Stress here, stress there

Lessons from spending just under one year at this university are quite a handful, no doubt about that. But some of them are non-technical and common across all students, and have themes that are quite salient! This post tries to capture one of them – stress.

Stress, in general

That the TU Delft is a place where you need to deal with a lot of academic stress, is but a truism. This video also provides some insight into opinions people have on this topic. Irrespective of which faculty you’re at or which course you’re following, there’s no doubt that you’ll be burdened with loads of assignments and projects every quarter, and every student you come across at the library or at any place where collective studies take place will have a similar academic script to read. “Huh, so it’s not just me who’s so stressed!” is (unfortunately) a very common thought to occur to lots of students!

Stress makes simple equations look complicated

My personal opinion is that having a quarter system (with just over two months to wrap up an entire course) puts a huge burden on students’ brains. This, coupled with the fact that students stay away from the comfort of their homes, have to be on the hunt for accommodation, have to deal with the weather, and find little or no time for themselves, is a really bad recipe for mental health and needs to be addressed.

Stress also makes silly errors look scary

And of course, dealing with it

However, there’s always something that can be done about it! Talking with your peers, talking to faculty members, attending relevant career and counselling sessions can certainly help get one through these seas – but the most important part is communication. People work in isolation, don’t ask for help at the right time, keep pushing despite having minimal efficiency, and it all ends up in a vicious cycle of poor performance and stress! Being self-aware and careful planning of studies are really crucial aspects of working it out well.

Some sights that cannot be missed no matter how stressed – night lights at 3

There are several techniques that could help – using a Pomodoro timer, judicious use of Google Calendar and the like to carefully assign working slots to oneself, consciously avoiding multitasking, and so on – it all depends on the individual, and there is no one way about it! But at the end of the day, the mind is not a processor, and it does need some time to relax too…

What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare.

In a previous blog post, I mentioned running as an antidote to stress. Unsurprisingly, as with anything else in life, there are plenty of other choices available! A ton of events take place at X (the erstwhile Sports and Culture center), several meetups and cultural/music events take place in and around Delft, the summers see a lot of barbecues by student associations, there’s always a possibility of taking a long (bike) trip to some far-off Dutch towns, and so on – and all of these are just a handful of examples of possibilities! There’s always more to discover and possibly invent too!

Just staring at windmills helps the mind change its line of thinking

Personally, I’ve really started appreciating meditation and yoga as means not only to deal with stress but also as life habits that are worth cultivating. Moreover, having gone through some terrible sleep habits for quite some time, I believe quality sleep should be made one of the most important priorities in student life (which is otherwise notorious for endless all-nighters)! Sleep does have a big impact on one’s day and a chronic lack of it can have some really harsh consequences!

Walking through a random patch of foliage is more soothing than it appears

All that being said, it’s always easier said than done. But what’s the harm in making a start? Conscious efforts are key to getting things done, and all that’s needed is a little push!

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Leren en doen, make a bike

There are several student associations at TU Delft that are local chapters of larger European and global student organizations – AEGEE, AIESEC, BEST, ESN, IAESTE, just to name a few. These associations organize several social events throughout the year and provide options for students to do something other than studying. I can really vouch for the requirement of such study breaks (…as if it isn’t the most natural thing ever for a student!)

One of them, the Board for European Students of Technology, or BEST Delft, organized one such event this March involving the creation of a bicycle. Yes, you heard that right – creating a bi- (or multi-) cycle! In association with an organization named Leren Doen (“Learning by Doing”) BEST arranged their annual EBEC in Den Haag, and the challenge involved finding whatever we could from a given scrapyard and coming up with a bicycle-like contraption.

I teamed up with three other peers from TU Delft, and thus set into motion our group of bike experts (…who were doing such a thing for the first time ever).

Wow, what an amazing design!

The requirement

The expectation was that we had to build a (stable) bicycle which could seat a human without collapsing, and also which could also move around on a predetermined “test track” – and the seat had to be as high as 140 cm above the ground (perhaps that’s higher than the country’s average altitude)!

And of course, all of this using items from Leren Doen’s stock of scrap resources!

