Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Cambridge Christmas

Without so much as realising it, my final December as an undergraduate is coming to an end. I was hoping for a longer holiday, but time moved so fast between blinks, as they tend to do. I was also hoping to get a lot of work done, but instead I’ve been totally unproductive ever since they closed the department. Not surprising, considering I grew up under fluorescent lamps, and I find it awkward to study with the yellowish light bulbs in my room. Well, that, and the presence of a computer is a bit distracting. Still, I think I managed to cover a lot in my revision, my research project is on track and my French is going along nicely.

Unlike previous years when I always found myself in London, this year I spent my Christmas in the quaint city of Cambridge. It wasn’t very eventful. Of course, not being a Christian, I didn’t go to the midnight mass or anything like that, so there wasn’t much to do. However, Trinity College was generous enough to invite us foreigners who can’t be bothered to go back home to some meals with the fellows. Free, I should add. And there was only one fellow, so it wasn’t that formal. But it was nice, with things like lobster soup, fish pate, cakes and stuff. Guess I didn’t have to worry about starving when the shops were closed.

For Boxing Day, it goes without saying that London is not for the weak-of-heart. From my previous experience, there will be a mass of crowd flooding Oxford Street and nearby areas. It’s certainly something to be avoided if you’re claustrophobic. By comparison, Cambridge’s Boxing Day is relatively milder. Of course, you can’t get the myriad of selection offered by London’s high street shops but it’s still decent. I went out at around 10:30 a.m. and while there were a bunch of shoppers present, it wasn’t suffocating. Plus, a lot of the shops opened on the 27th instead.

So here’s the end result of the two days. Overall, I spent about £160. Not too bad, I’d say. Especially those two jackets that I got for half price.

Well, that’s it then. Looking forward to 2009. Have a happy New Year people!


Friday, December 19, 2008

Mad at IE

Well, not exactly at IE since I haven’t used it for ages. But have you heard about the recent IE vulnerability exploit that affected a few million people and made Microsoft release a security update? The update is what I’m mad about.

I was running some reactor simulations using a finite elements software on several computers in the department. The simulations typically last for 12 hours so I left them on overnight. When I came back in the morning, I found that because of the security update, the computers have restarted and so my simulations are lost.

Yeah, yeah, I know it’s a security issue and the restarts have to be done but damned if I’m not annoyed. Especially since the department will be closed next Tuesday so I won’t be able to do any more simulations from then until the 5th of January. Grrrrrr!

Talking about Christmas breaks, I’m not travelling anywhere this year so I’ve ordered several fiction books to get me through the holiday. It’s nice to just curl up in your bed and read, maybe also with a cup of hot chocolate next to you. Ahhh, bliss!

Oh, and apart from simulations, revisions and reading, I’m also plant-sitting this winter break. Here’s a basket of hyacinths which belongs to my friend Jamie who at the moment is off somewhere in Ireland.

What a scintillating holiday companion, he he he.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Some Winter Reading

It was raining this morning.

It’s been raining a lot recently. The kind of weather that is perfect for one to curl up in bed with a book to read.

And that’s all very tempting, if not for the fact that I have supervision work to do, computer simulations to run and groceries to be bought.

Talking about books, I recently bought The Last Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko. It’s a sequel to a trilogy, which I suppose makes it a tetralogy then.

You can tell a good book by the speed that you read it. In this case, I started two days ago and now I’m almost finished. It's really good. But this means that I’m running out of reading material for the winter break. Oh well, of to Amazon we go then.


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A Week in December

A certain week in December might prove nerve-wrecking for a number of people. No, not me, but some other people. I can see them during breakfast wearing suits... holding maps of the college... looking lost and nervous...

Yup, the interview period is here again. It’s quite fun watching them scurrying about. It brings back memories.

On an unrelated note, Cambridge’s 800th anniversary is looming near. And so, in conjunction, CUSU (the student union) published a book that they give to students for free. I collected my copy from the CUSU office, and it was quite a task to bring it back to the college.

As you can see, it’s quite big and heavy.

I showed it to Lennart, and we tore the plastic covering and opened the book. As it turned out, the book wasn’t quite what I expected.

I was expecting pages upon pages of Cambridge history, details, achievements, all those stuff accompanied with pretty pictures. What I don’t expect is to discover that two-third of the book is filled with description of companies, law firms and banks which might or might not have anything to do with Cambridge at all. I can’t believe I’ve been lugging advertisements back to college.

While I was crestfallen, Lennart just laughed. And then we found that his school was featured in the book and he was like ‘Yay!’. Of course, my school is not in there on account of it not being a famous British public school, but who cares. But then we turned the pages and I found that my previous place of employment, the BP Institute was there, so I was also like ‘Yay!’

See how thick it is?


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The End of Michaelmas

And there you go. Term’s finally coming to an end. We had the Chemical Engineering Dinner last week, the Trinity Christmas formal a few days ago, and the final lecture today. The end of term is not that abrupt of a change, mainly because people will stay for another week or so to finish work and revision, so there will still be students around. Also, I will still be in the department running computer simulations and organising a supervision or two. Yup, work to be done, as always. Except now, things are less hectic and I can probably take a breather or two.

