Monday, July 30, 2018

Endurance


I love the idea of exploring space. Perhaps it doesn't have a lot of practical here and now benefits, but the idea of 'going beyond' feels right to me; something we ought to do as a species to push the boundaries of what's known, and to explore and inspire.  This is the story of one astronaut.

The book is structured as alternating chapters describing Scott Kelly's 11 months in space, as well as the long road to that point in his life, from a kid who didn't do well in school, to fighter pilot, and finally, astronaut.

I found the story of his rise interesting, perhaps a bit more so because he wasn't a 'model student', but not terribly different from many other stories of success.  He found something that motivated him to pursue a dream and stuck with it.

Scott's time on the space station, on the other hand, including the launch from the earth from the Kazakhstan launch site, really held my interest. I sort of had this idea of 'space stuff' as this gleaming, hi-tech world where everything is wonderfully built and engineered; the best that humanity can build. It seems that the reality doesn't always live up to this ideal, though, and there are a lot of stories of various pieces of equipment that need regular, difficult maintenance. And then the stories of "ordinary", day to day living in a zero-gravity environment make you realize what an amazing feat it all is - people able to survive in a tiny shell so far away from the rest of humanity.  Utilizing tortillas to eat a lot of food with because it's easy to wrap stuff up and keep it floating away!  The contrast of the big with the small makes it all the more something we can relate to.

I mentioned the launch earlier - it's one of the funnier bits, with some of the odd superstitions that the Russians have prior to getting in the rocket that takes them to the space station.  Getting out of the vehicle take them there and peeing on the rear tire, for instance.

Lots of other interesting tidbits about what it's like to be there in person make the book worthwhile for anyone interested in the challenges of 'boldly going where noone has gone before'.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Draft Animals

Draft Animals: Living the Pro Cycling Dream (Once in a While)

Many "sports books" tend to be a bit formulaic: the hero starts out, faces some adversity, and then wins something big.

Phil Gaimon's book about climbing to the top ranks of professional cyclists is more interesting than that.  He's funny, adds a lot of detail, and perhaps because he's "only" really, really good at cycling, but one of the top guys, the ups and downs of his career feel a bit more real.

This book takes over where his last book, Pro Cycling on $10 a Day: From Fat Kid to Euro Pro
leaves off.  Phil has secured a spot to ride with the Garmin team, a part of the World Tour.

The book follows the ups (race win!) and downs: not having his contract renewed at the end of that season, dropping down a level for a year, then another season in the World Tour.

There is no Big Win, and when he winds up without a contract at the end of 2016, and decides to call time on his professional career.

He had what it took to be in the World Tour, but wasn't one of the best guys there, and his struggles related to that are what provide a lot of the tension in the book.

There's also a lot of (sometimes raunchy if that's a thing that bothers you) humor too, though, so the book bounces around nicely between thoughtful, funny, happy and sad.

If you like cycling, this book and the preceding one are well worth it.