Wednesday, 28 December 2016

2016 Review

Hi guys! 2016 has been a pretty weird year  -- it feels like the Leaving Cert stole 8 months of it from me. I'd say March, September and October were the best months. Look out for some brief thoughts on the year at the end!


January featured spending the Christmas holidays in school helping the Young Scientists and attending the BTYSTE, studying really hard (I actually studied more for the Mocks than I did leading up to the Leaving; it meant that slots for the information already existed in my brain by the time I started revising hard again in April. Highly recommended.), and some cool time with friends at reunions and such. I also spent a lot of time in January creating my website to help Irish people of all ages and interests find opportunities, Tigertunity

Here's my face for much of January but also for most of January-May (bored studying long hours every day. Yes, that is raw spaghetti I'm holding).


Honestly haven't the foggiest what happened in February, and I didn't write a February review for some reason. I do know I had the Mocks, which were exhausting. I got 540 points in them though, which was reassuring because it was 25 points over what I needed and people usually go up from the Mocks. I also did a lot of work on that month's project, which was studying experimental design. That was fun.


Finally, some excitement!

March was pretty cool. I went with Chloe and Gabi to speak at the World Youth Organisation's International Women's Day Summit in London, then to Birmingham for a meeting of the Youth Panel of the British Science Association. I also attended a Particle Physics Masterclass in UCD. I did my Irish and French mock orals and studied LOTS, and did some cool freelance writing work. I also worked on my Scifest project, and had some fun with my whiteboard. I spent a lot of time with Ben, Alice, Chloe and Gabi.


April was an unexciting month, again full of studying. I felt I did pretty well in my French and Irish orals (overall, ended up with an A1 in French and an A2 in Irish). I spent the month doing a ton of labwork for my UVC/bacteria/antibiotic resistance project. I also found out that I'd won National Runner-Up in the writing awards for my age category, but since I won it the year before...


May was essentially two things: studying for the Leaving Cert (and being stressed about it and then less stressed when I started powering through exam papers), and Scifest. Scifest was at the start of the month, and I won the highest prize I was eligible for being in 6th year, which I think was the best senior biological project prize. Study study study. 


Yet again with the Leaving Cert stealing my year! Obviously the Leaving Cert, which went well, dominated my month. After that, highlights included hanging out with Ben, speaking at and attending Inspirefest, and working on stuff in an international collaboration of talent centres for high-ability students as chosen representative of my national talent centre, the Centre For Talented Youth Ireland. The lowlight was the massive burnout I experienced days before the Leaving Cert started, which took months to start to lift.


July held the end of Inspirefest and a lot of resting and recuperating from the Leaving Cert. That said, I did get to see a lot of friends, including reuniting with some Outbox pals and an English CTYI friend, plus I crashed CTYI, attended my Debs and was voted Most Likely to Become a Billionaire, redesigned the blog, read several books, did a bunch of freelance writing, got into the final round of consideration for a TEDx talk and partied quite a bit.


Things are more exciting from here on out, I promise.

In August, I got my Leaving Cert results (600 points), celebrated my 18th birthday, celebrated Gabi's birthday, went to an Ireland 20 under 20 meetup at Dogpatch labs, was offered and accepted a place in Trinity, did lots of prep to speak at TEDxDrogheda, Zeminar and TY Expo over the next few months, hung out with friends plenty, went to CTYI reunions and figured out my goals for the next year. 


Good month! Spoke at TEDxDrogheda and TY Expo. Taught 80 kids about antibiotic resistance and what they can do about it. Won a Naughton scholarship and went to that awards ceremony. Started college. Moved out. Was elected to the Physoc committee. (Lowlight was my planned accommodation falling through at the last second; highlight is hard to choose.)


Also a good month! Flew to Manchester for Think Digital Manchester thanks to the Emerging Talent Fund. Flew to Budapest for a meeting of the European Talent Support Network representing CTYI. Spoke at Zeminar. Attended an event with Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. Went to CoderGirl Hack Day briefly. Went to a TEDx preview party. Hung out with my wonderful new college friends.


Obviously, the world, and by world I mean US election, went to shit. Apart from that -- academically, college went pretty well. I had a fun time with my friends. I went to Pink Training in Cork for a weekend. Got promoted on my main freelance writing platform. Was awarded my Trinity Entrance Exhibition scholarship. Got some exciting news that is currently under wraps. Went to the MathPhys ball. Wrote for Trinity News. Tried sports and got a genuine diagnosed concussion (not the most co-ordinated).


Academic stuff improved further so I now have straight 100s in my last 7ish college assessments. Friends continue to be great. Went to Dunsink Observatory with Physoc and hung out on a friend's boat. Worked with squad on Syndicalab (soon to be renamed) survey, which is now out in the field. Was reelected to the Council of the Youth Platform of the European Talent Support Network. Went back to the family for Christmas.


2016 has been, in the words of many, the Year from Hell in terms of world politics. It was a bad year to get engaged in politics, as we were delivered disappointment after crushing disappointment, from the small-scale (Aodhán Ó Riordáin not being re-elected to the Dáil) to the global (Brexit and the US Election). 

