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I climbed on the back of a giant albatross... and ended up somewhere in Scotland

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me and here

I got a nice email from someone who read an entry I made here a few years ago about the Pixies and where two members lived when they attended Umass, which was right around the same time I was there.

Anyway, they're considering going to grad school in the UK, possibly Scotland, and they asked how I liked it.

Here's my short answer I emailed back... might be interesting to put it here for the halibut:

Hi Alex, and thanks for the kind words. Yeah, I've lived here in Scotland for about 14 years now. I'm actually an engineer (not geographer - a little hobby) and graduated from umass way back in '88. I moved to Scotland after I met my (now) wife and we live in Dumfries in the south of Scotland.

Scotland is a great place to live and study... best schools here are Univ of Edinburgh, Univ of Glasgow and St. Andrews. All are only a short way away from the spectacular scenery of the highlands.... and there are historic sites and castles all over the place here.

The weather takes some getting used to... as it rains a lot here. Winters are mild and rainy rather than cold and snowy. We had some great weather this summer, tho... very warm and sunny for a few weeks, but that's a bit unusual.

Hope this was helpful


Nov. 16th, 2012

Arghh. About a week ago the laptop fell from the coffee table (my fault, I tripped over the power cord). The laptop itself is ok but my little red USB memory stick that was in it got bent at 45 degrees. No longer worked, not surprisingly.

It had some stuff on it, nothing earth-shatteringly important, but just stuff I would save on it... lists of CD's I have, lists of fantasy football results, lists, lists lists, 'cause I just always saved my little lists of things on it, to keep track of things.

I've been using the little red memory stick for years. It had all sorts of grad school stuff on it but I had backed up much of that back then...

ANYWAY, it would've been worth paying an expert to try to salvage / repair the memory stick, so I asked someone locally to take a look. But, alas, today I got the following text, which was bad news:

"Hi Darrin. The USB stick is beyond soldering. The way the connectors have been torn from the circuit board they have ripped the tracks from the board leaving nothing to solder onto. Sorry. Nick"

So that's that then. Gone. Oh well.

Jul. 15th, 2012

I realised I didn't have a picture of myself in my graduation gown from a couple weeks ago... It's a milestone type of thing... should probably be recorded... even if I actually finished months ago. So here.

Jul. 4th, 2012

Attended my graduation ceremony yesterday at Crichton Memorial Church, with Linda, Dad and Darlene looking on. Seems a while since I finished late last year but the Dumfries ceremony wasn't until now altho they had one up in Glasgow.

We went to visit Carlisle Castle the day before. Now Dad and Darlene are up north going around Scotland on a special train pass.

Update on stuff

Ugh! This coffee place is very crowded, but I wanted to take some time to update a few things. I had a dentist appointment this morning (Saturday) so I'm downtown and having some iced coffee after buying a couple CD's at the local HMV to try to get the economy moving.

Linda just had the all clear from a blood test she got. She was worried about unexplained bruising. So we're relieved that there doesn't seem to be anything serious wrong. Just a little low on iron. She really had worked herself up into thinking she was stricken with some serious illness. I was a bit more optimistic, but I suppose you never know, things happen. But it's OK afterall so that's a big relief.

My health seems OK. I have type 2 diabetes and I should probably cut the sweets out more than I do, but I take my medication so I'm good. Should exercise more and keep my weight down, tho. I think I've gained a little since having a job over the past few months.

My job is fine. Busy, which makes the day go by quick, I suppose. I've moved from my office to a little office on the production floor last week, where I'll be based temporarily as we have a big project that I have responsibilities for. I'm closer to the action now, which makes my work easier in a way, but also a bit more noisy and less relaxed. Not that I'm there to relax anyway, but it's just a bit of a different environment than where I was based before. My job is to provide production controls, instructions, checklists, best practice guidance etc... ie manufacturing engineering duties for the production of armoured vehicles.

They've changed how they make iced coffee here, and it is not for the better.

Yesterday I faxed in my application to attend the graduation ceremony in July. I finished my MSc in Carbon Management last autumn but decided not to attend the grad ceremony in Glasgow in December, but instead attend the one here at the local campus in July. My father and Darlene will be visiting and so they are going to attend along with Linda and probably Jenny.

I saw in the paper how work on a new wind farm just north of here will start soon. I'd be interested in somehow being involved in that due to my new degree but since I have a job, I'm a bit settled. I think I might visit the open day with the contractors, as advertised in the paper, to see what types of local people they'd be looking to recruit. I think I'd be suitable as a project manager, but again, I have a job so I'm not that motivated to actively look for a different one except if the pay was substantially more, I guess. My current job is very handy geographically, tho, so it would take a lot to want to change, I suppose. I'm content where I am more or less.

Tansy, our 18 year old cat, is doing fine. We thought she was on her last legs a few months ago but she has improved. She spends her days in and out of the conservatory. We keep her out of the rest of the house because she has had an issue of peeing in inappropriate places. All the cats love it in the conservatory, tho, so that's the best room in the house for her.

A friend from school days in Natick is stopping by in Scotland on her way to Italy in September. We'll show her around a bit... She'll spend a few days in Edinburgh and a few days down here in southern Scotland. Hadrian's Wall is on the agenda as well as a few other places.

