Monday, March 30, 2009

Favourite Subjects pt.2

Ta daa!

That’s Ubuntu 8.10 for the uninitiated. As you might know, my computer is a four-year-old Dell laptop with Windows on it. Until last year, I had no reason at all to use Linux on my machine. However, this year I’m taking the CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) course as one of the subjects for the broadening materials option (the other subject being French). The CFD software resides on some high-speed Linux servers in the department, which means that if you want to do the work in the comfort of your own room, then you have to use Linux or a Mac to connect to them. Windows computers won’t work.

One way to install Linux (Ubuntu in my case) to a laptop is to partition the hard drive. However, my laptop doesn’t come with a Windows recovery CD when I bought it. Instead, it has a hidden partition in the hard drive that can be used if I want to restore the laptop to factory settings. The problem with this is that I don’t know if the hidden partition will still work if I make a new partition to install Ubuntu, so I’m not taking the risk to find out.

Hence, I’m doing it another way. I installed Ubuntu on a virtual machine and run it from there! For those who don’t know, a virtual machine is like a computer inside a computer. Whatever you do in this virtual computer will not affect your real computer. The downside is that you’ll only be able to use a portion of your total RAM, but for me it doesn’t really affect performance that much.

Anyway, back to CFD. For those unfamiliar, the course is basically about using computers to solve fluid flow problems, because doing it by hand or analytically is virtually impossible except for really, really simple cases. This course is probably my second favourite subject of the year after French, mainly because I get to play around with computers and also produce these kinds of diagrams:

A side effect of CFD is that I’m also getting familiar with the basics and workings of Linux. So now I won’t just be staring blankly when people are talking about the command-line or shell-scripting or the jaunty jackalope. Who knows, maybe it’ll be my main OS later in the future.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Next Step in Life

Hey ya! How’s it going? Here, it’s the second week of the Easter holiday and a lot of my friends have already left, but there are still numerous things that kept me occupied. For example, today and yesterday I went to London for an interview. Nothing much really, just an interview that will determine the next ten years of my life...

Yeah, notice the sarcastic nonchalance. In any case, this is my final year in Cambridge, which means that I’ll be leaving this place soon. Gosh, can’t believe it’s already been four years since I stepped foot at the Drummer Street bus station and was handed a map of Cambridge by the overseas welcoming committee. It was such an enjoyable time, being a university student in Trinity and Cambridge. I mean, how can you not be reluctant to part with a nice room...

... and a grand college...... and a nice view of the river and the backs...

... among other things.

Well, I suppose people will have to move on eventually. I’ve applied for a job as a researcher, and I think the interview went well, since I emphasized the fact that I did a fair bit of computational modelling before and the interviewer mentioned that the company probably needs somebody who’s good at that to ensure smooth plant operation, and he gave an example of how they managed to fix the problem with a urea treatment column using computational modelling. I sure hope that’s a good sign for me.

So yeah, that’s how it goes. I’ll not know the results of the interview until much, much later. So for now, let’s just not worry about it, shall we?


Friday, March 20, 2009

Favourite Subjects pt.1

If somebody were to ask me what my favourite subjects are this year then I most certainly have a definite answer. In the 4th year Chemical Engineering, apart from the compulsory core subjects and six optional modules, we are also required to take two broadening materials (subjects which might not be strictly related to Chemical Engineering). My most favourite subject is one of the broadening materials that I’m taking: Foreign Language, more specifically, French.

Cambridge University has a language centre where you can learn foreign languages in small classes, but you have to pay. However, there is also a Language Unit in the Engineering Department, which is more geared towards the scienc-y bit of the languages instead of aspects like literature. Us 4th years have an option to do a foreign language for free here. It’s examinable of course, and if you want to learn more than one language then you do have to pay for it. I chose foreign language because I don’t like the other choices: entrepreneurship (eurgghh!) and product design. It turns out; this is the best decision I’ve made this year.

The course lasts for two terms, Michaelmas and Lent. Considering how I learnt Arabic in school for six years and am still unable to speak it in the end, I don’t know what to expect from this course (although to be fair, I think it’s more of the teaching method in my previous schools that are ineffective rather than anything else). However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoyed the course. A lot. And frankly speaking, after six months I can converse far better in French than in Arabic.

One thing that really helps, in my opinion, is the abundance of resources on the web. There are translation tools, French dictionary, French Wikipedia etc. The one that I use the most is probably the BBC website. It has a language section and for French, there are several flash slideshows/videos depicting everyday situation, together with grammar notes and vocabulary exercises. I’ve finished the beginner’s bit of the French section and now I’m moving on to the post-beginner one, Ma France. So if you’re learning French (or German, Spanish and others) this is a great complementary material.

We had a written and an oral exam last week. I think I did alright in them, though you can never really tell. Also, that means the end of the formal classes. I’ll miss them, but I’ll continue learning on my own, I guess. And since I’m still at beginner’s level, if I get the chance to go back to Cambridge again I’ll definitely go and register for the intermediate class. Come to think of it I’ll register for the Japanese class as well, since that’s the second foreign language that I want to learn.

That’s all for now. I’ll tell a bit about my second favourite subject in the next post.

