind of freaking myself out about how philosophical I got about it!’  – let me take you on a journey of my weird thought process as I watched Ireland face down the mighty All Blacks!

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A cheeky photo of NZ supports - it's a long way to travel so they were rare and kind of exotic!!
A cheeky photo of NZ supporters – it’s a long way to travel so they were rare and kind of exotic!!

The All Blacks are the national rugby team of New Zealand… and considered the best team in the world. I was overjoyed to get tickets to this match. And I couldn’t wait to see the All Blacks do the Haka live! (it’s an amazing Maori tribal display they do before all their matches – it’s spine-chilling – here is the one displayed at the Rugby World Cup 2011 in New Zealand)

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The atmosphere at the match was electric.

I’m not a person that gets invested in sports (hardly ever) – I don’t jump up on my feet screaming until I’m hoarse –

I thought I would be like this:

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But I was actually like this:

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I felt so swept up in the emotion of being proud of the Irish team on the pitch.

But okay, in the end, even though we ALMOST won, Ireland lost. And so it goes – in sport, it doesn’t always work out that the team that deserves to win, actually wins. Here’s where I learn about the bitter reality of losing.

And Ireland has NEVER, ever, beaten the All Blacks – nope, not once. This match we came the closest we ever had before – it was our best chance, we ALMOST had it.

The clock had ticked right down to the end… we were winning (22 to 17) when the game entered it’s final play! Then BOOM – swift and sleek, like a giant panther over the line, the All Blacks scored a TRY! Now, we were even, 22 a piece… Then they converted a kick and bang, it was all over for us – All Blacks won 24 to 22.

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We came so close and we lost.

It made me sad, sure, but (this is where I learned about the nature of sports and sportsmanship, and got kind of zen about the whole experience) – the whole experience, coming that close to winning something, having tried so very hard – it’s life isn’t it?

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I never thought I’d say this, but sports is like an analogy for life (come with me on this) – you play the game, you win or you don’t, but you keep trying and that’s the key. It’s not about accepting that you lost, it’s about believing that you’ll win next time.

Rob Kearney, one of the Irish players said that the game isn’t over until the very last moment. You need to keep your head in the game. You need to keep focus until the absolute end – because if you don’t you can lose in a split second (as we had).

In a way that’s a good thing – it means that nothing is done, hopeless or final, until the very, very, very last moment. Someday Ireland will be the ones that swoop in at the very last breath and win – we all have our day!

And, even though it still hurts me to think about how we almost won (it honestly, bizarrely squeezes my heart a little) – I think the way people in sports handle defeat is something to be admired!

Thank you for teaching me a valuable lesson!

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God’s Architect

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Latimer: I got to go to Barcelona last week.

My stupidity started when I neglected to pack sunscreen. Oh yes, I brought sunscreen to England and Scotland… but to Spain? No. Why? I don’t know! “Latimer you fool! You complete fool!”

It was so hot over there. I touched down, stepped off the plane and my insides began to melt! I didn’t actually burn like I thought I would – nope. I boiled, from the inside out!

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My second lot of stupidity was my continued disregard for one Antoni Gaudí. Yup; I was more or less content to let my exploration of the man’s work end at a fly-by visit to Sagrada Família and a hellish, blistering walk around Parc Güell .

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WOW!! @_@

I flew by Sagrada Família for two reasons; 1) I thought I didn’t like it (but actually I was in awe like everyone else when I saw it) and, 2) the queue to get inside stretched around the entire building, in the harsh glare of the sun.

I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t queue (not after a summer of queuing in London, and the heat of the Barcelona supernova sky @_@).

Parc Güell was a-trip-and-a-half.

A view of Barcelona from the climb!
A view of Barcelona from the climb!

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It was the height of the midday heat, a harsh, steep upward climb to the top of the park, and 30 minutes spent traipsing around looking for the damn Gaudí lizard fountain! I didn’t come into the park through the entrance, but rather the end; so I really faded fast walking around in the heat.

