THANK YOU FOR THE MAGIC….

I am not a big fan of science fiction.  I don’t like Dr Who or Star Trek.  I don’t understand black holes and the concept of a huge infinite universe melts my brain completely.
But a fiery sunset can take my breath away.  A rising creamy moon spills magic onto my world.  There is little quite as beautiful as a shimmering tent of stars overhead on a dark night.  These things speak to my soul.  They tell of wonders that exist just beyond my understanding and comprehension.  They never fail to move me and remind me that there is so much beyond this world; that our journey is far more than we can see or feel or touch.
On the 20th of July 1969 Neil Armstrong took his ‘giant leap for mankind’ onto the surface of the moon.  For decades it seemed to me that this was the pinnacle of man’s achievement in space.  Nothing has ever come near to wonder of that first space walk.
Sure, I am aware of probes to Mars and the fact that we have a Space Station hurtling around us where all kinds of experiments are carried out.  My twitter feed for the last few years has occasionally told me about ISS passes and what time it might be visible over Dublin.  I think I saw it just once.  It was not much more exciting that knowing the aircraft overhead is a Turkish Airlines flight from Istanbul to New York. 
Then on the 5th of January a tweet appeared in my Twitter timeline with this photo.  The caption read Tonight’s Finale: I’m not quite sure! Ireland, Wales or England, through a gap in the cloud. Where is this port town?
The tweet had originated on the ISS and was sent by a Commander Chris Hadfield.  Commander Hadfield had found Dublin and Ireland was just beginning to find Commander Hadfield.  More stunning images followed including the one below of the moon setting over the Earth.
Who knew Canada had astronauts?  But they do and to borrow a line from a famous ad… If  *insert beer name* did astronauts, they would do Chris Hadfield.
Commander Hadfield is exactly what I thought an astronaut wouldn’t be.  He is creative.  His photographs show a remarkable eye for composition and the words he chooses to accompany these pictures are beautifully crafted and carefully chosen.  But more than that, as I quickly discovered, Chris Hadfield is an accomplished musician. 
In February he posted a video of his accompanying a children’s choir from Canada, singing a song called “Is Somebody Singing” … you just have to listen to the words…. It captures beautifully the magic of looking at our world from 240 miles above in space.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AvAnfi8WpVE
I was hooked.  Hadfield posted photos of cities and towns and landscapes, as we had never seen them before.  We saw amazing weather patterns and sometimes con trails from aircraft far below. And we saw moon rises like never before.
On the 18th of February he posted a magnificent night time shot of our capital city with the words Tá Éire fíorálainn! Land of green hills and dark beer. With capital Dublin glowing in the Irish night.  And an entire nation fell in love.  Irish in space – imagine that.
He sang Danny Boy for St Patricks Day, he made videos explaining life without gravity but most of all he captured the magic and wonder of our little blue planet.  He showed us a little of what he could see from his ‘tin can in space’. 
There have been many nights in the last six months when I have gazed skywards.  I could have been putting something in the bin, or locking the car or calling in the cat and I have smiled, knowing that up above my head somewhere was the charismatic Canadian with a guitar.  An astronaut with the heart of a poet and the soul of sage. 
Commander Hadfield, a man of science, sees the wonder and the magic of our universe and of our planet.  But more than that, he knows exactly how to capture it for us so we can get a taste of the magic, the beauty, the wonder back here on earth. 
I would dearly love to have five minutes some day to interview him.  To hear him speak of this wonder, to hear if it has changed him, to know how it feels to see life from 250 miles above this little blue planet….  And to know what he is going to do next….
Thank you Chris for sharing… it’s been wonderful.

MASH CONFERENCE 2011

I had a very exciting day on Tuesday. I was at a conference. I was lucky (for once) and won my place on Twitter, which regular readers will know is one of my favourite places – right up there with Dingle and Cape Cod.

Although I got a ticket for free this conference sounded serious stuff and wasn’t any ole two bit event. It was organised by an outfit called Mediacontact.ie whose aim is to “to connect you with your targeted media, get them interested in your organisation and help you to build a presence in the media for your business, project or campaign.” Their conference was entitled Exploding Media and was billed as telling “the story of the extraordinary transformation of the media over the last five years and identify the key trends, technologies and topics that will shape the future for the next five”. So with my still fairly new freelance writer and journalist hat firmly on, I knew that this was a great opportunity I had been gifted.

