What’s up? Not much, but I’m always busy…

As the weekend arrives and brings with it some time to relax and unwind, I catch up with friends and family in India. More often than not I get the questions – “What’s up with you?  Where else did you travel recently? How’s the weather? Is it snowing yet?” My reply invariably goes like this – “Nothing much is happening here except for the weird weather but I’m always busy…” That answer is just a short version of “I’ve a lot going on here – but I can’t explain everything to you in less than 15 minutes and I don’t have 2 hours either. So this is it.” Let me expound on my reply- this 3rd quarter will define what I will be doing for the rest of my MSc program. So I have to choose my courses carefully and show my dedication, interest and enthusiasm even though I am completely lost. Moreover, this is also the time that job fairs are organised in campus. So I need to update my CV, get it analyzed by professionals and spam all the companies so that I can get a shot at an internship and/or an awesome thesis project. By the way the temperature decided to go sub-zero, which means all the water bodies in the open are getting frozen. Every time I go outside I feel ‘comfortably’ numb (did you get the connection? :P)

In this quarter we are supposed to work on projects for some courses. I am doing two such courses – Digital IC Design 2 (DIC2) and Analog CMOS Design 2 (ACD2). In DIC2 I (and my partner Amitabh) are creating a clock divider that divides the input clock by 6. We are building it from scratch which means we make all the components – from inverters to flip flops. There are some specifications that our design needs to meet in order to pass the final evaluation. We need to prepare the report and present it to our fellow students and the instructors. Since we are relatively new to the Cadence environment it takes quite some time to get it right. Thankfully we have two TAs to help us out in our design.

What I’m supposed to make

In  ACD2 I am designing a fully differential programmable-gain  amplifier (quite a mouthful, isn’t it?). The specifications are quite heavy, which are draining quite a lot of my time. I have to check out several research papers to find what other people did to achieve similar results. Basically I am trying to get ‘inspired’ (pun intended) from the works of experts in the field. Even for this course I need to write a report and present my design and results. Courses like these are challenging but also enjoyable, as we get a hands-on experience on designing stuff that are similar to what is done in the industry. We also learn to apply the theory we learned in the last quarter.

We recently had the DDB, which is the annual career event organised in campus. Many companies had put up stalls where we could talk about possible opportunities and other details of interest. They were handing out some awesome goodies too! I really like the petrol-carrier USB drive from BP. The companies also have in-house days in which we can visit the company-offices and workplaces and interact with the employees. This way we can get a feel of working there. This is an interesting and novel concept for me, as in India we generally don’t have visits to the workplace prior to the recruitment (at least not for freshers). In the event there are professionals who can analyse your CV and suggest improvements to make it more attractive and relevant to the recruiters. There is also a photographer who can snap your picture if you don’t have a good one to put on your CV.

Goodies from DDB

We also have the EEMCS Recruitment Days, similar to DDB but focused towards the Electrical, Applied Mathematics and Computer Science streams. We submitted our updated CVs to the companies we were interested in, and then the companies selected candidates who they wanted to interview. There are open-house days where interested students can go and chat with representatives from the companies as well!

Then again we have matchmaking events organised by some research labs in Microelectronics. We recently had one by the Electronic Instrumentation Lab in which they presented some of the proposed projects for the Microelectronics MSc students. We could then discuss about the projects with respective project leaders and have some pizza with them!

Everything’s frozen!

Meanwhile the temperature dipped well below zero, and all the water bodies in the open froze. The freezing was such that people could walk, skate and even bike on them! It was quite an entertaining and puzzling spectacle to see. Unfortunately the water in pipes froze as well, and the laundry room had to close down too.

I can so relate to this

So as you can see, I have a lot on my hands right now. Welcome to grad life…

Microelectronics @ Delft

As the new quarter starts everyone in campus heads back to the lecture halls. This also means we have to choose new courses again. Quite a few interesting courses have been added to the timetable for the microelectronics program in this quarter. I am finding it difficult to choose among them; they are all so good!

