I shouldn’t be here

I shouldn’t be here

In one of my first ever classes in Year 7, at 11 years old, I watched as another kid got told that they “shouldn’t be here,” because they struggled with a worksheet. This was not told to them by a peer, or even a resident bully. This was said by our teacher.

It was dressed up as a beacon of opportunity, a chance for any child, regardless of their upbringing and social class to receive an excellent education if they deserve it. This merit is earned by our mastery of verbal and non-verbal. That’s the grand idea, the methodology that feeds into this is wholly good, fair and honourable. However, when the cost of the school uniform alone reaches £300 then you start to question the integrity of this claim. When the actual proportion of children from disadvantaged backgrounds is clearly low, then this claim is even more disputable.

It is a place where you are measured purely by the smattering of A*s on your piece of paper. This notion motivated us to achieve, overachieve and quake at the thought of failure. Otherwise I would not get my stars, and then I might as well just be blunt rocks. Passion for the subjects I once adored became fear of my inadequacies. I was more scared to be wrong because being wrong would make me undeserving, then maybe other people would also say that I too, “shouldn’t be here”. Pastoral care became a mere afterthought, so much so that the environment became a notorious petri dish for mental illnesses and eating disorders. I entered those marble arches with excitement and enthusiasm, and left with scars worn on my sleeves.

We criticised our teachers, disrespected them. Blamed our own shortcomings on the education that was offered to us. We rescinded any blame placed onto ourselves as we deemed ourselves blameless, after all, we were grammar school girls. But to us, learning was only important if it amounted to UCAS points. Learning was just a side effect of the Oxbridge dream.

We were bright and hopeful children, the future of this country, but most of all, deeply ignorant and arrogant. So, we swallowed CGP books, reciting them to oath and gulped down factsheets fed to us on silver spoons. We became doctors, lawyers and dentists, and now we look back with contempt.


My purpose in life

My purpose in life

Most of us spend our entire lives searching for our purpose, to find the meaning in the blank pages of our storybooks. I often think about this. I think about the people I have met and how they have changed me, and how little events that might seem meaningless to others end up influencing me the most. Just like the protagonists in these stories, I’ve always believed that I would only discover my own purpose on an adventure.

So today I ventured from my cosy abode in Surrey to the far away land of Brighton. Unlike Surrey, Brighton is teeming with colour and vibrancy, it’s the perfect place for an adventure. So with a buzz of excitement and an eye for opportunity, I arrived in a positive state of mind. After napping on the beach for an hour I felt rejuvenated and ready for anything. At this point, my sister suggested that we go to the arcade. I hadn’t really had much experience with arcades and didn’t really see their appeal, but I’m the sort of person that will try anything once. So I sauntered into the arcade, where we prepared ourselves with a hefty collection of 2p,10p and 20p coins.

For a brief explanation (also see photo below), these machines work by the player pushing 2p coins through a slot, in an effort to push the 2p coins already inside the machine along so that they fall down into your winnings. There are a number of prizes within these machines that can also fall down if you place your 2p coins correctly. As a final year STEM student, I felt more than capable to succeed in this challenge. After all, surely it’s just physics and good timing? We scoped out the arcade in search of our target, and we soon came across the holy grail of arcade machines. The Pokémon toy machine.


Then that was the first time I saw him: a little charmander, perched onto a bulging nest of 2p coins. Our target was set and we started pushing our 2p coins into the machine’s mouth. My sister and I soon initiated a tag team system where one of us would run to the nearest coin exchanger when our supply got low and exchange our 20ps and 10ps for 2ps, whilst the other would form a human shield around the area in the case of lurkers aiming to swoop in on our prize.

Eventually as time drifted, I soon started to realise that this mission was not as easy as I had anticipated. Voices started echoing in my head: “Feed the machine, tuppence for the charmander.” The various sounds around me and chimes of old timey arcade music start to merge into a soft jeering. I felt like Bilbo Baggins in the fight of her life against the nefarious Smaug. I started to recall all those coins that I’d found in my room that I just scooped into a jar collecting dust in a meek corner, and all those coins I’d spent on disappointing freddo chocolate bars. All those wasted opportunities.

