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July 10, 2008

End of University

The last 3 weeks of university were exam-free and apart from results day, carefree. I have no more exams ahead of me. We filled up the first week well with our flat-bonding trip to Dublin and a quick trip to the WTA Birmingham Classic. After that we just mainly chilled out watching many Rocky movies and playing a fair bit of tennis, making the most of the facilities whilst we were at uni. The same could be said about going to the last few union events of our uni lives (and of the current union).

It was not particularly sad leaving university (it was in the 3rd year when the Bachelor degree'd friends left). After 4 years you just get the feeling that the time is right to leave and I will see most people after uni anyway. Try as I might on the train journey to London to play the most sad songs I couldn't induce any tears - it turns out that I am an emotionless robot. On the contrary, I was actually very happy with a smile on my face when I thought about my time at Warwick. Fortunately no one else was in my end of the coach to see a ridiculous idiot grinning from ear to ear. Another reason is that it is easier for me because I'll be working in Coventry come September anyway. Everyone else seems to be moving to London. Absolutely EVERYONE. Seems like I'm the only one left behind!

So I'm supposed to say university has been rewarding and I have made a lot of good friendships. Both of those are true. It has certainly been fun. I wish everyone the best of luck with their futures!

This blog stays alive...

June 23, 2008

Dublin 2008

(C) Nathaniel Ho 2008

Its the afternoon of Friday 6th of June, every other Warwick engineer has already finished and is sitting on the piazza, enjoying the sun and freedom. I'm sitting in my last undergraduate exam along with the other last few MEng students left inside Westwood games hall waiting for the clock to hit 5pm. After reflecting back on 18 years of education about 500 times in my head, all I want to do is to get out of that room as soon as possible!

Tuesday morning arrives and the hive is up at 5am buzzing around the flat, packing and making sure they have their passports. The whole journey was quite painless and we arrived at Dublin at 9.30ish. At the airport, we found it quite strange that about 3 buses refused to pick us up and take us to the city centre. The Metro showed us why...

(C) Nathaniel Ho 2008(C) Nathaniel Ho 2008

When we finally made it to O'Connell Street we decided to walk along the riverside towards Phoenix Park and the Zoo. Dublin Zoo is very good and very well maintained (though I may just be comparing it to London Zoo).  It was a very hot day so in order to cool down we popped to the Guiness Storehouse. The tour was strenuous and they make you go through 6 floors before you can reach the roof top bar for your reward! The roof top bar gives the best view of Dublin, which isn't really that exciting from the top because all the buildings are consistently 5 storeys high.

That evening we went out to the usual touristy stops: Gallagher's Boxty house for dinner and Temple Bar. I managed to catch up with an old school friend studying out here whom I had not seen for 4 years.

(C) Nathaniel Ho 2008 (C) Nathaniel Ho 2008

Our second and last day was spent in the South again, walking around Trinity College and the nearby Museum of Ireland. Rain interrupted our picnic in the park and a good Irish pub lunch became a great alternative. After lunch, we made a quick trip to Dublin Castle before returning to Temple Bar to pick up the kids from the creche.

It was simply a great trip with the whole flat!

(C) Nathaniel Ho

February 06, 2008

Crumpets Saves Lives

A few weeks ago Chris was warming up some crumpets for tea on his grill. Little did he know that cooker had a wiring fault and wanted to murder him!

Time for some GCSE Physics again: A wiring fault had basically caused the live terminal to reach the whole metal outer case. Normally in this circumstance, the power would be pulled down to earth, large currents would be drawn and a fuse would have blown, all within a split second of turning the grill on. Unfortunately and shockingly... the cooker did not have an earth wire and nor do most other cookers in question! (If you live in Claycroft, I recommend you eat out - always). 

So the cooker case was nicely floating at 240V AC. Touching this alone would have been fine, but the nice stainless steel metal kitchen work surfaces are earthed. This gave Chris an electric shock when he touched the two potential differences! Fortunately, he had two series resistors to limit the current - these came in the form of two crumpets, one in each hand. 

The problem averted thanks to the crumpets, but Chris is a scientist and he had to make sure it was a fair test which is explained in the cartoon below:

The Difference between a Normal Person and a Scientist


The second one threw him back :S

December 20, 2007

Race of Champions 2007

The Race of Champions always sounded like an awesome concept. Put the best drivers of different motorsport disciplines in one stadium and pitch them against each other in equal machinery to find out who is the best! The past few years it has been in the Stadt de France, and this year it came to Wembley. So naturally we had to go (plus a few of us were getting the shakes from motorsport withdrawal symptoms during the off season period).

