January Blog – Making the Best of a Bad Situation

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Its said that the average person spends 2 weeks of their life waiting for traffic lights to change. Being a cyclist I laugh in the face of red lights* however I can appreciate the sentiment. February is a month of waiting for students. Exam results are due out around the 23rd. In an example of stereotypical student behaviour I’m dreading it. At least there’s plenty of work to occupy myself with.

*Just kidding, cycle safe kids!

6 exams in 9 days! What good fun. Anyone who’s ever ran the hurdles will know how I felt. I was really pleased with my first exam, the second one was a disaster and then everything seemed to go downhill from there. I hate exams. (I later found out that I was 1 of 3 people in 3rd year engineering with more than 5 exams. *sigh*) I definitely deserved the holiday at the end of January.

We went to Amsterdam the weekend after exams – my first holiday for 10 years. When I saw we, there was about 12 of us. (Student pro tip: if you want to organise a good weekend away just announce the date of Facebook and buy the tickets. If you build it, they will come.) The good thing about Manchester is that you’re only a short train ride away from a major airport which can offer numerous cheap flights. The whole trip cost less than £400, which is quite reasonable, especially given how expensive over there. *insert red light district joke here* No but seriously, €4 for  a 250ml bottle of coke? How audacious! Still, don’t be put off by that. Amsterdam is less than 4 hours away from Manchester if you go by plane and is well worth a visit. A shout out to Chris, who made his way to and from Amsterdam on the bus – very cheap and it only takes 12 hours in one direction. He has my utmost respect.

I used the travel time over the Amsterdam weekend to do a bit of light reading. Flatland is a book by Edwin Abbott Abbott in which the main character is a square who lives in a 2 dimensional universe. One day he meets a sphere from a 3D universe. Aye, I know, it’s a bit involved, but its an excellent book to read if you want to try imagine a 4D world. I recommend it.

Football wise – Manchester United continue to struggle (much to my amusement), Man City look ever more likely to win the quad and Newcastle have imploded. Again. As I write we have lost our last 5 homes games, are out of both cup competitions and are safe from relegation.  We have sold our best player, leading to a seriously “disillusioned” fanbase and a squad of players that don’t look interested. Oh, and we lost the derby match. Suddenly the next few months look far less enticing.

feb michael

Apparently the new iPhone will feature an ‘unbreakable’ graphene coating, which I am eagerly anticipating, for obvious reasons. Graphene is the miracle material set to revolutionise the 21st century. It was discovered by the University of Manchester’s Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov, who won a nobel prize for their work. See the video to learn more:

So its been a terrible start to 2014. But its comforting to know that even if I haven’t done well, I can always make the best of a bad situation

feb michael 2

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Exam Time: Choose Engineering

A Chinese Philosopher once said: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”

This wisdom gave me the strength to begin reading the first of millions of slides just before Christmas. I’ve got 6 exams in January and there’s a lot to cover.

December was largely a blur of deadlines and slog. And coffee. I managed to submit my Project Interim Report on time, thanks largely to the extension. I was greatly appreciative of the online submission, which meant I wouldn’t have to hang around until the report was finished. The extra few days at home gave me time to see some friends, and finish making my sister’s Christmas present. More or less. (Pro-student tip: Where you can, make your own presents. Its cheaper, and more thoughtful. Everyone’s a winner)

 

The problem with Christmas when you’re at uni, – especially in your final year – is that as hard as you try to enjoy the holidays and relax a little, there’s always a nagging feeling that you should be revising. It casts a cloud over everything which won’t go away until the last week in January. I probably only had 4-5 days “off” over Christmas.

 

In fact the urge to get on with revision was so strong I returned to Manchester early after Christmas, but my revision didn’t get off the best of starts. I spent 4 days in bed with the flu, including New Years. Maybe my body just couldn’t handle the shock of being back in the cold after 3 weeks doing work in front of the fire at home. So much for the revision planner I had made. Oh well.

 

Christmas is the time of peace and goodwill to all men. Oh, and football too. The fixture schedule goes mental over Christmas and if you love football it’s heaven. I managed to watch 4 games in a day thanks to Sky and the internet. This Premier League season continues to be greatly entertaining. Despite the Toon Army falling away from the top 4 over Christmas. There are several reasons for this:

1.            Newcastle are serving up entertaining football (mostly)

2.            Sam Allardyce, (aka the footballing anti-christ) is having a torrid time at West Ham.

3.            Man Utd are struggling.

4.            There’s plenty of high scoring games to enjoy.

5.            sunderland are in their rightful place.

