It was seven years ago when sitting on my computer in New Delhi I was trying to decide whether I wanted to go for my Master’s to a University in Copenhagen, Zurich, Stockholm, Paris, …. . Of course the rankings mattered, the scholarships mattered but also my fear of the unknown mattered. Here I was in India having never ventured out of the country trying to decide where to spend the next two years of my life.
And this is where I came across the blog of a student (which I cannot dig up despite trying for 5 long minutes) who used to narrate her experiences in Copenhagen infrequently. While there was no dearth of organized blogging advertising for Copenhagen, the self-motivated nature of the blog was endearing and real. It was my first connect with the city which I was going to call home for the next six years of my life. It was my first brush with Danish naivete, Danish hygge, the student life, the parks, the sea, the weather. It was my first date with Denmark from the eyes of another narrator.
The student blog was hosted on a blogging infrastructure which was part of an initiative from the Humanities department at the University of Copenhagen called KU student blogs which used to be hosted here (the link might be broken now). This service encouraged students to create a blog and to write what their heart desired. One of the best features was the blog feed so you could read in one place all the content from different KU blogs. It was a great window into the lives of other people without all the glam of social media. It was great for old-school, boring people like me. I blogged here (maybe a broken link) for five long years infrequently which kept the world was sane.
And then the storm clouds gathered. The KU student blogs became a platform to allow KU affiliated individuals to create websites and it was not a purely student blogging infrastructure anymore. It became a website creation tool which meant the feed feature was not desirable since depending on the reader, the feed contained a lot of uninteresting information. At this point the feed was taken off and KU blogs was rebranded as KU sites. While I have nothing against website creation infrastructure, better thought could have been given to its management to keep the student blogging feeds intact.
Since the blog feed feature was gone and KU site service was hosted using WordPress and I already had a free account on wordpress.com, I moved all my content to it. KU blogs also had a questionable security policy in its integration with the KU one identity authentication systems. The KU blog password was a special rewrite of the KU password (I am not going to detail it here) to account for incompatible password policies across systems which hastened my decision to move.
Overall, a dedicated student blog system with a blog feed feature to read about student experiences is an invaluable tool both for local and international students. Its something worth preserving and I wish it had been so. Thank you KU blogs for all the initiative and the help and for encouraging me to come and live in Denmark. Hopefully, you revive the initiative again.
Entering grad school can be one of the most daunting steps. It’s almost like discovering that you are a Jedi but you don’t know how to become a Jedi master and you need to be trained for it. There are a lot of common questions and there is a lot of shared understanding of what goes on but it’s not well articulated. This is where I find the following blog to be invaluable
If you are a computer science enthusiast (undergraduate,postgraduate or in grad school), you might find his writings extremely invaluable. Even if you are not a computer science enthusiast but belong to an academic setting, the articles can be invaluable.
Invaluable advice your way
It was a cold January morning in 2011. There was snow all around and I was trudging along with the trepidation of soldier treading a minefield. My destination was a hair salon to get a haircut. I looked at the board outside which said “studierabat” meaning student discount. I almost jumped for joy. The normal price for a men’s haircut boldly proclaimed 250 DKK. I went inside, was greeted by a beautiful girl in her mid 20s who went on to give me a great haircut. After the haircut, I paid 200 DKK (20% off as student discount) and that’s when the high prices of Copenhagen haircuts hit home. I had just experienced a hairy culture shock literally speaking. I had been living in Copenhagen for the past 5 months and I thought that I was immune to the price shock that outsiders felt when entering the Danish shops. I had never really factored in the haircut prices. I had chosen one of the cheapest places to get a haircut (after a great deal of internet searches) but I ended up parting with a week’s worth of grocery money.
That’s when someone told me about the Copenhagen hair cutting school where it costs 49 DKK for a haircut. The news thrilled me more than any of the groundbreaking discoveries my science books have drilled into me. It was almost like finding a hidden treasure. Sure, the people who cut your hair are students who are supervised by teachers but except on one occasion I have always got a great haircut there. On that one occasion, the hairdresser misunderstood what I wanted and ended up giving me a haircut which I had to bear for the next 2 months. Today I got another fantastic haircut and that too for free because it was my tenth haircut there which is free :-). Wednesday mornings could not be any better. I tried to ask out the beautiful brunette who cut my hair but she said she was married. I guess that was probably asking too much of a Wednesday.
It holds for Danish haircuts if you know where to look
Last Tuesday, the Dean of the Faculty of Science proposed a merger plan to merge the departments of computer science and math into one. The meeting invitation went out to the faculty and the students only a day ago in the midst of a busy teaching bloc. The merger was reported in the University Post. This has sparked a spate of opinions which all seem to point to the utter absurdity of the move especially since it was tried 2.5 years ago and failed, and nothing has changed since then other than the reasons against it. A lot of conspiracy theories are also doing the rounds. Whatever the real reasons behind the merger may be, what is clearly apparent is the fact that the move has not been thought out well by the Dean’s office and has not encapsulated the people it concerns and hence it just remains a tactless, non-visionary (contrary to the claim), damaging exercise just for the sake of it.