(C) Nathaniel Ho 2007

One of the great things about it was the return of the legendary Michael Schumacher to "competitive racing." Historically I have always not liked him. I was always supporting the "other" person: Damon Hill, Mika Hakkinen, Juan Pablo Montoya, Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso. But now with the legend absent, I started to appreciate him more - the dude's a hero. 

Most of us were the old Warwick Motorsport gang: JJ, AJ, Rich, John, Jen and I. We sat at the top tier on a crisp 3degC Sunday. My gosh was it cold all day. It was hovering about zero all day. I also thought Wembley was quite empty, but when you consider this is a motorsport event and it has filled up half the capacity, its not that bad.
(C) Nathaniel Ho 2007

In the Nations cup, we saw some great races.  I was rooting for Norway (Solberg brothers) but I was pretty sure Finland (Gronholm and Kovalainen) was going to win - especially when Gronholm seemed to be only driving his own Ford Focus WRC in almost every round! In the final Schumacher raced Kovalainen in the Punto S2000 Abarth. Schumacher stalled and lost a lot of time. Kovy managed to get up to the back of Schumacher to lap him. But Schumacher decided to drive flamboyantly sideways to stop him, but he got through. But eventually overall, the Finns were pipped to the title by Team Germany (Vettel and Schumacher). 

In the mid interval, we got some cups of warmth from the cafe whilst some very good stunts were being shown. The legendary Stig Blomqvist made an appearance in the original Audi Quattro, Priaulx drove his WTCC BMW 320i, Kristensen drove his Le Mans Audi R10 TDI, Coulthard drove his Red Bull Racing F1 car, Vettel drove his STR F1 car and Matthias Ekstrom made the most smoke in this Audi A4 DTM.

(C) Nathaniel Ho 2007

In the Champions of Champions races that followed we saw some fantastic races. The closest finish was Andy Priaulx vs. Heikki Kovalainen in the Aston Martin V8 Vantage N24's. They were neck and neck but Kovy over cooked it coming out of the last corner and overcorrected a slide and got into a tankslapper which made him cross the finishing line sideways before colliding backwards with the barrier. "Heikki you're a lunatic!" I shouted whilst the crowds cheered. By 6.45pm it was so cold we had square ice cubes around all our toes, and Mattias Ekstrom beat Schumacher 2-1. Schumacher was still amazingly setting all the fast laps in the day. It was great watching him slide the RoC buggy into the first corner on the inside track. After the podium presentation we all ran home to defrost!

Two Little Ducks

Tower of London Ice Rink

Last Saturday we had a mini reunion in London for John's birthday. We went ice-skating in the late afternoon at the rink next to the Tower of London. It was certainly a nice venue with the Tower in the backdrop.We were all novices and we all actually did quite well. We just didn't know how to stop - apart from falling over! We then walked along the river to get to the Dickins' Inn. Wasn't as great as I thought it would be, but we all still had a good time. Kathy and Paul presented John and I with a selection of nice presents, primarily to replace our hall-cricket games!

John's friend Terry had given him a really big chocolate cherry birthday cake. Alex invited us all around to his house to cut the cake and chill out for a bit. All in all, it was a very good night, and it was great to see everyone. Cheers everyone!

October 26, 2007

Old Flat Reunion

Last weekend, John and I invited the old flats to return to CV4 for a weekend reunion but unfortunately nobody came back in time for any union events! So everyone came back for a nice weekend in each other's company. It was primarily all Kathy's fault because she did something quite silly and booked her coach tickets for Sunday instead of Saturday. This meant she and Andy missed out on some quality 'Nat and John' time. We did have Rich and Lotte around on Saturday which was nice. For the journey to pick up Lotte from the station, we had made a special mix-tape for Rich - which was the Baywatch theme tune twenty three times on the same CD - ah how we enjoyed that and got sick of it very quickly. That Saturday evening was basically everyone getting excited about the F1 qualifying result, and then getting horrifically dissapointed with the rugby world cup final.

Sunday came with the arrival of Kandy and Paul. I slaved over the stove with a lot of help to make the Sunday roast - Chicken and Beef. Pavel came around to ensure the kitchen was a fire-hazard and to watch "Kimi win the championship". Unfortunately Pavel's prophecy became true and my dream of seeing Hamilton become a champion in his first year didn't happen. To be honest Hamilton championship shouldn't be expected. I was fully prepared that the poo could hit the fan and Kimi's small chance to clinch it was very real indeed. Unfortunately the large proportion of Ferrari fans (Will and Pavel) were killing the mood all evening for the Hamilton supporters. Paul has now vowed not to watch sports for a whole month after such a bad weekend.