I will explain the structure of the Microelectronics program at TU Delft (for the analog design track). In quarter 1 we had to choose three courses from among seven courses on offer. I chose Measurement and Instrumentation (M&I), Structured Electronic Design (SED) and Advanced Computing Systems (ACS). Apart from these courses we were free to choose other courses as well. Since I am interested in the bioelectronics applications of electronics, I also opted for Anatomy and Physiology. M&I and SED are the basics for the microelectronics program and so they were the obvious choices. M&I deals with the various instrumentation techniques, some of which were developed here in the university itself. SED deals with the design of amplifiers using MOS transistors and the proper approach to the design process to make it first-time-right. ACS is a unique course in which I learned how to compute complex problems using GPUs and parallelize my code to make it more efficient on multi-core CPUs.

House Full! (in 3mE) Courtesy: twitter.com/@EEMCS_TUD

In quarter 2 we looked a bit deeper into the semiconductor devices and their applications in Semiconductor Device Physics (SDP) , Analog CMOS Design 1 (ACD1) , Digital IC Design 1 (DID1) and Sensors and Actuators (S&A). SDP helped us understand how the diodes and transistors (bipolar and MOSFET) work. In ACD1 we learned the various techniques to design a single stage amplifier. DID1 showed the various factors to be taken into account while designing any digital IC. Even though I had worked previously on digital design this course showed me a whole new perspective to the design discipline. S&A is an interesting course which showcases many sensing and actuating devices for a wide range of applications. The instructors gave live demonstrations of the devices which made the lectures all the more interesting.

A typical Sensors and Actuators lecture!

Now in quarter 3 we have several courses which deal extensively in the applications of semiconductor devices and their related design methods. In Nyquist Rate Data Converters we are studying the operation and design of Analog-to-Digital Converters (ADCs) and Digital-to-Analog Converters (DACs). In Introduction to Power Conversion Technologies we are studying the various circuit designs to transform power between AC-DC, DC-DC etc. In Analog CMOS Design 2 (second part of ACD1), we are studying about 2-stage amplifiers. The course is graded according to a project in which we design and submit an amplifier based on certain specifications. Similarly in Digital IC Design 2 we are required to design an optimised IC for a specific application. Themes in Biomedical Electronics is a course similar to Sensors and Actuators in which we look into various biomedical applications of electronics and the principles which are used to design and operate them. In Bioelectricity we are learning how the human body conducts electricity and how the nervous system operates as a circuit. It is quite an interesting course for an electronics engineer! Finally in Analog IC Design we are studying the techniques of designing ICs for specific analog operations. Apart from these courses we also have Advanced Microelectronics Packaging, VLSI Test Technology & Reliability, Microelectronics Reliability and Solid State Physics as well. I could have opted for these other courses too but I already have too many to handle.

the EWI building in all its glory

The structure of the microelectronics program is pretty balanced as it creates the basis on which the next courses are based. We are able to apply the knowledge from previous courses in the courses that we are following now. The courses I mentioned are the ones I followed or are relevant for me. Apart from these there are many other courses which are relevant for other tracks like quantum computing or RF. There are some mandatory courses as well such as Profile Orientation (Q1 and Q2) and System Engineering (Q3 and Q4). In Profile Orientation we had to write a literature survey and present on a technical topic as a group. These activities helped us learn about our mistakes and how to correct them. In System Engineering we are learning about the process, conditions and norms for product design. In the next quarter we will work in teams to design and present our product.

The coursework for Microelectronics is heavy and tough. It demands a lot of time and effort. But it rewards equally well. I have learnt quite a lot in these last two quarters. I look forward to the coming quarters when I will start working on my thesis project!

Exam Week Blues

The last two weeks were quite hectic and stressful for almost everyone on campus. Obviously, I am talking about the assessments that we had to attempt for our courses. I had to prepare for five assessments and I had four in this week itself! Luckily, I had started preparing a bit early. So I could be ready for all of them.

As the exam weeks approach, the campus becomes quieter and a lot less crowded. The crowd flocks to the library instead to hit the books and their notes. It becomes increasingly difficult to find a space even on the higher levels of the cone. But thankfully there are several other study spaces around campus made available specifically for this duration. The library hours are extended to 2 am as well, for all the owls who prefer the dark. The library staff do a commendable job to maintain the peace and quiet that everyone needs in the stressful time.

