Category Archives: social

Jwelery Workshop

A new Romanian friend of mine (which I discovered thanks to my Danish classes) has come up with a brilliant idea! She is a very creative person who, among other things, makes jewelery – she told me so when I admired a necklace which she made herself. She is also the one that had the amazing idea of painting a cup for our danish teacher.

Anyhow, she decided she wants to start a workshop for making and recycling jewelery – and by recycling, she means dissembling old things that one doesn’t like or need anymore, and make new stuff! One thing she was lacking though, was a start-up group… or maybe, let’s call it a test group. When she shared her idea with me, I was all for it. So last Sunday 4 girls met at her place to pretend to make jewelery! I have to admit that the prospective of biking 7km in a not so pleasant rain was going to almost put me off, but I am very happy I resisted the temptation to just crash on the couch.

I spent there 3 hours making: a set of earrings, a ring, a bracelet and a necklace. I brought with me an old necklace which I almost never used, even though I found it very interesting: it was made of some sort of nuts. So I picked the individual pieces, I learned from my friend how to connect them with other beans and make them stick together, and at the end I ended up with a complete jewelery set!

I had a lot of fun and I really hope this won’t be the last time we meet. We were discussing to do it regularly and make a larger collection of various objects, and then try to sell them, either on Facebook or at some Christmas fair. Who knows, maybe I just found a new passion!

Anyone willing to buy my new creation? :-)


PhD Retreat

On Thursday and Friday I was away, taking part in the annual PhD retreat. Every year it is a bit different than the last. Or at least that is my impression, I wouldn’t know for sure as this is barely the second year I attend it.

The talks this year were mainly focused on supervision and the relationship between the PhD students and their supervisors. It seems that this topic has been taken very seriously by CS lately by means of surveys and new initiatives. One of them, which was presented during these two days, is a so called support group, where each student is assigned two seniors which are not from the student’s field of research, one member of the PhD committee and a professor. The purpose of this group is to support the student and give feedback on the on-going research twice a year.

Unlike last year, when we had to show a poster with our work, we had to prepare one slide supported by a 1min37sec presentation. The whole thing was entitled 1.62 minutes of madness. It was quite fun and I’ve put a bit of effort into mine, so I decided to share it with you.

My name is Paula Tataru and I am studying bioinformatics. In my PhD studies I combine statistics and computer science to analyze biological data, mainly DNA. The recent technological advances make it possible today to gather data faster, cheaper and with higher accuracy. The available biological data has increased greatly over the last decade and we are now faced with two important challenges.

First, the old mathematical and statistical models have not been designed to handle so much data. The methodology has to keep up with technology. New models that take advantage of the available information are required to investigate problems which one couldn’t have dealt with before. Second, in order to use these models in practice, they need to be described algorithmically and implemented efficiently.

In my work I use both statistics and computer science. I have been involved in finding the best algorithms for computing certain statistical quantities of interest, but also on finding both statistical and computational novel approaches, involving Markov chains and Hidden Markov Models (HMMs).


Zdob si Zdub

As I said last week, some time ago I’ve spent a whole week-end in Copenhagen. The reason for it was two fold, or rather one was an excuse for the other. Lavinia moved to Copenhagen in December (leaving me here all alone) and so we promised to ourselves to visit each other every now and then. And so the moment came for a visit when Zdob si Zdub, a Moldavian band that mainly sings in Romanian, had a concert in Copenhagen on the 25th of February. There was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to go see them – I’ve never seen one of their concerts but I found it awkward and unexpected that they performed in Denmark. I left Aarhus on Friday evening and I came back on Sunday after an amazing week-end.

We started by a walk to the sunny yet very windy beach. The view was quite impressive, but the cold slowly creeped in and so we made a turn for Lavinia’s place and some warmth. On the way we decided to make sushi – a totally new activity to me, especially since I only had sushi once before. We bought the ingredients and got started. One of the main drawbacks of it was that we were late for the concert – but no harm done, the sushi tasted really well, we didn’t really miss much from the concert and we still squeezed in to a nice spot – after all, we’re both quite tinny.

The concert was really nice, the band was jumping around the scene non-stop and the crowd was not far beyond. Several times the people there started some Romanian traditional group dancing, entitled hora. I didn’t know that many of their songs, but it didn’t matter, for an evening I felt like I was at home in the middle of Copenhagen.

