Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Beauty of being an Engineer

On the project front, we had another great workshop today, and afterwards a pretty little blonde girl with bright blue eyes and no shoes came up to me. She turned out to be a civil engineering semester-abroad student from the USA, who is the head of a major water-supply project for her chapter of EWB! Yay, a perfect example of how awesome engineering chicks can be! I definitely think there are more of out there than people realize. The best part was that you would have never have guessed that by looking at her. She was in a delicate gray summer dress with a beautiful lace trimming, not jeans and a t-shirt as most would expect a woman of her field to be.

I'm so glad that I met Lillian today, really I am.
The women in our field do have a hard time, everyone knows so and you have to be a little tough to cope. So I can see how a woman can lose her femininity. But we have to remember that we are women, and embrace our differences, using diversity to bring something new and exciting, something fresh and beautiful to the field of engineering. And of course we have to stick together and help each other out where we can. But I think that comes with the territory of being a woman, nurture-driven and social as we are.

Anyway, enough of me rambling. I am officially a Yellow-belt!

Karate belts

Today was my first karate grading, and I was so excited. There were 9 white-belts who attempted the first, yellow belt, and only four of us made it.
All in all, we sucked. The grading was a tough 2 hour process of drill upon drill, ending with half an hour of kartas. It was really something else and Sensei pushed us harder than ever. I just wanted that yellow belt so badly, that I kept on going, pushing myself really beyond my limits. Towards the end, the most embarrassing thing happened! I started feeling dizzy and suddenly fainted! Well, I dropped to the floor and had to put my feet up for a while...OMG, I knew then and there that I had no hope of grading. But I had some powerade and rejoined the lines for more kartas.

After a few more drills, it was all over and while waiting in our lines, I fainted again! Now I knew my chances were really up and I asked to resign from the grading and try again next time, but Sensei just told me to sit and wait till the end. I waited patiently until the graders had made their final decisions. My heart was in my stomach, being digested slowly. The wait till Sensei got to my row seemed like forever! Finally I got the verdict...

I had made it. Despite my sloppy finish, somehow they had liked my form, and I had actually made it! I was shocked, but completely relieved. So now I have a yellow belt! The first major hurdle this year hs been crossed. The next grading is in May, and after today, I really thing I can go for Orange, and then Green in September. If I work really really hard, that could be a possibility! For now, I just have to get through two oceans on Saturday! I'm quite excited actually, I'm sure it will be fine.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Engineering will kill you

Today was the hand-in for the scara sub-systems. I Got to sleep at 3 am and was up again at 7am. I needed to print all my documents (over 15) and edit one or two things, but of course the printers weren't working. I mean NONE of the printers at campus were working.
Luckily, I knew someone (I won't divulge my dodgy dealings) who allowed me to print in their office. At 9:50am I was racing against the clock for my 10am hand-in, and suddenly someone comes up and says we have an extension till tomorrow! All I can say is "wow!"

I facilitated a workshop session today for my EWB project team, and it went really well. To put it simply, my team ROCKS! Everyone is enthusiastic, and so ready to do something, I love it. They are most definitely my type of engineers! We even have a few sociologists on board.

I somehow managed to drag myself up to campus again for karate. I'm glad I did though, because grading is on Wednesday and I'd forgotten all the kartas! Its all good now. Mum made bread and butter pudding for dessert, which sucks because hers turned out better than mine! (I'd skimped on the excessive sugar, cutting calories you know).
Oh well!
No work tonight, I'm resting!

Oh, and I promised I'd put up a drawing...Here's one of my DFMA (design for manufacture and assembly) solutions. I'm hoping the "hawks" wont steal it before tomorrow...I know who you are!

