elb's hovel of thoughts

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Calm during the storm

A brief break from the frentic activity and before all hell breaks lose... however I'm still bringing some notes (more to satisfy my conscience than anything else). By the way, I don't have a copy of Lonely Planet France, so errr I grabbed the next best thing ;)

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Till a few days (or if I get to a cybercafe / my friend's place) time!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Okinawa Restaurant

Okinawa is situated along Lisle Street (that's part of Chinatown for you) and is one of the top rated Japanese restaurants around Soho.

It is a nice clean place with a couple of traditional Japanese tables towards the rear, and the menu seemed decent enough!

For me, eel (unagi) is almost always a must whenever I'm at a Japanese restaurant. Therefore I ordered an Una-don. It was different from what I usually get in Malaysia; back there I get my eel on an egg bed, whereas here I got them on top of cucumber.

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Yum. Long time no eat.

The eel was alright; the dish could have done with more of the delicious kabayaki sauce and I would have been very happy.

CL had noodles with tempura.

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I don't quite fancy it though...

Starving the way we were, we ordered a couple of other dishes as well:

Some prawn tempura
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Even more tempura... The batter was light and crunchy, my only complaint was that we could have been given more radish to go with the wonderfully light tempura sauce.

And of course, some delicious soft-shell crab sushi roll which was alright except that it was no longer crispy.
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Decent stuff. Uhh... we over ordered.

'Express' delivery messes with my laboratory schedule

'No, there's not enough Taq polymerase to run the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) process for our samples', I said, holding the vial up and showing it to QL.

I was worried. We had planned to complete the DNA extraction and PCR processes and start running the DNA separation in one day. As it was, we were almost four hours behind schedule before we started the first step because of certain unexpected problems. I swear that it was as if God was telling me to put down my stuff, take off my lab coat and concentrate on my studies instead.

At any rate, the entire experimental procedure (on my side) would take three days, and I was supposed to have just enough time to complete the protocols and sent off my bacterial DNA for sequencing (total experimental time: 6 days) before I left for my (well deserved, I might add) holiday. However some of the stuff that we ordered a couple of weeks ago had still not yet arrived.

'RS, should I check with the company regarding the order? It has been almost two weeks..'
'I think we'd better. Go ahead and call'

A few minutes later:
'ABC, how can we help?'
'Yes, I'd like to check on an existing order, the customer order number is 123456'
Pause. 'Our records show that it was dispatched last Thursday and that it was delivered at XYZ the following day.'
'Are you sure?'

So I ran over to stores.

'Uhh... no we haven't received anything. Maybe they sent it to another department?' *Calls them up* 'Nope they haven't gotten it... we'll check with them and we'll call you when we receive news'

Later in the afternoon I returned to collect a delivery.

'Yes we've also gotten your missing product.'

I opened the styrofoam top of the packaging and looked inside at the vast emptiness inside except for a small bag containing the vials Taq polymerase and associated reagants.

'What happened? Where's the dry ice?'

Apparently they delivered during lunch on Friday but stores were closed. So the box was whisked away and redelivered late Monday morning. Without them using the common sense to top up the bloody box with dry ice. Fuck. And they are one of the world's premier delivery companies around?

'I'm afraid I can't use this.'
'Well, we don't know anything about it, we were waiting for you to advise us as to whether the product is still in acceptable condition for use..'
'Alright, I'll deal with it'

But of course I asked my supervisor to help me out because I was behind schedule, and he informed me that a replacement was due to arrive Wednesday. More paperwork for me to deal with, gah.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Bumping into an old mate

Finally, the weather has started to show signs of spring. The sun has been up the past couple of days, I have been able to wander around short distances clad in only a t-shirt and jeans (albeit hurriedly and without stopping to allow the cold to starp sapping away) . The temperature is to finally hit double digits in the next few days as well, and the clocks move forward early Sunday morning.

So anyway, I was having lunch with some friends. As we looked around for a table, I saw a vaguely familiar face. The face looked like someone that I haven't seen since finishing secondary school, a good several years ago. I hesitated, wondering if I should go over and risk making a fool out of myself.

As we were eating, I mentioned it to my friends.

'Go on and say hi!'
'Uhhh... no?'
'How certain are you?'
'Good enough! What are you waiting for? Go ahead!'

