Friday, May 20, 2011

What every girl should know about a flat tyre

I really drive a lot! Lets put it into perspective. I live 45km (about 40 minutes) from work. I work about 360km (3.5 hours) from the Johannesburg, a city I travel to frequently for work, Engineers Without Borders meetings and to see friends. I got my car in January, and in less than 5 months I have reached my first service (15 000 km)

This means that I spend quite some time in the car, and most of this time is spent by myself on rural roads, traversing the countryside, meandering along mountain passes and singing along to 5fm (which wafts in and out of signal depending on which mountain I'm behind). This can get quite lonely, and the roads are sometimes very bad, strewn with potholes and basically falling away at the edges. I accept this is part of my job, and even enjoy the peacefulness of it, but the reality is that it can also be quite dangerous.

Why you shouldn't drive around alone at night:

Two Sundays ago, I was driving back from dinner with friends quite late at night and I somehow hit a crater with my left, front tyre. The tyre burst in two places. Luckily for me, my friends were not comfortable letting me drive home alone and insisted on seeing be back safe, so were in the car behind me when this happened. We managed to change the tyre, but the spare was a mini "mari biscuit" tyre and I was very eager to replace it. Typically, the tyre guys couldn't find me the right size of tyre (for some reason I had very a very unique size of tyre) in this town or the neighbouring ones (or so he said) and had to order me one. 
Note: a full-sized tyre is preferable, but if you ever plan to change a tyre by yourself, a biscuit might be a better idea. If you've ever tried lifting a full-sized tyre out of a car, you will know why I say that. Its simply huge! Also, its a good idea to know how to use a jack and where to place it under your car so that the load is balanced. You wont know how to do this until you've actually tried, so when you have a free half and hour, I suggest you go outside and practice jacking up your car!

Why you should have standard-sized tyres fitted on your car:

So this meant that I had to drive around for a week with a mari biscuit and no spare up and down the very dodgy, long roads between my house and work until the day I finally went in to get my new tyre fitted. This meant I had to drive extra carefully and was incredibly anxious about picking up yet another flat! I was leaving for Johannesburg that Friday morning, so I made extra sure that the tyre guy knew he had till Thursday to get me the tyre I needed.
Note: the size of your tyre can be found on your actual tyre. It goes something like this: 185 65 R15. The tyre people will ask for this number when you call in to ask if they have a spare. Make a note of this somewhere for your records.

Why you should ALWAYS do your own research and NEVER trust a salesman!

Lo and behold, I pitch up Thursday afternoon at the workshop and I can instantly tell from the terrified look on his face that something was wrong. It turns out that the fool of a salesman had ordered me THE WRONG TYRE! I couldn't believe it. It was almost 5pm and as far as I knew no town in the surrounding areas had the tyre I needed. After letting the salesman know exactly what I thought of him, I get into my car and take off home, (have a good cry) and call someone I knew who may be able to help. 
Note: not everyone is always looking out for your best interests. Even though I may be a mechanical engineer, women are often taken for a ride by mechanics who think they can swindle you because you don't know any better. It can never hurt to get a second opinion!

We know you're a strong, independent woman, but sometimes its okay to ask for help...

"Uncle R" first chides me for not calling him first, then tells me to sit tight. 5 minutes later he calls back and tells me to go to a shop in the next town, where a brand new, rightly-sized tyre was waiting for me when I got there. 
Note: Often when you have a blow-out or hit something, your car's alignment will go off. This means that all four wheels wont be positioned right. This can cause worse problems if left unchecked, so get the alignment done as soon as you change the tyre. This costs around R225- R350 and takes about 30 minutes.

So in the end, somehow everything worked out. I do think I should be a bit more careful on the road though. As tough and independent as I'd like to think I am, I have to admit that certain situations are best avoided at all costs, and for others I will need my friends' help. I don't need to prove to anyone that I'm Super Woman - getting a flat tyre really put that into perspective for me, so I guess it was a good learning experience. And now I can safely say that I know how to change a tyre! 

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Becoming a Professional Engineer

So now that I've stopped working like a mad-woman buried under piles of documents, I can get back to the really important blogging! So something interesting happened this week. My boss (the tiny but feisty female chemical engineer-I need to interview her for Engineer-Chic asap) got back from Greece and we had a nice long chat about my future! This is something that had been causing me mild distress recently, so I was happy to finally talk about it. Did you know there were so many different professional options you could follow as a young, grad engineer? 

Firstly, there is the obvious option of a masters program. This can be done later on in life and usually takes two years, full-time, but in this economy, many of my ex-classmates went straight into masters programs. Obviously if it is fully funded, and you know exactly what field you want to specialize in, then why wait? But if not, I don't think there is any harm in waiting a few years, getting some industry experience and figuring it out. Also, importantly, you can use that time to get professionally registered!

What is professional registration? Ever heard of a disciplined engineer or responsible engineer? Well, every country has their own unique set of laws/ professional associations/ requirements for you to register as a professional engineer, but basically what it means is that you will be able to take responsibility for certain things such as designs, changes or decisions you make for the company you work for. 

In South Africa for example, the two main routes you can take are either to get a GCC (Government Certificate of Competency) or a PR ENG (Professional Registration in your discipline with the Engineering Council of SA-ECSA). The latter means you'll have letters behind your name like this:

Engineer-Chic, PR Eng

Cool huh? So whats the difference? Well I'll forgive you for not knowing, I wasn't exactly sure myself until this week!

You get a GCC by taking a test. Once you've worked 2 years in the field (and by 'the field' I mean either a mine/ plant environment or a factory) you are eligible to sit the GCC exam. You have to study for it and apparently it can be quite tough. If you are a 'ticketed engineer' (have passed the GCC exam) you can take responsibility for major decisions that happen at the operation you manage, and your pay skyrockets of course. The downside is of course, if you've signed off on something that fails and injures someone, you can be held accountable!

The PR Eng option is slightly different. There is no exam, but at the end of a three-year training period after graduation, you have to submit a report proving that you've met certain objectives. These objectives must have been met through the work you have done over that training period. This means you and your mentor could structure the projects you work on to ensure that each one covers a different area and meets a different objective. At the end of three years, you put all those projects together in a report and submit it. If accepted, you will be recognised as a true professional in the field. For example, as a mechanical engineer, I would be able to design systems and components and sign them off myself! 
This still carries the risks of accountability if something goes wrong, and the benefits of the pay increase...of course!

So after many long months of deliberating (not really-I've known which route I wanted to follow since November) I have decided that a professional engineer I will be! And no, that not just because I want letters behind my name and I don't want to sit another exam! (Although they are good reasons)...

Any professional engineers or ticketed engineers out there who would like to share their experiences? I'd love to hear it!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Architecture after Apartheid: Remembrance and Forgetting

Okay I know what you're all gonna say so I admit, I am officially the laziest blogger on the net! But in my defense I am freakishly busy right now (but seriously-what's new?). And FOR ONCE the topic of my other blog lines up with this one (why didn't I think of this sooner?)...


Take a look at my latest blog post on

Do I get brownie points for 'recycling' posts? Just look how sustainable I am!

But in other news, I have successfully just finished the mountain of work I've been buried under for weeks! From tomorrow the audit begins and the real fun starts! Can you think of anything as much fun as an audit? Yay!