The process

Any engineering project requires a careful formulation of the stated requirements into component-level limitations and designs that involve the integration of multiple components following a structured process with multiple iterations…

…and we did none of that. It was a “hackathon”, so there were very harsh time constraints! Six hours to design, assemble, and test a working model are not enough, ideally!

We were provided all the necessary hand tools, a workbench, and a welding facility as well! It was a good way of getting our hands dirty, both figuratively and literally (that stubborn grease wouldn’t leave my palm for the next few days!)

The approach we followed involved rummaging through the scrapyard and stocking up as much as we thought would be necessary later on, then drawing out our ideas on paper and trying to gauge intuitively if those would work, and converging to a model to be implemented. Once it was ready on paper, it was time to build it!

In the process of making it

What followed was four hours of running around, getting metallic components welded, breaking things, assembling, and some interim table tennis as well!

Personally speaking, without a doubt, metal-cutting and welding turned out to be much more exciting than I’d imagined!

Sparking it up

The outcome

Our “thing” was able to take some weight and didn’t collapse! It wasn’t able to offer the smoothest of rides, but it worked!

The masterpiece

We didn’t win the competition, but felt quite rewarded by the fact that we did manage to build the thing nearly from scratch!

In the process we got to meet students from other faculties, from BEST Delft (who did a great job of organizing the whole event!), and also the friendly staff at Leren Doen (from whom we got to learn a lot!). It was a Saturday well-spent on something other than studies, and was a very satisfying experience indeed!

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Architecture, the software kind

Back in the month of February 2019, just after the conclusion of the second quarter, I did some travelling around – among which included a trip to Brussels to attend an event on FOSS. I’d always wanted to know what FOSS was about, but hadn’t made any real effort towards it, as is the case with most things in life that involve overcoming inertia. Given that the aptly-titled FOSDEM was just around the corner, I decided to attend it and get myself involved!

Initial inspiration

The inspiration, the passion at FOSDEM

The conference was definitely worth the journey to Brussels – it led to my liking the FOSS philosophy so much and meeting such passionate people that I felt a strong surge of inspiration to really do something about it. The flame had been kindled!

Perhaps another reason why the trip was worth it

Fast forward to a week later, and I’m sitting in the Software Architecture class offered by the EWI’s SE research group. The professor introduces the course, saying we’re supposed to analyze architecturally a “sufficiently complex and actively developed” open source project of our choice, and possibly even contribute to it. Perfect.

I’d already burdened myself with courses I found interesting, and taking this course would probably have forced me to drop one of them. But with the push of inspiration and some unknown force, I took Software Architecture in addition to the courses I’d already taken. I kind of forced myself to be strict about allotting time to tasks and being efficient, thus managing to hold on to everything throughout the quarter.

A bit on the topic

Back to Software Architecture now. What is it, in the first place?

Just like the concept of architecture as we usually knowsoftware architecture involves a broad view of what a software project should look like. A software architect needs to think about how a project should be organized, the conventions to be followed, a “roadmap” of how the project should proceed, and so on. It is a very crucial role, and as the course taught us, it is one that requires a good level of experience working on software projects to develop an intuition of what good design should look like.

For instance, you could build a bridge poorly just to make it work, but if you wanted to expand its width to accommodate more vehicles, your design may not work if you hadn’t taken this “broad picture” (quite literally) factor into consideration initially (due to weak materials, insufficient space, or whatever reason.)

Similarly, in software projects, you’d ideally want to think from a broad perspective while starting a project so that it is “architecturally correct.” It is definitely easier to mess up a software project’s architecture given that it’s just…software. But there are quite a lot of nuances that need to be taken care of, and there certainly is more involved than meets the eye!

The course itself

The course covered the theory of relevant topics in detail, and for our assignment we had to choose a project hosted on GitHub and analyze it from an architectural perspective based on various points taught in the lectures. My team worked on analyzing an open source game, Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead, because…game.

We also had a whole bunch of guest lectures from various companies and researchers working on the topic, so we got a really good perspective from the industry and also got to know what sort of research goes into this field. It gave a lot to think about, and was certainly very interesting to ponder upon!

