Sunday, November 28, 2010

Watoto Choir

Several Fridays ago, I attended a concert by the Watoto Children's Choir. Quite an amazing experience, I must say. They come from the Watoto program in Uganda. All of the children in the choir (approximately ages 9-17) were formerly abducted to be child soldiers in the LRA. What heartbreaking stories they had to tell... However, they all had wonderful songs to share as well! Rich, tight harmonies, pounding rhythms, and joyful dancing. Talk about FUN! They did two concerts in a row, and I almost stayed for the second concert just to hear them sing again.

Instead of preaching the usual salvation message, these children presented the gospel through forgiveness. Although they had all been child soldiers and experienced horrors beyond imagination, they all stepped forward and said, "I forgive..." and then proceeded to say exactly who they forgave. For most, it was the army leaders who had ripped them from their homes, killed their family members, and forced them to commit brutalities against their will. To most of us, the thought of forgiving people like that would be almost inconceivable, and yet these children proclaim that the power of Jesus Christ and His forgiveness allows them to forgive others. I found their approach very relevant and meaningful - much better than some other touring choirs or shows that I've seen.

For more on the Watoto project and all that they do for former child soldiers, desolate women, abandoned children, and others needing rehabilitation, check out their website here. I would really encourage you to look around - there is a much bigger world out there than we realize sometimes...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

New Product Introduction

One of the modules I am in is called Management of Technology. This module focuses on bringing a new technology to market and includes all aspects of the process: manufacturing the product,  gaining the most benefit from the product, protecting the technology from competitors, and everything in between. The lecturer is superb, and his class is my most well-spent two academic hours in the entire week.

Last week, we had a guest lecturer speak on New Product Introduction, and this week we had a workshop to drive the point home. Hoo boy. Ever since I went through the entrepreneurship section of Intro to Engineering at my undergraduate uni, I have had a revulsion to activities such as making airplanes out of  a random assortment of materials (i.e. post-it notes, tootsie rolls, toothpicks, mentos, paper clips, etc). In fact, I generally dislike any activity that bears any resemblance to "here, be creative with materials from an overturned kitchen drawer and build something in a limited amount of time!!" However, hands-on activities tend to teach valuable lessons, so I have been learning to put aside my fear and jump in.

Tonight's project was to design, build, cost, market, and sell a self-parking car. In 2 hours. One main director, one project manager, three R&D people, two marketers, two finance people, and a manufacturer on a team. I chose to be on the marketing team (don't ask me why - I still don't really know). Information became a premium very quickly, with comments and questions flying every which way:

"Okay, so what kind of a car are we going to build?"

"Um, I'm not sure. What kind of market are we targeting?"
"I guess we can go either sporty, rich or cheap, lower-class. But I don't know which one is better."

"Okay, well maybe we should set how much is the car going to cost first."

"We don't know that until we know what kind of car we have the technology to build, which depends on R&D. How much can we afford to have the car cost?"

"I don't know until I know how many cars we are planning sell. Do we know that?"

" No clue."

Round and round the questions went, until it became pretty clear that some market research was needed to point us in the right direction. So we shoveled out some cash and were rewarded with a yellow, laminated piece of paper with buyer preferences. Ha ha! NOW we can get somewhere!!! Onward!

The company name we came up with was Urbana Inc, with the slogan Move Smarter. Also, the car name was Moveo (pronounced Mo-VAY-o), with the catchphrase Perfect Positioning. Our main team lead did an awesome job keeping us all on track and gave a wonderful sales presentation at the end. He also acted very professionally, interfacing quickly and efficiently between his subgroups like the project was the real deal. At one point he had a question for the R&D people who were furiously adding and removing legos from the car and jiggling wires, and I heard him say in a very commanding yet respectful way, "gentlemen, please, just a moment of your time." I would work with him any day.

In the end, the other marketing person and I decided not to buy the final piece of market research that actually had a critical piece of information in it: what market would buy the majority of cars in the first year. In order for distributors to buy your car at the Geneva Convention, you have to market to what they need right now. We accidentally did the opposite because we didn't think we needed the information even though our finance team had budgeted for it. Our car would have been good for the long term market, but we didn't make many immediate sales. Oops...

In the end, many valuable lessons learned. Communication is key - I loved having everyone working in the same room. What features you need depends on what your market is, and how much things are going to cost depends on what features you put on it. Also, if you're targeting to sell at a low price, you have to make sure that your design team is not putting on extra frills, and you have to know what your costs are to set a selling price. You also need to know projected sales to calculate the best manufacturing plan, which then dictates cost, and so on and so forth. Very complicated, but having immediate access to everyone involved in the project was extremely helpful.

Once again, hours well spent. My time is never wasted in that class, and I look forward to hearing feedback from the professors and my classmates next week.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Nigerian Oil

My apologies for the lapse in updates. Much has gone on since I last wrote, so I won't even try to summarize but will instead pick up where life is at the moment. Past details will probably fill themselves over time.

