Monday, December 17, 2012

Getting Ready for Christmas!

I want to start off by saying my thoughts and prayers are with my fellow Americans back home.  I heard about the terrible events in Connecticut late Friday evening.  Being abroad, I sometimes feel a bit disconnected from important events like this at home and I've been glued to news stories about what happened all weekend.  I hope that as the holiday season is upon us, we are still able to keep in mind what makes us great as a nation, while working to understand and prevent horrible events like this from happening in the future.

It's been a busy few weeks as I try to keep up with all the work I've got to get wrapped up so I can enjoy a few days off for Christmas.
Thanksgiving was just another day around here, but I did try to celebrate with my lunch selection.  It just wasn't quite the same...
My lunch on Thanksgiving

I had arranged to stay late that night for an event for potential EngD sponsors (that was subsequently cancelled in the afternoon), so I couldn't really plan a meal at home for that day, but I was able to cook a meal at Sagar's parents' house in London on Sunday.  (Vegetarian style, of course!)

I've also finished #4 from my list on the previous post.  Thanks so much to Nick and Sagar for helping me write some of the sections.  The literature review is going to be used by the IMechE, IET and RAE to assess the current state of manufacturing in the UK.
 I've finished half of #5 as well, now getting ready to start the PMA for the Service Design and Delivery Module I took at the end of October.  I've already got a rough outline in mind....

As for the rest of my work list, IGGY has been going well.  I went on a school visit in Birmingham a couple of weeks ago, where I got to work with some very keen students in a lower-income area that were all quite focussed to study some aspect of science.  It was really fun!

Fuel cell stuff keeps moving forward as well, as I look on ways to tie what I am doing (participating in new collaborative networks initiated by government entities here) and my own personal research.  I've got a meeting with one of my contacts from PTC tomorrow morning, where I will discuss my direction and hopefully get some insight and ideas on ways to address their needs within my project.

At the beginning of December, Sagar and I took a mini trip to Chester (just south of Liverpool, on the border to Wales), where we did a bit of Christmas shopping, explored the ancient Roman city, and went to a couple of museums.  Here are some pictures!
The clock going into the town centre

There is a wall along the city that you can walk along.  Here is one of many beautiful views from it.

This is from the ruins of an old Roman bath area

Old Roman bath area

This was put in place for the Queen's golden jubilee, ten years ago.

Sagar, walking along the wall

This squirrel (and other creatures in a park we walked through) was not afraid of humans in the least. Right before I took this picture, he had LITERALLY jumped onto Sagar's leg, looking for food.

Walking along the wall.

The Watergate Inn
Also, at the beginning of this month, Sagar and I went and got a Christmas tree for the apartment.  It looks very nice in our living room.  This past weekend, I got a GIANT box of Christmas stuff from my mom, including an Advent calendar and a bunch of gifts.  I have created Christmas in our living room.
The tree and window sill.  Even Mona is festive!

Advent calendar and cards I've gotten so far!

 This week, I am hoping to get an outline done for the fuel cell scoping paper, and complete (mostly) the PMA for the Service Design and Delivery module so I can enjoy Christmas next week!  It's going to be a long week, but hopefully the hard work will pay off!

I finish up with some pictures of swans that I saw on my long run last week.  I rarely take my phone on a run, but this time I just happened to have it.  This is a normal sight on many of my runs around here.
I was running along some new bike trails between campus and Kenilworth

He's looking right at me!

 I hope to post again soon about celebrating Christmas in the UK!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Work! (And a bit of fireworks!)

