Monday, March 30, 2009

Losing sleep

I have been sleeping at 2am for the past three days because I had some dealings that need settling in Malaysia.

Yesterday I promised myself to make a little improvement by sleeping at 1am latest.

When the clock struck 1am, I started winding down and completed the final sentence in my email. Then the clock turned to 2.01am.

Drat! I forgotten it was the beginning of British Summer Time. The clocks go forward an hour on the last Sunday of March. Always remember that "spring forward, fall back".

Life is unfair. I am just destined to sleep at 2am no matter how hard I try!

Thursday, March 26, 2009


"Engineers are taken for granted in the society because we are too good in what we're doing. Everything has worked too well and it is now expected of us to always deliver the same."

This was the honest response from the President of Engineers Ireland to a Q&A last month when somebody in the audience asked about the status of engineers in the society.

This was echoed by a member of our work assignment group in one of the fortnightly meet ups that I attend.

Initially I felt it was a bold statement. I have been thinking about the statement ever since it has been uttered twice. But after a while, I am more convinced that it couldn't be more real.

Living nearby the London Eye, I have the opportunity to admire the magnificent steel structure everyday as I leave and return home. I have seen the wheel in different weather conditions - dry, blustery, wet, snow, hail, etc. It has stood well in those conditions.

I am so used to it that I don't notice it anymore but whenever I see it, I tend to ask myself if the wheel will ever topple over to the Thames. As I let my imagination run wild thinking about the worst case scenario - passengers falling out of the capsules and into the river - I know the likelihood of that happening is next to nil.

Why? Because engineering does not allow that to happen from the beginning!

Unlike banking, engineering failures will cause lives. A slight flaw in precision engineering like aviation will obliterate lives in hundreds in an instant. An oversight in the chemical content of our food will kill within days. A miscalculation in structural design will bury occupants alive in a pile of rubble.

Engineering technology is so established that it is now expected that things will and should be like that. But no one appreciates that.

The President continued, "Post-WW2 engineering was seen as a great profession. People looked up to engineers because they were rebuilding the nation. If you go to Iraq or other developing countries today, engineers are still very much respected. And that was how we were then."

One may argue that we are all economic migrants. People move to where the money is. Clearly if this is happening to engineering, there isn't enough money in the profession.

I am a half believer and half doubter in this.

There are professions that do not pay as well as bankers but still regarded as "sexy" by the society, for example, a pilot. In this case, I don't think salary is an important yardstick but career package is.

Really, with airfares going dirt cheap nowadays, I don't know why are pilots still more respectable than a bus driver. It's £1 to take a bus and 99p to fly to Spain. Now you tell me.

But I believe we can do more with engineers' compensation for the work they are expected to do and risks they have to undertake. If we want to attract and retain the best people in the industry, we have to be able to pay for talents.

In engineering, there isn't a moment we can put safety as an option. Unlike banking, there isn't an opportunity for us to come out with a multi-billion project, collapse it and expect the government to put money and bail us out for our mistakes.

With the high ethics in the engineering profession, there isn't a moment we can say, "just because we can build it safely, doesn't mean we should".

There's only one way for us - we must!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Dark spot in marathon training

I threw in the towel after the 24th km mark today. I meant to go 30km. There is a lesson to learn for being an idiot.

The wise learn from their mistakes; fools repeat them. Am not sure which am I. After 7 marathons, I should know better. But this is a new mistake, so I hope to learn from it.

I took a new route after receiving the London Marathon registration pack. In it was the race route. So I decided to run part of it today.

The marathon route - 1st 6 miles

What I didn't foresee was the distance that would be exceeded by doing this route. This means doing the extra miles without water, powergel, and isotonic drink until I reached home. I have used my house as a water/fuel station since the previous runs. But the extra came out to be 5km!

This worked out to be 15km in total without water or fuel into the body. No wonder I was knackered and anxious when I reached the Tower Bridge. The weather was great and the sun was strong. This further exacerbated the dehydration of the body.

