Warm air

On the 25th Christmas celebrations were over and I was to join Honeybuns to see her Arctic relatives. When I left I noted that there was a lot of snow on my balcony, but temperatures had crept upwards and the snow threatened to melt.

X2000 #568 has arrived at Sundsvall CNote the snow on the tracks: No trains continue north from here.
My firstclass ticket got me a comfortable seat with power and Internet connection to play with as the grey train bored northwards. This ended in Sundsvall, only halfway to my destination, where I had to change to a coach.

The temperature was probably around 260 K, but the double-decker coach arrived soon enough that I didn't have to freeze. Quite a few people were continuing northwards, so we were late in departure from the station. As I had a fairly tight change in Umeå, I asked the bus conductor, when he came by selling snacks, whether we would make it in time for the 18:15 connection to Vindeln. He looked a bit non-plussed and responded that I was sure to make it to the 22:00 connection, which was the only one running that day. What!? He took my ticket and went off to double-check. He returned a while later, having confirmed on both telephone and web that since it was a red day, no 18:15 service was running, and me having been issued a ticket for it wouldn't help the matter, sorry.

I texted to this effect to Honeybuns and soon had a response back that she and her dear mother would pick me up in Umeå. I briefly considered protesting that I could manage on my own, but didn't really look forward to arriving in the middle of the night and gratefully accepted the offer.

The afternoon was already quite dark, so I couldn't see much of the surrounding landscape and read a book instead.

The young woman who'd silently sat next to me since Sundsvall got off in Nordmaling and was replaced by a very large youngster who all but crowded me out of my seat and regaled me with a non-stop monologue relating his dangerous, awesomely skilled and/or illegal stunts in all kinds of motor vehicles as well as the exact number of screws, metal plates and other surgical repairs he had in his body at the time. I was thus doubly relieved to finally arrive in Umeå and see Honeybuns and her mother inside the bus station.

We were soon in the car, still warm after the ride down, and travelled another hour through the darkness to arrive in Vindeln to be met by a long-awaited dinner. Then Honeybuns and I went out into the winter night for a walk. I equipped myself with extra socks, ski pants over my jeans and thumb gloves in addition to my bulky jacket and hat. We went out, trying to find a bit of darkness to see the stars from, but even here civilisation insisted on lighting up the environment to keep anyone from feeling afraid of the dark. Or perhaps, keeping everyone in fear of the dark. After an hour or so my cheeks were frost-bitten and I had icicles in my beard so we returned indoors.

Typical Lappland landscape
The next morning Honeybuns' father and brother turned up for the next stage, driving deep into Lappland. We drove through the light hours of the day through Christmas card landscapes and arrived in Sorsele at dusk and snowfall. We went out for an evening walk again, but even the quite moderate wind tore away the protective layer of warm air around our faces and let the cold bite at the exposed skin.

The screen of my mobile was unfamiliarly blank—my operator had no coverage here. Within a few days the battery was empty, the phone having cried itself hoarse. “Hallo? Anybody there? Hallo!? Can anybody hear me? Speak to me!”

When the wind abated it was quite pleasant to move around (still clothed in layers on layers) even though it still snowed and the temperature was still low.

Midwinter sunThere's the sun—don't blink or you might miss it.
Our last day the temperature had dropped overnight to 240 K. The car tyres deflated as the cooling air in them shrank, the pneumatic strut for the bonnet no longer supported its weight. The heating system soon warmed up the interior and having topped up the tyres we left coastwards, our little bubble of warm air speeding through the darkening landscape.

After a night in Vindeln I caught the morning coach to Umeå (having called the bus company and ascertained it did run). A gaggle of girls of the fjortis persuasion sat at the front, chattering away while I tried to read.

In Umeå I had a an hour's wait for my connection, which I spent munching on the plentiful food packet Honeybuns' mother had supplied me with. Apparently quite a few people were going to Sundsvall, a bus company employee went around asking those getting off at stops before Sundsvall to get on an extra bus from a different gate. I had removed my hat and gloves while indoors at the bus station and when my bus arrived I didn't bother putting them on, expecting to get on the bus quickly. This was not to be, the queue got on the bus only slowly, people buying tickets as they got on, fiddling with their luggage and in general being very slow about things. The luggage compartment turned out to have frozen, necessitating a bit of violence on behalf of the bus driver to get it open, so when I finally got on the bus I was very cold, yet the bus just stood for a while with the front door wide open.

