You might think the last thing an engineer wants to do in his free time is tax his mind trying to solve problems. But that’s exactly what IEEE Member Ian Smith says he loves about sailing dinghies, small boats ranging from 1 by 1.5 meters to 2 by 5 meters.
“I’m a physicist by training, and there’s lots of science and meteorology behind sailing,” says Smith, who runs his own software project management consultancy in Wokingham, about 50 kilometers west of central London. “I use that understanding to maneuver the boat better and make it go faster. The concentration involved in keeping track of everything—navigation, speed, and wind direction and force—prevents me from thinking about all the other things niggling on my mind.”
Smith also teaches others to sail. For the past three years, he has been volunteering with Sailability, a Royal Yachting Association–sponsored initiative that brings people with disabilities out in dinghies. Smith teaches at the Sailability branch operating from the Burghfield Sailing Club.
ELECTRONICS AND SOFTWARE PROJECT MANAGER
He often uses his problem-solving skills to get a point across to his students. Once, trying to teach a group to sail in a straight line by focusing on a tree on shore, he found the students couldn’t do it until he gave the tree a person’s name.
In his youth, Smith dabbled in canoeing, waterskiing, windsurfing, and sailing. He took a sailing course as a child and, as a teenager, he and his brother made their own canoe. Eventually, they were spending most summer vacations on the water. But the incident that got him seriously involved with boating was winning a dinghy through a newspaper contest 15 years ago.
He soon realized he had a passion not just for sailing but also for teaching others. Within two years, Smith received his instructor’s license and was soon teaching sailing at local boating clubs. That eventually led to Sailability and his efforts to teach the disabled.
“The biggest reward is seeing the happiness it brings them,” he says. “We took out one wheelchair-bound man who was unable to communicate verbally. But when it came time to wheel him off the boat, he deliberately took his foot off the footrest and kicked off his shoe so as not to leave. Another, an adult male with the mental capacity of a 4-year-old, loves to shout like a pirate when he’s on board.”
Hail the Ale
Oregon ranks second in microbreweries per capita out of all the U.S. states (after Vermont). For a beer connoisseur like IEEE Student Member Adam Fargher, who attends Oregon State University, it was only a matter of time before he plunged into his own beer making.
“We’re surrounded by microbreweries—there’s one in every town,” says Fargher, 29, a junior electrical engineering major. “People here love the natural, non-mass-produced stuff. Homebrewed beer tastes so much better, and there are so many more flavors. Drinking a craft beer makes your palate go crazy!”
A year ago, he stopped by the local home-brew supply store to pick up a beginner’s kit, and he has been making beer ever since. The process involves boiling water, sugar (usually the malt extract from grain), and hops (flower clusters that enhance flavoring) for an hour; cooling the resulting “wort”; then adding yeast and letting the mixture ferment for 7 to 10 days. The liquid is separated from the yeast into another container and allowed to sit for four to five days. From there, it’s consumed or bottled.
CRAFT BEER BREWING
UNDERGRADUATE EE STUDENT
Fargher spends about US $40 and seven hours—excluding fermenting time—per batch, which yields five gallons of beer. “At the beginning, you’re following a recipe,” says Fargher, whose preferred style is India pale ale.
“But as you advance, you start tailoring the brew to your palate, and it becomes a science as you experiment with different sugar sources, types of hops and yeasts, and fermenting time,” he adds. “Advanced beer makers will grind the grain and extract the sugar themselves—which requires a lot of specialty equipment.” It’s not unheard of for serious hobbyists to spend $20 000 on advanced home-brewing equipment.
That precision, attention to detail, and creative experimentation is probably what appeals to Fargher’s engineering side. “It’s also meditative and therapeutic for me,” he says. “I love sharing my beer and seeing the look on people’s faces when they try it.”
Photo: Top: Jay Dear; Bottom: Rachel Fargher