Category Archives: Daily Blog

Daily blog: 21 November – Crossing borders

What a shock, we left Los Angeles on Wednesday and arrived in Brazil on Thursday, from a culture full of rules and legislations to a country full of disorder. Brazilians are a laid back group of people, not worrying about anything and trusting their experiences to solve the next problem.

One thing that completely blew my mind the past two-ish weeks is the amount of rules we have in The Netherlands. We have rules that disallow you to build an unfitting home in a neighbourhood, disallow you to start a shop in a non designated area, etc. Here in Brazil, but also in the United States those rules simply don’t exist. Cities full of unfitting buildings, restaurants at all the corners.. Completely different from our country.

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Now to the companies we visited yesterday. We went to Embraer and ITA. The first one is a plane manufacturor, they make planes from 6 to about 150 passengers. It used to be a state owned company but got privatized in 1994 and is now a leading player (number 3) in aircraft manufacturing. It both builds private and commercial airplanes.

The nice thing to us about Embraer was its high level of technical skills. We always assumed only a handfull of countries were participating on the high technological level needed to build airplanes, but apparantly also Embraer fits this image perfectly.

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The nicest of this visit was surely seeing the production lines, we were allowed to see how these planes were constructed and learned a lot about their design. After we were done with the company visit we had lunch like every other employee of Embraer in their cafeteria. This was a weird experience since a shift at Embraer consists of 5000 employees.

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ITA is a university that focusses on aerospace, it offers a sixfold of studies primarily targeted at people who are interested in aerospace. Of the 6000+ applications they receive yearly they can only accept around 100-150, a really high level of selection is needed to get the best of the best there. We started the day with a presentation followed by a visit to the one of their labs. Lastly we visited the dorms of ITA, which was a really shocking experience. Six persons living in really close rooms, two people share one room and to get to the kitchen or bathroom you need to go through the rooms of others.

Concluding

New country, new oppurtunities. We have seen the relaxing b\Brazilians, we have seen the high tech industry they are participating in. We have seen how they study, and how they live. We cannot wait to see the rest of the country!

Daily blog: 20 November – Brazilian BBQ

After a pretty uneventful, 11 hour flight we arrived in Brazil in the beginning of the afternoon and started the second part of our study tour. We met up with our supervisor for the upcoming one and a half week, Luis, who very fortunately speaks Portugese. After we picked up our luggage at the airport of Sao Paulo we boarded the tour bus to San Jose dos Campos. Most of us got some first impressions from behind the windows of the tour bus, and after a long journey we arrived at the Astro hotel. We enjoyed some well deserved cleaning up and refreshing and a very nice view of the city from within some of the showers in the hotel.

When everybody settled in we had a little bit of time to get some necessary bottled water at the local supermarket, which was pleasantly cheap compared to most supermarkets in LA and San Francisco.

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In the evening we had dinner at a Brazilian barbecue restaurant. The restaurant served all kinds of meat from which we could eat as much as we wanted. There also was an elaborate buffet of side dishes. But we were warned by Luis that these tasty dishes were only served to distract us from the real price: the unlimited supply of delicious meat. The waiters brought fresh meat to the table every couple of minutes and keeping up with this current of meat was difficult even for the skilled eaters. The available sign on the table saying “Nao, obrigado” seemed to have no effect, so many of us ate until their bellies hurt. Besides the food, we were served the classic Brazilian drink Caipirinha, which was quite strong as all of us noticed. Long after all the meat had been served they dared yet to come by with a cart of desert, full of chocolate and cake, but this was too much for many. Ending the long day of travelling with this glorious dinner made sure all of us had no problems finding our pleasant hotel beds, preparing us for the start of the Brazilian part of our tour. And if the rest of our days in Brazil will be as great as the half of a day we’ve had now, Brazil will be awesome!

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Daily blog: 19 November – Halfway

Wednesday the 19th of November was a special day. Today is our last day in the United States of America. This means we have our last company visit in the USA and a long flight and new adventure ahead of us.

