Astronomical Institute Utrecht

My first working-abroad experience

For two weeks, I’ve been working at the Astronomical Institute Utrecht, as an ICT expert with Dr. Sake J. Hogeveen. During my visiting, I’ve gathered useful information and knowledge about the ways the ICT support is conducted here for the scientific staff.  Today, a rainy and windy Sunday, I’m about to get packed and go to the Schipol airport. It’s time to fly back home, I’m afraid. But before doing so, I want to share some of the important things that have happened to me during my stay in this beautiful city called Utrecht.

My tasks here

My job at the Institute has been related to my GNU/Linux skills. There has been no much time to do more job, though. I’ve been involved in two different matters:

  • – Basic ICT support on their jupiter cluster.
  • – A survey: Web-polling mechanisms for Computers and Smart Phones.

During my time here, Dr. S. J. Hogeveen has been extremely kind, making me feel absolutely at home. I’ve been working on a workstation running Scientific Linux, writing the survey and trying to help with different matters related to their cluster. The same applies for the rest of the Astronomical Institute staff. I was even invited to have a dinner as “Guest of Honour”. That was lovely, really lovely indeed. Before getting here, I have to admit I was a bit scared because of my English skills. But, in the end, it turns out I could cope with it pretty well, and I’ve been congratulated for my knowledge of the English language. Now I dare say I can do my job elsewhere, as long as I can use the English language to communicate with people.

I’ve had some chats with the Astronomical Institute Ph.D. students, as well. Really cool: such an amazing experience, difficult to put into words, and now I’m not talking about the English thing: it is just that, sometimes, there’s a certain difficulty to express one thoughts using pure natural language, that’s all.

The survey

One of my tasks here has been related to write a survey, in order to gather basic information about the different tools, apis and techniques available out there to implement a Web-polling mechanism for computers and, above all, smart phones (iPhones, iPads, etc … ). The original idea was to find out which tools we could use to do something of that sort, and then try to discuss briefly about them. The complete survey can be read here: utrecht_poll_smartphones, and you can find it in the “Scraps Of Mind” section, also. This survey is quite summarized, but it is more or less what they wanted: some basic tool in order to allow students attending a seminar to participate on a poll using their own smart phones, and to gather and project the statistics after that by the professor imparting that seminar on a big screen.

There are different online demos, all of them publicly accessible, in order to test these tools briefly discussed in the report. I’ve made some basic code-changes to a certain open source php script called ZokiePoll, in order to fulfil more or less the desired requisites. Obviously, this is something very basic and there is much work to do in order to use this solution in a production environment. However, it can be used as a test platform and more work can be done from this state of the art point.

Below, some screen-shots of my code changes rendered on a smart phone running the Opera web browser:

Participating on a poll (left), and gathering its statistics (right)

The ICT-support

During my stay at the Astronomical Institute, I’ve learned new things from Dr. S. J. Hegoveen. I’ve helped him out with some  problems concerning their cluster (running on GNU/Linux, of course :)), and at the same time I’ve had meetings and I’ve attended conferences about different but surely well-related matters. I’ve had a meeting with H. J. Mos, head of ICT Beta, the central ICT department for the entire Faculty of Science at the Utrecht University. So, as you can fathom, my whole stay has been really exciting. During that meeting, H. J. Mos was completely nice, telling me how the ICT Beta department was organized in this university. We exchanged some information concerning that very matter, and we ended up shaking our hands. A really nice person, not to mention that despite the fact he was busy, he decided he would be meeting me.

Chambres en Ville

Wouldn’t be fair to finish this brief post summarizing all about my experiences abroad without having a word about the place where I lived for two weeks and two days: Chambres en Ville. Absolutely charming, all clean and comfortable, with the couple in charge of the place being not only kind, but at the same time lovely. They managed to make me feel like home, and I have to confess now, more or less about three hours before heading to the Utrecht Centraal train station to catch the Schipol-train which will leave me right on the Airport, that I don’t feel like coming back home. Oh, but surely as soon as I set foot in the airport, I’m going to change my mind. Ida and her husband, Kees, have been more or less like another parents for me. They took care of me all my stay along, lending me even a scarf to avoid getting ill as a consequence of strolling during the cold wind blowing all of a sudden. Besides, I have had interesting and lovely chats with them during my breakfasts and dinners. They allowed me to use the kitchen – sorry for that mess 🙂 -, and I had dinner every day in the dinning room or in the garden, quite a cool place to be during the days where the sun was shinning in a perfect blue sky.

I feel a bit down in the mouth. There’s nothing I can do about it: just put my mind at rest for a while, take a relaxant nap before having a light lunch for the last time in this magnificent household, and then just head to the airport. Let the day pass by, and have a good night sleep tonight.