Personally, though, it's been a pretty different story. Professionally, this year has been pretty good, with lots of new experiences, including 8+ conferences, work-related trips to Birmingham, London, Manchester and Budapest, the start of my antibiotic resistance project, freelance writing progress, developing a love of public speaking, good results in various competitions and more. Personally, it's been pretty rocky with family stuff and battling perfectionism and anxiety but I've definitely grown up and I've loved moving out and becoming financially independent. Academically, it's been good, with 600 points in the Leaving Cert, receiving a Naughton Scholarship and Trinity Entrance Scholarship and getting (almost exlusively) firsts in college. Socially, there's been a lot of change with the transition to college, but I have wonderful, wonderful friends in my life and I really appreciate what they've brought to my year. 

I suppose, more than anything, this feels like a year of getting things started. I think I've laid good groundwork this year -- I'm going to take the last few days of 2016 to (a) figure my head and plans and priorities out for the year ahead (b) have some fun.

Happy holidays, everyone!

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Antibiotic Resistance: A Flu Season Reminder

As Christmas approaches, flu season is upon us.  As such, lots of people will be going to their doctors looking for relief and, often, looking for antibiotics. 

Don't be one of them, and don't let your family members be one of them either.

Antibiotics do not work on viral illnesses, which include the cold and the flu. They work against bacteria only, but if we keep misusing them, they might not even work against bacteria pretty soon.

Antibiotic resistance is a phenomenon wherein bacteria evolve resistance to antibiotics and are no longer killed or inactivated by them. It's a natural process - it happened with penicillin back in the 1940s - but it's going way faster than it should because we're not being sensible with antibiotics, and our rate of developing new antibiotics is not keeping up.

As a result, diseases like TB become more difficult to treat and the medication is more expensive and has more side effects. The CDC says that 23.000 people in the US die a year from antibiotic-resistant infections. In the Middle Ages, the black plague (caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis) wiped out half the population of Europe. Now we treat the plague easily with antibiotics. In short, they're valuable tools we really can't afford to lose.

Here's what you can do:
- Don't take antibiotics for colds and flus (or any non-bacterial disease)
- If you're prescribed antibiotics, take the full course and don't skip doses
- Don't use leftover antibiotics or keep your antibiotics for later
- Vaccinate
- Practise good hand hygiene
- Symptom relief: with illnesses that aren't too serious (like colds), you're often better off going for symptom relief like Strepsils and hot tea than medication.

(I taught these tips to 10-year-olds and they got them. If they can be responsible about this, so can we.)

There are lots of reasons for antibiotic resistance, like how a huge proportion of antibiotics (not necessarily ones used on humans) go to livestock for the meat industry. But sensibly using our antibiotics can make a difference if we all do it.

(A quick note: flu season exists anywhere there's winter, and there are lots of hypotheses as to why that is. One that's supported by experimental evidence is that the flu virus spreads more and survives longer in cold air -- in summer's warm, humid air, cough droplets fall to the ground instead of evaporating and hanging around in the air because there's already so much moisture in the air, whereas in winter it stays in the air -- although that doesn't explain rainy winters ... Info in this bracket from PopSci)

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

How to Accidentally Get an A1 in English (For Free)

Hey guys!

If you're in secondary school and worrying about exams, this is the post for you. 

I was in 6th Year last year and remember being bombarded by ads for paid services - grinds, workshops, revision books, ebooks with tips for "easy A1s", website subscriptions. They annoyed the hell out of me so I didn't use them (or do almost any of the work my English teacher assigned) and still came out with an A1. Here's how.

Disclaimer: Everyone's brain works differently. I have a knack for languages (and maths...). If you are doing grinds or using some other paid service already and they're working for you, cool. This is how I got the A1 (accidentally). 

English is an interesting subject, in that you're not so much being assessed on your knowledge of the syllabus as on you and your ability to express yourself. In Physics, all that matters in the exam is that you can do the questions; in English, it's a lot easier to do well if you have interesting things to say.

I got the A1 pretty much accidentally, without doing almost any English homework or paying anyone or memorizing notes. In my opinion, the best way to do well in English is not to spend a lot of time focusing on doing the English exam, and just try improving yourself and your written expression overall. 

Without further ado...

Read. The most obvious but most important one. I spent my whole childhood reading (one of my more nerdy successful challenges was to read 30 books in June 2012) and that's the easiest way to do well in English, but just get into the habit of reading as early as you can. I didn't read a lot of books in 5th or 6th Year because I didn't make time for them, but I did read plenty of longform articles from sites like the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Atlantic, Politico ... and scientific journal articles in my areas of research, antibiotic resistance and nanotechnology. Reading teaches you vocab, fixes your grammar, gives you interesting things to say -- and it's fun. If you don't like classics, don't read the classics. Read something you're interested in - there's probably a journal about whatever you're interested in somewhere. 