Well, that’s all I guess, now that you know I’m alive. Oh, and have a good winter break.


P.S. Can you see Newton staring smugly at me?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Twelve-Hour Simulation

Yes, yes, I know. I haven’t written anything since the beginning of November. But then again, there wasn’t much going on during the first two weeks. It was always work in the morning, work in the afternoon, and some volleyball in the weekend. Typical Cambridge weeks for me. Also, for the past few days I haven’t been well. It started as a sore throat but turned into a cold. I’m feeling a bit better now but this means I have to catch up on the things that I didn’t do when I was sick.

Our research project has moved on to the next stage: running simulations. Of course, I still haven’t fully understood the entirety of the codes. I didn’t write it myself. Instead, we were given codes from a previous project and were told to modify it accordingly. If we have lots of time, I would have preferred to fully non-dimensionalise the codes but our supervisor said that it is probably too much for a 4th year research project. Plus, according to her, when we rewrite the code a lot of the time spent later will be on debugging (apart from running the simulations) so it’s probably not a good idea if you’re not a PhD student and have other things to worry about apart from the project.

We did our first full run yesterday night. We were trying to simulate 35 seconds of a reactor system. However, it turns out that after two hours of real time, only six seconds of simulation time is done. So this means that we have to leave it running overnight. Compare this to my paint drying project in which I modelled a layer of paint from the time it was applied to the time it dried in 20 seconds real time.

Well, that’s it then. I’m off to process the raw data. Will write more later.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Confidential Project

This is Wednesday.

In Cambridge, Wednesday is the last day of the week.

This means, today is the end of the third week of term and tomorrow is the start of the fourth week. We’re almost halfway into the term already, since Cambridge only has eight-week terms.

And in this term in my fourth year in Cambridge, there are fewer lectures, but it does not get less busy.

One reason is because I'm taking French this year, and that requires some extra out-of-classroom hours if I want to be any good at it. It’s been a while since I last learnt a language but so far, everything’s good. In fact, I think I’m enjoying it a lot.

Another reason is that this year we have the Part IIB research project. It’s something that we will spend most of the year working on, either alone or in pairs. My research partner is a Northern Irish guy from Fitzwilliam College (I might have mention him in the blog before) and he’s pretty good at this, which means I have to work hard and can’t slack off otherwise it’ll make me look bad. But I don’t really mind because that’s a good thing.

Oh, guess what my project is?

Nope, it’s not watching paint dry, even though I’m doing something along the line of my last summer project. We are modelling chemical explosion, and it’s a purely numerical/computational project. No experimental components at all, which may be a good thing for obvious reasons.

I just got told by my supervisor that the project is confidential. I can say what it’s generally about but delving into details is a no-no. Of course, people normally don’t blab about every intricate details of things they’re working on anyway, at least until the poster presentation or paper publication stage. Still, being told you’re working on something hush-hushed is really exciting, it’s like you’re in a team of scientists working on a secret project and you can’t let the documents fall into the wrong hands...

... or something like that.

Anyway, there’s one aspect of the project that got me really really excited about, but I won’t say it just yet, in case I jinxed it (and it might not happen anyway). We’ll just see in a few months time.


Friday, October 24, 2008

All Hail Chronos

And it so happened that earlier this week I was being emailed by a cult worshipping Chronos and according to them there’ll be a Chronos worshipping ceremony this Sunday. The ceremony will last for one hour, from 1 a.m. to 1 a.m. and we will wander around Cambridge with candles and stuff in this magical hour that does not exist.

Okay, the email was actually from Cambridge’s science fiction society. I’m severely tempted so I asked some of my friends to go with me. However, even the craziest of them (which happens to be a female English student with a hyperactive imagination) would rather choose the comfort of their beds than devoting their souls to Chronos.

Oh well...


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Let’s Step On the Grass

Right, so as you probably know, the grass in the Trinity College’s Great Court is sacred and is not to be tainted by the footprints of mere mortals i.e. you’re not to step on it. That is unless you happen to be a fellow of the college, or maybe a gardener.

However, there is one occasion that sees the exception to this rule and if you bothered to check the archives (or here if you’re lazy) then you’ll know that this momentous occasion is called the Great Court Run, 2008. And what basically happens is a race against the clock, literally. The new freshers will start running when the clock chimes at twelve o’clock and they’ll try to complete the run around the Great Court before the last chime ends.

I don’t think anybody managed to break the record this year, but still, it was a lot of fun. I was watching the race from a friend’s window, hence the angle in the following pictures. Oh, and somebody ran in a chicken suit. Like, holy crap, a CHICKEN SUIT!! If he doesn’t win the best fancy dress prize I won’t know what to say.

It’s ten minutes to twelve. Almost time.

People are starting to appear.

The serious runners take their position near the Great Gate.

The race is on. For some reason in this picture the runners look like they’re skipping.

And apparently the slowest species include a red-green caterpillar and a bunch of scientists.

Finally, it’s a bit far away but you can see Mr Chicken running. He’s the yellow blur in the centre.