There is never a dull moment in the UK.  At least not for me.  Let me recap all my current project and work at the moment.
1. EngD work.  Right now, this includes looking at collaborative networking.  For this, I have started a platform for six different UK Formula Student teams including: Liverpool, Sheffield, Portsmouth, Oxford-Brookes, Brunel and Warwick Universities.  These teams are all sponsored in some way by Bosch Engineering this year, which is why they are the teams I'm working with.  I've used the West Midlands Collaborative Commerce Marketplace, an online database and collaboration space initiated by my advisor Jay Bal and his researchers a few years ago.  While there seemed to be a lot of excitement over the idea of these teams working closer together on communication, my online space has not seen very much activity at all.  I'm going to have to work harder to figure out how to encourage the usage and collaboration, while not influencing it too much.  Tricky.  I hope to formulate some sort of model of study out of this work this year that I can then take to an industrial study next year.  This year's Formula Student team is doing well, and I think will do well at next July's competition.
This is a picture from the outside of the new IISPI building, where I moved offices to in September
2. EngD group project and work with the Catapult.  WMG is seven centres in the UK that is a Technology Strategy Board centre for this initiative.  Our focus is High Value Manufacturing.  For our EngD group project, we are scoping out the research niche for WMG in the area of hydrogen and fuel cells.  So far, this has resulted in several conferences (mostly to London) where I have connected with many industrial leaders in this industry.  I've also been luck to go on a few industrial visits, such as to Johnson Matthey Fuel Cells, which was an amazing experience and will hopefully lead to future collaboration between WMG and JMFC.
3.  IGGY- I've written some scripts for the website and just generally get on and comment on various science and engineering topics.
4.  IMechE, IET, and RAE (Institute of Mechanical Engineers, Institute of Engineering Technology and the Royal Academy of Engineers) Engineering the Future literature review.  I was approached in September to help write a literature review on the subject of manufacturing growth in the UK for a collaborative project that is being done by members of these three institutions.  I am nearly done with it, and it has been quite a learning experience.  I hope the contacts I've made through this project will be helpful as I work on my EngD and beyond.  I've really enjoyed learning.  I also could not have done it without some help from Nick Higgins, another EngD, and of course, Sagar.  Sagar is a manufacturing engineer at JLR and has helped me a bit with some of the writing as well as helping me understand manufacturing in general.
5. PMAs for my recent modules.  I took two modules in October- Financial Analysis and Control Systems and Service Design and Delivery.  I have two 4000 word papers due for them in December, so I am going to get cracking on that this week.
6. Literature review on Open Source Hardware Design.  I had started this over the summer, but found myself with a bad case of writer's block.  However, the recent work on Engineering the Future has helped me so much that I think that coming back to this will go much smoother.
My desk at the moment.  I've taken over the desk next to me as well, with literature for my OSHD literature review.

Through all of this work, I have still been able to have a little bit of fun.
The people in the UK celebrate Guy Fawkes day with amazing fireworks, which I got to go see with Sagar in Kenilworth.  It was a show that rivalled some Fourth of July shows I've seen back home.
Sagar and me at the Kenilworth Fireworks for Guy Fawkes day.

This coming weekend, Sagar's family is coming over to celebrate the Hindu festival of lights known as Diwali .  I hope to also get a little Thanksgiving celebration in at some point this month!

Ok!  Back to writing!  Hope everyone is doing well!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Scotland, Marathon, and Short Vacation!

Well, I've been on modules the last two weeks, which consists of 11 hour days, Monday - Thursday with a half day on Friday.  Needless to say, my brain is pretty full at the moment, but that is a post for another day...still processing.


I need to post about the marathon at Loch Ness.
Scotland is a lovely, lovely place, first of all, and I was sad we only had a weekend to visit.  It is on my list of a place to spend more time at, once I get the chance.
First stop was Edinburgh (pronounced Edin- burrow), which was about a 5 hour drive on Friday night after Sagar got off work.  We spent a bit of Saturday late morning/early afternoon in the city, where we found a pub and I had a solid pre-race meal of Haggis.  Haggis is essentially a sort-of dry meatloaf that is famous in Scotland.  It was pretty tasty.  I also had a pre-race pint of a local brew, as you can see in the picture...

This is Haggis

Proof that Sagar does like the GPS/map feature on my phone. :) Though he will say he doesn't....