An example of a software project’s analysis!

Besides, there was a bit of “meta” involved in the course, in that we had to work on our project as software architects ourselves, making use of tools like GitLab and Mattermost to carry out the various activities. It was a really exciting experience (albeit intimidating at the beginning)!

The course ended with all the groups presenting the results of their analyses and having peer discussions on various aspects. It was also a good opportunity to know a lot of people from various backgrounds with a shared interest for software architecture!

I’d highly recommend this course for students interested in knowing what it feels like to architect a software project, and the underlying philosophy. It does require putting in a lot of effort, but the experience is quite rewarding as well!

Needless to say, the organizing team did a really good job of conducting the course!

(https://se.ewi.tudelft.nl/delftswa2019/)

Bonus: I learned a lot, and let me share my wisdom

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Running here, in Delft, and everywhere

TL;DR of this post – Run.

Running next to Yes!Delft

Running is an activity that is often passed off as something that doesn’t deserve attention since it does not require any special skill, and one that can be performed by any human being with functional limbs. It comes to us almost naturally, and most of us have had to run at some point in our lives – be it from dogs chasing us, as part of a race, or to make it to an exam in time (and for tons of other reasons!). One would find it hard not to imagine what running must feel like.

Running towards the edge

But if you were to think of it, how many times have you consciously pushed yourself to run a bit further (and farther)? Running has mostly been treated as an activity to do something, but never as an end in itself, I believe.

Running on the edge of Den Haag

That’s where this post comes in.

Accidentally venturing beyond the edge of Den Haag

A brief history

A couple of years ago, I took some inspiration from some of my friends who were into long-distance running and who’d always made me wonder why they were so enthusiastic about…just running. I thought of giving it a fair chance and seeing first-hand what the fuss was about…

Running next to one of the many canals in NL

…and well, here you see me a couple of years down the line writing about running and trying hard to promote it!

After coming to the Netherlands, I’ve seen that a significant number of people are involved in endurance sports like rowing and long-distance running, and I must say that it’s quite inspiring! Having been into it a few years now, I feel quite at home seeing people pushing their limits for the joy of doing it.

But of course, then comes the first question for first-timers – how do I start?

Starting out

Every person’s different, biologically speaking, and everyone has their own limits; but as with any other activity, it makes sense to start out small in running. One can’t wake up one fine morning and run a half marathon right away!

I’m not sure of the exact advantages of tracking runs, but using apps like Nike Run Club or Strava has certainly helped me run longer and farther over time. One needn’t be precise about the timing or distance, but having some benchmarks definitely helps!

First, you start running and run till you feel exhausted, and then check the distance covered. That’s what you can beat the next time.

Under the bridge

After a couple days or so of recovery, you start running again with the aim of beating the previous target, and push yourself a bit until you beat it and cover about 5 to 10% more in terms of distance. Sounds simple in theory, but it’s easier said than done!

You get the idea though. Little by little, you become fitter, happier, more productive, and comfortable.

Next steps

The previous strategy was purely on the distance front – one may do it for time, for speed, or for endurance as well. It depends on how you interpret progress!

Oh deer! Sometimes, you encounter animals while running…

You can then add more variations, like running with music, running with a trainer, running with intermediate sprints, and so on. But once you start running, it’s unlikely you’d want to stop unless you really want to or are forced to.

…and sometimes it’s metallic sculptures in random locations

I must vouch for the runner-friendly experience in the Netherlands. It is quite a joy to run around on the streets, by the canals, and in the beautiful parks!

Though correlation and causation are often confused, research does say something about the benefits of running. Besides, anecdotal as it may sound, I can’t put in words the elevated feeling you can get after running for a long stretch. It is quite a stress reliever too, especially during exams and before crucial deadlines – though it seems counter-intuitive that you’re already short on time but you spend it on running, trust me, it does help!

So yes, go out and run!

Just run! Incremental progress is the key.

P.S. The Batavierenrace is an interesting event for student runners!

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A tale of two cities

This gallery contains 25 photos.

