European Christmas is treated as if it were from a fairy tale : The snowy depictions of cobbled streets, elegant snow-clad houses, well decorated majestic Christmas trees, the enticing Christmas markets and not to forget the proximity to the North Pole, housing the clan of Santas. Fairy tale comparison is no fiction.
While this is my second Christmas in Europe, it has only gotten better this time. I was overwhlemed by the snow, and cold, and darkness last year, whereas this year I am better prepared, savoring the season with joy and anticipation. The Jul-sake lit Gothenburg streets are a joy to walk during the chilly nights of December. Christmas candles peep out the windows everywhere you turn. Sadly, there hasn’t been any snow as yet in Gothenburg, but the festive season is nonetheless evident everywhere.
Swedes take their festivals seriously – be it the Lucia Day, when you see angel-like Lucia’s singing songs, taming the engulfing darkness, and handing out saffron buns, or everything that is done for Christmas. This is another surprising aspect of Sweden – known to be a haven for non-believers, and it certainly is not a piously Lutheran Chrisitian country; Still to cherish the culture surrounding Christmas so joyously and wholeheartedly, is again Sweden being the champion of the right values to the rest of the world.
My favourite aspect of Christmas celebrations are the Christmas markets!
Every major city and even small ones have their own rendition of Christmas markets. Each of these markets are known for something special. For instance, I recently visited the Christmas market in Liseberg, Gothenburg, which happens to be the largest in Sweden! With plenty of stores selling Christmas goodies – that range from special candies to Lapland artifacts, the market does resemble a true market (with a lot people)!
Song, dance, candies, fragrant food stalls, spectacular lights – the fairy tale Christmas celebration just fell into place this time, when we were also were spectators to the scintillating ice skating performance, depicting the story of Snödrottningen(Snow Queen)! Thirty minutes of sheer skill, artistry and a mind blowing performance.
Next, I am heading to southern Europe for the vacation and will try not missing out on the markets there.
God Jul to all!
PS: Here’s some portion of the ice skating performance at Liseberg Christmas market.
”The Age to Come” was the theme of this year’s Nobel Week Dialogue, in Stockholm. I hadn’t quite figured what this edition might have in store for us, even after scanning through the schedule. During my busy work weeks, I was looking forward to this necessary distraction.
After an early morning bus (3.45 AM!) from Gothenburg to Stockholm, the day long event was one jam packed affair, and full of surprises. Biology and Economics of ageing is what the discussions were centered around, all through the day. Fascinating ideas about the science behind ageing – the physiological changes, the physical transformations, the evolutionary purpose and the genetic analysis of ageing were discussed by eminent and erudite academicians from a wide spectrum of sciences, many of whom were Nobel laureates. Science, as always was fascinating to say the least. To learn about one’s most certain future from a scientific perspective is humbling – A sense of comprehension about the amalgam of atoms that we are certainly takes us closer to nature. Decline in cognitive abilities as we age, the frailty in our systems and the vulnerabilities of diseases were presented, with the terrific work that is going on to allievate lives of the elderly was the consistent theme of the science speakers, and panels.
On the other hand, the economists were adding up the fiscal burden (or returns) due to ageing population. Although I was initially cynical about their views, I did grasp the problem of labour and capital in a steadily ageing society (of the West). Just to give you an idea of what the essence of their analysis was, think about the number of years you would be engaged in labour (in the market sense) – European average is around 25 to 65, that is 40 years of productive labour. And the average life span has been pushed to touch 90 in Europe now. This implies people do not work for 50 years in their life of 90. The deficit of 10 working years in every one’s life must be balanced, and the economics panels were debating about possible solutions – increasing retirement age to 75, given that science keeps the elderly active and cognitively enabled? And more interesting ideas.
Although the event was free to attend for students in Sweden, Chalmers had organised a competition for Chalmerists for some reserved seats. Many students who won this competition and also had applied voluntarily participated in this event from across Sweden to get to Stockholm for the dialogue. As a student ambassador, we got access to some late seats, and I happily hopped on 🙂
What is spectacular about a star studded event like the Nobel Week Dialogue is not just the effort of bringing a panel of erudite scholars, artists and Nobel laureates; it is the crucial dialogue that does take place. Events like these certainly shape ideas for the future.
You can watch all the videos from the event on this channel.
There might be no snow as yet, to remind us of the spectacle that European Christmas is supposed to be. But there is ample decorative lighting and run-up events to the Scandinavian ‘Jul’ (wonder what is the origin of the term Jul for Christmas here).