Well it was nice to have so many people around just to hang out for a while. It meant that in a space of a month I'd seen most of the old flatmates! Not bad. Sachit didn't turn up on time, I expect him to arrive 1 week late...

On Thursday I decided to pop down to Oxford to visit Lotte since she had a free afternoon (once in a blue moon opportunity)! I nearly didn't go because of the short time left of the day and the fact that when you live in the bubble you end up becoming quite inert. So despite the fact that only a month ago I was jumping between 4 countries in a week, a 41min train ride to another count-y started to seem like a "big" journey! It was a gloomy looking day and it was just an afternoon of walking around, hanging out, seeing uni places, catching up and meeting her friends. Unfortunately Alistair the Wonchie was unavailable (and the trip was incredible short notice). It was a pleasant trip with the obvious poor train services in-between. I think it may be safe to start assuming all UK trains are delayed by 20mins - well maybe not all trains, but specifically the one you want to get on!

October 10, 2007

Travels 2007 Part III: Germany

Germany 2007 1Getting to Izzy's village took about 7hrs. She's another country bumpkin - after spending the summer in the middle of nowhere in Surrey I was quite used to it! My ticket to get from Liege to Koeln cost €17. My Intercity train ticket from Koeln to Bielefeld strangely cost  more at €37! Still cheaper than UK prices I guess. 

So far on my trip I everything had been quite easy. Phone calls, text and multimedia messages work everywhere and I'd paid for everything in Finland/Denmark/Belgium with the universal Mastercard (only suffering a 3% exchange spread). But in Germany, they don't take cards in half they places you normally use it. (And I'm not talking about using in the I'm-going-to-take-the-piss-and-buy-a-newspaper in cost-cutters use). This I found quite strange, as I had managed to get everywhere without pulling any cash out.  Oh and say for instance you have a internal bank account, you can't pull cash out of any ATM, you have to find your own bank's ATM!

That aside Germany was quite clean and smart. I wasn't too tired after my Thalys and intercity trains, so Izzy took me out to meet her friends in Bielefeld. Sitting in a typical modern Café Bar, there were 3 plasmas showing sports on one, news on the other and on the third one... a WWII documentary! Not a good impression to give me on my first visit there! Sebastien apologised and said "this is not what we watch everyday!"

Izzy tried to dig out some embarrassing stories about herself that her friends could tell me, but unfortunately, it turns out she's a bit of a goody-two-shoes. So I naturally had to tell them about the time we embarassed her by bawled out the German National Anthem on the Warwick Piazza! Eventually I went straight to the source: Izzy's mum, and asked for all the baby photos!

Despite being on holiday, I was still programmed to get very early 7AM BST and monday was no different. Izzy and I met up with Nina (her best friend since primary school) and we went off to see some touristy things in the local areas such as the Hermannsdenkmal and the Externsteine which are both near to Detmold. That day was finished off with more continental: sit-in-the-sun-eating-ice-cream-in-a-trendy-cafe fashion. 

Germany 2007 2Germany 2007 Externsteine

Tuesday was the day trip to Cologne. Corinna (my old erasmus flatmate from from first year) met up with Izzy and I there. First port of call was the Chocolate Museum. That was great. Then we went to the Cathederal. Lotte had warned me about the "ugly with black stones" Cathederal, but when I first saw it, it was beastly, but I strangely found its vulgarity appealing. Much like those Stuttgart vulgarmobiles with "63 AMG" written on the back. Ugly as hell, but strangely you offer it some respect. We walked around most of Cologne's shopping places when my tour guides Izzy and Corinna revealed they didn't know what else we could do. So we spontaneously hopped on the next train to Bonn.

Germany 2007 13Bonn was the old capital and is very small. The university seems to be quite an important part of it. One of the highlights was Beethoven's house. This museum contains some excellent letters that he wrote to the King of England and a large digital archive of his music.

Getting our way back to the Guetersloh from Bonn took a long time. You forget how BIG Germany really is. So long day trips are not always as easy to do.

Wednesday was a good day. Firstly Izzy received her acceptance letter from Hannover Uni to read medicine! It was nice that I could be around for that. We then went off to an Enginerd's Mecca. The Heinz Nixdorf Museum - the world's largest computer museum. Documenting the past 2000+ years of computers. From a etchings in a stone to the enigma machine, to mechanical calculators to Cray machines, it had pretty much all of it. Unfortunately for me, most of the descriptions and wall plaques were in German. And deciphering German geek language into English isn't easy!