Deja vu! Feel like you’ve read that title somewhere? Maybe you have. …continuing the journey from Delft to Berlin to Prague…   Somewhere back in time, on 30th December AD 2018, we set sail (in a Flixbus) for the cities … Continue reading

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A tale of two cities

This gallery contains 21 photos.

If you’ve read this post’s eponymous book, you’d be disappointed reading further, since I have visited neither Paris nor London…and I wasn’t around when the French revolution took place, unfortunately! However, I do have my own tale of two cities … Continue reading

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The X Factor

This gallery contains 5 photos.

“What do you do, apart from studying?” is a question very easily thrown at a student when they are within the confines of a college campus. The answer depends highly on the context (…and probably even on the person asking … Continue reading

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Biking around in the Netherlands

That the Netherlands is home to lots and lots of bikes (for the interested) is a fact well-known worldwide, and it needn’t be explained further.

The TU’s biking track next to the Mekelpark

So, it’s but natural for a biking enthusiast (enthusiast, not a pro!) to try biking around in this country and write a blog post(s) about it! Here goes the first one.

 

My daily route along the Delftweg, right next to the canal. Can’t afford to swerve too much!

Sometimes, lights guide me home

(“Biking” seems to be the term in vogue here, when it comes to referring to the act of riding a bicycle. I was used to referring to it as “cycling” before coming to the Netherlands. Language variations, I guess.)

Along one of the routes between my house and the university campus

For anyone who comes from a place where bicycles aren’t given enough respect, seeing a thin mysterious lane with a bicycle painted on it next to a regular vehicle lane would certainly come as a surprise! But it wouldn’t take more than a few (milli-) seconds to figure out what such lanes are for, especially when there’s a whole bunch of bicycles being ridden over them so frequently. It takes a lot of effort to not see a bicycle within a 100-metre (or less) radius while in the Netherlands!

Cycling through one of the many parks in the Hague

I currently stay in a city called the Hague (“Den Haag”), which was the only option left for me since I was too late in my search for a place, and couldn’t get one in Delft. Though my house happens to be located about 10 km from the TU’s campus, there’s a nice train station located less than a kilometre away, and a train takes less than 10 minutes to reach the Delft station. Sounds perfect!

Can one really complain about getting views like this one?

So, what do I do? Of course, I  take the train since it makes sense go on a nice long bike journey every day to Delft and back, just because it’s enjoyable! (Yes, there are some associated health benefits too.) It does gobble up around an hour of my daily life, but given that bike lanes are almost exclusively for bikes, I feel fairly comfortable not focusing entirely on my all my senses while at it. I make use of this time for other activities – listening to podcasts, music, and audiobooks (and of late, Dutch audio lessons!) en route; however, I wouldn’t endorse the idea as being fit for everyone, especially if they’re new to biking. Moreover, the route from my house to Delft and back isn’t a busy route, and hence I come across very few junctions on the way.

Bridging the gap for me, daily

It has worked out well so far. There’s mental relaxation, physical fitness, and language learning all at once, so to speak! But…

Brrr…iking in the c-c-c-old will be challenging

…the winters will have a different story to tell, I believe, and will force me to switch to the good ol’ NS trein. It probably isn’t a good idea biking around when it’s almost 0 degrees Celsius, raining/snowing, and windy, but, as we say for any adversity, let’s see!

TL;DR – Biking is fun, and one should exercise their free will to bike when possible.

Another biking track, this one being next to the Delftse Hout

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Different Beginnings, Vol. II

Hello again, everyone! This post happens to be a continuation of this one. Transitions are something everyone goes through, and they’re simple for some, difficult for others, some are sudden, and some are gradual. But that everyone goes through transitions, is a fact. In this post, I’ll pen down my thoughts about some of the cultural and social differences I observed here in the Netherlands, and also some other random observations that fascinated me!

Part III : Cultural Differences/Observations

India is a land of diversity, and there is no uniform “Indian culture” to characterize people there. However, when it comes to certain facets, there appears to be a gentle stroke of unity that binds the people together – cricket, festivals, and the spiciness of food (more or less!). Thus is formed a basis for comparing this loose version of Indian culture to my perceived version of the Dutch culture!