We started the morning packing the last things and preparing for check-out. With a bit of delay due to traffic we arrived at the Institute of Creative Technology (ICT) of the University of Southern California (USC). An alumnus of the University of Twente introduced us to the institute and the research they conduct. The ICT is funded by the United States Department of Defence and focuses on using technology for psychological treatment and educational purposes for military personnel. An example is treating a soldier with post traumatic stress disorder by confronting the soldier with a similar virtual experience. But also by training soldiers in their way of interviewing civilians in a foreign, possibly hostile environment.

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For their research they created virtual humans or sceneries with a variety of capabilities. These virtual environments could be used in exercises and treatments. The virtual humans were programmed in a modular way so each exercise could be built by a set of modules. Some of the exercises required an artificial intelligence module in order to make it an almost real-life conversation.

To create an experience as real as possible, research of the ICT created a tool to photograph a persons face and its typical movements in collaboration with Hollywood. This tool consisted of a LED sphere of about 2 meters in diameter and a set of 20 high-resolution camera’s in different angles. A person or face can be photographed and filmed under many different angles and lighting conditions. This data can be used to create real looking virtual persons. Besides for research purposes, this Light Stage was also used for many popular Hollywood movies.

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After a quick visit to the beach nearby the ICT and an emotional goodbye to our supervisor Rom we headed to the airport. This flight marks the half of our study tour. We have seen a lot of different companies in San Francisco and Los Angeles and hope Brazil will provide the same impressive experiences.

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Daily blog: 18 November – Games day

We have been visiting the US for more than a week now and one thing we noticed is the competitiveness of all Americans. Nothing can be compared to the competitiveness of the Americans and the games they play. Today was a day full of games. First, we went to Blizzard Entertainment and afterwards to the hockey game between the L.A. Kings and the Florida Panthers.

The day started of with some spare time. This gave a lot of people the time to sleep in or do their laundry. At twelve, we gathered again at the ho(s)tel and after a quick buddy check, we set of to Blizzard Entertainment, most famously known for their games as World of Warcraft, Starcraft, etc.

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Once at the Blizzard Campus, we received a tour going through the various buildings, conveniently and simply named Building 1, Building 2 and Building 3. The most noticeable thing about the campus is the amount of art that is hanging throughout the buildings. Being that Blizzard makes a lot of fantasy games, they have created a lot of different creatures and worlds for their games, sometimes looking as if they came out of a heavy metal world. And with every creature, the tour guide, which was a normal employee of the company, could tell a whole story about its creation and meaning.

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To keep the creative juices flowing within the company, Blizzard offers employees a lot of challenges and time to learn and play games. One of those ways was a competition for its employees to restyle their office in a creative way. We got to see such an office which made a great effort to combine different games and television series into their offices, such as The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones and Left for Dead.

After the visit, we went back to the hotel and had some time for dinner, whereafter we went to the hockey match. Although the Kings won their last few matches and the Panthers weren’t playing their best season, the Panthers were much stronger in the first and second half. Sadly for them though, the second half made the biggest difference, resulting in a 5-2 win for the Kings.

IMG_20141118_191324 A big difference between ice hockey in the Netherlands and USA is that the body check is allowed, this is a other fun factor in the game. Another thing what was weird to see was how the home and opposing team were treated. Every time the Kings scored a goal or got a power play, the  whole stadium would light up and different advertisements and sounds would be played (hell, the power plays were even sponsored by a company), whereas if the Panthers scored, the whole stadium would remain in silence.

Luckily for us, the Kings won, giving a very fun experience, even if it wasn’t deserved.

