Saturday, April 25, 2015

Walking Around in the City and History - My Second and Third Week in Cambridge

Three  weeks passed, I bought the bike, got the simcard, opened a bank account, received my first month salary, even did a business trip to meet UCL folks in London. I think I really settled down into Cambridge. Except occasionally, I applied very bad Scandinavian humour untimely. I think I am getting more and more familiar with every thing here, even with that peculiar accent.

Beside always being overwhelmed with research work, I finished a very thick book on British history. The book is in Chinese, almost 400 pages and covers the history from 6000 BC to 2000 AD. Due to this large time span, the book cannot really dig into details. Luckily, the author is a very good storyteller. Instead of stating "cold" fact, she narrated a lively and coherent story. It is quite funny that history used to be the subject I hated most when I was in the middle school and high school. I remember clearly I complained to my mom every day that when I had to remember so many names and why we had such a long history. However, things started changing as I am getting older. I realised you simply cannot get rid of history, and history itself, always repeats itself. I sometimes made fun of myself in front of my colleagues -- "Well, you know, maybe it is because I am becoming part of the history now ... fading away ...."

Except the Friday's happy hour (which is a long tradition in the Computer Laboratory in Cambridge University) when I usually go and grab a pint, I did not really visit pubs or bars. But I did visited Fitzwilliam museum and King's College and its famous Chapel. Recall that I have told you the importance of your university card in my previous post. Because of the card, I am not only able to visit the place for free but also can take two guest free of charge. Lovely!

Fitzwilliam museum and a corner in King's college.

Magnificent view of the King's College and its famous Chapel.

People are punting on the famous river Cam in such a lovely weather.

I certainly have to mention my first visit to the Cambridge University Library. In total, the Cambridge University has over one hundred library and every faculty may also have its own library. The main university library is very close to the lab, less than five minutes bike ride. To get into the library, you need a university card. I think the public can also get in as long as they apply the card from the registration office. I was completely impressed by the historical atmosphere at the moment when I set my foot in the hall. Such a sharp and strong contrast to the Kaisa library and Kumpula library which are the exemplars of the modernism and functionalism in Scandinavian design.

Cambridge University main library, feels like in Harry Potter movie.

Last thing, a side note, the water in Cambridge is really really hard. The moment I opened the kettle lid in the kitchen, I was impressed again, like I was impressed before by the library. I made fun of my British colleagues - "Are you growing (sea) fish in the kettle, this definitely looks like coral ...." However, I have been drinking it anyway since all others are drinking it. You know, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do".

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Settling Down into Cambridge

During these four years struggling with my PhD research, I had always been planning that I would take a long holiday after I got my PhD hat. A at least 3-month holiday, without doing anything just keeping my brain blank and relaxed, or maybe travelling around Europe. But life always surprises you. After I passed my PhD defence, I got only about one-week break, then hastily moved to Cambridge, UK to start my postdoc research in the Computer Laboratory.

Finding an accommodation is Cambridge is not difficult, but finding a good one with reasonable price is quite tricky. Eventually, I got a bedroom in a family and the rent costs me about 550 EUR per month. The downside of living with a family is obvious -- privacy. Since I am not social and life is rather simple (maybe even a bit tedious and boring), so privacy is not really a problem for me. On the other hand, the advantage of living with a family is also significant, you always have someone to ask and it is faster to get familiar with the local society. My host family, Mr and Mrs Kell, are typical middle class,  gentle and kind. Mr. Kell gave me a lift when I first arrived in Cambridge, and even kindly invited me to their Easter dinner.

First week is always difficult. I was totally overwhelmed with all kinds of administrative and work-related stuff. Though the HR office in Computer Laboratory did a great job in assisting me to settling down, there were still a lot of things that had not been written on the instruction but required me to handle. In the following, I will list some important things you might want to know before moving here, so that your migration will be much more smooth than mine.


Cambridge is not big at all, especially the university area. In fact, you can just go everywhere on foot if you do not mind 30- to 40-minute walking. Walking is definitely OK in the first couple of days. But eventually, you will need a bike. There are many bikers in the city, but some roads do not really have a 'well-defined' bike lane. So you need be very careful especially before you get familiar with the town. My landlord told me local driver did not really like bikers. For the bike, I got mine from a shop in King's street, 135 pounds with three-month guarantee. It is second-hand but seems in a good condition. Later, I noticed you could also get pretty good and cheap ones on Amazon UK.

Bank Account

If you come to Cambridge to work as me, a bank account is definitely the first thing you want to have. The university needs your bank account number in order to give you salary. I almost missed the deadline of my first month payroll. In order to open an account, you need to have a current living address in UK, the department will issue another document including your current address and the information showing you work for the university. Besides, it is better to have a UK phone number. Which bank to choose? They are more or less the same. I chose the one recommended by both my landlord and the department -- Barclays.

National Insurance Number

You need to apply for a national insurance number if you want to use the local health service. First, you need call the centre to have a short interview, then they will send a paper application via plain mail. You can find the their phone number [here]. Remember you definitely need a UK phone number before calling them, since they require that in the registration. The paper application form will arrive within 10 working days, fill the form then send it back. There is a pre-paid envelop in the application package, so you don't have to pay. This part is pretty easy.

UK Mobile Phone Number

This part really depends on what kind of user you are. If you are not an active user, you can just order Pay as You Go which does not have any monthly fee. For myself, I am a heavy Internet user. So I chose to use giffgaff which is considered as cheap solution in UK. Of course, BT is also good in the sense they really have a lot of wifi hotspot in the city. You can always use BT's free-wifi if you are their subscriber. In general, the price is not very expensive, but it is definitely cheaper in Finland. :)

University Card

You will get the card from the HR, so you don't need to do anything except emailing them a nice photo of you before coming here. Note that this is not just a card to let you open the door, you will realise how useful it is in the future. As my landlord told me, Cambridge university is (arguably) the most powerful and influential entity in this town. ;-)

Then What Now?

Well, it totally depends on you now. For me, I will focus on my work, do interesting research and enjoy the life in the No.1 European university. :)

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Book Review of "Apache Hive Essentials"

I am currently reviewing the book "Apache Hive Essentials" published by PACKT. PACKT is a pretty young publishing company based in Birmingham, UK. The company has a very interesting and agile publishing model called Print on Demand.

Given the hyped data science and big data framework buzzwords, the topic this book covers is definitely relevant and important to big data practitioners. The author appears to have a long and solid experience in the industry which gave him much practical knowledge on the subject. Having quickly skimmed through the book, my first impression is the book has a broad coverage of Apache Hive, ranging from the basic setup to security, data manipulation and the detailed explanation on the grammar, complemented with relatively straightforward examples.

My current feeling is, as a thin book of 200 pages, it did quite a decent job. Of course, I will read the book more carefully later this month then post a more detailed a review on my blog.