Illuminated buildings during the Eindhoven GLOW Festival

 

In the Netherlands, there are festivals aplenty spread throughout the year (a quick search on the internet yields this), and having been to a few in the past couple of months (the Delft Jazz festival, the Embassy festival in the Hague, and the GLOW festival in Eindhoven), I can vouch for the exciting times they provide!

The main difference can be seen in the motive – back home in India, most festivals are celebrated as a matter of ancient religious traditions and are hence considered to be sacred times when people gather socially and perform rites and rituals in accordance with the various mythologies. But here, in most cases the festivals seem to be held to cherish the different artistic aspects of being human – through forms of music, dance, paintings, etc. There seems to be a lot more stress on the “being in the moment” aspect of daily life, and that celebration doesn’t really need a reason per se. Both forms of festivals are really exciting, and provide different ways to look at celebrating life, whether through traditions or art!

Moreover, the Netherlands being home to people from almost all over the world, one also gets the opportunity to witness mini-versions of lots of festivals spanning various cultures, and there’s no dearth of excitement anytime!

In India, cricket is one game that unites almost the whole nation. Wherever one may roam, whether in cities or in villages, there’s always a makeshift cricket pitch that can be seen somewhere within the horizon! There are other sports played too, but cricket is the dominant one. Here in the Netherlands, I can find that it’s the case with football and (field) hockey. Not a day has gone by without my spotting a kid with a hockey stick, riding on a bike! But I can see that the popularity of other sports is also fairly high (including tennis, my favourite one!), and some sports I got to know about only after arriving here (I had no clue what lacrosse was)!

Part IV : Social Differences

Gezellig – a word one would certainly come across if they spent enough time in the Netherlands. It can be loosely translated as “cozy”, but it is a subjective feeling of warmth, friendliness, and belonging felt by one when they socialize. The Dutch culture emphasizes this feeling greatly, with the various borrels that are held from time to time. But back in India, given the sheer number of people, social gatherings are much more “social”, in that there are far more people and there’s always pandemonium at such events. It is even more so in big cities!

I have also noticed that the number of employees in shops and restaurants in much lower than in India – this is probably because of high labour costs in the Netherlands. Similarly, given the population of (urban) India, one would also see a lot more people shopping and roaming around in shops, and restaurants filled with people even at late hours. People here seem to really enjoy getting a good night’s sleep! (Maybe the cold weather has something to do with it.)

Miles and miles of flat land!

Some Random Observations

  • Candles seem to be particularly popular here for some reason – every supermarket has candles on sale all the time!
  • Stray cats are seen roaming around quite frequently. In general people seem to prefer having dogs as pets.
  • People seem to love endurance sports – running, rowing, biking seem to be quite popular, and there are lots of parks, canals, and biking tracks which are made use of quite well.
  • There are no mountains around! Travelling around in the country may make one believe that the earth really is flat!
  • People are quite tech-savvy here. Automatic streetlights, automatic doors, contact-less payments, almost accurate weather predictions, dikes…

Zuiderpark, Den Haag – a popular place for long-distance runners

 

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Different Beginnings

Hello, everyone! Welcome to my blog! I shall be posting about my experiences here at TU Delft, and will provide a student’s eye view of how life is as a Master’s student here. Feel free to let me know if there’s anything amiss in my posts!

A really short introduction about myself: I was born and brought up in one of the largest cities in the world (Mumbai, India), and after 17 years of living at home, I decided to breach my comfort cocoon to attend college in a quaint little hamlet in the northern part of the country (Pilani, India), and another 4 years later I found myself working in the “Silicon Valley of India”, Bengaluru. I worked for about a year and a half, and over time accumulated enough motivation to learn more and go deeper into what interested me a lot.

A student’s view of the campus

I decided to become a student again, and applied to a few colleges for their Master’s programmes. No points for guessing which college I enrolled in!

That was a little bit of an introduction about my background before coming to Delft. This also brings me to the main content of this blog’s first post – I intend to draw some comparisons between life in India as a engineering student, as a professional, and in the Netherlands as a student (again!). More posts will follow on this topic, but for this post, I’ll stick to the differences I noticed in the education system and people’s lifestyles.

