The World is Quiet Here

I just moved into my office, and I have a sweet view of the library. And the Ikea.

But mostly the library. I love TU Delft's library.


Stukjes Noot

Growing up, I had the standard relationship with the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. A hearty breakfast, brown-bag lunch, a solo dinner - there were always a reason for the PB&J.

During college I discovered the joys of the PB & B: a peanut butter and banana sandwich. A banana, cut lengthwise, can be used in place of the jelly for an experience as tasty. During a day when jelly would have been a little too sweet, I could hold myself over with the PB & B. Pasta-based meals became relegated to second place in my diet. The PB-based sandwich reigned supreme during this point in my life.

Now I personally preferred the chunky variety, though I always found chunky just a touch too chunky. I'm a big fan of the crunchy variations in the taste. I was never a zealot, preaching the virtues of creamy over crunky, nor vice-versa. I love the interplay of creamy and chunky, like music standing out against a subtle background of silence. During college I searched for a more balanced variety, experimenting with so-called "organic" peanut butter. For a less salty, more natural PB, the organic variety has a few drawbacks. One has to refrigerate organic peanut butter. Organic peanut butter also separates. These drawbacks were too much for me; I stuck with the plain variety of peanut butter found in grocery stores.

In modern day America, the plain ol' chunky variety of peanut butter can be difficult to find. When I moved to CT, the local grocery store didn't carry chunky peanut butter at all. Instead, I only found the creamy variety and a "Super Chunky" variety. I nearly gave up PB & J entirely while living in CT. The availability of a car meant that I could shop more regularly, and hence store meat no longer spoiled. I replaced nearly all of my PB & J meals with the meat-based sandwich (whose composition deserves a dissertation, but no spicy mustard).

While discussing my move to Europe, a new fear surprised me. Supposedly I might not be able to find peanut butter at all! Oh, the horror. A life without PB would be a life without music. I developed a back-up plan with several (redundancy is the life-bread of critical engineering systems) family members to send PB if need be. When I arrived, the first thing I searched for was PB. (Well, okay, second, as I looked for an extra tooth brush first)

Imagine my surprise when I found the greatest achievement in civilization since sliced bread, a hybrid variety of PB. The Dutch have invented a type of peanut butter with partially ground peanuts. The name of this peanut butter type, "Stukjes Noot" doesn't translate well into English. A close set of translated English phrases might be "Heaven on Earth", "Part Heaven", or "Nut Bits". My first peanut butter and jelly sandwich in Zuid-Holland has proven that if you travel half way around the world, you might find the perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Thank you, Dutch people, for your deep understanding of haute cuisine.

(note: This post was written before I had regular internet. Please excuse any typos, as I was busy gorging myself on a double-decking work of PB & J perfection)


Moving an Optical Table

You should measure *everything* before you attempt to move a 750 kg, 3 m by 1.5 m by 40 cm, optical table to the 17th floor. *EVERYTHING*


Which State are You?

I've automated the "Which State are You" test based on the Rentfrow et al study. Post your results!


There Goes My Productivity

I finally managed to get internet working at home. I didn't do anything special, one day it wasn't working and the next it was.

I forgot to post about the Terry Pratchet novels having the UK covers in Europe, not the US covers. I knocked off Pyramids on the plane flights to/from Switzerland. I used to try doing work on plane flights, but have since given up and started reading lighter material.

Terry Pratchett novels also cost 13 euros (20 dollars!) over here, as opposed to the 8 dollars in the US. I have two data points on the cost: an English book store at Schiphol (Amsterdam airport) and the American Book Center in Den Haag (The Hague).

The American Book Center is a little slice of heaven on Earth. There is a big SciFi section with Terry Pratchett novels. There is a games section with Munchkin and expansion packs. And they have Jane Austen action figures, complete with quill pen and writing desk.

Anyways, props to iJenn for introducing me to the Discworld novels with Small Gods, even if Pyramids would have been chronologically correct. Without your guidance my plane flights and train rides would be boring, and I might accidentally catch up on sleep.