I don’t know what feeling Gaudí was looking to create, but to me, it was like I was in hell; walking through the dried out skeletal carcasses of vast beasts that had perished in the desert sands of Güell/Hell.

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Whoooh, are those two peeps snogging? I think so!! HA!

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I nearly gave up looking for the entrance, but I steeled myself and plodded on, thinking of Bear Grylls and how I must have learned something that could save me, should the moment arise (which on a few occasions I thought, yup, it’s time to go Grylls!).

All I could think was; “Drink my own wee? Güell no…”

I found it in the end, and the lizard was being held hostage by the mob. I couldn’t get to see him much.

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Back away from the lizard… pluz-leezz? No? Damnit…

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I was feeling nauseous at this point, so I fled almost straightaway for a lie down in the hotel.

After that I thought, no more Gaudí.

BUT! An accidental walk over to Palau Güell changed that.

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It was the mansion of the Güell family, the patrons of Gaudí, who commissioned Parc Güell . This family was super-rich, by today’s standards they’d be on the Forbes list and worth 70 billion euro. Their mansion was, actually very small, but the Gaudí -ness of it was astounding. I came to appreciate that he was in fact a genius architect and his mind was a wave of pure inspiration.

No one built like Gaudí before or afterward. The buildings are wacky and over the top; but its more how he built, his attention to ventilation or the way natural light could be brought into buildings. He put so much thought into the building itself, how it should and would function.

Palau Güell doesn’t have doors as such. It has two massive ornate wrought-iron gates, with curling metal.

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When you stand in the entrance hall you can see right out onto the street, but the metal is deceptively thinner and thicker in parts that means the people on the outside can’t see in. That’s all Gaudí.

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The halls curve and arch like waves; it’s like stepping onto a movie set, something from the imagination of a fantasy, or sci-fi writer.

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Shakespeare-inspired stained glass! The Bard is everywhere!!
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That is a Gaudi designed toilet!

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When Gaudí was awarded his degree one of his teachers remarked that; “We have given this degree to a madman or a genius, only time will tell.”

The most famous of the Gaudí buildings is probably Casa Batlló.

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The interior is inspired by the sea, the ceilings are like ripples of water and there are whorls and eddies all over the house.  

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People have lots of thoughts of what the façade looks like. Some say it looks like bones (the spine of a fish); so they call it the House of Bones. They also say that Gaudí was inspired by Monet’s lilies painting and that the façade looks like that; or the balconies look like the masks worn in the parades that used to walk down the street outside the house. And the roof is supposed to look like a dragon resting.

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Many people in Gaudí’s life died in the first decade of the 1900s – including his close collaborator and his patron Eusebi Güell. He took refuge in his work on Sagrada Família. By this point Gaudí didn’t have much money and confessed:

My good friends are dead; I have no family and no clients, no fortune nor anything. Now I can dedicate myself entirely to the Church.”

He had to take alms to continue his work on the church.

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One day, aged 73, Gaudí walked away from Sagrada Família and was knocked over by a tram. He was dressed in tatty clothes so people thought he was a beggar. He did not receive immediate aid and by the time he got to hospital, and was recognised, his condition was critical.

He died of his injuries and was buried in his Sagrada Família.

His story ended on a sad note. But we can look at it like this; his work survives to inspire people in big ways and little ways, and even though he passed away in poverty, the inspirational wealth he left behind will always be far greater than the money he might have had 🙂

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Ridley also went to Barcelona a year ago! Check out her thoughts here!

Also, just a quick note: if you want to see any more of our photos we’re up and running on instagram, pretty regularly now 🙂

If you are on it too, drop us a line! Or if you haven’t joined yet, do!, it’s a great fun way to share your photos!