Cambridge University (CU) prides itself on being very knowledgeable. As a student, I reap the benefits of the fact that CU likes to share that knowledge...a lot. Everywhere I turn, there is another seminar series. Departments, societies, and colleges bring in experts, professors, and industry professionals from all over to speak on every topic under the sun. I regularly attend the weekly seminar series in the Department of Chemical Engineering, partly for the outstanding snacks held beforehand (with tea, of course). I'm telling you, these people know how to make sweets - ahem - "confectioneries," as they are called over here.

Last Friday night, I bumped into my housemate Teresa and ended up at a panel discussion revolving around Shell's oil activities in the Nigeria Delta. I heard "Shell," and "drilling," and thought it would be a technical discussion. Think again! Instead, I got a crash course in Nigerian politics, society, and community behavior, all relating to oil. Talk about an eye-opener...

Apparently, the Niger Delta is very rich in oil. Currently, there a few energy companies producing oil, including Shell. The Nigerian government takes 95% of Shell's profits, which makes the government officials very, very rich and gives them quite a bit of control over what Shell can and cannot do in that area. In fact, the output pipe from a Shell refinery is sometimes diverted to another tanker for a while "off the books," so that someone in government can pay off a loan or return a favor. Also, people will steal oil straight from transportation pipes that run above ground by simply breaking into them. This is a problem.

Also, if an energy company wishes to build new pipes or use land where people are living, they used to approach one community (the "host community") and make a contract. The community let the energy company use the land or whatever, and the community got money for a new school or something. However, neighboring communities would get jealous and then go burn the host community to the ground. So that was also a problem. In addition, the new school would sometimes get contracted to someone's brother or uncle, and the money would walk off. This is still a problem.

There were four people on the panel: a Shell employee (hereafter referred to as Jack), a moderator, someone obviously community-development oriented (hereafter referred to as Joe), and one other participant. Jack stood up and spoke for about 10 minutes about the complex nature of the situation in Nigeria, several lessons that Shell had learned over the years (including the lesson that Shell is not very good at learning), and ended by admitting that the situation was far from fixed but progress was happening. Joe stood up and proclaimed that the culture of corruption in Nigeria was very, very bad, that Shell's efforts thus far were not sufficient and that Shell could do more in spite of their "excuses." Jack would then point out the steps Shell had been taking in an attempt to improve the situation, and Joe would call it insufficient, direct his criticisms of Shell as a whole at Jack, treat Jack somewhat like a child who needed reprimanding, and propose that real change was only possible if the whole political system was broken and rebuilt. Oh yes, and occasionally mention that since Shell has tons and tons of money, why wasn't it spending more on this effort? And so it proceeded for the entire night. Notably, never once did Jack take a swipe at Joe.

What did I learn from all this? Well, a couple things jumped out.

1) The world is very, very complex. Particularly when you add people into the equation. At one point, Jack said, "Shell hires mainly engineers. We are very good at what we do, we have amazing technical expertise, and we know how to drill for and produce oil. We expect that when we do A, we will get B. That every time we do A, we will get the same result. However, that is not true in social situations and Nigerian communities."

His point was that Shell employees are sometimes ill-equipped to manage political relations in Nigeria because of their mindset about actions and consequences. I spoke to him afterwards about this particular quote of his, and he and I agreed that being an engineer and being a liaison or company representative in political relations require two completely different mindsets. In engineering, if you cannot trust that doing A will produce B, you're screwed. Reliable technology is built on the assumption that things will happen the same way every time. Take that trust away, and you have no foundation to stand on. That is why it is sometimes so difficult for engineers to understand how people work.

However, the talk reminded me how important social relations are, because they dictate the use of technology long after the technology is on the ground.

2) Having a Nigerian or two on the panel is a good idea. There were at least three native Nigerians in the audience, all with respectable positions and vocations. The third panelist spoke for about 10 minutes after Jack and Joe, painting a very grim picture of future Nigeria if current political currents cause an explosion and fracture the country (particularly if the North and South become at odds). In the Q&A session, all three Nigerians actively refused this hypothesis and demonstrated that the supposed North/South divide was not as important as the panelist thought. One of them said, "I am sitting here next to my friend, and he is from the South and I am from the North. We are getting along fine - Nigeria will not split as you say." Another stood up on his soap box for a good five minutes, proclaiming what he thought very vehemently, saying, "Shell needs to earn the trust of the people. If the people trust that Shell is working for their good, they will stand up and FIGHT to protect Shell's assets in Nigeria!"

Look out, the Nigerians are in the house!!!

3) Working in developing countries is very different than working in developed countries. People don't always behave decently and people are motivated differently. Also, working in a system where a small group of elites rule the majority of the population and own all the wealth is extremely difficult when you're used to an American or UK system.