Government building in Edinburgh

Sagar checking out some cool monument thing in Edinburgh

Me and Amy (me with stupid face...)
 After picking up Amy, my running partner from WMG, from Edinburgh (she had come up earlier with other friends), we continued onto Inverness.  Unfortunately, though I had done most of my marathon training with Amy and was planning on running the marathon with her, she had hurt her foot and was just coming along to watch.  She was an awesome cheerleader to have!
We got to Inverness on Saturday evening, where we met up with an old friend of mine, Andy, who I knew from my days back at Ball State.  Andy and I had several math classes together and if it weren't for him, I might not have passed differential equations!  He was working in Poland over the summer (You can read about that in his blog) and came to visit me on the way back home, run the 10k at Inverness with Sagar, and to travel around the UK a bit.  Anyway, the four of us headed out to explore Inverness, which was quite a large city (I didn't realize it would be!) and find some dinner.  We went to bed quite early, because, even though the races didn't start until 10am and 10:45am (marathon and 10k, respectively) we had to be bussed to the start line.  My bus left at 7:45 am.  After nearly an hour and 45 minutes on the bus, I reached the start line with minutes to spare before the start of the marathon.  The weather could not have been better, cool, yet sunny.  It was absolutely beautiful.  I would say that even though this course ended up being the hardest I've ever run, it was also the most beautiful one.
The marathon went like most others.  There was a nasty hill around mile 5 that I probably ran too hard.  Then there was a series of hills starting about about mile 19 and lasting until mile 21.  There was one point where I negotiated with myself that if I saw one more hill I was walking- but I didn't give up and ran the whole time. (NO STOPS!!  NO WALKING!!)
I got to the last mile (was pretty tired at this point) and Amy, Sagar and Andy were all waiting for me.  Sagar had decided to run the last mile with me in his green man suit.  It was incredibly helpful, considering how tired I was...
The last mile

Me, Sagar and Andy after the race.  Sagar and Andy had run the 10k

I get a bit silly towards the end...also, my legs stop working properly. Good to see the ambulance there just in case...though I didn't need it.
Afterwards, we enjoyed some free food and got in the car to start the drive home.  Sagar had to be at work at 7am the next morning.  It was an 8 hour drive.  He did most of the driving back, though I did drive for about 2 hours to give him a bit of a break.
He does the driving.  :)
The next day, I was walking a bit like a cross between John Wayne and C3PO.  Andy and I decided to travel somewhere close, so I took him to Stratford-upon-Avon, which is a quick bus ride away and has all the Shakespeare stuff.  (Again, he has got some good pictures of his visit on his blog)  The next morning, we rented a car and drove down to the south coast of the UK, to a city called Brighton.  Here we saw the Royal Pavilion, which was a cool mansion built by King George a few centuries ago.  We weren't allowed to take pictures inside, but I did get some neat ones outside.  The weather in Brighton was very...British.  It was cold and windy, so on Wednesday afternoon, we headed to London.  Here, we had plans to go on the Eye and visit Buckingham Palace.  Both very cool experiences I haven't done before, despite my many visits to London.  It was all very fun!
Andy, on the pier at Brighton.  

I'm on a beach!

The outside of the Royal Pavilion

Inside the art museum in Brighton

I liked how this picture turned out of Big Ben

In the London Eye.

Waiting to go into Buckingham Palace
So, that in a nutshell brings me current to the beginning of October....
I have much more to blog about, but I think I will save that for another post.
Happy Halloween, everyone!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Wales, Papers, Networking, Driving

Well, it's been QUITE a while since my last post.  I'm going to try to recap everything here that has happened in oh, the last 5 weeks or so.

After I got my driving license I was very excited.  I have since driven to London and Wales.  Which brings me to my next point: Wales.

Sagar had sort of a last week hurrah before he started his job at JLR at the beginning of September.  While I was trying to work on research (reading, planning, writing, etc) we were also trying to think of fun, yet affordable things to do.  We came up with a day at Thorpe Park (a theme/rollercoaster park) and a weekend in Wales, finished off with my half marathon in Kenilworth.  Thorpe Park was fun, we went with Sagar's sister, Avni and one of her friends.  It was sort of a rainy day (and of course, I forgot my umbrella in the car) but it cleared up towards the end of the day.

The drive to Wales was nice.  I drove much of the first bit (until the roads got a bit too windy and narrow for me) and then Sagar took over.  We found a really sweet deal on a tent and decided we were going to find a camping ground and camp.  Our plan for day one was to climb Mount Snowden, the tallest mountain in Wales.  It's official height above sea level is 1086 m, which only just qualifies it for a mountain, but it counts!
Llynau Mymbyr, the Welsh name of this lake, with Snowden in the background

Llynau Mymbyr, the Welsh name of this lake, with Snowden in the background

Driving in the mountains.  All the walls along the road are carefully built up with stones that fit together, with no way to hold then together other than their own weight.

Driving in the mountains.  All the walls along the road are carefully built up with stones that fit together, with no way to hold then together other than their own weight.
 We parked the car at a car park (parking lot) at the bottom of Snowden and begin our climb.  Sagar chose a relatively challenging route for us to take up the mountain.  It was quite beautiful.
Nearly at the top!

