Judging from the past posts, it is starting to look like that indeed! Anyway, better late than never, isn’t what they say?
So, since New Year’s Eve (and day) a month has passed. New Year’s Eve wasn’t that exciting, I have to say – a combination of not having any plans and the family heading off to the countryside meant that I did not join the festivities in Porto. New Year’s Day was actually spent with some quality time with the family, while eating obscene amounts of food at my grandparents’ 🙂
I had planned my flights to stay for another week in Porto, thinking that I would be able to combine some thesis writing with nice bike rides in crisp, cool January days (same time the previous year the weather was absolutely gorgeous! I remember even taking some work to a seaside cafe and trying to do some work under a gorgeous blue sky, with the waves crashing in the distance…). Unfortunately, this wasn’t to happen this week, as it rained copiously throughout the week – Rui and I barely had the opportunity to go for a little ride to test his new (for him) road bike (and we got significantly soaked in the process anyway!). Even the river became off-limits as the Port Authority closed it to any vessels, so no rowing either :-(.
In the end I did manage to get some work done, my thesis is chugging along OK, although it is sometimes difficult to find motivation to work on it while other things are happening around me, both work and leisure-wise.
So I flew back home (funny how I consider this “home” now, isn’t it?…) and went straight back to work. Two days after I was off to Ashford to spend the day at the hospital, thankfully that had nothing to do with me or anyone I personally know! No, we were invited to visit (and shadow) a pair of ophthalmologists who have been working with our research group for a while. Sylvain has covered the visit on his blog, and I make his words mine, it was a very fascinating experience! (I did not faint though, too many episodes of Casualty and ER did the trick! 😛 ) Rather good to see exactly what are their real needs, as most of the time we seem to think we know what’s good for them, technology-wise, but it is not until we are actually inside the operating theatre that one realises the constraints the equipment has to respect and what is effectively useful for the eye surgeons during their procedures and also during their clinic work.
Afterwards, life became a continuum of work, thesis and training (perhaps I should find a synonym of “work” which starts with a “T”!). As mentioned in previous posts, I have been training at HBARC since September, and it has been an amazing ride. Hard to believe that I’m now pulling sub 2:00/500m splits for 5-6k at rate 19! And if a few things do go forward there might be a possibility of some racing happening this Summer. But I’m keeping that sort of under wraps for now 😉
Anyway, it has been really nice and I’ve been meeting some great people. I may be a bit biased but I feel that any rowing-motivated connection or acquaintance has all the potential to go well – due to rowing I have met quite a lot of great people, some of which I consider good friends. I think it may have something to do with this psyche of working really, really hard towards a common goal, and pulling it together all the way till the end. And I had been missing that for these last couple of years, ever since I left Porto. Not only the training together (the psychological effect of erging together is amazing – I would have never dreamed of delivering what I am doing now, with an added increase in endurance and general strength!), but also the social part: we have been having club meals and events at the boathouse which have been great, brilliant sense of community there. 🙂
Right, I’m going to wrap this up here (this is what happens when I start musing about rowing…). A few posts will start popping up over the next couple of months (in addition to these monthly-that-I-wanted-to-post-more-regularly ones), since I have been selected by Epson to review a running watch/HRM, the runsense SF-810. In return for posting a few videos portraying my impressions when using it, they will let me keep it at the end of the programme. I have already started the video reviews, with the mandatory unboxing and a first (muddy) run in Blean Woods last weekend. Stay tuned for the next ones! 🙂
And here we are, with less than 1 hour left of 2015! I should have updated this sooner, but I have been busy enjoying my holidays 🙂
So yes, my last update was on the beginning of November! Since then, well, I’ve been busying myself with my routine of work+rowing+sleep+repeat, with the occasional odd event.
