Monday, September 16, 2013

One month in Stockholm - Pleasant and unpleasant surprises..

Kungliga Tekniska Högskolan
[16/09/2013] It is one month, since I reached Stockholm. The day time of Stockholm shrinks pretty fast - 5 to 6 minutes per day. When we came here, the Sun used to set around 9 pm and the sun light was visible till the 9.30 pm, from as early as 5 a.m. Now it seems like 6.30 a.m to 7 p.m. Autumn is here already; it keeps raining. [Sweden Weather]

Cultural Shock, again?
When I was in Sri Lanka, I used to think that all the Europe is same. But living in Sweden shows that it is not the case. Coming from Portugal, I was able to see some differences. Some pleasant and some not-so-pleasant surprises. 

I am listing down some of my unexpected observations in Sweden. Some of these are probably just because of the higher expectations.

1. Friendly People
Just like in Porto and Lisbon, I was able to meet friendly strangers here in Stockholm, who were willing to take some effort to provide with some help, finding the way to the metro station, or helping me understand something written in Swedish.

Recycling is a serious business in Sweden. You can return the plastic or glass bottles, and beer cans and receive 1 - 4 SEK coupons from the super markets. One day, I was on the metro, and a lady who looked like a gypsy came and sat next to me, with a huge garbage bag. Eventually, I realized that the bag indeed contained garbage, from the foul smell. I had to wait a few more stations for someone from the seat in the other side to get up, before switching the seat, not making it obvious, as I didn't want to offend her. She had collected lots of bottles, tins, and cans from the trash bins of the streets or super markets, so that she can probably have dinner that night, by submitting them. After that incident, I also noticed many people doing the same - putting their hands into the trash bin. Probably, they are homeless or asylum seekers from other countries. Still, it looked a bit weird.

After having a coca-cola, we throw the bottle into the bin - and someone collect it to receive some coins. Effectively, everyone is happy. Empty trash bins.

Woods of Vidja
3. Forests
I never thought I would be able to see thick forests inside the Stockholm city limits. As I walked, I noticed a deer in the woods one day.

4. More openness
Even with my limited exposure to Swedish, I was able to see the cultural differences. Compared to Sweden, I can say that Portugal is much more conservative.

5. Dirt
Probably, this won't make much sense. May be, this is because of the high expectations - I found Stockholm having more dirt on the metro stations and was a bit shocked. This may be due to the utopian depiction of Scandinavian countries we were given in the southern Europe.

6. Crowds
In real life, Stockholm metro stations didn't seem as stunning as portrayed in, "Stunning underground art In Stockholm’s metro station". Mixture of both slowly moving people and people rushing to catch the metro and altogether the presence of an unorganized crowd in the metro stations make it almost impossible to enjoy the metro art. The extremely long walk imposed by the long metro stations is not really fun, when you have to run to catch the metro before you miss it, as the next one would take 10 minutes to come, unless for the cities in the center, which can be reached by multiple lines including all the red and green lines.

7. Public Transport
Buses are not that frequent when we go farther from the downtown. For example, a bus leaves from Farsta to Vidja only once an hour, and seems to be the only option of public transport that connects these two places. Probably people in Stockholm do not use the public transport much, unlike in our countries. I should not forget the infrequent buses to Taguspark in Portugal, which is worse. It is possible to buy the bus ticket using your mobile phone. But it is impossible to buy the tickets from the driver, on board. That means, you should always have your ticket before you board on the bus.

8. Multi-cultural/Cosmopolitan City
It was not that easy for me to find another Sri Lankan in Lisbon. But I was able to see plenty of them in the God Ganesh temple run by Sri Lankans. I was also able to see a huge number of Chinese and Indians. Not to forget the instructions in Chinese Language in Arlanda Airport. I was also able to meet many international students in the student apartment. KTH surely welcomes foreign students.

KTH Royal Institute of Technology
Our courses began on the 2nd of September, and we have already completed two weeks of our courses.  The first 3 out of the 4 courses have already begun, and the last one begins at the end of September, mostly covered in the period 2. We have the below courses for the semester - IC2002 Philosophy of Science, ID2220 Advanced Topics in Distributed Computing, ID2219 Implementation of Scalable Distributed Systems, and LS2306 Scientific Writing and Communication.

We have received the project and the assignment descriptions to do for the semester, and we are getting busier with our studies. Right now, busy reading the book, "Philosophy of Science: The Central Issues" of Curd & Cover.

Sunday, September 15, 2013, the online version of the PrepKit - Worth buying?

Update as of 2024 February: uCertify is pushing for spam and follows predatory practices, it was brought to my attention. They also aggressively spam faculty to purchase their services, by calling the faculty on a daily basis, despite being asked to stop and having registered in the "Do not call list" registry. Please be careful when purchasing their services. The review below is outdated and was from 2013. Take caution if you plan to use them. I would advise against using them, given their current predatory practices.

