Baking Bread!

Today I tried something new, making bread. A co-worker of mine comes in with the best bread at lunch that he bakes at home and I figured why not try it.  I got the recommendation for the Book that he uses and decided to give it a shot. After spending a few days with the book, I ordered the missing tools off Amazon and set aside my Saturday to try out the most basic of recipes, a basic white bread.

The most interesting part of the book is the concept of time and temperature as an ingredient in the kitchen.  This really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone since most recipes do call for time to bake and so forth, but the way you can manipulate time with temperature for the fermentation process is very unique — do you refrigerate it over night, or do you leave it out for the afternoon?

Proofing Baskets

I was pretty happy with the whole process. I started with half of a batch, 500g of flour, to make one loaf. The initial mixing of flour and water with my hands left me shocked, the texture was something that I just didn’t imagine. The scale I used was perfectly responsive to high weights, but I had lots of trouble when it came to measuring out the 10 grams of salt and 2 grams of yeast, so I ended up guessing, albeit on the conservative side, and this caused this loaf to not rise as well. I also then decided to try increasing the batch size a little, by 25% to be exact, since the dutch oven is a little bigger than recommended. I made sure to add a bit more yeast and I think I got this one closer to correct since it rose in the appropriate amount of time.

 

Finished Product

The bread turned out really well. I’m very happy with the final result. It was moist and full of flavor. The crust was nice and crunchy. I probably could have left int in for a few more minutes, but that’s for next time.

Finished Product

Here’s a list of things I purchased to do this:

Passed my First Year Viva!

So it’s been quite a while, and I’ll go back and write some updates about cool things that happened in the last few months, but I figured I’d go ahead and write about this one now!

All entering PhD students are “registered for no formal registration (NOTAF) until satisfactory progress has been made” and can say  we are “registered for a a PhD (Probationary) or NOTAF” for the first year.  The satisfactory progress includes a short presentation, a 40 page report, and an oral exam (known as a viva).

All in all, I passed. It wasn’t by any flying colors, but it wasn’t poor enough to look at failing me. This was aided by some of the circumstances regarding project handover and project definition being less than clean or clear for an extended period of time, so my progress was not held to such a high standard, nor has it made it to where I wish it was. My grasp on how to clearly deliver the underlying information, and in what order, was definitely lacking, which made for an uncomfortable few minutes.

The viva then turned from being grilled into a discussion, which proved very fruitful and thought provoking. We discussed ways and resources to improve my writing and undergo a longer writing process. They gave me advice on creating effective and concise figures, rather than my attempt to get my 11th hour data into the report. We discussed how to move forward with a project plan, which should prove most useful in the near future. Most importantly, we talked about the fact that I’ve been very detail oriented and have lost sight over the bigger picture, a skill I need to exercise and develop more.

This was a good and productive meeting for me. I feel both relieved to have gotten through it and excited to focus on improving in areas highlighted in the viva. I’m looking forward to spending the next few years in Cambridge developing my PhD.

New Building!

Today was the big day, we made the move from the old building to the new building! After an afternoon and a morning of strenuously packing our desks and unplugging our computers, we have arrived in the new building and our new offices in West Cambridge.

It will take some getting used to, and my ability to socialize with the other first year students has gone up (seeing they all sit to my left), but I believe it’ll be a good change. I’ll be making full use of my headphone’s ability to drown out the noise around me.

 

7 April 2017 Update:

After a full week in the department, I think this will be a good space for us. The whiteboard has been put to good use as a mechanism to discuss and work out mathematical problems for simulations. The first years sitting together has been a good way to use each of our skills to further our work – Angiras’ ability to extract and summarize information quickly, Gustavo’s familiarity with the software that runs our simulations, my knowledge about shell scripting and programming, Kimberly’s calm demeanor around all of our chaos.

I also like the fact that the gym is across the street from the offices, so I’m finally getting my money’s worth of my gym membership I signed up for and rarely used because of rowing…

Gamecock Basketball

First, a major congratulations must be put out to all of those involved in the Men’s and Women’s Gamecock Basketball programs. This year was monumental firsts for our programs.

On the men’s side, they made it to the Elite Eight and the Final Four for the first time in program history after being left out of the tournament last year. They were the Cinderella story this year. Unlike most stories, where one player plays out of their mind for two games, leading the team to a few upsets only to be blown out and laughed off the court, that’s not how the Gamecocks went out.

Sindarius Thornwell was the clear character in the story, averaging over 25 points per game through the beginning of the tournament. When he was reported sick before the game versus Gonzaga, a lot of people thought they were going to be wiped up and down the court by a one loss team.

Gonzaga had South Carolina in tough spots, leading by 14 points, but South Carolina didn’t give up – they fought, they hustled, they played tough defense and eventually regained the lead. Other players stepped up to the challenge and made tough shots and strong defensive plays to propel the team forward. They made Gonzaga play their A game to best our boys, a noble way for us to end our season.