At some point I’d started to lose my peripheral vision. The world outside of the arcade machine started to blur and contort into fog as the mechanical whirring of the inner meat of the machine spurred me to sway backwards and forwards. My body started to modulate to the machine’s natural frequency, I was now one with the machine. The charmander stared at me with black beady eyes, it’s glare hot on my face and piercing into my vision. I tried to glare black, in an effort to embue my inner power into the coins and force the charmander to succumb to me, but alas it was not very effective.

Eventually my time in the arcade started to end, and my cluster of coins was also near depletion. Although I had managed to catch a squirtle, the charamander still resisted. My mouth was bone dry and my forehead entrenched in sweat from my efforts. I decided to compromise, and accept the sacrifice that the squirtle had made. But how far can I actually go in this world as a water pokemon girl instead of a fire pokemon girl? There was a dull pang in my chest as I scooped up my remaining coins and took one last longing look at the charmander. Maybe I should just accept that I am the sort of girl who seeks out a charmander but ends up with a squirtle.

But I guess the most important thing that I learned today is that my purpose in life is neither as a gambler nor a Pokémon catcher.

Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner

Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner

Londoners are in general, stubborn and resilient. We’ve also earned a reputation for being unfriendly, unapproachable and blunt. I’m pretty sure that one of the unwritten rules of the Tube is to never make eye contact, second only to standing on the right of the escalator. Yet, after the events of last night, I’ve witnessed so many open their homes to strangers and try to help the situation in any way that they can. Whether that’s donating blood or providing hot chicken soup, there’s a strong sense of solidarity.

I’ve never known any other home than London. I was born in Kingston upon Thames, went to University in South Kensington and now I work on Oxford Street. Throughout my life so far, albeit I’ve only had 21 years, I’ve lived and loved in this city. One of the things I love most is the teeming diversity of London. In some ways, I’m so glad that I went to University here where I’ve had the chance to mingle with people from all walks of life. (On the other hand, I’m quite crippled with debt now but that’s another blog post.)

The most obvious reaction to fear and events such as these is to blame. Blaming gives evil a face and holds it accountable. In times of panic and fear like this, we want to find answers to the questions. Even though we don’t know what the questions are, and the answers don’t add up. Three attacks in three months means that we are confused, angry and frustrated. We are frustrated as to why this keeps happening and why we are helpless as to how to stop it. It just doesn’t compute that all these atrocities can be happening and for no good reason.

Don’t let this frustration grow into resentment, instead, let it fuel our defiance. We all deal with grief in different ways. Some of us pray, some of us eat so much chocolate that we fall into sugar comas, some of us just cry until our heads spin. No matter how we deal with it, what matters is what we do next. One thing to me is clear, when somebody attacks our people, they are attacking what London represents. These individuals want to break down our tolerance, our respect for our neighbours and our way of life. They want us to turn on each-other and to divide us.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am scared of absolutely bloody everything.  My housemates once got me to hide inside a bathroom for the best part of an hour cause they claimed to be holding a spider outside the door. I’m jumpy, and I startle when people touch me. I’m terrified of dark corridors and being left alone outside. Yet, if I let the fear stop me from going out to London and doing what I usually do, then that would be me complying with what they want. I’m just so determined not to be scared this time.

I’m proud to be a Londoner. Londoners might be seen as blunt and unapproachable, but we sure know how to love and learn from each-other. Lacking a sense of belonging is something that I’ve struggled with for most of my life. Yet I know now that I belong here, and I refuse to live in fear and flinch at every step I take. If anything, I will live more boldly and with more conviction than I ever did previously. And of course, I will keep calm and carry on.


When the bad things come – Reprise

When the bad things come – Reprise

The heavy feeling on your chest and it squashes you till you feel like you’re drowning without water. It percolates through you, with a sort of ripple effect. It’s like someone has mapped out all your pain points and then pinned them all with thumb tacks. You want to scream and spit but all that escapes is the silence and it’s gritty and dirty and peppered with noise. You find yourself questioning the whos and the whys and engraving them into everything you see. You can’t escape from the interrogation because it hangs above your head like a mushroom cloud and envelopes the city that is you. You find yourself doubting and hurting and beseeching again and again. Your hand is trembling and your mouth is dry and your voice is rasp. You are perpetually tired of the bad things. Because when the bad things come, then you feel weak and helpless and lost.