Thank god for football. Its one of the few things keeping me sane at the moment.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you winter was coming. At least for once the north didn’t suffer the worst of the weather. Manchester and Newcastle were both spared as the south has been battered by the weather over the last few weeks. As wet and miserable as it is in Manchester, its worth remembering: it could be worse.

I’ve got 2 hard exams, 2 okay-ish exams and 2 where I’m confident. Thank god I’ll only have 3 in the summer. I don’t find any of the material beyond me, there’s just an awesome amount to cover. My walls are gradually filling up with mind maps and diagrams and lists of definitions and of course copies of my exam timetable.

The private study rooms are a good idea for intense revision sessions. I prefer the ones in the new Alan Gilbert building next to the union, mainly because they’re high tech and such. Though you’ll have to book in advance, its worth organising though, as you can get through lot of work there.

My motivation throughout exams is a trip to Amsterdam we’ve got booked at the end of January. It’ll be the weekend after my final exam – instrumentation and measurement on the 23rd. Something tells me I’ll be in need of a holiday by then, especially as semester 2 begins on the 27th.

 

Adapted from trainspotting:

Choose engineering. Choose coffee. Choose deadlines. Choose Bernoulli’s Equation, the Fourier Series and the jacobean. Choose staying at George Begg until 11pm finishing coursework. Choose high blood pressure, stress, and general befuddlement. Choose more work than all your housemates put together. Choose a project. Choose more coffee. Choose no social life. Choose wondering why you are doing this to yourself on a Friday Night. Choose the big bang theory. Choose thick reports. Choose a calculator which isn’t able to store text. Choose calculus.

Choose triumphing at the end of it all, picking up your degree on graduation day with pride and being able to do almost anything with your future. Choose any job you want.

 

Choose engineering.

November 2013 – Allons-y

Allons-y!

November is never a good month for students. No money, bleak weather, shortening days, stomach clenching heating bills and plenty of deadlines, oh yes!  Its cold outside, and if you’re as stubborn as I am with the heating, just as cold inside most of the time. The irony of trying to study heat transfer and thermodynamics in a room where the mercury never rises above 17C isn’t lost on me.

That’s not to say its all bad. The cold weather has coincided with a good run of results for Newcastle which have lifted us to within 1 point of the Champions League places. (This includes a win over Chelsea, which brought me almost as much satisfaction as my calculator spitting out an integer at the end of a very long calculation…..engineers know what I’m talking about.) We’re currently sat 6th, above Man U, which evokes a smug, self satisfied and almost certainly short lived feeling in me.

My nuclear modules gave me the chance to visit Heysham nuclear power station at the start of the month. Being nothing more than a big kid I wandered around gawping at the marvels of engineering around me. Due to security reasons I wasn’t allowed my camera on site, but you can take it from me, the way in which EDF energy has retrofitted the power source from an alien spacecraft truly was incredible. That’s not true, it was actually a series of genetically modified hamsters running in a series of giant wheels to create power. If you don’t believe me you can book a tour of Heysham for yourself, here:

http://www.edfenergy.com/about-us/energy-generation/nuclear-generation/nuclear-visitor-centres.shtml

The end of the November saw the Rugby league world cup final held at Old Trafford, which my housemates and I* managed to get tickets for. It was Australia against defending world champions New Zealand, and at full time we were almost thankful for England’s dramatic, last minute exit in the semi-finals last week. At least it saved us a good hiding. Australia ran out 34-2 winners, as seen by around 75 000 people, including a colourful bunch in the West Stand:

RLWCF bananas 

. (There’s definitely another fruit that would be more appropriate)

*(Doesn’t proper grammar make you sound posh?)
November 2013 will be remembered for something other than rugby or football or being a little bit cold. The 23rd of November was Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary special. The build up to the episode saw a special Doctor Who themed physics lecture given by the University of Manchester professor Brian Cox, which is worth watching by itself.