My thumbs are tired now (typing on my iPhone) so I'll stop. Covered a few things going on, not much else exciting happening in my world. Just work everyday and visiting the grandson on weekends. Maybe I'll post a picture update on Adam.

Electric vehicle at work

Well, my new job isn't DIRECTLY related to my new degree of carbon management, HOWEVER, one of the projects I'm working on is looking at manufacturing processes for the build of an electric cash-in-transit vehicle to be used in urban environments. It's battery powered and has a solar panel on the roof. It's actually the first all electric one of it's kind, so pretty cool.

Here's some info from the web:

"...the world’s first fully electric cash in transit vehicle.

The trial vehicle, which will operate in the Greater London area, is projected to save 4974kg of carbon emissions per year and is the latest step in G4S’ ongoing commitment to reducing its environmental impact.

The ground-breaking vehicle, developed in partnership with Allied Electric, combines the latest in battery technology and electronic management software together with a tried and tested production vehicle converted into a highly specialised cash in transit protected vehicle encompassing state-of-the-art security features.

Ken Niven, Divisional CEO, G4S Cash Solutions, commented: “I believe that this prototype may lead G4S into deploying more of these vehicles in city centres, harnessing the benefits of zero pollution and noise, while providing clear economic operating benefits.”

Powered entirely by Lithium-Ion batteries, propelling the vehicle produces no carbon, particulate or pollutants. The vehicle has a range of around 100 miles, significantly further than the longest route length it will be required to travel for G4S in between re-charging the batteries.

The vehicle also has a solar panel fitted in order to constantly provide a source of sustainable energy back to the battery while the vehicle is on the road. The photovoltaic module is incorporated into a panel on the roof of the cash delivery vehicle and will produce enough sustainable energy to power the vehicle’s ancillary electrical energy usage. These panels were first introduced to the UK fleet in 2010 after a lengthy trial.


“Electric power is up to seven times cheaper than the equivalent diesel vehicle and there are further cost benefits with road tax and congestion charge exemption in the capital, so in the longer term these vehicles may be able to cut costs as well as our carbon footprint.”

G4S is also carrying out assessments on alternative fuels, has introduced photovoltaic panels on 71 vehicles in 2010 and will add another 63 during the course of 2011 in order to further reduce its carbon footprint."

Job starting on Monday

Well, this week I finally got the official job offer and employment contract from the local armoured vehicle manufacturing company, and I start there on Monday.  My job title will be "manufacturing engineer" (previously had been told it would be "industrial engineer", and then "production engineer"... not that it really matters as it's all pretty much the same thing anyway... a rose is a rose... just a bit odd that it changed like that a few times during the interview and job offer process).  Another surprise was that the employment contract is for a permanent position, whereas I thought it would be written up for a 3 or 6 month contract to begin with. 

So quite happy that it's a local job right in Dumfries (which is a first), pays a little more than my last job, doing what I like to do and have experience doing... But maybe a tiny bit disappointed that it's not really much to do directly with carbon management / the degree I just got, except for the usual energy efficiency, manufacturing process improvement aspects of the job.  So the MSc degree hasn't really positively affected my career in any significant way.  Oh well, still glad I did it as I enjoyed it.


Here are excerpts from a year-end Christmas letter Linda is sending her aunt and uncle in Canada:

"How quickly has this year gone – again!  We really enjoyed having you and Aidan visit. He is such a charming young man and he really fitted in here. I sat chatting to him about all sorts and it reminded me of when Steven and I did exactly that. Really good memories!

Darrin completed his Masters degree in Carbon Management. It was a very intense course and hard work but he really enjoyed it and is now in the process of having interviews for jobs. He has had a couple of interviews so fingers crossed – there aren’t too many jobs in his field in this area. Breaking news - Today he has been offered a job as an instructor in Electrical Engineering and Carbon Management with Dumfries and Galloway College.

As you know, I took early retirement in the summer and I have been so busy since that I now wonder when I found time to work! I had a lovely retiral, with special ex-colleagues also there which made my day , and Andy and my Dept had decorated the hall with pink and purple balloons and flowers. I got so many cards and gifts... ....

I really don’t miss school as much as I expected to – Andy says it is because Adam has given me new focus and I think he is right. He really is the joy of our lives. We look after him 1 or 2 days every week since Jenny went back to work part-time in October. He was one on November 30th and is such a happy and clever little boy – and gorgeous with it!!!  He had his first taste of cake (Jenny spent hours making it then decorating it with his favourite TV programme, Balamory) and he spat it out!!! Not a sugar fan – I remember Aidan eating his first cake! 

Adam is growing so fast! He and our Tess are best of friends already! She is so good and patient with him and she seems to understand that he is just little. He is very active and crawls at great speed and is walking round the furniture and can stand alone a little. He looks very like my Dad, and is the double of Jenny when she was that age, but taller.

Jenny is having big problems with her shoulder – ....  ....  It is worse on the days she is at school. Andy is still working at “my” school and enjoying it.

