koji berry

koji berry

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Life as a Project Engineer ... and why it is not for me (1)

A project engineer is always in-between every parties working on the project.

I am not sure if it is true, but I think only two engineering fields have project engineer as a job option. The first is chemical engineering, the other one is civil engineering. Although the science involved were completely different, the nature of the "project" is the same: it is a building project. As a chemical engineer you build a chemical plant, and as a civil engineer you build, well, buildings. Or bridges. But you know what I mean.

For those who don't have an engineering background, this is the way I explain what a project engineering job looks like: it is like being a wedding organizer. You have the marrying couple as the client with a wash-list of demands. On the other hand, you have contact with caterers, designers, venue owners, whom you can use to fulfill the couple's demands. You are the middle person, who integrate the demands and the supply to create a beautiful wedding. This also means that when your supplier (caterer, etc) ruin their job, you are the one to blame and you would need to clean the mess. 

It is easier to imagine now, isn't it?

Now you can imagine how the work starts: I had a client with a list of specifications of the plant they want to build, and a set of budget. Let's say the client wanted to build a beer brewery. Sometimes the sales department has arrange the specifications and budget, sometimes I still had to compose it. I liked this part as I could learn the newest technology developed by our clients (although this is not part of the job). The specifications covers only the most important things required to design a plant, like how much beer should be produced in an hour, and what is the flow/pressure/composition of the feeds (water, wheat, nitrogen gas) that will be supplied by the client. Also mentioned were the materials to be used (steel? titanium? aluminium?) and the norms to be applied. I will talk about this later.

When all specifications are fixed, the next step is to draw. There is the more basic drawing, we call it process flow diagram (PFD), and more detailed drawing, which is the Piping and Instrumentation Diagram (P&ID). Imagine designing a house: first you have the drawing where only the rooms and the sizes are mentioned, and later on you will have a detailed picture with the lamp position, electricity connections, and wall thickness. PFD is the basic drawing and P&ID is the one you use to really building the plant. I would make the PFD/P&ID with pen and paper, and the drafter will use their charm and make them a beautiful drawing. The client will have a look, give suggestion, and a few corrections were required before I could start to "size" the equipment and instruments.

Then I started to "size" the equipment and instruments. Like the word says, I had to determine the required size of vessels, tubing, valves. Furthermore, I have to choose which supplier should deliver the stuff. Most often than not, the sizes were determined by the choices you have in the market. Many mails were sent and calls were done during this stage to ask for the quotes. Normally the first quote will not be the correct one, and revisions of the quotes were required. I also had to keep a list of the specifications of the equipment. As I had to specify every single valve, the list is quite long. 

During this stage, I wrote many emails with similar content: "Please send me a price and delivery time for type A valve, with maximum pressure and temperature of C bars and D celsius, with E inch nominal size, and F type of connection". When I took this job, I did not know that I should also specify whether I would like to have a G 1/2 inch connection, or a NPT 3/4 inch female connection, or a welded connection, from which class. It looked arbitrary to me, yet it can be very annoying when I got it wrong. Imagine you have everything is ready, and you cannot connect the pump with the rest of the equipment because fitting is not correct.

This "sizing" can take a while. However, you know that if you are organizing something, you are chasing with time. Here it is the same game. It can take a while to get a quote that finally match the demands, especially for large equipment like reactors. Then I could finally place an order, but it also took a while to have them delivered.  When you apply a fancy material or norm, it could take half a year to deliver a valve. Sometimes, the equipment was delivered with a mistake and I had to return it to the supplier to get if fixed.

The construction phase was started when most of the (correct) equipment and instruments are delivered. We will sit together, the manager, the technicians, and me. Here we would agree on the versions of P&ID to be used, and communicated the predicted difficulties. 

During the construction, I would regularly walked to the construction hall, and check if things were done properly. Here I would get many questions to clarify the P&ID. Sometimes I get complaints, like there is not enough space in the frame to place the equipment nicely. Or they asked if they could change the position of this or that valve, because it will make the construction easier. Not all questions were easy to answer. Sometimes I need to re-calculate the design, or ask the manager if this or that changes were okay. 

The last stage before the delivery was performing the tests to see if the plant worked as intended. However, before the real tests, many small tests should be done, like checking if all instruments were placed and numbered correctly, if all electricity connections are properly connected. Then the leak test was performed. Each section were leak-tested separately. Sometimes the test can only be performed after office hours, like the X-ray test to check the welded connections.

I made long hours in this construction and test phase. The planning was so tight that the sizing, construction, and testing phases overlap each other.