Germany 2007 17Thursday was my last day. Izzy, Jonas, Nina and I drove for about 2hrs to Bremen. I read the folk story about the "Bremen Town Musicians" where a donkey, dog, cat and cockerel team up to become some muscians, but to our amusement, the online translator decided to refer them as the ass, hound, cat and cock. (Cue sniggering). Yeah, we're still 17 years old!

Fortunately the motorways around the quiet northern countryside area were generally derestricted. It turns out they like to cruise at 150km/h (just so that they don't use up too much fuel) which I think isn't that much faster that what you see people doing in the UK. Still on 2-lane motorways with lorries doing 90-100km/h pulling out, I still wonder if destriction should be allowed at all. But when the country is so big they do need it, and they are sensible enough.

Bremen should have been my first oppourtunity to see a "Rathaus" (that word you had to use in soooo many sentences during year 7 and 8 German classes), but unfortunately it closed when I wanted to go there. Bremen is a medium sized city and it has a nice character in the old places. Jonas and I marched up to the top of the Cathederal but that turned out to be a bit of a dissapointment. Unfortunately every shopping district in every city in europe is the same. You have a H&M, Carphone Warehouse, Subway etc etc. So in some ways if you've seen Watford, you'll have seen 25% of all other cities in the world. I was fortunately able to locate "Bohnanza" the card game, which has become a special past time amongst some old Warwick friends (its definitely better than poker night). At about 6pm, they drove me to Bremen airport (really small - 8 gates?) to fly back home to England.

I was fairly sad about leaving Germany. Not only that I wouldn't see Izzy for a while as she's permenantly back in Germany now, but the fact I had to return to working! (I complain too much).  Many thanks to Izzy, her family, her friends, and of course Jonas.

Anyway I had a great time during my 10 day trip on the continent. It wasn't that relaxing but at least I got to do a lot within the small timeframe I had before going back to Uni. Lotte's and Izzy's mums are excellent cooks, and I was very well taken care of all the time. Must do it again sometime! Roadtrip summer 2008 anyone?

More Pictures

Travels 2007 Part II: Belgium

Belgium 2007 3

Wednesday 19th October 2007

By the time I got to Brussels at 5pm, I was pretty sick and tired of air travel already. I read all the papers that were in Anglais, and wrote so many essays into MMS's and sent them home, but I was still bored. The great thing about being on T-Mobile UK Flext was that when you're in the EU, you can send MMS's out of your allowance (SMS's cost more). I think I ended up sending about 150 messages home from Finland/Denmark/Belgium/Germany. So no one was safe from my spamming! :D

During the flight I read an article in the FT about Belgium's potential splitting up (due to lack of government for 100+ days), so when I arrived and greeted Lotte I asked

Am I in "Belgium" or the "Independent State of Brussels?"

To which she assured me that Belgium was still a country. The general British/French/German media protrayed the situation as a country on the brink of a civil war. Much to the amusement of the people who live there. I was there for 5 days, and not once did I see a Flemish person beat up a Wallonian - although I did see a restauranteur start a fight with another restauranteur, but that was probably business related (and french from the manner in which they fought). 

By the time I got to Lotte's hometown which was about 1.5hrs of more travelling, I was well and truely wrecked. Lotte's mum had made a lovely meat loaf, which unfortunately at the time I didn't feel like eating. The hospitality was excellent: I had two rooms to choose from! And Lotte's dog 'Swift' is  the cutest and smallest dog I've ever seen. We quickly bonded and within an hour or so I was already cradling her.

Belgium 2007 1 - Leuven - (C) Nathaniel Ho 2007

The next morning (Thursday) we walked around a lake in the local village thinking we would have a quiet day for me to rest, but then we spontaneously decided to see Eline in Leuven. Leuven is as you know, the home of the Stella Artois brewery and subsequently the biggest student city. Its a very pretty city and is largely dominated by the university and students. Its like an Oxford for instance, but smaller, and much more cleaner! Unfortunately throughout my stay I didn't actually try a proper Belgian Stella (I don't like the version we get in the UK) - nor a Belgian kebab (which John swears by). It was pretty much a lazy day spent walking around, eating pancakes and having novelty beers such as a "Kwak".

Belgium 2007 7 - Royal Palace Brussels - (C) Nathaniel Ho 2007

Friday was the day trip to Brussels. The clouds on the continent finally disapeared to reveal clear blue skies and hot sunshine (nice change to rainy 12degC Finland earlier in the week!). We walked around the normal touristy places, the cathederal, mannekepis to name but a few. Unfortunately I went to the Royal Palace one week too late. A great museum they have is the Musical Instrument museum, which was really interesting. Particularly from an inventive perspective, it was interesting to see guitars with 3 sets of strings and a concave piano for instance. The day passed in quite a relaxed manner, and a lazy dinner out in characteristic narrow street that was laced with restaurant tables finished off a great day.

