What is an Ordinary way of Life?

The definition of an ordinary life. Well, it depends of course on who you are, where you live and what you do. These factors affect what you eat, how you get around and something slightly more philosophical – how happy you are. An ordinary meal for a person living in Thailand will be a reserved for special nights out in the UK. Risking life and limb to cater for Dubai’s gluttonous appetite for skyscrapers would be seen as an impossibility for the ground dwelling Inuit populations of Greenland. There are a countless number of examples demonstrating how we differ from one another. It is our demographic that defines what we see as the norm. So where then, are we similar? Because it is our similarities that help us answer the question posed in the titled. Well to begin with, we are all life forms. And I refer to my GCSE biology for a useful mnemonic – MRS GREN: Movement, Respiration, Sensitivity, Growth, Reproduction, Excretion and Nutrition.

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Mrs Gren

Apart from movement and nutrition, we are all pretty much identical. Sure, there are some people that are more actively reproducing…And some people that are taller than others. There are those that excrete more, both literally and metaphorically. In fact, some people emit so much hot air from their mouth that I wonder whether they were put together backwards…I digress…

I believe the fundamental parameters that control our way of living, are movement and nutrition. These two dictate what separates the rich from the poor, the powerful from the weak, and the ignorant from the knowledgeable. Ultimately, these two parameters can be influenced to a higher degree by us, and therefore help us to recognize what we mean by ordinary.

Let’s begin with nutrition. We are all human and generally speaking we need the same amounts of vitamins, minerals and various nutrients to sustain healthy bodily functions. Of course, this does depend on where you live and what you do for a living i.e. you’re requirement for various substances will depend on your lifestyle.

In the West, the lifestyle we seem to be living presents us with more time constraints than ever. This in turn prevents us from properly focusing our attention to where exactly we are getting these nutrients from.

We can be foolish and get all the energy we need from fast food and ready meals. We will however, without a shadow of a doubt, feel undernourished a short time after being constantly exposed to such foods. For instance, I could eat McDonalds three times a day and save a lot of time (while going well over my recommended intake of calories.) Not only would I gain weight – I’d also be lethargic, more susceptible to heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome and probably bad breath. Despite this, the consumption of ready meals is higher than it’s ever been. They may not be as bad as Maccy D’s, but I wouldn’t say they are a great deal better.

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The Ready Meal Trend

So instead let us consider what is deemed a decidedly less foolish route. Let me eat salads, fruits and vegetables. I’ll pick the finest eggs, the best meat and go organic. But…we face a problem. Although choosing good food like this works out perhaps a little more expensive, the issues besides the fissure now residing in your wallet are more concerning. Firstly, the fruit and veg we get are already a week old when they hit the supermarket. The food only has 40% of the nutrients it started with. When I throw it in the pan, I lose even more. While this healthier diet is not putting bad stuff in my body, it’s certainly not doing much good either! Secondly, and this is the crux of the matter in my opinion, is we lack TIME…

Do you really have time to faff around with slicing up veggies when you get back from work? Do you really want to go through all that washing up after the meal? We want to just get back, whip something together in a few minutes and plonk ourselves in front of the TV. Work was tough. So many meetings. Bloody reports. Maybe let off some steam in the gym, go out for a game of squash. Browse the internet. Write a useless blog…

We feel there are better, more productive things to get on with than cooking. I’m not going to deny that is exactly how I feel sometimes.

Sometimes there really isn’t enough time in the day. How often do we sit down and reflect on the learnings of the day? Do we ever give ourselves and opportunity to look after ourselves? Or are we always considering whether the time we have is being best utilised? We run around trying to make money. We use this money to buy materialistic objects, gadgets and gizmos – over what is actually good for us. We buy stuff and then we are forced to make the time to use it, read it, watch it, play it. We don’t have time for us. This is my, somewhat bleak view, of the typical Western lifestyle. Every city and town in Western Europe and the U.S.-  it’s the same, everyone is always: ‘too busy’. We sometimes have the audacity to sneer at those that we feel are not doing anything with their life. The ones that take it easy and come what may. You know the ones I mean. They maintain a smile, and move around doing whatever comes their way. Always relaxed. Always…happy?