To be continued.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Wingko Babat

Bright, bold colors - the illustrations of Jessie Hartland in her illustrated Julia Child biography inspired me.
Bright, bold colors - the illustrations of Jessie Hartland in her illustrated Julia Child biography inspired me.

Originally posted in kojiberry.wordpress.com on 10/18/2013

Last week, I rediscovered a dessert.
We were attending a party at my aunt's, celebrating my nephew's 13th birthday party. We were about to leave when my aunt told me that I should wait for the second dessert, which was being baked in the oven. It is wingko babat. Years ago, I have tasted wingko babat. I remembered the taste quite well although I haven't eaten it for at least 10 years (it is amazing how our memory of tastes is very sharp, isn't it?). I was not fond of it, in my memory it was dry and rubbery, and this was also the reason that I didn't made an effort to find it.
We waited, and finally the wingko babat was ready. Without waiting until it completely cooled down, my aunt cut it into small pieces and served it. I had  low expectations ... but this wingko babat was actually really nice. It was soft and chewy, and the coconut mixture just melt in your mouth. And it was also not overly sweet. Lrrr could not have enough of it. As you can see here, it was so soft that you cannot make neat pieces. Just before somebody grabbed the last piece, I took its picture with my iPhone.
Warm wingko babat. It was still soft when my aunt cut it.
Warm wingko babat. It was still soft when my aunt cut it.
What is this wingko babat, anyway? It is basically a mixture of grated coconuteggs, and glutinous rice flour, baked or roasted on charcoal. It can be found in parts of Central and East Java, and the most popular one, the one that was dry and rubbery,  comes from Semarang. The aroma of the baked coconut dominates the taste, and the glutinous rice flour should stick the coconut together.
Some guests went to my aunt and ask for the recipe, me included. She wrote it down in a little piece of paper, in a mixed Indonesian-Dutch language. And in case you are guessing, she did not learn it from her great-great-great grandmother. She got it from an Indonesian lady who owns an Asian shop nearby.
Resep Wingko Babat Handwritten
I have not made any plans to make this wingko babat soon. However, keeping a little piece of paper is risky. I don't want to lose the recipe, and a personal blog is also a place where you could keep your personal things. So, here it is.
Wingko Babat, a coconut based soft cake
2 cups glutinous rice flour
2 cups grated, desiccated coconut. Fresh grated coconut can be used, but the desiccated one gives a richer taste.
around 16 g of vanilla sugar (I guess this can easily be substituted with around 15 g of sugar and a few drops of vanilla extract)
1 large or 2 small eggs (+1 egg white)
1 tsp salt
1.5 cups water
1 egg yolk, whisked, to use as a wash
Heat the oven at 150 oC. Line a rectangular form with parchment paper. Do not put any grease on the paper or form. Mix all ingredients. Pour the dough into the form. The thickness of the dough should be around 2 cm. Bake at 150 oC for 30 - 40 minutes. Brush the egg yolk on the surface. Put the cake back into the oven. Again, bake the wingko babat at 150 oC for 30 - 40 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Remove from the oven, let to cool a bit, cut to small pieces of around 3 x 5 cm, and if possible, serve warm.

New label: On Food

Have you ever stumbled across an old recipe in a food blog, and suddenly remember that a while ago you made that dish quite often? Until new recipes came and filled your monthly rotation and your memory, and some dishes were pushed to the edge of our brain, nearly forgotten? I have.
That is why I am starting a new tag: On Food. The posts tagged under this name are records of dishes I cook and interesting recipes I find, so not all recipes are tested. I believe keeping recipes in a blog is a better alternative than bookmarking an web page, or even worse, keeping loose pages you get from your aunt or colleague.
The first post will be published later today. Have a nice sleep!

