Thursday, December 30, 2010


I was just reading the blog of Mathias, from Sweden, whom I met at a couchsurfing event in July in San Francisco while he was on his own little trip around the US and Asia. He has lots of interesting perspectives and the ability to put his perspectives into nicely worded sentences.

When things start spinning a bit too fast it is easy to forget what is important in life. Then it can be good to slow down, stop for a while. Put ourselves and our well being first. Only then is it possible to meet our friends with presence, attention and the respect they deserve.


We are never anywhere else but here. Every moment is new.


Let go of the comfortable, the memory and the image of what you know. Push your limits. Do not listen to that sensor in your head that always resists change, resists the unknown and fears the uncomfortable. Just say: Fuck it!

Here's his blog


Aside from needles, the only things I can think of that I fear most are probably snakes and tarantula-like spiders (and maybe godzilla, but hey, he's a cartoon).

So, this past week, I semi-conquered my fear of needles. Kind of. Through a bit of acupuncture.

For the first acupuncture session I was sick, and after some nice cupping, the needles commenced. Suprisingly, only a few of them hurt going in. After I was turned into a human pincushion (according to my personal pincushion standards), I was able to relax and try to rest a bit with the needles just having a grand old time in me. Remarkably, I think I left with a less stuffy nose than when I entered.

The second session should have been easier than the first, of course. But, somehow I was a bit more nervous. Maybe because instead of cupping, this time I had needles in my back. I tried my best to make my mind absent, and think of nothing. It's really challenging. My mind runs and runs, so while they were going in, I just resolved to think about great and amazing experiences where I was truly encapsulated in a moment, like hiking a glacier and drinking pure water in Patagonia, or dancing in the Carnival parade, and hope that that would take my mind away from the needles going in.

After a mostly pain free going in, the hard part was then training my body to relax for the next 30 minutes or so. This time, unlike the first session, my jaw was even shaking a little bit. I guess I was pretty nervous after having been jabbed many a time and with my thoughts resting on the needles. Maybe adrenaline or fear. The worst are the ones in the belly, where I feel like it's going to go right through to the stomach because there is no muscle. Or the feet, because I can't keep them very still and have a fear of moving them around with the needles in. Although I wasn't unable to fall asleep as suggested, I did pretty good. After a few minutes post jabbage, I thought about some stuff from yoga to calm myself. Relaxed my fingers, mouth, and tongue, relaxed my arms and butt and eyelids, steadied my breathing, and after a few minutes, I was pretty calm with no chatter in my jaw. Immediately then I began to think about how the needles don't actually hurt, providing a little more confidence before I tried to clear my mind and fall asleep.

I think that controlling your body is one of the most challenging things to do. To be able to clear your mind of absolutely everything, take yourself out of the environment you are in, and calmly relax your body with controlled breathing, is not an easy task. I am impressed with those that have this ability. Even though things such as yoga and oriental medicines promise and usually do greatly improve our health directly, especially for things such as injuries, postural, and immune system problems, the fact that when used properly also help us control and regulate our minds and body thus improve our ability to remain physically and mentally calm throughout our daily routines is something that might in fact be better than anything else.

Anyways, needles are still scary.

Not the most flattering of photos (speaking for myself, at least):

Xmas Eve merriment:

Xmas dinner:

Friday, December 24, 2010


It was refreshing to visit London again. After a long time in Edinburgh, although a fairly international city with lots of stuff to do, it certainly does not have the catch all megalopolis-ness to it that London has. Wandering the neighborhoods and streets of London is incredibly entertaining and never lets you down. There is always something interesting around the next corner. A guy on a unicycle taking a straight jacket off, a catch-all open air food market, a free museum, an fine Victorian building, an underground station full of rushed black jacketed business people next scattered amongst a few homeless people and a guy playing a guitar.

I stayed at my friend Elsa's place, from the Bradley days. It was great seeing her and we laughed a lot about some of the really silly friends from a few years back. Saturday and Sunday was mostly spend meandering and checking out museums. Coincidentally, the worst snow storm in years hit London that Saturday, so we dim-wittedly but purposefully ventured out into the blizzard with a few destinations in sight. I don't usually advocate umbrellas in snow, but this was once case where it was legitimized. We couldn't even see the top of St. Paul's Cathedral when we walked by!