Lausanne, Take Two

I was in Lausanne for some lab business but bummed around the city Tuesday and Wednesday night. Thursday I explored a little bit of Geneva, but the overcast sky meant there weren't any great photos. Though I have to admit, the hotels near Geneva have strange ideas of what lingerie will do to you, though pretty accurate if you are male:

On Wednesday mornings there is a market in Lausanne. Orange tomatoes are delicious.

The next few pictures are from the IOC (International Olympic Committee) headquarters in Lausanne. The IOC still had the Beijing Olympics decorations up.

I window shopped at several famous Swatch Stores on this trip.

Europeans like mixing the outdoors with everyday life.

The IOC usually has some world records depicted in artistic form. Last time I was in Lausanne there was a long jump statue. The high jump, the pole vault, and the shot put had either statues or a long line. The high jump and pole vault records are amazing, especially the high jump statue. I wasn't impressed by the shot put record. Seriously, humanity, a little over 20 meters is the best we can do?

Have you ever been waiting for the walk signal at a stop light, constantly pressing the button because you didn't think your push registered? I didn't realize how genius the walk request buttons are in Lausanne until the second time around. When you press a walk button, a light comes on - no more constantly pressing the walk request buttons at intersections. I respect the geniuses of civic engineering in Switzerland for their use of feedback.

I took a bunch of photos at Ouchy, the docks at Lausanne.

Finally, a parting photo that doesn't need a caption.


...de la Navigation?

That word shows up everywhere!



While sitting on the Lausanne docks in a cool wind, watching the sun set over the French Alps, and eating a hunk of tasty Gruyere cheese, I thought about how awesome life is. Later I realized I shouldn't have eaten the *entire* hunk of cheese.


Montana, eh?

Some people have been running a personality experiment by states. I threw some code together that told me which state I am most like using a mean-squared metric on percentile difference. This squares the difference between my percentile on a personality metric and the state's mean percentile on a metric, and then sums the squares. Apparently I should move to Montana. Note I was tired when I took the test, so my scores are probably a little more extreme than they should be.

My scores:

Openness: 41
Conscientiousness: 35
Extraversion: 7
Agreeableness: 10
Neuroticism: 7

Mean state resident (and mean DoC resident) I am most like (in order):

EDIT: I've modified the code to use the z-score instead of percentile, I'm still very Montana and Idaho. I've starred locations where I have lived. Sorry for the crappy formatting, I won't have time to fix it. Bigger absolute values of numbers means I'm less of a match on that characteristics - for example, I'm a good match for Washington's mean resident personality except I'm not agreeable enough nor am I open enough. Negative numbers mean I am less of a characteristic than the mean resident, positive numbers mean I am more of something. So I'm much more agreeable than the mean Alaskan resident.