4) Don't criticize unless you have a solution, or will admit that you don't have a solution. Criticizing just for the sake of pointing out how awful the other person's efforts or ideas are is not helpful unless you can offer a better alternative.

5) Money does not solve all the world's problems. Just because Shell has quite a bit of money does not mean that they can magically solve problems, nor even that they should be required to solve problems. They are a business, just like Apple or UPS is. They (or their shareholders) should be able to decide what they do with their own money.

So there you go: my synopsis of the evening (albeit a rather skewed one I'm sure). I am very glad I joined Teresa and expanded my horizons, and hope to continue doing so.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Miscellaneous Points on Life Thus Far

Life in Cambridge has been rolling, rolling! Miscellaneous observations and comments about life thus far.

- The academic system is much different here than in the States. I have been informed that the differences are only really found in the "Oxbridge" schools (Oxford and Cambridge), not in the other universities and schools in England. Class etiquette is different, for one. No eating or drinking is technically allowed pretty much anywhere that one would like to eat and drink, including the computer labs and lecture rooms. The only real exception to this is the designated "tea room," where the Department of Chemical Engineering provides free tea twice a day: once at about 10:45 and then again around 3:45. The advantage/disadvantage of this "no consumption of sustenance" rule is that students do not slurp coffee during lecture or while coding massive programs in Matlab. Advantage: no potential spills onto floors or computers. Disadvantage (from a student's perspective): students struggle not to fall asleep in lecture and have a more difficult time concentrating on programming. Whether the advantages outweight the disadvantages is a personal opinion, I suppose... Another interesting observation on class etiquette: students do not show up to class on time. One of the main reasons behind this seeming lack of respect is the 10-minute walk from the Department of Engineering to the Department of Chemical Engineering. Although the lectures are supposedly timed with 10 minutes in between sessions, this does not always hold true. For example, here are the instructions all the students received from the department about class start times:

Nominal Start Time : Actual Class Period
9:00 : 9:05-9:55
10:00 : 10:00-10:50
11:00 : 11:10-12:00
12:00 : 12:05-12:55

I believe this is to allow for the tea break that goes around 10:45-11:30 (note the 20-minute break in the lectures from 10:50-11:10). However, the afternoon lectures are not so carefully regulated. One lecturer was supposed to start at 3:00, but he started around 3:07 (for whatever reason), so he went until about 4:03. However, a group of us had another lecture at 4:00 in the other building (10 minutes away) that actually started at 4:10 to accomodate our walk. Even with all that, we were still late. AND missed the tea break, I will have you note...

Bottom line: the whole system is just interesting.

- One of my lecturers has a Scottish accent, so I keep hoping that one of these days he will break into a tangent about dilithium crystals. Hasn't happened yet, but I keep listening...

- The population of Cambridge triples on a Saturday. Apparently, everyone likes to shop on a Saturday - who knew? The city is decently populated but not crazy during the week, but I declare people come crawling out of the woodwork on Saturday! It's like we were a popular city or something...

- I met a new undergraduate student who is studying Theology in order to become a Church of England pastor. He was very interesting to chat with, but his lack of geography knowledge was comical. Our conversation drifted towards the inevitable "where are you from" question, and I gave the standard "oh, upstate NY but did my undergraduate in OK" answer. The conversation went something like this:

Me: "Do you know where Oklahoma is?"

Him: "No, unfortunately not."

Me: "No matter - do you know where Texas is?" I intended to follow up with where Oklahoma is in relation to Texas.

Him: ".................................."

Now, I don't fault people from England for not knowing where OK is (there are quite a few states in America, you know), but usually they are roughly familiar with Texas.

Me: "Do you really not know where Texas is?!"

Him (somewhat bashfully): "No, I guess not..."

I had to laugh and give him a difficult time about it. Eventually I had mercy on him and drew a scribbly map of America to point out Maine, Florida, Texas, California, and Oklahoma. Upon seeing Oklahoma, he exclaimed, "You have UNIVERSITIES out there?!?!", that would be a yes....

The whole situation was very comical, and still makes me chuckle.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

London - British Museum (Part 2)

My Matlab program is finally finished! Anyone familiar with defining global variables? I defined my variable as global in the subroutine and it seemed happy enough, but then it suddenly decided to quit being global unless I defined it as such in the main routine as well. <sigh> the last thing I need is schizophrenic variables... But in any case, it works - nobody touch it!! Oh, and I drank coffee in the computer room, in spite of the signs for no food or drink. I know,  I'm such a rebel... :P AND! I am extremely excited because I bought a set of miniature syrups from Costa Coffee so I can mix my own flavors into plain lattes. Yum. :)

Alright, the Parthenon exhibit. Embarrassingly, I did not initially realize what the Parthenon was. I had seen pictures of it before (in early homeschool years somewhere I'm sure), but at the time did not put it together with the name. Upon entering the room, my thought process went something like, "oooohhh right - this thing. Heh...shoulda known that...Right. Forward!" :P So, in case you don't know what it looks like either, there is a picture here.