Au revoir,


Sunday, March 15, 2009

They Have Something Against Me

Last Friday marked the final day of Lent term in Cambridge, which means now is officially the Easter holiday. A few of my friends have already left for their respective homes while some are staying here for a few weeks to do a bit of revision. For me, I wouldn’t really call it a holiday since I have to write a research project report, a CFD report and finish some supervision work, not to mention I have an interview coming, but for once it’s nice to study without having lectures crammed into your timetable as well.

Anyway, let’s get back to last Friday. In case you don’t know, Trinity College has this thing called the Commemoration Dinner, held annually, in which we propose a toast to the college for all its contributions and the things that it provided us with. Another name for this event is the Scholar’s Dinner since from the whole student population, only Scholars (Junior and Senior) are invited. Well, usually they do have a few extra spaces so they might invite some other students, but that’s a minor point. And Research Scholars are most probably invited as well, though I don’t know any so I’m not sure.

Because I was a Scholar since my 2nd year, this year is my third year attending the commemoration dinner. And the way the event is held is like this: Trinity has this great hall that it used for dining, so most of the attendees are sitting in here. However, there’s also this smaller room nearby, called the Old Kitchen where the rest of the dinner attendees and the choir sit. The disadvantages of being in the Old Kitchen are that you can’t enjoy the dinner under the grandeur of the Great Hall; you only get to listen to the speeches from a speaker since the important people will all be in the Hall; and lastly, you have to move into the Great Hall during the intervals if you want to listen to the choir singing, since they will sing from a balcony there.

The seating in the Commemoration Dinner is supposed to be random, so in some years you might be in the Hall and in other years you won’t. However, the number of people seated in the Old Kitchen is far less than in the Hall, so you’re more likely to end up in the Hall. However, in all the three years that I attended the Commemoration Dinner (and in my Matriculation Dinner as well, so that makes it four dinners in four years) I’ve always been seated in the Old Kitchen. Every. Single. Time.

So yeah, I think they have something against me. Grrrrrr...

Sigh... oh well. At least the food was good. I remember this one time they made some smoked salmon with orange sauce for starter. That was dreamy. And this year for the main course I had mushrooms in some herb sauce. It tasted delicious, albeit being too rich so I didn’t managed to finish all that’s on my plate. Maybe it was because they put too much there, since most other people chose the non-vegetarian option, so they have a lot of the mushrooms left. And I drank three cups of the coffee served at the end, which probably explains my tossings and turnings in bed later that night.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I want a sports centre!

My sentiments exactly!


Sunday, March 08, 2009


In case you don’t know, the Part IIB students (that’s fourth year Chem. Eng.) have to do a research project this year, either alone or in pairs. This is really one of the more interesting aspects of the final year syllabus as it exposes us to research in general, and for most of the projects we also get to meddle with novel technologies or new applications in chemical engineering. However, apart from a report at the end of the year which will constitute a quarter of our marks, we also need to prepare a poster presentation about our project to other people in the department. Not surprising, since most PhD students have to do it as well after their first year of research.

How it works is that every group will have to make a 4-minute PowerPoint presentation summarising their project and trying to entice people to go visit their poster. After all the PowerPoint presentations are finished, each group will stand next to their A0 size poster, the examiners will go around asking questions and everybody’ll try their best to answer them and defend the poster.

In order to prepare for this, last week has been very busy for most of us. However, it was quite fun too. We made our poster using PowerPoint, printed them off A3 papers and laminated them. See the laminating machine below? First time I used one of them. We had nine A3’s to laminate; I did seven while Alastair did two. I told him he doesn’t have dainty enough fingers to do the job quickly, heh heh.

After laminating, we put them all together and hang them on a board using Velcro strips. That’s my hand that you see in the picture.

What strikes me as really amazing is this: throughout the year when we did our own respective design projects, I always heard some people having problems with their projects. They’ll be like, “Nooo, the rig’s not working!” or “The apparatus is broken. Now I have to wait ages for a new one,” or “Damn it, the data doesn’t come out quite right! However, looking and listening to everybody’s presentation, they all sound really... professional, and well-researched. All of them are presenting their projects really well and you can never guess the difficulties that they’ve gone through in the year to get the final results. It’s remarkable, really.


Monday, March 02, 2009

Things Detrimental to Your Health

At the moment, there are a few things happening in Cambridge that are definitely not good for your health. The first one is the norovirus. Apparently around 80 people in Sidney Sussex College had been infected. The symptoms, according to TCS (one of the student newspapers) include diarrhoea and explosive vomiting. I was laughing when I read that description, but the thing as a whole is certainly quite serious. Especially considering the measures they now take: you have to use some alcohol hand wash before going into the hall for meals.

The second detrimental thing is mugging. There has been quite a scare recently with reports of mugging incidents near the Burrell’s Field area. In fact, I received the same email about mugging from three different sources. The college started to provide a minibus service from New Court to Burrell’s Field, which I think is probably a bit too much, considering they’re just like, what, one and a half minutes away from each other? Oh well, it’s not like the college doesn’t have enough money to spend anyway.

Finally, we have the research project poster. It’s definitely not good for your health, and the reason why I’ve been so busy lately. I and Alastair (that’s my research partner) were in the department until 5 a.m. last Wednesday night to finish the poster. We also had to produce a PowerPoint presentation as well. However, the end result looks good, don’t you think?