Go Kings Go

Daily blog: 17 November – San Diego

On our bus drive to San Diego many participants used the opportunity to recharge their exhausted batteries. As you may have read the day before we had some spare time and explored different parts of LA like the Santa Monica Pier or the Getty Center. First destination in San Diego was the Old Town. In this place examples of the historic buildings and culture of the south-west are shown. This includes the typical western as well as the Mexican culture. In some buildings we could emmerse almost completely into the old times. The traditional shops were offering handcrafted goods like butter scotch fudge, scented soaps and candles, tin ware and painted plant potts and tiles.
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After enjoying a delicious lunch at the old town, we proceeded to the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC). After being welcomed by UT student Patrick Höner, who is currently taking an internship at the SDSC, we got a tour through the data center by Adam Royce, the operations manager. He showed and demonstrated the earthquake save rags of the supercomputers Trestle and Gordon. He explained to us the specific features of the supercomputers, the air-cooling systems, future projects and furthermore answered our hardware specific questions. Subsequently we were taken to a conference room, where we enjoyed presentations of Christin Kirkpatrick, Ilkay Altintas and Patrick. They presented to us challenges, points of consideration and applications of supercomputers e.g. Wifire, a early warning system for firestorms in California, or a system for fault detection in medical healthcare for insurance companies.
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At the end of the day, filled with interesting and valuable knowledge, we enjoyed ourselves watching the sunset at the San Diego Glyderport and having a typical American dinner at the restaurant and brewery Rock Bottom.
Some of us again used the bus ride to re-energize for a socializing night cap at one of LA’s cozy bars afterwards.
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Daily blog: 16 November – Santa Monica

The whole day was scheduled to be spare time, so the participants scattered to explore the areas that interested them most. After a great breakfast, some of us headed for the Getty Center. Getting there took quite long due to the LA public transport system, but it was definitely worth the trip. Upon entering, there is a small sculpture garden. After that, a little tram takes visitors up a panoramic route towards the impressive complex itself.

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Before even entering the museum buildings, we had a stroll in the beautiful gardens. Here, exotic plants meet an amazing view over the city. There is even a flock of hummingbirds, that provide a charming background sound.

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There was not nearly enough time to see all the art that was displayed, so we enjoyed a selection of European paintings – amongst others Van Gogh’s ‘Irises’ and some Rubens
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Rik went with one of the several groups to Venice beach and Santa Monica. For the trip towards the ocean public transport was used. Watching through the windows of the train the high buildings of downtown Los Angeles were substituted for lower houses, some neighbourhoods more luxurious than others with perfectly green grass around their driveway. Arriving at the end station of the line these sights were nowhere near in sight as we were left at a large parking place with a lot of road constructions around. Luckily the buses still knew how to find the bus stops around the train station.

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About one and half hour after departure we arrived at Venice beach. If you know the video game Grand Theft Auto V, you would immediately recognize the surroundings of this beautiful beach, just like the rest of Los Angeles is perfectly represented in the game. Some people even went to take a swim in the pacific ocean, crossing an item off their todo list.

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After a quick snack we walked along the beach to the pier of Santa Monica. During the walk the skateboard park and market style of Venice beach were left behind for playgrounds and more luxurious buildings. The pier was entered during sunset and after enjoying a beer a restaurant was chosen to have some dinner. With a full stomach we took a bus back to the hostel. There we met some people who were planning to see the movie Interstellar and in a rapid decision we chose to join them since they were already running late. We arrived at the cinema during the first scene, but during a film of almost three hours there’s luckily enough time to catch up.

Daily blog: 15 November – On to Hollywood!

Yesterday night we landed in Los Angeles and today was our first day here. Since it is Saturday, we didn’t get the chance to visit any companies, so instead the plan was to visit Hollywood.

The day started with a decent breakfast with a lot of options: waffles, waffles and waffles! The waffles were pretty good, however a sandwich in the morning is definitely more than welcome. After everyone finished up their breakfast we started making our way towards Hollywood, which started with the metro. When we finally reached our location the committee explained that we were going to do an urban adventure quest.

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The urban adventure quest was a great way to explore Hollywood and also a lot of fun. An urban adventure quest is basically a lot of questions which you need to answer, however to answer these questions you need to visit certain locations in Hollywood. For instance, on the walk of stars you had to find certain celebrities (Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe and of course all four Beatles).

Hollywood was great and at the same time partly annoying. On every corner of the street you were asked if you wanted to take a tour through Hollywood with a bus, limousine or by car. In the most crowded place there were also many people trying to sell/give away their CD’s of R&B, house and all sorts of music by almost just pushing them into your bag.