Us at the top!  It was chilly!

Climbing down was also challenging!

There were SO MANY sheep along the way...but I couldn't pet them.  They run away if you get too close.

This was in the door in the bathroom in the cafe that was at the top of Snowden.  All the signs in Wales are in English and Welsh.
That night, we found a campsite close by and tried out the new tent.  It was pretty sweet.

Our tent!  The view was wonderful!

The next day, we decided to go canoeing before heading home.  We rented a canoe, after having some coffee, and off we went!
We stopped at the Pinnacle Cafe in Capel Curig.

Sagar is a serious canoer, complete with kneepads

Scenic stream just outside the cafe

My view in the canoe.
That afternoon, we drove home to Kenilworth, where I tried to prepare my body to run a half marathon the next morning.  
Getting my playlist set

I did ok in the race, finishing around 1:47.  I was shooting for a 1:40, so I was a bit disappointed, but it was quite a hilly course and the weather was actually quite warm and humid, so I'm not too upset.  

Sagar started work at JLR at the beginning of the month, and I continued to focus on organizing my research.
I had my annual review for my EngD at the beginning of the month.  The feedback was overall positive, though I do need to work on focusing my tasks a bit (I'm a bit spread out at the moment...there's a surprise!)

I went to a couple of events the second week of September, one was Cenex ( at Millbrook Proving Grounds, which is a race track/testing track about an hour south of Warwick.  It was a very interesting event focused on Low Carbon Vehicles.  There was a lot of interest in fuel cells!  Then, the weekend after that, I worked the Sustainable Moto Expo in Cheltenham, ( which was more of a public event, as opposed to the industrial focus of Cenex.  Both events were really interesting!

Then, last week, my room mate Aurelie moved out, having nearly finished up her Master's at Warwick and moving onto bigger things.  I was sad to see her go, but I think she will be happier in the warmer climate.  
This week, I was focused a bit on inspections for my apartment and getting my new room mate in for this coming year- Sagar.  His work at JLR in Solihull makes the location good for both of us, so it was a good choice.  Plus, I kinda like the guy.  A bit.  :)

I've also moved buildings!  I am now in an office with one of my academic advisors, Jay Bal and his group of PhD students who all work on collaboration and collaborative tools.  I think this will help me focus a bit on my research.  Also, I got a brand new desk!  I will have to take a picture soon to post.

So that in a nutshell, is the last few weeks.  I've got a few big projects going simultaneously at the moment, but nothing I can't handle.  

I'm running a marathon in 8 days in Scotland!!  Will blog again soon!

Here are some videos of driving in Wales.  Enjoy the roads (these aren't even very narrow ones) and the music!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Getting a Driving License in the UK

In May, I decided it was time for me to start looking into getting my British driving license.  Since I will be in the UK for the next few years, this is a good idea.  The law here states that my US driving license is only good for a year from when I started living here- then it becomes invalid.  On top of that, no UK insurance company will take ANY of my US driving experience into account- which makes the annual cost of insuring most cars I was looking at more than the price of the car I was looking at.  (One insurance company said that AFTER I got my full license, they would consider up to 3 years of previous experience from another country).  When I was first looking into all of this, I found it a little ridiculous.  I had nearly 12 years of driving experience from home, how hard could it be to get a license here?  And why don't they recognize my experience?  I came to the answer of this after a couple of lessons.

Because we don't really know how to drive in the US.

Don't get me wrong, I know a lot of great drivers back home.  However, the conditions here in the UK (much smaller, curvy, hilly roads) in addition to the fact that 90% of the cars are manual (and you MUST pass the test in a manual car in order to get a full license) make it different.  Oh, and did I mention they drive on the other side of the road?

So, this post, in a recap of everything I had to do to get my license here.  I think it might be the same in any European country- because those people with licenses from the EU are fully recognized here.