Write (longform). Write something you're interested in. I always found the writing assignments given to us in class boring so I didn't do them (I especially didn't like handwriting things so I typed). However, I wrote tons outside class. I became a professional writer in June 2014 and have been paid to write freelance articles on all sorts of topics (from entrepreneurship in the Caribbean to mortgage insurance to hospital addiction to the meaning of life) since then. I wrote two blogs. I wrote letters to my friends. I wrote tons. So: write. But if you don't want to write the kind of things your teacher tells you to, unless there's a specific reason (like you need practice with speeches), don't. Write something you're interested in and you'll have a much better time. It's so important to practise getting your thoughts out quickly, coherently and elegantly.

Memorize quotes (nothing else) by writing them out in the days before the exam. An exhaustive list of what I memorized for the English LC exam: 10-12 quotes for each of 5 poets, about 6 King Lear quotes, about 6 Comparative quotes. So if someone says that the Leaving Cert is just about rote memorization, bear in mind that it really depends on how much you choose to memorize. Out of my 7 subjects, History was the only one in which memorization made up a significant amount of the marks. 

Please don't memorize points or paragraphs and especially not essays. I cannot emphasize this enough. Don't do it. First of all, it's cheating if you're memorizing some sample essay, secondly it's risky if you blank, thirdly examiners are probably sick of it. You're not supposed to be being assessed on your memorization ability, so don't make the exam about that. If you have difficulty with English, get checked for dyslexia, don't memorize things.

Show your personality. One of the biggest reasons I did well in English has nothing to do with my English -- it's to do with my scientific research. I've spent the last few years carrying out research projects in specialized areas, so I showed off that knowledge in the exam, like when I told Obama he should be spending less on NASA given the dismal state of healthcare, with glioblastoma's terrible prognosis and antibiotic resistance's spread. Whatever you're into, put it on the paper -- the examiners are bound to be so bored of reading the same thing over and over.

Study five poets. Why increase your stress any more than you have to? I studied (and by that I mean read their poems, made up my own mind about what they were saying instead of learning off notes/analysis from the book and learned some quotes) Yeats, Plath, Durcan, Bishop and Dickinson; the latter three came up and I picked Durcan. If I'd only studied Yeats and Plath (my favourite two), I would've been screwed, like a lot of people who banked on Yeats. Just don't add to your stress on the day. Learning an extra few quotes is worth it.

Write concisely. Ignore people who tell you you must write 7 pages for your Comparative, or 5 pages for your essay. Write enough to express your point. Nobody wants to read 7 pages of waffle. I wrote 4 pages for my Comparative and 3 pages for my essay and for my Question B. It's better to overwrite than underwrite, but still; use as few words as you can to say something interesting.

In short

I don't know your school, so I can't tell you categorically not to do your homework. It's often very helpful to practise writing essays/articles/speeches/blog posts. I just think it's better to do work on stuff you're actually interested in, because you'll do it better and be more authentic on the exam paper. So, basically: don't make this into a rote learning exercise by learning notes, write concisely, don't add to your stress by gambling on the paper, and work to improve your overall English skills instead of just training for the exam.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

6 Things I've Learned About Starting College

Hey guys!

It's been almost three months since I started studying science in Trinity College, and it's definitely been different from what I expected. Since it's around the time a lot of you might be choosing where you're going to go for college, here's what I've learned about college in the last three months.

1. College is hard ... but satisfying

I'm saying this straight up, because I think it's what surprised me most. I, like a lot of people, spent 6th Year looking forward to when the Leaving Cert would be over and I could go have fun in college and learn some interesting science and make friends and have loads of time to work on my projects. 

I even saw college people on Twitter saying that college wasn't easy and didn't believe them, because I wanted something to look forward to. But reality check: college is hard. 

I always found it easy to get As in school. Sure, I worked hard - I studied 5+ hours an evening through a lot of 6th Year, mostly because it was fun and I enjoyed the feeling of completing the material - but there was never really anything I couldn't grasp. That all changed in college. 

At least in a Science degree, it seems like you're not even supposed to be able to be on top of everything. They throw the material at you so fast and suddenly a great grade, a "first", is 70%. That's now the top mark. It's a lot to get used to, and from the people I've talked to, everyone gets a bit of a shock when they first go to college. The material is genuinely difficult, both in terms of intellectual challenge and sheer bulk. 

On the other hand, it feels amazing when you finally start getting the hang of things - it really feels like you've earned it. I got 60% in my first Maths worksheet and am now getting 100s. I went from a 28% in Physics for my first assignment, when I had no idea how the system worked, to consistent 90 - 100s. The unpleasant feeling of being completely lost in lectures became all too familiar -- but so, too, has the triumph of finally getting something.

What I'm trying to say is, in college (at least in this course) it doesn't matter how smart you are. Everyone is smart. You still have to put in work if you want to do well. 

2. Finding community in college is very different (but I love it)

Similarly to how someone who had difficulty making friends in primary school might have an easier time in secondary school, when there are more people, college has something (and someone) for everyone. I was very lucky, in that my group of 4 besties solidified very quickly without me having to worry about it. They're the best part of college.

In terms of the broader College community ... it's weird. I can't think of any occasion when the entire 17000-strong College gets together, whereas in school we often had assemblies. It's like a village, in that people generally feel some connection and some belonging in it, but there are lots of members of the community whom you'll never know as everyone goes about their business. I went to a party at a professor's house last week and found out that some people who just teach postgrads don't know any undergrads, not even our SU President.