I stayed put. Every now and then I would glance over, wondering what if. Eventually he and his friends got up to put their trays away, and they started walking towards my direction, whilst I continued to look at him, still wondering if I should get up and say hello.

Fortunately I did not, because as he was looking around, he realised that someone else was looking at him and we locked eye contact briefly. His head recoiled briefly with surprise as recognition between two former schoolmates were exchanged.

'Hey Patrick! What are you doing here?'
'Hey xxxxx! Long time no see!'

We talked a bit, caught up a little on our past and our current lives, and the obligatory exchange mobile phone number ritual was carried out:

'If there's anything up, I'll give you a call or something'
'Sure, same over here'

It will probably never happen and I would probably never bump into him again for a very long time again; its just one of those things in life...

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Nose Bleed

So there I was, listening to the lecturer drone on about stock options in the front of the lecture hall, when I felt a trickle of moisture below my right nostril. I ignored it at first, dismissing it as a bit of phelgm from an possible upcoming cold. But I felt it grow, so I reached up with my hand to wipe it off.

Next thing I know, I was looking at the smeared crimson red staining my hand, with a mixture of surprise and alarm running through my head; its been ages since blood leaked from my nose for no reason. The blood quickly dried up, caking my hand with rustic colouring. Unfortunately, it was still flowing and my other hand got stained in a similar fashion; so I leant my head back (as my lecturer was talking even more about options) and asked my friend whether he might have any tissue, which he didn't.

After a few minutes it all clotted up, and I scratched the area outside my nostril to remove pieces of dried blood (you really don't want others to see that you've so obviously had a nose bleed), and used some water from my bottle to wash my hands and to further remove any leftover stains.

Friday, March 17, 2006

How many languages can you speak?

How many languages can you speak? I can speak more than 10: English, Malay, Chinese (Mandarin), German, French, Latin, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Italian, Hindi, Greek, Mexican, Russian, and goodness knows what else. Unbelievable isn't it? But it is true! The question that you should ask me is: how many languages can you speak fluently? There's the catch! Fluency was defined by the great Gaius Julius Caeser as the ability to think in that language.

So, how many languages can I speak fluently? My answer now deteriorates to a measly 2.1(yes, that is 2 decimal point 1): English is my native language; Malay is my second language (although rapidly deteriorating due to under-utilization), and I can speak (and importantly, read and write) beginner's Mandarin.

Ironically, it took me being at the capital of the English civilization to realise that it would be crucial for me to learn Mandarin, both socially and career-wise. So I enrolled for a language course, and with the help of my China Chinese friends, especially QL, and some of my Malaysian friends (mentions go to YJ and EPO), I can speak some basic Mandarin now. In fact when my Mandarin is better I would probably blog a couple of entries in Mandarin, so watch out!

How did Malay become my first language when in school, Malay was taught 90% of the time (except for English language classes, duh)? Basically I attribute this to three factors: my immediate family spoke English (although they did try to get me to learn Mandarin..); they themselves educated in the UK sometime ago, 2) That I read a lot of English books and watched TV in English 3) Most of my friends (kindergarden, and primary and secondary school) were also brought up with English as their primary language.

Besides actually studying the language themselves, I have learnt the other languages via:

1) English itself, bizarre as it sounds. But there are many words from different languages which are ingrained and fused into English. French words such as rendezvous and facade (sorry but my keyboard does not support accents, and I can't be bothered to open MS Word). German words such as halt. And so on.

2) Friends, as elaborated above. I try not to overdo asking them though. Also very dangerous because they can and will attempt to teach you the wrong words to get you into trouble...

3) Eating out and cooking. Eating at Japanese restaurants have me very familiar with terms such as sushi, sashimi, unagi, ebi, uni etcetera. Spanish food has made me become familiar with tapas and paella. French food has gotten me cosy with rilette, foie gras, poisson, baguette, moules, pommes frites etc. Italian of course introduced to me terms like spaghetti, linguini, lasagne, panini.

4) Travelling. Being able to order your food, such as 'ein bratwurst' or 'un saumon baguette' is very useful! Once a few years ago I was at a rest stop somewhere in France heading towards Switzerland; the only stuff that we could order was 'spaghetti bolognese' because we didn't know anything else on the menu! However I must say that it was one of the best pasta dishes that I ever had.