Robin Round #1

PaperArtist_2013-06-30_13-50-42Ridley: A Robin Round actually stems from maths class in secondary school. My teacher used to do ‘Robin Rounds’, he’d skip around the class and fire out hard questions at individual students, giving only seconds for the person to try work it out before he’d shout, ‘next!’. Very rarely did anyone ever get it right when they were the first person asked. I did once, there was an impressed stir throughout the room, I had to duck my head though, knowing full well if anyone really looked at me they’d see my mouth hanging open in surprise and be able to tell I’d just guessed the answer! 🙂

Anywho, the whole point of these quick fire Robin Round (sounds dangerous, ja? It surely, isn’t…) this time is to have a little bit of fun, to scatter a few information crumbs about us (if anyone cares!) and for us to get to know anyone that may be out there and cares to share.*points at you*

I’ve numbered this post, so I’m presuming I’ve the intention of doing more than one of these… do I, Brain? (‘I don’t know Pinky, do you? Never mind though, now it’s time to try take over the world!’…..sometimes I’m ashamed of myself….but not today! 🙂 Pinky and the Brain, if you’ve never watched them, your life is just not complete! Get thee to youtube peeps.)

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SO….Latimer……..we’ll start off slowly….

1. Favourite time of the day?

Latimer: 6pm, the day is more or less over and I know that I can look forward to relaxing 🙂

2. What was your last dream about?

Latimer: I was cycling along the motorway, trying to get home, and fell asleep on the side of the road. When I woke up someone was stealing my bike! What the Dickens?! “Come back with my bike thief!”

3. I have a puffalump, what do you think it is? (I don’t think I’ve ever shown you…and no, it’s not a disease or injury. Don’t google it!)

Latimer: It sounds like what a child might call a boil… hmm, I’m going to say some sort of soft toy… now I look it up… And so it is… They had a name? I think I used to have coats made out of that material when I was in primary school! 

4. If you had all the time and money in the world, where would you be and what would you be doing?

Latimer: Travelling the world and writing – 🙂

5. One of the best things (helpful, inspirational, funny) that someone has ever said to you? (It was me of course, I’m sure…it better have been! Haha….seriously    😛  )

Latimer: Eat the elephant one bite at a time, before you know it, it will be gone! Huzzah! (basically take everything one step at a time). Also, another one; ‘everyone is afraid in the dark, wait until you turn the light on before you start to worry’; I get wound up about the unknown, but you should really wait until you know what’s going on before you start to worry!

6. The first video game you ever played was? And your favourite game now is?

Latimer: my first game was this really, really REALLY old game; it was on an old ass computer, we are talking very pixelated. The game was 2D; think old fashioned snake:It was a box and you had to ‘herd’ a single elephant into the box. I was probably only three or four playing it.

In childhood I used to play a game called Toejam and Earl 2… haha, that game was weirdly brilliant. You played two aliens trying to protect their planet (called Funk-o-tron!) from these humans that had invaded it… You had to trap the humans in jars by.. well pelting them with jars… it was really weird!

My favourite game now… hmm, Kingdom Hearts (I fecking love that series!! SOORA!!)

(Disney and Square Enix… jaysus I died and went to heaven!!)

7. Favourite flavour?

Latimer: RED! Haha. You know me!

8. What actor would you most like to….meet? 🙂

Latimer: I don’t know really… that’s a hard one, while not really an answer you know I would love to go to the BAFTAs one day!

9. Where are you right now? And what’s the weirdest thing in or about the place you’re in?

Latimer: My room *turns around… what is the weirdest thing here, aside from me! mwaha* 

Well these are pretty weird…

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They are the shell from clams, or something, that me and my mam collected on an aboriginal shore walk in Cairns, AUStralia! We ate what was inside and I pocketed the shells. Yep. (Latimer= hoarder and eater of the strange) 

10. If you could send something to your future self, what would it be?

Latimer: future self… oh dear. Hmm. I would send my worries haha. Though future me would be like; ‘damn it! Why you doing that?! I got my own worries!’

11. What pops into your mind when you hear the words:

Pink- Dolls                               Glue- Art

Tree- Elves!                             Cup- Tea

Pen- Drawing!                          Puddle- Jemima Puddleduck haha

12. A portal opened right now, you didn’t know where it ended up or if you could come back, would you walk through it?

Latimer: Argh… no! I can’t take the chance, sure if I ended up in Hogwarts that’s great but if I ended up in Nightmare before Christmas Hallow’een Town I don’t know what I would do (cry… a lot)

13. What super power would you love?

Latimer: Teleportion! Do you see how I can pick a power? Ridley never plays this game right!