Part I : The higher education system

The first and foremost difference is seen in the system of structuring the academic year – in Indian colleges (and I’d say, in a lot of colleges elsewhere too), the academic year in divided into two semesters with subjects spanning an entire period of four months at a stretch. It is not the case in TU Delft, where the academic year is divided into four quarters with subjects running for one or more quarters and having intense assignments and exams throughout the period. One simply cannot be laid back in this system, and can’t help but end up learning a lot!

Moreover, I can’t remember the last time I saw an academic schedule in which every single lecture is so thoroughly planned and the schedule is strictly adhered to! I did have an academic schedule for every semester back in India, but except for the examination dates, the rest was just an estimate, and hardly was the schedule followed precisely. It probably has something to do with the culture of the place, as the Dutch are known to be very punctual and planned in general.

Another aspect that really took me by surprise was the concept of “resits” for exams. Back home, an equivalent of a resit (called a “makeup”) was granted only in exceptional circumstances, and students taking makeups wasn’t a common case. If one wasn’t able to clear a course in a particular semester, it’d usually be a wait of a whole year before the course exams could be attempted again. Here, if there is a resit planned, it’s a wait of just a few months after which one can give it another try!

One more point of difference that is very apparent is the use of new technology in teaching – I’d never seen a “digital blackboard” in my life before coming here! Collegerama is another great example of using technology for better learning. Missed a lecture due to some reason? No bother – it’s recorded and posted online! There are a lot more tiny examples one may come across, like automatic doors, automatic lighting and window shades, solar panels on all rooftops in the university, and so on. The point that this is a technological university is clearly driven home!

Part II: The Dutch lifestyle

Bikes. Bikes, everywhere! Anyone who’s a buitenlander will find it fascinating that almost every road has an adjoining bike lane, and the sheer number of people biking around will make one take up biking as a routine activity, for sure! It’s an integral part of the Dutch culture, and probably one of the reasons for the amazing fitness levels people have here!

Cycling lanes next to car lanes

One very noticeable difference between cities in India and cities here is in the number of people you can spot on the street at any given time. They say that the Netherlands is among the most densely populated countries in the world, but when it comes to densities in Indian cities and Dutch ones, there’s no comparison. For reference, the population of my hometown is more than the population of the Netherlands. (Yes, you read that right!) You don’t see as many people around here as I did back home, so it feels quite different when you’re the only person walking on the footpath for a kilometre!

Almost empty streets at 8 o’clock

The general lifestyle is quite different as well. Shops and restaurants close early, earlier than 8 o’clock in many cases. Streets start becoming really quiet around that time, and you see very few people around in most areas. Back home, streets are bustling with activity till midnight, and the movement of vehicles and people is a constant sight at any given time. Getting used to this change took me quite a while!

Punctuality and planning are very important aspects, I feel. And so do the Dutch. Every single thing is on time here! Be it your post delivery, your lecture, your train, or even your party! Everything starts at the time it’s scheduled to start, and the agenda for the programme is clearly set. This is a huge difference that gets pointed out to me every time I witness it, because back home, starting at least 5 minutes late is the median norm for starting early, and a deviation from the schedule is a given! I can’t not be punctual even if I intentionally didn’t want to be punctual here in the Netherlands! I’m really liking this aspect of my transition.

Food is a slight problem for a person coming here from India, though. No doubt about that! Back in India, people are used to having spicy food and a very varied cuisine for their meals, and compared to that, a typical Dutch meal with sandwiches, meat and cheese without spices takes a lot of getting used to. An Indian tongue can’t handle lack of spice very easily! But there are quite a few stores around where one can buy spices, so if one really has cravings for spices, they’re not too difficult to find. The effort required to prepare some of the Indian dishes is, well, a different story altogether…

It’s been a really nice beginning to my time in the Netherlands and I’m really liking it here. There’ll be more such posts to follow on transitions to this beautiful, flat country soon. Until then, tot ziens!

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