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Contemplation

This running around like headless chickens. This has become our ordinary way of life. It is not a pretty picture. Perhaps you don’t live your life like this, and I apologise for being presumptive. But forgive me for assuming that you know at least one person that fits snugly in the profile I have woven.

And I sense this is not how we are supposed to live it.

Food is our fuel. It becomes us. We genuinely, literally, factually, exactly are what we eat. Nothing more. Nothing less. Why then, do some of us invest so much in electronic gismos but turn our noses up at the choice between organic free range and battery hen eggs. Our justification for choosing the latter is ‘because it’s cheaper, and they all come from the same place anyway.’ We need good food. We don’t need a new laptop. Not enough time? Make it. If we can make time to browse Facebook, 9GAG, YouTube and useless entries on WordPress, then we have time to spend an extra half hour in the kitchen. Invariably, this will require a change in our approach to the way we live.

A change we may not all be willing to embrace. One that would require planning. Reducing our ability to take spontaneous decisions such that our general lifestyle flexibility is diminished. A change that may be inconvenient, time consuming and sometimes tiring.

Let us now move onto the second parameter I felt was of importance in determining what an ordinary way of life is: movement. The movement of the earliest homosapiens have shaped, formed and developed humanity to the state it is now. Mobility is how we socialise, learn, earn, eat, and grow. The ability to move runs our very economy. We have countless ways of doing it. Crawling, walking, running, cycling, sailing, driving, flying, the list goes on. With the passage of time and technological advancements, the speed of our mobility and the range has continued to increase allowing us to develop further personally, educate ourselves more and so on and so forth. So, despite it being a simple part of our life, it is fundamental to life’s existence.

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Movement out of Africa; The numbers represent years it took to arrive to the given location

And we have become used to it haven’t we? The ability to just walk outside, hop into the car and drive to the destination that would have taken only 15 minutes to walk. Yet we rarely take the opportunity to walk. Again, the problem is time. Our way of life prevents us investing time in alternatives that we deem unnecessarily arduous.

For those that have made it this far in this entry, I’m sure you are expecting a connection with cars in some way or another. To avoid disappointment, I will now present the challenge we are facing in the automotive industry.

I am working on the manufacturing and design of hydrogen fuel cells for automotive applications (which will be covered in detail in my next blog.) The biggest issue I foresee for the commercialisation of this technology is not the reliability, the safety or indeed the method for obtaining hydrogen. The real barrier is changing the consumer lifestyle.  We inevitably need to change the way we live if we are to use this tech. Despite the best efforts of engineers, we will not be able to operate the vehicle in the same way we do when we are using one with an internal combustion engine. We need people to accept this change and embrace it, at the moment we are (me included) are unwilling to even give it a go.

Disagree?

Let us use electric cars as example as they have been around for a while now. Why do we not see more of them? Of course cost is an issue. Yet people go around buying the combustion offerings of Mercedes, Audi, Range Rover and indeed Bentley. It’s a lifestyle choice, nothing more complex than that. It’s cool to go round town astride a Jaguar. A Leaf is too far down the food chain. And you have to wait an age to charge it. And you don’t get much range. And it’s a bit ugly.

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G-Wiz, that’s fugly

I can’t disagree with the last one. But the first two certainly are based on our desire to have the maximum amount of flexibility and not to have to plan our day too much. We may know, for instance, that we’ve only got a few litres left in the tank. Yet we also know it will only take add an extra 10 minutes to my journey to fill it up. Our timetable can accommodate that delay. It cannot accommodate the delay associated with charging the car for 4 hours. I hear you say, ‘well we would need to plan for that!’ Of course you are right, but how many of us are willing to plan like that?

So you have sat here reading the stream of thoughts, wondering what the conclusion to all this is. Firstly, imminent change to our lifestyles is neither possible nor probable, it is inevitable. There will be those among us who will do their utmost to fight the change. They will try and corrupt the minds of those around them to slow the change, perhaps stalling it for a time. But it will happen. Be prepared to change how you live. And wherever possible, try to embrace it. It makes our lives as engineers that much easier – when we know there is one less challenge to overcome, the challenge of accommodating for unchanging people.

An ordinary way of life. Something we can all relate to is change. Changing the way we eat. Changing the way we move.

I leave you with a quote from Churchill:

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often”

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Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill

Embrace the change. It’s the ordinary thing to do.

Thanks for reading.

Technology Tantrum

I have in my hand a device with which I can find out anything I want. Anything. It’s a calculator. It’s an alarm clock. It’s my satellite navigation system. It’s my default camera when I don’t have the DSLR. It’s my video player and my music player. It’s the portable tool I have to keep me entertained. And of course – it’s a phone. A mobile phone.

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Figure 1 Would you look at that – my fingerprint!

Of all the things we have invented – it’s perhaps the most versatile. Manufacturers are always finding new ways to improve on them. My opinion however, is that we have run out of ideas. Despite my general dismissal of Apple products – I do respect the company for being innovative. Well, maybe not innovative as such – but they do know how to market products to make themselves look innovative. However – the advent of the iPhone 5S has shown that even Apple has run out of ideas – I watched the video ad they published and it looked like they were struggling to really justify the reason they had decided to implement a finger print recognition system. How do I know they were struggling? It’s quite simple – there is no value add. It’s a gimmick – I can’t see it saving me time. Or saving me money. So why would I want it?

And that – is what technology is all about. It’s always meant to be trying to help us find a way to save time or money – which are essentially the same thing. When a product can no longer do this for us – or wastes our time or money – we get rid of it. Alternatively – if we find an alternative product that saves us time or money, we purchase it – weighing up which is more important to us dictates what we are willing to pay.

Don’t get me wrong – aesthetics play a massive role too. However, when we break it down – no matter how good a product looks – if it’s not fulfilling the criteria mentioned – it’s not worth buying.

If then – we go back to the phone argument. Perhaps there is some value in buying a new phone. A new phone will probably have a faster processor, a better camera, longer battery life etc. Despite the incremental baby steps we are now taking in the mobile phone market – they are still steps. Although there isn’t, as far as I can tell, any real innovation.

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Figure 2 Kinect Fashion Retail Application

Innovation comes as a result of imagination. I just don’t think we are using our imagination enough. We need to be able to look at a technology and find a different way to use it. The best example I can think of is Microsoft’s Kinect. That is one hell of a product. The range of applications is as diverse as the imagination of the human race. For whatever reason – we are finding so many fantastic ways of using the technology.

What we need to do is link technologies together in the way we have with the mobile phone. Who would have thought 20 years ago that the same device that we listen to music on is also what we use to get from A to B?

And we get so excited about such stupid things! I was in a discussion today where a car manufacturer wants an app for the iPad whereby you walk up to a car in a showroom and hold the iPad up. The camera will recognise the car – not based on the car’s shape but on a code on the car itself (invisible to the naked eye). As a result of this, a 3D image of the car will show up on the tablet and you can start to play around with the colour, the tyres, the stitching, the bla bla bla. I don’t care. Why? Because it’s not much different to using a QR code that would be on the car and linking that to an app that held a CAD model of it, one similar to what you find online on a car manufacturer’s website anyway. All we have done is removed a few processes and made it look all dazzly. Big bloody whoop. I saved 5 seconds. That adds no value to my life! This app is meant to help sell cars. Good luck!

There was another discussion talking about going through a magazine (sorry, but who reads magazines nowadays?!) and when you get to an advert, of let’s say a watch you like. You bring your mobile phone up in front of the picture and similar to the car’s tech, it will recognise the watch based on a hidden code and bring that up on your phone’s screen and have a play with it in 3D. What’s the point? I can go to manufacturer’s website anyway to have a look at all the watches they make and look at all of them in 3D – whenever I like. It’s not anything special or particularly clever.

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Figure 3 Capgemini’s 14th Annua Global Automotive Study

There are even worse applications of technologies that try and make themselves seem super innovative. The vehicle manufacturers nowadays make a what they call a “connected car”. Which basically means – cars with twitter. Why the hell would I want my car to tell me what’s going on with twitter? I’m trying to drive, making sure I don’t hit the nutter switching lanes, trying to get to my meeting on time and wondering if that pothole’s ever going to get fixed…twitter is the least of my worries. Maybe the nutter switching lanes is checking his twitter feed and so can’t concentrate on the important bit about being in the driver’s seat – DRIVING!

Let me make a few suggestions.

The stupid car recognition app for making a car look pretty…I’m going to replay the scenario. I go into a showroom and I tell the over friendly car salesman I want a new ride. He picks up the iPad from the dock and shows me around. I point to a car I like the look of. He walks towards it and aims the tablet’s camera onto the vehicle’s highly polished surface. A simple notification alerts him that the car has been recognised and he goes about asking me a few questions: what the number plate of my current car is, my annual mileage and my address. Another alert and he looks up at me with a smile. “Well sir,” he begins, “you are currently spending about £1400 a year on fuel and pay about £400 for your insurance. As this car has a downsized diesel engine, that fuel cost will go down to about £900! Unfortunately you’ll be paying more on insurance as the car has a higher value than your current vehicle, on the bright side you’ll save 2 seconds on your 0-60 time.”

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Figure 4 VW Augmented

Fantastic! Within 30 seconds the salesman has given me some facts (which need to be taken with a pinch of salt) about whether this product is worth my time or money. My number plate told him the vehicle I currently drive – there are myriad of databases containing the specifications of cars, linked to their number plates. My annual mileage gave him a good indication about how much I’m spending on fuel and he was able to work out a rough estimate of my insurance based on my address. I think this is a great way to use the technology of using invisible codes and linking simple information to databases. With the tablet at hand, he can go ahead and give me hard facts about the car. He’s going to find it a lot harder to fob off a shoddy motor and I get a product I might actually want!

Right. Next up. This magazine watch thing. I recently bought myself a nice watch actually. I had to go to the shop – because I could not judge how the watch would look on my wrist. I’ve got skinny wrists so a bulky watch looks silly. Anyway – let’s say I’m going through a magazine and I find a watch I like the look of. But it looks a bit chunky. Fortunately – with the use of the Kinect, I have a 3D virtual image of myself stored on my phone – linked to my Google account. Before I go on – you may say “what do you mean you have a 3D image saved on Google? That’s not safe!” Well excuse me! You’ve got your whole life posted on Facebook – a 3D photo of me is no big deal.

Anyway – back to the watch. I can try this watch on virtually! The 3D image of me and the watch are to scale, so I can visualise on my phone how the watch will look. The watch will have accurate dimensions generated by the manufacturer CAD data. I like this watch. Looks great. I’m going to buy it (with Google wallet – hence the reason for synching my image to my Google account)! Looks like the ad did what it was meant to. Made me buy a watch!

Last one. I know you are getting bored. Cars with twitter. Let’s just scrap twitter. I’ve got an account. No idea what to do with it. It does have powerful applications – with a touch of imagination you can do a lot with it – but that is a discussion for another time.

A really simple one for cars. One I am sure everyone thinks about. Because it is so unbelievably simple! Firstly – we don’t need driverless cars – we just need to tell drivers what’s going on.

Picture this…its 5.30pm – peak rush hour time. Everyone is expecting a mad traffic jam. However, today is a different day. It’s a special day. It’s a day of mass communication, data analysis and useful interpretation. For arguments sake – let’s say all of the town’s people in Slough either use Google maps on their phone or have it integrated into the car (that may not be far off – stay tuned!). This system has the ability to talk to traffic lights via Wifi. The cars are also all connected to a central server that analyses the location of each car and where traffic hotspots are. Instead of traffic being focused to the main roads; it is filtered and spread to every available bit of tarmac. Use of all of the space available minimises the traffic hotspot. Having the capability to talk to traffic light systems maintains traffic flow and ensures that the lanes with the most traffic – have the most flow.

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Figure 5 Google Glass Navigation

Okay. My ideas here are pipe dreams. But I could go on for ages. They are unlikely to happen anytime soon. Not necessarily because they aren’t possible. But because we are too concerned about our keeping our details private! Nevermind the fact that everyone knows everything anyway – the government, HMRC, my university, all my past employers, my bank, my insurance company, paypal, ebay, amazon, hotels I’ve stayed at, airlines…the list goes on.

We have the technology available now to really have some fun innovative ideas. Why aren’t we pursuing them? We all are trying to sell something. Let’s do it in a way that adds value – saves us time or money!

Logic will get you from A to Z.

Imagination will get you everywhere.