Then, when we left, the heating did not work. The bus driver fiddled with knobs and buttons on the dash and eventually I could feel warm air slowly blowing from the overhead nozzles, but it stayed on top of the cold air below and never reached floor level and my feet, which remained frozen the entire trip. And not only they, a passenger came up to complain that the lavatory had frozen and would not flush. The bus driver stated he could not do anything about this and we'd just have to cross our legs and bear it. I think he was a bit stressed by all this, as he almost left a passenger behind in Härnösand and almost left with the luggage of a passenger who got off in Timrå, in both cases only stopped by the rest of us shouting at him.

Anyway, I forgave the driver when we arrived at Sundsvall central station well before my train would leave. Well enough in advance that they hadn't unlocked the doors yet, so I and the other passengers stood on the platform, nervously bouncing on our toes to keep warm, until we finally could get on the heated train, jack in to the Internet and roll southwards. I hopped off at Arlanda, in the tunnel station which is cold every time of the year, likewise now, and waited for Upptåget to take me the minutes-short hop to Upplands Väsby, where Honeybuns had flown ahead of me.

Then, everything was warm again.

The Mythos Lives

Mysteriously found in my mailbox: A Colder War.


Veckans ord: sambulans

Vid krig och katastrofer använder man fordon som kan frakta många skadade och sjuka på en gång: sambulanser.

Quest: A Long Ray's Journey into Light

There's nothing quite like ray tracing of glass spheres to scream out “Computer Graphics!” Unfortunately the YouTube version of this classic is rather fuzzy.

I did work on an Apollo one summer at Ericsson. I thoought it a bit weird at points, but it had a Logo implementation, so I played around with turtle graphics; a fairly natural way of doing graphics for me anyway as I at the time mostly worked on a pen plotter—graphics displays being very expensive and hard to come by.


…for the other ones

Whether you celebrate the return of the Sun to the Northern Hemisphere or not, peace and sublime moments of happiness to you all.


Because it's Christmas, or something

Found on Zooillogix, an elephant giving birth. Do not worry, it all ends well.

The right person in the right place

A square peg fits quite well in a round hole if the hole is large enough. I think this is true in the figurative sense as well.



The talented Emma Persson makes airplane models of wool.

A SAAB 37 Viggen made of wool


Veckans ord: enigt

En enJuhani Aho myntade uttrycket ”katajainen kansa” om finnarna. På svenska torde det bli ”ett enigt folk”.


Beyond the '80s

Fractals were all the rage when I was an undergrad, and I have the T-shirt to prove it, but they've not been front page news for a long time. Maybe they should be:

Mandelbrot set in 'Buddhabrot' rendering


Veckans ord: minutläggare

När jag i min ungdom läste Airfix-katalogen undrade jag mycket över de fartyg som tjänstgjort som minutläggare. Senare har jag insett att det är de som placerar distansminuterna så att andra skepp kan navigera efter dem.


Turning on the filter

Due to the recent spate of spam, I'm turning on the CAPTCHA filter for a while. Sorry for any inconvenience.


What-ho, pip pip and all that

MarmiteI found myself in the vicinity of The English Shop and decided to stock up on some supplies. The cashier greeted me in Swedish, but immediately switched to English when she espied the Spam and Marmite in my shopping basket. Now I just have to work on the accent…


Steaming about

B1136 at Stockholm Central station, surrounded by photographersThis morning Honeybuns and I got on a train pulled by good old B 1136, travelling towards Nynäshamn. The heavy weather pushed down the coal smoke and often made it hard to see the landscape, but I eagerly peered at the surroundings, that in spite of being close to Stockholm, were unfamiliar to me. (So, we'd gone there by car quite often when I was a kid to see relatives, but that hadn't really left any impression.)

The railway station in Nynäshamn is in the harbour, where the boats for Gotland leave. At the time there was a Polferries boat in, the Gotland boat only coming later in the evening. It seems like the tracks used to go all the way to the harbour, allowing cargo to be transferred between ship and rail, but these days only commuter trains and the occasional museum train comes here.

Christmas market in Nynäshamn harbour, S/S Blidösund in backgroundThere is a fairly large marina as well, catered to by tourist traps in little houses. These had been supplemented by stands for the Christmas market. We had lunch, which was decent, but rather expensive, confirming the tourist trap nature of the place. The market contained nothing remarkable, but I got myself a smoked trout and a jar of cloudberry glögg concentrate.

We made an excursion to the town centre, where there were also a couple of stands huddling in the drizzle—the children's merry-go-round did not feel at home in the winter weather. However, the local book store and haberdashery, respectively, yielded useful supplies.