Our women are the even bigger success story. The anticipated tournament winners, UConn, were knocked out by Mississippi State on a buzzer beater shot in over time. From there, South Carolina out hustled and out worked Miss St in the finals, earning Dawn Staley her NCAA tournament championship that she narrowly missed so many times as a college athlete.

The heroine of that story is Aliana Coates, the number one recruit in her class who decided to stay home at South Carolina to bring home a championship. But just like Thornwell, it’s unfair to give her too much credit. Every single one of those girls worked for that championship.

Although their success is more in line with their past history of doing well in the NCAA tournament recently, their success is unfairly overshadowed by the new success of the Men’s team. Partly due to the fact that it’s Men’s sports vs Women’s sports, the Men’s story is discussed more.

A few more tidbits:

One of the funniest things that I saw was the guy who called Elite Eight within five years of Frank Martin taking over on twitter. We did it and his life was made. (looking for link)

The nicest summary of what the men’s team went through, but wholly applies to women’s program as well, was this article. It’s all about a team believing in itself and never giving up, no matter how easy it is to give up on ourselves.

https://southcarolina.rivals.com/news/scott-davis-never-forget

Friends from Home, take 3: Kelsey!

This week was a very special week as one of my longest and closest friends came to visit. Kelsey took her spring break to fly into London to spend a whole week with me! Yes, but why? Good question. I can barely stand to spend time with myself as it is, why would anyone fly 4,000 miles to voluntarily spend 9 days with me. She probably just had frequent flyer miles that were about to expire.

She few into London on Friday and went around and toured different museums while I finished off my work that afternoon. We had arranged to meet when my train got in around 6 at King’s Cross. To be honest, it really wasn’t real that I was getting to spend that time with her until I was able to spot her, dazed and exhausted, in between a few people at the station.  We welcomed each other with a warm embrace as if no time had passed since I last seen her. In fact, it had been exactly a year since I had seen her.

We got to do a lot in London over that weekend, even having a productive day on Sunday before heading to Cambridge. We ate dinner at an Asian fusion restaurant and then turned in early Friday night. Saturday was seeing Big Ben, Westminster, Green Park, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Millennium Bridge and London Tower all in one day! Kelsey got to see her friend from Clemson, Katie, and hang out for the afternoon. Before heading in for the night, we were able to walk around a giant mall at Sheppard’s bush. It’s YYUUUUGGGGE, the biggest. Jokes aside, it was so huge and filled with such fancy stores that it was just out of this world. It was a neat and mesmerizing walk.

Sunday we walked around Notting Hill, which was amazing. It reminded us of the prettier parts of Charleston and me of some of the quieter parts of places like Wilmington. The colors were lovely. I was able to capture what our trip looked like.

Typical image of us.

After Notting Hill, we went and rode the London Eye, which was much better than the Brazilian guy made it out to be. I enjoyed it during the day as much as I did during the evening* when I went with my family. After that, we headed back via Waterloo station where Kelsey proceeded to run into a bollard while taking a photo followed closely by me wearing half my sparkling water from Pret. We were on a roll there for that 20 minutes. After that we headed to a store that her friend point us to and stumbled across a place called Kingly Court. A neat little place that we immediately decided was going to be where we came back to eat next weekend.

Since I had Head of the River to prepare for, our mornings in Cambridge were much earlier than either of us really wanted them to be. I’d leave her in the morning, cox my crew to victory, then head to work before meeting her for lunch. Our favorite lunch was probably Peterhouse. It wasn’t so much the food as the fact that we showed up too early and spent 15 minutes walking around the gardens that I didn’t know existed.

Thursday night, Kelsey attended her first Formal Hall. Connor was able to book us, him, and his mom  as part of the Engineering Formal Dinner for Churchill and they sat us away from them.  We had a great time with good food and even better company.

Friday we went into London and I was kind enough to bring her stuff in for her so she didin’t have to carry it around all day… I figured this meant her suit case but I found a backpack when I came back for her stuff. -.- So I traveled to London on the train with her backpack, my backpack, and her suitcase – I was a sight to have been seen. We had our dinner at Kingly court and a restaurant called Brown and Whyte.

Saturday morning we had time before Kelsey had to head to the airport, so we went out for a late breakfast/brunch. I couldn’t convince her to order one herself, but I ordered the full English breakfast and got to show her what it was. She seemed convinced that she wouldn’t eat that much food for an entire day as I devoured the plate in front of me.

After our breakfast we had some time before she had to leave so we walked around a park near our AirBnB. It was interesting to sit and watch families in the park. The dogs that played and were well trained, the one that was not so well trained and ran off as the owners casually watched and followed later. It was interesting to see how independent the children were, riding around on their scooters – a stark difference between US and UK parents.