Of course, all that snow, and sub freezing temperatures, caused havoc on all modes of transportation in an unprepared Britain. All flights were cancelled Sunday. Rail travel was halted for the most part. It was all over the news, and people were stranded overnight at train stations and airports for multiple days. I felt pretty bad for a friend of one of Elsa's roommates. He was moving back to the states for good, but his flight was cancelled Sunday, and so the earliest they could get him out was the following Friday. So, since he had left his apartment for good, he slept on the couch at their place for 5 nights. I'm pretty lucky in that I scheduled my flight for Wednesday, as flight schedules started to normalize. Many people were much more frustrated than I at the airport.

So I admit that the sub-par weather dampened my enthusiasm for walking around and seeing everything I could. Monday I got to have a drink with an old friend from Chicago which was great. Tuesday, I spent the day walking around London with Berenice, who was I knew from the fire program in Edinburgh. She was on her way back to France for winter break and was stopping in for a few days in London.

I also fell in love with one of the market's there, Borough market, and ended up going there 3 times! Many a pot of boiling deliciousness, mulled wines, fresh cheeses, meats, produce, and general gastronomic goodness. Lunch there one day consisted of a Malaysian curry. The next day, a German Bratwurst. A third, I snagged samples from many a sample giver, mostly cheeses. All food coma inducing comidas. On the last day I even picked up all my fresh goods at Borough market for a dinner I cooked for Elsa, Berenice, stranded Lawrence, and the other 2 roomates. Roasted butternut squash with a fettuccine in a tomato/cream sauce with red onions. Complemented with a fine French wine picked by Berenice. Yum.

Many a museum were visited and possibly some knowledge was gained. Tate Modern. Tate. British Museum. British Library. National Gallery. Now that I think about it, I think I only made it to one museum in Edinburgh in over 3 months. Bah Humbug.

A thoroughly enjoyable time in London.

Snowage in London:

Borough Market mushrooms:

Skaldjur: (Swedish for seafood)

Meat Pies:

Ben the Big:

Berenice with mister Horse Guard:

Unicycle Straight Jacket man:

Another market:

Monday, December 20, 2010


Some photos from a York. A great, small city in England filled with wonderfully preserved history from many, many eras. Had a fantastic time staying with Yvonne and Ian.

The Minster. Largest gothic cathedral in Northern Europe:

Met up with old friend Johan from Sweden. Walking along the old Roman walls that circle the city:

World War II Museum

Devil from the 16th century on the former printers & book shop row.

The Shambles. Overhanging timber buildings, some dating to the 14th century. Shambles is an old world reference to what used to be a slaughterhouse or meatmarket.

Hangin with my friend Constantine. I found it really interesting that not only was Constantine declared emperor of the Roman empire in York (the very far reaches of the empire at the time), but there he made Christianity the official language of the empire, undoubtedly changing the course of history.

Yvonne pointed these out to me. The gold plaque at the top of the building indicates that the owner had paid some dues to the fire service and wished them to put one out in the event one should occur in their building.

Part of the Roman walls, Multiangular Tower, I believe. Early 3rd century:

Ruins of St. Marys Abbey, 11th Century:

Some houses on the outskirts:

Which candies to choose?

Community Garden:

Friday, December 17, 2010

Hull of a Suprise!

Zing! I only went to this city called Hull because my friend Manny from UL just happened to be there for some testing for work, so I thought it would be great to meet up while I could.

Having never heard of it, I wasn't expecting much. But it was pleasantly surprising.

It's located a few hours south of Edinburgh, very close to the North Sea, on the River Humber (you get a million bucks if you've heard of that before). Maybe 100,000 people live there.

Hull was about 95% destroyed during WWII during German air raids, second to only London in quantity of bombs dropped, due to it's close proximity to Germany. So lots of the buildings are relatively new as a result. However, somehow, the city center still has a good chunk of pretty ancient streets and buildings (ancient by US standards). It is divided into the old town and the new town. The old town has lots of narrow, brick lined streets with a very distinct architectural style. A few large cathedrals are there as well (who doesn't love a good Cathedral, gotta thank the Church for always being so filthy rich throughout history and creating nice architecturally interesting tourist sights that still stand today).

