Saturday, May 29, 2010


'Change' is something I have been thinking about a lot today, and I thought I'd share some insights...

"Change is inevitable - except from a vending machine". ~Robert C. Gallagher

I have gone through a period of dramatic change this year. I ran the Two Oceans 21km, a feat I would never have imagined doing 2 years ago, I started Karate, took on a major project with an organization I hadn't even heard of a few weeks prior to me starting the project and met an amazing man who I'm flying halfway around the world with next week. These are just a few of the extreme changes that have happened this year, and I can foresee many more happening very soon.

"The wheel of change moves on, and those who were down go up and those who were up go down". ~Jawaharlal Nehru

However, I think that the greatest changes that have defined this year are not those external one's listed above, but the unbelievable way I have changed, and am continuing to change every day. I'm still learning from all these experiences, still growing as a woman, as an engineer and now as a partner in a relationship (more challenging for someone as independent as I than I realized!)

'When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. ' ~Victor Frankl

I find myself fighting harder against this inner change while accepting and even inviting the external one. But this doesn't make sense, does it? If everything else is changing, why shouldn't I? But as logical as I try to be and as much as I realize that I will have to become fluid in order to keep up with my life-on-overdrive, I find that I am resisting, fighting against myself. At this very moment in time, I am faced with a decision that will determine the course of my life and career!

"Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof". ~John Kenneth Galbraith

Door #1 leads me to the man of my dreams and a new and exciting life on far-away shores. The catch is that this door is framed with uncertainty and risk. Door #2 leads me to the safe, planned and expected career where I'll be comfortably set up from the word 'go' with a clear career-path with minimal effort on my part, but with little excitement and unpredictability for the next 4 years...I wish there was an easy answer to this one, but I'm afraid that there isn't...

'Without accepting the fact that everything changes, we cannot find perfect composure. But unfortunately, although it is true, it is difficult for us to accept it. Because we cannot accept the truth of transience, we suffer.' ~Shunryu Suzuki

So I'm sitting in my freezing cold Cape Town apartment on a Saturday night and contemplating the value of our old friend "Change" who has been knocking at my door constantly. I know that one way or another, he'll make it in. The question is, will I open the door, or will he find a way to bulldoze through it?

'It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory'. ~W. Edwards Deming

"Growth is the only evidence of life". ~John Henry Newman, Apologia pro vita sua, 1864

How to Get the Workshop Guys to do Your Dirty Work!

I can't believe that in a week, I will be somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, on my way to the USA for the first time! My US visa arrived yesterday, thank god! The interview process was actually really quick and simple, not at all like the application process which was a nightmare!

I have one exam on Tuesday and my MTN Science Ceter water-display project report to finish, and I'm free as a bird! MB came over yesterday to work on the project and we got out value-streams and fishbone diagrams done. We pulled out some old A2 sized prints that my art-student sister wasn't using and used them to make charts with colourful sticky-notes! It was actually a really great way to get a grip on all the complicated aspects of the project inputs and outputs! I just remember thinking, Prince Charming is going to be soo proud of me! (He's a lean/6sigma green belt btw!) And he was!!!

I've finished the drawings for one of the designs for the display I'm working on. I'ts s boat race where kids can stand on either side of a trough and turn a water wheel to make their boat go faster. I had to get some of the parts cut out of PVC pipe that I found at the hardware store and I found some more in the workshop. The method for getting the workshop-guys to do your work for you is this:
  • Put on something a little tight (not short becaus you wont be allowed into the workshop, safety first girls and boys!)
  • Make sure you wear plenty of make-up, especially mascara and lipgloss
  • Speak to whoever is in charge and act like you really are relying on him to do this or you fail (damsel in distress always works)
  • Hand in your drawings
  • This is an important step: Get out of the way! You cant turn around after acting like you really need these men and let them know that you actually do know how to use a lathe and the other machines needed. The drawings you've handed in should be well-dimensioned with clear tolerances already (knowing how neurotic you are). So don't be a control freak and leave you fate in the very capable hands of the workshop guys
So there you have it. Now if you know me, you know that I'm a closet feminist and hate admitting that men can do anything I cant! But in this industry, women who plan to break in need to understand the delicate dynamics of the creatures who have run the show for centuries: men, or more importantly, their egos! Its their world after all, (for now), so you've gotta know how to use your feminine intuition and you'll always come out on top! (excuse the pun ;)