#################### Z mean squared ####################
d^2 ['eP ', ' aP', ' cP', ' nP', ' oP']
1 Montana 1.65 ['-0.5', '-0.6', '-0.1', '-0.8', '-0.7']
2 Idaho 2.13 ['-0.3', '-0.8', '-0.3', '-1.1', '-0.2']
3 Nevada 2.76 ['-0.9', '0.1', '-0.3', '-0.6', '-1.2']
4 Virginia 3.99 ['-0.3', '-0.5', '0.2', '-1.7', '-0.9']
5 Washington 4.45 ['-0.1', '-1.5', '-0.3', '-0.4', '-1.4']
6 Wyoming 4.92 ['-0.7', '0.2', '1.1', '-0.9', '1.6']
7 California 5.16 ['-0.9', '-1.3', '-0.3', '-0.9', '-1.3']
8 Oregon 5.30 ['-0.4', '-1.7', '-0.1', '-0.2', '-1.5']
9 Maryland 5.67 ['0.5', '-0.9', '0.1', '-1.9', '-1.0']
10 Arizona 5.86 ['-1.4', '-1.2', '-1.4', '-0.4', '-0.2']
11 Hawaii 5.96 ['-0.9', '-1.5', '1.2', '-0.7', '1.1']
12 Colorado 6.21 ['-1.3', '-1.3', '-1.1', '0.5', '-1.2']
13 Alabama 6.59 ['-1.7', '-1.0', '0.1', '-1.2', '1.1']
14 * Connecticut 6.92 ['-1.1', '-0.6', '0.7', '-2.0', '-0.9']
15 Delaware 6.97 ['-1.6', '-1.0', '0.1', '-1.7', '0.7']
16 New Hampshire 7.25 ['0.4', '-1.2', '0.4', '-2.2', '-0.8']
17 Texas 8.30 ['-1.9', '-1.4', '-0.8', '-1.3', '-0.6']
18 Arkansas 8.45 ['-1.3', '-0.8', '0.2', '-2.5', '-0.3']
19 Vermont 8.61 ['-0.3', '-1.8', '0.3', '-1.9', '-1.2']
20 * Massachusetts 9.24 ['-0.7', '-0.8', '0.4', '-2.5', '-1.4']
21 South Dakota 9.41 ['-2.4', '-1.5', '-1.0', '0.2', '0.4']
22 Michigan 9.57 ['-1.8', '-2.0', '-0.6', '-1.4', '0.1']
23 South Carolina 9.89 ['-1.4', '-1.6', '-1.0', '-2.0', '-0.3']
24 * Iowa 10.22 ['-1.9', '-1.8', '0.1', '-1.6', '0.7']
25 Missouri 10.33 ['-1.8', '-1.8', '-1.4', '-1.4', '-0.2']
26 Ohio 10.56 ['-1.4', '-1.3', '0.2', '-2.6', '-0.3']
27 Oklahoma 10.57 ['-1.3', '-2.1', '-1.5', '-1.3', '0.2']
28 Indiana 10.76 ['-1.1', '-1.7', '-1.1', '-2.4', '-0.0']
29 Kansas 11.01 ['-2.0', '-1.8', '-1.6', '-1.0', '0.3']
30 Tennessee 11.14 ['-1.3', '-2.4', '-1.1', '-1.6', '-0.4']
31 Illinois 11.66 ['-2.3', '-1.4', '-1.3', '-1.7', '-0.4']
32 Kentucky 11.72 ['-1.1', '-1.5', '-0.8', '-2.6', '0.9']
33 Florida 11.73 ['-2.1', '-1.8', '-1.5', '-1.0', '-0.8']
34 Maine 11.87 ['-2.1', '-0.4', '1.3', '-2.4', '-0.0']
35 Louisiana 11.89 ['-1.3', '-1.8', '-0.1', '-2.6', '-0.2']
36 Rhode Island 11.89 ['-0.9', '-0.4', '1.2', '-3.1', '-0.3']
37 North Carolina 12.44 ['-1.1', '-2.3', '-2.0', '-1.4', '-0.0']
38 Pennsylvania 12.86 ['-2.1', '-1.1', '-0.2', '-2.7', '-0.3']
39 New York 13.00 ['-1.2', '-0.1', '0.3', '-3.0', '-1.5']
40 New Mexico 13.40 ['-1.6', '-1.1', '-2.8', '-1.3', '-0.4']
41 New Jersey 14.90 ['-2.0', '-1.1', '0.6', '-2.9', '-0.7']
42 Minnesota 15.82 ['-2.8', '-2.7', '-0.5', '-0.7', '0.4']
43 Georgia 16.54 ['-2.7', '-2.2', '-1.8', '-1.1', '-0.4']
44 Utah 16.97 ['-2.4', '-2.6', '-1.7', '1.0', '-0.5']
45 Nebraska 17.53 ['-3.2', '-2.0', '-1.5', '-0.5', '0.8']
46 Alaska 17.53 ['0.2', '3.0', '2.6', '-0.3', '1.1']
47 West Virginia 18.49 ['-1.5', '-1.1', '0.0', '-3.8', '-0.4']
48 Mississippi 21.00 ['-1.8', '-2.7', '-1.2', '-3.0', '0.6']
49 Wisconsin 22.52 ['-3.6', '-2.6', '-0.7', '-1.0', '1.1']
50 District Of Columbia 24.47 ['-3.2', '0.8', '0.2', '-1.1', '-3.5']
51 North Dakota 38.09 ['-4.6', '-2.9', '-0.5', '-0.6', '2.9']

I have to go to Switzerland, otherwise I'd turn the code into some kind of online test.

Second Impressions of Delft

This post contains my second impression of Delft, a set of noticeably different things between Delft / (some town), America. I'll go over the canals, the apartment buildings, and some of the differences between TU Delft and MIT.