Yeah, it's that thing.

So anyway, the temple honors Athena, the goddess of wisdom, war, the arts, industry, justice and skill. With all that on her plate, she must have also been the goddess of multi-tasking... The marble sculptures on display at the British Museum fall into three categories: pediments, metopes, and friezes. Pediments are in the triangular spaces on the east and west sides of the temple, metopes run along all four sides of the temple just below the pediments, and friezes run around all four sides of the temple just inside the outer columns. For a better picture of where the friezes would have been, see here (my descriptive skills are lacking at the moment).

East Pediment
Right half of the east pediment.

Left half of the east pediment.
The east pediment is the scene of Athena's birth, which is actually a pretty gruesome sight. Unfortunately, Zeus and Athena (the main characters in the story) are both missing. The cool part is that you can see the figures slope upward in height to fit the triangular section of the roof.

Back of one of the above sculptures. See the black horizontal brushstroke right below the rectangular depression? That was a painter testing his color.
West Pediment
So, the Parthenon exploded a while back due to a bunch of gunpowder stored in its basement.

Yup, that thare was a pretty big explosion, folks.

This is supposed to be an epic battle between Athena and Poseidon. Kinda hard to do much without a head or arms, but there's some serious pedestal-sitting going on.

The metopes originally depicted four different battles, one for each side of the building: Olympian gods vs. giants, centaurs vs. the Lapiths (humans), Amazons vs. Athenians, and the Trojan war.  Some think the metopes symbolize a snub towards the Persians, because the Athenians defeated invading Persians around 490 BC and began to build the Parthenon, then the Persians reciprocated and sacked the building before it was finished. Finally, the Athenians once again overthrew the Persians and managed to finish the building, complete with metopes showing civilized forces fighting barbarians. So, make of that what you will...Only a handful of the metopes remain today - mostly the centaurs vs. Lapiths. The story goes that the centaurs and Lapiths hated each other, but the Lapiths attempted reconciliation by inviting the centaurs to a wedding feast. However, the centaurs became incensed by the wine, lost their heads, and attempted to carry off the Lapith women. This did not go over so well with the Lapith men, so a fight ensued. It's not certain who won...


The friezes portray a long procession, beginning on the west side of the building, splitting equally down the north and south sides, and ending on the east side. Athena is the culminating figure, and the whole parade is a depiction of the Greater Panathenaic procession: an actual yearly event that celebrates Athena.

Ranks of horsemen.

Since the friezes had limited third dimension capabilities, the artists overlapped the horsemen in an attempt to create the illusion of a deeper third dimension. These computer recreations show what the artist was really trying to portray.

Cow for an offering. To break up the visual monotony of a flat side of a cow, artists put people in front of them.
Athena being handed the ceremonial robe (peplos). I would have thought she would be portrayed larger than she is here, but apparently the designers felt that a HUGE statue in the main part of the temple would be enough - not sure if that statue still exists or not.
 Alright, enough about the Parthenon. I had a little time left after I finished there, so I found one more thing that I wanted to share.

The above piece of stone is from a pillar erected around 240 BC by Emperor Ashoka, who ruled in the region of southeast Asia. When the rulers of middle eastern or Egyptian lands put up pillars, they always focused on their many achievements in battle and their high superiority over other nations. However, Emperor Ashoka's pillars have his personal philosophy system on how people should live their lives. His ideas were similar to the teachings of Buddhism, and the dharma concept was born out of his great remorse over a massacre he later created through conquest. In his eyes, the conquest to be won was over one's self, not over other people or lands. I found it interesting how this vast difference in perspective began so very long ago and is still visible today between Eastern and Western philosophies.

For dinner, I attempted to find a place with good risotto in my guidebook.

I walked down the appropriate street.

I hit the appropriate cross-street.

I looked to where the restaurant should be, and I saw a boarded-off construction zone. Hm.

I walked back to the previous corner.

I walked forward to the next corner.

I walked around the BLOCK.

Still nothing.

So I ended up in a mexican fast-food place similar to Qdoba's or Chipotle, and they just happened to be having 2-for-1 drink specials.

My pomegranate margaritas - very good. Nicole would have liked them too - I needed her to have my extra one.
 And this concludes my journey to London - I hope I have not bored you too terribly much. I will attempt to write about less academic things next time.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

London - British Museum (Part 1)

Travel lesson #1: traveling is not terribly cheap if you don't plan in advance. Therefore, a day trip to London was my best option for today since a) London is under an hour away by train (and I woke up at 10:00), b) train tickets to London are fairly cheap, c) the British Museum is free, and d) the weather was exceptionally good (for England). Turns out, a handful of other museums in London are free, but my time was limited.