Saturday, March 27, 2010


So I know I've been throwing the term SCARA around lately, so if you're wondering what it means, its a Selective Compliant Assembly Robotic Arm... Yup its a robot, and I'm designing one. Let me tell you right now, this is not proving to be an easy task! Thankfully, I have the most awesome team, all of which are German. Well David L isn't really, but thats debatable because he speaks fluent German.
Our next big hand-in is on Monday, and I have to admit, I got a bit frantic today. I was reeling with the amount of work that I have to get through in just two days, including 9 or so hand drawings. I absolutely detested technical drawing in first year, and revel in the power of CAD, but it turns out that after a bit of practicing I was not too bad! I'll put up one of my drawings at some stage, and you can be the judge...
So, as I was saying, I was panicking a bit, but (and I love these guys, they are just so good) I just had to chat with my team, touch base and realize that it wasn't so bad after all!

Thank you David L, and Michael, and David W, and David L's mum for the delicious fruit-tea!

My mum and Nani were stuck at home today without a car, so they capitalized by going on a mad-cleaning rampage! Believe me, I am not complaining! The flat looks better than it ever has, the fridge is stocked for once, and I actually ate three meals today (as well as freshly baked muffins and coffee/tea on request). This is just not fair, I feel like I'm abusing the system...but I guess it doesn't hurt being spoiled once in a while ;) .

I'm running a 10 km race tomorrow at 7...eek! Wish me luck!

Friday, March 26, 2010


Today was a pretty good day. I had a meeting to attend with some representatives from the City of Cape Town, so it was an excuse to dress up. I love the business-casual look, and always try to jazz it up a little so I don't come across too yuppie! I didn't take a picture, but you can get the picture, it looked a lot like this...

I was at campus most of the day, and got some really good research done for my SCARA robot hand-in on Monday. I still have to do about 16 drawings, a gannt chart and a PRS! eek! My lecturer saw me in the labs, FJK, my soon-to-be thesis supervisor. He came to ask about my lean project (the MTN sciencenter one). I had to admit that I simply havn't had time in all the madness! Can anyone blame me???

He also reminded me that he wants to nominate me to be an ASME volunteer, due to my work with EWB. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers is only a HUGE deal, and such an awesome opportunity.l I just wish I had more time to check it out. They have undertaken a whole new area of interest, being diversity and the influence of minorities (woman and people of colour and different cultures) on the field of mech eng. This is right up my alley! For ages, even before the SAWomEng conference I was on last year, I have been passionate about the unique and critical role of a woman's perspective and intuitive skills to the field of engineering. This is definitely an area which hasn't been explored enough, and ASME might be just the platform I need to develop this. I think its just so awesome how so many things that I've been interested in for so long just seem to be coming together somehow! Check this link out:

The meeting with the City went quite well. Shannon and Fatgie Moos from PDNA consulting engineers were there too, all relating to the upgrading of the Nyanga interchange. They were really interested and excited about EWB and UCT's involvement. It also seems like a good idea for us to partner with SHAWCO if we choose the Nyanga site, as they have a long-standing relationship with the community (there's a SHAWCO center right there), and plenty of trust from their 60-odd years of welfare and involvement.

I just have to say, I love Fatgie's business card! Linus, Thumi and I were ogling it yesterday already, before I even met Fatgie! Its a clean and classy, simple white card with his name in the middle, the logo in the top right corner and all the detail on the back. Along the bottom, in metallic silver, raised print is
Well done PD Naidoo and Associates! Very snazzy! I'd put up a picture, but I doubt Fatgie would appreciate his details on my blog ;). Their website is AMAYZING..definitely worth a look!

My mum, gran and little sister are coming to stay for a few days. They arrive in about an hour! Tazz and I have been frantically cleaning the flat. Oh yes, the funniest thing happened! Taz went out to take out the trash earlier when I was still at campus, and the door closed behind her, locking her out! She had to chill at the neighbor's for a few hours...they didn't mind baby-sitting though, and even made her popcorn...Sweet!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Nyanga, I'm starting to learn.