In the summer my father-in-law, Doug, came to introduce us to his new wife, Darlene – we enjoyed meeting her and they seem very happy. It was strange to see him with someone else but she seems very nice.

In October we all went to Marbella, Spain, to celebrate the wedding of our friends, Nicole and Graham, from Dublin. It was a lovely day and we enjoyed our week out there in the sunshine. It was nice being able to go away at that time of the year. Jenny and Andy came for the weekend as he had to get back to school. Adam stayed with Andy's parents as he was too young to come and it would have been difficult with his routine. Jenny really missed him!

Our animals are mostly doing well – we sadly lost Blanket (gerbil), Jet (rabbit) and Luna (guinea pig) recently and have welcomed two new guinea pigs, Archie and Edie, into or family. Our elderly cat, Tansy, is now 17 but is fairly fit, while our horse, Meggie, is doing well since taking medication for Cushings Disease. Tessie is her usual bouncy self – still doing tricks!

As always we miss my Mum and Dad, Aunt Irene and mother-in-law, Marcia, but we know that they are happy and close by.

We hope this finds you all well and wish you a peaceful Christmas and a healthy 2012. I hope you visit again soon – Uncle Jim too!!! Give him a huge hug from Jenny and I."


Well, I've still to hear back about the other two interviews I had a week or so ago, but at least one of them has come thru with a job.  I'm being put on the register as an instructor of electrical engineering at Dumfries and Galloway College (very handily located a short distance from home here in Dumfries).  It will entail instructing and assessing students getting an HNC (higher national certificate) in electrical engineering and also putting together and presenting courses to local companies on various subjects in which they have training needs (which would perhaps include carbon management / energy efficiency related topics... so perhaps my MSc in Carbon Management will go to good use, somewhat, afterall).  Initially, this will be a part-time type thing but may work out eventually to be full-time... so I'm still obviously hoping to get a more reliable job so that this one can perhaps just supplement something else.  Or maybe I'll try to get some sort of consulting business off the ground... or something.

School's out forever

So, yeah, I did my final presentation on Wednesday so I'm now done... Got my MSc in Applied Carbon Management. Should I go for a doctorate? Um, I don't think so.

My grades were so-so. I got an average B2 in coursework, which is enough toward graduating with a "Merit" (ie not as good as "Distinction" but better than just "Pass") but my work placement report turned out to be not the greatest, so I ended up not getting a Merit. A bit disappointing. The work placement project was beset with delays that were beyond my control so the report was a bit of a kerfuffle. It was supposed to be structured a certain way, with a results section and discussion.... and the project didn't get finished in the allocated time so there was not much in the way of results... I did my best to turn in the report on time with what I had, but it wasn't good enough to get a B, so I was not awarded a merit. Oh well, not sure that it matters that much anyway. The main thing is I passed. It's over. Yay.

Sep. 1st, 2011

So anyway, last Friday I finished my work placement project report / dissertation and it was also my last day at the fish factory. Now I just need to make a PowerPoint presentation in about two weeks at a carbon management conference thing that all outgoing MSc students are putting on.... and then I'm all done.

I'll need to get a job...

Aug. 15th, 2011

I'm still at the fish factory... My work placement was supposed to finish at the end of July but the variable speed drive project is still going on so I've been allowed to stay on...

Meanwhile, my technical report about it is due in about two weeks, so I've been working on that. Hoping to get some results data at the last minute to include in the report, but it's out of my hands so I'm just going to do what I can.

My report is about 75% done and progressing pretty slowly. Might have to cut some of it out because it might end up slightly too long. Maybe put some bits of it in the appendix in the back if I need to.

Work now, play later

Still at the fish factory doing a work placement project on energy efficiency. Supposed to finish at the end of the month but the project won't be done by then (variable speed drive to be installed for a refrigeration compressor) so I'm being allowed to stay on a bit. I'm hoping things will progress to the point of being able to collect post-install energy consumption data for my technical report which is due August 26th.

Linda and I booked our trip to Spain in late September and early October to attend the wedding of some friends from Ireland, Nicole and Graham. We'll be there on the Costa del Sol for a week... staying in Estepona, not far from Marbella. Looking forward to that. Haven't had a proper holiday in a long, long time.


Quite satisfied with my exam grades, which just came out. Don't have all of the results yet but so far so good.

Been working at the fish factory since the first of June... getting some good info for my work project / technical report... which is about variable speed drives on refrigeration compressors and the associated energy savings / carbon reduction. Could use a pc at work so I could get things typed up instead of jotted down, but that will come in time. I'm doing a work-based diary as well as a technical report.

Tansy the cat had an operation to remove a lump the other day. Licked it too much and had to go back. The cat did, that is. Now she's wearing a collar. Going for another checkup tomorrow.

No more pencils, no more books

Well, my last exam was yesterday and good riddance. Not quite all finished, tho, as I start on a "work experience" project at the beginning of June. It'll be at a fish factory where I'll do an energy saving (ie carbon management) project... which I will write up a report / dissertation about (8000 words, I think).

My father and his new wife arrive here for a few days visit next week. They got married a few weeks ago and are now on a Mediterranean cruise. They were in Rome yesterday and were visiting the Vatican.

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