I haven't reviewed any site or service for a long time, after my blog post "Is a complete scam, or a partial scam?," which became quite popular because of the back links it got from multiple users of the site. I was recently approached by uCertify to provide a neutral review on their online platform. Since this is related to my blog, I decided to review their platform. I was given access to CompTIA (Computing Technology Industry Association)'s CLO-001 Cloud Essentials PrepKit (Preparation Kit), for this review. This review is neutral and unbiased, and is solely based on my personal opinion and observation. Feel free to drop a line or comment, if you have something to add to this post.

The course material as well as its online platform seem pretty good in the way they are organized. I have no intention to sit for the CompTIA exam. However, since I am experienced in Cloud Computing for more than 3 years, I was able to scan through the course material pretty easily, over the weekend.

I like their promise of 100% money-back guarantee, if you didn't pass your exam in your first attempt. This is surely ahead of what their competitors have to offer, at least among the sites I have compared with. I read some negative remarks on PissedConsumer, on the refund. However, I can not say much regarding the users' subjective opinions, as I have never tried myself to refund to have my own.

Study Planner, showing the progress online service provides a solution for those who had issues with having uCertify software installed in their computer, probably because of their operating system being incompatible. interface works smoothly with Windows, Linux, and even on the mobile interfaces. Coming back to review the site, from the beginning, the interface of (from here onwards, I will use uCertify to refer to, and 'product' instead of 'site', as I presume both have similar interface and quality), will surely impress you.

You can set your start day and the target day (probably the day of your examination or a few days ahead of that) in the StudyPlanner. Study Planner offers a one-stop view of your progress, and access to all the course material from the single page, also letting you share the pages and progress via social networks, socializing the study progress.

"Pre-Assessment" section provides a quick start and lets you know your position before you begin the course material. If you are an expert in the domain, this can help you move quickly in the preparation, or otherwise helps you have a realistic time line regarding the finishing date of the course (or the day of examination).

All the assessments (Pre-Assessment, Practice Tests, Post-Assessment, exercises, and quizzes) come in three modes, Test, Learn, and Review. "Test" comes in the format of the regular exams, where you provide the answers, finish/end the exam, and receive your score. "Learn" is where you can either skip or attempt the question, and see the answer immediately. "Review" mode comes with both the question and answer, hence not letting you attempt the question at all. "Learn" mode appears to be a hybrid of "Test" and "Review", and I prefer the "Learn" mode much more than the review mode. Number of items and the time of the test can be configured.

"Chapters and Lessons" is the course material, similar to an e-book, which lets you learn or revise. I would probably not recommend learning through this as the sole mean to learn the technology - cloud computing, in this case. This can just be considered a supplementary material, along with your regular text and hands-on practices, at least, if you are focusing more than just a mere certification. You can start the reading from where you stopped last time, or from the last page you read so far, which is pretty useful in bookmarking.

"Exercises, flash cards & quizzes" is the section that I found most impressive. These are organized into the 12 chapters, following the same structure of the "Chapters and Lessons" section. There are 190 flash cards, following the material provided in the chapters and lessons. Quizzes and Exercises follow the same format, where "quizzes" should be attempted first as they test the fundamental aspects, where "exercises" evaluate the understanding of more complex material.

"Practice Tests" contains 200 questions, as 4 sets of 50 questions. I would prefer more questions and coverage in this section. "Post-Assessment" is similar to the section "Pre-Assessment". The difference is, you are supposed to attempt to this, only when you are done with the previous sections, and consider yourself ready for the exam, with at least 90% score in the practice questions.

"Glossary" comes with a list of the terms related to the course. However, I am not impressed at all, with this section. For me, it lacks considerable terminology, and also poorly organized, than a mere bulky page of plain text, almost. No links, internal, external, whatsoever. I presume, this section is a later addition and still needs improvement.

Interestingly, you may also get a certificate of completion, when your readiness is at least 90%. Though this doesn't provide any real value as your "real" CompTIA certificate, this probably is yet another interesting feature of the service.

All the best for your examination preparations!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Stockholm - Weeks 1 & 2

[02/09/2013] Probably because it is the late summer, the rainy days are getting frequent here. However, we are still able to enjoy the sun shine and the long days. We had the EMDC Summer event at Fejan from the 20th - 22nd of August, which was a remarkable event, following the EMDC Winter Event we had last semester at Nuria.

Stockholm is full of water - lakes and islands. I didn't expect it to be a Venice of the north. Literally you can travel around the city with a small boat, kayaking. I visited the old town at Gamla Stan, the woods of Vidja, long walk by Långholmen island.

We had a welcome reception at the city hall, with the KTH President. He addressed the new students at the hall where the Nobel Prizes are awarded. Within the few days, we also have made friends with lots of people. 

