Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Arrival at KAUST

The picturesque grand mosque
I am visiting King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, or commonly known as KAUST for two months. It was kind of them to receive the students and visitors (not just the professors and leaders) at the airport. I had someone from KAUST waiting for me to direct me towards the immigration (not that I am new to immigration, and honestly I would have done that myself without help. But the kind gesture matters). Then he also leads me towards the taxi driver, who was holding my name "Welcome Mr. Pradeeban Kathiravelu" in a big piece of paper.

The taxi driver, authorized by KAUST (only authorized taxies can enter the KAUST compound), was from Uttar Pradesh (UP), India. He asked me "Hindi Malum?" (Do you speak Hindi?). I said, "No, in Sri Lanka, only Sinhala and Tamil." He is a Muslim. Very pleasant guy. He also had a Sri Lankan friend (a Muslim from Colombo), who is also a driver. He called him on his mobile, and we talked in Tamil!

Finally, arrived in KAUST, got the temporary visitor ID at the visitor office, and then we entered the compound. The taxi took me to the SGA office where I signed the accommodation contract and got the key to my apartment. It was a huge apartment - all for me. A large living room with a TV, big kitchen with stove, oven, microwave, and fridge, a small storeroom, a little enclosed space for washing machine and dryer, a WC - all on the ground floor, together with a large balcony that connects to the street. In the first floor, I have the master bedroom with a balcony, a study room, and a WC+bathroom. My bedroom has two beds, though the apartment is just for me.

Sorry female persons!
KAUST town has many apartments split into three basically. Male only apartments for single males and males who cannot or did not bring their wife/family, female only apartments for the females in the same situation, family apartments for those who came with their spouse or family. It was interesting. KAUST has a cinema (which shows movies for 5 SAR, which is around 1.13 Euro), some mosques (one is the biggest mosque), and one big supermarket (Tamimi) and another Tamimi close to the campus. There are a few restaurants. The campus canteen food is pretty nice, and I like it. The budget option is 15 SAR. It is pretty decent (the main dish, salad, soup, dessert, and a drink). The meal is available for lunch and dinner, all seven days a week. We work from the lab all seven days. The weekend here is Friday and Saturday. However, since we collaborate with EU mostly, we have to work on Fridays for the meetings. That leaves us with Saturdays as the only free day. However, since nothing much to do for me (not to mistake - there are many activities - just I am not so into them as I am busy with my research), I like working from the lab every day. Even my lab friends do the same! 

In average I spend 32.5 SAR per day. That is 7.34 Euro. 15 SAR goes for lunch (fixed expense as I have my lunch in the canteen every day), and the remaining for dinner, breakfast, and other variable costs (such as fruits, tooth paste, etc). Apartment and transportation are free! Right now, the weather here right now is enjoyable. Just like in Colombo or Maldives.  I heard that I am just lucky that I arrived when the weather is not too hot. We also went for bird watching, which was quite fun (I have seen all those birds in Sri Lanka and elsewhere. but the experience of bird watching by the mangroves of the Red Sea was quite fun).

Coming from Europe, there was of course a significant cultural shock. If I came from Sri Lanka directly, probably the cultural shock would be smaller. I could also write a weekly blog post on my stay here as each week I was experiencing something new. I had the same feeling when I came to Portugal in 2012, and I had a habit of weekly blog post. Afterwards, I moved to many countries - Sweden, Croatia, USA, and Belgium. However, there was not much difference. Coming back to Asia had a drastic change. I am actually missing the west (Europe and the USA). 11 days out of my 58 days-long stay have already passed! Time is passing quick. Though I can write more about my experiences, time is quite limited. I might recall and blog more on my experience in December once I have returned to the EU.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Where the "textbook-marketers" went wrong

Repeating identical emails and mail even after unsubscribe
All over LinkedIn and Twitter, I hear how you should never give up as a sales/marketing person. Didn't you hear back from the first email? Do not give up. Send a follow-up email. Better, send a Twitter message. Send one more reminder next day. Keep posting. Someone was bragging in LinkedIn how their 11th email got a positive response. What is the morale of the story? Never give up. Wrong.

You guys spam everyone. Our attention span is limited, and mailboxes are flooded with messages. But when you decide to spam my university email with useless advertisements on a daily basis, that is not right. That just makes me lose trust (if I had any, previously) on you.