One of the first such events I was part of is the Julbord, a ceremonial celebration counting down to the Jul, with lots of authentic Swedish food and the special spicy warm wine – Glögg.
I recently got acquainted with the traditional pickled herring, or the mouth watering Sill- deliciously pickled in a variety of spices. Sill is one of the unmissable items on the traditional Swedish dinner table, making appearance in other festivals like the Midsommar, Spring Festival. The variety of pickled fish apart, the dinner also had the signature Swedish meatballs (köttbullar) , and some more special dishes for the occasion, like the Janssons Frestelse, whose pronunciation hasn’t registered in my head, but the taste certainly has.
While I have been talking about the food, have I mentioned where this dinner actually took place?
It was at the Observatory in Slottskogen, and the Julbord was organized by the awesome Chalmers Aerospace Club. We were going to star gaze and listen to a talk on exo planets, while Julbording. The weather which was gloomy and cloudy all week, opened up serendipitously for the night and we were not only able to peep through the telescope, but also catch some special sights.
The Geminid meteor shower is happening for the coming couple of weeks, and we were able to spot couple of meteors already blaze through the atmosphere on Saturday.
The highlight of this particular evening was not the food ( yes, I just said that) but it was the awe inspiring spectacle of the magnanimous Jupiter, with her four massive, Galilean moons. All lined up in a straight line, or that is how it appears from the earth (crossectional view of the plane in which all these 5 bodies lie) .
This might seem common to the ones who are regular star gazers. But it certainly wasn’t for me. Although I am admittedly a science aficionado, I hadn’t seen another planet in such reality before ( have seen Venus transit Sun, but that’s different) ,and it made me all spiritual, as only the grandeur of universe can truly do.
As an end note, the warmth of the people in this event, participants and organizers alike was another highlight. Good food, nice people, lens to the universe and the serenity of Gothenburg skies: what else could be a recipe for an ideal weekend?
There are many ways to time-travel. If you think Christopher Nolan’s preferred way of escaping through a wormhole in Interstellar is not your cup of tea, then here’s another easier, less risky way to transport yourself back in time. Thanks to the Chalmers Aerospace Club, now I know another modes of time transportation. After registering myself as a member of the Chalmers Aerospace Club,after an adhoc plan with a friend I attended first of their events today – a fascinating hour long talk on ”An astronomical view of monument orientations in the ancient Egypt”. The talk was followed by screening of a movie – Stargate, and two episodes of the same TV show. Quite a gratifying distraction away from my routine, I must admit.
I learned about a new domain of research, called ”Archaeoastronomy”. This is a perfect confluence of Astronomy, Archaelogy and Anthropology! In this domain, researchers study ancient monuments in relation to their perceived astronomy (or Astrology) thousands of years ago, to draw conclusions about their history, culture and even as a means to date the civilizations. While on the outset it might seem dubious, underlying to this study is the rationale that the earth’s axis undergoes a small change over time, because of the gravitational fields of Sun and Moon – this is called Axial Precession. This causes Earth’s tilt to alter, infinitesimally continuously, but in a tangible manner over centuries. When a civilization has tried building a monument, or an observatory to coincide with say a star’s rise, by observing the offset in that position today, we can approximate the time when the monument was built. This can be corroborated by studying the cultures of those civilizations, to see the relevance of that heavenly body in their culture. About the time travel – if you can figure out the expected position of say the star Sirius is offset by a certain few degrees in azimuth, we can use a Free Software tool like the awesome Stellarium, to look at the skies that our ancestors had seen! We would be looking at the sky, they were looking at and designed their culture around! It makes me feel connected 🙂 Now that I am a member of the Aerospace Club, have already signed up for a star watching evening with Christmas special event Julbord 🙂
All the academic reading that I have done in the last three months haven’t been from text books – a steady image of two-column formatted scientific publications is stuck in my mental reading desk.
Symptoms of researching seem ripe by now.
I have gotten so very used to the idea of wishing for a paper, and then getting hold of it without any hassle, within a few clicks. Thanks to the work by Chalmers Library and related services that everyone on Chalmers campus, and all Chalmerists from anywhere can access the entire repository of scientific literature that Chalmers has subscribed to, which encompasses most of the relevant journals and publications.
At this point, a tweak that I use to access content via Chalmers account, when physically not on Chalmers campus might be handy to some of you: If you search for a document in Google scholar say, and need access to the document; Instead of re-searching for the same document within Chalmers library portal, I alter the URL of the resource to query for the file via Chalmers Proxy server.
