Tag Archives: travel

I’ll be better next time, I promise!

So, how much time has passed since my last update? Basically half a year, I think!… This is definitely not going according to plan 🙂 .

Anyway, my last update was immediately after I handed in my thesis (end of April). I started my new job as a post-doc researcher the week after. The new job is still at the same place, with the same people — but with additional responsibilities (and without the pressure of a thesis to write…)!

I had a slight break in between, though – my dad came to visit and we did some sightseeing (Dover Castle in extremely foggy conditions, but we powered it through anyway – I’m becoming too English 🙂 ) and at the end of his stay I had my first coastal regatta (@ Worthing) of the season (well, there had been one in Deal in early April but that didn’t count). Funnily enough, we ended up winning our Nov 4+ category that day (unfortunately that was the _only_ win I had during the whole season – we did get quite a few third places, though!).

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Some of the HBARC squad after prize-giving in Worthing regatta! (photo by M. Marques)

So yes, most of my summer weekends were spent on several different beaches around the Kent and East Sussex coast – with all culminating on the South Coast Championships which took place precisely at Herne Bay! It has definitely been fun, if tiresome at times.

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We like the rough water! 🙂 (although in my opinion rough water is fine for sweep rowing, not so much for going out on a single scull! But I guess I just need to get some proper sea legs…) (photo by J Dining)

One other ‘big thing’ that happened over the summer was our house move. We finally moved out of the student digs in Canterbury we were in to a nicer place in Herne Bay. Not only am I now only 10 minutes away from the clubhouse by bike but we now have a proper garage and workshop where I can work on my bikes and other assorted projects! (it also has a nice kitchen, with a 5-burner gas hob and everything! Luxury…)

Oh, and there is also the viva. Yes, that should actually have been the first thing on the list, but I am trying to do it in a chronological fashion (it does make more sense in my head than in the actual text…). So yes, according to my supervisor, when confronted with the size of my thesis (obviously… 😉 ) my external examiner required the whole 3 months to read it. (he did also say that my thesis was probably the heaviest item in his luggage – but I blame the university policies for that, which prevented me from printing on both sides of the paper, making a 250-page book as thick as the Bible!).

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Everything ready for the viva! In the UK the PhD viva is only attended by the two examiners (one internal, and one external) and obviously the candidate. Makes it for a more one-to-one conversation; and even though I had prepared a 30-minute presentation, that ended up being an informal conversation about my work. And no, I did not bribe my examiners with Lidl biscuits, although they were quite welcome 🙂

Anyway, I’m digressing… so, my viva. It took place on the 2nd of August, and everything went according to plan – I had booked a nicer room (our group’s meeting room, which has a proper meeting table, AV facilities and also the kettle & coffee maker: these two are very important!), refreshed my memory by reading the thesis and checking relevant papers (and spotted quite a few mistakes in the process – outch!), so everything was properly prepared. The questioning wasn’t that bad, really – I was just surprised to be asked to compute matrix multiplications and simple signal theory concepts – and in the end I got out with minor corrections (could have been just typographical but since I wanted to change some diagrams, they allowed for that a bit more time). I felt quite honored to be told by my external examiner (who is a very big name in the field, and the editor of one of the biggest journals in the field as well!) that he had actually learned something from my thesis. Amazing stuff, especially considering he started his academic career more or less when I was born!

After properly celebrating with my workmates, my supervisor, and Sally of course, August went on, with a couple more regattas, followed by a lot of water sessions in preparation for the South Coast Champs. By then our crew was coming together – there were sessions when the boat felt really, really good, timing- and balance-wise. It was a long time coming but we felt really happy when it finally happened!

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At the end of a training session with my mate Carlos on the coxless pair. There are few better ways of finishing the day… 🙂 (photo by N Tricks)

Naturally, during all this time my research activities were carried on – we finalised a paper which is now going to be re-submitted soon (issues with reviewers being silly, nothing new there), and I’ve developed new systems, new software, and obtained lots of pretty pictures in the process. Hopefully if I become a bit more committed to updating this thing more images will eventually surface here…

I also bought a new road bike that month. It was a bit of an impulse buy – we had gone to Halfords to buy L-plates for Sally’s car so she could practice and naturally my gaze was diverted to the bike section, where I spotted a big discount on old stock. Ended up getting a low-end Carrera (but with carbon forks and half-decent wheels) for £199 – quite happy with it so far, although I haven’t done any very long rides with it yet (mostly 20 miles-ish each so far). The N+1 rule does not apply here, at least not until we have our own place and not have to worry about moving everything, so I had to get rid of one of my bikes 🙁 . But I wasn’t really riding the hybrid Raleigh that much, especially considering that the bike itself was a bit too small for me! Ended up selling it to one of my co-workers, which was probably the best thing I could have done – it went to a loving home and I still see it from time to time. 😉

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My two roadies enjoying the sun. I took this picture after finishing fitting a new fork on the Granada, since the original one had been damaged during a head-on collision with another cyclist earlier in the summer.