Step 1: Find an instructor.  I got a recommendation from another PhD student in my office, Tom.  I called the instructor, Steve, and set up my first lesson.  I explained that I had experience in the US, that I didn't need many lessons, I would be fine.  Just needed to brush up on driving a manual (I understood the logistics of how they work, should be easy to translate that understanding to practical usage, right?!?--> WRONG)

Step 2: Apply for (and pay about £50) provisional license.  This is like a learner's permit back home.  When I took driver's education in 2001, I had to take summer classes before I got the permit. (In the state of Michigan).  Here, you just apply for it by mail, send off your passport, and you are legal to drive.  As long as you have these lovely things displayed on the front and rear of your car, so everyone else on the road can either take pity on you, or be a jerk to you:

Step 3: Lessons.  And then more lessons.  Learn how NOT to stall the car.  Learn how to do hill starts.  Learn how to do reverse manoeuvres.  (There are four of these I could be tested on- turn in the road, reversing around a corner, backing into a parking space or a parallel park).  Learn AGAIN how NOT to stall the car.  Learn how to drive PROPERLY in round-a-bouts.  Understand totally new road signs.  Watch out for pedestrians.  Watch out for MORE pedestrians.  Clutch control.  MIRROR, SIGNAL, MANOEUVRES.

Step 4: Take the theory test.  (and pay another £34) The theory test here has two parts.  A multiple choice, 50 question part.  And a hazard perception part.  Hazard perception is a series of 10 short clips, where you must clip the mouse at the right time whenever you perceive a potential hazard.  I took this the beginning of July.  You can only miss 7 questions on the multiple choice part and you must get a 59% to pass the hazard perception bit.  I missed 4 questions and got a 79% on the hazard perception.  I prepared for this by reading the Highway Code and using a DVD-ROM I got off of Amazon to study.

Step 5: Book the practical test.  (and pay another £61) The soonest I could get a test was for August 9, a month after passing the theory test.  (and the day after my birthday)  And take more lessons.  And a couple more after that.  Have a confidence breakdown that I'm going to do something really stupid.  Stall out.  Stall out some more.  Try to stop doing that.  Get a car.  Learn how to drive it.  Decide that I will drive it for my test the week before.

Step 6: Take the practical test.  Have a lesson beforehand to work all the kinks out.  Stall out in the new car.  A lot.  Because I was being watched (I never stall out when I drive by myself!).  Resign myself to the fact that I may possibly fail.  (after hearing some horror stories from other people.  And reading that the pass rate is less than 50%).  Go to the test center (centre) and meet the guy assessing me.  (known, surprisingly as an assessor).  His name was Oliver.  He was really nice.  First step- read a number plate on a car about 20 meters away.  Had my contacts in- nailed it.  Second step- answer basic questions about the car.  There were two- how would I check the tire pressure and know what the correct pressure was and how would I use the windshield wipers.  Nailed that.  Feeling rather confident at this point.  Took off out of the test center for the "independent drive" portion of the test.  This is where I am told to follow the road signs to certain destinations.  Like Coventry, Hill Wootten, and Kenilworth.  I got to go on an A-road, or a Dual carriageway for a bit, which is essentially a highway to me, but is not classified as a motorway.  (Provisional or Learner drivers are technically not allowed to drive on motorways here).  I then did some round-abouts, went into some neighborhoods around Kenilworth, did a reversing around a corner exercise, and did a couple of hill starts.

It went quite quickly and before I knew it, I was back at the test center, where Steve and Sagar were waiting for me.  I felt I had done well, but I wasn't sure....Oliver asked if I would like my instructor over to hear the results.  I said sure.  Steve and Sagar came over and Oliver said I had passed!  He only had one minor comment on my observations during my reverse exercise (could have done with another head check).  All in all, I got only 4 minor faults (all for mirror checks, pretty standard faults) which is quite low.  You are allowed 15 minor faults during your test before you fail.

Overall, my process was a smooth one to get my license- on average it takes someone 14 months to get one here- I did it in less than 3.  However, it was a lot of hard work (and a lot of money- lessons were pricey as well as all the fees).  I had a LOT of help- a very patient and helpful driving instructor, Sagar gave me good feedback, and other people gave me feedback as well (I'm thinking about Matt and Nick when I drove the Land Rover to Birmingham.)  I think I am a MUCH better driver now than I ever was in the US.  It was a much more stressful endeavor than I imagined it would be, but I am glad I came out of it ok.  I am very very grateful to people who had faith in me, even when I didn't have faith in myself.  It's such a stressful thing over here, they even make greeting cards for passing!  Nick Mallinson got me one today!

My NEXT step will be to get my motorcycle license.....but that may be a few more months... :)
My card from Nick and his wife.  They are right next to the Birthday cards in the store....

My pass certificate.  My license will come in the post in the next 3 weeks or so.