An intern in Kazakhstan

Journey of an engineer to be

Local Time:

15th of August 2016


I apologise for the lack of updates in the past couple of weeks, but we've been overwhelmed by the amount of workload, as R2-D2's deadline is approaching and there's still lots to be done. So our working time has been ridiculously high, non-stop work day and night, in order to write scalable, object oriented code from scratch, so that the unit could easily be upgraded in the future if needed. But I doubt it will be my duty to add more features to R2, since I'll be leaving Almaty, alas, in just two weeks.
The little amount of spare time we had has been well spent, though. The first week of August we had a day trip to Kapchagay, an artificial lake less than two hours away from Almaty, where people move for sunbathing and gambling. Apparently there are only two places in Kazakhstan where you can gamble, and one of these is Kapchagay. Expect to see loads of alluring casinos adverts on the motorway that connects Almaty to the lake but, oddly, we haven’t seen any physical casino while we were there...
The place doesn’t have much to offer, and as many people have already highlighted on TripAdvisor, beaches are not that nice and water is quite dirty. Overall, we still had good time exploring the area and eating shashlik by the sea.

Last Saturday we have been to the gorgeous Shymbulak sky resort, which deserves a view from anyone travelling to Almaty, being only twenty minutes away from the city centre. From there you can take up to three gondolas and get up to 3,200m above the sea level. Stunning landscapes and great place for walking while breathing fresh air that’s really missed while living in the city.
With the equivalent of about £4 you can use any of the brand new gondolas for the whole day, or if you’re skilled enough you could just cycle to the top. After 2000m only electric cars are allowed in to preserve the surrounding environment, so you don’t really have much choice!
Lots of pictures mixed up on the left side of your browser!

27th of July 2016

Work, Work, Work

Yes, work indeed! It's been a month of intense but rewarding work at the lab. The first week from the arrival was spent helping out with a side project, with an odd shift starting at 5pm at finishing at night. But colleagues were always been supporting and made the time flies every day. Because of the different time zone I could barely fall asleep before 4-5am, so there was not much more time to spend in the morning to wander around the city.
From the second week instead, I've been in charge with another IAESTE intern of an entirely new project, and this is where the actual fun began!
We have been asked to improve an old, unused R2-D2 like robot, which will be sold the next month to a restaurant, here in Almaty.... Yep, there will be a real size, R2 unit serving at the tables pretty soon, and you can't imagine how I felt when I started working on it. As a Star Wars fan, this was like a dream come true!! If I will get the authorisation from the boss, I'll post some pictures here to share my enthusiasm soon.
The unit is still work in progress, and we are planning to have everything completed in less than two weeks. The mechatronics work has involved working with the main actuators to make sure stability is guaranteed while the unit is moving, and to develop a reliable system to serve drinks at request.
The trickiest part has been to be working without any schematics or previous code for the microcontroller, since they have all been lost. So, we have spent quite a lot of time to keep track of all the electrical connections, while testing and retesting all the components to elimanate faulty ones. It's been a good mixture of carpentry and mechatronics work. The electronics and software haven't been that hard, since I had worked with similar systems before; while the handy work has been a bit of a challenge at some point.
The mechanical part has been dealt by tweaking some old motors that were still in good shape, and the lab 3D printer has been of real help to implement the new features the way we wanted.
Once the R2 unit is complete, we will be working on a completely different project, but I will return to that in a another post. After all, one month is gone, but there is still one to go!

It wasn't all just work though, as Sunday was the usual day off and we have been to Big Almaty Lake, only 30km away from Almaty city centre, but 2,511m above the sea level. A good place for walking in a peaceful and beatiful environment, away from the noisy metropolis.
The bus taking us there was a bit scary in the beginning, as it was a very, very old Japanese model who was struggling even on the first gear. But the driver and our guide were actually ok, and the price still very competitive: only KZT 4,000 (about 8£).

20th of July 2016

Sharyn Canyon

Less than two hundred kilometres away from Алматы (Almaty), in the Uygur District, lies one of the biggest and most impressive canyon on this planet. Sharyn canyon is about 90km long, which makes it look like a dwarf if compared to the Arizona Grand Canyon’s 450km length. But it’s still a mind blowing experience to wander around this natural wonder and stare at the beauty of rocks so massive and different in size and shape. To not to say anything about the colours! For a European like me, not used to such environments, it was an incredible experience to visit the Sharyn last Sunday.
Despite being only 200km away from Almaty, the journey is quite long, about four and a half hours, and this is mainly due to the road conditions in the area. Our bus had to travel on roads that haven’t seen any serious maintenance for decades, crossing very poor villages where it’s common to see cows and horses wandering on the main roads, and slowing down the traffic. There is a motorway which will promise to connect Eastern Kazakhstan to China, but works might take many (many!!) years to be completed, and in the meantime, you’ll have to drive on unpaved roads for a good part of the journey. It’s been a hindsight of the obvious, steep differences between those living in the main cities and those (the majority) who are living in the countryside. Still, Sharyn canyon is a must for anyone who’s planning to visit Almaty, as it will fill their heart with pure, natural beauty.

Fun Facts:

*If you don't like waiting for public services, Almaty is your city. Just stand at the side of the road and wait for any car to stop, usually you will have to wait for no more than twenty seconds. Tell the driver where you would like to go, and he will tell you a price, which for travelling around the city centre shouldn't be over 500 tenge(about 1£), regardless of how many people are travelling with you.
You can deal a different price, if you speak Russian well enough, otherwise just wait for another car. Trust me, it won't take long!! To be on the safe side, always try to get a ride while you're with someone else. So far I have never had any problem with this Uber ante litteram.