Saturday was the proper day of relaxing. A short browse around local the town Hasselt and the local village allowed me to buy a nice stash of Belgian chocs to take home and to do more continental coffee drinking in cafe bars. It was nice to do some lazy activities after 11 weeks of office work. I discovered what a real Brussels waffle looked like:

Belgium 2007 11

So on Sunday it was time to say goodbye to Lotte and her family before hopping the train over to Germany. Thanks very much Lotte, I had a great time visiting you, your family, friends and Belgium again!

More Pictures

Travels 2007 Part I: Finland Work Trip

Lake next to the Vanajanlinna

After working hard at Nokia for 11 weeks I was lucky enough to be taken along to the annual team conference in Finland mid-September. Basically we were in a hotel for 2 days for presentations and to get to know our colleagues around the world. Basically there were a lot of presentations to let us know what direction the roadmaps were heading and how we should align ourselves to it.

At the end of the first day we had outdoor activities. It was typical Finnish (and English) raining weather and about 12deg. Still, we were all out putting on the green, laser clay pigeon shooting and kayaking. The evening was finished off with excellent dinner and chilling baking in the sauna with the bosses and colleagues whilst consuming a few cold beers. Oh and of course a dip in the freezing cold lake afterwards- wouldn't be Finland if i didn't!

It was a great last day at work and it was really good to know the people in my department and the sister departments a lot better. The next day I got a nice thank you and farewell from everyone. I left the conference early for Brussels to see Lotte and to being my travels. Unfortunately I didn't get to see much of Finland at all, so I will have to return again some day!

Helsinki is a small city so i managed bump into a Warwick friend at the boarding gate which was a pleasant suprise. We flew on the same connecting flight to Copenhagen, which allowed us to catch up and compare notes on the summer.

I had 1hr 40mins to kill at Copenhagen which wasn't enough time to pop outdoors and an annoyingly long time indoors in a really small airport. Browsing round the shops I saw a sweater for 200 Danish Kroner, and I didn't what the exchange rate was. So I worked out the GBP:Danish Kroner exchange rate solely on the price I paid for a sandwich and coke on the plane. 45 Kroner = €6 = approx £4.50! Right! The exchange rate is approx 10:1 - I can afford that purchase! Turns out I was quite close to the real value of 10.5.

October 06, 2007

Back to School

I've now been back at uni for a week for my 4th and final year. Surprisingly I don't feel old. After working solidly for 11 weeks over the summer I was looking forward to coming back. However its all been very quiet which is unsurprising when we've been downsized from a group of 16 to a group of 5! No longer can we just walk to "the other flat" when no one is in ours. I miss that luxury. I miss all the old flats. Still nice to see the old faces that are still around.

Another factor that hasn't helped "the quietness," is that I've been locking myself up in my room to do my individual project that I should have done all summer, but couldn't because I worked for 11 weeks. The course has been arranged so that half of it is done in the 3rd year and the other half is in the 4th. Its a good idea on paper and has been implemented with good intentions, but the problem is it just hasn't worked. Fortunately the staff have identified this and will be fixed into just one year)for the later generations of engineers (who will probably complain that it should be spread over 2 years instead of 1).

My project involves using a PIC as a DAQ to take sensor readings and send them to the PC. The majority of the USB interfacing software has been written by Microchip and a guy called Mat Clayton has developed it and added a C# GUI to go with it - so with some more hacking, I could get it to work to my needs. A big problem I had was doing the usual n00b mistake of not having a decoupling capacitor on the VUSB line to get rid of the noise, and thus I spent ages trying to get the damn thing to work with the PC. So I tried to get one measly capacitor (RRP 1 pence) out of the stores. But unfortunately my old cost code expired and I needed to get a new one. On explaining the situation to my supervisor, he just saw the funny side and laughed at me! Gotta love bureaucracy!

Meanwhile this week's dose of culture came from watching Knallhart (Tough Enough) and Hallam Foe.  The former is a German movie about a kid who moves to a grottier area of Berlin (? I think), and how he has to adapt to become tougher. As John rightly commented, you are so engrossed in the film that you are not concious that you are actually reading subtitles! Unfortunately a lot of people were put off by the German movie with subtitles, so there were only 12 people in the arts centre cinema. The latter was a very strange but interesting movie that you can't really explain. I was intially surprised that it was rated 18, I'm sure they get away with everything being a 12A nowadays!

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