Copenhagen gets stormed

Yesterday was really a windy day !! With wind speeds recorded upto 190 kph, things were really blowing outside the windows. It was the left-over storm which was headed towards the Danish coast from UK. I was not aware that a storm was going to hit Copenhagen. I had left for work at the University without knowing that the storm clouds were already on their way. I came to know about the storm when it actually hit. Everything was swirling outside the windows and the wind was howling with rage. It was 5 in the evening. It was a bit scary to see the windows clatter. The intensity reduced around 7 and I decided to make a run for it. I took my bike and went to Svanemollen station at 7. With announcements only in Danish about cancelled trains and hardly anyone around, I hung around there for 30 mins (and rejseplanen claimed there would be a S train at 7-30) and finally I left to make my way back to the University to put back my bike and look for buses to come back home. The bike journeys were exciting and scary at the same time. The wind was blowing in gusts and there were uprooted trees and and other objects. I was biking looking all around hoping to not land up in a hospital bed. I made my way back to the University, put my bike back and then made it to the bus stop. I waited at the bus stop for an hour before the bus 184 turned up. And then after a 45 minute bus ride, I was finally home at 10. It was an experience which was exciting, stressful and tiring at the same time. It blows into focus the fact how are lives are completely at the whims and fancies of nature.

And the storm winds were here

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GitHub goes Educational

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 pinch of happiness amidst the insignificance

I have often heard people complain about the incessant lack of time and how everyone is so busy. A case in point is a new obsession of working people – the calendar. Whenever I travel on the S-train, I find it intriguing that people traveling alone always play with their smart-phones ignoring everything around them. I did something similar as well, getting myself engrossed in a book or a research paper for a short 15 minute journey. Until something really strange hit me home today while traveling back from the University.

The simple smile

I was biking back to take the train from Hellerup when on a zebra crossing I found an old man about to cross. I stopped and gestured him to cross before I turned right. He hesitated and gestured me to. Both of us started moving at the same time and we again gestured to each other. Then I got off my bike and gestured him to go. We both broke into spontaneous laughter. It was a simple but a poignant moment which shows how the simple things in life are just waiting for us to open our hearts to them.

The woman on the platform

I was still thinking about this incident as I made my way to the platform and suddenly I saw a woman walking across the edge of the platform. Something suddenly hit me. I was watching a video on the the relative insignificance of Earth in this Universe yesterday and the magnitude of it hit me today. What are the odds of some loose atoms coming together in a predefined structure to form the Earth ? What are the odds of some carbon atoms evolving to form this very woman living in a society all around us ? What are the odds of everything around us forming from nothing ? Isn’t it completely strange that as humans we choose to ignore it all believing we have got used to it being “natural” ? I got on the train and saw most people focused on their smartphone. And then I quietly sat and observed everything around me marveling at all the odds that came together in giving me my place in this Universe at this very point of time.  Being amazed and being incredulous is the least we can do to acknowledge our very existence.

And how insignificant we really are

A course well done

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!

Along came a greedy Domain Name Registrar

Everything was fine in the digital world, there was peace all along and domain name registrars maintained the peace. Then, one day I wanted to buy my own domain name so that I could set up my own private mail/web infrastructure on the public server I rented. As a proud and stingy person, I looked for the cheapest alternative around and hit upon Net4. They provided a .in domain for 199 INR (around 20 DKK). I wanted to buy the domain for multiple years but their multiple year prices were too high. I asked about the pricing policy, whether the renewal charges will increase. I was told it would be reasonable and consistent with customer expectation. The following year I was asked to pay 449 INR as renewal charge for a year. I was unhappy about it but I was busy in other stuff so I just quietly paid up. This year I was asked to pay 617 INR as renewal charges. What was weirder was buying a new domain with .IN extension cost 225 INR for a year and for multi-year period the maximum cost was 476 INR per year. The renewal charges for a year were substantially higher. This was just too much, the pricing policies were not reasonable and not consistent with customer expectation. When I brought this up before the customer care folks, they said the charges are determined taking various factors into account and are fair and non-negotiable. I had never heard such a self-contradictory sentence before. So, I have decided to move my domain to Gandi. I have heard well about them from friends. I am keeping my fingers crossed here. The entire episode has left a bad taste about the whole pricing situation with domain name registrars and IMHO we need some sort of uniformity here.

Danish postage, VAT and sanity

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

Hospitality in Lauterbrunnen Valley

I went in a group last week on a Swiss hiking holidays. I had a great time hiking around the Alps in the valley and would definitely advise and force anyone planning to stay in Interlaken to stay in Lauterbrunnen. However, even with the Alps all around us, what caught my eye was the hospitality I received at the Valley Hostel. Though this might sound as a sales pitch, it is not so. What struck me was :

  • When we arrived at around 7-30 in the evening, Susie (hostel staff or owner, not quite sure) was more than friendly. She helped us check in, asking us about our trip and plans just like a friend.
  • She took us to our room and insisted on carrying all the towels and linen herself. Now that made us feel very homely since at least I am used to such behavior when I go to a friends’ or relatives’ place.
  • Every time we had a question and we asked Susie about it, she made it a point to answer it with more than we asked for, till the point we had to interrupt and run away.

The entire behavior made me ponder how much a little thoughtfulness and friendliness can go to preserve memories. So much so that someone completely unknown ends up making a sales pitch for you

Awesome Valley Hostel staff (Susie on the left and the unknown guy on the right)

Awesome Valley Hostel staff (Susie on the left and the unknown guy on the right)

 

And I survived a mayhem

I went for a ritual haircut to Copenhagen Frisorskole where I have been going for the past 2 years. But this time it was different, the hairdresser who was cutting my hair had different ideas for my hair than what I wanted. And his supervisor also went for what he said instead of listening to what I was saying. And that is how I got a haircut disaster. Although in the end I managed to salvage the situation a bit by instructing them how to abandon what they were doing and do what I wanted. Will I go back again ? I think I will since its really really cheap and well worth the money as it has always been for me except this time.

Oh dear !! What did I do wrong ?