3. College life is unstructured

In school, we were in from 9-4 every day, with 1 hour for lunch at the same time every day, with the same teachers, in a small space ... All that changes in college. 

Times vary greatly -- I'm in 11-6 Monday, 9-4 Tuesday, 11-6 Wednesday, 9-5 Thursday and 9-12 Friday. Lunchtime isn't really a thing; on Mondays the only break we have between 11 and 6 is at 3, whereas on Wednesdays we're off between 2 and 5. Our lecturers change as we move between topics. You don't have to go to lectures, since roll call generally isn't taken (you do have to go to labs and tutorials). So much is up to you. 

While I've always been very self-motivated and independent, I have sometimes found the loss of structure difficult. I leave the house at 9 if I want to get in for 11 and get back at about 11 pm each night, so I'm too exhausted to do any study in digs. It's a far cry from 6th Year, when I got home at half 4 and studied/worked on projects from 5 pm to 1/2 am almost every single day. Now I have to make the conscious decision to study, rather than just doing it out of habit. And college is very distracting - there's always some society event to go to instead of studying. So I do study less than I used to, but luckily I have a good group of friends who come together to get our assignments done and then have fun.

4. Adventure 

I thought going to college would sweep me up in some great adventure. That's not quite true -- college can be quite mundane a lot of the time, with sometimes-boring lectures and assignments and lab reports and tutorials. But college does offer a great opportunity for you to Choose Your Own Adventure, whether that's by getting involved in societies or going on trips or, like me and my friends last weekend, going on a boat.

(L-R: Me, Kevin, Gráinne and Will standing in front of the boat.)
5. Independence/Adulthood

I keep expecting college staff to confiscate our phones, but they never do. It's so interesting having most of school's restrictions lifted off you -- the world feels a lot more open, but it does necessitate finding your own direction. Staff default to not caring about individual students -- you have to show interest or reach out to them before they'll care. If you're struggling, you need to go seek out help yourself, whether by emailing a professor or attending the Maths helproom.

Everyone is figuring it out in different ways. I love independence so it works for me.

6. Everyone is smart, and everything is levelled-up

College is such a big level-up. Take the Students Union, for example -- comparing that to school Student Councils is pretty illuminating. You can't half-ass things and get anywhere, no matter how smart you are.

Trinity (probably also the other colleges, but this is the one I have experience with) is amazing because everyone is talented. It's not just that most of our courses are over 500 points -- it's seeing that (1) everyone is smart and hard-working (2) everyone is passionate about something (3) everyone seems to have other talents. Most people go to university because they like learning, so intelligence actually cancels out and you get to see people's other talents, like their leadership capabilities or mad juggling skills. 

It can be pretty scary at first, going from being the big fish in school's small pond to a small fish in the huge lake of university, being unique just like everybody else. A lot of people who were once the best in their class/school are now dealing with being just one of many. Scary, yes, but healthy, and offers so much potential for meeting cool people. It's kinda fun to be part of a crowd when it's a really cool crowd and you can stand out in new ways.

In short:

I love college. It's genuinely difficult and it's often surprising, but I'm having the time of my life. Just try to shed any preconceptions you have going in, because it's definitely not what it seems. If you have any points to add or questions about settling into college or coming to Trinity, hit me up at

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Review: November 2016

Hey guys. 

This month has mostly just been normal college stuff, which is fun but not particularly interesting for other people. So I'll keep it short.

COLLEGE:  College has been going well - I've finally gotten used to the level of challenge and am enjoying it and doing decently. Stats has clicked at last, I'm loving matrices and, weirdly, Chemistry (Thermodynamics) is now the hard one. It was weird adjusting to a place where I'm not "the science one" or "the academic one" because that's almost everyone, but now it's kinda cool because we help each other work through things and then chill together.

EXTRACURRICULARS: I tried sports (trampolining) and literally gave myself a concussion so I can't go back to that for 4 weeks. Oops. Physoc Committee stuff has been going pretty well, with a post-Halloween party at the start of the month and regular Brain Foods and prepping for the observatory trip we held at the start of December.

FRIENDS: A+ best squad ever don't argue with me on this. Probably the best part of college. Spent a lot of time together this month, and long may that continue.

PROJECTS: The squad (I know, that word is so 2k13) have joined me on Syndicalab and we brought it for a first meeting with Launchpad this month. We're now working on market research and then Lean Canvas stuff. Also, my TEDx went up on the TEDxTalks Youtube channel. Hoping to do more antibiotic resistance stuff in December. Attended an interesting Leadership & Campaigning workshop held by TCDSU (here's my article on it in Trinity News).

PINK TRAINING: I spent the weekend of 25-27 November down in UCC learning about gay stuff (queer history, activism, different identities, gender politics) . Was pretty cool, and I liked getting to know a cross-section of Trinity (my article on this with Rory Codd in Trinity News).

WRITING: I got promoted to a Level 2 seller on Fiverr, meaning I did a lot more work than I remember doing. Also, cool/exciting but secret upcoming stuff.