When I first started studying Mechanical Engineering years ago. I learned very quickly that in a class full of guys,if you as a woman try to show that you don't have a brick in your brain and that you actually (are often the only one) who knows whats going on, you may find yourself being sidelined and even ostracized by those who feel threatened by your presence! So yes, there were times where I've had to try and curb my showing off a little and just be quiet while two arrogant guys battled it out over the (wrong) answer. On the other hand, when test/ assignment marks came back, congratulations and surprise from the same arrogant guys was an experience I never got tired of.

So to every fresh young woman who feels out-of-place, inferior or even ostracized in a sea of mechanical engineering guys, my advice to you: don't bother about the apes, put you head down and work. Don't do it to prove yourself to them or to make a statement or 'win'. Do it because you are in that class for one reason: to get a degree that will open doors and ensure that you will never need to rely on anyone else for support! (Note, I said you'll never 'need' anyone, don't go burning any bra's or anything just yet!)

O no, I've digressed from the point of this post,. my project, but that ok, I'll put up all the pics anyway! Enjoy the weekend!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

What EWB(UCT) can learn from DAG

Ok, so so much is happening its hard to keep a handle on things, but really, whats new? I have half-written my paper for the MTN Science Center design project. The report is also half done, but that shouldn't be too much of an issue. We've been scouring through hardware stores in search of various devices and parts so we can prototype our design solutions and test them. I've also been modelling mine on PRO-Engineer so I should be able to post something up soon. Forgive the lack of photo's of late, but I really have been so busy! Everything is workign out, just as I'd hoped it would so I'm glad. I just have to visualize and believe..visualize and!

My EWB project is a little shaky still and the research outputs havn't met their deadlines. It looks like I'm going to have to intervene in the research teams in a big way. It will piss a few people off in the process, but in the end its my head on the chopping block if we dont deliver, so I dont mind too much!

The EWB leading committee (of which I am NOT a member) has come to the surprizing realisation that next year, when they all graduate, there will be nobody around to drive the committe, nobody to share and continue their vision, and no legacy that has been left behind to remember them by...Wow, this group really needs to be electricuted or something, anything to make them WAKE UP and start putting some solid planning in place. I know that some very good work has been done, but honestly, "Does anybodu know a project we can work on to spend our DBSA funding?" is not the way to plan future projects! I only hope that the level of committment, hard work and solid organization shown on my project can be an example to them (of course it is, but I just want to re-iterate that point just incase someone wasn't paying attention).

I was really shocked last weekend when my godfater mentioned to me that he was very instrumental in setting up the funding for the Development Action Group, DAG.

Now these people don't mess around, I mean these are the guys who were responsible for majorly successful projects such as the microfinace venture THE KUYASA FUND.

"The Kuyasa fund promotes community-based saving and provides micro-loans to individuals for home improvements. "

I think we bumped into them on the visit to Philippi, I know I uploaded a picture of us with the Kuyasa fund guys. (these kind of coincedences are happening so frequently that I don't know why I bother mentioning them anymore since everybody in Cape Town seems to be involved with everybody else in some way). Oh yes, Ive found the pic, there we are (well I'm not there coz I'm behind the camera but anyway...) Its the one above this paragraph, not below, thats the PHP.

Some Stats:

  • 71% of the fund's clients (borrowers and savers) are women
  • 73% of the funds borrowers are woman-headed households
  • 75% of the fund's clients are between 40 and 60 years old
  • 60% are informally employed and/or are pensioners
  • 60% earn below R1500 ($200) per month and 93% under R3500 ($466).

So yes, they are awesome, and have won tons of awards for this project as well as the "PEOPLES HOUSING PROCESS COURSE' which is a 4-day training course in home improvement processes. This is so important for people who want to upgrade their shacks, but dont know a thin about how to do it in the safest, cleanest and most cost-effective way!