Friday, October 17, 2008

Let’s Kick the Door

In Q7, Blue Boar’s Court on Thursday, there was a conversation going on and a snippet of it goes like this:

So, you’re planning on kicking your room’s door later on?” asked my DoS (Director of Studies).

Oh, I’ve already done that ages ago.

Apparently, what I’ve found out after my first DoS meeting of the year is that the difference in marks between me and the person who got the lowest first class is 6 (out of 600), which means there’s only 1% difference between me and a first class. Also, I’m not the highest among the 2.1’s, so there are people with less than 1% difference from a first.

This can be a happy or sad news, depending on how you view it. I suppose it can be very frustrating knowing you’re this close to having an unblemished academic record. On the other hand, it puts into perspective that getting a 2.1 doesn’t mean I’m inferior compared to some people. The students’ marks are close together, and you have to put a grade boundary somewhere.

So all in all, I’m actually feeling pretty relieved. Consider the door safe from any physical assaults for now.


Monday, October 13, 2008

It Died!

Remember the clock that I talked about in a previous post? The one that costs about one million pounds and had some of its parts built in a secret underwater military facility? Well, I was walking back from the department at around 2:30 p.m. today and as I walked pass it, I saw this:

The pendulum has stopped, there’s no light whirling around in circles, the chronophage is still.

The clock’s dead.

I saw one student put a dandelion there, much like you’d put flowers on a grave.

It’s not likely that a clock like that will be down for maintenance purposes, especially not a mere few weeks after its unveiling. Still, they’re probably working on it right now, so I guess I’ll check back in a few hours and see how it goes.


Thursday, October 09, 2008

I’m a BA student

... apparently.

I just found out about this when they charged me more to eat in the hall. It was too much to be attributed to inflation so I rechecked things and found that I was charged the BA price. It seems that the same thing is happening to all the fourth year students even though a lot of us haven’t graduated yet.

If you don’t know what I'm talking about, here’s how it works in the UK. Well, Cambridge at least. A number of the undergraduate courses (law, English etc,) last for three years and you’ll get a B.A degree at the end. Most of the engineering courses are four years leading to an M.Eng. degree, but you can stop after three years and graduate with a B.A. since you’ve fulfilled the requirements for a B.A degree already. Some people do this if they want to go into something else like banking but most people stay for a fourth year. Of course, you can graduate after the third year to receive a B.A degree AND continue for a fourth year to get an M.Eng.

So anyway, it seems like we’re all treated as BA’s for billing purposes. Even though it’s like I said before, we haven’t graduated and had the B.A title bestowed upon us, so I don’t think I can write my name as ‘Yazid Jay, B.A’. It’s like the Junior Steward said, “We’re all fake BA’s.

There are certain perks of being a BA student in Trinity, like the BA dinner and the BA common room. I’ll see if a fake BA like myself can gain access to these things.


Monday, October 06, 2008

Open House and Fresher’s Squash

It happened that on Sunday there was this open house organised by the Malaysian Student Department (MSD). So the Sunday morning saw me boarding the train to London to get some helping of Malaysian food.

As it turned out, my first hour there was a bit... awkward. I don’t really know anybody and so I just ate on my own. Well, I did talk to a few random people but nothing compared to all the others there who were sitting on the floor in groups, chatting amiably. After some time, I realised there’s no point in getting all uncomfortable about it so I went into ‘not giving a toss’ mode. I did, after all, go there just for the food.

An hour later my friends arrived and we all sit and chatted amiably. And everyone was happy.

I went back to Cambridge sometime late afternoon because the fresher’s squash was happening that night, and Lennart asked me to help out. For those who don’t know, the squash is where all the freshers go to sign up for all the interesting, diverse and fun clubs and activities that Trinity has to offer. Yeah, right. Anyway, I was in charge of the volleyball signup list, Lennart manned the tennis one (although since he is the volleyball captain I redirected all questions to him), and on the same table is also the signup sheet for the Varsity Ski Trip, which I have to admit sounds a lot cooler than ours. Anyway, at 9:30 p.m., the freshers were let out of the hall into the (very) dimly lit Neville Court’s cloisters and we were all shouting and waving and standing on the tables (not me, other people, but I did shout) to attract them. I don’t think I shouted that much since my cheerleading days in MCKK.

It was good fun, though.


Sunday, October 05, 2008

Turn the Heating On

It’s October, and it’s cold. The central heating system has been turned on but only intermittently, which annoys me to no end because my room last night was really chilly. People are back so turn the darn thing on already!

On another note, some of the Malaysians in Cambridge organised an Eid open house in Churchill College yesterday. It was good fun, I got to eat food that reminds me of home (haven’t eaten a bergedel for such a long time) and I got to meet some new people. It made me realise that in Cambridge my social circle doesn’t coincide much with other Malaysians so I probably should get to know people a bit more.

After some eating and picture-taking, I was about to leave Churchill when I bumped into Phil, my friend and fellow coursemate. We spent some time chilling out (was it in the Churchill bar?) talking about our summer and sipping tea and coffee that may or may not be meant for the new freshers. Oh well, I’m sure they don’t mind us having a few cups.

I passed the river Cam on the way back and I saw this:

A string quartet! They were playing Pachelbel’s Canon, and I stopped to listen. The whole thing may or may not be arranged so that the guy in the punt can woo his date. In any case, it was nice.