Museums have traditionally been a source of frustration for me, because after I have collected the necessary floor plans, maps, and audio guides, I have a fundamental decision to make: do I try to see as much as possible by hitting the highlights and scanning over the rest, or do I slow down and fully digest things and end up seeing only a few exhibits. I decided to take the latter approach, particularly since I was equipped with an audio guide as I was at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC.

I have recently realized that I enjoy teaching other people what I have learned. Those of you that know me will probably agree that when I learn something that I think is interesting, I generally share it. Sermons, lectures, tour tidbits, etc. Most likely you will have picked that up from my blog posts too...  So now you get to be a fly on the wall, watching me wander around the museum.
Welcome to the British Museum. And everyone else who is going to the British Museum.
 The British Museum is divided into sections primarily by geographic region. Also, the artifacts are related to human culture, so no dinosaurs, whales, or extensive painting collections. But have no fear! Those have their own museums, somewhere else in London I'm sure. I saw the Rosetta Stone in the Ancient Egypt display, which was interesting but extremely difficult to photograph due to the large group of people clustered breathlessly around the etchings. Egyptian objects transitioned into Assyrian as I moved through the halls, and I was instantly reminded of all the pictures of Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom I had seen in Sunday School lessons and Bible handbooks. The giant winged lions with men's faces that stand on either side of a gate? Yup, those were there. Also there was the item below:

The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III, an Assyrian King who reigned from 858-824 BC. Each panel shows a different king bringing him tribute.

Forgive the blurriness of the picture. The kneeling figure in the center panel is King Jehu of Israel - how about that?!
My next stop was the Gallery Cafe, since it was about 2:00 and I had not eaten anything. I barely caught the train to London and did not get my desired latte to sip during the ride. But, one chocolate chip muffin and a double-latte later, I was ready to re-enter the museum. I was happily sipping my coffee while gazing at displays when I heard a throat cleared by my shoulder. "Ma'am? There are no food or drinks allowed in the museum, but you can go finish it in the cafe if you would like." Drat.... If I am ever curator of a museum, I think I will ensure that people can sip their drink of choice in the galleries if they are mature and well-behaved (so as to prevent spills, you know). A good drink is the perfect companion to a good book, so why should museum displays be any different?

At this point, I decided to delve into the Greek exhibits. Greek culture is of particular interest to me for a few reasons: 1) the Greeks loved science and technology, and I am an engineer, 2) I enjoy Greek mythology, and 3) the Greek exhibit was right next to the cafe ;).

The Greeks were good at geometry, and look - there's geometry on their vases! Early Grecian pottery was predominated by geometric designs, which I think was because they didn't really know how to draw anything else - witness the poor skinny horses on the neighboring pot. They needed some "drawing with perspective" course or something...
Large amphora either for storing food or burying small children, preferably not at the same time.

Details on the above amphora. These design were most likely rolled into the clay by a circular stamp.
The amphora was too large to be manufactured in one piece, so the sections were made separately and then joined by firing. I can just see the face of the one guy who didn't measure his section right the first time and made it too small, as it falls "phoomp" right in the center of the other pieces. Whoops...

The first ever artist signature - on the right, running along the vertical white column. Not exactly your scripted, flowing flourish, but hey - it works.
Famous pottery with Achilles killing the Amazon queen. Apparently, he fell in love with her just after he plunged his spear in her neck. "Aw, crap..."
I spent most of my time in the gallery of the Parthenon, which will hopefully come tomorrow in the next post.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


Last Saturday, I ventured out with my flatmate Teresa to visit Ely (pronouced "EE-lee"). I had originally planned to go on Sunday, but Saturday was gorgeous and the weather was forecasted to be raining on Sunday. The main attraction in Ely is the Ely Cathedral - by far the largest building in the city (and probably one of its biggest revenue-generators as well...). Ely is about 15 minutes north of Cambridge by train, and Teresa and I spent a lovely afternoon escaping the hustle and bustle of Cambridge. The cathedral is first glimpsed from the train station, but a short walk into the city brought us closer.

Walking up to the cathedral through what used to be a medieval vineyard. Interesting to me that so many monasteries were involved in wine-making, yet so many modern churches shun alcohol.

We walked inside, and I had not even made it all the way through the door when my mouth dropped in shock because I heard a SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA.

THIS wasn't in my guide book...
Turns out, it was a rehearsal for that an evening concert in the cathedral. What luck! We sat and listened for a while, then wandered around the enormous church. The music sounded strangely familiar, and I would have put money on Gershwin because of the jazzy melody being tossed back and forth between sections of the orchestra. When Teresa and I left the church, I glanced at the concert advertisement. Sure enough: Gershwin's "An American in Paris" was among the pieces listed. HA! One particular side of my family has always been good at identifying musical nuances - the Davis ears ring true again!