The city has a really good Maritime museum which I went to. Hull was the center of the whaling industry for the UK starting in the mid 1700s and lasting until the mid-late 1800s. There was a huge demand in the UK for the oil from whale blubber for oil lamps and preparation of leathers and cloths. The demand peaked in the early 1800s as they whaling fleets sailed all the way up to Greenland to haul in right whales. Thankfully they stopped, but of course now many of these whale populations are nearly extinct. The large fishing fleet from hull was also used in WWII, to do things like sweeping for bombs.

Other than that, the city center was really bustling during the day. At 6pm though, it was completely desolate and all I could find was a Mcdonalds and Pizza Hut open for dinner! I had to subject myself to my first McDonalds meal in 3.5 months. I went with the festive burger....and a mince pie (not a mincemeat pie, just mince).

Manny's first fish and chips. The fish was actually fresh, so he was able to complain about too many bones. In a normal fish and chip shop with crappy fish, there are no bones. And the green stuff is 'mushy peas', which were actually quite good. Though they probably just loaded them up with butter and salt:

Arcade full of small shops:

One of the older streets in Hull:

One of the largest Cathedrals in the UK:

Mmmmmmm Brussel Sprouts, carrots, jacket potato with gravy, and a meat pie. Doesn't get any heartier than that!

Newer street in City Center:

Manny enjoying his first English beefy dish:

Monday, December 13, 2010

Great Chinese Food

For my final evening in Edinburgh, George decided to take Eduardo and I out for a drink and Chinese food. A dinner at a Chinese restaurant is like a fine dining experience for him. He brings a bottle of wine and treats it like a Michelin.

Anyhow, he first took us to the local old man's pub John Leslies for a drink. This is one of the oldest pubs in Edinburgh, dating to the 1850s, and George has been going there almost daily since 1968. At that time, they had one television in the pub, which they used twice a year, once to show the Miss Universe pageant, and the other to show something like the Premier League championship game. It is one of the few pubs left in Edinburgh that have a separate area of the pub where women used to drink, when it was common for pubs to be segregated in to areas for men and women. The interior is very elaborate, fantastically detailed ceiling, and nice woodwork everywhere. George likes telling the story about how it used to be the place where men would go after they got off work and have 5 or 6 pints of beer. Geez! He would agree though that there is and has been an alcohol problem in Scotland. The big Scottish beers are all 3.8% alcohol by volume. A funny story is in the 70 or 80s, the pub at some point began selling Stella Artois on draft, which was 5% abv. So all these old Scottish guys continued to drink 5 or 6 pints as normal, but with the higher alcohol content, they just ended up really smashed as a result. George would never drink it and calls it the 'devil's drink', as it has just a little more alcohol in it, haha!

George in heaven. At John Leslies with a 'pint of heavy' in hand!

Eduardo in John Leslies:

So, the night didn't really get entertaining until we went to the Chinese restaurant across the street. Our reservation was at 8, but they told us to arrive late so there were enough tables when we arrived. We got there at about 8:20, all 5 of the tables except 1 were empty, and the owners proceeded to chuck out the people sitting at the lone table! They gave them a 2 minute warning and told them to get up and go. Never seen that before in a restaurant (neither had George, so it wasn’t normal). It was two couples in their 60s, and they were really just out there from wine. So what did they do? They got up and started talking to us as we waited for further commands from the server, and so we proceeded to talk to the 4 of them for nearly 20 minutes in the foyer of the restaurant, another first for me. The restaurant even brought out an appetizer for all of us as we stood there so long. The group brought their unfinished bottle of wine over and insisted on topping everyone glass off. Being a reasonably small city, George of course knew people that they knew. The tipsy wives then began to quiz Eduardo and I about our time in Edinburgh; it was immensely entertaining, and they really just couldn't stop blabbering.