Ignoring the bicycles' effects, the canals are the main difference between Delft and an American city. There are canals of all shapes and sizes over here, ranging from small canals, which are a meter wide, to the large canals. I walk on Abtswoudsebrug (Abbot's wood bridge) over a 20m wide canal every morning on my way to work. The bridge across the canal is solely for bicycle and foot traffic. When a boat needs to pass, the bridge turns sideways. You can see some pictures below of the bridge turning. There are also standard raising bridges. The charm of getting stuck while a boat passes has yet to wear off, though I'm sure some morning the waiting will ruin my day.

The water in the canals is surprisingly clean. When I first arrived there was no duck weed covering the canals. Over the course of a few weeks duck weed grew, and then suddenly disappeared. Obstensibly the city scrapes the duck weed off of the canals.

Water is both a resource and hazard in the Netherlands. A section of land completely protected by a dike is a polder. Flevoland, the newest province, is a polder. Regulating the dikes and water level is obviously critical to the well-being of all the polder's inhabitants. There is a special governmental division, the water board, to regulate all aspects of water. All utility bills in the Netherlands include a water purification tax paid to the water board. The water board also regulates drainage during the wet season, and ensures enough water is in the canals during the dry season. The water boards are important enough that one usually hears of four levels of Dutch government: federal, provincal, municipal, and the water board.

Short aside: I think water will slowly become a much bigger deal in the states. People already have blogs about water.

After the canals (and the bicycles), the next thing I noticed was the apartment buildings. All of the apartment buildings in my area of town are massive. From my windows I can see 4 >15-story apartment buildings. There are probably 10 or more 15-story buildings within a few square blocks. This area of town is very unique, as I haven't seen any large apartment buildings across the canal or in the older section of town. There are at least 5,000 residents in these 10 buildings. I was surprised because Delft is a town of only 90,000. My section of town seems to be the only one with large residence buildings. I wouldn't want to be a real estate developer around here - the bike lanes in the road, the specific structures in specific parts of town, and the water boards all imply heavily regulated development. Although a picturesque landscape (when it isn't raining).

Finally, I'll be talking about a few differences between TU Delft and MIT. I think MIT's excellent handling of the campus card, email account, and class registration spoiled me. I was pretty annoyed at the poor handling of this at TU Delft, though I did not come through the standard channels so I might be an exception. I did not receive any information about a campus card on arrival, all information I gathered was from word of mouth. My email account was not activated until the 3rd day after my start date, and only after I had pestered HR several times. No one gave me any information about class registration.

The point about class registration became clearer when I learned that I am technically an employee of the Universiteit, not a student. When I take the Dutch class next quarter I'll have to pay, because I'm an employee, not a student. When TU Delft professors talk about who should be taking their class, even graduate courses are geared towards MSc students. I can register for classes, but this is very informal. The lack of a student distinction is surface deep, but small nudges have a large effect on human behavior.

TU Delft does not have a housing department. The Universiteit has close links with DUWO, which is a housing organization for students. I still don't have internet at home, which continues to be both frustrating and liberating. I'll be writing about my housing situation in a later post.

(this post was written on my laptop, and I still don't have internet at home as of the time of posting)


Big post delayed until Monday

Due to an unexpected trip to ESTEC this morning, my big, Friday post will be delayed until Monday this week. I will just say that radiation and laptops don't mix. Kidding! Though they don't.


Leaving on a jet plane

I'll be in Lausanne, Switzerland (Dutch translation: Zwitserland) from Tuesday the 16th to Friday the 19th. Although I only have a hotel room for the nights of the 16th and the 17th. I'll figure out something for the 18th. Probably. Maybe. Hopefully.

If you need to get around Europe, easyjet.com comes highly recommended. 200 euros for a round trip from Amsterdam to Geneva.


My brain re-arranges words as it sees fit.

A brasserie is a relaxed cafe, but with menus and servers. A brassiere is a female undergarment, though the Dutch word is bustehouder.

Comments are closed.



The TU Delft hole-in-wall bar is called /pub. Go *nix nerds.