The cathedral began as a monastery in 673, then was founded as a Benedictine community in 970 after the Danes destroyed it in 870. The monastery was closed in the 16th century but the cathedral is still in operation today. Main point: buildings tend to be very old in England.
Sculpture to the left of the main entrance, symbolizing the journey we take from darkness to light, leading to the cross of Christ.
Forgive the poor photo quality - flash was not allowed. Which subsequently resulted in me cringing and saying "CRAP" rather loudly every time my flash went off because I had restarted my camera and forgotten to negate the flash...

The level of detail in the entire church was astounding. This is a door sash. A door sash.  
The ceiling shows the ancestry of Jesus from Adam, with prophets on either side. I'm not sure what the little faces framed in circles are. The ending picture is Jesus enthroned in glory.
Once again, forgive the poor picture quality. A skewed view of the Octagon, where you can see three of the eight legs clearly above the small stained glass windows (which are overexposed - sorry mom!).
Main Impressions:
- Size: The cathedral is massive. A simple glance upwards is not sufficient - the ceiling is almost like a whole other world. I found myself craning my head even further backwards every time I looked up in an attempt to capture everything. This was particularly the case when I was studying the central ceiling painting that spanned the entire length of the cathedral. It took me a minute to realize that I could probably just walk down the aisle further instead of ending up in a backbend...
- Intricacy: As I mentioned earlier, the detail displayed in every single chapel, sculpture, and wall is awe-inspiring. I have never in my entire life paid as much attention to a single stone. Part of me is saddened by the loss of such excellent craftsmanship and beauty to today's demands of quick and easy.
- Number of chapels: A typical cathedral will have one or maybe two chapels, which are areas of worship set aside in honor of a particular saint or two. This cathedral has SEVEN chapels, all within the cathedral. Each one is designed with a different architectural style because they were added over time: one is Gothic, another Renaissance, still another partially 19th century. I could hardly turn a corner without seeing another chapel - it was like having a large church made up of a bunch of mini-churches.

On the front left edge of the building, the stone is broken off and the building just STOPS. I wonder if the building used to extend that direction before it was destroyed by the Danes.
Teresa and I in front of the cathedral. Had to wait for cars to pass - was reminded of certain geckos in the Bahamas... :)
 After we were finished at the cathedral, Teresa and I wandered through town in the general direction of the train station. We came across a traveling French market! It was their last weekend in Ely, and then they were moving on - who knew?

For a French market, they sure had a lot of other international foods for sale.
There was chocolate, jewelry, and all sorts of other lovely things. We stopped for a while at the handmade soaps vendor, but the scents were stamped into the soap face in French. I had fun trying to pronounce the names, but one of them stumped me. It read: "THE"





That can't be right.

Fortunately, Teresa pointed out the accent mark above the "e," and corrected my pronunciation: "tea."


Well, a teeny-tiny accent mark is hard to see when it's etched in soap... We both had a good laugh about that one for a while...

(For the record - I still don't know what the heck "tea" is supposed to smell like...)

Teresa and I both made it back to Cambridge safely and decided that the trip was definitely worth a Saturday afternoon. In fact, we plan to go back on a Sunday morning and attend a service, so as to hear their choir.

In other news:
- The house lost hot water sometime on Saturday, and we just got it back today. Hallelujah!
- Lectures start tomorrow - wish me luck...

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Walking Tour: Cambridge Past and Present (Part 3)

Stop #9: Newnham College

Newnham College is one of the 32 colleges in the University of Cambridge - Jesus College and Kings College are two others. This college is only for women and was originally an all-female residence hall. The architecture is pleasing and gentle on the senses (that statement makes sense if you visit the college - it's an atmosphere thing). The grounds were reportedly very pretty, but the grounds were not as breathtaking as I thought they would be. I have a feeling that I didn't see them at the best time of year, so maybe I'll revisit later if I'm up that direction again.

The only hint of New England fall I've really seen.

I have spent about 15 minutes trying to track down what this is, but I still have no idea. It looks awfully cryptic - perhaps the key to eventual world dominance? (Cody?)

I am very proud of this picture, particularly since my mother is very good at taking pictures like this. I want credit for the in/out of focus effect!

Stop #10: Silver Street Bridge

So there is this road named Silver Street.

And there is a bridge on it.

From which you can see another bridge: the Mathematical Bridge.

Rumors fly around about this bridge quite often, and the main one states that the bridge was originally built to be held together by gravity, without nails. Students and Fellows later disassembled the bridge in a restoration project and were unable to put it back together correctly, so the bridge now has very conspicuous bolts at critical junctures. As much as I would love for this to be true, Queens College (which owns the bridge) asserts that the original bridge was built with iron pins or screws and the current bridge uses nuts and bolts. Actually, to quote from their website directly: "Only a pedant could claim that the bridge was originally built without nails."


Okay, what the heck is a pedant?

Leave it to Cambridge to throw a statement like that out there and make the engineers and scientists who actually enjoyed believing the rumor wonder if they just got majorly insulted without realizing it...