Well today was simply wonderful! Tumelo (my head of community interactions, and an absolute darling) and I were at Kramer bright and early at 9 am for a talk about the history of informal settlements in the Cape Area, right from when the Dutch first landed. Of course thats the only place anyone ever starts a history lesson about this country, as if history only began when there were white people around! How absurd, but anyway, we somehow managed to be invited to a SHAWCO township tour for semester-abroad students.
Now you must know what SHAWCO is! But if you don't, I'll forgive you...Well here's what their website says...

SHAWCO, the Students’ Health and Welfare Centres Organisation, is a dynamic, innovative and passionate student-run NGO based at UCT, constantly striving to improve the quality of life for individuals in developing communities within the Cape Metropolitan area.

SHAWCO was founded in 1943 by Andrew Kinnear, a medical student who was moved to action by the need which he saw in the impoverished communities of Cape Town.

Well they really are something, but this year failed to get as many UCT student volunteers as they need to tutor children. So come on comrades, why not spend an hour a week changing the life of a young person?

We went on a tour to Kensington, a 'coloured' area, and then again to the Nyanga market (I think someones trying to tel me something, don't you?). It was great to see what SHAWCO is up to, helping children, abused women, the elderly, the mentally ill etc.

After we got to campus, I just had time to check my mail and it was off again to Nyanga market (see what I mean), this time with Brennan (head of EWB) and other members of my team.

We met up with Shannon Royden-Turner, of Jakupa Architects who are currently upgrading the entire Nyanga taxi-rank area. They are creating an urban framework for the area, incorporating better flow and a public space that residents can be proud of. They also did the urban framework of the Greenpoint Stadium!

So all in all, I had a full and very tiring day trudging around Nyanga and Kensington, shaking hands and talking to people who live in those communities and seeing people in a slightly different light. It wasn't nearly as scary today as it was on Tuesday (there was a hectic taxi strike on Tuesday and we were threatened when we drove past that area). Even the meat market wasn't so bad, I'm even getting used to the smell! Poor Christina, my deputy had a tough time though, it was her first time after all. But gear up Chris! There's going to be a lot more of that to come!

I watched Breakfast at Tiffany's when I got home...again... "Oh I'm just craaayzy about Tiffany's"

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Food food food

I made a huge dish of Bread and Butter pudding today! With home-made custard...It was just ridiculously big! I had to send a whole lot home with a friend, 6 people ate from it, and there is still enough for two portions!

It was delicious though, I must admit! And now I'm making a huge roasted veggie pasta, which is in the oven as I type...wait..oh no!

...well, I'd forgotten about the pasta on the stove, and well, lets just say its not exactly aldante!
Haha. the veggies are still smelling wonderful in their balsamic vinegar and honey marinate!

I haven't had a decent, home-cooked, healthy meal in ages, and am so excited for this one. Soggy pasta or not, I will not be deterred! Well, wish me luck!

Nike + iPod

I got up and went for a run this morning, just got back. I don't know whats wrong with me but running is hard work these days! I still clocked a personal best for the mile of 9'58''. That was pretty cool! I love my Ipod +'s so worth it! For some reason I can't load iTunes, or cant get into it...i think my computer isn't fast enough..

Anyway, time for a hard day of work...

Oh yes, this link is hilarious, but so important!!!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Gugulethu and Gandhi's Grandson

So I got up at 6:30 am this morning and dragged myself to campus. I met up with three other members of my project team at a BP garage in Kenilworth. The plan was to go on a tour of the NGO Abalimi Bhazekhaya (the planters of the home), and their community gardens in Gugulethu.
At the BP the strangest thing happened: we met up with another group of people who were going on a different field trip, coincidentally meeting their tour guide at the same garage!

These were a bunch of sociologists from all over the world: Australia, Uganda, UK, Lebanon, USA, Brazil and SA, and they were part of Rajmohan Gandhi's organization, the Initiatives of Change. This group was following Prof Gandhi on a worldwide tour. They were really interested in hearing about our project with Engineers without borders, especially since they had a sustainability expert in their group! So after we all frantically exchanged details and schedules, our tour guide, Rob arrives and it dawns on us (20 or so) 'intelligent' human beings that we were heading out on the same tour!