14. Batman, Superman or Spiderman?

Latimer: Batman; the hero that Gotham needs but doesn’t deserve… or needs right now, but doesn’t have… or something, he’s awesome!

15. Vampire vs werewolves?

Latimer: there was a time it would have been vampires, but no you have swayed me through the years Pidley… it would have to be werewolves!

16. If you had to choose between thunderstorm or snowstorm?

Latimer: Ohh, I like the after look of a snowstorm, but I pick thunderstorm… so dramatic and sitting in the dark (cos the lights usually seem to go) and seeing the lightning and hearing the thunder… oh too cool for school, yea!

17. An unusual pet hate of yours?

Latimer: People walking too slowly in front of me – is that unusual? I really hate it…

18. You’re reading a book, the one thing you’d love to find in it is?

Latimer: Characters I love. A bit quirky, or just interesting.

19. Favourite soundtrack?

Latimer: Lord of the Rings, Fellowship of the Ring

20. You’re only allowed one: films, books or music, which would you choose?

Latimer: are we talking infinite amounts here? Hmmm…Books then!

21. If you could live anywhere, where would it be?

Latimer: By the sea

Antrim coast – glorious

22. The best thing you’ve done or read or seen in the last year is?

Latimer: Publishing the book 🙂 and going to Japan again 🙂 (technically last year… hmm, well going on holidays and publishing the other book will still be this year too!!)

23. The creepiest thing ever would be…?

Latimer: Zombie Apocalypse! AHHH!!!

24. You see a camera crew filming in front of you on the street, what do you do?

Latimer: walk around it! *inches close and whispers fearfully* cameras steal your sooouuuulll!!

25. I’m sure I’ll be getting a question or two now…or maybe a new game will be a-foot! We shall see. Did you like the questions Latimer?

Latimer: That was fun… I promise a Pidley Wren Wround in the near future!

Why not share your answers to the questions above with us, we’d love to read them!!

Make Good Art

Ridley: I love inspirational quotes, especially from people whose work I admire or who I really look up to for what they’ve achieved through hard work and determination. I always feel really motivated after I’ve read them. So I said I’d share some of the really good ones with you!

  • This quote often has me nodding rapidly in agreement…

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  • ‘We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort.’ Jesse Owens
  • Latimer found this one from Kevin Smith. Never were there truer words.

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  • Technically not a quote, but it inspires me, so I’m adding it it! This is my favourite poem, do other people have favourite poems? I have this painted on my bedroom wall, depending on the type of day I’ve had, it can mean different things to me.

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  • The prolific Stephen King, who is definitely the King of hard work! (see what I did there? :D)

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  • This is taken from the move, ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’, one of the best films I’ve ever seen and one that always has me sniffing at the end. What a fantastic story.

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  • Grant Morrison, Glaswegian comic-book author extraordinaire.. an amazing personality, who has this great quote that makes me feel like ‘yes! yes, let’s do that!’
  • Walt Disney, if ever there was a man who inspired dreams in generations of young children, it was him. He never let failure stand in his way, no matter how many knockbacks he received. 

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  • Neil Gaiman, a rock star author, I just love his quotes!!

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  • This picture happens to be the background image on my phone! This is what I look at every day, it reminds me to always keep going forward, to strive for what I want to be.

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  • So true Kevin Smith!! If ever you worry that someone’s better than you (there’s always someone better than you), if someone is more successful (without a doubt there is) or if you aren’t good enough (if that’s what you believe, then it will be true), read this quote, duck your head down and work harder. Keep focused.

kevin-smith-quotes‘The main goal in life careerwise should always be try to get paid to simply be yourself.’ Kevin Smith

  • Darn tootin’!

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  • Make Good Art. More Neil Gaiman. I’ll just repeat his lines like a parrot, as I’ve nothing that could add to this quote. This is a snippet taken from his commencement speech at the University of Arts in Philadelphia, it’s absolutely epic!