SCHOLARSHIP: I had my Trinity Entrance Exhibition ceremony for getting over 585 points, but then so did half the college so y'know. 

WORLD: [screaming] I went to the Hist Lockin with Will on Election Night in a good though nervous mood. Ended up crying. Very glad Will was there, for both moral and physical support. I'm still sickened by the US Election result, and can't help noticing all the recounts and efforts to persuade electors even though I know that realistically Hillary is not going to become President. 


Not a great month for major things, but day-to-day life was pretty cool thanks to my friends and getting used to college.

Monday, 5 December 2016 Review

Hey guys! 

A few months ago, someone from reached out to me and asked if I was interested in receiving a pair of glasses from their site in return for a review. I said sure, I'd love some glasses, I'll give you an honest review. So now that we're all on the same page, let's go.


Here is a photo of my friend's plant wearing the glasses, to demonstrate that these glasses don't discriminate based on taxonomic kingdom.


I found the site easy to use, with a wide range of glasses (prescription glasses, sunglasses and glasses frames) and lots of filters for simple sorting. One thing I really liked was that the site let you virtually try the glasses you were looking at on a variety of models - so you could find the one that looked most like you to see what the glasses would look like on your face. 


I won't say too much about the glasses because I was able to pick out a pair that I wanted, so obviously it depends on what you like. But I've been wearing these glasses around all day for the last few weeks and they seem to be high-quality. The large frames took some getting used to, and they're quite heavy, but they seem well-made.


Delivery is where is not great. My glasses took weeks and weeks to deliver from China, to the point where I wasn't sure they were coming at all (although, in their defence, they do offer tracking). That said, the glasses did arrive all wrapped up safely in a cute box with a lens cleaner. I had been doubtful about them - I had no idea what level the quality would be, having just ordered them off the internet - but they're actually very good!

PRICE & DEALS have lots of deals going on all the time, but one interesting one is 50% off a pair of glasses for readers of this blog with the code GSHOT50! You can also get your first pair free (excluding shipping) with the code FIRSTFREE, and besides they're all pretty inexpensive anyway.


I had a good experience with these guys. Browsed the site, sent them my prescription, pupillary distance and address, and got high-quality glasses with lots of choice. So if you want good glasses for a reasonable price and can afford to wait around 6 weeks, I recommend

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Review: The Call by Peadar Ó Guilin


Image result for the call peadar ó guilin

This is not going to be a detached, professional review, because I'm too excited about this book for that. It was amazing, and really exceeded my expectations. I was in a hurry looking for a book to read on the bus from Dublin to Cork and a friend of a friend pointed this one out so I bought it, and I sure am glad I did because despite the fact that it's a YA dystopia and that market has been saturated for years, it was fabulous.

The blurb it comes with really doesn't do it justice, so here's my description of it:

Thousands of years ago, the Irish pushed the fairy race Sídhe out of their Many-Coloured Land and banished them to the Grey Land. Now, the Sídhe are back for revenge, determined to wipe out Ireland. 25 years ago, they cut the country off from the rest of the world by crashing planes out of the sky and destroying ships and communications; now every Irish teenager gets a Call at some point in their adolescence, spiriting them to the Grey Land where they have to outlast a day running from the Sídhe who are very powerful and want to torture, twist up and murder them and contort them into strange pitiful shapes. School has been replaced by training, where everyone practises becoming as fit and strong as possible and studies the Sídhe to have the best chance of surviving and continuing their race. Still, in twenty-five years the survival rate has increased only from 1% to 10%.

Into this world comes Nessa, cursed by polio with twisted, useless legs she can hardly walk on, never mind run. When she is sent to the school aged 10, everyone knows she's a goner - but Nessa is determined not to be. With no medicine or means to fix her legs, she builds up arm strength and uses her intelligence to come up with ingenious ways to overcome her disability and diligently studies the Sídhe. But in a world where 90% of even trained teenagers will die, will it be enough?


Image result for 4.5 stars


The character creation and development in this book is brilliant. I adore Nessa, and I haven't been as emotionally invested in a character in a long time. I love strong characters who never give up despite the difficulties they face, who are smart and brave and hardworking and proactive, and Nessa meets all those criteria in spades. I really liked her on a personal level too - we both rely on our brains. 

The secondary characters are also well-developed, and we get a very interesting insight into everyone when they're at their most vulnerable, in life-or-death situations with the Sídhe. Conor, a power-hungry egomaniacal fellow student, has a cool (and suspenseful) arc, I liked the subtlety of Nessa and Anto's fledgling forbidden romance because it never came near overpowering the plot since both were very aware of the stakes, and Megan and Nessa's friendship was nice. I liked the different alliances and enmities among the children -- it's an interesting exploration of what happens when you put a bunch of children with likely PTSD from seeing their siblings mangled by the Sídhe into an environment where they are constantly thinking about the Sídhe, speaking in Sídhe and competing to be in the surviving 10%. 

Stakes & Suspense

The overall stakes are exquisitely clear in this book - the Irish are a dying race, and the fate of the entire country rests on the shoulders of these teenagers who must survive a day with the murderous Sídhe. Towards the end of the book it gets very interesting, as some surprising stakes are uncovered and certain actions turn out to have unexpected but foreshadowed and resonant consequences that only serve to make the book more gripping. The Call is difficult to put down, especially near the end. 