After the park, we walked to the tube station and headed our separate ways – her to the airport and me back towards King’s Cross. It was sad to watch her ride away on the Tube, but it’s nice knowing she’ll be back in May! Until next time!

 

*Evening = 4:30 when it got dark…

 

Friends from Home, Take 2: Mackenize

This weekend, I had the lovely opportunity to host a friend from USC, Mackenize, as he finished off his spring break Europe trip.

This was the first time I was able to show someone from home a true tidbit of my life here in Cambridge. When he got in, we picked up food and then went to a Tequila tasting event at Claire College’s MCR Bar where he got to meet a lot of my chemical engineering friends. On Sunday, we had a couple friends take us to brunch at King’s College – a first trip to their dining hall for both of us. This was just after the International Women’s day celebration Hall and all the portraits of the men were covered by cardboard. A neat but worthless and meaningless gesture IMO. We all toured their chapel and went for ice cream. That afternoon, I headed out for rowing (preparing for Head of the River!) while he continued to explore town and figured out how he was getting back home. Our evening was filled with some good food and watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail, something I had been meaning to do since arriving.

Monday morning was more rowing (he really got the full experience here) and hanging out with Mack before he had to head off. We meandered around the city and stopped for lunch before we had to say goodbye. As always, it was a pleasure to get to spend time with him. Can’t wait to see him next.

Bumps!

Bumps is a 3km rowing competition where your objective is to hit (bump) the boat ahead of you (or reach the finish line) before the crew behind you bumps you. Seventeen boats in various divisions race one behind another, separated by 1.5 boat lengths (1.5 × 20m), taking off all at once with the sound of a cannon! Once two boats bump, they exit the race by pulling off the course to let the race continue, usually at the relief of the boat ahead of them and the grief of the boat behind them. If the race is close, the boat that missed their opportunity to bump can start chasing the boat that thought it was safe. If they get caught, this is called an overbump.

Starting positions for the 4 race event is determined by the historical standing from the previous year. Once a bump (or overbump) is made, the boats come out with their positions switched the next race.

The race is full of tradition and history. Here are the posts related to bumps:

Pasta Faff
Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4

Bumps: Day 4 Achieving the Impossible

We did it. Today. We did it. We, the boat, as a singular entity, got super blades. We bumped up in all four days of our races including an over bump on day three.

We knew what we had to do – come out and row like we had all week. We knew we could out run First and Third M3 as long as we held them off through the start. We knew Magdalene almost caught St. Catherine’s the previous day until they lost steam and fell to us so we knew we could catch them down in the long run. We knew this day was ours for the taking.

The cannon went off and we kept FaT to a safe distance, not letting their strong starts beat ours. Around first post corner, we could see ourselves pushing away along with the calls from the bank: “You’re gaining Binson!” We surged on, ready to catch St. Cats. Before hitting the next corner, I began to hear their boat. We were so close but the pain was so immense so quickly.

Pushing into grassy corner, I could see my blade dangerously close to touching their stern. Their cox took a wide line around the turn to try to buy some time. Disciplined, our cox didn’t chase, taking the tight line and making a strong move on them.

Not three strokes later, I was even with their cox, and my blade collided with their stroke seat. Their cox ignored it, we accepted their taunt and surged further, catching their stroke’s blade on the back side on the next stroke. The hand went up, our cox called for us to hold it up. I began screaming as we listened for instructions to move it out of the way to allow the other boats to pass.

The celebration began. Three cheers were issued to St. Cats. Greenery was quickly issued to each rower as the flag came out to signal we had accomplished earing blades, a coveted feat by everyone who rows only awarded to the lucky crews. The radio station, Cam FM, was supportive of our victory.

The row home was one filled with cheers and congratulations from the bystanders and other crews, a good-hearted support and a sign of respect from those who understood what we just did. It was a uniquely warming feeling to have these crews cheering for us, Robinson M2.

It can be said that good crews go up, lucky crews get blades. I believe it. If our technical bump on Churchill on the first day wasn’t awarded, our dreams of blades would have died right then and there.

Binson M2 +6.

M. Webb, C. Rae, D. McGraw, P. Vallejo Rameriz, H. Burton, L. Leoni, J. Lau, J. Alexander, E. Bringley


Bumps: Day 3

After a hard earned day of rest, we came out today focused and ready to chase down FaT3 before they caught Maggie m3. The weather was a bit windy again, and my start wasn’t as clean as it could have been, but we pressed hard, but not hard enough.

By the time we were coming around the first corner, we watched peterhouse get bumped behind us and FaT3 had bumped Maggie — the two boats in front and two behind us, Gone. Our hearts sank as we passed FaT3 knowing our chance of bumping them was gone. We still did our best to row on and, without words, we all turned our attention on that glimmer of hope of the overbump. Everyone in the boat silently agreed that no one would let up, we could feel it in the press of the blades as we put more pressure down with each call from the cox. “And… NOW! Legs one! legs two! legs three! …” was intermixed with calls from the bank “You’re gaining Binson!”