So anyway, my awesome godfater (who is very excited about hooking me up with a local idol of mine, Gita Govan who I have admired for ages and have never had opportunity to meet, and who happens to me a close friend of his...coincidences???) helped raise ...wait for it...$10 million to start this fund and who craftily invested it so that is grew and the interest alone serviced the fund's operating costs! Now isn't that something?

Well, it gets better, so let me wrap up by mentioning a few ideas of mine that are heavily in the concept phase right now...A similar EWB fund, on a far smaller scale than the Kuyasa budget of course, but with the exposure from the catering project, why not? Why not? We spend a portion of the funding on piloting, testing and getting a feel for how best to implement and pitch the high efficiency stoves, then we buy up a whole lot of stoves and loan them out to township caterers on a 3-month payback scheme, already having worked out their individual cost savings and turnover rate. The project will keep returning cash, allowing us to buy more stoves and loan them out to more people, eventually reaching out to the next chapter of EWB, which I say should be the East Coast (since this area has many more mielie-boilers than the Western Cape does).

Alright, enough crazy futuristic plannning! I only hope that I can be around to help get all this into action, EWB needs it...I'm off to JHB today, again, to see my Prince of Thieves, who has stolen my heart and rode away with it on the back of a Kangaroo into the sunset...Thats a personal joke for you, babe. Mwah!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Travel Trauma

Can somebody please tell me the quick, simple and hassle-free way to obtain a US/ UK VISA?
Alright, I understand that you're the greatest country in the world and you're doing me a favour letting me in to check it out, but must the process be so stressful? Really?

I have a major meeting tomorrow morning to let the higher-ups know what we've been up to this semester as far as the EWB project is concerned...I have a feeling that they're not going to be too happy that we're not doing a bio-digester...oh well...can't please everybody! After that I have my UK visa interview (I only picked up my passport today so please don't say "Rhea, you're cutting it very close hey!" because I've heard that about a hundred times already!)

I'm super busy since its crunch time with exams and I've done hardly any work due to everything constantly going wrong with the trip. But here is where its going to all turn around! I have decided that from this very moment, all will run perfectly smoothly. Well, it's on the internet now so it has to! Wish me luck for the coming MOUNTAIN I have to climb before flying swiftly away to the green pastures and flowing waters of * AMERICA*. Oh my, that is quite cheesy isn't it?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A few people I'd like to thank...

Dear Life...

This week, there were times when I have wanted to give up. So many obstacles kept obscuring my goal and I seriously questioned if I was capable of getting there..And by 'there' I mean the USA, for the conference I was invited to in June, and which I am SO excited/anxious about.

To name but a few:
  • I lost my passport and had to visit Home Affairs 3 times in the last two weeks to apply for a new one. I wasn't sure if I would get it in time to book visa's
  • I almost wasn't able to get a flight out of the US since they are almost fully booked at this time of year!
  • My flights cost WAY more than normal due to the World Cup and the fact that its Summer in the US.
  • Just as I was about to pay for my plane tickets, ASME asked me to hold off, saying that they might not be funding my trip anymore...I was devastated!
  • Something else very major happened that may cause me to make a big move some time soon, but lets just say that at first I was even more devastated by this than the fact that I might not be going to the US
The amount of bureaucracy, time, money, and pure effort and soul that went into the planning of this trip is impossible to describe in words. Suffice to say, I was spent and I was ready to just give up on ever getting to the US.


Last night, I got confirmation that I'm still invited to the conference in Pittsburgh, my passport was processed and today I booked and paid for my tickets, and accommodation in Pittsburgh. As for the last "very major thing" which I cant really mention here: well, it may actually turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to me, but we'll see!
In just one day, the world is right again. Breathe. Breathe. Everything is working out, because it had to!

Thank you for making sure I'm still on the path to my destiny.

Love, Q
Dear Sun...

Come back please, we miss you here in the "Fairest Cape", which has turned into the "Cape of Storms" in your absence. Even though you showed up today, it wasn't the same, I could feel you were giving me the cold shoulder. Why must you be such a snob? I guess I'll have to come after you again...expect a visit from me in June.

Thank you for always coming back.

Love, Rhea

Dear Prof K.