Writing Style

I didn't really notice much about the writing style, to be honest, because I was so immersed in the story. Which means this is an actual good story instead of some annoying pontificating literary fiction. At the start of the book, the writing annoyed me because it was very on the nose, but once I got swept up I stopped noticing the writing. All I can say is that it's effective and occasionally memorable. It's sharp, direct and does the job, so for that I say it's well-written. It's perfect for this story because it avoids bogging down the action and doesn't slow down the thrill. 


There's a two-girl couple, which isn't made a big deal of, which is nice.  I have no idea what the characters look like (probably because I have aphantasia), except that Nessa is described as beautiful from the waist up, so I can't say much else on that. 

Ending (No Spoilers!)

I mostly liked the ending, and it was one of those nailbiters where I looked at the number of pages and wondered how the plot could possibly get wrapped up in that few pages. I can't say much because of spoilers, but the book is left open enough for a sequel. That said, most of the threads are wrapped up. I took off half a star for leaving it open for a series and I'm sick of YA doing that. 

YA landscape

Sorry to compare something to The Hunger Games, but this is like that except more horror, a school dynamic and more fleshed-out characters. Similar in other ways.

Aphantasiac Review

I have aphantasia, which means I can't visualise at all except sometimes when I'm asleep. I can't remember images or generate them, and when I'm reading a book, even if it's very visually descriptive, I see nothing. 

Here's a link about aphantasia, and here's a relevant excerpt from it:

"I scour fiction like an archaeologist: Find the bones.
The slender, olive-skinned man brushed the golden locks out of his hazel eyes. He was so focused on preparing for the assassination that he burned his tongue on the scalding cuppa joe (hazelnut, light cream).
That becomes: There’s an assassin.
I hurdle over paragraphs and pages, mowing down novels in one night because—while others make love to the olive-skinned assassin—I’m just fucking his skeleton. Some books are so fleshy they’re opaque: Lord of the Rings numbs. But Lord of the Flies gnaws, because I could meditate on the idea of society-gone-wild forever. Animal Farm is awesome. 1984. The splendor of Hogwarts is lost, but the idea of a dementor is brain fuel. And 2 + 2 = 5."
So basically, books that are heavy on visual imagery are very boring to me because i can't remember or benefit from any of it (or have to do work in remembering the specific words) but I love books that are thought-provoking and suspenseful and have interesting issues I can mull over. I've heard that about 2% of people have aphantasia, so writers, remember that world-building is not just about the visuals of the world. I do not care at all about the landscape, but give me some fascinating world systems and I'll love you.

Anyway, I'll be doing a whole post or two about aphantasia soon, so back to The Call. The Call is very gory, and I'm kinda glad I couldn't actually visualise any of the ripped up faces, but I still got to enjoy the suspense and workings of the world and figuring out the plots and issues I could think about like who was to blame, the Irish or the Sídhe, and the group dynamics of the teenagers. 


I highly recommend this book to anyone who ever enjoyed YA dystopia, and also to fans of YA and Irish folklore, and fantasy.

The book has a pretty grim subject, but I think the amazing characters, gripping plot and high concept definitely make it worth reading. One of the most enjoyable books I've read this year. 

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Recent Reads

Hey dudes! Life's been pretty crazy lately but I did have time at the end of October to go book shopping. So here's the rundown on three books I read over the last month. Enjoy!

Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity - Steve Silberman

Neurotribes is a masterful tome that traces the history of our understanding of autism from "childhood psychosis" to changeling children to refrigerator mothers to neurodiversity, through the horrifying extermination of disabled people during the Holocaust and the eugenics movement and the growth of nerd culture's creation of Aspie communities.

Neurotribes was a fascinating read on a topic that's very important to me, as someone who definitely aligns with the "little professors" archetype. I particularly enjoyed the parts about Asperger's syndrome and its first case studies. If I had any criticism, it would be that it can get bogged down in certain topics, like ham radios. It was very unpleasant to read at points through no fault of its own, like when discussing how 5,000 autistic children ("life unworthy of life") were murdered by institutions in Nazi Germany or the extreme behavioural therapists who essentially tortured autistic children in an attempt to make them seem normal (neurotypical), but it was definitely an illuminating, comprehensive and important read. Highly recommended.

Everything, Everything - Nicola Yoon

Everything, Everything is a YA love story, which normally would not be my thing, but I was intrigued by the premise of the protagonist having SCID (Severe Combined Immunodeficiency) which meant she would die if she went outside, and the love interest's efforts to reach her. Unfortunately, while I did enjoy the road, it did turn out to be just that, a love story, and so it didn't really stick in my mind afterwards like it would have if it had more scientific/medical content. That said, the twist at the end is pretty great. Recommended if you enjoy romance and YA and don't need lots of action and high-concept to keep you engaged.