I pushed on for another km and thought "enough is enough". I stopped and reduced to just walking. The watch registered 2hr 12mins.

I was at London Bridge and took a bus back to "base".

Training for a marathon is not only about building the mileage in time for the race. Today I have learned that it is also about listening to the body and learning what crap it can or cannot take. There are limits in all of us and each of us is different.

For me, the lesson is, never underestimate the consumption of water and gel during run. Two, is that 24km is my limit before the tank runs empty.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

When an A is not good enough, Cambridge Up-Grades

13 years ago one of my classmates, Ken, applied to read Physics at Cambridge University. As with all undergraduate admissions, there was an interview.

According to him, the interview was a little "violent". A panel of interviewers introduced themselves. One of the interviewers showed him two glasses.

He threw one on the floor. The impact smashed the glass to smithereens. The interviewer then asked him to use whatever Physics knowledge he had to calculate the number of shattered pieces on the floor.

The interviewers left the room and said they will return in 20 minutes.

There was a caliper, a ruler, few pieces of working papers, an eraser and a pencil on the table. The second glass was left for him to measure.

He scribbled a few equations on the paper. 5 minutes passed, he knew he was not going to solve the question no matter what equations he applied.

He waited for the time to pass. He was either too confident to come out with an answer or too nervous to come out with anything!

20 minutes passed. The interviewers returned to the room and asked for an answer. They offered more time. He declined politely.

"So, how many pieces?" one of the interviewers asked.

Ken took the second glass and smashed it on the floor. He said, "The same as this."

Ken won a place in Cambridge and read Physics. The last I checked, he is working around here.

This story has always reminded me of the quality Cambridge is seeking from prospective undergraduates. Apart from a string of As, candidates have to have the X-factor.

To be shortlisted, the minimum entry level was AAA in A-levels.

This week, the university announced a new entry level - A*AA.

In an economic situation like this, many universities would have desperately loosened entry levels to encourage more students especially those from overseas to take up places in their institutions. Many universities are fighting for a decreasing pool of overseas students this year.

Mindful of this, you certainly need the balls to do the opposite. Sorry, I mean stars.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bath Half Marathon 2009

Last updated: 18 March 2009

Today I ran the Bath Half Marathon.

I have spent too much for this race. The entrance fee was £32. Transportation to Bath was £49 by train. And shower facilities cost £1! I could fly to Rome and back with £80!

Bath is 185km or 1.5 hours away by train from London. That's probably the same distance from KL to Muar. I could have spent more had I stayed over night.

This is my second trip to Bath. So I didn't bother spending too much time there. It was just a day trip. More accurately, I was there for only 4 hours! A run "mercenary"?

Bath is hilly

There were 11,000 runners today. It was a nice half marathon. The weather was excellent with clear skies despite many runners complaining post-race that it was "frying"! I suspect it was around 18 deg C but the direct sunlight made it feel more. For me, I could run another loop with this kind of weather!
The crowd

River Avon

People do anything to enjoy the sun which is a scarce resource in this country

The route was scenic and hilly. This means the race wasn't the best place to achieve a PB. However, this was well compensated by a good distance of downhill run.

Panorama shot of runners' village (click to enlarge)

It was a two-loop run around the city. So, there were plenty of opportunities to strategise my run and identify overtaking spots by the time I completed the first loop. Am sure others felt the same way!

Each loop was around 10.5km, probably less the first because the second loop ended with a long haul run down the finish line. The distance appeared to be accurate and consistent to the timed pace.

Despite all the talk about this hilly terrain, Bath was the place I smashed my previous PB.

My time: 1hr 35mins:46secs
First 10km: 47mins 47 secs
Overall position: 1082

First medal for 2009

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Growing old

One particular photo that had a lasting impression on me was a comparison shot that I took with my former colleagues in my recent trip back to Malaysia.

The first photo was taken in 2006 when I returned from Japan.

I'm astonished so much have changed since then.



Thursday, March 12, 2009

Diversity Week

In recognition of the diverse background of The "O", our office dedicated this week as the "Diversity Week".