One example was a predatory book publishing company. They had the liberty to subscribe me to their mailing list around one month ago. After receiving 9 emails in ~30 days (they were the most frequent mail sender to my university email address last month), I finally unsubscribed yesterday from their mailing list that I never subscribed myself in the first place. I got the email "You are unsubscribed." Everything is fine now; right? No. I got another email (a regular daily one) from them reminding me that they are waiting for my response for one of their offer?!. So that is the 11th email. It seems I have no way out. Today morning I sent them a personalized email asking them to unsubscribe me. Also left them a twitter message. Let's see how long this spam game goes. (Update: They sent me a well-written email apologizing for this. I hope this is resolved. Let's see. :))

In short, if you are an entrepreneur and have an excellent idea, and decided to send me a message, that is fine. Don't send me 11 messages just because I may reply positively to your 12th message. Remember, we are spammed by millions of such offers every day. If I am interested in your offer, I would have replied to your first email itself. Also, given that my unsubscribe request and my personalized email to unsubscribe me from their list were ignored, I am not even sure whether they will take me seriously even if I send an email mentioning "I am interested." Maybe they will. They are programmed to read only positive emails, probably. Never mind. Now, let's get back to real work.

Friday, October 20, 2017

How to end up in everyone's spam folder

Many companies are apparently under the belief that they may purchase email addresses in bulk from those who cultivate a lot of addresses to resell (this may include your electricity company or insurance company). This is how I am signed up into weird mailing list without my consent. I have to each time manually sign out of each of these weird marketing lists. Every time I unsubscribe from these spam, I make sure to report it as Spam in Gmail filters. The Gmail God will eventually make sure to send email from these senders directly to spam folder, if everyone follows what I do. Please, if I want, I will subscribe myself to your email list. It was never helpful that you do this on behalf of me, without even asking me. 

Worse, many of these spammers do not even have an easy option to unsubscribe. The ideal example is Roomster. A scam room-sharing company which creates fake profiles with beautiful profile pictures, and then send you an email asking to share the room with you. The girl who wants to share her room with you may not even live in your continent. To reply (and in some cases, even to view) these messages, you need to pay some money (as high as 3 - 5$) or go for an even higher monthly subscription. Funny part is, if you want to unsubscribe from the mailing list of this scam company Roomster, first you need to log in to your Facebook and open your Roomster account (it will auto-create if it does not exist yet), to unsubscribe from the emails or to delete your account. It was so complex that I did not unsubscribe for a few months despite loothing this scam/spam web site. 

Remember kids, there are many reports that once they get hold of your credit card, they will charge you for 3 months or so, without you even asking. Stay away from Roomster. Thank me later.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Elegance of a full stop

So I am back to Louvain-la-Neuve once more. Ever since I left Belgium on the 22nd of August, I kept returning. First, on my way back home (Lisboa) from Munich, I had a transit in Brussels. I had some administrative things to do in Louvain-la-Neuve. I was contemplating whether I should just skip the second half of the trip and come to Louvain-la-Neuve from Brussels airport. However, since I had lots of luggage, I decided to continue the journey to Lisboa. Then I came to Brussels for the third time in a last minute flight that would cost me a lot. I thought I had finished my tasks, and returned in an equally expensive flight. However, I was wrong. I still had many more things left to do. I came back to Brussels the forth time! This time, it is colder - and it is autumn here now. Unlike in winter, the heater is still not on yet. Freezing in the apartment in the early morning. Autumn make you feel the end of life. I prefer a stable temperature - first summer, then stable winters with proper heating inside. Springs give hope - so I can accept them too!

This is not winter here yet. However, the temperature here now reaches the winter temperature of Lisboa. Also the feels-like temperature varies a lot too. In my lab, it feels colder than it is outside. I am not even sure how is it even possible.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Receiving the Books that I Reviewed!

This year has become the year that I have traveled most. Probably this will remain to be the year with most number of travels for quite some time for me. Sometimes it gets a bit too much with too many flights. Not to mention how expensive a flight can get when it is a last minute flight. All my one-way flights cost me almost 200 Euro (FAO/Faro/Portugal -> CRL/Chareloi/Belgium and BRU/Brussels/Belgium -> LIS/Lisboa/Portugal). My favorites are border crossings by land. Had one more chance to cross into the south of the Netherlands from Belgium. It was amazing.


Finally, returned to Portugal once more from Belgium. By this time, I also received my reviewer copies for the 2 books that I reviewed recently. These books discuss OpenDaylight. The last year of my PhD is going so eventful.