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You can watch it here:

Other quotes from him:

‘The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.’ Neil Gaiman

‘As far as I’m concerned, the entire reason for becoming a writer is not having to get up in the morning.’ Neil Gaiman

‘It’s not a bad thing for a writer not to feel at home. Writers – we’re much more comfortable at parties standing in the corner watching everybody else having a good time than we are mingling.’ Neil Gaiman

  • Insert the word books for movies and you got that right Walt!! 😀

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  • Thankfully, Latimer and I both love to read and write. To be sucked into another world without leaving your armchair is the most magical experience there is! Is it still called work when you enjoy yourself? 😀

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  • Will Smith, the master of thought provoking quotes, I could have a whole post dedicated to him you know, or even a website! He’s a fan of inspirational quotes himself, Paulo Coelho’s ‘The Alchemist’ is one of his favourite books. I quite enjoyed it too, makes you think.

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‘Being realistic is the most common path to mediocrity.’ Will Smith

  • Sometimes we all have to do this!

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  • This is one of my absolute favourite quotes, it just sums up the lives of so many people!

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  • And always remember, the most important piece of advice, from the funniest man ever:

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PS. I own none of the above pictures  (* _*)

Now for Something Completely Different

Latimer is made of star stuff? Hurrah!

Latimer: Okay, so in this post I well and truly get my nerd on. What follows is an indulgence of my science fetish!

It might come as a surprise that I am a factual being, when my dreams are so rooted in the fantastical. But sometimes the truth is just as mysterious and awe-inspiring as the dream. I think that science is the great dream; the greatest mystery.

Recently I went to a general science conference, covering everything under the sun. It was the European Science Open Forum (ESOF) which was held in Dublin this year (Dublin is the City of Science for 2012 🙂 ).

This conference was incredible; for a start the program included five Nobel Laureates. Heavy-hitters as I was calling them.                                                                                 

The conference had two speakers that without a doubt I had to see: Prof. James Watson and Dr. Craig Venter. They’re like celebrities in science.

Now, you may or may not know who these men are. If you don’t, let me explain…

A conversation with James Watson

Professor James Watson, co-discoverer of the struture of DNA

Prof. James Watson co-discovered the structure of DNA in the 50’s with Dr. Frances Crick. He is quite an incredible man- at 84yrs of age, he is still active in research today!

The talk was a ‘conversation with James Watson’. It was very interesting. He can be quite controversal though.

He wrote a book called How to Avoid Boring People; one interest thing he said was to avoid being in a room with more than 2 Nobel Laureates (you have to laugh at the likelihood of that happening).

Watson said he hated going to the Nobel meetings because you end up with 10 Nobel Laureates in a room and they are incredibly boring. He snorted thinking you’d have to be boring to be one and that he was the exception.

It was amazing to get the opportunity to see him.

Dr. Craig Venter: ‘From Reading to Writing the Genetic Code’

Dr. Craig Venter, the background shows the cover of Science, the journal in which his group published their sequencing of the human genome in 2000

Dr. Craig Venter, sometimes called the ‘bad boy’ of science, was involved in the sequencing of the human genome. There were two groups racing to sequence the human genome at the time; the public group led by Dr. Frances Collins and the private group lead by Venter.

Venter had declared to the public group that his company could sequence the genome faster and for cheaper than they could. This kicked off the race between the two groups, leading to the genome being sequenced far faster than the public group had estimated it would be (3yrs ahead of the expected time-frame).

Craig Venter’s synthetic micro-organism, a bacteria called Mycoplasma mycoides JCVI-syn1.0

In recent years, more famously perhaps, Venter’s research group made the first synthetic organism.

It was very interesting to hear what his group (or an assembly of many groups) was up to and also to hear his thoughts on the future of science. 

He believes, for example, that in the future, during disease outbreaks, it will be possible for people to download vaccines from the internet and use boxes, containing his technology, to synthesize the vaccines themselves.