Yesterday was fund raising for a nominated children's sports camp.

UK is a "charitable" country. Even when the economy has turned dire, the country continues to help unfortunate people and give them a second chance to live. This impresses me a lot, really. In fact, it is through the generosity of the British government that I am able to be educated in this country.

Staff in our office were asked to dress in their favourite sports attire. A majority of us wore football jerseys.

I formed the minority and it must be easy to guess mine.

I had a choice between a Singapore Marathon or the recently acquired 2008 Malaysia Triathlon Series tee. I would not allow myself to be insulted, so the choice was obvious!;)

Dr Hee must understand that I am grateful for his contribution to my attire too.

Earlier in the week we sent out a plea for cakes. We wanted people who can bake or buy cakes so we can sell them and raise money for the charity.

The reason we asked for cakes was because we knew they will sell. It is as easy to sell cakes here as it is to get Malaysians to go to Jusco and Isetan for the preview sales.

I volunteered to sell the cakes. Pitching for donations was much harder than I thought. And I couldn't book the time to a job number, so I must make up time for work afterwards.

Cakes under my charge

We didn't have enough cakes to sell. So we went to nearby Sainsbury's to buy more. In fact, the cakes were donated to us by colleagues who went to buy them. I have enjoyed a lot participating in a "business" where cost was zero.

Two containers full of money

We managed to sell all our cakes and collected two containers full of money! I also doubled as the "auditor" for our cash pot. In total, we collected £294.19.

Even though this may not be a lot of money to provide for a sports camp, I think that's a lot of money raised by just selling cakes!

We recommended £1 for a slice of cake but I don't remember selling 294 slices.

Some people paid into the pot without taking a piece and some paid in more than the recommendation. We had notes.

Today's event was equally interesting. We met up with a select group of paralympians to exchange ideas of The "O"; we presented about the work we're doing, where we're going and how different we would be this time.

Briefing to paralympians

They told us about their past experiences in Beijing and Athens. What worked, what didn't, what they'd like to see more or less and how we can build on our strengths.

It was an interesting exchange. The "O" is truly customised and made for sportspeople, rather than being pretentious of what we interpret an "O" to be.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Training for London Marathon 2

According to my 18-week marathon training programme, I was slated to run 26km yesterday.

Last week I did a 33km run and felt alright. So I thought I would repeat the same route.

Instead I did the same route plus a little more. Only thing, I didn't bother stopping by for groceries at Sainsbury's. I continued running home. I finished 36.82km.

Total time was 3hrs 20mins.

Now I am caught between being hopeful and hopeless of achieving a sub-4(hour) finish for the London Marathon.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Training for London Marathon

In the shower, the water trickled down from the hair to the lips. It was salty like seawater. Must be the salt from the sweat that has dried up or dust that have formed from the polluted air in London.

I have just completed a 33km run. I ran to Greenwich and from there, to Hampstead Heath and ended at Camden. That's from the southeast to the northwest of London.

This is one of the two/three long distance training that I will cover before I take on the 2009 London Marathon in April.

I'm lucky to win a ballot to run. This will be the second London Marathon for me.

The difference between training for this and the previous marathon is the advantage of running the route first. Since I am living in London, I get to run the route of the race.

If I get it right, I would have ran the "marathon" twice before the actual race. Will be good to familiarise the route in any way.

Unlike training in Malaysia, I put in some thought to my training route. I make sure the intended distance will end at a place where I can do my weekly grocery shopping afterwards. Killing two birds with one stone.

Today it ended in Camden's Sainsburys. I have intended to do a 30km run. However, when I mapped it up in the web, I have actually covered 33.03km.

That was unintended. I thought my 30km time has worsened but I was happy to know that I have actually finished more than I should in 3hrs 6mins.

I cannot tell non-runners about what I've done today. My housemates for example, think I am crazy. So they do not sympathise me when I come home with a limp. Running 33km is bad enough. They think packing a shopping itinerary afterwards is madness.

But I also have a training mantra. As long as people say that I am crazy, I am training right.