And seriously, there is no greater need than to find out the meaning of the word 'exit' in the native language of the country you visit. This I found out the hard way when I got lost and was alone in the Louvre, Paris when I was much younger. Phrases such as 'parlez vous Anglais? (can you speak English?)' come in very handy; although don't be surprised if you get shakes of the head...

5) Academia. Science incorporates many Greek and Latin words into their jargon and heuristics. Medicine is full of many words which are derived from Greek. Law is famous for attempting to scare the layman off by using fancy Latin words. Once, I even looked up the elements in the periodic table to see where their names came from. Yup, plenty to learn from academia.

6) Media. This includes foreign films & dramas; I throw in computer games here as well for convinience sake. I have nothing much to say here because I have hardly watched films for the past few years.
Anyway, it is time for me to start working on my very rusty langue Francais. Only a few more days before I land in Normandy!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Canon Trilogy

The other day, I met up with some friends who happened to have their Canon dSLR cameras with them (all different models), so we had a little impromptu photoshoot with another friend's Nikon d70:

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Featuring from top:
Canon 5D with 24-105 f4L and 580EX
Canon 20D with 28-105 f3.5-4.5 and 430EX
Canon 350D with 70-300 f4 DO (yes the DO!) and Nikon SB800 (because the owner forgot to bring his EX speedlight so the d70's flash was borrowed to improve composition (i.e. all 3 cameras with flash))
Unfortunately, we all didn't bring our other lenses, otherwise there'd be around 8 more of them in the shoot!

Also, I spotted the 600mm f4L lense at Calumet Camera nearby Euston:

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Damn its so bloody HUGE. And expensive!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Gym tour

Let me give you a brief tour of my current gym, located somewhere in London.

After the reception area, we have the lounge and bar area to one corner:
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Along the way to the locker rooms, you have the swimming pool, which looks fantastically lit at night. Unfortunately I still haven't quite figured out how to access the pool (basically because I don't swim)...

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A shot through the windows, with the jacuzzi somewhere at the back left.

The men's locker room:

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Sorry ladies, there were no naked fit men around at that time...

Some of the cardio machines:
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Stepper machines for those who like to climb:
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More of the cardio machines:
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The free weight section of the gym:
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Weight resistance machines are also available naturally:
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Overall it is very well equipped; you can pay £40 for a session with a personal trainer, a physiotherapist is also available for massages/ acupuncture/ whatnot. Studio classes are also available. But I dislike the way they get people to sign up: you need to make an appointment, they will show you around etc and lay their marketing cards on the table: normal joining fee is £100 but if you join right now you get it for free; £50 off peak (enter before 4pm weekdays/after 2pm weekends); £70 (ripoff!!!) full price. As comparison, my old gymoutside of London cost me £16.50 off peak, gym-only and £27 full access, anytime. I also hate the lack of various price packages; I don't do swimming so I don't want to pay for the bloody pool!

And you need to give 3 months notice to quit, which is quite absolutely crap. However as it was the nearest gym to home (the one at uni was not open then. It has now, but unfortunately there are problems with long induction queues, people breaking into lockers etc) and I needed to get some exercise after gaining weight during my summer holiday back at Malaysia, so I joined at the end of last year. I know its expensive, but knowing you paid £50 for your gym is a powerful driving force to make you go to the gym (unfortunately I'm usually so busy during weekdays that I leave uni in the evenings :( ).

Saturday, March 11, 2006

(Illegal) Korean Food

I met up with LM and a couple of her friends a few days ago, and I was starving. So they brought me to a Korean 'restaurant' to have a meal. Where is it, you might ask? The most I'll disclose is that it is somewhere near the vicinity of UCL, and is officially a grocery store...

So anyway, they have only two items on the 'menu': a dish that I can't remember, and a spicy pork rice dish. You pay at the grocery till £4 for the dish and get issued a receipt, while the cashier whispers your order via walkie talkie to the kitchen downstairs. Then you head to the rear of the grocery store and climb down some stairs, to a place with shelves of korean VCR tapes and some VCR (or was it VCD/DVD?) copying machines.

Scattered around are a few tables and chairs, with bottles of hot sauce and free flow of water available. Within a minute you are served the dish:

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Delicious; I especially loved the rice.