Asking For It - Louise O' Neill

I was so hyped for this book after being floored by Louise's debut, Only Ever Yours, and hearing rave reviews and awards for Asking For It (e.g. winner of the Irish Book Awards) coming in from all sides. I couldn't get away from it - for months I've been seeing it on trains, had it recommended by people who usually don't read, seen it at awards shows, on Twitter, everywhere. I was told it was genius and a wake-up call to rape culture. And I really wanted to love it, because I loved Only Ever Yours so much.

But unfortunately, I was very disappointed. In a nutshell, the storyline is that the character is queen bee in a small village called Ballinatoom, then gets gangraped at one of the many parties she attends after drinking and taking drugs. Dozens of photos are taken and uploaded to Facebook on a public page for all to see, and her life is ruined.

The central question of the book is meant to be was she asking for it? and we're supposed to come out realising that no matter how someone acted it is never their fault for being a victim of rape. The issue is that Emma is a prick the least sympathetic character I've ever seen, completely unrelatable to me in every way. Not only am I not the type to drink and do drugs etc at parties (which on its own would've been manageable in a protagonist), she's a horrible person, an obvious bully who exploits the fact that she's beautiful to make others feel bad. She has no plans for her life beyond being a trophy wife, and after the rape she compounds problems for herself by lying to police and is just generally a weak character. There's only so far sympathy can go when someone is that unlikable. 

Look, I get that she was intentionally made unlikable and a bad victim so we would be tested in our support for her and taught some big lesson about supporting rape victims in all cases, but I just didn't appreciate being preached at. I don't have to empathise with a character if they're an awful person. 

So yeah. It's an issue book, with completely unlikable characters (except neighbour boy, whom the protag ignores). You might be able to get past the characters, but I wasn't. Which is a pity, because I really wanted to like this book. So if Louise writes future sci-fi/dystopian books, I'll definitely take a look. But something like this, maybe not. 

I feel like I could've gotten the same value from the book by reading a pamphlet saying "Sex with someone unconscious is rape, and rape is difficult to prove in court even with loads of evidence". And I've already read those.

On the bright side, she did manage authentic teenage slang? So there's that.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Review: October 2016

October's been a busy month, to say the least! Great fun though. I'm only going to put down the days when particularly big things happened, but pretty much every day has been super busy with long hours in college/meetings/fun so bear that in mind. Let's go.

3. Attended an event on the future of learning with global Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. Thanks to DCU President Brian MacCraith for inviting the Naughton scholars!

10. Flew to Manchester. Met an internet friend IRL for the first time and attended a workshop run by Thinking Digital Conference Manchester on paid social media marketing.

11. Attended Thinking Digital Conference Manchester, which was amazing. Flew back to Dublin. You can read my blog post on that here. Also, I ordered a tablet from Ebay because I was sick of not being able to take photos when I saw how beautiful Manchester was. Then when the tablet arrived a week later, I discovered that it didn't actually have a back camera...

Photo from Happy Creative

12. After college, I attended a TEDx preview party back in Drogheda the day before our official TEDx talk videos came out. It was great to see everyone and I was so proud of how much everyone's talks improved since the workshop, definitely including mine. Here's mine: 

Elle Loughran from Infocus Media on Vimeo.

13. I spoke at Zeminar. Met lots of cool people, including Rose of Tralee Maria Walsh and Twitter media EMEA leader Mark Little, and got to see the lovely Aoife from Outbox again. Will update this if/when the video comes out.

14. This happened. I love my squad (three of us featured here, the fourth took the picture).

15. Attended Coder Girl Hack Day at Dogpatch Labs. 

20. Watched the third presidential debate at a PolSoc/SOFIA event with Will. 

24. Had an interview in Intel. If only I was any good at interviews!

25. Donated to my friend Edel's crowdfunding campaign to help her get her work closer to market. Was delighted to find out the next day that she reached the fundraising goal! Helped out with Physoc's Brain Food session, just like every Tuesday.

26. Flew to Budapest, explored a bit (Heroes' Square) with the Romanian member of the Youth Platform of the European Talent Support Network.

27. Had 6 hours of meetings and then spent the evening on a guided tour of beautiful Budapest. Just look at this! The photo is taken by a member of our group, Indian delegate Rohan Shetti, and is the view from atop St Stephen's cathedral.

28. 6 more hours of meetings. Gave a presentation along with the four other members of the team. Have some photos sent to us by Csilla.

29. Flew back from Budapest and hung out with Ben. Finished reading Neurotribes by Steve Silberman.

31. Celebrated Halloween with Ben just like last year. Spent a ton of money on books and, not gonna lie, it felt great. Bought and read Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon and bought Asking For It by Louise O' Neill, Oasis by Eilis Barrett and All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven. Excited to read the last three! 


So that's that. Probably looks less busy than it felt at the time, because wow I was swept off my feet trying to do all that and intense college work and Physoc committee and the things that are still in the works at the same time! If you want to compare and contrast, here's the October 2015 review.

Dear Hillary

Dear Hillary,

First of all, I'm sorry. I am so, so sorry. You deserved so much better than what you got. Not just yesterday, but over decades.

The thought of you making that concession call to Trump is so painful to think about, and I'm just some Irish teenager you've never heard of. I can't imagine how it feels for you. I am glad you didn't give a speech Tuesday night -- it would be beneath you. 

