Institute picnic

Two Fridays ago, our institute had a picnic day. But instead of an actual picnic, we went to Klatreskoven (literally “the climbing forest”). There, we were split into two groups. One group went to the individual course and another went to the team course. After two hours (and lunch), the two groups swapped courses.

Our group went to the team course first. We were split up into further smaller groups. Each of these small groups consisted of about 10 people. Then the fun began. Our team did two exercises:

  • The first one was an exercise where two people climb up a tree. Each of them had two people responsible for their safety. Once the two people reached the top, they had to step on a plank which had to be be stabilised by someone on the ground. There were several of these planks, each one had to be stabilised by a person. That person also had to help the climber step on to the next plank. Because there were two climbers, they would eventually meet in the middle, whereupon they had to pass one another and get to the other side. The idea of this exercise is that the climbers will fail unless supported and helped by the people stabilising the planks.
  • The other exercise involved a wide “ladder” made of bamboo, each rung was about 1 m apart. There were three climbers (each supported by two safety people) who had to work together to climb the ladder. They could only touch the rung and each other. They could not touch any of the ropes. The idea of this exercise is obviously for the climbers to work together as a team to climb the ladder.

After lunch and some rest, we did the individual course. This one was more to do with having fun. There were several difficulty levels: green, blue, red, and black. The more difficult the course is, the longer it would take to complete it. I am not terribly fond of heights, so I only did the green course. It was kinda fun, though.

In the afternoon, we had a tour of the professor’s villa at Carlsberg. The villa hosted many eminent scientists, writers, and artists, including Niels Bohr who presumably had access to beer on tap 24 hours a day. Carlsberg is actually one of the (I think) rare companies which give a lot back to society. The group made their fortune through science, and they are repaying their debts by establishing funds for basic research. The group even has a research centre dedicated to biochemistry.

Anyway, that evening we also had a Dwarf Party at Nano-Science Center. It’s an annual party mainly aimed to give the opportunity for people from the Nano-Science Center to mingle with each other. As part of the party, there was a game that we had to do. They divided us based on age (and therefore roughly by position). There were the Bachelors/Masters students, the PhD students, and the post docs/professors. The aim of the game was to launch a bottle as high as possible.

I had my doubts about the success of this game, because I found it highly illogical to have 20+ people in each group. In hindsight, this was a brilliant exercise where each group’s mentality and way of thinking was really highlighted:

  • The Bachelors/Masters was kinda successful, even though it involved somewhat unconventional and borderline dangerous practices. At one stage, they over-pressurised their bottle and blew up the delivery system (a pipe). They also showed ingenuity by using a beer tap mechanism to launch their bottle (which didn’t work at all).
  • The PhD students thought about the problem thoroughly and devised a clean and efficient mechanism to launch their bottle. The technique was reproducible with excellent success rate.
  • The post docs/professors thought the longest and hardest about the problem. In the end, it was decided that baking soda and vinegar was the way to go. So out came the huge chemical bottles. We were still working on the vinegar delivery mechanism when the Bachelors/Masters and PhD students had launched their bottles at least once. In the end, our bottle never launched off the ground, and all we managed to do was to make the ground smell like vinegar that you can smell from 50 m away. Of course, apologists would have thought that it was just engineering problem.

Ported Gallery

As I mentioned a while back, my website is getting a bit low on space for the photos. So I have reluctantly started to use Facebook for my photo albums. Over the last few weeks I have also ported the rest of my gallery. I have just finished porting the last of these albums over to Facebook. So, links in my old blog posts to the gallery will fail.

Air raid siren

Another thing that happened last week but I haven’t had the chance to write about was the sounding of the air raid siren. Denmark has a network of warning sirens around the country. They are tested every night without any sound, but once a year they are sounded across the country. This happens at noon on the first Wednesday in May.

You can read more and listen to the air raid siren on the Danish Emergency Management Agency website.

Dansk modul 3 er slut

Last month was a very busy month for me. I went to two countries: Italy (for holiday) and Germany (for work). For the latter one, I gave a presentation to our research and industry partners. The problem was, I only knew about the trip a month before I was supposed to go and give said presentation. At that time, I hadn’t even started working on that topic! So cue frantic simulating, analysing, and handwaving. Not necessarily in that order.