Blommans Dixieland BandAs we returned to the harbour, the rain intensified, and we jumped on board S/S Blidösund. On board the ship was also a jazz orchestra and we ended up sitting right next to it. When we had left the harbour, we had a bit of rough sea until we returned into the shelter of islands and as soon as the deck was stable enough to stand on, the orchestra started to play. I can enjoy listening to trad jazz, but I have to admit all songs sound the same to me. I wonder if this is due to the orchestra actually improvising, and thus not really following any particular tune. Sort of a wall of sound, more than melody.

We had dinner on the boat. The two French ladies who were placed next to us, and who I tried to translate the menu for (well, what does “Blidösund hot dish” contain? We had to ask the waitress) took the opportunity to transfer to an empty table, leaving us to our « romantique dinneur ».

The ship trip took considerable longer than the train ride, but eventually we ended up at Skeppsbron and walked to the central station for the ordinary boring public transport home.


Misguided striving for perfection

When people say that something works “works like a machine” the implication is that this work is not only ceaseless but flawless. In particular this seems to appply to machine intelligence, intelligent robots and computers are, not only in fiction, assumed to have all information—and correct information only—available and then flawlessly proceed to the correct conclusion. Certainly often evil conclusions, but still the only possible conclusion.

Well, of course real software doesn't work that way. I have not worked with AI per se, but any interactive systems should be as “intelligent” as possible, where this in practice means that one studies users and figures out what they want done most of the time and then try to make the interface anticipate what the user wants in every given situation. In many cases this turns out not to be what the user wanted and bad user interfaces tend to do their anticipation in such a way as to annoy the user. Good user interfaces on the other hand are unobtrusive and smoothly let the user continue with whatever was actually intended, silently withdrawing whatever suggestion might have been proposed.

Machine translation has always been an important task for AI, and it seems the applications I have tried go for the ideal of the all-knowing computer. Thus if you submit a text for translation, you get the output all at once, unalterable, regardless of how bizarre it ends up. Shouldn't it be possible, in this day and age, to have an interactive translation application which presents alternative interpretations of the input and lets the user guide the translation? Certainly, even when I as a person translate text I end up having to make notes in the output, stating that a particular interpretation is dependent on a previous term having meant this and not that.


Veckans ord: partikel

« Sur une substance nouvelle radio-active, contenue dans la pechblende » skrev Marie och Pierre Curie tillsammans, det är en partikel.


No man is an island

The phone I got when I started my current employment has a recycled number, which apparently used to belong to a door salesman (not a door-to-door seller, but someone who sells doors) in the other end of the country. Not everybody in his extensive network had gotten the message that he no longer had this number, so I got calls and messages intended for him for quite some time.

This was an interesting phenomenon as only a certain subset of his acquaintances had failed to update their phonebooks and this subset of course shrank over time, as they called me and got informed. So, I would get sort of an attenuating sampling of his life as reflected in his messages, I could detect when his first daughter was born, when distant relatives remembered him for Christmas, and so on.

I haven't received such calls for a long time now, but suddenly this last week there have been several, apparently from people just tenuously related to him, but who still have been spurred into calling. I hope this is just a statistical fluke, rather than something serious having happened to him.


Political plots

Michael Shermer gave in the latest Scientific American a link to Yourmorals.org, a site with heaps of questionnaires intended to explore one's standing on morals.

My moral profile
This particular questionnaire builds on the idea that one can use five factors to explain people's political leanings. Apparently I don't quite match the typical (presumably US) “liberal”, which shouldn't be too surprising. Strange though, that my values decrease by exactly unity for each factor. I suspect the values may suffer from considerable quantization effects.

Another item of interest is that about six times as many “liberals” as “conservatives” have filled in the questionnaire, it suggests some major skewing in who finds out about surveys like this and/or who finds them interesting.


Summing up

So, we had a month of no shopping. How did it go?

Well, surprisingly well, actually. We have not starved. In fact, we've probably eaten better and healthier than usual, having had to cook proper meals for every dinner, rather than just grabbing something random from the shop on the way home. Still, I've lost about 4 kg—which I've meant to do for a long time anyway. This was a surprisingly easy way of achieving that. We've even entertained guests without problems.

We still have reasonable stores left and could probably go on for at least another week, but we'll do a shop rush anyway for sewing thread, model missiles, and other such items that hadn't been planned beforehand. Fresh fruit will also be nice.

Looking over my bank statement it seems I have saved a surprising amount of money. We will probably aim at better planned housekeeping for the future as well, but December will be a month of profligacy, we have outings planned for all weekends until Christmas.