Already November?

Goodness me, how time does fly! On my last post (the car one aside) I was still on about my holidays in Porto and my new “toys”. Well, October came and went, I managed to do a few things in the meantime.

Well, to start things properly, something that I had already been doing in August was to join Herne Bay Amateur Rowing Club – I did went out on a 4+ and did some land training with them, but made it “official” it as soon as I got back to the UK. I had had enough of training on my own in the university gym, not to mention the fact that during term time is almost impossible to carry out a coherent training session given that the place is so busy with all the annoying undergrads. I really missed doing gym training, erg sessions etc with proper rowers, which is what I had been doing until I moved to the UK. Not to mention the “coastal” side of it, which I hadn’t done until now and it is good fun!

2015-10-11%2009.46.50

The view from the boathouse in Herne Bay on a not-so-nice day. Oh well, land training then… but erging with sea views (yes, we take our ergs outside!) is really quite something! 🙂

IMGP2469

The historic centre of Copenhagen at dusk. We were quite fortunate with the weather, in September it was quite similar to Kent in that respect!

So yeah, now I divide my time between the boathouse in Plucks where I still go out on the single when the weather is nice, and the land training in Herne Bay (although the Autumn has been kind to us, we were still able to take a couple of 4+s out a few weeks ago!). And a bit less frequently I have been also helping out my Spitfire coach teaching some youngsters how to row. Good teaching and coaching experience…

2015-09-25%2016.45.24

Snapping a shot of the hire bike on the bank of a big lake north of Copenhagen (near a place called Lyngby). Single speed, with coaster brakes – quite a bit different from my Granada!

Work-wise, I attended an interesting workshop in Denmark, which was hosted by NKT Photonics (the industrial partner in the Marie Curie programme some of my colleagues in the group are on). We were also given the opportunity to visit the company and the labs, and I have obviously also enjoyed Copenhagen while I was there, I even had the chance of taking one of the bikes from the hotel and go on a nice little tour of the surrounding villages.

And more concretely I have been busy with the angiometry system which has finally started giving some images (I have installed a few tubes and I can control the flow of the fluid passing through them using a peristaltic pump, a fancy toy which we got very recently!), although there is still some work on the polarisation-sensitive OCT to be done. And the thesis… well, it is getting to that point where I know that I need to sit down and write but I can’t quite summon the will to do so. I need to get a bit stricter with my self-discipline…

I have also recently learned that the abstract I had submitted to Photonics West 2016 has been accepted for oral presentation (this was based upon the paper we published back in the summer, available here). Now I need to find the money to go… I’ve been busy sending applications for funding to various schemes and societies. I have to say, it may feel sometimes a bit unfair that some PhD students on better funding conditions (ie, with research grants and European programmes backing them) don’t have to go through this process that seems almost like begging, but at the same time this is exactly the same as applying for grants and funding schemes for future research, which is something any researcher will be spending part of his/her career doing (not that I am still 100% convinced that academic research is the path I want to go after the PhD, but anyway…). So it is definitely an useful exercise to go through, although if the funding doesn’t get granted in the end it is a missed opportunity, and attending a few conferences (and presenting there!) is definitely something any PhD student should definitely have under his/her belt.

Right, it is getting late and it is a “school day” tomorrow! I better go… plus I definitely need a rest, the 10x500m sprints we did on the erg today really did me up! 😛 🙂

Holidaying… sort of!

Well, today is absolutely pouring down outside so I have some time to update this thing, at last! (and I can scrape “Update blog” off my to-do list, too 🙂 )

So, what has been happening since my “blacksmith” post? (which wasn’t…) August was spent working in the lab, with the occasional leisure moment – including some coastal rowing in Herne Bay and a lab BBQ at mine which even included a game of football in the recently cleared-up garden!

Some of the work we’ve been doing finally paid off, too – two research letters have been recently published in Optics Letters, including one covering the two-port, two-gratings spectrometer (using Talbot bands) and another describing a polarisation-sensitive OCT system that is immune to fibre-based disturbances. (in case anybody wants to have a look round but doesn’t have an OSA subscription, the preprint versions are available in Kent’s academic repository, here and here.)

And I’m now trying to piece together all the research I’ve been doing over these last three years and make it thesis-friendly – ie, I need to make all the little projects and set-ups I’ve worked with blend together in a coherent manner. No easy task… but it is true that the hardest part of the work has been done already, which is to research and retrieve the information. Still… this is going to take a while 🙂

The robot that was built by the students. This year they were a bit more ambitious and they placed an ultrasound sensor for the robot to stop once it found an obstacle in its path!

The robot that was built by the students. This year they were a bit more ambitious and they placed an ultrasound sensor for the robot to stop once it found an obstacle in its path!