Studieskolen Module 3
Studieskolen Module 3

Anyway, after I returned, my quest in learning Danish continued on. In fact, we just had our test for Danish Module 3! This time we had only reading and writing tests to do. The reading test involved scanning for relevant information on the text to answer given questions; inserting sentences into paragraphs of text so that they make sense; inserting missing words so that a given text makes sense; and reading a few passages and answering questions related to them. The writing test involved writing two e-mails: one job application, and an e-mail to a friend who asked us about our new abode.

I have to say that the test was not as bad as I thought. Our teacher said that everyone passed the reading test. So it was down to the result of the writing test. But really, unless we really stuffed it up, I’m sure everyone did ok. We will know for sure on Thursday. The main problem we had was that time passed very quickly, especially for the writing part!

So what now? Most of us seem to be continuing on to Module 4. I and another student in the class were actually thinking of taking a break. We had been doing Danish two days a week for 9 months now, and we wanted to take a break for a while. But then, our teacher said that she was also going to have a break for 6 weeks in (the northern) summer. So that convinced the two of us to continue on with Module 4. But who knows if we would continue on to Module 5 after that.

Anyway, I do feel that we are starting to understand more of the language. One thing I did notice was that my vocabulary isn’t so big at the moment. And I still have problems with listening to what people are saying. I don’t know if it’s because of me or if it’s because Danes just speak so quickly. At times, I and several others would listen to what our teacher was saying, and we had problems keeping up. But then she would say it again either slower or in a different way (e.g. pronouncing words that would have been swallowed by Danes speaking “normally”) and then we would suddenly get it. It’s weird.

Edit: I started writing the title in English, then decided to switch to Danish. But I neglected to correct what I had written. Oops! Det var min egen skyld.

Ig Nobel talk

On Wednesday, I went to a very special event: an Ig Nobel talk. For those of you not in the know, the Ig Nobel Prize is like the Nobel Prize, but for things that “first make people laugh, and then make them think”.

The talk was held at University of Copenhagen‘s Festsalen, a huge hall right in the middle of the City. The first speaker was Marc Abrahams, none other than the founder of the Ig Nobel himself. He spoke about the history of the Ig Nobel and his favourite cases. One standout example was a research called “Termination of Intractable Hiccups with Digital Rectal Massage”. When accepting his award, the late Francis Fesmire dressed up for the occasion. He wore a lab coat with rubber gloves, and he gave a salute with his index finger in the air. As he had sadly passed away recently, Marc asked the audience to salute Francis by pointing our index fingers into the air.

Marc also talked about the recent winners of the 2013 Ig Nobel Prize, including:

  • Ig Nobel Prize in Archeology, where the winners parboiled a dead shrew and swallowed it without chewing, and then carefully examined the excrement in order to see which bones would dissolve inside the stomach,
  • Ig Nobel Prize in Medicine, where the winners assessed the effect of listening to opera, on mice which have had heart transplant operations,
  • and my favourite, the Ig Nobel Prize in Probability, where the winners discovered two things: that the longer a cow has been lying down, the more likely that cow will soon stand up; and that once a cow stands up, one cannot easily predict how soon that cow will lie down again.

We were treated to talks by the winners of the first two Ig Nobel Prizes I mentioned. The speakers were Brian Crandall and Masanori Niimi, respectively. There was also a talk by a 2003 winner of the Ig Nobel in Biology, Kees Moeliker, who discovered the first scientifically recorded case of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard duck. He also talked about the disappearance of the pubic lice from the modern society.

On top of all the excellent talks by the founder and winners of the Ig Nobel, we also had a guest speaker. During the talk two days previously (the first show in Århus), Marc was showing some of the Ig Nobel-worthy research, when one audience member yelled “that’s my research!”. So the following day (the second show in Århus), that researcher gave a brief talk of his work. As luck would have it, he has a colleague who is now at the University of Copenhagen. So he gave a talk in Copenhagen. The research was on the use of coconuts as a model for blunt-object skull damage. They had switched to coconuts after spending two Master projects refining a simulation program, and realised they could work a lot quicker with a physical model.