Oh yes - a pub. Very important in England, particularly for...well...just about everybody, actually.
Stop #10: Mill Pond

Just upstream of Silver Street Bridge is a pond and falls that used to power a mill which straddled the Cam.

Stop #11: Trumpington Street

On the way to Trumpington Street, I found the place I sent all my application materials.
Ha! It DOES exist!
Channels that used to flow fresh water into the city center many many years ago.
Really? Channels? That necessitated an entire "stop?" Well okay - it's cool from an engineering perspective I guess... If you're getting bored, hang in there because the next site is more interesting.

Stop #12: St. Bene't's Church

My tour thus far had consisted of many older buildings, but most of them had fit in with the standard architectural style in Cambridge. But then, I arrived at THIS church: Anglo-Saxon in design and completed in 1033 A.D. I could see the distinct difference in architecture immediately - rectangular structures and simplistic decorations as opposed to the more ornate decorations and curved structures I was used to seeing.

Anglo-Saxon church on the left, normal Cambridge building on the right. See the difference?

Original arch. The alternating long-short-long stone pattern was a trademark of the building style at the time.
Okay, side tangent. I think I could have walked past this church numerous times during my year in Cambridge and never noticed that the architecture was different. I have found that there is a huge different between looking AT something and actually SEEING something. The audio tour that I was on brought me to the church and made me aware of the architectural differences. This is why I really enjoy commentaries (like the one at the Museum of Modern Art), because they take me from just looking at something - a building, gate, or piece of art - to seeing it in its full meaning and significance. There is a section from the book "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" that pertains to this idea. The main character is a rhetoric teacher for part of his life, and this section talks about a struggle he came up against in the classroom.

"He’d been innovating extensively. He’d been having trouble with students who had nothing to say. At first he thought it was laziness but later it became apparent that is wasn’t. They just couldn’t think of anything to say.

One of them, a girl with strong-lensed glasses, wanted to write a five-hundred-word essay about the United States. He was used to the sinking feeling that comes from statements like this, and suggested without disparagement that she narrow it down to just Bozeman.
When the paper came due she didn’t have it and was quite upset. She had tried and tried but she just couldn’t think of anything to say.
He had already discussed her with her previous instructors and they’d confirmed his impressions of her. She was very serious, disciplined and hardworking, but extremely dull. Not a spark of creativity in her anywhere. Her eyes, behind the thick-lensed glasses, were the eyes of a drudge. She wasn’t bluffing him, she really couldn’t think of anything to say, and was upset by her inability to do as she was told.
It just stumped him. How she couldn’t think of anything to say. A silence occurred, and then a peculiar answer: “Narrow it down to the main street of Bozeman.” It was a stroke of insight.
She nodded dutifully and went out. But just before her next class she came back in real distress, tears this time, distress that had obviously been there for a long time. She still couldn’t think of anything to say, and couldn’t understand why, if she couldn’t think of anything about all of Bozeman, she should be able to think of something about just one street.
He was furious. “You’re not looking!” he said. A memory came back of his own dismissal from the University for having too much to say. For every fact there is an infinity of hypotheses. The more you look the more you see. She really wasn’t looking and yet somehow didn’t understand this.
He told her angrily, “Narrow it down to the front of one building on the main street of Bozeman. The Opera House. Start with the upper left-hand brick.”
Her eyes, behind the thick-lensed glasses, opened wide.
She came in the next class with a puzzled look and handed him a five-thousand-word essay on the front of the Opera House of the main street of Bozeman, Montana. “I sat in the hamburger stand across the street,” she said, “and started writing about the first brick, and the second brick, and then by the third brick it all started to come and I couldn’t stop. They thought I was crazy, and they kept kidding me, but here it all is. I don’t understand it.”
Neither did he, but on long walks through he streets of town he thought about it and concluded she was evidently stopped with the same kind of blockage that had paralyzed him on his first day of teaching. She was blocked because she was trying to repeat, in her writing, things she had already heard, just as on the first day he had tried to repeat things he had already decided to say. She couldn’t think of anything to write about Bozeman because she couldn’t recall anything she had heard worth repeating. She was strangely unaware that she could look and see freshly for herself, as she wrote, without primary regard for what had been said before. The narrowing down to one brick destroyed the blockage because it was so obvious she had to do some original and direct seeing.
He experimented further. In one class he had everyone write all our about the back of his thumb. Everyone gave him funny looks at the beginning of the hour, but everyone did it, and there wasn’t a single complaint about “nothing to say.”
In another class he changed the subject from the thumb to a coin, and got a full hour’s writing from every student. In other classes it was the same. Some asked, “Do you have to write about both sides?” Once they got into the idea of seeing directly for themselves they also saw there was no limit to the amount they could say. It was a confidence-building assignment too, because what they wrote, even though seemingly trivial, was nevertheless their own thing, not a mimicking of someone else’s. Classes where he used that coin exercise were always less balky and more interested."