Abalimi was simply awesome! How it works is women from the surrounding community (grannies really) all plant on this tiny peice of land, and share everything they produce. They feed their families from it and whatever surplus is grown is packaged at a central packing house and sold to rich schools and businesses (organic fresh produce-yum!). These food baskets are an assortment of the most beautifully fresh, delicious looking vegetables, herbs and eggs. You would never guess they were grown in the midst of such heartbreaking poverty. The smell alone made us so hungry, I didn't believe veggies could do that! We might actually choose the Abalimi food-garden in Nyanga as our site for our bio-digester. There are tons of problems we still have to work out though.

I walked around Nyanga market, this is the area with the highest murder-rate in the country. The people were quite scary, and the meat vendors smelled of slaughtered sheep. It was awful, but right across the road was Abalimi. A real Haven of Hope (one of their colleagues id Haven of Hope)!

The group we were with from Initiatives of Change invited us to a talk by Rajmohan Gandhi, the grandson of the great Mahatma Gandhi, this evening. It was at UCT, and hosted by the vice chancellor. I didn't even know he was coming to UCT! So much for emails! The talk was amazing. Prof spoke of being a boy of ten and sitting beside his awesome grandfather at the multi-religious prayer groups he used to hold, between 1945 and 1949. He's recently written a biography Mohandas: A True Story of a Man, His People and an Empire. I have to check this one out, even though its not on sale in South Africa...yet...

After the talk, I went to say hello to the Prof. He was just so pleasant and humble and was oddly excited about the fact that I'm with EWB...He also sent his regards to both my parents. How sweet!

Well, no rest for the wicked! Shower, then back to work.. thank god that I have tomorrow off to work!

Monday, March 22, 2010

So here I am...

So here I am...
22 years old and I very nearly have a degree in Mechanical Engineering. I'm the head of a major project for Engineers Without Borders South Africa, and seriously swamped with work (including the design of a robot). I'm training for a 21 km road race in two weeks and of course, my first karate grading. Oh yes, and I forgot to mention...I'm a woman.

Well, I'm a young woman. Most would call me a girl really, seeing as though I'm pretty tiny and I love wearing billowy dresses in muted pinks and grays. It's strange, I think, when I meet people for the first time. They see me bouncing up, just a little Indian girl in a pretty dress and stockings. I suppose my rather firm hand-shake and straightforward way of talking is a little hard to link up to my appearance, but I think its quite fun checking out peoples' reactions, especially the negative ones ;).

So at the moment, I'm trying to put off going for a run. It's a little windy outside and cold and its a public holiday! I'll go tomorrow. We're supposedly on UCT mid-semester vacation, a one week break before the grueling second term, but I don't think I'm going to have a minute's rest. I have a ton of things to do, and no clue how I'm going to get through it all in just a week. Maybe blogging about it will help, who knows?

Firstly, the HUGE project that I'm working on with Eng Without Borders (which henceforth shall be referred to as EWB), is taking up most of my time. I met the dean of my faculty (Engineering and the Built Environment) at a meeting last week and he asked what my 'day-job' was. I said EWB. Its true! I've arranged for a group of us to check out a site in Gugulethu informal settlement tomorrow. It's a food garden run by Abalimi Bhazekhaya, and might be the lucky site that gets the bio-digester we're implementing. Bus leaves at 8am! Eish!

Then there is my SCARA robot I'm designing for my final-year design course: so much work its ridiculous! But I have an interim hand-in on Monday so I better get to it soon...Maybe start today...

Sigh...and then there's the water display I'm redesigning for the MTN science center. Wow, now this is a seriously interesting project! I wish I had time to work on it...

Anyway, Guess I've got my work cut out for me!