Thursday, 4 December 2014

Non scholae, set vitae...

It's been a while since my last entry - shame on me! I've had several posts in the pipeline for a while, I just lacked the time and/or leisure to actually sit down and write them. The usual November depression might have had its share in that - it's gotten quite cold here in the past couple of weeks, with a nasty wind. Not very motivating.

In the meantime, I've gone through my first exam period here and am now in the middle of the second study period. As I might have already mentioned in a previous entry, the semesters here are divided into 3 study periods of 8 weeks, 8 weeks and 4 weeks respectively. Usually we have to take 2 courses in the long periods, 1 course in the short ones. 2 courses with around 2-3 lectures per week doesn't seem like much, but since they're only 8 weeks long, the content is rather dense and usually there are lots of assignments due to be handed in, for some courses every week. Another peculiarity here is that most to all assignments have to be completed in teams, whereas the whole team will get the same grade. While most courses' final grades will be a combination of the practical work and an exam, the grade for my Service Oriented Design course was only composed of team assignments, without any exam - something that is rather frustrating when at least one member of the team is not working at all and will still get the same grade. Apart from that, with a group of 5 people there is a lot of synchronisation overhead and things often took a lot longer than if one of us had done everything alone.
My other course however, Concurrency&Multithreading, was fine. Other than SOD the course content was rather theoretical, and not having followed the lectures too attentively, I had quite a lot to study for the exam. The last time I actually had to study for a test was probably in 2008 or 2009 - took me a while to get used to it again. In the end it was no problem. Even having skipped one question, I got an 8.5 out of 10: no reason to complain here :)

This period I'm taking Software Architecture, again a rather practical course with some groupwork - but this time my group works together very well and we're actually having fun! My other course, Distributed Systems, is again more theoretical and theoretically it's a rather interesting and widespread topic...if only the lecturer weren't boring as hell! And, since my Masters Programme is offered by the VU (Vrije Universiteit) in collaboration with the UvA (Universiteit von Amsterdam), it takes place in the Science Park in Amsterdam-Oost, 45 minutes away by bike. You can imagine my lack of motivation to get up for this course at 8 on a cold December morning...

The Science Park itself however is actually quite nice. Modern and well-designed buildings, bright seating and working spaces everywhere, huge rooms with computer workplaces, fancy group workrooms that anyone can use, and most importantly: coffee is cheaper than at the VU!

Another thing that happened since my last post was the retirement lecture of Andrew S. Tanenbaum. Most people outside of computer science or related fields probably won't have heard of him: he wrote several standard text books for computer science (on Operating Systems, computer organization or networks for example...) and developed an operating system called MINIX, which was the starting point for Linus Torvalds to develop Linux (so basically, without him you wouldn't have your Android phone today). He's been working and teaching at the VU since the 1970's and announced his retirement this summer. I had already signed up for the retirement lecture in July, one rarely gets a chance to see the last lecture of such a legend.

To my great surprise, the Aula at VU where the lecture took place wasn't even completely full. I would have expected more people to come. Tanenbaum spoke for around an hour about his past >40 years at VU, where he started as one of the first three employees of the at that time not really existing computer science department. Videos were shown, memories were shared, colleagues praised him... all in all a very entertaining and humorous last lecture.

And, what was probably typically Dutch: Along with wine, champagne and orange juice, they served milk and buttermilk at the reception afterwards.

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