My problem is not so much that I needed to forget what was said before, but that I don't even know what was said before to begin with! Every time my eyes are opened by information in a pamphlet, a conversation with a friend, or commentary in my iPod, I realize the truth in the saying, "knowledge is power."

There were two more stops on the trip (in case you're following on the map), but I don't think they are worth recounting at the moment. So, I shall end my record here.

Library Books

Cambridge has a university-wide library in town, but each college has its own library as well. The college libraries have a decent selection of books (and often multiple copies of popular ones); the university library has a huge selection of books but only one copy of each. In any case - I went browsing in the Jesus College library today and came home with four books.

- A History of Jesus College (Arthur Gray), for my general knowledge about the college.
- Black's New Testament Commentary on Galatians (James Dunn), because I've been attached to studying Galatians at the moment.
- Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Robert Louis Stevenson), for my reading pleasure.
- The Well-Tempered Clavier (J.S. Bach), because they have free practice pianos at the college. Side note: they also have two grand pianos that you can apply to get access to. Yay!

What the library unfortunately did not have:
- The Count of Monte Cristo
- Anything of note by C.S. Lewis besides the Chronicles of Narnia
- My Utmost for His Highest
- Anything by John MacArthur
- Scriabin piano works
- Chopin Etudes or Ballades (or Mazurkas or any other standard Chopin work for that matter...)

Well, at least I'll know what I need to bring from home and what I don't...In the meantime, I'll enjoy the wide selection that they do have and maybe wander over to the university library at some point.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Walking Tour: Cambridge Past and Present (Part 2)

On a bridge above the Cam River.
Punting is outrageously popular in England since it's about the only way you can float along the Cam without grounding on the riverbed in select places. Think Venetian gondolas and you get the idea of how the propulsion system works. My audio commentary provided this remark: "please restrain from reaching down and plucking a pole from the hands of a punter. It's very naughty [pronounced "NAHW-tee"], and you shouldn't do it." Right - duly noted. Moving on...

Stop #5: Jerwood Library

Alright, finally the more modern architecture in England - 1999, to be exact.

Old buildings lining the street and part of the new building.
New building on the end.
Say what?

The new building looks just like the old ones. Well, maybe except for the windows.

Answer: it was designed that way. Jerwood Library was built as an addition to Trinity College, and the architects intentionally preserved the original style in their design. Hm. I have learned that there is a lot of skill involved with seamlessly blending old and new buildings together, so I applaud the architects for a job well done. Onward!

Random students playing a sport (?) on college grounds. It wasn't frisbee or football (so no OSU alums I guess), but there was much clumsy hefting and tossing back and forth - quite entertaining. Maybe pre-season training or something...

Stop #6: Clare College Fellows Garden

Well, I attempted to stop at the Clare College Fellows Garden. The college and gardens were closed to visitors due to recent rains making the ground wet and mushy, and since it has been raining this morning as well I don't think they are open today either. Unfortunately, the next time they open is in March, so I shall have to return then.

So I took pictures of cows instead.

Oh yes.

Just wait.

Stop #7: The Backs

The west side of the Cam is termed "The Backs" because many colleges line the east side of the river and have grounds that extend over to the west side. Thus, the west side contains the "backs" of the colleges. Also, the greens are very luscious so someone lets cows graze. I don't know who, but it makes for an interesting picture.

Note for my mother: there are stupid unreachable branches to get in the way of pictures even in England...
For my grandfather who raises cows.
Stop #8: Sidgwick Site

Modern architecture that actually looks modern! This site is a collection of faculty buildings, and I'll let the pictures speak for themselves. I love the older architecture in England, but these were some of my favorite buildings on the tour. The raised faculty building (below) was the first one constructed. The original designers had planned for an entire SITE of ugly concrete structures on stumpy legs, but only this one was ever completed. I believe their sense of style was heavily influenced by the world wars they had recently experienced, and perhaps they thought that working in a fortress-looking thing would be comforting.
Raised Faculty Building, holding several different departments.
The other sort-of eyesore is the Faculty of English building, for reasons you can probably deduce.

Faculty of English Building. A rather unique and somewhat ugly shade of pink/salmon. Not my favorite building.
Faculty of Law building - my favorite. Looks like it could be the engineering building.
 However, this is why it is NOT the engineering building: engineers would have had an acoustics specialist on the building team.
After the building was opened, the atrium effectively turned into an amplifying chamber since it is four stories tall with plenty of glass.


Did no one think about that?

So for problem mitigation, there is a sign requesting you make as little noise as possible. Hokay.

Faculty of History. Beautiful building with its own host of problems: boiling in the summer, freezing in the winter. Once again: did no one think of this?

Criminology Building. Nothing special about this one except that it's really new.