After awhile we got rid of them and finally sat down. Unfortunately, George forgot his classes, so he couldn't read any of the menu, and thus was audibly complaining about it. So what happened? The wife of the couple at the table next to us heard him and offered George the glasses she was wearing for him to read the menu! He took his sweet time to read the menu with her glasses… try somewhere between 5 to 10 minutes. Subsequently, the next 30 minutes was basically a dinner involving the three of us and the couple at the table next to us, in their 60s. Again, being of the same age, George had friends in common with them and they hit it off. They also proceeded to inform us that they come to this restaurant once a week at least, and every time the man and the woman just sit and consume a whole bottle of wine, each! Of course, George knew someone at one of the other remaining tables as well. Never been in such a raucous little Chinese restaurant, full of jolly older Scottish people.

George borrows the neighbors reading glasses:

For dessert, instead of fortune cookies, they brought out mints. I instantly recognized them as the mints you can get at the 1 pound store. I bought 2 boxes myself about a month ago. Seemingly high class mints debunked. To top it off, the menu had a section called 'European Foods'. The only items in this section were 'Deep Fried Chicken' and 'Omelettes'. What? Perhaps they meant American food? If deep fried chicken and ham omelettes sum up European food, then chances are I have been lead astray on my perceptions of what European food is.

European dishes?

After that George insisted on going back across the street to the pub for one more pint. Of course, everyone that had left the Chinese restaurant was now continuing their fun at the pub, and it was really just oozing the old man pub feeling with lots of grey haired, tipsy, jolly Scots in their mid 60s.

Nevertheless, it was a highly entertaining evening.

The next morning, George made a full Scottish breakfast for me before my train departed. And, he even made me a pack lunch of two egg salad sandwiches. He put bacon in them as well. Only in Scotland… big slices of bacon in an egg salad sandwich. Regardless, he was sad to see me (& Eduardo shortly) leave.

Final Scottish Breakfast. Another overload:

Saturday, December 11, 2010


'Tis the eve of the my final day here in Edinburgh. I suppose I don't have anything miraculously scintillating or enlightening to culminate the last 3-4 months, so I'll spare everyone from the minutia of my miscellaneous musings. Give me a few train rides on the way down to London and I'll produce some laureate quality exposition later this week that even Stevenson would be proud of (not to mention SW Scott)

Last day spent with George making Eduardo & I a full Scottish breakfast (egg, black pudding, lorne sausage, and regular sausage topped with a suitable amount of HP sauce), lunch at UK fast food monopoly Gregg's for a bargain basement sausage roll and 'holiday bake'(rolled in light, crispy, golden puff pastry bread), then George insisting on a fine dinner at a Chinese restaurant followed by a 'pint of heavy' (which is not really so heavy in fact) at the local pub John Leslies.

Onwards by train tomorrow to Hull. I have no clue what is there, but an old coworker will be there so I thought it would be nice to meet up since I won't be making it back to Chicago very soon. Then, York for a bit, maybe Leeds, about 5 days in London, and flight back on the 22nd.

Oh, the blog title refers to the extent of my Harry Potter knowledge gleaned from 3 months here. I did, however, manage to check out the graveyard where the author took lots of the funny names from in the book, as well as the cafe where she wrote the majority of the first book.

See everyone in less than a fortnight!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Well, I have finished one exam, and have three more to go.

It's an interesting feeling to feel fairly comfortable with your exams in advance of them. Today, in my fire dynamics exam, I thought I did fine. Not spectacular, not poor, just fine. And I was not terribly stressed leading up to the exam.

I have two more exams tomorrow, and, tonight I was able to quit my studies early, enjoy the haggis, mashed potatoes, and mashed turnips my landlord prepared, have a glass of wine, and watch tv. Probably more relaxing than any normal Tuesday night the last 6-8 weeks.

It is a bit of an odd feeling, though, to be quite prepared when exams come. When I compare my undergraduate, I can't remember a time when I felt like I was really prepared for exams. I never felt like I knew the material very well. Here, I feel pretty prepared overall, withough much worry.

Going into the program, I knew it was going to be hard, and it certainly was hard. Parts of it were extremely difficult. I had to re-learn a lot of material I forgot from undergraduate sometimes, just to begin to understand new material that was presented. But I think the real reason I was ready is because I knew I wanted to be here, and dedicated myself more to the cause.

