Posts Tagged: Engineering


Wednesday 28th October 2009

I had to give a talk today about my year out. All the placement students have to give a presentation in front of 2nd years who are thinking of doing the same thing, and we get 15 minutes to cover the year. I’d imagine in most cases it’s pretty difficult to sum it all up in 15 minutes, but in my case I found it particularly difficult because I worked in three places doing two very different jobs. There was a lot that I missed out, which is a pity.

This is my final year of University. I was worried that I’d find it all incredibly tedious but actually I’m rather enjoying it. Yes some of my lectures are truly tedious (I really can’t find it in me to care about geotechnical engineering, possibly because the lectures are really hard to follow), but equally some are really fascinating (as ever, the water module. Who would’ve thought that the design of water/sewage treatment works could be interesting?), so it’s all good. I think my attitude is very different to before I did my year out, which is something I didn’t think would happen. I find it less difficult to motivate myself to do work now, which is pretty good seeing how I’ve got a hell of a lot to do this year…

I’m halfway through week 5 of the final year (yes, Cardiff University starts back at a proper time, unlike some “institutions” I could mention that can’t be bothered to start the year until about halfway into October… :-p). I’ve already applied for one graduate job, my to-do list for the rest of the week includes finishing the form for another one, and I’m considering a couple of other things too. All that, and I think I’ve still got a fairly good chance of getting a job with the company I finished my year placement with, should I want it. But the thing I’ve just applied for is the one I really want.

Whilst I was writing the talk I gave today, looking through my diaries and photos from the past year and thinking about how to cram almost a year’s worth of experiences into 15 minutes (the answer: 37 slides in PowerPoint), I started to miss working. In fact, I went with one of my brothers to watch my other brother play rugby the other day (yup, both my younger brothers followed me to Cardiff when they went to university. Oddly, we’re still all at different unis), and there was a building site right next to the pitch. As we walked past, I couldnt help thinking to myself “yeah, it’d be a lovely day to be out on-site today”.

The thing I miss the most is the feeling of “I did that”. It’s the feeling of having done something, of having made a difference in some small way and having something tangible to show for it. You can go and see the work I’ve done in the last year, and it’ll be there for a while yet. That’s a great thought.

I pretty much stumbled into engineering. I’m not sure how, but now I’m here I’m really glad that I did. It’s a fabulous profession because We Do Stuff. In the Victorian era, engineers like Brunel, Telford and Stephenson were celebrities; people queued up to visit their latest marvels. Engineers built your house, designed the circuits to carry electricity to it and worked out how best to lay the cables that carried this writing to your computer, which yet another engineer designed. Civil engineers are the reason you have clean drinking water, and I think we’re fairly justified in arguing that we save more lives every year through that one thing that we all take utterly for granted, than the medical profession could ever hope to achieve.

And I guess that brings us back to sewage treatment. On which I have a lecture at 9am tomorrow morning, so I should go to bed.

Posted In: EngineeringSleep Tagged: | 17 Comments

Silly Library

Thursday 1st October 2009

While I had my year out, the engineering library at uni was done up. It’s very nice, and one thing they’ve introduced is a self-service thing, for borrowing and returning books. All the books have RFID tags, so you put them on a shelf and it identifies them. You swipe your uni card to id yourself, and all is done. Snazzy.

The thing I don’t get though is that the thing reads a barcode on the card, and like all barcodes it can take a few attempts. Our uni id cards (which double as library cards) have RFID, so why use the barcode, especially as the thing has an RFID reader anyway? Seems daft.

But I’m nitpicking, it’s a fairly good use of technology.

Posted In: EngineeringRantTechnology Tagged: | 7 Comments


Monday 28th September 2009

I think this is an important time for mankind. We face a variety of really massive problems and the way we deal with these is, I think, going to shape the rest of human history in a way that very little has in the past.

Our lifestyles are a result of hundreds – no, thousands of years of development and progress. We constantly strive to go one better; to do the impossible thing, solve the unanswerable question. In my opinion it’s one of the fundamental characteristics of the human race and probably the most admirable one too. Especially in the last 100-odd years, we’ve developed ourselves and our environments at a dizzying rate, and things that we take for granted today would baffle our ancestors from the early 20th century, let alone anyone older than that.

The problem is that it’s not sustainable. We’re heavily reliant on various depletable resources, and we’re using them pretty damn quickly. What’s more, those energy sources are tremendously flawed and by using them we’re damaging not only the environment but also ourselves. We only get one shot at this; we have one life to live and (currently…) one planet on which to live. One planet for us and – with any luck – millennia of our descendants. To be so accepting of both of them being damaged in such a way just seems so insane.

I have to say that I don’t know much about climate change. We’re told that the evidence really does point towards man-made climate change being a fact, but when I’ve looked at it on my own (admittedly not in massive detail) it all seems so… inconclusive. So I don’t know whether it’s happening and really I don’t care, because it’s irrelevant (and not the point of this post so please don’t try to comment about it). As I see it, burning these things is really harmful even before we take into account any possible effect on climate change. And besides, we really need to find an alternative because the stuff is running out. While we’re at it, that replacement may as well be non-damaging because it makes sense and it’s possible.

We’re being told that the way we live our life is wrong. Our cars are too big, we fly around the world too much, we don’t recycle enough. But really, it isn’t. It’s imperfect, but I don’t subscribe to the view that we should effectively regress in order to reduce emissions by a tiny amount. Our parents got to fly around the world, experience being on the cutting edge of mankind. Who the hell are they to deny us the same priviledge? Yes we should change our lifestyles (for instance more people should use public transport – but first the public transport system should be less horrendously terrible), but there’s a balance to be struck. The big problems arent individuals, it’s big businesses. But I guess it’s bad politics to attack them…

My point is that the issue we’re facing is not climate change. Of course it’s something to be aware of and try to counter, but it’s not the really scary problem. That problem is that we’re going to run out of energy soon and as far as I can tell we’re doing very little about it. We need answers pretty soon, but we’re stuck asking the wrong questions.

Posted In: EngineeringRantSleepTechnology Tagged: | 7 Comments

Where I’m At

Thursday 27th August 2009

It’s my last day of work tomorrow. I’ve been working back in Cardiff for the last couple of months, doing the enabling works for the job I was going to start in January. I’ve had a lot more responsibility here which has been pretty cool, and in lots of ways I’d be happy to stay in work rather than go back to uni. For some reason though, having the finish line in sight makes me look forward all the more to finishing, going home and doing all the things I’ve been unable to do while I’ve been working.

I’ve had a damn good year. Probably my best since starting uni, which – while it may not augur well for the coming year – makes me think that at least I’ve picked the right profession, which is good. It’s been a fairly unsettled year, but perhaps that’s made it better. I really hate routine, so the rotation from consultancy to contracting then between sites probably helped keep my attention. Either way, it’s been enjoyable and very satisfying. I’ve got lots of good memories, especially from working on site. It’s a fairly concentrated thing, working away, because all you have to occupy your mind is work during the day (obviously) then during the evening you socialise with colleagues as well. That said, one of my favourite things about contracting is the amount of different people you meet. As the work goes on different people come on-site to do different things, and you start to work up good relationships with some of them. The interesting thing about being a site engineer is that you have to talk to everyone and get on well with them, be it company directors or general labourers out on site. You meet a good spread of people, which means that if you ever get bored it’s easy to go out and find someone to talk to…

This summer has also been extremely good. While I was working in Oxford I didn’t get much chance to see friends. During the week I was obviously away and during the weekends I was generally tired or busy doing stuff I couldn’t do during the week because I was away from home. Since I’ve been in Cardiff I’ve at least been able to catch up well with uni-friends and it’s been pretty cool, including lots of pub trips and a road trip to North Wales which was fairly awesome, even if I did get beaten at pool by a guy with 2 broken arms. Had some home-friends down to visit the other week as well, went to V with them this last weekend (absolutely awesome, which surprised me) and I’ll be home the next few weeks (well, mostly. Still have to come to Cardiff a couple of times a week for hospital appointments 8-). So I’ve had loads of chance to see all the important people (except Lucy, we need to catch up when I’m back home. And one other person who has mostly fallen through the net and You Know Who You Are ¬_¬).

I’ve been thinking about the future recently as well. I’m going into my final year, so should probably think about what to do. I have some ideas, but really it all hinges around who will actually give me a job… I have some ideas, but nothing concrete (and honestly, pun not intended). I have no real idea where I’d wanna live as well. I have a few places in mind, but again it all hinges around work. I have very little tying me down to any particular place so I think that I may as well go somewhere new. Outside of work, I have a fairly good idea of what I want. Whether that is attainable or not, however, is a different matter. Whether I throw caution to the wind and see what happens, or abandon that idea completely, is also a different matter and one I’m trying to decide upon at the moment (yes I’m lame. Shut up now).

Anyhow, on the whole, life is pretty fucking awesome. And now, I must sleep!

Posted In: SleepStuff Tagged: | 5 Comments

I Really Can’t Think Of A Decent Title For This Post

Monday 25th May 2009

Watching the Monaco Grand Prix yesterday, I was extremely jealous of everyone who was there to watch it. I’d love to go to any Grand Prix, but rarely do I watch and wish I was actually there. But the idea of watching the race around the streets of Monaco, over the gorgeous harbour and under a fantastic blue sky, then retiring to a bar for several (probably overly-expensive) cold beers, really appeals.

The race at Monaco is definitely one of the worst. It’s fairly (very) processional, with very little overtaking. Unless it’s raining, it’s very rarely a massively exciting race. Yet if you ask most F1 fans, it’s the race they most want to go to. That’s because even though it’s a crap race, it’s a unique opportunity to see massively powerful, massively fast cars racing on a public road; cars doing an average speed of 100mph on roads that otherwise take normal traffic, and doing it in close proximity to barriers which punish the slightest mistake. On a properly fast lap, the drivers actually brush the edge of the tyres against the barriers. At over 100mph. Oh, and because it’s all really cramped, it’s also the race where you can get the closest to the track and see all this taking place. Great stuff.

Anyway, there are a few things that I’ve been meaning to blog about (and how many times have I said that now?). I’m gonna try to write some of that stuff down though soon. To sort of nudge myself into doing it, I’m gonna list some of the topics here. Hopefully that’ll shame me into writing it, cos in a month or two I’ll look at the list and think “oops, I said I’d write about that”…

  • Technology
  • Photography (this one could be contraversial…)
  • Alcohol
  • Business/economy
  • Politics
  • Life, the universe, everything
  • Driving
  • Engineering/work

Some of those could get amalgamated (“Alcohol” and “Life/universe/everything” are good candidates for that), and I might think of something else to write about before I do any of the above. The list is just there to prod me into writing more (and maybe someone else will prod me, “Oi, you said you were gonna write about x and you still havent!”).

I was somewhat amazed to read the comments on Flix’s blog a while back, with people saying they wouldn’t wanna change uni-world for the real world. I’m the exact opposite. As much as I moan about it sometimes, and as much as I’m utterly bored of getting up at quarter to 7 (or quarter to 6 on Monday mornings), I much prefer work. I like being finished at half 5, I like the feeling of Getting Something Done, and I absolutely adore being out of the Student Bubble. Being paid really doesn’t suck, either. I was back in Cardiff on Friday and went to the pub with a load of my mates down there, and all of us who have done a year out this year agree that we prefer working. In some ways, I’m kinda dreading going back to Uni.

Anyway, 3 months left and allegedly I’ll be moving away from Brize soon, to work in Head Office on another project. Be annoying to be off-site during the sunny summer, but it’ll be interesting to try yet another thing this year. Reduce my fuel bills a hell of a lot, too…

Posted In: EngineeringMotorsportSite Tagged: | 1 Comment

I’m Not There

Saturday 21st February 2009

As ever, I’ve been meaning to write something here for a while. But, I started work again a few weeks ago. Which is enough reason on it’s own for the gap, but because of a snafu of some sort with the site I was gonna work on in Cardiff, I’m working at Brize Norton. Staying in a hotel nearby during the week, then driving back home for weekends. So fairly busy, and fairly tiring…

Work’s very good. I’ve mostly been helping the engineer with surveying, which is good. Fairly pleasant too when the weather’s as mild as it has been the last few days. I’ve been trying to work out whether I prefer consultancy or contracting. To start with I was leaning towards consultancy, but I’m enoying work more and more now, so I think I’m starting to lean the other way. Which is good, because apart from anything else it’s much easier for me to stick where I am (providing they offer to sponsor me after my placement year).

So basically, life’s good :)

In other news, I downloaded the Spotify beta last week. Holy crap, it’s good. Apart from not having a few artists (Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Led Zep), it’s very comprehensive. The sound quality is pretty good, and the streaming is really quick. The only niggle I have with it is that it’s easy enough to find something if you know what artist/album/song you want to listen to, but if you just want to browse and see what takes your fancy, there’s no way to do that. Thats not a dealbreaker though, and I’m really considering paying the subscription. I’m gonna see if I keep using it as my main music player first though.

Posted In: EngineeringGeekMusicTechnology Tagged: | 9 Comments

Simple Twist of Fate

Monday 15th December 2008

I mentioned previously that I’ve been made redundant from my job. I also mentioned that I wasn’t sure whether I’d be able to get another job in Engineering, but that the odds were better than I initially expected.

I’ve been studying Civil Engineering for the last 2 years. It’s a fairly broad field, but basically it’s concerned with any sort of construction; be that of buildings, roads, bridges, railways… When you go out and work there are basically two main fields you can choose to work in. In my current (for the rest of the week) job, I’m working for a firm of consulting engineers. What that means is that they design the building; do all the calculations to make sure it stands up and things like that. Mostly office work. The other field you can choose to work in is contracting engineering, and that really does involve working in a field… They’re the ones who work on-site with the builders and whoever to hopefully make sure it’s built properly, on time and in budget.

When I was deciding what type of work I wanted to do in my placement year (and thereafter), I focused on consulting. I think because I didn’t like the idea of having to be outside when it’s cold and rainy, but to be honest I don’t think I put that much thought into it. When I spoke to the people at the university who run the year placements after being made redundant, they said that it was more likely I’d get a job in contracting, because they’re still doing jobs – if they’ve started building something, they don’t just stop half way through…

Anyway, I realised that I’d never really given it much thought in the past. But as I started thinking about the pros and cons of contracting, I was starting to think that I could really enjoy it. Not that I don’t enjoy working in the consultancy, but being able to do both in the space of a year is a really good opportunity to be able to see which one I want to do when I graduate.

So, I had an interview for a firm of contracting engineers a couple of weeks ago, and got the job. I start at the end of January (hopefully… The site I’m meant to be working on in Cardiff was meant to start in October, so the guy who interviewed me said theres a slight chance it could slip again). Basically, I’ve pretty much lucked into a job which I could potentially enjoy more, has better opportunities for sponsorship/graduate employment (and which pays substantially more. I know it’s very un-British to mention money, but meh). The downsides being longer hours, and that it’s bloody cold outside…

It’s amusing to me how little employers seem to care about my degree (or, indeed, how irrelevant much of my degree is to my working life). I mentioned in the interview the other week that I’d had to drop down to a Bachelors instead of a Masters, cos my grades were a bit crap. His response? “Well, we don’t really care. Those are all just bits of paper”. My current (for the rest of the week) boss said the other day that it’s much more important to him as an employer for people he interviews to be able to communicate well, rather than be amazingly qualified. They can teach the technical stuff, they can’t teach you how to communicate well. In a lot of ways, the experience I got from working for the Bank has been much more useful to me than what I’ve learned in two years of uni. Draw your own conclusions from this paragraph on my attitudes to University, because I’ve strayed from the point I was going to make.

Basically, I’ve been pretty lucky. Because I lost my job, I’ve ended up with a really good placement year and the possibility of completely re-assessing my career plans. It’s a funny old world.

Posted In: EngineeringStuff Tagged: | 3 Comments

Workload (or: The Obligatory Revision Rant)

Saturday 26th April 2008

So it’s just over two weeks before my exams start. I have four spread over a fortnight, before I shuffle off to Devon for a field course for a week (sidebar: who the hell thought it’d be a good idea to go on the same day as the Monaco GP? One of my favourite races on the calendar, and I have to miss it. Or, more to the point, get Mum to record it and then devoutly avoid any news sources for a week. Which shouldn’t be hard – apparently the place we’re going doesnt even have cashpoints…).