Late August I returned to Portugal, and over the first week of September I have been again involved with the Physics Summer School (for high school students, 16- to 17-year olds) in my old Department, tutoring them in the Lego robotics project (and teaching them some LabVIEW). This time there were no dramas (apart from my Monday morning tour of Porto & Gaia to try to find a printing place where I could print the course for the robot, only to discover the old course later the same day stashed away in the back of a cupboard! Argh!) and the students seemed to grasp it properly (although the hardest part is to explain to their peers what on earth they have been doing throughout that week…).

My new beautiful road bike after a first trip down to Espinho (thank you Augusto Caetano for the photo!).

My new beautiful road bike after a first trip down to Espinho (thank you Augusto Caetano for the photo!).

This year I’m not doing the Porto half-marathon so I took it lightly in my trainings (plus I spent most of August not running, trying to recover from that injury I got during the Les Golding 10k…). And because I felt I needed a decent bike around here to do some trainings & nice tours, I finally took the plunge and went to Decathlon to get the lovely Triban 520 road bike I had been dreaming about for the past few months. I’ve clocked in a bit over 100 km already, it runs beautifully! (although I had to get used to the shifters being on the brake levers and not mounted on the frame, as is the case with my Raleigh…) It is also very light (around 10-11 kg) – I suspect I’m going to feel the extra weight when I get back to England and to my other road bike…

The Mac wall. There is one G4 missing (on loan) and a IIsi which is currently under my desk in the UK, apart from that they're all there! :)

The Mac wall. There is one G4 missing (on loan) and a IIsi which is currently under my desk in the UK, apart from that they’re all there! 🙂

Anyway, so after the Summer School I’ve been basically spending my time running and cycling, being with friends and family, and working a bit – I have a presentation during a workshop which will be taking place next week in Denmark, plus there are a few deadlines for grant applications that need to be submitted before the end of this month… I’ve also finally got round to get some shelving units to store my vintage Apple computer collection – I have to say that they look good once they’re all together in some nice, purpose-built shelving, don’t you think? Now I have to get round to update the sub-website I have here, as there are some models which have not found their way into the website yet…

I couldn’t finish this post without mentioning that I’ve received some very sad news once I got back to Portugal: Mike Kennedy, one of the coaches I knew from both UKent Rowing Club and Spitfire, passed away after a battle with cancer. I had been with him a few weeks before, talking about rowing and bikes and everything in between, actually I had spent a few nice afternoons having chats with him over this last two years. He even managed to do some remote coaching, correcting my sculling technique after I sent him some videos – those were quite helpful indeed. Thank you Mike, for everything.

And on this slightly more sombre mood I will finish this post. Next Saturday I’m already flying back to the UK and back to some proper work, I could say also back to the slightly more rubbish climate but it doesn’t seem that way when I look outside the window right now! (although I’ve seen the weather forecast for Porto during the coming week and it seems really nice… of course it does, I’m no longer here!! 😛 )

 

A very large update… so large, Windows would be proud of it!

I have to admit, I had to check my last post to remember the last time I posted here. “Update blog” is always there in my to-do list but it has been continuously postponed due to more urgent tasks needing to be addressed.

Finally today I got some time to kill while I’m performing a clean install of F22 on my laptop so I figured I might as well get on with it!

So… my last post seems to be related to a little bike ride I did to East Blean Woods as I was recovering from a silly knee injury. Well, the knee is all better now (I’ve even managed to drop my parkrun PB to 20:04 afterwards, that’s all the proof I need!), and the bike featured on the previous post is currently lying in the shed with no chain and an un-matched wheel.

Effectively the week after I wrote that post I came across a listing on Freecycle of “two boys racing bikes” – I had a quick look and something didn’t add up as the proportions seemed to suggest they were of an adult frame. So I wrote to the poster and asked about the frame size, to what she replied “well they were 17-18 year olds, they are not small bikes!”. I set the wheels in motion then, stormed back home, fitted the bike rack in the car and drove away to get them 🙂 And although they needed some refurbishment I ended up with a pair of nice old road bikes – a 1986 Raleigh Granada and a mid-80s Puch Medallion (we were unable to trace the model to the year yet). The Puch needs a lot more done to it, but the Granada is now my everyday bike, after giving it the “cheapo” treatment – I only had to shell out a bit more (~ £50 more) because I wanted 700c wheels to use my Schwalbe Marathons in them, and the Granada came with the older 27” size. So I basically got a road bike for next to nothing! (it does have some surface rust but nothing too major – plus it acts as a theft deterrent 🙂 )

IMG_20150621_191802640_HDR

The Granada with the Reculver towers as a backdrop. The return journey was a bit costly with some headwind! 🙂

It is a bit big, though (25” from the bottom bracket to the seatpost! Those “boys” were not small, definitely way over 6ft tall !), so we’ve changed the stem to make the bike more compatible with someone of my stature. Although it isn’t too bad – I have some clearance from the top tube when I have to stop, that’s all I need!