The cone @ Library. Picture Credits: Greenroofs.com

Every course has its own assessment method and so preparing for every course needs a different approach. For most of my courses I had to submit assignments that  contributed to about 30% of the final grade of the course. The assignments were quite helpful as I had to constantly update myself with the progress of the course rather than push everything till the exam time. Back home it was quite different. We used to study only during the exam time as we had no assignments to submit. That increased the stress during preparation as we had to start from scratch. Some of the assignments here were quite challenging which required more than one head working together to find the solution. It was fun doing the assignments together with my friends.

For some courses we could even choose the method of assessment. For the course ‘Sensors and Actuators’ taught by Prof. Paddy French we could choose between writing an essay, give an oral exam or a written exam. We could also apply for a resit in the next quarter if we didn’t do well in the exam. So there are several options to apply and improve.

Recorded Lectures on Collegerama

During preparation I had some good aids in the form of question papers and answers from previous years which were provided by the instructors on brightspace. They gave me a good idea about the level of understanding and preparation required for the exam. Many of the lectures are recorded and are available on collegerama. So I could watch some of the lectures that I had missed this quarter. These tools were quite helpful to prepare for the exams.

Now that the exams are over and it is spring break I have a week ahead to relax and work on my essay for the Sensors and Actuators course. Till next time!

Chilling Into 2018

Yes, we were literally chilling our way into the new year. The location could not have been any better though. We were jostling among the milling crowd in front of the beautiful City Hall of Vienna. The fireworks were a bit of a damper but the view was amazing. What made it even more special was that Vienna was just a one-day stop for us.

Rathaus (Vienna City Hall) PC: Nimit Kothari

A group of people (including me) recently went on a week-long trip to the gorgeous cities of Prague, Vienna and Budapest. It was planned meticulously months ahead but even then we were clueless about what to actually do when we reached there. We followed the popular travel-blogs and made up a check-list of the sights we wanted to cover. And then we went about doing just that. I will try to explain everything concisely though. I could write a whole journal paper on this trip, but I need to sleep as well.

Our trip started with a train to Eindhoven from where we flew to Prague. We were welcomed with an unbearably cold weather. That didn’t deter us however from venturing out to the marvelous St. Vitus Cathedral and Prague Castle. After crossing the historic and unusual Charles Bridge we entered the tightly-packed Old Town and treated ourselves to some delicious trdelnik and hot chocolate. In the old town and on Charles Bridge we found street performers playing tunes, making live portraits and levitating in mid-air. We visited the Lennon Wall, the Kafka Museum, the astronomical tower and many other monuments I don’t remember clearly now. But I was mesmerized by the Kafka monument. I would definitely mark it as the highlight of Prague. I thanked myself for taking the proper accessories to insulate myself from the cold. I had to look for coffee every few hours just to get some warmth.

Prague Castle (as seen from Charles Bridge)

View of old town from Prague Castle

We headed next to Vienna on a bus. We were relieved by the relatively better weather in Vienna. The city center was packed with tourists and locals getting ready to welcome the new year. Stephansplatz was the epicenter of all the celebrations in the city. Like in Delft, the market area was lighted up and decorated. I met an Afghani waiter at a stall who recognised my origin and was happy to take my order in Hindi. Among the churches I liked St. Peter’s Catholic Church the most. It’s as simple on the outside as it is gorgeous on the inside. The interior is an exquisitely crafted wonder. As the time neared the end of the year we headed towards Hofburg palace and at one spot we could see the Hofburg Palace, the Parliament, the Museum of Natural History and Rathaus (City Hall of Vienna). We went along with the crowd towards Rathaus where we counted down the seconds to the new year and greeted each other. It took a good deal of walking to reach a station where we could get back to our hostel, since everyone was trying to get back home at the same time. After a good night’s rest we paid a visit to Danube tower which was well worth the money and the time. The whole of Vienna was visible from atop the tower. It was quite windy though, strong enough to make us scurry back inside.

