Category: Uncategorized

Holidaying… sort of!

Manuel Marques September 15, 2015 No Comments Uncategorized , , , ,

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!

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!).

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! 🙂

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!

Manuel Marques July 19, 2015 No Comments Uncategorized , , , , , ,

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 🙂 )

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!

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)

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. 😛

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…

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. 🙂 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!

Whitstable 10k (again…)

Manuel Marques May 12, 2015 No Comments Uncategorized , ,

You might have wondered why during the run described in a previous post I had a camera strapped to my forehead, cyborgue-like. The intention was to film the whole race to keep it as a nice memento for all of us to remember – unfortunately the small 4 GB card ran out of memory 200m away from the finish line! (I guess I was thinking we would finish in under 50 minutes… optimistic! 🙂 )

Anyway, the lighting conditions were perfect and this time I managed to hold the camera quite well (read: not pointed at the sky during the whole race). Enjoy!
(hopefully you’ll not mind too much my constant remarks throughout the race… let’s say that a 5:00-5:30/km pace is clearly not enough to leave me breathless – to be honest I quite enjoyed not being completely dead by the end of the race!! 😉 )

Election day!

Manuel Marques May 11, 2015 No Comments Uncategorized , , , ,

No photo of the day, hence I had to make do with something from Flickr… 🙂

Last week it was Election Day! All over the UK people voted for the General and Local Elections, with the polling stations opening at 7 AM and closing late at night (10 PM). Definitely a few differences from back home, where the elections are always on a Sunday and there are a few weird historic laws regarding them (such as prohibiting people from hunting…). And, perhaps more interestingly, the local elections are open for participation not just to UK citizens but to anybody who is legally in the country, such as EU citizens.

The mechanics of the local elections are also quite strange, I have to say… you don’t vote for a specific candidate who might head the council for a few years; instead, you elect a few people of your sub-region (in my case it included a few of the villages nearby) who will between themselves (and the other elected councillors from other areas) decide who is heading the council. Due to that, things like the image below are simply not there, and I have to say that my local councillors did not actually campaign that much – I did get quite a few leaflets regarding the general election, though! (I’ll leave the general election for a future post…)

This is the kind of local elections you’d expect to find in Portugal. Gigantic billboards everywhere, and people campaigning for both councils and parishes. Here you wouldn’t know that a pre-election campaign was underway unless you consulted the relevant websites!

Perhaps not surprisingly, Canterbury maintained the Tory-dominated council from previous years. Actually, practically the whole of Kent is Tory-dominated, council- (and MP-) wise; apart from Thanet which now has a UKIP local council and Maidstone (Labour) , everything else got the Tories. And as for me, I can’t say I could make an informed choice regarding the local elections given that I had scarcely any information regarding the candidates or their manifestos. Very strange indeed!

Spring is getting here!…

Manuel Marques March 29, 2015 No Comments Uncategorized ,

Indeed it is, even though in a windy and overcast day like today it seems hard to visualise that. And with Spring we have the unavoidable Spring cleans, it is also a good time to perform a situation check on how things are going and try to improve them if necessary.

Last time I’ve written a “proper” (ie, long) post was basically at the end of my Christmas holidays (that was back in January…). Since then the days have been getting progressively longer and milder (I cannot use the word “warm”, that one is reserved to Portuguese weather!) and the term is basically finishing! I’ve finished my lab classes, even though I still have a sizeable pile of lab reports to mark 🙁 .

My lab work has been progressing well, I now have good results to communicate, with a couple of publications being prepared at the moment. Thesis-wise things have been stationary as I’ve been finding it difficult to juggle lab work+classes+marking+a bit of personal time, adding anything else to that mix would blow things up, I guess.

And with regards to that “bit of personal time”, I’ve been trying to make the most of the outdoor conditions, because even if it is not “warm” (but mild) one can still enjoy oneself and do some nice things. I’ve been doing a lot of sculling lately (as it was probably evident from some pictures I’ve posted here not too long ago…), having finally sorted out the lightweight sculling single which was being refurbished before I left for my Christmas break (and what a great boat it is!…).

I also managed to convince some of my lab colleagues to join me in a 10k race which will be taking place in Whitstable over the May bank holiday. Given that two of them were not regularly doing sports we had to take it really easy in the beginning, but we’ve already managed to do 10k in ~1h with no stops, hence it is starting to look good!


In February we also had a nice day trip to Belgium. While the weather wasn’t as spectacular as the same time in the previous year when we went down to Boulogne-sur-Mer it was still decent enough to allow us to visit Brugges and buy a lot of fantastic Belgium beer!

And now I’m looking forward to a couple of days at home. The weather forecast looks very promising – but to be honest anything usual for Porto at this time of the year would be better than what I’m currently looking at outside my window – the sky is absolutely white, the trees are moving like crazy and one just does not want to leave the house at all (I don’t intend to do it… and I have plenty of things to keep me busy here anyway!)

OK, break’s over. Let’s get back to work!…

The volcano!

Manuel Marques March 29, 2015 No Comments Uncategorized , ,

The volcano

I got a new baking mould the other day – quite handy as it is perfectly circular (hence easier to clean than my other one which has a column in the middle). The cake grew in an interesting shape, though!
The volcano #2

Today I was sculling with drag setting 10 on my boat!

Manuel Marques March 23, 2015 No Comments Uncategorized ,

Today I was sculling with drag setting 10!

Battling the current whilst heading upstream back to the boathouse I came across a few streams of vegetation which got caught in the fin of my boat. It looks insignificant but it does create a big wash behind it – and big wash = large drag. 🙂

In the summer it is going to be worse as the river level will drop quite significantly…

(and yes, the boat needs new tape round the edges. Considering it was green (literally) after almost 2 years outside it is not faring too badly anyway!)


On trail mixes…

Manuel Marques February 16, 2015 No Comments Uncategorized , , , ,

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 🙂

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