I'm currently waiting for CNN to broadcast your concession speech. I hate this. I was so looking forward to what I'm sure would be a beautiful, inspiring acceptance speech for the first Madam President. I don't understand how you go on, how you have persevered through so much that would break a lesser human.

I just watched your speech and now I'm sobbing. You have worked so hard. Thank you. You are the first female major party nominee and the first woman to win the popular vote to be US President. We will not forget what you've done for us.

They're talking about how you have likely no future in politics now, much like others have been saying that the Clinton dynasty has ended and that you are now just a footnote in history. You are not a fucking footnote. Not only did you make 60 MILLION cracks in the glass ceiling this year alone, your whole life you have been a shining feminist beacon of hope and perseverance and fortitude. You have been so strong and admirable.

I don't know how Donald Trump won. I can't even bear to put his name and "President" in the same sentence. But it is wrong. Regardless of whether or not he turns out to be good at the job (which I doubt), this shows that tens of millions of Americans are cool with his disgusting sexism, racism, homophobia, lechery, fraud, mendacity, climate denial... 

Well, I understand how, even though I don't think he should have. People wanted change. I read that your campaign was delighted when Trump was nominated by the Republicans, and so was I -- I thought it was a sure victory for you. But then we discovered that America is a media nation that has now propelled Trump, media manipulator extraordinaire and king of branding, to the presidency. Trump and Bernie were so successful as these exciting change agents that your good policies, steady hand, intelligence and work ethic got left in the dust. I don't think that's fair, but I guess we all have very low attention spans now so that's how it worked.

Of course, the thing that lost you the Presidency was the Electoral College. Your coalition was mostly located in safe states, like Texas and California, so you drove up the margin in California and got within ~3% in Texas (!). 


That headline. What a way to add insult to injury. It's strange that, in the end, your much-vaunted campaign infrastructure didn't deliver the presidency for you despite your winning the popular vote. The media just constantly talked about Trump's lack of a ground game and your stellar GOTV effort. Bad tactical decisions were made regarding Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, I guess. This is one place where the pundits were less wrong - 538 predicted a 10%  chance of you winning the popular vote but losing the presidency. 

Hillary, there's a reason I'm calling you by your first name rather than Secretary Clinton or Senator Clinton or First Lady Clinton or Professor Rodham. I hugely respect you for your work in all of those roles, but I'm calling you Hillary because I identify with you, and though I will likely never know you, see you as a kindred spirit. I say it to fight back against all the pundits who say you're just unlikable. I like you. So many people should. That so many don't is testament to the rancor and division of American politics. 

I resent having to start every complimentary sentence about you with "She's a flawed candidate, but". It's bullshit. Everyone is flawed, but we don't talk about them like that. We love Obama despite his dodgy surveillance laws and drone strikes killing innocent civilians. You never get anything like that benefit of the doubt.

I have seen some of the hideous propaganda against you - Photoshopped images of you hanging from a tree, cartoons from white supremacists of your face and hands twisted into anti-Semitic caricatures; I've only been politically engaged for the last two years and it's hurting me so I don't know how the hell you stand it. 

You have led an incredible life, and I believe you will continue to. Not only have you been a feminist icon - we will not forget that you are the first woman to win the presidential popular vote - but you are one of the most experienced, impressive, intelligent people in America of any gender. It breaks my heart to think of your rejection letter from NASA saying they didn't accept girls as astronauts to now, when the nation is still so appallingly sexist that they'll elect a racist Cheeto over an eminently qualified woman.

Not all votes against you were because of sexism. But all votes for Trump did excuse and allow for his disgusting and well-publicized sexism. So people who say this isn't about sexism can back off.

There is more that is tragic about this election than the pain it has caused you and your supporters. This result is horrific for the environment, the economy, for marginalized groups including women, racial minorities, LGBTQ people, immigrants, for common decency, for the belief that the President should be a moral example to the people ... but I'm avoiding thinking about those right now, because the more I think about them the worse it gets. 

Dear Hillary, thank you. You will go down as a pioneer, as a fighter, as one of the most underrated Americans of all time. I refuse to respect Drumpf. I hope the Electoral College rebels and refuses to elect him. If not, I hope his presidency is not too destructive -- but I know that you would be a far better President in every way. I'm sorry that owning a penis is apparently still a requirement to lead the USA. You'll always be Madam President to me.

Thank you for your struggle. Thank you for being the first woman to win the popular vote. Thank you for showing us all the horrific difficulty a female candidate for President faces. You were not a bright shiny idealist like Obama in 2008 - because who would've listened to a female Obama? You had to be an establishment candidate. You had to claw your way up. The boot of misogyny kicked you off at the last hurdle, but you have done us a great service. Now we know what we're up against. We can no longer deny the sexism that faces America. Our next candidate for President - if we can possibly find someone as steel-made as you - will know the path because you have mapped it out for us. And someday soon, she will make history as the first female candidate to reach 270 electoral votes.

The honour of first woman to win the popular vote, to have most of the nation believe she should be President -- that goes to you. Thank you for being our champion.