Oh, and I'll be off to London in a few minutes for the Malaysian Student Department's open house. More eating then. Yay!


Saturday, October 04, 2008

Back In Cambridge


First off, I meant to post this earlier, but I got caught up reading The Cambridge Student and Varsity, which are the two Cambridge student newspapers. They both have articles about how the Cambridge Vice Chancellor commented on government meddling in the university application process. She said something along the lines about universities ‘are not engines for promoting social justice’. And she is quite right, except a lot of people have taken this way out of context and perceived it as if she said ‘It is not our place to help the poor’.

Varsity mentioned an article in the Guardian by this woman called Barbara Ellen and she basically said that Oxbridge should be ashamed for being such elitist institutions with no intentions of being accessible for people with less privileged backgrounds. Then she touted the significant difference in ratios of state and private school students in the UK and in Cambridge. And for this article I would say (like what my former AC chemistry teacher used to say): What a load of rubbish! I got angry just by reading it. What Allison Richards, the Vice Chancellor means to say is that students are accepted because of merit, regardless of social backgrounds. The purpose of Oxbridge is to teach the brightest students, it is one of the best universities in the world and it should not be dumbed down just so that the student population become proportionally representative of the outside world. There's no need for positive discrimination.

What grates me even more is that this idiotic piece of article seems to convey the message that Oxbridge is only for the socially privileged. Far from it. My coursemate was the Access Officer in Trinity and you wouldn’t believe the amounts of events they organised to let state school students know how Cambridge is like and how it is not really that daunting. I’ve also read enough stories about teachers, not knowing anything about Cambridge, discouraged their students from applying. To quote something I read from one of the student papers last academic year, ‘We can’t accept you if you don’t apply.’

So there you go. I don’t know why I get all pumped up, I’m not even British! And I’m usually pretty apathetic with these kinds of things (yes Casper, I still don’t know what the symbols of UK political parties are, maybe they should advertise it more?). I guess I’m in a socio-political awareness mode tonight.


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Right, so I’m now back in Cambridge (and so is everybody else apparently, including the freshers) after two days in Norwich in which I visited Casper, my former roommate in AC. It was a good trip, I got to see the (small-ish) city of Norwich and the University of East Anglia, which is probably the second UK university that I visited after Imperial, not counting open days and interviews of course. Gosh, I really should get out more.

Unfortunately I didn’t take that many pictures, so here’s some of the Cow Tower and the Norwich Castle.

I bought the Cambridge Reporter Class List today. It’s basically a booklet with names of students and what grades they got for the previous examination. It has the names and grades of all the students in all the subjects, except those who fail. I bought this every year because it’s nice to see my name in print with my exam grade. However, as you may know, last year was a big disappointment, so it hurt a bit to buy the booklet today. Oh well, I’ll be fine, plus it’s ridiculous not to buy it since I’ve already bought the booklet for the past two years already.

And, I think I haven’t mentioned it already so... Eid Mubarak!


P.S. Yeah, I know, I just finished learning LaTeX.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Oooh, Another One!

In case you missed the previous one, you can find it here.

Saw this one on my way back from the dept, just in front of the Senate House. I think it’s a different company, albeit offering the same, errr... service.

And yes, apparently I don’t have anything better to do during the fasting month than putting up perverted posts like this.


Sunday, September 28, 2008

Today, Tomorrow, Oh Well...

For some reason, I thought they are looking for the new moon today instead of tomorrow. And so, I spent tonight waiting and refreshing certain web pages for the announcement to appear. By nine, I was furious.

Why the heck is nobody saying anything?

And then I texted a friend in London, and he told me Eid might be on Tuesday or Wednesday, and I felt really stupid afterwards.

Anyway, this will be my sixth Eid in the UK. Goes to show how long I’ve been here.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Summer Holiday, PhD, and Clocks

Right, after twelve weeks of working on a research project, I’m finally having my (long overdue) summer holiday. It feels so good not to have to walk for half an hour every morning to West Cambridge and have sandwiches for lunch instead of a proper hall meal. Not that I’m having lunch anyway since now is the fasting month. Still, it was a good experience and I learnt a lot, though I secretly envied Will, my engineering colleague who got to play around with the finite elements method in his research project whereas I’m only using the simpler finite difference method. But I suppose it’s only fair since he learnt about it beforehand in his course so he got to use the more advanced one while I don’t really know anything in the beginning so I got to handle the less complex method.

For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, the finite elements/difference methods are usually used in computer modeling to solve differential equations. And if you can’t make heads or tails what that last sentence is about, then don’t bother.

So anyway, as much as I love the summer project, I’m just about bursting to have a proper holiday with no obligations to do anything whatsoever. And I reckon I have about two weeks worth of holiday from now until the 7th of October. It’s probably a bit too late to call it summer holiday though, but who cares? And my plans for this holiday is to rest, play games and catch up on my reading, since I seem to have accumulated several fiction and bunches of Economist magazines on my bookshelf that I haven’t read yet. Also, I think I’ll learn LaTeX, since everybody around me seems to know how to use it. I’ve already installed the necessary components on my computer and borrowed a book from the library. While we’re at it, I’ll see if I can learn AutoCad too, and I’ll try to fit Photoshop in there as well. Is that a bit too ambitious, you think?