What an amazing thought eh? And not that farfetched.

Prof. Brian Greene: ‘The State of String Theory’

Professor Brian Greene

This was an incredible talk (even though I don’t do or understand Physics!). I am fascinated by the science of the universe.

Did you know- the heavy elements in our body came from the heart of an exploding star? All the particles that make up this universe have always been and always will be; how incredible is that?

It leaves you with a sense of belonging to the universe.

Prof. Greene also mentioned the multiverse- the notion that we are only one of many universes.

If these multple universes exist, it is believed that they would collide with one another and cause ripples to pass through each universe. 

Prof. Greene said, if we could detect these ripples, we could prove the existence of other universes. He said people were working on searching for these ripples (and they would be possible to find, if they exist).

Wow.

The infamous strings of String Theory… hypothecially!

Specifically though, Prof. Greene was talking about String Theory.

The idea behind it is that, if proven, it would be the unifying theory of physics- explaining all the parts that make up the whole universe and the energy in it.

It is a very complicated idea, and one that I can’t explain- so I found this brilliant TED talk that Prof. Greene gave (and it’s very similar, down to the letter in some parts, to the talk I heard). It’s about 20mins long, but it’s fascinating and he explains it in a clear way, so it’s easy to follow, if you are interested, I highly recommend it!

I left his talk feeling invigorated, awed and amazed. I had to jot down all I could remember.

Prof. Rolf-Dieter Heuer: The search for a deeper understanding of our universe at the Large Haldron Collider: the world’s largest particle accelerator

Large Haldron Collider at CERN

I couldn’t miss this talk. CERN is all over the media at the moment.

Prof. Rolf-Dieter Heuer (a particle physicist and Director General of CERN) was talking about the Higgs Boson. Which he said, if you ask him professionally he would say, ‘we have probably found it’, if you ask him personally he would say, ‘we have found it’.

Scientists, we are always so careful!

Professor Rolf-Dieter Heuer, Director General of CERN

He was a brilliant speaker, very funny and very interesting.

Professor Peter Higgs, Theoretical Physicist who first predicted the existence of the Higgs boson

Briefly (and in a very simple way, because I am no physicist!), the Higgs Boson, when found (as it likely has been), would prove the existence of the Higgs field.

The Higgs field is the way a particle gains mass (by interacting with the field). The stronger the interaction with the field, the larger the mass of the particle.

The field also has a peculiarity, in that, it can interact with itself.

So, again, a particle gains mass by interacting with the Higgs field, in theory, but in order to prove that the field exists at all- you must find the Higgs boson.

But why?

Why would finding the Higgs boson prove the existence of the Higgs field?

Prof. Heuer had a brilliant way of explaining the reason why:

He used this analogy: if he walked into a room full of journalists (representing the Higgs field). He could pass through the crowd, unnoticed, because they don’t know who he is.

The journalists don’t react to him.

Professor Rolf-Dieter Heuer, Director General of CERN… pointing!

However, if Einstein passes through the crowd, the journalists will react and crowd in on him.

And so Einstein gains mass (which is what the Higgs field does to particles).

The more known to the journalists, the more massive that person becomes (as they are all crowding in on them).

This is an explanation of how a particle gets mass in the Higgs field.

But, Prof. Heuer said, if for example he whispers a rumour into the room of journalists. They start to crowd in on each other, saying, “what did he say? Oh? Who?”.

This is a self-interaction of the field.

This forms the Higgs boson- self-interaction of the Higgs field= Higgs boson!

WOW! We all cheered. What a perfectly simple explanation of something I did not understand at all.

Professor Rolf-Dieter Heuer, Director General of CERN
“So, particle physics is really easy!!”

After he explained this, Prof. Heuer said: “So, particle physics is really easy!” (His wry smile implied he was making a funny; everyone laughed).

You might wonder, this is all very well and good, but how does the Higgs boson help us really?

Well, Prof. Heuer made this point; the internet was developed in the 80s at CERN. It was developed by the scientists so they could transmit their research to one another in a quick manner. At the time, they didn’t envisage any other purpose for the internet. But in later years, obviously they realised it could be used for other things. And it was only later that other uses became known.