Right, and a week after this happened I headed off to Porto with my two housemates, in what was supposed to be a 2-day conference followed by a nano-holiday (3 days, plus the weekend). The conference was all right, although the chairs in the lecture theatre could have been a bit more comfortable (!) , and I had the chance to network with a lot of Physics PhD students in Portugal doing a whole range of experimental research (the symposium was limited to Engineering Physics submissions). Another presentation under my belt, which is always good – you only realise how well you are within a given subject when you have to explain it to other people, especially those who are non-specialists.

Canoeing on the Douro! It has been 3 years since I last took the canoe out on the river - I was missing that!

Canoeing on the Douro! It has been 3 years since I last took the canoe out on the river – I was missing that!

After the conference I took out my scientist hat and put on my tour guide one. It was a short holiday, but one that I can actually call a holiday in the sense of the word – we did things, we went out and visited stuff. Ranging from canoeing down the Douro to a nice cycle ride round the Gaia seafront, topped up with a nice meal at a seaside restaurant, it was really nice. (well, the bikes could have been better! I really need to keep a good bike in Portugal, but for that to happen I need to get rid of the bad ones first… )

We then came back and I went straight back to work (the following day, at least – we got home quite late as we had an evening flight, plus a 2h drive down to Canterbury from Stansted). A lot of things awaited me – a couple of papers we sent for peer-reviewing, including one which has been basically stuck for the best part of an year (through different journals, not-so-competent reviewers and a franken-manuscript which could have definitely been written a bit better…), plus the usual experimental work and the thesis writing (I intend to have a bit more written till September, but first I need to find a way of marrying all the different projects and experiments I’ve been involved with and getting a coherent output – which can be difficult when you work with incoherent light all the time! (ha ha)

IMGP1908

Cycling in the Peak District with James!

Little breaks are always welcome, though. I do my share of recreational (ie, non-competitive) sports, namely my runs, cycles and sculls, but sometimes it is quite good to just disconnect in full for a whole weekend (at least for now, while my thesis submission date is still a bit far away). I had the “excuse” of helping out a mate of mine who had a job interview up in Nottinghamshire and thought a weekend trip to the Peak District wouldn’t hurt, especially now that I had a nice road bike to explore it with! So we had a nice weekend where we did about 60 miles between two days (distance-wise it wasn’t a big deal, there were a few big hills along the way but it was mostly to appreciate and absorb the surroundings!). If it hadn’t been for the breakdown we had on the way back it would have been perfect – we ended up on the side of the A1 in the middle of Cambridgeshire with a broken clutch cable. 😛

IMGP1933

Beautiful scenery and nice, quiet cycle routes. Perfect!

The annoying bit about it was that I knew I could fit a replacement one myself, it was a very simple thing, but I needed to have an auto parts shop open (on a Sunday, good luck!) which had the cable in stock. So in the end we just had the car recovered back to Canterbury (thank goodness for the breakdown cover I kept paying for but never had to use, until that moment at least!) and a few days and £15 later I had the new cable perfectly connected and working. At least it was better than the blow in the exhaust which created another blow in my finances (a few days before the trip to the Peak District I found a big hole in the middle section of the exhaust, £100 for a full replacement… but I can’t say I wasn’t expecting it, in the past two years I’ve been considering replacing it but waiting until I had a fail on my MoT test, which surprisingly didn’t happen!)

Habemus clutch cable! So much grief for a £15 part...

Habemus clutch cable! So much grief for a £15 part…

Anyway, all good now, this weekend has been a bit quiet… I helped out in the parkrun doing the lead bike (I originally wanted to run, but I’ve managed to do something to my shins as a consequence of a 10k race I ran last weekend and after which I didn’t stretch properly…), which is now a doddle with the Granada, which is significantly lighter than my old Oakland 🙂 . After that I went to a bike jumble in Faversham where I got some nice cheap bike parts for the soon-to-be refurbishment operation of both the Puch and the Oakland (still don’t know what I will be doing with the latter, though…), and in the evening I decided to go for a nice bike ride, and along the way I thought about visiting a friend of mine living in Herne Bay, which turned out all right if it hadn’t been for the fact that I didn’t bring my bike lights (as I originally expected to return home in an hour’s time), hence the return journey was a bit scary – I did have my red one in the rear, but nothing in the front! Anyway, I’ve managed to clock almost 30k in a bit more than an hour – not bad, especially considering that I had to use some shared paths which slowed me down a bit.

Parkrunning... but on a bike. :)

Parkrunning… but on a bike. 🙂 These guys are fast! (thanks Gaby Bates for the photo!)