Yesterday, Lennart asked me if I want to do a PhD. My supervisor also asked me the same thing about ten days ago after he said he’s impressed and satisfied with my work, and I realized the subliminal message behind his question is Would you be interested in doing research in this field, in this institute after you graduate? I told him I will be going back to Malaysia to work. But really, the answer to the question of whether I want to do a PhD or not is of course yes! Those who know me will probably have guessed how I feel, but the thing is… I will graduate with an M.Eng Degree, and there’s this one more step, one more academic level just beyond that. It’s just… there, the end of the conveyor belt. And it’s not like it’s rare or very difficult, since tons of people are doing their PhD every year. So I feel that if I don’t do it, it’ll be something that I regret, like I haven’t completed the journey that I’ve started. I guess I'll ask around and see what opportunities are available for me, so we'll see how it goes.

Aaaaanyway, I was walking around Cambridge this morning when I spied this strange golden apparatus at the corner of Corpus Christi College. There were also other people around, staring and taking pictures. I know I’ve seen this in the news recently, but I can’t remember much except that it involves Stephen Hawking and clocks and stuff. So I checked back and this is what I found. And this.

Here's a photo that I've taken:

And here's a closer look:

Cool, huh? Albeit a bit odd.


Edit: If you want to know more on how it works, there's an excellent youtube video about the clock here.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Moving Rooms

Late last week, I got an email from the accommodation office saying that I should move to my room next year before Monday the 15th, or else. And so, I packed my stuff over the weekend and managed to find two volunteers to help me move them. Well, they might not be totally voluntary, but let’s pretend we don’t notice that. What I failed to do was to check whether the big trolleys are available, so in the end we had to use this small-ish wheelchair type trolley and made several trips back and forth, but oh well.

Anyway, thanks Lennart and Bao for helping me carry my stuff even though you guys are either: a) tired from a volleyball game or b) sleeping. It’s much appreciated.

So here are some pictures of my new room. It’s much bigger than my previous one with a kind of wall dividing the living room and the bedroom. There’s also an en-suite shower and the kitchen is just next door. It’s on the third floor and next to a busy road but if I close the windows then I can hardly hear the people down below so that’s fine. Please excuse the mess, I haven’t had time to unpack everything yet.

My stuff in my old room

The living room

Living room from a different angle

The bedroom

The only thing I don’t like is that the room doesn’t come with its own fridge like mine last year. I know it might be a luxury but I think I was spoiled a bit by living in Trinity. Well, not having a fridge is probably a good thing as pointed out by Lennart, who hinted not so subtly about the environmental impacts of refrigerators. Okay, okay... I’ll just learn to share the fridge in the kitchen then.

On a different note, this week will be my last week for the summer project. So after this I’ll be free. What’s sweeter is that my supervisor is gone to a conference in Germany for the week so I don’t have much to do at all. Just one or two more experiments, collect my salary and that’s it.

Talking about experiments, as you might know I’m watching paint dry. And the typical duration of me watching paint dry is about four to five hours. So the other day I brought a book with me to read and this book is ‘The Subtle Knife’ which is the second in the ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy. Anyway, there was this post-doc who’s also working in the lab at that time (which I’ve mentioned about before here) and he saw me with the book and we started having a conversation about books. It turned out he read ‘The Subtle Knife’ in his second year undergraduate when he was taking a break from revision. I was surprised because I thought the book only came out recently. After all, I’ve only heard about it last year or so. But it turned out the book was published in 1997. Well, what do you know. Seeing me there reading must have brought him back to those times, I guess.

He recommended a book called Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. However, since I’m not particularly interested in science fiction I’m not sure if I’m gonna read it. We’ll see, I suppose, after I finish with His Dark Materials, and the Watch tetralogy, and Jasper Fforde’s latest, and others.


Monday, September 08, 2008

It’s Getting Cold

It was cold and rainy for the past couple of days, so I was staying inside most of the time. But the cold is really not just because of the rain. It’s September already, and I guess the summer months are finally behind me. For my first summer in the UK, let’s say it’s not quite what I expected (or rather, what I should have expected). There was one week when it was really hot but the rest were normal or rainy.

There are still two more weeks before my summer project ends. I’m actually looking forward to it. Not that I don’t like my project, but it’s just that I haven’t had a proper summer holiday yet. For a summer work, twelve weeks is just a bit on the long side.

On a happy note, some of my friends are coming back to Cambridge, so I’m not as lonely anymore. Also, I took a look at my room next year. I can’t see the inside, but they’ve put my name on the door so I can move in when I want. There’s a kitchen right next to it, which is really sweet.

I’ll post some pictures of the inside when I move in. Also, since my friends are here, that means I can get some cheap (free) labour to help me move my stuff. Yay to exploitations of human labour!