Before coming back, we also went on a short trip to Christiania, a self-proclaimed autonomous neighborhood in Copenhagen. It is famous for the living style of the people that inhabit it and for the fact that it is, somehow, outside the law. The biggest deal is that people sell hash there, a widely known but accepted fact. In the specific area photography is forbidden, as they say – selling hash is still illegal and they don’t want any pictures of it. Apart from that, there were two more rules: that you should just relax and enjoy yourself and that you shouldn’t run, as running causes panic :-)

The beach

Our home-made sushi

Christiania and its exit message

Bits of Zdob si Zdub


Bartending Course & Christmas Lunch

I said it several times lately that Danish people have Christmas lunches that start in November and end in February. I think I might also have said that the Friday bar was planning to organize a Christmas lunch for the bartenders on the 11th of February. That was yesterday. Even though I felt a bit tired and I just wanted to sleep the whole day as a result of the Fastelavn party, I decided it would be silly to miss out on free food and getting to know some of the other Computer Scientists better. So I dragged my lazy ass from the couch, where I have been half sleeping and half watching one of the Futurama movies, and walked the long half an hour way to the bar. It seems so long because it is damn cold outside and my bike is stored in the basement – I prefer warmer times for biking.

I arrived there about an hour and a half early as the evening started with a bartending course. I went to another one about a year ago, but I thought it was time to refresh my knowledge on the duties I have to attend to while bartending. The most important thing I got out of it was a pint of English Weston’s apple cider. Not that I had to pay for any drink during the evening, but I had a head start as compared to the others.

Unlike last year, when some of the bartenders offered to make Danish Christmas food, this time we had catered food. It meant that all of us were around the table, as opposed to last year when more than a couple of guys were forgotten in the kitchen. It was fun, the food and drinks were good and we played board games (just like true geeks) to entertain ourselves. I even made it all the way to the dessert this time: ice-cream cake! But my tiredness started coming back to me. I wanted to go by 22, but somehow I wasn’t allowed to leave so early and I found myself walking home a bit after midnight.


Fastelavn

Fastelavn is the name for Carnival in Denmark which is either the Sunday or Monday before Ash Wednesday. Fastelavn evolved from the Roman Catholic tradition of celebrating in the days before Lent, but after Denmark became a Protestant nation, the holiday became less specifically religious. This holiday occurs seven weeks before Easter Sunday and is sometimes described as a Nordic Halloween, with children dressing up in costumes and gathering treats for the Fastelavn feast. The holiday is generally considered to be a time for children’s fun and family games.

And this is why Jesper and I went to a party yesterday. I think this year Fatelavn is next Friday, but it seems the biology students didn’t have enough patience to wait until then and so their party took place yesterday. We started with a warm-up at our place, at the beginning of which I also took care of Jesper’s make-up and my own dress-up because, as the paragraph says, this is a sort of Nordic Halloween. Deciding what to go as was the most difficult part. I wanted to go as WALL-E and EVE, but Jesper thought it is too difficult to make such costumes and that they would look very clumsy. In the end he suggested Futurama, which we have been watching quite intensively lately. We went for Leela and Professor Farnsworth. I had to do a bit of shopping to achieve the purple hair and this thing I wear on my wrist, but I think they came out neatly. As for Jesper…

It was a fun party :-) And I was quite impressed by how many actually dressed up. I managed to catch a group picture when, coming back in after enjoying some fresh air, I found a bunch of people lying on the floor in a circle. They seemed to sort of dance, as they were frantically moving their arms in the air. I have been told that… this is what Danes do on that song. Unfortunately I don’t remember what song it was…


Chance

Picture by George Harisson

One of the responsibilities of being a PhD student is teaching the exercise classes from various courses. This teaching period I am responsible for two of them: one is about using statistics to analyze biological data and the other one is about phylogenetic analysis (which uses probabilities too). Both of the text books for these courses talk about how important chance is, how much things can change just by chance and how essential it is to take this into account.

This chance is also called coincidence when it occurs in everyday life. And I just found it rather funny that my teaching is so much centered around chance and then I get thrown into a series of events which happened purely by chance.

One of the former PhD students from BiRC is moving to Switzerland with his job and he wanted to enjoy a quality evening together with his friends. It was decided to meet at the Friday bar. As I thought he would probably get there quite late (as, unlike the rest of us, has a job now), I tried to avoid arriving there too early. Nevertheless, that still happened when at 16.30 I couldn’t find the group I was looking for. Instead I watched some other students I knew playing Ticket to Ride.

I finally decided that I would rather go home than wait for God knows how long and just wish him a good trip on the net instead. While I was getting ready to leave, one girl I’ve known for a while told me that she wanted to introduce me to someone: a Romanian girl started her PhD at Computer Science this autumn and she was at the Friday bar. I went and met her and we walked together, chatting, looking for something to eat.

After a while, she went to her office and I decided to carry on home, just to meet some other former PhD student from BiRC who was on his way to the planned gathering. So instead of arriving home at 18.00 yesterday, I enjoyed a couple more ciders with the people I was originally meant to meet. It seems that chance decided it was too early to say good night and sent me right back to the bar through a series of unplanned events.


Romanian Dinner

One of the things I get back with me to Denmark whenever I come from home is food. Unfortunately I can’t get whatever I want, the main two reasons for it being that I have a weight limit for my luggage (and it always seems to be a problem as I am always at the limit of the limit) and that not everything is transportable – such as for example fresh cow cheese, which is the key ingredient in several Romanian recipes I would like to try and which it seems is not available to buy unless ordered.