The feature length episode didn’t disappoint either, with every other scene neatly tying together almost all the unanswered questions the reboot has generated since 2005. The episode, which was fairly coherent considering it was following 3 different Doctors in 3 different time zones, was rammed with Easter eggs a plenty:

http://www.buzzfeed.com/paulaersly/greatest-easter-eggs-from-the-doctor-who-50th-anniver
Its always worth discussing how well your work is coming along with your lecturers and tutors. If you’re struggling, chances are so are others. As the project interim report deadline draws closer, it was lovely to hear that the deadline had been extended, even if it was just by a few days. This is time that will be invaluable to so many people, myself included. There’s 18 days left to get it spot on now….

Finally, a merry Christmas to everyone. If you have any free time don’t forget to pay a visit to the Christmas markets, and the ice rink in spinning fields. Mulled wine, pleasant aromas, funny hats. Its everything you need to have a good time!

Markets

Oh and PS: Movember:

Expectation:

Mutton chop homes

Reality:

Reality

October 2013 – The importance of sleep

ZZZZZ

When we’re awake during the day our brains produce a chemical called adenosine, which makes us feel sleepy and is then reabsorbed by our brains when we sleep. Caffiene is so effective at keeping us awake because it binds to the adenosine molecules, preventing the chemical from building up and thus allowing engineers everywhere to stay up until the early hours finishing their work.

Seriously though, sleep is really important. This is something very few students seem to understand. Most of us have probably seen this image (and murmured in agreement too):

Pick two

But in fact, its wrong. You can either have a good social life, or you can have good grades and sleep. Have you ever been stuck on a problem, given up for the night and went to bed? Then, when you come back to the problem the next day, you find its a lot less complicated? That’s because one of the things your body does when you sleep is to “replay” everything you’ve seen, heard and done that day. It gets rid of unnecessary junk such as what colour shirt your lecturer was wearing, everything you saw on the bus ride home and if you’re lucky the Made in Chelsea episode you were forced to watch. Everything deemed important is revised and stored for future reference. If you don’t sleep properly, you can’t learn properly either. This becomes especially important around exams. When you need plenty of sleep. (Not less, that’s a bad idea.)

If you’d like to procrastinate furthur please check out these youtube links to do with sleep and dreaming:

(I take no responsibility if you end up subscribing to vsauce and watching 50 videos in a row)

So its November, and while one of my house mates doesn’t have any deadlines until December, I’ll have at least 5 this month. Its probably the most difficult few weeks of the year, so stay on your toes. And if you get stuck, just go and see your lecturer. They love to go through things with students, that’s why they’re lecturers.

Finally:

brace yourself

Yeah, winter is coming. This happens every year but for some reason people always seem surprised. In case you’re unfamiliar here are 5 tips to help you brace yourselves.

  1. Invest in some decent footwear. Hiking boots and some cosy socks are ideal (especially if we get snow) Converse, running shoes, pumps and (god help you) Crocs are not suitable. At the risk of sounding like my mam, there’s no much worse than wet socks on the way to school.
  2. Get in touch with your gas and electric suppliers and see if you can get a smart meter. You’ll save energy. And money.
  3. Program your boiler to only heat the house when its needed. This is a good idea if you’re like me in that you haven’t really got the money to keep the heating on all night. In particular if you, like me, sleep in a room that isn’t insulated and can be expected to be around 13C at 7am, then this is a really good idea.
  4. Buy more jumpers and blankets. Do not turn the heating on unless you need to.
  5. Eat a filling breakfast. Or for some of you, EAT BREAKFAST. Eating breakfast will give you the energy to stay awake in your morning lectures and keep you warm. It doesn’t have to be difficult, or time consuming. Here’s my usual breakfast: That’s fruit juice, an oat shake, a banana, cod liver oil and multivitamins tablets and 2 slices of toast. Sometimes I’ll have pancakes though. If you’d like to know how to make pancakes, click here.

September 2013 – Blisters ‘n’ Stitches

There are many things that should not be underestimated. The importance of being well organised is one of them. Real life example: A half marathon requires a decent amount of training. Failure to put the work in beforehand can make race day (and the days that follow) very uncomfortable. Being well organised means you avoid the blisters and stitches (and aches and pains the following days.) Much in the same way, failure to get yourself a calender or a diary can make your degree very uncomfortable. 