Against all logic of hope, we pushed on from about 5 lengths behind Magdalene, unbeknownst to us, with the last two thirds of the race to go. The radio station CamFM broadcasted, “Robinson will row over.”

As we entered the halfway point in the race, we heard more calls from the bank that we were gaining as more and more pain settled in, but no one let up and the cox, the birthday boy, got to work his magic, sitting at about four lengths back.

“Here we go boys, we’re three lengths off of them, give me three tens here… Now! Swing one!…” our cox demanded; the pain continued to set in, but we pushed harder. Shouts of “They’re falling apart! Get them Binson!” distantly rolled in from the coaches on the side; the pain continued to build, but no one lost hope. “Good, boys, two lengths! SWING, NOW! SWING, One!… ” Our muscled cried out in pain, deprived of oxygen; our minds wondered if we had enough race course to catch them, but we pushed through each stroke.

As we begun approaching the railway bridge, we heard the whistle, the Holy sign to say we were within one length. We pushed harder, moving it to two whistles – indicating a half a length between us and their stern as we passed under the bridge. Our bodies pleaded and ached for us to stop after this 8 minutes of oxygen deprived torture, yet, everyone agreed to push on without ever uttering a word.

We exited the bridge. Whistles came from the bank. Crews waiting to go off shouted and cheered. The distractions were at an all time high as our bodies tries to tell us ‘no more, no more’. Our cox yelled to us: “Finish them, NOW! HOOK, SEND! HOOK, SEND!…” The whistles stopped and were replaced by shouts of “CANVAS!!” From the bank to say we were less than 4m off them. In agony we all pushed, knowing they were within reach and the end was approaching soon. I could look over and see the stern of their boat as we took the final strokes, catching the blade of their stroke seat.

The arm of their cox went up and ours yelled “Hold it up! Hold it up!” That was it, we had done it, achieved an overbump! Exhausted, we pulled off to the side, cheering and screaming out of both joy and agony.

In these moments, everything that I love about the sport came together for eight and a half beautiful minutes. The rowers all endured pain of immense agony as the oxygen was stripped from our muscles. We, all eight of us, answered the question “what will you do when it hurts, when you have no reason to believe and push harder?” Silently and in harmonious unison, we answered back: be our best, stay focused and determined, push hard, and trust every other member of the crew to do the same under the leadership of our cox and coaches. Our cox was faced with “How will you motivate and lead your crew when you know what mountains of challenges they are facing?” And answered with level-headed control, judgement, and communication; with mutual respect and trust. Today, our team became something more than the sum of the individuals in the boat. Today, our team accomplished something special, an overbump. Today, it became apparent to everyone that we have a team bond filled with unending trust, respect, and determination. Today, we validated every early wake up, every cold morning outing, every evening erg session, every reason why we trust and believe. Even luckier for me, today, we caught it all on video.

Tomorrow, one final push, one final outing towards blades.

Binson M2 +5

 

 

Bumps: Day 2

My mental focus and physical resilience was put to the test today. Less than 30m from the boat house, a pedestrian blindly stepped out into the sidewalk. Pedro slammed on his breaks coming to a stop before hitting him. Unfortunately, my brakes didn’t fare as well and I clipped Pedro’s back tire, sending myself tumbling into the street. With just as much bruising to my pride as my legs, I quickly gathered my belongings and begun to walk to the boat house. Luckily, I was just a bit bruised up and left with a little bit of road rash through my jeans, but after a few stretches and a couple minutes on the erg, I determined I was still in good enough shape to row. Putting the accident behind me, I honed in on the challenge ahead.

As if that was not enough of a test, we rowed through a flock of birds who flew away in all different directions, but not without one skillfully hitting me with excrement. At this point I felt I had two options — the easier being to let myself be mad and flustered that these two events had happened to me, losing focus and thinking just about myself; or, to put it behind me and let it go, to focus in on what was to come. I washed off that part of my jacket, considered myself lucky, and placed the last 30 minutes behind me.

With a new order and a new comprehension of the process, we rowed down to the marshaling area with the same hard fought determination. We knew we had an angry Churchill M2 behind us, and a slow Claire Hall ahead of us.

BANG! Off we went. Our start was clean and powerful today. Our focus was sharp and locked. We all knew what was needed – put the blade in the water and push, push hard.

Our work was rewarded by quickly closing in on Claire Hall within the first 600 m of the race, bumping them with our hardest effort off the start yet.

Due to our failure to understand how to use the GoPro, we ended up with a slideshow set to music chosen not by us…

Robinson M2 +2 for the week.