In fact, I must say, I'm not really even too concerned about the particular grades that I get. As long as I pass, that's fine. I think in undergraduate, I was more worried about the grades. Getting a job depended on good grades, so I really had to. Here, I don't care, I just want to learn and really understand the material, to make myself a better engineer when I'm done. I've worked in the fire field, and I will when I'm done. Fire is a small field where everyone knows each other, new things are always being developed, lots of knowledge is still to be uncovered, and knowing whats traditionally considered correct can even be a hindrance if you can't think for yourself and think outside the box. But a real understanding of the basics is really necessary for that. It requires a more fundamental understanding. So that's what I am going for. And in some classes, I don't feel an exam can justifiably test that particular aspect. 3 questions in 1.5 hours to sum up 3 months of intense learning is just not representative. I feel like I've spent a ton of time this semester studying my butt off (some of the undergraduates even think I'm smart and asked me questions in one class because I'm in masters program, imagine that!), my social life stunk a bit because of it, but I learned a lot, and as a result, am not stressed about exams, and am not really too concerned about the specific grades.

The University has really be pretty great though. Although my classes all felt pretty large, I still felt like I got to know my professors and they knew me at least a little bit (at least who I was). And all the professors, I really felt, are at the top of their fields, so the learning was top notch. With my fire dynamics class, the 10 people in our IMFSE program had separate lessons with Jose. In my finite element class, I was able to visit the professor several times, he had a separate class with us, and held a few extra sessions to help us as it was a pretty difficult class for us due to our varied backgrounds. Nonetheless, it was really challenging.

In the end, I actually feel 'smarter'. Whatever that means, based on your definition of smart. But I certainly know that I know more about something than I knew less about than before I started (that might not make sense, or it might, think about it). But it actually feels like I really did learn something and learn it well, not just learned it for a grade, or do a mediocre job, like it was so easy to do during undergraduate. Still remember my 5th year vibrations class from undergrad, one of the two or 3 hardest classes I have ever taken. The teacher stunk, the material was impossible to me at the time, and the exam was a cakewalk, so I got an A and I didn't learn much. Never used the material for even a split second afterward in work, but nonetheless...

Just a different mindset. Or, maybe I just summed up difference between a master's student and an undergraduate, ha!

I could complain about a few things, but I don't want to be a negative Nancy. So I'll leave with a few more pictures.

Off to more concentrated learning about fire in Sweden. Hooray!

The group with Jose (Never have I actually looked forward to a Monday morning lecture until Jose's class!):

Eduardo in front of our apartment building:

George & I at the beginning of the semester:

In front of the Kings Buildings (Engineering & Science Campus).

Ready to go to class:

Santa Stop here please:

Molisa scratching his heat (does it itch or is the material hard? haha).

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Life of The Student (IMFSE) Semester 1!

From the life of a project engineer to the life of leisure to the life of a IMFSE student! A small pictorial summary of the goings on this semester (which was not sooooo leisurely):

In all it's glory!

The group:

Snowball fight!

Chocolate muffins give you super thinking power. So do Mars bars (try at least 3 a week!). Deep Fried Mars Bar anyone? The great thing about being a student again: You can have ridiculous facial hair and don't have to meet company codes!

Studying hard in the lecture hall for Philosophy of Structures Tutorial Session:

Me, Hooi, Claudia on our way to class:

Professor Rotter, the world's Shell Structure expert! (And quite an entertaining teacher).

Preparations for the queen and Papal visit to Edinburgh:

Side trip to Pitlochry for some Highland Games:

Scotland vs. New Zealand Rugby game. With our super Scottish landlord George, Eduardo, and visiting friends.

Many a full scottish breakfasts were consumed:

Becoming a professional fiddler instantly at FiddleFest 2010:

Brecht, Karliss & Eduardo at a pub!

The fire research facilities:

With Netsanet & Woody, fire dynamics tutor, PHD candidate. Many a nice discussions on fire were had. Thanks Woody!

The happiest Ethiopian guy in the world! Netsanet enjoys his first snow ever!

Picnic on Arthurs Seat:

Me at my favorite Scottish dance, the Celidh! (Not the guy in the Kilt!)

Studying hard, or hardly studying? I think studying hard. Finite Element Method.

Climbing Arthurs Seat with Brecht before classes began:

Lothian Buses:

Local Pub, John Leslies:

Can you see me?

You get $100 if you can name this guy (and you don't live in Edinburgh!)

Foods for our international foods party: