Wednesday, January 1, 2014

My 2013 : A Year of Healthy Turmoil

2013 was a year of healthy turmoil for me. A sea of interesting events had to happen and trying to make sense of it all now is not an easy task. Nevertheless, I'll try to venture into some key areas of my life that did get affected and toss some of my own photos into the mix. We'll leave the rest of the adventures for another time.

1. Travels 

Michigan : In the early part of 2013, I was traveling to obscure parts of Indiana and Michigan in a car called Chevrolet Impala (its the best getaway car for a reason). The first day of January 2013 was spent in Brown County State Park watching the heavy snowfall.

A few days later, a long Imapala drive to Michigan along the interstates I-69 and I-75 gave me a chance to enjoy my first skiing experience at Boyne Highlands. Basically, that was 4 hours of skiing to my heart's content.  I had great fun trying to angle the skiis inward and try to balance myself. A few times, I tumbled on steep descents and I became a sorry excuse for a winter athlete.

And it was so cold up there in MI that entire lakes were frozen to the core. As you can see below, this is Crooked Lake, which is so solid that you can see people actually camping for the evening on the ice. That's America.

One memorable moment was passing through a tiny town called St. Helen. Seriously, this place has just a few thousand residing there. I remember dropping into the Hen House Restaurant for a coffee after seeing a handful of snow mobiles parked outside. That night, there were a few local residents, mostly seniors sitting and chatting the cold night away. I think I alarmed everyone a bit when I asked shamelessly if there was WIFI available. "One coffee, and wifi password please...."

On another day, I had a chance to visit The Henry Ford in Dearborn. As I remember it, atleast 5 hours were spend walking around tracing the history of the automobile from single celled, I mean single cylinder organisms to modern day family sedans. The HF also has a neat aviation history display. 

It was nice to learn how the Wright Brothers, two bicycle mechanics, struggled with controlling their aircraft (actually, the optimum degree of inherent stability of an airplane was not even obvious until 30 years after the first flight of Kittyhawk). Or the fact that Boeing's early years were spent delivering mail cross country. The Boeing C-700 would become the first plane used for international mail delivery. Humble start for a household name.

Another memorable moment was getting to climb and stand next to a huge water turbine-electric generator from 1903, basically a 4000 HP Stillwell-Bearce turbine and 1300 kW generator made by GE. Similar machines were installed at the Niagara Falls to produce power for a bustling new city. These machines helped America in her heyday. 

Chicago : Chicago hosted North America's first Auto Show that year. Being the car enthusiast, I made my way to Detroit and luckily had a chance to survey GM's new Chevrolet Corvette. GM's Tadge Juechter and team did a great job on the Stingray Project. Everything from the tires to the heat ex-changer air ducts to the cylinder deactivation that works for a manual transmission were revolutionary items. Fuel efficiency was a marketed item too. For a sports car? Go figure. EPA can do wonders. Good stuff anyway. I stood and stared. 

Kentucky : I've been down to Kentucky quite a few times but in February, I couldn't miss the calling of the UCI World Cyclocross Championship. For those who don't know what this is, cyclocross is a traditionally European discipline of cycling where you get to race in off-road terrain on a special bicycle (with a higher bottom bracket than other road bikes) in some spectacularly brutal weather. I mean, these guys ride through hail, storm, mud, water you name it... and this sport is a race right from the gun. It requires a tremendous amount of power and endurance, as it not only involves the skill to ride a bike through undulating off-road terrain but having to dismount, carry the bike and jump across obstacles before having to remount and keep racing. I think the greatest experience was being inches away from these professionals on the sidelines, watching them blow past me with expressionless, weathered faces. And that day, the whole of Belgium could have been there in Louisville supporting Sven Nys, the reigning UCI World Cyclocross champion. 

I can brag that I was there at America's first hosting the UCI Cyclocross championship.

Americans like to give others a sense of place. They presented Sven and the rest of the podium winners with baseball bats. "Thanks for visiting folks!"

I thought I'll bless a resident from Louisville with some of my own love as well. When the job situation turned bad and I knew I couldn't stay much longer in the United States, I sold my beloved fixie to a local resident. 

Believe me, this bike in its special Ferrari Red was a rare gem. I have indelible memories riding it in college, through hail, snow and storm to get to work so I could make it to the sorry $ 8/hour part time gig. I mean, it seriously was a means to earn livelihood as a poor college kid. And then, I rode it 100 miles one day across all sorts of roads in Western New York, crossing some memorable spots like the bridge into Grand Island. I thought at the end of that ride I would have to be amputated, because I don't ever remember coasting my legs. It was a fixed gear bike on a 44 x 18.

It was Valentine's Day when I decided to sell this bike. If you are in a humorous mood,I gave him a discount on the promise that he would ride this bike hard; I cant stand mediocrity with my prized possession. I hope that in 2013's Ride Across Indiana, he did ride the 160 miles on my bike as he had promised. Oh, and he said he planned to do it at an average of 19 mph. 