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Figure 6 Albert Einstein

Innovative ideas exist. We just have to embrace them.

 

 

Temperance and Eric Morecambe

Those two things aren’t necessarily related, it’s just what I gained from last weekend.

On Friday I was invited to attend an amateur performance of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. As with all theatre performances, no photos allowed! Which is a real shame, because for an amateur drama group, the quality of the acting and props was spectacular. Unfortunately I had a bad seat, where I was sitting on the side of the circle overlooking the right hand side of the stage and right next to two enormous speakers. Even with all this, I enjoyed it thoroughly and for only £10 it was an absolute bargain.

Footlights is the amateur drama group that put the show on and they really demonstrated a high degree of professionalism. They have been around since the 1920’s and the work ethic really showed this. The Grand Theatre in Lancaster where this took place was bought by this group in the 1950’s to save it from demolition.

They hold a number of different shows throughout the year and find it a challenge to balance theatrical performances with the work required to maintain and restore the historic building that is the Grand Theatre.

This theatre is the third oldest in Britain, I couldn’t believe my luck in being able to watch a production at such an amazing landmark of British theatre. It was built in 1781 and apparently much of the stone work from the era has survived.

Reading through it’s history I found out that at the end of the 1830’s is was being used by the Temperance Society. Call me ignorant but I’d never heard of this before (for those with the same level of knowledge as me, the temperance movement is social movement with prohibiting the use of alcoholic drinks in mind.)

I was surprised to see how much of a political power the society had become. It managed to gain massive traction in the First World War, mostly because resources had to be preserved for war use. The Defence of the Realm Act was implemented which licensed pub hours, watered down beer and added a penny a pint tax! The 18th amendment of the US passage was introduced to prohibit alcohol. Austrailian states and New Zealand were subject to early closing times for bars during and immediately after the 1st world war.

The temperance society began to decline as criminal activity increased, similar to what we find with illegal drugs today. I find it interesting that temperance gained such power and hope that we will see this again to eliminate the binge drinking culture in the UK.

Quickly about Eric Morecambe, who formed an award winning double act with Ernie Wise. The partnership lasted an amazing 43 years spanning from 1941 to 1984. He was christened John Eric Bartholomew and was awarded an OBE, however he took his stage name from his home town – Morecambe. To mark this man’s career, a larger than life statue can be seen on the promenade. In my eyes it was extremely impressive, especially with the beautiful backdrop of the sea. I think the photo speaks volume about this man’s achievements and character; I don’t think I can add much to it.

He was a man who never dropped his comic persona, I love how this is preserved in this statue.

A bit short from me this time round, although no one is reading this anyway so it doesn’t really matter!

Until next time.

Thanks for reading

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Eric Morecambe Statue

Induction and Moving in

 

I am perhaps among those people regarded as impatient. The induction started on time and on the whole it proved as a useful introduction to the whole placement. However, I am certain that it didn’t need to go on for as long as it did. For me, the most interesting things to take away from it all was the booklet we received filled with contacts as well as the introduction to what the company did, in particular the section that I would be working in over the summer.

 

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Centrica Summer Placement Students

It was nice to meet the other student engineers and I am surprised that I was able to get through the selection process at all. We were told that between 2-3000 students applied for all of the placements available (about 70). In the engineering stream there are only 12 places or so, I guess I am rather proud of myself.

The drive to Lancaster was smooth enough, although I do need to look into implementing cruise control into the old Focus, my foot aches after a long drive and as I will be driving a lot, it makes sense to do so.

I was a little surprised when I moved into the place, I had been expecting a fully contained room as had been described in the email I had received from the Centrica team. Fortunately, the only thing that I have to share is the kitchen and as the accommodation is all being paid for I can’t complain too much. 

My room is nice enough, I wish I had more cupboard space. However, I can only blame myself for bringing far too many clothes. Took me almost an hour to unload the car on the evening I moved into Lancaster. My mum (typical of all mothers) loaded me with a ton of food before I began my journey. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to fit it into the limited larder and fridge space. Surprisingly, this place (Pointer House) is generous with cupboard space. Although this is at the expense of space for pots, pans and plates which are littered on the drying racks next to the sink. 

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My room (sorry for the mess)

Until next time.

Thanks for reading.