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After everyone was done with the tour of Hollywood we went for a dinner together. Jeroen found a really nice Italian place which was really cool to eat at. There was live music and all of the waiters and waitresses were taking turns singing songs. In the end the pianoman even played The Pianoman which was definitely the best song of the night. Not only the music was amazing but also the food was delicious: there was pizza, pasta, salads and amazing desserts.

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After the dinner we all went back to Stay on Main (our hostel for Los Angeles) and then everyone went off in separate places. Some decided to go clubbing, others decided to discover the city a little more. All in all it was a great day with temperatures reaching 24 degrees Celsius, definitely a step up from San Francisco, but still not close to what is to be expected in Brazil.

Daily blog: 14 November: Leaving San Francisco

Our final hours in San Fransisco have arrived and we are about to depart to Los Angeles. It is a pity to have to leave such a beautiful city like San Fransisco. Our stay has been great so far with lots of interesting visits, nice restaurants and amazing places to visit. Last night for example, we had a drink in the lounge bar on the top floor of the Marriot Hotel, which had a great view on the illuminated hills and bridge.
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Today our first company visit was at Github. For those unfamiliar with the company, they host source code and created a platform for collaboration around this. Since we are all studying IT-related subjects, involving at least some degree of programming, most of us have used Github. We were received by a nice lady, Haley, who kindly informed us the developers had not yet clocked in, due to their not so regular work hours. This habit of working outside of the regular work hours was seen by previous company visits, and seems to be a common habit among software engineers (or Computer Science students).
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Fortunately, Github had a really nice office including, but not limited to, a pool table, foosball, touch-table, ping-pong, bar and a copy of the oval office on scale. While we relaxed a little bit (or recovered from the night before) we met another group of visitors attending a nearby web-development bootcamp. This bootcamp consisted of 12 weeks of studying topics ranging from Javascript to Ruby-on-Rails and developing apps along the way, according to Linda. After a while two developers showed up, one from Croatia, who visited the San Fransisco office,  and one from San Fransisco to give a quick Q&A session. They were joined through a video conference call by Dirkjan Bussink, who ironically called in from Enschede and is a University of Twente alumnus. They briefly told us about their work for Github and their development career. We received a nice t-shirt from Haley when we left, so most of us where very satisfied with the visit, despite the limited time spent on learning about the company itself.
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After Github we took the bus to visit Nvidia, which is a manufacturer of graphic cards and chips. They showed us a lot of interesting stuff, such as demo’s of their latest products and they showed us the process of testing their chips.
Next up on our study tour program is the city of angels, Los Angeles. Hopefully we don’t end up under the bridge and are able to enjoy the even sunnier climate during or short stay over there. We are now waiting for our plane to leave and hope to have a good flight!

Daily blog: 13 November – Contradictions

Today was the 13th of november, the 6th day of the study tour and the second and last day in our “Business Formal” dress code. We started the day with a proper American traffic jam, which we were able to drive past most of the time as our bus could take the carpool lane.

We arrived slightly behind schedule at IBM’s Almaden Research Lab. With “Business Formal” (suit and tie) as the dress code of the day, we were assured to be the best dressed group the facility had seen in a while. IBM presented us with a day that was aimed at showing us how it plans to stay ahead of the competition in an IT market that is increasingly becoming a market of commodities.

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Presentations, ranging from organic chemistry to electron spin analysis and mathematical disease spread predictions, told us how IBM uses its size to conduct fundamental research that leads to unexpected applications. We finished with a cup of coffee and a presentation on modeling the spread of deadly diseases such as Ebola. As we had some delay due to traffic, we were in a hurry once the last presentation finished, so we packed our lunch from the sandwich bar to go, and had to forfeit the Thanksgiving Turkey-and-gravy lunch they somehow served a few weeks before the actual holiday…

We hit traffic again, which was caused by a truck that had pulled some acrobatic stunts and caught fire. Some men were extinguishing the fire with sand, while the firemen and their hoses were laying back in their vehicles. Meanwhile, lanes in both directions were watching and caused a bit of a jam.