First Impressions of Zuid-Holland

First impressions of Zuid-Holland

The biggest difference between Zuid-Holland and anywhere I've been in the US is the bicycles. I would estimate that one in four to one in three Delfters' have a bicycle as their primary mode of transit. I would say there are a few obvious contributing factors.

The first factor is that Dutch people despise obesity. On a recent poll about attractiveness, obesity was one of the biggest turn-offs of a Dutch significant other. If I had to guess, I would say this value comes from needing to reclaim land from the ocean. Over a quarter of the land in the Netherlands is below sea level; land scarcity and uncertainty necessitated hard work.

The second factor is the price of gasoline. Gas is currently 1,499 euros / liter (the annoying last 9 appears to be universal). This translates to roughly $9 / gallon. The government imposes much higher taxes on gasoline than in the states. I am not a big fan of government involvement, however I'd agree that gasoline taxes in the United States are too low to capture all the externalities (I can't find the sources I've seen relating to this).

The third factor, obviously related to a large market, is the availability of different bicycle models. There is an analog spectrum of bicycle to motorcycle here:

Human-powered bicycle <-> Motor-assisted bicycle <-> Small scooter <-> Large scooter <-> Motorcycle

Motor-assisted bicycles are nearly non-existant in the US. I don't think I had previously seen, in person, a motor-assisted bicycle. Delfters, especially little old ladies, love these models. I'm tempted to hack around with one. I've read about one or two TU Delft students creating battery-assisted bicycles for their MSc thesis.

As an aside, while scooter riders wear standard motorcycle-style helmets, I haven't seen an adult nor teenage bicyclist wearing a helmet. (EDIT: I saw a police officer on a bicycle today, and he was wearing a helmet).

The fourth factor is that the infrastructure is very bicycle-friendly. There are many shortcuts around town that only scooters, bicycles, and bicycle-hybrids are allowed to use. On the main roads there are bicycle lanes seperated from the automobile lanes. Some of these roads have separate bicycle stop lights from the main lights.

The last factor (bicycle-friendly infrastructure) has clearly taken a lot of government involvement. I'm not familiar enough with the regulations and government here to speak to the advantages and disadvantages of having much stricter regulation.

For all the love of bicycles, I have not found a great bike shop yet. During one of my random walks on the internet I found a list saying you're only a true Delfter if you bought your bike at a open market. I didn't see a bike stall at the open market on Sunday, though there is a market on Wednesday that I haven't searched extensively. Once I get to know some people at the University I'll ask about where they bought their bikes. Until then I'll just jealously watch the bike riders zoom by me on my morning walk.

(note: I wrote this post on my laptop before I had regular internet access)

Blog Ground Rules

Now that I'm overseas, I'm going to try posting to my blog twice a week. I wrote up some expectations of myself and the purpose of this blog. I started it a while ago, but as you can see it didn't take off when I was in CT.

(wrote on my laptop):

There are several purposes for this blog:

- practice my writing
- centralize my thoughts about differences between living in Iowa, the Northeast, and the Netherlands
- keep everyone else informed of how life is going

Point 1: Practice my writing.

I am a poor communicator, but a particularly poor writer. I think an anecdote is in order here:

On the first day of a pottery class, the teacher split the class in two - every on the left side of the class would be judged on the quantity of pottery produced, whereas the right side of the class would be judged on the quality of their best design. When grading time came, the highest quality of work came not from the group graded on quality, but rather the group graded on quantity.

Is this anecdote true? I have no idea, but this matches a large portion of my experience with both software and math. I think writing falls under the same "design-centric" group of crafts, and thus I'll be practicing writing by (surprise) writing at least half an hour every week.

Point 2: Centralize thoughts about differences between living different places.

I've now lived a lot of different places. There are big differences in the values people have, and how people live in these places. I would like to centralize my thoughts on these differences.

Point 3: Keep everyone else informed

I have a lot of friends spread across the globe, which is awesome. Unfortunately for them, I have a poor memory and I constantly repeat events to them. This blog will centralize events so I don't have to inflict the same story on people multiple times.

In order to practice the above points, I think I'm going to need to post a sizable chunk at least once a week. That should give me sufficient time for something sizable to talk about. I expect to post on Friday mornings, and already have an annoying reminder set up in my calendar.