You believed in me. For some reason, you saw me as more than just the girl that sat in the back row of your lectures and chatted constantly to her neighbors (still managing to do pretty decently in your courses I might add). A lot of the career decisions I will make in the future will be attributed to you introducing me to a field within the broad field of Mech Eng (Processes) which I took to immediately and absolutely loved. I enjoy your lecture-style, and appreciate your "no-spoon-feeding" approach that "makes us think". Talk about problem-solving!

Thank you for believing me, mentoring me and always having time for me. Thank you for nominating me for the ASME post, I know I'll make you and UCT proud.

Love, Ms Naidoo

Dear Parents...

You are always supportive and always loving. You continue to see me grow into the person I am going to be. I know I'll make you proud.

Thank you for EVERYTHING!

Love, Q

Lastly, but never least,...

Dear N.B. (aka Big Bear)

I'm not kidding when I say I wouldn't have been able to do it without you. I don't know how you can be so chilled when I'm busy freaking out all over town, but you are exactly what I needed at this time! I still am amazed at the sheer quantity and complication of all these coincidental events which had to take place to lead us to this point, but I'm not questioning it. I'm just in awe; of you, of me, of all of this.

Thank you for being there. Thank you for keeping me calm and sane these last few weeks. And most of all, thank you for running the two oceans and finishing two minutes ahead of me which allowed us to meet.

Love, always, Rhea

Dear Tasmin...

Thank you for being the cutest little sister in the world! And thank you for reminding me to put this in to this post. Mwah!

Love, Q

Monday, May 10, 2010

Women, Warwick and Biogas-digesters

For a quick recap on the EWB project...We are trying to find clean energy alternatives to the burning of harmful treated wood by township caterers. The main technology we were looking at was a biogas digester. This large bucket-type device would be buried in the earth beneath the caterer, and works on the chemistry of anaerobic decoposition of organic material to produce methane gas. In English, this means that there is bacteria in the digester, and if you throw in the right mix of organic waste such as kitchen scraps, manure, water, this will decompose and you get gas on which you can cook! The remaining matter is syphoned off, and is really great to use as compost. Sound too good to be true? Well it is.This device has never really been used in an Urban context such as the one of informal settlement caterers, and I suppose there's very good reasons why...

Despite our best efforts, every way we looked at this, things didn't look good.

  • If the becomes too acidic, the bacteria die, requireing re-inoculation which takes two weeks. This wont fly with a catering business.
  • A delicate balance of water and waste needs to be kept. Due to the notorious dryness of the Cape Flats, this won't bode well.
  • The digester needs to be monitored and controlled by a skilled person, which would be difficult to ensure in the environment in question, with such a high density of people in the area, and safety concerns being a premium.
  • And lastly, one unit costs R35 000! This will be a able to provide gas for one caterer. We can buy 70 energy efficient stoves for this price!

I would have really have liked to make this work, seeing as it would be something totally unprecidented and new. Simply put, it would have been a real achievement! But I'm not so sre anymore. I've had to weigh up the benefits of personal acheivement and recognition against the that of reaching out to as many people as possible. I think with all thigs considered, the point that wins it for me is that with the stoves, I'll simply be making a difference to many more lives, with a project that can very easily be repeated in other environments, with very little extra research or integration.

But at least I can say this: we looked at the bio-digester intesely, comprehensively and optimistically. Its as much as we could have done, and I'm satified with the direction in which we're going now.

One more thing...I've been working with a lady, Caroline from UCT's Social Science center. She was very involved in the Upgrade of Warwick Junction in Durban, the 10 year undertaking that theCity of Cape Town is using as a precident for their Nyanga Interchange Upgrade (the site of my
project). Anyway, apart from having written the book (I mean literally written the book) on Warwick "Working Warwick", she has been actively involved in WIEGO (Women in Informal Economy: Globalizing and Organizing) and has just returned from their AGM in Brazil.

This India-borne organization is HUGE, and works with self-employed women, supporting them, empowering them, and helping them lift their households and communities out of abject poverty. Check them out on:

Other than that, I am STILL in Joburg...:) Should really return to the rainy Cape soon...

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Who needs an electrician?