Stephansplatz (Vienna)

Atop Danube Tower, Vienna

Later that evening we took another bus to Budapest. But after reaching the address of our pre-booked hostel in Budapest we found out that it didn’t even exist. Even the local shopkeepers had never heard of the hostel. But luckily, after some searching we were able to book an apartment for the whole group. We also found an Indian restaurant (Kashmir Restaurant) run by some people of Pakistani origin. I had some chicken biryani there (for the first time in about 5 months) but it felt like ages. The next day we went to St. Stephen’s Basilica, Buda Castle, Széchenyi chain bridge, Matthias Church, Fisherman’s Bastion and Margaret Bridge. From atop the hill of Buda Castle we got a really pretty sight of Pest. The Hungarian Parliament was quite a sight at night from Margaret Bridge as well. Later in the night we visited Szimpla Kert, one of the most popular ruin pubs in the city. As soon as we entered it felt as if we had come into another planet entirely. The atmosphere inside was eerie but welcoming. I would definitely recommend a visit. The next day we took a nice long hot bath in the pool of Széchenyi thermal baths. It was refreshing and much needed after all the walking we had done. We missed some spots in Budapest owing the rains and fatigue. So we promised to ourselves to visit Budapest again!

Szechenyi Chain Bridge (from Buda Castle)

The trip was exhausting but it gave us plenty of good memories. We headed back to a new year, tired but happy and ready to blend back into our schedule of classes and assignments. I learned a few lessons such as not to take heavy boots on long trips and to always check properly before booking hostels. We grew closer as a group and made quite a few inside jokes. Ironically though, we never failed to find a place to chill.

The whole gang (I am taking the selfie)

 

And Then There Was Snow

It was almost as if God read my last post and decided to grant my wish. It snowed for two days here in Delft. It was not just a few flecks here and there that would melt in mere minutes. It was a proper snowfall; thick and dense enough to make snowballs and huge snowmen. People even brought sleds and slid down the library roof until it was deemed dangerous to do so. Since it was my first snowfall, I didn’t waste any time indoors. After putting on enough layers and ensuring I am insulated enough, I trudged through the 4-inch thick snow to the library and did what most people do with snow – make snowballs and throw them at friends. Eventually we did make a proper snowman after learning a few tricks from a friendly Scandinavian guy.

The Library under snow

On the library roof and Aula up ahead

Snowed Bikes

I have grown familiar to the TU Delft campus. The green lawns, the buildings with their specific colours and the immobile trees have become etched into my memory. But with the snow everything looked different and new. It looked like a white city where everything except for the people was white. It was kind of mesmerising too. Even the bicycles parked outside had at least two inches of snow on top of them. It was a completely new and exhilarating experience for me, since I had never seen this much snow or an actual snowfall before.

A white city

Stieltjesweg (my current abode)

EWI in Snow

It did affect the transportation services for a bit. But pretty soon vehicles appeared on the roads to clear the snow and make way for the traffic. A red alert was announced due to heavy snowing and commuters were warned about the possible delays in transportation services due to the weather. It is one of the good things I found in the Netherlands. The services here are active and dynamic enough to take such situations into account and efficiently implement a well-thought contingency plan. It wasn’t much of a hassle for me since I already live on campus. But my friends had some trouble biking through the slippery snow.

Christmas tree on the library cone

After two days it stopped snowing but then the rains came back, the typical Dutch affair. I will definitely remember my first snowfall experience. Now that christmas is nearby everyone is gearing up and making plans for the vacations. I too have made some plans with my friends. More on that in the next post! 😉

It’s Raining Cats and Dogs!

No, not literally cats and dogs. But it does rain quite a lot here in the Netherlands. Though the frequency and intensity of the rain here matches that of Pune, the icy cold winds here are the real deal. The rain is frequent, unpredictable and comes in short bursts, very much like the rains in Pune. But unlike Pune, the winds here are strong and cold enough to instill a dread. There is no well-defined monsoon either. It rains almost throughout the year, and the most during August-October. Seeing this weather I was reminded of the poem-

“Rain, rain,
go to Spain.
Never, never,
come back again.”