Anyway, just over two weeks before exams, and we’re still being taught new material, meaning it’s still worth going to some lectures. Oh, and we have a bunch of coursework due in the next two weeks. One is a design module, which we’re yet to start the drawings for. Which means dealing with possibly THE least intuitive piece of software ever.

Obviously, one of the things we have to do (by “we”, I mean “me”. Being the resident geek means that getting things out of AutoCAD is my job…) is the FUN task of getting drawings out of AutoCAD. YAY! It’s just like printing a word document, only on A2 paper and so loading the plotter is massively awkward. Oh, and obviously as it’s an engineering drawing it’s pretty much useless if it’s not to scale. But getting things to scale in AutoCAD is a black art; you play around with various options and hope one of them gets the damn thing to the right scale. Otherwise, there’s the risk that it’ll come out at 1:1, which… Well we’re designing a 3-storey office block at the moment, you do the maths…

Changing linetype is even more fun. We managed to get dashed lines on the last drawing we did, but I don’t think any of us knows how the hell we did it.

Can you tell I hate that software?

Also, theres maths to be done. Loads of our calcs (i.e. designing the RC beams and slab so that the thing would stand up, if it were ever built) have gaps, where we’ve started and got bored… Good idea at the time, but bad when it comes to write them up and we find out that we’ve left bits out. And ESPECIALLY bad when you do part of those calcs and find out that your floor slab fails servicability checks… (You basically design for two cases. The ultimate case is the absolute maximum loading that something will take before it fails; in other words “if you exceed this, the thing will fall down”. The other one is the servicability state. If it fails this, then the structure won’t fall down, but it will do something that it shouldnt. So it might crack or bend too much in certain places, or something like that. It’s safe, but isn’t doing its job properly, which means that as a design it’s failed. A perfect example is the Millennium Bridge in London; that wobbled because of the loadings placed upon it and was uncomfortable but not unsafe. But, a bridge that people don’t want to use is pretty useless, so the structure is said to have failed*. In the case of our friend the floor slab, it fails a deflection check, although thinking about it it’s only just over the limit, so we’ll probably be ok. Huzzah for factors of safety!)

So yeah, beyond the design module, I’ve also got maths coursework due in next friday. Which I haven’t started yet. That’s on Matlab, and I’m not actually sure what we’ve got to do for it. In fact, all I know is that “it’s solid!”, which doesn’t help…

Aaaand on top of that, we have to update our Professional Development folder (think NRA, except that this counts towards a module) for… Well I think that’s in for the week before exams, but to be honest I’m not entirely sure. Hmm. And I found out the other day that because of something I’ve gotta do on Wednesday, I’m going to be missing a guest lecture which we’re expected to write a report on. So I’m gonna have to half-inch someone else’s notes to write some sort of waffle for that.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is: my timetable sucks. I’m trying to revise, but between lectures and coursework and other stuff, it doesn’t always happen. That said, I went down to the library a few times this week and got a decent stack of revision notes done, which doesn’t suck. Ideally I want to have all my notes done by a week on Sunday, but after printing out circa 40 pages of notes on Law that I need to learn, I think that target is slightly optimistic…

Now I’m sure I’m not the worst affected. I’m sure someone will leave a comment like “well you think that’s bad? I’ve got 100 STRAIGHT hours of exams, a 20,000 word essay due in the week before, and my lectures finish AFTER my exams!”, but damn it, it’s my blog and I’ll moan if I want to :-p. It just seems so silly to still be teaching us stuff and expecting work off us right up to the start of the exam period. This is why I wasn’t looking forward to coming back to Uni after Easter.

I still feel far too unstressed though. They haven’t shifted from “too far away to worry about” to “Imminent! You’re bloody screwed!” yet…


*Writing that makes me happy, because it means that I’ve learned something during the last couple of years…

Posted In: RantSleepStuff Tagged: | 6 Comments