So things have been pretty interesting to say the least. Today, I wrote an abstract for the MTN Science Center project, which I have been asked to convert into a paper. If it is accepted, I will have the opportunity to present it at the next ASME meeting in Vancouver in November! I never thought I would be published at 22, but I'm definitely not second guessing it!

I have lost my passport! Can you believe it! So I had to got to home affairs today, and have to go back tomorrow to get it sorted out. I'm putting my faith in the new passport system and praying that I get in under two weeks, or else I might be in real trouble!

Ok, now for a more serious subject. There is something that I've been really proud to have done, but because of all the other crazy stuff going on, I haven't had a chance to blog about it! About three weeks ago, my stove broke! Strange and mysterious crackling noises and smells had been coming from under the hub for about a week, and I was convinced that we were going to have a large fire in the kitchen at some stage or other! Luckily for us, there was no fire, the stove just stopped working altogether.

As much as I love being the handi-woman around the house, I just didn't have the time (and someone had borrowed our screwdriver, not mentioning any names ;) ) I kept promising to get it done, and I think that my flat-mates started losing faith at some point that I was actually capable of fixing the thing...What nonsense! Who do you think rigged it up in the first place? So finally after a week or two, I got around to checking out what the matter was, and I must tell you now, it wasn't a pretty site.

For some reason, one of the neutral cables had melted through, and there was a mess of melted and fused rubber, plastic and metal. So I did what the 4+ years of electrical engineering courses and vac-work (where I connected cables bigger than my thigh) had taught me...I took the screwdriver and started hacking away at the mess until it was clear, I cute off the ends of the cables, connected it again, insulated it, and voila! Done. Easy right? Wonderfully proud of myself at the moment as you may have noticed!

There we are, I saved R500 or more calling out an electrician who would take 30 mins to do what I did in 5, robbing me blind in the process. (like the guy who came to fix my washing machine in December, only to have it break again in Feb, and again in April, each time charging me R600!) I eventually gave away the washing machine and got a new one.

And I'm off to Jo-Burg this weekend for some much-needed R&R with Prince Charming, so don't look for me! ;)

Monday, May 3, 2010


I'm almost done with my SCARA ROBOT assignment. Just look at how awesome my group is! We made this! (on CAD)
Its no easy task designing a robo, just ask the lab-full of Engineering students around me, staying up till 2:00am (and later) to finish this assignment on time! But I think its definitely worth it! WOW WOW WOW!
Back to work for the last hour of torture!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Exciting Engineering

I don't know what it is about this year, but Fate just keeps dropping pebbles in my path to pick up. Again and again, as I reach down to grasp what I think is a tiny white stone, I am surprised to find a miraculously beautiful pearl reflecting a thousand colours.
Remember how I mentioned a while back that I was applying for a position on ASME, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers? Well, it turns out that I didn't end up applying to the Diversity Committee but the Committee on Student Development (CSD).
I got an email two days ago saying that they have elected me as a "Member-at-large" on their committee, with my term officially starting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania!!!
You can only imagine how excited I was (and still am)!

I'm not revealing too much, but the trip is looking like its going to be awesome, and I plan to check out Chicago as well on the way back!

The "Township Caterers Project" is going great! Our research teams have visited the sites a few times and have gathered tons of information already. We're making great contacts every day, and I'm really happy with the way its working out! It's a bit early to say still but those energy-efficient stoves might just be the key to this project's success. Next week, students from the ERC (Energy Research Center), UCT are having a cook-off, using different stoves and cooking methods, to try to determine the fastest, cleanest and most economical way to fry up a meal! I'm backing my Deputy Head, Christina who I'm sure is going to do us proud!

And so I;m back to slaving away at the Computer Aided Drawing board, for my final Design assignment for my robot. I'ts going slow and steady, but looking great, don't you agree? This is just the first axis, the full robo will be a lot bigger than this part, and my team members are busy getting it all ready now for me to put it together! After this, its just the report at the end of July, so I'll have a chance to work on my other projects for a while!

Well, back to work! Will blog more soon!

Note the solar water-heater on the roof! The Kuyasa fund works with the NGO South South North, and give loans to people so they can insulate their homes, and have a hot-water supply that is totally free after purchase!