Friday, October 29, 2010

Paris Marathon: Registration

I signed up for the Paris Marathon 2011 after failing in a bid for the London Marathon. The race cost me 90 inclusive of 10 insurance to get a full refund in case I pull out. This is the most expensive marathon I've paid to-date.

One of the requirements to run the Paris Marathon is to produce a medical certificate showing I'm fit to run 26.2 miles. It's the first time I ever needed to do that.

Today I had to rush back from work before five o'clock to go for a medical check up. Clinics here don't do 24 hours like kebab stalls. Doctors here only work on weekdays and till 6pm. So if anyone falls sick, it better be life-threatening in order to see a doctor in the hospital. Otherwise, see one on a weekday!

The checkup was simple but slightly humiliating. Not saying about nudity. Yes the normal heart rate checkup was done but what took me by surprise was the doctor asking me to do thirty squats with both arms stretched in front, in one minute. I felt like a school punishment because that was what my primary school teachers prescribed when we behaved like monkeys. So as I was doing the squats, I felt like back in SRK Bukit Bintang all over again.

It probably wouldn't be so strange if she did it with me like in a gym session. No, I take it back; it would be more strange! She was looking at me and I was looking at her while I counted the squats; just the two of us in a consultation room. Odd! Odd! Odd!

Squat like this

The initial reading was 120/63. A reading was taken immediately after the squats - 175/84. At this point, the doctor looked, shook her head and said, "Too high..tsk tsk tsk!" She laughed. Obviously she was trying to make me feel nervous. She took two more readings a few minutes apart. The readings were 150/74 and then 125/64.

"Ah! Good recovery. That's what I'm looking for. I'm happy to sign the form now", the doctor said, then penned her signature and put a stamp on the form.

After stepping out of the clinic, I looked at the name of the doctor. It read "Dr Lefeuvre". Sweet! A French! Now there's no way the French organisers are going to reject this!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Chilean miners - the miracle debate

Last week's international news were dominated by the successful rescue operation of 33 miners in Chile.

For some reasons, the operation has made me proud to be an Engineer and a Christian at the same time. Chileans are staunch Christians - Catholics to be exact. This catastrophe has tested anyone with a strong faith to the limit. The rescue operation lasted two months and would have debilitated the strongest of faith.

I have experience working with holes in the ground - from small trial holes to big tunnels. There are all sorts of complications associated to boring through vertically and horizontally e.g varied ground conditions, building settlements and cracks, unforeseen "craps" in the ground and equipment playing up. I was therefore biting nails when I read the Chileans were buried more than 700m below ground and the only way is to bore through 700m to get them out. I was doubtful anyone could survive the ordeal.

Working with tunnels and holes

To appreciate how deep 700m is, consider putting two Eiffel Towers on top of each other! And to understand the complication of boring at such depth, consider hammering down a 9" nail into the slender side of a plywood without breaking out from either side.

As an Engineer, I understand screw ups do happen at anytime even at the first 10m e.g deviation, hitting cavity or soft spots and groundwater pressure. I recently oversaw the boring of three tunnels the same size as the Chileans', with a total length of 200m. They took us three months to complete because of an unforeseen site condition. So, 700m would have its own set of problems. To compound the problem, 33 lives are under the machinery. Therefore, any collapse induced by the boring machines would have a devastating effect on the operation.

Long story short, two months later, the machine managed to get through 700m and exactly at the spot where the miners were trapped. Absolutely brilliant engineering!

The Chileans have a great ending to this story. They have prayed and their prayers answered. They set up camps around the site known as Camp Hope, and rightly so there was hope.

Yesterday morning there was a discussion in BBC about the Chilean miners. The discussion was more like a debate if this should be attributed to miracle or mere coincidence? How was it likely that 33 miners were trapped in a hole that didn't collapse with the surrounding ground?

A pastor said this could not be explained but convinced that this was certainly a miracle.

A human rights activist dismissed this possibility and said that it couldn't possibly be a miracle or divine intervention. He challenged that if there was a God, then where was He during the 2004 tsunami?

For me I respect both opinions but I would personally choose to think there was an element of divine intervention. Choosing to believe this doesn't in anyway downplay the established path of the rigour of science that helped rescue the miners. This is as good as drawing parallels to an HGV not reversing into me at site when I'm protected with concrete barriers, hard hat and with all the right PPEs.

Yes, there are two sides of the argument. Some will continue to use tsunami victims and trapped miners in China as anecdotal evidence that miracles cannot be supported and that they are purely psychological. The other side of the argument, as I feel is that these events are isolated but also relative in some ways. They made me realise that, "Bloody hell! The worst could have happened! Thank God it didn't!"