It is difficult to be an ex-pat sometimes…

One of the things I carry with me are sausages from the ones my family so carefully makes every year. Jesper and I decided to share them before we devoured all of them and so we invited his parents to a Romanian dinner, where I, obviously,was the cook and Jesper was my right hand (he did a lot of chopping). They came yesterday to a four course dinner. I am pleased to announce that they liked my food so much that they took a bit home with them. Some of the dishes I tried were good classics that I’ve cooked dozens of times before, while others were newcomers, such as the Romanian meatball soup.

The pièce de résistance was the dessert, entitled biscuits salami. The name comes from the fact that it has salami shape and one of the main ingredients are biscuits. For a recipe which is easy to make, I surely stressed a lot about it, especially since I wasn’t even able to find some proper Turkish delight! The reason I chose it though, was because the first time I tried making it (now it was the second time) I was only 10 and I won the title ‘Best biscuits salami’ with it. We made it in our class in groups of two and as ours was the tastiest one, it got sent to the teachers’ room instead of our parents. So I figured if I could do it 15 years ago, I should be able to do it now too!

Sausages, mashed potatoes & cabbage salad

Biscuits salami


New Year Party

Yes, I know some of you might think it is to late to celebrate the New Year so late in January, but as Danes end up having Christmas dinners in February, I find that this party hasn’t been too late at all.

This party was organized by the Phd House Activity Group. Unlike the other PhD events I have attended previously, such as the presentation on molecular gastronomy or women in science, which have been organized by the local PhD association of the Science Faculty, this event was aimed for all PhD students from the University. The group as such only does social activities which are organized in the PhD house. It started at 19.00 with free food and (one free) drinks. Personally I joined a table taken by the students from statistics which I know from courses we had together. It was quite fun, especially since I got to practice my Danish and I realized that I am not bad at it at all.

Close to 21.00 it was announced that we will be part of an exercise: speed dating. It wasn’t dating as such, but more getting to know the other PhD students. So we basically had 2 min to talk to somebody and in total I exchanged information with about 10 people. Curiously, none of them seemed to be from humanities. After that, we had a dance surprise: we watched a Danish couple dancing to a few songs (it seems they are one of the best couple dancers Denmark has) and then we received some basic lessons in Cha-cha-cha. It was rather amusing.

All in all, it was fun and I am looking forward to other events!


Skiing

I first tried on a pair of skies when I was 9 years old. It seems that my parents took me and my brother to the mountains in Predeal, Prahova Valley and somehow we ended up taking ski lessons. We were there with some other friends, who’s daughter was my best friend at the time, Tinti. Since then, for a long time, we went skiing almost every year.

During high-school the ski trips became more seldom and the last one we had was in Austria. The funny thing is that my mom was the one who convinced me, my dad and my brother to go there and she is the only one in our family who doesn’t know how to ski. That was also the only time I had to take an exam during the reexaminations period – I skipped two of them for the trip. But we went there and enjoyed ourselves – it was really nice and the ski slopes were simply amazing!

My parents thought that this year was about time to go skiing again – it’s been three years since last. They wanted to go in Bulgaria – it seems they have nice slopes and good conditions – but it wasn’t possible to do that during holidays. So we went for a two days trip (one night) in one of the other resorts in Prahova Valley – Busteni. It’s been a too warm and snow-less winter, something that I am not used to, so most of the snow on the slope was artificial – but the warmth, with positive degrees Celsius during the day, made the snow melt and then freeze again during the night, which, as you can imagine, isn’t a recipe for success. I have to admit I was a bit disappointed, our ski resorts are not as good as the ones in Austria. But I still can’t complain. It was nice and I got a change to try on again my very old ski suit and my cool skies.


Tivoli at Christmas

It has been two years since Jesper and I took some time off just the two of us. We spent several holidays together, either in Romania with my family, or in Sweden with his. We celebrated last Christmas at my parents’ house and so it was time for him to stay with his own parents this year. Given the two, we decided to spend a few days together in Copenhagen to see Tivoli at Christmas.

We left Aarhus on Sunday. He went back Tuesday evening and I boarded my flight Wednesday morning. We didn’t really do much these few days, but we did fulfill the initial purpose of it: spend some quality time together. We visited the Round Tower but the view from the top wasn’t particularly interesting: too gray and too dark. But we used the whole Monday in Tivoli.

 I’ve first seen Tivoli last year at Halloween. Normally the park is open during summer, but they have special program and arrangements for Halloween and Christmas. Last year I tried out all the rides and as Jesper is not particularly into things like this, we decided to just pay for the entrance. We managed to stay the whole day there, we saw their saltwater aquarium (which was the longest one in Europe when it was built in 2005), had a nice Danish Christmas dinner and enjoyed the amazing Iluminatorium: o show combining music, light, fog, fire and water. I know the pictures won’t say much, but it was really cool!


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