This probably sums it up
The department of computer science has been long under the pressure of moving their email systems from diku.dk to di.ku.dk . A couple of weeks ago SCIENCE-IT finally did the migration. So the old postfix email servers were discarded for new shiny Microsoft Exchange solution. As a result I found out last week, that old solution of automatically forwarding / re-directing emails were discontinued on “legal” reasons (which as a user I have no clue of). This means my earlier solution of using another email address mailbox as a backup mailbox to archive incoming emails by forwarding all incoming emails does not work unless I use POP on another server with my passwords (which I would never dream of doing). The old solution was a mind boggling simple and flexible one. What we have currently achieved is to give up the simpler and logical solution for an inflexible and legal solution. All this just begs the question, what is the purpose of the migration ? Make the system easier for users or easier to administrate for admins ignoring the users ?
And thats what its all about
I was looking for a way to host private git repositories which I could share around with other collaborators really easily. One option is to use a local git repository and then share it using Dropbox but that makes one lose some of the cool features of github. Another option is to request Github to upgrade your account for free if you are a student or an educational institution. I did that at the Github request page and got my account immediately upgraded to a micro account for free. It helps in the processing if you add an educational email and verify it before applying for the educational upgrade. Yay to Github 🙂
Github goes educational
A week ago, I finished a week long course PhD course, “Introduction to University Pedagogy”. It’s a course which gives you a feeling well done and that you have learned something from it. What impressed me most about the course were:
- Introspective nature of the course
The course is not about transferring knowledge, its about building knowledge. It involves the participants into analyzing situations and discussing possible solutions.
- Hands on learning
The course comprised of teaching modules of 20 minutes where participants had to teach a topic/s so that the audience could comprehend the learning goals. Since the audience were from diverse backgrounds, that ensured the topics were quite randomized and interesting. Post the teaching session, a 40 minute feedback/discussion session was held which made the “teacher” realize the pros and cons of the teaching from the students. It was a model done right and what stood out for the course.
- See yourself
The teaching sessions were also video recorded which the participants could later access and then realize their strengths and weaknesses. It helped me particularly to understand the feedback better and look for critical hints in the feedback based on the teaching video.
I would definitely recommend this course to the plethora of students hoping to fill their ECTS PhD points anytime and the sooner you do it in your PhD timeline the better it is. At least it will save the pain in the picture.
Teaching not done right haunts the teacher more!
Just the other day, I got a package from my parents containing some stuff that I could not bring when I took the flight from India. Most of it was used personal stuff and a lot of cookies. I was actually surprised to see a letter asking me to pickup my 14 kg package instead of the customary yellow around the fringes slip from the post-office. I was shocked to see that I had to pay VAT on the goods of around 335 DKK of which around 150 DKK was the assessment charge (you have to pay for the work they did to put the VAT). It seemed a bit strange to me since the entire value of the goods in the package was less than 200 DKK. And I wanted to know how they had fixed up the charges. I searched frantically online but could not get anything about the rules for sending international non-commercial postage. I could dig up some rules and regulations on what one can send and how it can be assessed but it seemed fairly academic missing a lot of practical questions.
I did find a lot of posts saying how people found the postage system here ridiculous because of the international posting guidelines and how everyone in the post-office is apathetic about it. I had a 14 day window in which I had to pick up the package else it will be sent back. I talked to the customs department in the post-office and they told me that a student does not have to pay any taxes on his stuff if it does not have high commercial value. The problem with my package was they could not infer that it belonged to a student and my parents had not filled the customs declaration very clearly about the used stuff and its value. So, he raised a case for me and told me I have to wait until they free my package off taxes. 5 days went by and I had only 5 days remaining before the package was sent back. No news of my case. I called up and my case was assigned topmost priority. After furnishing a scan of my student card my package was freed of taxes and I could pickup the package next day.
Overall, my experiences with the Danish Postal system has always been topnotch. In this case, although I was perplexed over the taxation initially (I am not going into a debate of its fairness), but eventually everybody at the postal office was very helpful in resolving the case amicably. The next time I eat one of cookies which my mother sent I won’t crib about how costly it was. Yay to the sane and friendly Danish Postal system !! Don’t be afraid to poke the right people. More often than not you will have a satisfactory and sane resolution. We live in reasonable times, don’t we ? That’s a topic for another day.
And I received a happy mail
So, now the Department of Computer Science is going for organized craziness. A new PhD club is starting up. And here I am looking forward to loads of socializing and free food and beer.
A long long time ago, there were 3 people who always ended up talking to each other during coffee breaks and lunch hours and other “important” time to talk about computer systems. Then, one day a shining light appeared before Marcos and he decided to start a new reading group with Kostas and me to enlighten us and have our original discussions without turning coffee tables into a whiteboard. Today was already the first session and it stretched to 3 hours instead of the pre-planned 1.5 hours. If you want to talk systems, what are you waiting for. BTW, if you want to sponsor the lunch prior to this seminar meeting, we can put up your name on our whiteboards. Who knows what the future holds !!
System seminar (what we definitely don’t want to do)