United Arab Emirates : I fled the United States in early March to look for a new means to put bread on the table. I was frustrated, tired but brimming with new hope. As I flew away from Atlanta International Airport, I looked down and wondered how 10 years in a foreign land had come to this. All the memories with different people, trying new experiences, falling in love, breaking up, getting an education.... I was ready to leave a piece of myself there, right among the American clouds. When I reached Dubai, it was night. Nothing but the characteristic yellow street lamps down. As I stepped out of the plane, the humid air greeted an "Ahlan".

I'd been to Dubai before and honestly speaking, the great outdoors became the great indoors as I arrived at a time when the temperatures were soaring. Sitting at home for the first 2 months looking for a career online wasn't easy. Eventually, a man with big connections to the American Petroleum Institute hired me for an Malaysian Oil and Gas related engineering company. After he hired me, he joked that he thought I was Scottish when he came across my name for the first time. It made me feel good about my name actually.

I got down to visiting some key places in Dubai. Actually, let's say I got to wear a hat and move around taking photographs! The following pics were clicked at The Marina, the Walk, whilst riding the Creek on a boat and visiting the Miracle Garden where I really had to play around with colors to show the UAE emblem made with flowers as we were greeted that day with a terrible sandstorm! 

I greatly enjoyed moving to Al-Ain one day and riding the steep ascent up Jebel Hafeet on my bike. 9.2 km at 7.2% average grade. For the uninitiated, that's a lot of pain in the midday heat. 

I think I made it in time to the peak just to watch the sunset on the U.A.E's second highest peak (or maybe the tallest mountain road?) And if you stand on the mountain and move your frame of reference a bit, you can see the Sultanate of Oman.

It can get so hot in these parts that you get a feeling even the desert shifts places to cool itself from baking into a crisp. And when treading on baking sand in slippers, its not fun. Camels may only like you if you call in Arabic.I didn't have an experience of a camel charging at me. I think they are docile, bit shy creatures for the most part. 

And a desert babeque is something to be experienced, but I learned that you cannot light a fire easily with big lumps of charcoal and lighter fluid makes the food taste like crap. Hopefully, I'll try some changes in my next outdoor grill. 


The career took a shift from one continent to the other as I have alluded to in an entertaining post last year. Do read it because it will give you an idea of things head hunters do to get you until they find out they can't have you. Perfect catch 22.

Fortunately for me, the career in Jebel Ali Free Zone's Oil Field Supply Center has given me another opportunity with gas compression, only this time its reciprocating compressors as opposed to those nasty dynamic types with huge impeller wheels and crazy pressure ratio-flow diagrams. Actually, I enjoy both machines. But like engineering thermodynamics is often first taught using the concept of a cylinder and control volume, maybe this is me returning to the roots of compression by having to focus on perhaps the most basic of compressors. Either way, this new job has reminded me that I need to be proficient with API 11P and 618 to be a better application engineer. 

Understanding the beloved "recip" wasn't so hard. All it is a wonderful big bicycle pump that keeps pumping gas as long as suction pressure and flow feeds it. Its another on-skid scheme where well-head natural gas is taken into a gas engine driven compressor after knocking out fluids (water is in-compressible!), cooled in between stages to below API constraints before being pumped to the discharge outlet. 

These machines are typically used in deserted sites close to natural gas well head manifolds. They are supervised very little, so the machine needs to be instrumented and crudely smart to carry out the compression task.

Some neat tricks to manipulate flow are given by the adjustments to the clearances inside the cylinder. An operator can increase or decrease the clearance pocket manually and increase or decrease the flow accordingly. Other crude means to control flow are by using a bypass line to divert some of the compressed gas back to the suction side and using valve unloaders.

The job has actually provided some healthy tension as it forced me to adopt a complete systems engineering mindset to learn the interrelationships between choices in one facet of engineering to another. 

My first few months on the job were actually involved delving into a huge spare parts list for 16 compressor units. I imagined that such lists could be made standard for any job and then a subset could be derived off it depending on the specifics of a bespoke project. 

The next month or two were spent diving deep into the selection and sizing of recips. I learnt that it was an iterative process but the experienced application engineer could have a hunch that a certain compressor frame with a certain engine would do the task. It cuts down the exploration and more time can be devoted to sizing the cylinders and the rest of the pieces of the puzzle, such as scrubbers, pulsation bottles etc. A lot of this has an appreciable impact on cost. The inexperienced can quickly contribute to why a bid is lost, I think.

Which comes to the interesting part unique to recips - there's a certain intriguing aspect behind unsteady flow dynamics and vibration. A lot of the upfront sizing is done by the application engineering without being able to predict the dynamic nature of pulsation and what it can do to resonance, pressure drops in the system etc. This is the uncontested territory of specialized consultants such as Beta Machinery and I really like their work. Its a great wish that I get a chance to talk to a BM specialist to understand what his job and experience has been like looking at various projects across the world.