Say for instance the document you need is from this URL ”http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl/login.jsp?tp=&arnumber=543975”, then without redoing the search for this document, and/or without having to set up a permanent proxy setting for your local machine, you can simply append ”proxy.lib.chalmers.se”, just after the domain name in the resource URL. In this instance, it would be ”http://ieeexplore.ieee.org.proxy.lib.chalmers.se/xpl/login.jsp?tp=&arnumber=543975″, and you will gain access to the document through your Chalmers account. There might be more elegant and even straightforward ways to do this. If you know of some, do comment below.
Further, when Chalmers has no subscription to a particular document, or if you end up believing so, you can write to the library support with the article details and they will search it, and mostly fetch it for you. In the unlikely scenario that Chalmers is not subscribed to your that particular journal, say, then you can recommend subscription through the ”suggestion form”.
More about other aspects of the library in subsequent posts. For now, happy learning.
Over the weekend, I had the chance to be at FSCONS, for the second time. I participated in this ”Free Society Conference and Nordic Summit” in 2013 too. In this edition, I was not merely participating, but also had volunteered to help out organizing the event, along with tens of other enthusiastic volunteers.
As with the last edition in 2013, the talks were not just thought-provoking, but more than that – they move you to action. This is a trait I think that is true with any event that is driven by the sheer spirit of volunteerism, in contrast to even the grander and impeccably organised corporate events.
The theme of this conference was revolving around the idea of commons, friendship and sharing – of, and using technology. The notion of us narrowing down into individual caves, with our gadgets was rightly projected as a dystopia, and the event was an aspirational reach out to the utopia where we all share and build a peaceful society, using Free Software and Free Culture as the fabric.
Apart from these ‘philosophical’ talks, there were plenty of niche technical workshops and talks, that are inseparable from the Free Software community.
I believe that the humanity and politics of technology are far more fascinating and consequential, than its spiritless precision. So, you know which of the sessions seemed more appealing to me.
Apart from helping out primarily at the cafe, and listening to the numerous inspiring talks, I signed up for a ‘lightning’ talk (runs for 5-10 mins), which was overwhelmingly well received. In my talk, I decided to put forth my experiences of having been an active free software enthusiast in India, and spoke about the idea of Free Software being a ”mass movement” in India, contrasting it to the more geeky, alternate culture that it appears to be in Europe. This contrasting, I believe struck a chord with the gang, and I was admonished for not having signed up to deliver a full length talk – that could happen, some other time then.
Here are some event pictures.
Let us do an information post in this one. I think talking about calendars is a good idea – there is quite a lot to know about them.
Events Calendar: Firstly, Chalmers is bubbling with events on a daily basis. When you enter the Chalmers Johannberg campus, there is a display board highlighting some of the events for the week. This ain’t exhaustive, and you don’t want to miss out on some less advertised, nonetheless brilliant events. If you want all the information, for every day, for weeks to come, log on to the Chalmers website and you will see a calendar ticker going on. That’s the best aggregated feed for all events that happen pan-Chalmers. The calendar sources RSS feed, making it quite handy when you sync it with your aggregator. Keep a tab on the events, there are events to match everyone’s taste!
Academic calendar: I log on to this page only when I have to plan my trips. You might of course find it useful for other purposes. Schedule for the entire academic year is detailed out, comprehensively, for all study periods, with exam days, holidays, vacation and important Chalmers days (like Student Union day). You could check the academic schedule, if you already haven’t here.
Course calendar: The most important of all calendars is the course calendar, which provides all details about lecture time, venue, duration of each lecture! This calendar is imperative for each of us to follow, for, you cannot take it for granted the same lecture hall will be used for every interaction throughout the course. For instance, in my previous course, even to the annoyance of the professor the schedule was scattered in over 6 different venues! It is handy to check your schedule, so that you don’t miss out classes. I have missed couple of lectures because they were in different halls and I could not track down the rooms! Time Edit provides cool options to search for your program/course and view the calendar events in a single form. You can then export these calendar events into an .ical file, which you can import into your Google Calendar, or similar applications.
These apart, Ping Pong, the course portal has a calendar, which apart from displaying a course’s schedule can also be used by the teacher to display events like submission deadlines.
Although these are on different portals, you can aggregate all these into your calendar app, without having to revert to each of them, making your life easier.
Happy scheduling, for the next study period!