It comes with a side of kimchi as well; it was decent I suppose, but I'm no fan of kimchi to begin with, so.
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You are also given some miso soup in a styrofoam cup; just be careful not to get it confused with the cups of water, which I did when I went there with EPO...

Delicious food, very reasonably priced for what you get, and in a... different and exciting setting (I mean, theoretically a raid could happen at any moment, its an unlicensed restaurant and maybe even a Korean pirated movie hub!); what more could you ask for? Just don't expect to stay long when they're busy as they want room for other people to sit!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Lobster Noodles/ Chinatown

After my evening class, I decided to pop down to Chinatown for my dinner (well, technically lunch because I didn't have time for lunch...). I decided to pick Crispy Duck for my dinner; I was thinking of having some lobster noodles, mainly because the bloody poster outside showed a huge portion...

So there I was, the maitre 'd (or the best equivalent I can think of in a Chinese restaurant) wanted to seat me diagonally opposite a guy about to tuck into his meal. Urgh, who likes that? And it was around 9pm, past dinner hour! I gestured to the empty table right next to me, he said no. Famished, I just sat down without wanting to make a fuss.

'I'd like the lobster noodles please', I informed the waitress. She disappeared for a minute, and came back and asked me to move to the next table (the one I wanted initially). Whether that had anything to do with the noodles I have no idea...

I called EC and proceeded to bitch a bit about the place, in Malay of course. 'I think its owned by a Malaysian...'. Uh oh. So much for attempting discretion. Anyway soon enough the food came, I bade EC farewell and a speedy recovery. I wondered about how I was going to take a picture with no camera, when I remembered my phone had an inbuilt camera! So here we go, lousy quality:

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The lobster noodles. £15. Naturally it invoked curious looks from nearby tables.

My first reaction: Where are the bloody noodles? The dish was 80% lobster and 20% noodles, a far cry from the poster on the outside. Sigh. To give you an idea of how much noodles there was, it was half of the typical £4.50 noodle dish. I downed it all at a leisurely pace and my fingers got a bit sore from trying to pick the lobster apart with my chopsticks... it was probably worth only around £10 if you ask me.

So off I went to Kowloon to try to get some roast pork buns and egg tarts (after paying for the lobster noodles using my poshest credit card to subtly pick a bone at the aforementioned maitre 'd); unfortunately they were sold out of both. And of course as usual I would speak a mishmash of Mandarin and Cantonese...

'You char siew pao mou? (Do you have roast pork buns?)' 'Mou juo (sold out)' 'Oh.. xiexie (thank you; I was supposed to have gone ng goi sei (or however the hell the pinyin is)).'

Then it was off to buy some Korean noodles; Samyang (formerly Nongshim, I believe) makes some fantastic instant noodles. For this I went to Oriental Delight. There was a man inside who wanted to try out some Chinese pastry; the staff was having a tough time trying to explain what lotus paste was, so I tried to be helpful:

'That's made from the paste of the seeds of some water-plant'
'Is it sweet?'
'It depends... I have no idea how sweet is the one they sell here'
*Takes it after some deliberation, and quickly gets into another misunderstanding when the staff picks another item*
'It's buy one free one'
'I don't want another one'
'But its free... you get two for the price of one'
'Ah.. alright'

All this while me and the staff were exchanging sheepish glances at each other. As the man walks to the counter.. '他不明白' (ta bu ming bai; he doesn't understand), I hear the lady exclaim to another member of staff.

As for me, I made some Korean noodles and snacked on peanuts when I got home to fill my stomach.....

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Post gym food

I got back from the gym hungry, and looking through what I had, I whipped together something (relatively) healthy and delicious:

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Salad on the top, with a little bit of light Caesar salad dressing (I really should grab a bottle of authentic Modena balsamic vinegar from Luigi's), with some creamy scallop thing on the bottom right (it wasn't quite worth what I paid for it though...), and lemon sole pan-fried with butter, and topped with fresh lemon juice.

Perfect, light and easy to whip up

UK Chartered Engineer Requirements

Basically, to become a chartered engineer in the UK, you need to have: 4 years of the relevant engineering course that is accredited by the professional body (I shall use IChemE and chemical engineering as my example, the professional chemical engineering body in this case), and four years of work experience (and needing to pass the qualification exams of course).