Tuesday, September 02, 2008

It’s the Fasting Month Again

Hello! So now’s the 2nd day of Ramadan in Cambridge. So far, everything’s going alright. It would be even better if I don’t have to go to work but that can’t be helped, I guess. Three more weeks to go, and then I’m free (the work, that is, not Ramadan). This year, the fasting time is longer than back home. Iftar is currently around 8 p.m. and subuh is about 4:30 a.m. So I wake up at 3:30 to eat and then go back to sleep again.

I remember when I first came to the UK, subuh was around half past six and iftar was amazingly around 4:30 p.m. Plus, it was cold so fasting during those times was really nice. Furthermore, when I was in AC, I have a bunch of people eating together with me for sahur. Not just the Muslims, but some Christians, Jews and others as well. Ah, those were good times.

So anyway, have a good fasting month for those who are fasting, wherever you are. This year’s Eid will take place before term starts so I wonder who’ll be there in the UK to celebrate with me. Guess we’ll just have to see.


Friday, August 29, 2008

Early Morning Reading

Right, I always heard some people have a habit of reading before bedtime. I usually don’t, but last night I found this really interesting science fiction story and started reading. The plot became really suspenseful and I was reluctant to go to sleep but I went to bed anyway, around eleven since I was tired.

Anyway, what must have happened is that subconsciously I became agitated for not knowing how the story turns out. This explains why I woke up twitchy at 3:30 a.m. And so, here’s me at the early hours in the morning, reading.

For all the benefits touted, I suppose sometimes reading is detrimental to your health.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Geologists’ Olympic Medals

While I’m not particularly interested in the Olympic Games per se, I am somewhat paying attention to Malaysia’s performance in the games. I was hoping we could get a gold, just so that I can write on the Facebook wall of my friend slash ex-roommate who lives in Beijing: Hey, how are you? Are you watching the Olympic Games live? Guess what, my country got its first gold ever. Yay!

However, since we only got a silver, I guess I’ll change the ‘gold’ on my comment. And probably skip the ‘Yay’.

Anyhow, you might not know this but the BP Institute is under the Earth Science Department, which also includes Geology and the like. Hence, we sometimes get e-mails sent to the Earth Science mailing list. This afternoon while I was working, I got an e-mail about a Geologist getting a bronze in the Olympics for the women double sculls. Not too long after that, another e-mail was sent about another geologist guy who got a silver in the Men’s eight.

I had a feeling Malaysians in general were quite excited about getting an Olympic medal. Hence, it is somewhat disheartening to see how easily other people do it. In the space of one afternoon, I found out that my Earth Science Dept of the University of Cambridge had done better in the Olympics than my country, which is funny in a sad way.

Oh, and to end on a funnier note, I found this on the Kensington Victoria blog. I don’t play WoW, so the effect is probably lessened on me, but it’s still funny nonetheless.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Fun Watching Paint Dry

A strip of paint

“It was a fun read,” I said to my supervisor, referring to a paper I just digested about paint drying. As you probably know if you follow the blog, I’m doing a research project about paint drying. The paper is about paint drying in 1D, I’m doing my project in 3D. Both involved watching actual paint dry. Well, maybe not the paper since it’s numerical in nature, but I bet the authors have done the watching just to make sure.

“Ah, so you like these kinds of stuff.” We spent the next fifteen minutes or so discussing aspects of paint drying with me asking questions and him answering them and showing me his previous work about paint and how they dry. I stored the information on my mind, knowing that they’ll prove useful the next time I spend four hours in the lab watching paint dry.

Well, that pretty much sums up yesterday. Yeah, yeah, I know, why the heck do I want to do a research project about the drying of paint? To be honest, I applied to do a research project here not knowing what kind of project I’ll get and I can’t really choose. But that aside, let me share with you something that I read recently:

Scientists are involved in all kinds of research. Sure, there are those popular ones like stem cells, renewable energy and the like. However, for every one of those, there are lots of others that normal people might think of as less ‘colourful’ but each of them still have their own importance and significance to the world.

Not really an exact quotation, but I can’t find where I read it so that’ll do. In any case, I learnt lots of useful techniques which I’ve probably mentioned before like finite difference analysis, linear stability, asymptotic analysis, how to use Mathematica etc. And all these are general in the sense that they will be applicable to a lot of other stuffs that I’ll encounter in the future and I’ll probably use them again.

This summer, a lot of people I know are working in industry and gaining experience. A number of the rest are doing banking and earning lots of money. Some have even started work for real (hey Adam!) and some are doing nothing (hello, my next year’s project partner). As for me, I’m glad I’m doing this, even if I’m describing it as like watching paint dry.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Week Seven

Well, this is the seventh week of my research project and there are six more weeks to go before I have my summer break (which is about two weeks, how sad is that?). I have to make a 15 minutes presentation about my project on the ninth week but I guess I’ll worry about it the week before. So far, everything is well.

A few things happened today. I finally beat my summer student colleague, who up until now always arrived first to the Institute, but only because the dining hall is not open for breakfast today so I decided to go to work straightaway. The spreader which I used to make a thin paint film stopped working because the paint made it stuck (and because I never cleaned it afterwards) but fortunately there’s this post-doc in the lab who’s nice enough to help me clean it with acetone.