I wrote this a few months ago, when I was feeling maybe a bit sad. I wrote it and never published it, but I kept it because even the unpublished blog posts are important. Writing things down is my favourite way of coping because at least my inner monologue can have at it and give me some peace. I never published it because I couldn’t write more than one paragraph and my English teacher told me that a good story should always involve a multitude of paragraphs. Yet, you’re reading this post which is very much published. I finally figured out how to finish it.

You know those moments when you’re so far into a Netflix binge that you reach a certain level of delirium. Your feet start to morph into remote controls and your eyes are dry like cream crackers. It’s these moments when you’re most vulnerable to those higher powers that be. Suddenly, a character from the show utters a line so brilliant that you’re shook. The hallelujah chorus is chiming and your body tries to jolt up but your legs are so long dead that even the fabulous Frankenstein could not revive them.

“Pain is your body’s way of saying I’m not okay now but I will be soon.”

“That’s it? That’s it Francine!?” I hear you cry. All this build up and foreplay and yes, all for this simple, teeny weeny quote?

As children, we are told that all things can be divided. Numbers, good and evil, people who despise pineapple on pizza and people who are wrong. We are taught that there are good things in this world and the bad things are the toothless, smelly and mean people who happen to live in the same neighbourhood. When I would draw out the Venn Diagram of this world, it was always obvious to draw the pain bubble in a different area than the good feelings bubble. Hell, those bubbles didn’t even share the same school district. This quote has completely messed up my Venn Diagram, but I don’t even care! This is a big thing because I really care about Venn Diagrams.

I love this quote because it shows me the break in the clouds of the pain I can feel. It also reminds me that I’m pretty damn lucky in ways that I can’t really describe in Calibri (Body) on a Monday evening. The pain I feel isn’t pointless like mixer and side salads, but it is very much real and a throbbing reminder that I’m alive and kicking. For the sake of all the great things I will do and enchanting people I will meet, I’m glad.

Funnily enough, despite all the deep and serious stuff that I spew into all corners of the internet,  it’s often said that I’m kind of robotic. Maybe it’s my monotonic voice or the fact that I write love letters in C++. That’s okay, I can save all the emotional baggae for my blog.

Francine the machine, learning

Francine the machine, learning

At 8pm yesterday, I officially finished my penultimate year of university. At 10pm yesterday, I turned 21 years old. So, as this is my blog and therefore a platform for me to chunder out my thoughts and fantasies, here is a life update for all my fans. Also, since I’ve been absorbed into the hazardous womb that is an Electrical and Electronic Engineering degree, prepare for some god-awful puns.

I have come to the realisation that I am a machine, learning. I’ve received twenty-one years’ worth of training data and my issue is that I too often overfit to the scenarios I have seen. I have an etched-out blueprint of how I expect a scenario to unfold, based on what I’ve experienced before.  For my non EEE fans, overfitting is when something acclimatises too strongly to data it has seen and therefore makes poorer choices on data it hasn’t seen. So, when things don’t happen like I envisioned, I find myself with a high error rate. Don’t get me wrong, I’m getting better at this being human stuff. Like, I’ve realised that movies don’t mimic The Real World and people will often say things they think they want you to hear rather than what they actually mean. I’ve learnt to take things with a mega pinch of salt rather than be salty. I’ve definitely improved my hypothesis compared to previous years. Then again, I hope I have at least twenty-one more years of training data to learn from.

University is also the time where most people discover their poison of choice.  I’ve discovered that I am addicted to people, the buzz and thrills of social interaction. The excitement of meeting a new person, making a new friend and unloading my emotional brain dump onto a new set of ears and eyes. Keeping myself unreasonably busy this term seemed to be my way of coping with any encroaching loneliness. Cause you can’t feel lonely if you have no time to feel lonely, right? So, I’ve morphed from an introverted person into someone who craves social interaction like an alcoholic sips whiskey. Thinking back at this year, I’ve dedicated the hugest chunk of my time to chatting and coding.

Sadly, I’ve also learnt that you can’t just detach emotions like you can with functions from interrupts. In the same fashion, I can’t drip feed myself with the heart-warming tingle that I get from socialising. So, I’ve been in search of a new high. Something for me to sink my teeth into and get absorbed in.  I’ve been incessantly panicking for the past three days at the thought of having no deadlines and no people to be around. Whilst I used to be perfectly content with mooching around on a sofa all summer watching Netflix, I literally can’t bear the thought of that anymore. Now I’ve got 6 months of work to look forward to, and along with that I’ve got free evenings and weekends for the first time in months. So here goes my foray back into the non EEE world, how will I cope without all the Python?