Prof. Heuer doesn’t know yet what the Higgs boson can be used for, but in the future who knows?

I really loved this talk.

Prof. Heuer is amazing. I want to go to CERN and follow him around and have cups of tea with him and get him to tell me about the universe!

Would it freak him out? If I was in his shadow, with a cup of tea in one hand and a notepad in the other, going:

“Okay Rolf, tell me about the universe!” Latimer

“How did you get in here?!” Rolf

“I live here now…” Latimer

“Security!” Rolf

“Shush; I locked them in the Large Hadron Collider- anyway, let’s talk physics!” Latimer.

Ha…

‘What does Art bring to Science?’

Moving away from Physics now, I also went to a series of talks on; ‘What does art bring to science?’

The most interesting of these was the story of an American painter, William Utermohlen, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. This of course is incredibly sad, but Mr. Utermohlen gave a valuable, as before unseen insight into this progressive, destructive disease, by charting its progression with his self-portraits:

I found them haunting and somewhat disturbing to be honest, particularly the final portrait. It does illustrate a clear decline though, in a media that had not previously been shown.

It gaves the disease a very human element.

This was a very interesting talk; Mr. Utermohlen’s story really stuck with me.

Prof. Christian Keysers: ‘The Empathic Brain’

Professor Christain Keysers

Carrying on from this, I delved a bit more into the brain.

This was a brilliant talk about the biological basis of empathy.  Prof. Keysers gave an overview of empathy research.

He explained to us that empathy is not localised in a single area of the brain, rather empathy for different things is localised in different areas of the brain.

So,  people with damage to the brain, could loose the ability to feel certain types of empathy, but retain the ability to feel other types.

In terms of loosing the ability to feel empathy, Prof. Keysers said, if you loose the ability to feel e.g. disgusted, then you also loose the ability to feel the empathic disgust of others.

There was an interesting study carried out, where two groups, one male one female, were shown a card game. While they watched, the researchers monitored their brain activity.

The groups were shown a person playing fair and a person cheating, and winning. The cheater was punished and given an electric shock.

While watching the fair plays, both men and women had the same empathy levels. While watching the cheater being shocked, women had slightly reduced empathy, but they still had some empathy (sharing the cheater’s pain at being shocked).

However, men had no empathy while watching the cheater being shocked- in fact, it had activated a reward sensation in the brain! Indicating that the men were happy to see the cheater being punished, while the women were still empathising with the pain the cheater felt!

This begged the question of men and war, versus women and war. That perhaps there might be more psychological impact on women and this perhaps should be monitored more carefully.

Interesting right?

There was also a study carried out on ‘reading about emotions’. This study showed that people could empathise by reading; for example, they had a paragraph describing something disgusting and people felt disgusted by reading it.

The study suggested that people who read more may have more heightened empathy; but the reason why is not known.

Is it because people read more, that they have more empathy? Or is that they get more out of reading because they have the ability to empathise more with the characters (and that’s why they read more)?

Prof. Keyser mentioned something his old poetry teacher, from school, told him and it sort of stuck with me in terms of writing.

The teacher said that if you want to describe a person sailing on the ocean for the first time, don’t tell your readers what the ocean looks like, they already know- tell them about the person.

Tell them about their expressions. This is more informative, because this way they empathise more.

And in a scientific sense, you are activating the right parts of a person’s brain to feel attachment to your characters. So talk about the person, not the scenery.

Prof. Keyser wrote a book called The Empathic Brain and it’s a self-published one.

It describes an overview of empathy studies (not just his own). I haven’t read it, I did buy it though, it’s waiting on the Kindle- with many others, ha. But he said it was for everyone, so it’s not written in an overly scientific way.

Well, the conference was absolutely amazing.

I wanted to share some of the things I learned, though I appreciate that I might have rambled on a little. I hope it was clear and maybe a bit interesting in some way!

Being at this conference reaffirmed my love for science 🙂