Right, now the laptop finished its clean install – I now have to get all the data and things reinstalled onto it. This is going to be a long day… on a final note, let’s see whether I can keep up with the updates in here in a more frequent fashion!

West Blean and Thornden Woods

West Blean and Thornden Woods

Even though these woods are less than 3-4 miles away from my house (perhaps even less if I take the nasty B2205) I had never been there until today! Given the episode I had a couple of days before I wanted to go out but do something low-impact on the knee. Cycling there was quite nice, it is basically flat the whole course, although quite bumpy (and having the tyres inflated to almost 6 bar does not help). The bike did quite well, all things considered – and it was nice seeing so many people cycling along these bridleways and forest tracks, even on a grey-ish day like today. And happy to report that the knee is doing fine! Soon I should be able to get back to my sculling and to my runs as well. 🙂

I am now hating sheds and heavy commuter bikes.

Let’s say that I was involved a little “incident” with a loose step in my shed whilst carrying my  very heavy (>20-25 kg) commuter bike into the said shed. My knee didn’t like it very much…

stupid knee

But not all was lost. True, I didn’t manage to run the parkrun in the following morning but I still went down there (my driving abilities were unimpaired, much to my surprise) and helped out marshalling the course and taking some photos.

Canterbury parkrun #61 - 2015/05/23

So I “planted” myself at the bottom of the hill, by the bridge over Sarre Penn, wearing a bright hi-viz vest, taking photos and yelling words of encouragement to the passing runners. Apparently it worked (the latter) as I had people later thanking me for the extra motivation boost! 😉

Sadly, I had a bit of another incident (this is getting repetitive!) , this time involving my DSLR lens – as I was taking it off a chair the strap got caught and it fell, lens-first onto carpeted floor from about 10-15 cm. The body is fine (after all, Tamia Nelson uses a similar camera in her backcountry expeditions with no issues whatsoever!) but the poor old Tamron 28-200mm got its internal mechanism dislodged and I couldn’t adjust the focal length properly after that. Still, I did manage to take those photos (yes!, this happened before the actual race!), but not without another silly thing happening in the process – given that I had been photographing in a dark environment the day before (see the previous post) I had set the ISO to quite an high value (1600). Obviously then all the photos I took that morning were grainy and very noisy, I only realised what had happened the moment I transferred the photos to the PC. Idiot.

Well, at least it is getting better quickly – hopefully I should be back on the water/saddle/running track over the next few days. But I have to take it easy… 🙂

Career celebration – an inspiring day

Prof Jackson's career celebration group photo

This past Friday we were quite busy with celebrating the 50 years of scientific career of our own emeritus professor at the AOG, Prof David Jackson. To mark this milestone, a mini-conference was organised, bringing together all of his former students and colleagues. It was really inspiring to attend all these talks from people all over the world having successful scientific careers which have themselves started here at Kent.

It was a very hectic day, indeed, including quite a few talks, networking sessions and even a poster session (where we were invited to present posters showcasing the current research at the AOG, which has moved a bit sideways from Prof’s areas of research – from optical fibre sensors to biomedical imaging. It was also quite interesting to network with all these former students who worked towards a PhD, like me, but in the early to late 1980s. Things that we take for granted nowadays such as fibre couplers and specialist fibre splicing equipment simply didn’t exist; to grab traces from an oscilloscope screen an actual Polaroid camera (!) had to be employed with a special adapter; and obviously the dissemination of articles and the journals available to publish them were considerably different from today.

I volunteered for taking the visitors round the campus in an impromptu tour – when it came to take them by the library I actually realised that I have barely went in there during these past three years at Kent! Nowadays every single scientific article is only a couple of clicks away (provided your institution subscribes the journal in question, that is… 😛 ).

Commuting…

2015-05-18 20.22.47

Yesterday as I was heading home I came across this scene – the sun was quite low in the horizon (~8:30 PM) and the last rays of sunlight of the day were streaming through the branches and hitting the tombstones in this churchyard (which I have covered extensively in the past). I slammed on the brakes of the bike and hurried to take a quick shot with the cameraphone (a shame I didn’t have the DSLR with me at the time, but that is quite an heavy beast to carry around! 😛 ).

I will definitely miss this commute whenever I move out of Canterbury! (even in wintertime when it is dark and eerie, cycling by the churchyard with the tombstones illuminated by the blueish moonlight, it still has some appeal…)

Hello!

2015-05-15%2012.05.56

This is the view I’m currently having outside my lab. Not the kind of thing you’ll want when you have delicate and very motion-susceptible interferometers right on the other side of the wall!

Thankfully this will not last long – they are just sorting out the access road which will be widened slightly and brought closer to our building. Although having cars passing by closer than before will also not be very good for us… oh well!