How to ask someone out as an Electrical Engineer

How to ask someone out as an Electrical Engineer

We all know that feeling when you walk into labs and you feel the sexual tension like the voltage ripple on a Boost converter. Yet too often the impedance is too high for the current to flow. We’ve checked online, and there’s no datasheet, so we’ve decided to compile our own sure-to-work, guaranteed-success, 100 % untested, pick-up lines to finally get you that hot guy or gal you’ve been probing for in the labs. Please do not hold it against us if it doesn’t work – sometimes the SNR just isn’t high enough. Also, it’s probably best to only use a few on each person, that way you’ve got some left over for the 2nd hottest guy/gal.

  1. – Your capacitor must be incredibly large cause you’re so smooth
  2. – I’d happily search depth-first for your goal state
  3. – Are you a Boost converter? Cause you just increased my potential
  4. – My D is no flip-flop, guy/gal (contributed by our anonymous friend)
  5. – Are you F# cause your level is HIGH
  6. – You’re a depletion mode MOSFET – no bias needed to turn me on
  7. – I’d coordinate with you in a multi-agent system
  8. – If I was an alpha-beta algorithm you’d be the one branch I wouldn’t prune
  9. – You’re my goal state, I feel myself searching all over for you
  10. – There’s no linear classifier for us: we’re inseparable
  11. – Are you fields? Cause I could see myself staying up all night memorising your curves
  12. – I don’t want to memoise you; I’d rather have the pleasure of figuring you out over and over
  13. – Your reverse bias is so high, that I’ll have an avalanche breakdown
  14. – You’re the capacitor to my inductor – we resonate together
  15. – Are you a generator? Cause I can feel your power flowing through me
  16. – You say you’re singular, but I know singular value decomposition 😉
  17. – Your expected value tonight will be me
  18. – Would you tell me your variance – I’d like to know how you spread
  19. – Call me biased but you’re turning me on
  20. – I’m an anonymous function, I’ll do anything for you
  21. – Are you a for loop – I’d like to iterate all over you
  22. – What’s your carrier frequency – I’d like to demodulate you
  23. – Are you underdamped – cause you’re making me overshoot

Good luck, from Francine and Sigrid 😉

Goodbye 2016!

Goodbye 2016!

When people look back at this year in the decades to come, I’m sure they’ll recall events such as Brexit, Trump or the myriad of celebrity deaths that seemed endless. Whilst I’m sure I’ll be sobbing onto my 6 foot Harambe shrine, I also have a bucket and a half of great memories to look back on. See, I actually really liked 2016.

One of the most important things I have learnt in 2016 is self-care. Contrary to popular belief, self-care is not just a bath bomb and green juice. Self-care is giving yourself more than one second chance, allowing yourself to fail, and then fail again. For me, 2016 has been the year of protection and nourishment. I have pruned toxic thoughts and people as if I was an AlphaBeta algorithm. I have also allowed myself to express (a lot through this blog actually,) thus creating a backdoor into my thoughts. Even in the most suffocating of spaces, a sense of belonging can create a home.

For me, this year has been about becoming an adult and accepting that I still enjoy many of the things that I enjoyed in my childhood. It feels as if someone has slapped a fisheye lens onto my face and unleashed me into the scary adult world. Only, it’s nowhere near as terrifying as I imagined. I’ve realised I don’t need to embody the idealised version of an adult, just like I’ve never embodied the stereotypical idea of an Engineer. I’ve learned that the biggest waste of time ever is the act of regretting. Every step and tumble that I’ve taken throughout my entire life has led me to who I am today. Rewriting the past is a pointless venture, frankly, I’d rather be excited about the future.

2016 is the year where I’ve learnt to value my platonic friendships just as much as my romantic ones. I am incredibly lucky to have friends that will stay up with me till morning light as I sob about something stupid, people who will surprise me at my house when they know I’m feeling bad, people that write me messages that warm my heart and soothe my soul like mulled apple cider in November.

Thank you to people who I have laughed and cried with in 2016. People with which I have spent morning exams, afternoon picnics, lazy evenings and nights void of sobriety. Thank you to everyone who never made wanting to be alone sometimes a bad or weird thing, yet welcome me with open arms whenever and wherever.

Photo Credit: Sophie