In late August I flew to Porto for a mini-holiday with my family, followed by the customary week-long Physics summer school at my old university, where once again I mentored the LEGO robots project (this was probably the last time I’ll be involved in this, though – I think it is time to move on and let new faces take over and create a whole new project!). Away from my crewmates and the training sessions, and with the Championship looming, I ran and I cycled as much as possible, and I was treated to some nice rides with nice people, as the picture below shows!… 🙂

Me and my mate Cris after a long-ish bike ride along the seafront and riverside. Great time!

Me and my mate Cris after a long-ish bike ride along the seafront and riverside. Brilliant time!

September came and went, with a very welcome mini-break with Sally to Portugal – it was her first time there, and we had a very tightly-packed schedule, so things were a bit hectic. Still, we enjoyed the countryside, Porto, the river, and the nice food (not to mention having my family around). And on Easter next year we will return for more!

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In the Douro valley with Mum, Dad and Sally!

After returning to the UK, winter slowly started to set in. We fought for a bit, still had our Indian summer for a while, not really wanting to swap the summer with the winter clothes or turn the central heating on but we ended up capitulating on early November (although the  icy weather only really started around here last week!). And with November a few more things appeared in the horizon – I became qualified as a session rowing coach (I have completed a British Rowing course – the first one on the coaching ladder – alongside a few people from HBARC and Spitfire), and I had my graduation ceremony where I finally became a doctor of philosophy in Physics (woo, fancy title! 🙂 ).

Naturally, for this momentous occasion I had to have my family over, so my parents came to visit, and after graduation day we took a couple of days off to show them around. Despite the torrential rain in one of the days (there you go, England!) we still enjoyed ourselves.

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Me and my parents at the Cathedral on graduation day. (photo by S Makin)

And now it is finally December, and Christmas decorations are sprouting here and there, there’s Christmas music on the radio, and today I bought my very first Christmas jumper! 🙂 This year I’m actually spending Christmas and New Year in England, for the first time in my life. My brother and sister are actually spending Christmas with us (which is also going to be a first for them), so I’m quite looking forward to the festive season. But there’s so much to finish before that happens… better get on with it, and hope I still have some time to keep this updated. At least let’s hope it won’t be another 6-7 months until the next update… 😉

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!

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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! 🙂

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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…

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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! 😛 🙂

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 🙂 )

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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)

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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. 😛

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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!

On trail mixes…

IMG_20150214_225537This is a remnant of my trip to America last October – I’ve been having this quite regularly but it is still far from empty! This particular mix (spicy tex mex) was one of the most “civilised” ones, with mostly nuts and seeds – but I have seen similarly sized jars with everything including sweets and MM’s in it! For someone who is only used to see seeds, dry fruit and eventually some sugared bits of fruit in it that was a bit of a revelation 🙂

Getting back to it!

So yeah, I’m back to Canterbury after a much-needed holiday. Too be absolutely honest, it wasn’t much of a relaxing holiday (with teaching, half-marathons and stuff), but then again it was enough for me to wind down a bit in terms of my lab work (in essence I had a holiday from the lab!).
And now I’m back to “normality” – after more than two years in Canterbury (and over a year and a bit in my current place) I feel I’m already getting slightly rooted to this place, and being in Porto feels foreign, almost as if I’m just visiting from a tourist point of view!

Even though I have just arrived a couple of weeks ago, soon I’ll be off again – I managed to be able to attend a big international conference which is not in Porto (because I’ve done two of those already…). This time I’m off to Tucson, Arizona for Frontiers in Optics/Laser Science 2014, where I’ll be presenting some of the work published earlier in the year (and depending on the outcome of the post-deadline abstract we submitted earlier this week, perhaps even a bit more! But I’m not holding my hopes too high…).

It feels really exciting, as I’ve never been in the States before (actually I’ve never travelled outside Europe!), and this conference in particular seems to have people from virtually all over the world (I’ve been in touch with a few other participating students in order to arrange cheaper accommodation and they do come from basically everywhere, ranging from the United States themselves to the Far East!). And, unlike the two other international conferences I’ve participated so far (EWOFS back in 2010 and RIAO/OPTILAS last year) this time I’m actually giving a talk! Even though I’m quite accustomed to public speaking this is quite a daunting task, especially since there might be some top “celebrities” in our area of research in the room.

So yeah, it will be fun. And after the conference I’ll head to the Grand Canyon for a couple of days – very looking forward for the drive, even though it will be quite a long one (380 miles just from Tucson to Page, by the Glen Canyon Dam). Better get some appropriate soundtrack for it!
And on the meantime I’ve just been busying myself with more lab work (some exciting things and collaborations seem to be happening, with a lot of potential research avenues to explore! Although I will need to start forging a concise path soon, as I only have 1 year of PhD left…), teaching (can you believe that the undergrads are back already?? Soon there will be tonnes of marking as well… 🙁 ) and lots of rowing and running (the weather has been relatively kind to me, even though it got significantly colder over the previous weekend!). And I have to prepare Sao Silvestre – it is already in December and my goal for this year (which seems a bit too overly-ambitious) is to go under 40 minutes… (at least I need have a better time than my 43 minutes and something from last year!)

OK, I’m off! Catch up soon.