Grateful, despite everything

Posted originally in kojiberry.wordpress.com on 10/08/2013

Update: I scanned the drawing above and adjust the color using Photoscape. After finding Photoscape, I am no more satisfied with iPhone picture. It depicts Zwolle in a sunny day.
Nearly two weeks ago I left my job as an project/process engineer. Not having a job is never easy, especially because you'll never know when will you have a job again.
During my 1.5 years working here, I have realized since the beginning that this is not the job I want to do for the rest of my life. However, when I was applying for this job, I also realized that despite my long study years, I have gained little experience on life outside academia. I have taught chemical engineering subjects and supervise plant design, I had no idea about the real "engineering".
Now I know. And that is a valuable experience. Now I really understand how money is being made in the engineering. I have learned to apply my engineering knowledge. Being a foreigner, I have mingled well in a "very Dutch" environment. Not unimportant, now I really can say that I know what the heck "project management" is. Looking back, I am sure that it was very good and healthy for me to do a job that was completely different than what I have done so far (researching, writing, teaching). It has enriched me. The fact that it was a relatively small company was also an advantage, as they let me do the real work directly without first following several courses, as that would be the case in large companies.
I also need to mention that the financial support I gained from this job was great. The salary was not really high, but good enough. Usually I don't have many expenses but at the moment I finished my PhD contract, I was busy with my driving lessons. My motoric is not very good, so I needed many hours.  The salary allowed me to finalize my driving lessons and get my license without being broke. And I could spare some money to buy my very first car.
This job did not challenge me intellectually and it turned out to be a good thing. Whenever I came home, my body was exhausted but my mind was not ... so I still had some brainpower left to write my thesis (with the help of energy drinks). My PhD advisor was not so happy that I took this job before finishing my thesis, but hey, I was not the one who had 25 PhD students (and hence no time to check the chapters).
But I cannot avoid disliking my job. It is not only that I missed the chance of learning new things (I will talk about this in the next post), I also had the feeling that my time here is not blessed. It is like the one above is telling me "you should be here right now, but this is not your place". Why did I thought that I was ought to do the job? Because of this: when I started working, my first client was a research institute that just ditched my job application. I felt like somebody was making a joke of me. And why did I realize that it was not my place? Because all but one projects I have been working with eventually turned into a no-go. There were no big issues (failure in fabrication or so), mostly they just suddenly thought that the project was too expensive and they didn't want to continue. Or they just lost interest in the project, which was quite possible as the projects were mostly research-related.
So when the engineering manager said that "your future is not here, you have many capabilities but you cannot apply it here.." before saying that he was not going to prolong my contract, it was a curse and blessing at the same time. My original plan was to quit after finding another job. However, it would also give the impression that I am ditching them because they are not good enough for me, so this could leave a bitter aftertaste. This is not an ideal ending since they have treated me very well. Not to mention that it would feed my arrogance. But now we can say "goodbye" in a courteous way. No guilty feeling on my side.
As Lrrr have said it, I am free. I felt relieved.
When the manager finally broke the news on my last week via the mail, it came as a surprise to my colleague. Some colleagues gathered round my desk and said that they were sorry to see me go. Very sweet.
The last day was rather difficult - I have prepared to say goodbye, but it was not easy to prevent my tears from falling. I cleaned my desk, than started shaking hands. First I said goodbye to the technicians in the construction hall. I have spent many long hours with them, so they knew me quite well. Then to fellow engineers and the managers. I have worked closely with some of them. Too bad that at that day my direct superior was in Russia for a project, and the engineering manager was ill. My direct superior sent me an email from Russia, and the manager even called me to apologize that he could not give the farewell speech. Both were thanking me for the work I have done, and mentioning that they will sent me a reference letter. I have not received the letter, but it was good enough that I could use their names as my referees.
Then I took a last look of the company, wiped my tears, and drove home.
I am grateful that I have been given the chance to do the job, that I have decided to took it, and that it ended well.

My dream comes true. Too bad it was a nightmare.

Originally posted in kojiberry.wordpress.com on 09/01/2013
As a non-native speaker, I sometimes wonder how the Englishmen came out with the idioms. I am not familiar with all of them, since what I wrote were usually technical papers and the language in such papers are very straightforward, nearly boring. My instructor in English scientific writing class mentioned that the style in scientific papers used to be more elegant, but since nowadays the scientific papers are also read by people coming from places where English are rarely used, the language should be simplified. Hence, the boring style.
(How I miss writing the boring technical papers!)
My boss has decided that I am not suitable for the job I am doing and my temporary contract will not be prolonged. The idiom of today is therefore: being laid-off. I was aware of this (that I am not suited for this job), plus I felt terrible at my job, so this was not something that came out of the blue (hey, another idiom!). But it still sucked to hear his criticism over my work. On the other hand, I did not get the job I applied for since there was someone else with a better background knowledge. Probably he/she has studied organic chemistry. These two less-than-nice news came at two consecutive days. It was heavy. Luckily I was already planning to go to a music festival, so at the festival I was dancing and jumping and screaming and crying.
Good news: I am free from the job I don't like.
Bad news: I will be unemployed. My pride is hurt.
(I am very, very, VERY lucky that at the moment money is not really a problem. Lrrr* works and I can live with less.)
I have enough plans to occupy myself if I am unemployed between jobs next month, while looking for another job. Like making pictures. If you like to make water color/oil paint pictures then you must have noticed how much time it takes to make even a small painting.
Upon painting and uploading, I have made some decisions:
- I am not going to scan picture. I will photograph them with my iPhone.
- I will also upload my pictures to instagram, using the same name as this blog.
- I will use Photoscape to lightly retouch the pictures.
Enough important decisions for the time being. Weeks ago we went to the annual barbecue of our dear friend Eddy, who lives in a large farm. He plants Christmas trees, prunes, sunflowers, among others. I took many pictures with my iPhone with the thought to draw pictures from them.
Here is one:

The next step

I need to move on - my work contract will be ending soon. The logic step is to ask whether they would like to give me a permanent contract, otherwise I have to contact my "real" boss - the job agency.
This is not nice. I have to ask if they want to give me a contract, while deep in my heart I don't want to work there forever. The truth is I will leave if I managed to get a job in research. The confrontation about what should be the best option at the moment, and the realization of my own desire, weighs my heart. It feels like lying.
I need to do this within two days.
Update: The "lying" part turns out to be unnecessary. The place I am working now does not want to give me a contract, the main reason being that I am not suitable to the job I was intended to do. So now I can contact the job agency and say that, well, I would like to have a fixed contract with them. Not an ideal situation, but leaving the job agency would be less difficult as I will not see them everyday, and they are not going to invest that much on me.
On a better side, in two days I am going to have an interview, for an interesting job. I spread the prayers to the universe, and asking for them to be at my side. Which I believe they will, as the universe will give positive response to a positive request.
And my request is: Please let my career be the same as my calling. Let me have a job that will let my heart burst with passion, where every minute of hard work is not a minute of spoiling energy, but a minute closer to my goal. My goal is the creation of a better, greener, more sustainable world.
I end that with an amen.

A not so good start

Posted originally in kojiberry.wordpress.com on 06/02/2013
I made this blog with the intention to write about more serious things and also about my projects (paintings etc), but I have been feeling down for a couple of days and cannot think about anything else.
It is about my job. For more than a year I have been working in an engineering company while finishing my PhD thesis. I don't like the job as I am doing the same thing every project, and the nature of the job does not allow me to learn new substantial things. I miss research and determined to find research jobs.
But economy is not doing very well at the moment, and research jobs is scarce to find. Lately, there are several positions that suit well with my background. I sent my cv to all positions, and last week I had an interview with one of those. The lucky person having the position will be leading research projects, so she/he will have people doing the experiments and analyses, and she/he will interpret the result and make reports and presentations. It sounds really good to me.
And I hear nothing after one week - I have enough experience with job-seeking that I know when the interview is going well, the company will take around 2 days to sent the feed back. So now I am 90% positive that I blew up the interview, and I cannot stop blaming my self.
When I finished doing an interview, usually I can feel if I would be accepted to the second round. With this one though, I could not - I feel some plus and minuses, but it is difficult to weigh what the final verdict will be. It was a rather tough interview as all the interviewers were experienced scientists and project managers. I am not really good in explaining what my ambition was and how I could manage conflict, partially because what I wanted is actually to be a professor and I always tried to prevent conflicts.
Everyday that I received no email, my hope was dying a bit. Now the hope is practically gone.
I am also not sure if I can still count on the other positions I applied for. These two other companies are larger companies and it could take a while before they can make any decisions.
So today I am back to zero, opening the websites for jobs, thinking about moving to another country or taking a postdoc. These two options are really not my favorite ones. I don't like to live too far from my in-laws, as I am already very far away from my family. And postdoc fellows were not treated nicely - you have to work harder than a PhD student, earn a little bit more, but having children, when you are a woman, can cost you the position as there is nobody to cover your back when you are away.
But dragging my body to the job I don't like is also not an option - I am really, really afraid that I will be staying here, letting my brain and research capability die as I am no longer practicing it.
I am rather desperate now, but I have to keep moving. This is not the last post with 'job-seeking' tag.

Kofta-style meatballs

Posted originally in kojiberry.wordpress.com at 07/06/2013

Finally, I am into drawing again! When the work inhales your energy then you really need to be aware not to let yourself get drowned. So last weekend, after a day when the universe seemed to cooperate to stop me of doing an interview - I hope for a good reason - we invited some friends and I served them my delicious meatballs. It is basically a combination of a kofta and a typical western meatballs, the ones my husband always makes. As somebody asked for the recipe, I decided to make an illustrated version of it.

Monday, October 21, 2013

A new house

Welcome to my Kojiberry site!

After staying for a while at another free hosting service, I decided to move back to blogger. The reasons are 1) I would like to tweak the appearances of my blog, but I 2) don't think it is worth the money to own a self-hosted site, and 3) even great bloggers like Anja Mulder and Molly Wizenberg are using blogger. 

I will gradually move all the posts from another Kojiberry site, and adjust the appearances of this site. See you at the next post!