The four years is usually done via the 4 year MEng route; where you qualify with an undergraduate Masters in Engineering. Make sure that the course is accredited with the IChemE. The other option is to take a three year accredited BEng, followed by a TAUGHT MSc (a research MSc is NOT valid to my recollection) in the field of chemical engineering.

Your four years of study in this case would be only ¾ of the official requirement; however you can argue that you have done the majority of the stipulated requirement accredited (with the MSc year related to chemical engineering), and that you have done the design project (a VERY important component where you MUST be able to display teamwork and individual qualities without which you CANNOT become chartered) whilst doing your BEng.

What is the difference between the BEng / MSc and MEng route, you might ask? The content. The MEng route is built around 4 years and is relatively rigid to meet the requirements of becoming a professional engineer. Same with the BEng, but for only 3 years in this case. Many universities have phased out the BEng, and in general the BEng is more popular amongst international students than the locals (because you pay so much for the one year difference, basically).

The MSc is targeted mainly at working people who are looking to expand their knowledge, or people from different fields (I know biochemists and chemists who are pursuing their MSc in chemical engineering) looking for a fresh change. People looking to get into better universities from a lower ranked university (i.e. Nottingham to Imperial) also apply here.

In general, they do not have the sufficient engineering knowledge imparted into them, and they will not be able to cope with (accredited) Masters level chemical engineering modules such as Advanced Reactor Design, Bioreactor Engineering II etc (these units vary from university to university) especially if they come from different fields.

Therefore they would also not be able to carry out the important design project, and module choices are very flexible (you can pick between many elective units such as those which are offered in the accredited 3rd/4th year of MEng, or more specialised areas of chemical engineering such as structured product engineering etc., or even modules from different departments, such as Chaos Theory & Dynamic Systems from the Physics Department). It is for these reasons that MSc degrees are NOT accredited.

The only IChemE accredited MSc in chemical engineering in the UK is offered at UMIST if I am not mistaken, and that is in the area of chemical engineering design (yes, you get to do a design project).

For the work experience part, you need to be working in the field of chemical engineering, and placed under the mentoring of an (already) chartered engineer. Therefore if you work as an engineer in a small company with non-chartered engieneers (or God forbid, the only engineer amongst technicians), your work experience does not count. They will continually assess you and before you get the title of chartered engineer (CEng), you will need to sit for an assessment exam (whether or not you need to sit for the occasional exam every year/ half a year, or once while you try to obtain a CEng, I have no idea). If you choose to do an industrial placement year during your course, this year counts towards the working experience requirement.

The BEM recognizes whatever the ECUK recognizes, which I find to be highly annoying. Can someone tell me the BEM requirements for Malaysian university graduates? Is it the 4 year Bachelor course for academic requirements? Because I have a great deal of bones to pick, namely that a year or two is wasted on teaching GENERAL engineering courses of no relevance (that’s my understanding anyway), and that (I believe anyway) a 3 year UK BEng is worth more weight than a 4 year Bachelor’s in Malaysia.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Consumer rights/ Osgood memorial

I got home today to find a huge heavy box sitting in the middle of the room. Goddamn it was the first thing that entered my mind. I asked the bloody trader to inform me about my options once my defect product was received and examined, damn it! I was very very annoyed - he had sent it back (repaired or goodness knows what else) without informing me. I was wondering about what to do next, when fortunately KH came out of the blue to save me

KH: Distance selling laws man.. 7 days return policy, they have to accept a refund by law.
Me: Well, in my case it was a defect, do you know what they have to say about defect goods?
KH: I believe that if its within 30 days, they have to do something about it.
Me: Heh, they even have to return my postage fee!
KH: Its law. So if they don't do anything about it you can complain to the relevant people and scare the shit out of them. Just say that, 'according to distance selling regulations, aren't i entitled to this?' Take down their name and direct number, and they won't dare to mess with you when they know you know the law. You win :)

Aye aye. How often do we forget our consumer rights? Or rather, how often do we actually realise that we HAVE consumer rights?

So there we go. I am going to call and try to talk politely and get them to take back the defect product, and make them pay for the postage TWICE. (that's once for the return of the defect product, and the second because they decided to go ahead with their own bloody stupid decision, and I intend to change that)

Anyhoo, I was walking past Stamford Bridge and couldn't help but notice the little shrine/ memorial that was set up outside in memory of Osgood.