Another thing happened today which drives home an important lesson: if you want to do scientific research, then make sure you have a strong relevant maths foundation. My supervisor and I have been working on this linear stability analysis calculation which I can’t seem to get my head around. So today I rechecked the calculation only to find out that they’re wrong! There goes a few days worth of work.

Oh well, I suppose these things happen in research. One of the lecturers I talked to mentioned that she discarded all of her first year PhD data because she found that the lab apparatus was not actually working correctly. So there you go.


P.S. Am I the only one who’s excited about the upcoming Diablo III game? I love the previous one so much I’m still playing it. Who cares if it came out eight years ago?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

My First Paycheck

Hi there! Yup, I haven’t updated in about three weeks or so. Sorry about that, it’s just that nothing much is happening in Cambridge at this time, apart from my work. I can tell you all about modelling polymer films and taking pictures of paint drying or playing around with the graphical colour schemes in Mathematica, but I’m not sure if it will not bore people to death. And no, I don’t find watching paint dry to be extremely fascinating, just the science and the numerical aspects of it.

Oh, anyway, this is the sixth week of my summer research project, which means that I’m halfway through it. Yay! And on this week, they gave us the first instalment of our salary. What makes this more special is that this is my first salary ever. Yup, I never worked before. Still a wide eyed naive student in the face of the real world.

So, what am I gonna do with the money? For some time, I was thinking of buying myself a 17 inch Macbook Pro, but I guess I’ll wait until my current laptop is truly dying before I do that. Hmmm... maybe an iPod Touch, or an iPhone if I can get out of the contract. Or maybe I can be a good boy and save it all in my saver account. Then again, nah!


P.S. Oh, if in this post I sound like somebody who has never held any money in his hands before, then stop worrying. I’ve been managing my own money in this country for five years already, so I’m not gonna spend it all on high-tech gadgets, though that’s quite a tempting prospect =)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Workplace Update


And here’s Yaz updating his blog from his workplace today. No, he’s not slacking off. It’s just that he managed to solve a problematic computational problem, so he’s feeling a bit proud. Hence, he’s rewarding himself with a little break.

And who cares if I’m slacking off? It’s research, remember? One can set one’s own working time, as long as one is producing satisfactory end results, heh heh heh.

So anyway, the experimental bit of my research is not going well, since my supervisor has to fill in some extra paperwork before I can start, and the technician who’s supposed to cut my bits of Perspex is on holiday for two weeks. Therefore, it looks like I have to wait a while. On the other hand, I just learnt how to dabble and produce calculation loops in Mathematica yesterday, and I’m able to produce a (debatably) working Mathematica notebook today, so that’s quite an achievement. The thing wasn’t working very well this morning due to instability issues, but after some pointers from my supervisor and my fellow research student (who’s doing engineering) I managed to get it working perfectly now.

Oh and I found out from the fellow engineering research student that they (engineers) have already learnt about programming, loops and instability criteria, and it makes me wonder how come I don’t know all these stuff? What it is exactly that they teach us in chemical engineering?

Well, happy programming!


Friday, July 11, 2008

My Working Life

Cambridge has been a bit rainy lately, which generally means problem to people doing drying experiments like me. As such, my supervisor had to find a place for my experiments which we initially planned to carry out outside, not that that’s a good idea in the first place, what with the wind and falling leaves and all. So in the end we found a lab which other people don’t use but I need to be inducted first, hence my experiments can only be started earliest next week.

On another note, sometimes I really feel like I should be paying the BPI instead of the other way round. I learnt quite a bit in the research project: new scientific concepts, ways to organise experiments and filling out paperwork, insights into research life. Currently, my project has branched out from being experimental to experimental and computational, which means apart from just lab work, I’m also being taught how to do numerical analysis on a computer. I might also learn some programming if there’s time. This will be really useful since my fourth year project is purely computational, and it will help me and Alastair (my project partner) a lot. In short, there’s so much that I benefited from the research project that I’m really glad I made the decision to apply here.

Oh, and I got a new computer. Ahem, I mean... I was bought a new computer by my supervisor. Isn’t he kind? Heh heh heh.

Since we have to do computational stuff, my supervisor figured I need a computer and instead of using one that’s already there, we thought we’d buy a new one. Isn’t that cool? Unfortunately, I will not get to keep it when I finish the project. Awwww....


Friday, July 04, 2008

Open Day

Last Thursday and Friday were the Cambridge University Open Days. And on these days, we could see lots of young teenagers with their parents going around Cambridge with their red Cambridge University plastic bags and visiting the different colleges and departments. It was a nice change from the Cambridge that’s a little bit empty because all the undergraduates went away. Unfortunately, I had to work on both days, so I couldn’t observe or help out much.

Also, yesterday, someone wrote me this:

“...You know, we were just mentioning your name yesterday and saying that you will produce a 1st class act as usual/expected. So you see, what a let down from you!!”

And this is what I felt like:



Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Summer Work

Yo ho ho!

Okay, from last Monday I’ve officially started my summer research project. This is probably the first time I’m getting paid for working and it sure feels a bit different. Oh, I’m also getting paid to study in university but that doesn’t count. Anyway, I’m working in the BP Institute in Cambridge doing a research project. The project will last for twelve weeks which means I’ll finish in mid September. This also means that this year I will not be going back to Malaysia. Not that I’m terribly upset about that since I always end up getting bored with nothing to do (and getting fed up with horrendously slow dial up internet) anyway whenever I go back home so this makes a nice change. Plus I get to see what summer in the UK is like.