 

I’d like to start by declaring myself fighting fit again after the Great North Run, but I’m not. Last weekend was Tough Mudder. For anyone unfamiliar with it, Tough Mudder is a 12 mile obstacle course featuring electric wires, ice baths and, yeah, lots of mud. The pictures attached to this blog don’t do justice to how much mud is actually involved, I was up to my neck at one point! If you think it sounds like a laugh, Tough Mudder 2014 can be found here.  Or, if you’d rather do a run, how about the Great Manchester Run 2014? Its 10km, and takes place in May next year.

Tough Mudder and the Great North Run might seem like horrible ways to spend your weekend, but if you’ve never tried anything of the sort then you really ought click the links above. There’s a special atmosphere on the day, especially the 10k, when you finish you get a real sense of accomplishment. And looking forward and workings towards something other than coursework deadlines and exams is definitely beneficial.

It looks like the 2013/14 season is going to be one of the best for a few years. With Fergie no longer bossing things and a Sky TV cash injection for all clubs every team was busy securing new signings to take them forward. Well, except one club. Newcastle brought in one player. On loan. *sigh* At least sunderland are bottom. The title race had my curiosity, but with Arsenal signing German playmaker Ozil, it now has my attention. With any one of 5 teams looking to win the league we could be in for a great season. I’ve got money on Chelsea to win it.

Its October, which means coursework deadlines and cold weather. George Begg has never looked so appealing! The next 6 weeks are probably the most challenging time of the year. Coursework deadlines overlap and panic can easily set in. On top of this, money is likely to be hard to come by as November draws to a close. With this in mind, prepare yourself adequately. Plan your weekly spend so you can afford to feed yourself until the next student loan and get coursework out the way as soon as you can. Good luck, and god’s speed.

Keep on keepin’ on,

Michael

P.S. With Halloween soon to be upon us you may already be thinking about what costume you’re going to wear. I suggest Affleck’s palace in the city centre There’s a brilliant great fancy dress shop on the top floor and just about everything else you’ll need to create a great (but cheap) outfit on the floors below. Just don’t get lost. Trust me, I’m an engineer.

July 2013

Look Up!

One thing that really annoys me about people who live in cities is that nobody ever looks up. Everyone is in such a rush that people never seem to have time to stop and take in the art above their heads. There must be an architect somewhere who is banging their head against a (very nicely designed) wall in frustration. One thing most people are missing out on is stumbling across one of the space invaders which can be found doted around Manchester.  I’ve come across just two myself which is a pretty pitiful return after 3 years, so I’m on the lookout for the rest over the next few weeks.

So its summertime in Manchester, and it looks like we’ve already had our allocation of sunshine. As I write, the weather outside is overcast and miserable. So only the brave or the particularly northern consider this sunbathing weather. Still, its not as if I’m not spoilt for choice for things do. The nightlife is excellent in Manchester, as is its music scene. With 12 weeks to go until the start of Fresher’s Week there’s definitely scope to see a few bands live during the “quiet” summer weeks. Or maybe I should go skydiving again…

Manchester might be the footballing capital these but the city which is normally abuzz with energy and emotion at the weekend is eerily quiet at the moment, which is great if you’d rather go shopping than watch a football match. The city centre is much quieter as is a weekend journey to the Trafford Centre. But for die hard football fans such as myself it can be tearfully boring with only salacious rumours and gossip to keep us going. (EDIT: As a Newcastle fan I should have known better than to complain about things being slow *sigh*)

The summer break is an excellent time to get some studying done. Its not ideal when there are other things to be doing, but there’s no better time to work on my final year personal project. And as an engineer there’ll be no harm in flicking through Stroud’s Engineering Mathematics either. Whether I’ll actually get around to either of these is debatable but they’re both definitely good ideas.

In the meantime I also work part time. Stacking shelves, being yelled at by stupid customers and asking people if they have a nectar card in your sleep mightn’t seem rewarding but spending time in a real working environment helps develop real world skills, enhances your CV and can help you enjoy your time at University to the full. Just don’t overdo it though, I’m looking to retire from shelf stacking a week or so after freshers to concentrate on studying.

So between working, searching for illusive space invaders, going to gigs, and researching for my project (EDIT: Not to mention pulling my hair out over Newcastle) I’ll at least be kept busy over the summer.

Keep on keepin’ on

Michael