Anyway, I certainly enjoyed the event. There are some photos on Facebook if you’re interested.

Where have I been?

Well, the question is: where have I not been? Actually, don’t answer that. There are many places that I haven’t been to. But this is the point of this post. I had a crazy idea for a New Year’s resolution: to visit one new place each month this year. Of course, I am taking advantage of the fact that I live in Europe now. So it is rather easy to jump on a plane and visit a new destination for a weekend trip. A nice change from living in Melbourne where the closest overseas destination is 3.5 hours away. (That’s New Zealand, by the way.)

So far, I have more-or-less kept up the resolution:

  • In January, I visited London for a holiday. It was a very fun trip. I really liked it. I think London is my favourite (urban) holiday destination so far.
  • In February, technically I didn’t go anywhere. However in March I went to two places back to back. First, I went to Qatar for work. We had a big meeting with our industry partners there. Since the trip was in very early March, I consider this to be my February trip.
  • Straight after Qatar, I went to Iceland with two friends. This one was a lot of fun. Iceland was simply exquisite. I wouldn’t mind going back again in summer. The highlight of this trip was we picking up a Liechtensteinian hitchhiker who was walking in heavy snow for about 40 km on his way to a glacier.
  • In April, I will go to two places. First, I will go to Rome for some holiday where I will meet up with my brother. Later in the month, I will go to Göttingen for work. I am tempted to claim the latter as my May trip, but we’ll see.

Some of the other places I currently have on my list are: Oslo, Amsterdam, Vienna, Prague, Zürich, and Helsinki. So many places to go to!

Anyway, I have also realised that my website is getting a bit low on space for the photos. So I’ve reluctantly decided to upload the photos from now to Facebook. Maybe I will also port my other albums there. So, stay tuned!

Dansk modul 2 er slut

Studieskolen Module 2
Studieskolen Module 2

So, this week we had our Danish Module 2 test. The test was on two separate days. The first day was a listening/reading/writing test and the second was a speaking test. I have to admit that I was quite apprehensive about the test, as I didn’t have much time to prepare. But nonetheless, it went better than I expected.

The previous week, our teacher talked to us one by one and told us how we were going. She told me I was doing fine, but I just needed to use different sentence construction aside from what we have learnt, by maybe reading Danish newspapers or books. Fair point.

The listening part of the test consists of several tasks: listening to bits of information and then answering several questions (on paper) that best fit the information given; listening to a story and putting numbers sequentially on pictures so that they fit the story sequence; and listening to several dialogues between two people and choosing from a selection of situations which one was most appropriate.

The reading part also consists of several tasks: we were given several questions and we had to scan several passages to find the answers; reading several paragraphs of a story, where in each one of the paragraphs there was one sentence that didn’t fit; writing/choosing words to fit in into a text with several words missing; and choosing and matching several paragraphs with their headlines.

In the writing test, we had to write a fairly long e-mail to someone. For the speaking test, we came in pairs. Each one of us had to pick one card out of five, corresponding to a specific book or subject that we had previously chosen. We then had to talk about the book/subject and then answer questions from our teacher. Afterwards, I and my partner were given a sheet with two pictures, and then we had to talk with each other about them.

For me, the hardest part of the test itself was the listening part. There was one particular task where I thought I was completely lost: the story sequence. But it turned out that I did better than I thought. One thing I did notice in the listening test was that I could understand my teacher’s Danish better than the recording for the test. Maybe this just means that I should listen to more samplings of Danish.

The speaking test was also nerve-wracking. While preparing for it, I found that I still couldn’t think and speak at the same time… okay, perhaps this doesn’t come as a surprise to some of you. But seriously, for me anyway, sometimes I would stop and think “should I do an inversion here?” or “what preposition should I use here?“. Of course, all of this comes with experience. I guess because our workplace is a very international, we all use English for everyday communication. A lot of my classmates either work with mostly Danes or they have Danish significant others, so they have a lot of chances to practise.

Anyway, so Danish Module 2 is over now. Next week we will start Module 3.1!