Another important aspect, besides the sizing of compressors and pressure vessels, is the design of the piping systems for conveying the gases in this package. This too is a bit new to me but I'm surprised in a good way at the complexities involved in piping design, especially when it comes to designing for something like thermal flexibility. Take a hot exhaust pipe between two anchor points flowing gas at almost 900 deg F for instance. How do you make sure you design it right and place the right components in the right place so it behaves predictably, the stresses are below the ASME B31.3 code, deflections are minimal etc? I was able to understand specialized components such as bellows and teach myself thermal analysis on an FEA package to predict how such pipes would behave when hot and stressed. It's taking a lot of the guesswork out of the equation and helps ensure that there is in-built capability in these systems. 

I continue into 2014 developing standards for the company and hoping for a new challenging project that will help me apply all the great things I have learned. I do have to say that its fortunate to work with people who are more experienced than you and are willing to share their insight into a problem. Any workplace that harbors a feeling of mutual respect, teaching and learning will grow. Others who enjoy hiding insights, spreading mistrust and degrading culture will fall. Its how evolution works. 


On the side of my day job, I also attend evening classes at Rochester Institute of Technology Dubai for a Master's Degree in Engineering. 

I don't know how it is that things fall into place so perfectly but it so happened that one of the two courses I took in my first semester had to do with the design and optimization of thermal systems, which essentially is a superset of what I do at work. 

The course began with a fundamental insight into thermal systems, the techniques to model thermal components and then simulate them using numerical techniques. The kinds of problems we took to solving involved pumps and piping systems, fans and ducts, gas turbines, compressors and heat exchangers. Fortunately, Dr. Ghalib Khawaji, our lecturer ground his teeth on compressors early in his career. I was able to do a final project in Reciprocating Compressor modeling and simulation. I included a sensitivity study of cost , as in how it was connected to design parameters connected with the compressor, engine, air cooled heat exchanger and so on.  My final exams and project presentation got me an A in the class.

The other course was Advanced Engineering Mathematics I. The course dived right into the techniques of solving differential equations of linear and non-linear systems, followed by a survey of matrices, Laplace transforms and Fourier Series.  This is where I met my nemesis. Being out of school for 6 years has proven to challenge me now as I had forgotten some of the basic concepts in differential and integral calculus! What a shame. I worked quite hard for the class, playing catch up most of the time as I needed quite an intensive refresher in many of the fundamental calculus concepts. Fortunately, I limited my losses in the final exam and got a B, when I actually thought I'd end up with something even worse.

Basically, the GPA at the end of the semester read 3.5. Not a bad start. I look forward eagerly to Finite Elements and Advanced Math II next semester. I've always wanted to try and master Finite Element Analysis, including an semester long chance to sit and play with ANSYS. I hope that time is here (rubs palms).


After my breakup with my ex-girlfriend (a relationship that spanned 8 years, the golden period of my college years), I wondered if I'd have any hope at all to find a more certain companion. What I did know is that I wasn't ready for a short term relationship any longer. I think every boy has a time in his life when something inside is knocking and saying 'Look buddy, this is it.... you need to settle down'.

In the midst of dodging countries and picking up a job and going to school, I can say that I somehow managed to meet a very fun, simple and loving girl through a matrimonial website. We chatted for 6 months until I gradually came to know her. She is cute, creative, not one of those sophisticated complex girls whom you'll have a tough time to understand. She, like me, enjoys the simple things in life and yearns for companionship. I can't honestly say whether or not this was all written in destiny, but what I can say is that sometimes you just have to make a decision and fight for it. I gradually informed my folks about her and we will soon travel to a happening part of India to visit her family. Actually, that's going to happen in let's see, 48 hours?!!

I long to tell you folks about that intimate part of life but we'll have to keep the wraps on it a bit longer I'm afraid. Till things are a bit more certain. 


As one of my cousins recently joked, 2013 was my last year as a bachelor. A lot of my peers will go through similar life experiences as me. I hope you all the best and if in doubt, there's always a brother next door to throw some deep questions at. 

Having said that, when I began this post telling you that 2013 was a year of healthy turmoil, I really meant the turmoil bit. Your mind and body dances across different moments, different experiences. For me, it all happened in the short span of 6-8 months when I learned a whole slew of new things and met other challenges. The mind wasn't at ease. It still isn't. I think in a few more months, when I have a feeling of certainty that this is the way things are going to be, I can finally call myself "settled". Until then, it will be a bit of an abstraction really.

Friends ! I wish you all a rocking new year! Make love, climb trees, explore like a child, save money, keep learning something new or you will get obsolete pretty soon, because that's how evolution works. OH...and use up your annual vacation days please!

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