Everything is pretty much expensive here, and to manage with the same amount of scholarship, we have to be really careful with what we spend. I also feel missing Lisbon and its hot summers. However, I hope the stay at Stockholm will be as interesting as Lisbon.

The road to Stockholm..

Leaving Sri Lanka for my second year of studies at KTH, I realized, how the time flew fast. On the 16th of August 2013, I reached Stockholm. This was after a break of 1.5 months in Sri Lanka for the summer. I had some Euros with me, which I wanted to convert to SEK, when I reached the Arlanda Airport North (ARN).

I am staying at Kista student apartments, which is on top of the Kista Galleria, close to KTH Kista campus, where we will have most of our lectures. Unlike Lisbon, reaching our apartments or the city centre from the Arlanda Airport is not that economical. Taxi is pretty much expensive. First I bought the SL travel card for 20 SEK, which also costs 790 SEK per month for the monthly allowance, without the student card (they didn't accept the Portuguese Student card, and they require a Swedish card, where we are yet to receive our KTH Student card).

Airport Express and Coaches
I have tried multiple travel options to reach the airport, and reach the apartment from the airport, during my stay in Stockholm for the past few days. First I used the airport coach Flygbussarana, which accepted my Portuguese Student card and gave me the student discount. So this was an economic option, as I was able to reach the central metro/train station in 50 minutes for 79 SEK (When I checked again in the October, I was told that the student discount is no more offered to the airport shuttles even with the Swedish student card. So I had to pay 99 SEK.). These tickets can easily be bought from both the airport and the T-Centralen central metro station from the airport shuttle ticket machine.
From the T-Centralen, the central metro station, I took the metro blue line leading towards Akalla, and got off at Kista. Similarly I tried the airport express train to go to the airport on the 23rd of August, from the central station. They didn't accept my Portuguese student card as an international student card. So I had to pay 260 SEK, which is pretty expensive. With the KTH student card (or any other international student card that is in the acceptable format - that is, a smart student card. :D), you will receive a 50% discount on the fare. This is the fastest option, as it lets you reach the Arlanda North (ARN) station in 20 minutes. ARN consists of the terminal 5 International Terminal, and Arlanda South (ARS) consists of the other terminals.

There is also another airport coach from Flygbussarana that goes directly from Arlanda Airport to Kista/Sundbyberg/Bromma Airport. You can get down at Jan Stenbecks torg bus stop and walk towards the Kista apartments. I have never tried this option myself - somehow missed it. (Thanks Shelan for the update. :) )

Public Transport
It is also possible to use the public transport to Kista from the airport, which I tried on my way back to the apartment on the 27th of August. With the SL card, this will be free, as we are using  the public transports. Just go to the bus terminal 15 at the airport, and go to Märsta station by the bus number 583 that operates between Märsta station and Halmsjön. At Märsta station you can take the commuter train to Helenelund, and from there Kista is in a walking distance, and can also be reached by the bus 523 or 603.

Student status letter, indicating I have been admitted to a Swedish University and Insurance Document were sent by the university, as early as the mid of March. We also received the student agreement, stating that we will receive the scholarship to cover our expenses in Sweden. Information regarding the Swedish residence permit is found at the EMDC website.

Residence Permit
We applied for Swedish residence permit online from Lisbon in March itself. Since we already have the visa to enter Schengen region, we didn't have to provide our biometric data (finger prints and the photograph) from Lisbon or from our home country (Since Sri Lanka doesn't have a Swedish Embassy, I would have to go to New Delhi for this, otherwise). Rather, we provided them once we reached Stockholm. The residence permit to be sent to our address in Stockholm.

Migration Board
Reaching the migration board is pretty easy, from the central station T-Centralen. Just take the commuter train to Solna. However, as we are staying in Kista, we rather took the metro to Solna Centrum, and then bus 502 that leads towards Ulriksdals Station and get off at Pyramidvagen. Appointment should be made prior online, for the biometrics data, and it takes just 5 minutes. Once you have booked the appointment, it is easy to cancel or change the appointment to another date or time.

Receiving Letters
Make sure to check your names in the post boxes when you reach Kista Galleria apartments. If your name is not posted on the right post box, they will return the letter, even if the address is entered right in the post. That also means, if you want to receive a letter for someone else, they must put your name as c/o. My first receipt for the rent payments returned, as my name was not posted correctly on the postbox. So I had to ask the KTH student apartments to resend it after posting my name in the appropriate post box.

Weekly Posts
As I did from Lisbon, I hope to keep the blog updated with the information on my stay at Stockholm. This post comes with the information specific to how I reached my apartment from the airport and applied to the Swedish visa, where the "weekly posts" will follow up in the other posts. You may also like to read "The road to Lisbon", which discusses the visa application process to Lisbon.