So far it’s been good. There are no set working hours so I can essentially turn up and leave whenever I want. Of course if I spend so little time on the project then my supervisor will get mad at me so let’s not do that. Furthermore, I can work wherever I feel like whether it’s the Institute, the library or my room, even though being in the BPI gives me access to my supervisor and the labs so it’s the most convenient. Today is my third day and so far I’ve been revising theories and deriving math formulas. We haven’t done any experiments yet since the required apparatus haven’t arrived but I like the things I’m doing so far since it’s the work-wherever kind of stuff.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering what I am doing, let’s say it’s like watching paint dry, literally.


Sunday, June 29, 2008

Graduation Time

Unlike some other universities that hold the graduation ceremony very late that students are inconvenienced *coughimperialcough*, Cambridge’s graduation ceremony is held after May Week. Of course, a reason for this is that everybody’s finished already so there’s no point in waiting further. This year, it was held starting from last Thursday. They do it based on college, so the more prominent colleges (Trinity etc.) get to graduate first, followed by the rest. The would-be-graduates will gather in their respective colleges and then make a procession towards the Senate House where the ceremony will take place.

If you can see it in the picture, the gown with white lining is for normal undergraduates. There are also other gowns but I can’t remember what they mean.

And since this is my third year, it means a lot of my friends are graduating. This includes the chemical engineering people as well, since a number of them are off to do other stuff non-engineering related. Nooo, I’m so gonna miss them!


Friday, June 27, 2008

Visit To The UL

So, as I’ve mentioned, I went to the Cambridge University Library for the first time last Monday. Frankly, I'm quite surprised that I was only there after spending almost three years in Cambridge, considering I used to like libraries so much. Well, those that has fiction sections, at least. So anyway, my friend Adam found out that I’ve never been to the UL (University Library) and throughout the year he kept suggesting that we go there. Or was it from last year, I can’t really remember.

I always thought the UL is unattractive. It sort of resembles a prison in my opinion. But architecture aside, it has six floors brimming with books. I don’t know what is contained in the central tower. More books? Somehow we can’t access it during our trip there.

Somebody told me that the UL is a copyright library. This means that it has the copies of all the books published in the UK. My Oxford friend said the same thing when I visited him, so I guess there’s one in Oxford as well.

The library’s so large that I think people can get lost in them. I wonder how it’ll be like to play hide and seek in the UL. Should be fun.


Monday, June 23, 2008


Something that I learnt during Saturday night was being alone while you’re miserable is not a good thing. At around this time, a lot of Cambridge students have gone home already, which means that knocking on people’s doors to find someone to talk to is a bit fruitless.

Anyway, somehow I managed to calm myself down a few hours after seeing the results. And since at this time the Senate House was closed, I went to the department to look at the results again since I didn’t notice what other people got the first time around.

At this point, I think I should tell you something about (one of) my supervision partner. He’s one of the smartest people I know in my year, and I should know since I’ve been his partner for two years already. I think he’s smarter than me, and most definitely smarter than some of those who got a first this year. But it was a surprise to find out that he got a two-one since he never got less than a first before. For some reason, that made me feel a lot more relieved. It’s as if the results this year don’t quite reflect people’s capabilities. Don’t get me wrong, most of the people who got firsts are brilliant, and I can never compete with some of them. It’s just that somehow some very capable people don’t quite shine in this year’s exam.

At least, that’s what I told myself. True or not, in the least it helps me get through the disappointment this year. And today I felt much, much better. I spent the day with a very good friend of mine, Adam (no, not you, Adam, this is somebody else) visiting the Botanical Garden and the University Library. It was good fun. I could almost forget about the exam results. Almost.

Is it wrong to wish for the new academic year to start already so that I can take next year’s exam sooner and try to get better results?


Saturday, June 21, 2008


First, let’s get some things out of the way. I visited Oxford yesterday and it was great. I saw the city which is probably bigger than Cambridge, went to a formal, and punted Cambridge style. Unfortunately, there weren’t many people on the punting route that we took, so I didn’t get on a lot of people’s nerves. It was nice, though, to visit ‘the other place’.

Anyway, while I was on the bus, I got some calls from friends about the exam results. Apparently, the results were out on Friday instead of next week like I first thought. So, not wanting to hear my result from other people, I came back to Cambridge today to check the Senate House.

And the verdict is... it was a failure. I got the worst result ever since I entered Cambridge. I know for some people, getting a second class upper is a blessing, and that a two-one in Cambridge is higher in standard than some other places, but still... it’s hard accepting a two-one when getting a first was totally within my capability. Heck, I got nothing but firsts since my first year. So now I’m in a miserable state with a crappy result and knowing that I can blame the shitty design project all I want but ultimately it’s my own fault and lack of effort that landed me this result just makes it worse.

Guess I better stop before I sound like a whiny, annoying person. I'll give myself a few days for this to sink in.