I’ve also changed up some gears with regards to the always-present thesis: the deadline is looming ahead, I’ve already submitted the relevant bureaucracy and everything, so the thing needs to be ready for submission before the end of April! But, until then, I still have a paper to submit, a conference to attend (with a presentation to prepare… 😛 ) and hopefully some last results which may still find their way into one of the experimental chapters 🙂 .
With regards to Photonics West, I had some fantastic news back in November! As I was getting ready to head to the boathouse for a nice early sculling session I checked my e-mail and found that SPIE has awarded me a travel scholarship to attend Photonics West! (and the sculling session that followed was also brilliant, great conditions!) Pretty chuffed with all of this, it is, after all, the “holy grail” of Optics conferences! 😀
Just before I headed back to Portugal I participated on a running race at the University, which followed part of the Canterbury parkrun course, the particularity of which was that the runners were encouraged to dress as Santa. They had prizes for the first male and female finishers but also to the best dressed Santa – and, guess what? I won the “best Santa” category! 🙂 (apparently I was considered a “sporty Santa” with my red running shorts… 😛 )
Right, so I returned to Porto thinking I was heading to my second Summer, and I wasn’t too mistaken – some of the days here have been quite similar, weather-wise, to those I had in Kent throughout August! If it wasn’t for the shorter days one could even be mistaken…
And my time in Porto has been spent between catching-up dinners with my mates, training for the 10k Sao Silvestre (the performance in it wasn’t that stellar, well away from my PB, but this year I decided to take it easy and enjoy myself…) and working a bit on my thesis (almost finished a chapter already! 🙂 ) .
Right, and because this is the last post of the year and I want to use all the clichés available, I will look back a bit on what 2015 brought to me: I met some fantastic people in many different places, heard some very inspiring stories, had fun, worked, sculled, rowed, ran, pedalled, photographed, read, etc, etc! (these items are not listed in any particular order!) I have to thank everyone that made this year special, and I look forward to having more memorable moments in the years to come. (I am already practising the “Acknowledgments” section in my thesis – good thing that does not count towards my thesis page limit, otherwise I’d be in trouble! 🙂 )
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!
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…
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! 😛 🙂
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!
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 🙂
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…).
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…
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!! 😛 )
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 🙂 )
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.
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)
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. 😛
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!)
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.
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!
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… 😛 ).
So yeah, after that amazing week in Arizona I’m back in cold, damp England. Well, I can’t really complain – much to my amazement it was quite warm on my arrival, so warm that I was actually roasting inside my car while stuck on yet another M25 traffic jam while returning from the airport!
But the weather here is like a Heaviside step function – Friday evening was still amazing (17 degrees C at 8 PM!!), and by end of Saturday the cold, the wind, and the rain muscled themselves in. As I’m writing this I have outside a balmy 6 degrees C and 95% RH. Anyway, this is not the Met Office so I should probably stop talking about the weather! 🙂
Going back to my trip, I have yet to organise my 1000+ photos I (with some help from the front seat passenger) took whilst on the trip to the Grand Canyon and the Navajo Reservation in Arizona. It is going to take a while but it is going to be worthy, there are some spectacular and exquisite images in there.
Right now I’ve been busying myself with teaching, preparing student chapter activities, researching and thinking about more potential research. Obviously still trying to cram a few runs and sculls in the meantime, especially with S Silvestre so close by (and I have to say that I’m being rubbish at preparing myself for it – I miss the training sessions I was having with my rowing mates back in Porto, here I feel I don’t push the same!!).
Finally got some time to sort out the website and make it look the way I wanted – I feel it is better this way, first time visitors will not go straight into my blog content, which might be a good idea, especially if people from a more “serious kind” end up in these pages!
OK, I think it is time for bed now – tomorrow is going to be a big day, especially since we’ll be hosting a joint colloquium with a few other research groups from different schools within the university. It has all the potential to be quite interesting and to foster potential collaborations between people with a broad range of interests and skills, which is something we definitely lack and that I did see in abundant quantities in the States (more on that in a later post…).