Google had arranged a short tour for us around their campus, with an Android with a Lollipop, a TP’ed (mummified) T-Rex and the excellent facilities they offer their employees as the highlights. Afterwards, we discussed Net Neutrality, privacy and learning from mistakes with a Senior Engineer from Google’s infrastructure team.

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This day’s visits ended with a visit to Yahoo! Most people know Yahoo! as a search engine and email/advertisement provider, but we learned that the company has diversified and now also makes a variety of original content. They started 14 years ago with news programmes around several different sports (baseball, basketball and now even fantasy football), and recently acquired the TV series Community after it was discontinued by NBC. We got the chance to feel like a news anchor in some of the studios, with and without attributes like nervous, crowns and golden chains with dollar signs.

In a short Q&A with some developers from Yahoo! Mail, we discussed a variety of topics, ranging from moving to the US from the Netherlands (one of them was Dutch) and a recurring theme in several of the visits we’ve done now: how to balance between giving developers the freedom to create software to the best of their ability, and guaranteeing both that everyone works towards the same goals, as well as preventing that bad code gets pushed to a development platform.

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As we arrived at the hotel pretty late in the evening, the group was quick to split up into several dinner and party groups. Some of us went for the excellent Thai food that San Francisco offers, due to the large population of Asian Americans from the nearby continent.

Finally, a small group went to Monarch, a club just below Market Street to the rare house/techno party we were able to find. Walking through that part of the city at night is quite a weird experience: rows of homeless men and women sleeping under any shelter they could find, and occasionally the shine of a heroin needle in a dark corner or alley. Meanwhile large and shiny SUVs rolled by and a group of students in cocktail dresses and tuxedos stumbled out of a bar. The large and visible gap between poor and rich is very visible within the distance of a block. If and how it could be prevented is a source of a good discussion between participants from time to time, and seeing it is sure to change the view of America you get from TV and movies.

Daily blog: 12 November – Busy at Berkeley

The early bird catches the worm. At least, that’s what they say. After a full day of sightseeing and acting like tourists, it was time to get down to business. Suit up and head to Berkeley!

We started with the mandatory briefing about Berkeley Lab and Berkeley University. A short walk to Market Street lead to a descend into the BART, the Bay Area Rapid Transit. As real commuters we took the train under the Bay and emerged on the other side. Travelling through harbors, neighborhoods and suburbia gave us plenty of time to fully enjoy the companion of the American workforce. Especially Richard made a new friend.

We arrived at Berkeley Downtown and headed to the bus stop. The bus would take us to Berkeley Labs but not until we could enjoy the regular American live. I will always keep a small place in my heart for the little lady that could only speak one word.

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The ride on the bus went quickly and soon all the sneakers were replaced by actual shoes. We were welcomed at Berkeley Lab with coffee and pastry. The program consisted of presentations pertaining to Computational Resources and Limitations, the Security of ESnet, Big Data and SCADA Systems security, and Understanding Market Crashes. My favourite was about the Scalability of Big Data. It was given by Daniela Ushizima. She developed a setup with multiple GPU’s that was able to process imaging data to interactive images. Furthermore, the images were analyzed to create a more complete visualization of the scanned subject.

These presentations lasted until lunchtime when the pizza lunch arrived and soon we found ourselves back on the bus towards Berkeley University. There we got a presentation of the limiting factors in the Automatic Automotive research and why we shouldn’t expect self-driving cars in the near future. This presentation was followed by Peter Abbeel. He does experiments with learning robots. Instead of programming the movement, his robots are able to copy movements of a user. This has led to self-steering aerobatical helicopters and knot-tieing robots. The robot was able to tie the knot and give hugs to lonely study tour participants.

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We thanked everyone for their time and the experiences and we left for our separate ways. Some tried to find the only bar on Berkeley: this was a futile search. A diner with happy hour was their only preparation for the train back to San Francisco.