Perhaps the Dutch came up with that one!?

As long as I am inside a building somewhere, I feel snug and warm. But as soon as I step out, my fingers and face go numb in the cold. I know, there are ways to protect my precious body parts. I have bought all the required paraphernalia from the local stores to insulate myself. I am amazed however to see many Dutch people go about as if everything is normal. So I have decided to learn and adapt to the weather. I am kind of enjoying it though. Here it is quite the opposite of the heat and humidity of Bhubaneswar, my hometown (and the city of temples). Temperatures now hover around 8 degrees Celsius and sometimes dip to about 2 degrees Celsius. But thanks to the heater in my room I don’t feel any of these variations. Moreover, thanks to apps like Buienradar and Google Weather, I can track the movement of the clouds and plan accordingly. I honestly never felt the need for weather apps before coming here!

I found this video below funny and quite informative about the weather in the Netherlands.

Another variation I noticed here is that the time of sunrise and sunset is quite different from what we usually observe in India. When I arrived here (in August) the sun usually set around 10 pm, which was really strange for most of us Indians. We are not used to seeing the sun after 7 pm (at the most). Eventually the day-time shortened as the summer passed by. Now the sun sets at about 5 pm which is the normal time for us. But the sun doesn’t rise until 8 in the morning! Since my classes start at 8:45 I have to wake up even when the sky is still dark.

It rarely ever snows here in Delft, as per the statistics. But I have my fingers crossed to see the first snowfall of my life! Now let me get back to my heap  of assignments with a hot cup of coffee.

A Bike Is All You Need

That’s right. If you join TU Delft, you will need a bike for sure. Be it for exploring the beautiful town that is Delft to buying your weekly groceries, you will definitely need a bike. I learnt it the hard way when I had to walk for miles just to get some breakfast cereal (one of the perks of living in-campus, but that’s for another post). I missed my Honda Unicorn that day the most! I bought a bike promptly and joined the hundreds of cyclists plying around Delft. I felt like a true citizen of Delft that day too. I have roamed around several places including Rotterdam and the Hague on my bike and I am proud of how environment-friendly I have become.

I recommend getting a bike because it’s cheaper and greener than public transport (in the long run), and just more convenient. You won’t have to worry too much about buying a bike though. There are a range of options to fetch a trendy bicycle for yourself. During the Introduction Programme there are ‘Student Bike Sales’ when students sell their bikes at a decent price. You can get a good bike for about a hundred bucks (that’s Euros I am referring to). If you are lucky you can also get a good bargain in the sale. But do remember to get a receipt from the seller and register the bike on the online database, for your own reference. Bikes are the most stolen item in Netherlands. So buy a good lock for the bike as well. You can also buy second-hand bikes from the ‘Student Bike’ store in Delft city-center. They sell properly serviced bikes at a decent price and also offer reduced servicing rates for their customers. If you are not too keen on buying a second-hand bike you can always get a new bike from one of the numerous bike stores across Delft or from the Decathlon stores in Rotterdam or Hague. A new bike might be costly but it is a worthy investment for sure.

If you are worried about buying all kinds of tools to maintain your bike, then don’t be. All the tools you need are available in the stand in front of Aula (that’s the conference center). You can also top up your tyre pressure with the air pump in the basement Applied Sciences (TN) building. The best part? All these are available for free! I recently saved some bucks by replacing a punctured tube by myself using these tools.

After you have bought your bike you can travel far and wide on the well-maintained bicycle lanes spread throughout Netherlands (I believe). I haven’t scoured every square-inch of the country (yet) but I am sure I would find a bicycle-track almost everywhere. So I don’t have to constantly worry about being run over by motorized vehicles. Even if some roads don’t have bicycle lanes, cyclists are still allowed. The drivers here are really nice to bikers too. These bicycle tracks have taken me to some amazingly beautiful places around Delft. That’s one of my usual pastimes here which I plan to continue as long as weather permits. Stay tuned for more updates!