Having spent the last ten years at home mothering and cooking and cleaning and the like, it was some time since I was at a conference. Although in my day I attended quite a lot of them. So first thing I figured was getting there on time – not easy for someone who hasn’t commuted for a decade. I decided the best strategy was to forgo breakfast in order to leave plenty of time for the journey, as I wasn’t sure what the traffic was like and I had to make my way from deepest Cabinteely to Croke Park. It said on my conference info that registration was open from 7.30 and would be accompanied by ‘morning refreshments’.

My journey, surprisingly, only took me an hour and so I arrived at about 8.30 and was looking forward to a nice latte and perhaps a danish or croissant for breakfast. Croke Park is a fabulous conference venue but I was amazed (well I was horrified really) to find that the coffee was very mediocre (latte? – forget it – it was coffee – “milk is over there”) and the only food on offer was biscuits! Is this recession or is this standard GAA fare? It was certainly more in keeping with the local club’s after match refreshments than what I remember being available at conferences in the 90s.

Anyway once I got over the trauma of having a biscuit for breakfast and very worried that my stomach was going to growl loudly through the morning’s proceedings I made my way into the conference room.

Within minutes I realized just how out of touch I was with modern conferences. First of all an announcement was made which roughly went as follows: “of course we don’t expect you to turn off your phones but please just turn them to silent. The hashtag for the conference is #mashmedia. Enjoy.”

For those of you not familiar with Twitter, inserting a hashtag into your tweet enables you to follow a particular conversation around a topic. So while sitting and listening to the presentations I could post my own reactions and comments and follow those of both my fellow delegates and those who were following the proceedings but not present. It takes a wee bit of practice to listen to what is happening in the real world and read and react on Twitter simultaneously. Although a couple of weeks watching The Late Late Show in the company of Twitter is all you really need to do in order to perfect that skill. In order to maximize the value of the Twitter Feed, the organizers had a row of about 10 tweeters at desks who were tasked with tweeting the conference.

Meanwhile, at the back of the hall there was a large screen which was displaying the conference stream on Storify. Storify is website which allows users to gather and curate content on social media in order to tell a particular story. In the case of the Exploding Media Conference, this task was given to students from DIT who combined tweets, video and photos in order to build the story.

So as I took my place, I was so grateful that I at least had an iPhone so that I could follow the twitter conversation and add my voice to those around me both physically and virtually, although I did come home and write an early note to Santa about an iPad.

The day whizzed by and the conference lived up to its name. My brain was exploding with ideas and new information. I came home and regurgitated it all for my poor husband who is still having problems in understanding Twitter! As his eyes glazed over and he began to snore I decided to shut up.

But my head has been exploding ever since. My brain contains a mash of what I have learned. This mash includes

  • the fact that cats have tiny undeveloped thumbs (how did I not know that – I have 4 felines),
  • CDs are so passé dahling (jaysus and we still have a box of LPs)
  • I really would love an iPad because Kindles are a bit old fashioned as new online reading may include embedded video and links.
  • Oh and the current revolution of digital media has been compared to the invention of the printing press in its importance. Not so, according to Bill Thompson, head of Digital Archiving with the BBC (so he should know, right?) the digital revolution is going to have the same impact on the human race as learning to decipher symbols, in other words literacy, did.

Wowsers.

So off I go to ensure that I do not remain analogue in a digital age. CDs apparently look very decorative when hung in the garden where they catch the sun! But in the real world can someone tell Croke Park that good coffee is not a luxury anymore!

Sincere thanks to Media Contact for their generosity in offering some free places at what was a really enlightening conference. I really did learn a lot more than what I have outlined above! Promise!

Hello Wall… Have You Met My Friend Twitter

The following short feature appeared in The Irish Examiner, today Friday 16th July 2010.

Shirley Valentine, Willy Russell’s bored and put upon Liverpudlian housewife, used to talk to her kitchen wall. “Hello wall,” she would say when returning from her grocery shopping, “it’s egg and chips tonight for tea, wall.” And what happened to our Shirley? Off she went to Greece where she fell in love with the swarthy Costas who loved her stretch marks. But I digress.

Shirley Valentine was lonely. I get that. I too am a suburban housewife, albeit of the 21st century as opposed to the 1980’s. But it can still get lonely and sometimes a woman just needs a chat. She needs to be able to vent frustrations, laugh with another soul who gets the joke or just pass the time of day.

I am lucky to have great neighbours who I consider friends, but you can’t always go barging into another woman’s kitchen whenever you feel like it. Thanks to Mrs Valentine I am very aware of the danger of beginning to talk to the wall. I have a dog and four cats and I will admit to probably sharing more with them than I should. But they are not great for feedback and they don’t laugh at my jokes.

In the past, when I felt I would die if I didn’t talk to someone, I used to invent a reason to call my husband. Sometimes I might get a few minutes chat out of him. He knew that if I didn’t use up most of the 20,000 words women apparently use every day, he would be assaulted with a barrage of conversation on arrival home. I have engaged the postman, meter reading man and the egg man in conversations that went way beyond the socially acceptable “hello, nice day”, much to their discomfort and embarrassment.

Ah, but those days are over now. Now I am never lonely. My husband has forgotten what its like to be hit over the head with a ton of unused words on his return from work and the postman, meter reading man and egg man are now quite relaxed coming to my door. And what has brought this change? Twitter, that’s what.

I have discovered the Twitterverse and it’s populated by lots of chatty women, writing women, older women, wise women, other moms, all of whom love to chat, sorry tweet. Twitter is like being at a great party where you can listen to lots of simultaneous conversations and join in whenever you wish to. We give each other weather reports – ‘it’s another lovely day here in West Cork’. We hear news almost as it happens, find out what’s coming up on radio programmes before they air and of course there are links to all kinds of great websites. You could happily spend all day twittering along. Because just as you are tiring of the Irish and Europeans, the Americans wake up and tweets tumble onto screen such as ‘morning all.. another hot one on the Cape, off to the beach.’

Ah yes, Twitter, where great women can witter on and on all day to their hearts content. But sometimes I do pause and look fondly at my kitchen wall and wonder if somewhere on a Greek Island is there a stretch mark loving 21st century Costas waiting to take me off on his boat so we can go skinny dipping in the Mediterranean. Because I would really hate to miss out on that! But in the meantime why not join the party on Twitter. Let me begin by introducing myself, I am @aurora111.

I AM A (VIRTUAL) SOCIAL BUTTERFLY

I regularly encounter looks of total disbelief and mild contempt from my peers who cannot believe that a reasonably intelligent, middle aged woman (such as I) would be involved in social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. On discovery of my partiality to such sites, I wait to be asked if I am excited about the new season of Big Brother. I am an intelligent, middle aged woman – I hate Big Brother. But I love my virtual life!

Twitter is probably my favourite. It is like being at a busy party with lots of conversations going on at the same time. You can join in or opt out at will. Perfect. I totally get Twitter and have many Twitter friends with whom I tweet daily!

Facebook is another proposition and can be fraught with hidden perils. Some months ago, I signed up and got a profile together. I put a few photos up, linked to some friends and writer colleagues and mainly used it to shout about new blog posts! Then I realised that no matter how careful I was with the photos I put up on my profile, others are free to post their photos with you in them and tag you. So like it or not – the image of you from the mid 80s arrives on your newsfeed. A wee bit un-nerving alright – not to mention highly embarrassing!

Then my daughter’s friends began to send me ‘friend requests’ and it seemed rude to say no. So you accept the ‘friendship’ of 9 and 11 year olds and feel like a trendy mom until your email inbox gets clogged with gifts of animals of all descriptions from FarmVille. . You are asked to mind people’s virtual sheep and goldfish. You get bunches of spring flowers and hearts sent whizzing along the internet highway in your direction. This bestows a feeling of being very busy. Sorry I can’t do dinner just yet, I have to milk the cows on some child’s farm.

Older daughter is 22 and some of her 1.5 million friends have become my Facebook friends too. This brings a different problem altogether. I now get news of each night out, of who was the drunkest and the photos to prove it. This I definitely don’t need. They are getting older now, so this activity is beginning to slow down and my nerves are slightly less frazzled.

The worst aspect of Facebook and the one thing that is guaranteed to make someone my vintage feel very worried indeed is the Friend Request from someone you know you should remember but you don’t. This is enough to send you running off to the nearest memory clinic immediately to get an assessment of just how bad your dementia is.

Did I mention LinkedIn. No? Well that’s ‘cos I don’t get it at all. There is no action on LinkedIn. Nothing to do. And worse of all it doesn’t make me feel loved. No, not at all!

Twitterers photo by lindayshaver