2010-12-31

Veckans ord: hålslag

I en snickeriverkstad kan man se många olika hålslag: borrade, stansade, skurna, sågade, frästa, huggna, …

2010-12-19

We’re baack!

Already during our previous visit to Utö we decided to return for their Christmas market, and so we did.

M/S Waxholm II was already pretty full when we boarded so we got seats far aft. A fourish girl sitting in front of us teased me with her giraffe-ears-and-horns head piece. I indicated my great envy.

When we arrived, Utö Värdshus looked pretty different from when we saw it last: In the yard was a number of market stalls, the celebrated Christmas market. The entrance was extended with a tent that turned out to contain a temporary cloakroom. We didn’t think much about it, but went straight in for check-in.

Through magic hotel-staff skills, the receptionist recognises us immediately. Our room is not yet ready, but will soon be. We drop off our luggage and tour the little market. Some parts of it are in fact inside the inn building, we duck in and out, me bumping my head on the low door lintels. Finally I manage to bump my head on some overhanging snow and get a heap of it inside my collar. IH! IH! Honeybuns thinks it’s silly of me to be so tall, she manages perfectly well. A snow fight ensues, until I notice the little girl from the boat. A few stealthy steps and Haha! now I have giraffe horns. I strut about a bit before returning the horns.

We briefly peeked into the mine museum and the ominously-named Boutique Hybris, and chatted with the staff, but didn’t find anything particularly interesting, shopping-wise. As we will have Christmas dinner in the evening, we skip the inn and instead have lunch at the Society House. Pricey, but good. We note that quite a few families with children are visiting the inn and the market—there’s a long line of prams outside. And! The inn is completely packed with people having Christmas luncheon. Where did they all come from?

We pick up our key and retire to our room. Our plans had included studying, but after a week’s worth of early mornings, we just fall asleep. When we wake up, it’s already dark outside. I turn on the telly and “Christmas at River Cottage” spreads Christmas cheer that I decide not to consider the fakeytude of, but just enjoy, though when Hugh goes out into the garden to pick vegetables on the morning of Christmas Eve, I throw a glance at the snow dunes outside our cottage.

Come dinner time we climb the hill up to the inn and it’s clear that the extra cloak room is needed, the place is as full as it was for lunch. Robert, the maitre d’, greets us: “Ah, there you are! [aside to a staffer:] OK, now everybody is here.” Oops, we’re last? Well, as they say, the later, the finer the guests. We are escorted to our favourite table, the one with the best view.

Then, off to sample the 150+ dishes. While we do not taste them all, everything we eat is delicious and even with our respective food restrictions there’s plenty enough both for Honeybuns and me to eat. We peek at the other patrons, clearly many families—children sleeping by the tables here and there— groups of friends, snippets of song here and there (though with the snobbism afforded by a polytechnic education I consider the variety and quality of performance of the drinking songs to be less than adequate). We had thought we’d get some reading done after dinner, but now the lounges are used for dining guests, so we instead, happily sated, walk down the hill, through the driving snow, and in spite of our long afternoon nap, we fall asleep again not too much later.

In the morning, the snowfall has increased in intensity as we walk up the hill for breakfast. Apparently, we didn’t quite live up to classic Christmas dinner standards, as we had no need at all for the head-ache pills and indigestion powders strategically placed in the middle of the breakfast buffet. As we checked out, we made a booking for this summer, and I bought some of the sausages on offer in the Christmas market. We also bought a handful of tickets in the lottery stand and won bike rental for two during the summer—what a useful coincidence.

And then, the boat home through the still-increasing snowfall.

2010-12-12

Matured

I haven’t been very happy with the Harry Potter films, because they’ve failed to depict the characters in favour of special effects. However, I had heard good things about the latest film and when Honeybuns and I were in Sigtuna for the Christmas market, the crowds and the cold made us decide the local cinema looked promising, so in we slunk. (Notice: they don’t accept credit cards.) Two and a half hours later we got out again into a dark Sigtuna, where the last market stands were just being taken down.

The film series has clearly matured, the special effects had finally been made to serve the story and not the other way around, there was some serious interaction between the characters, and there were reasons to care about them. I even found it positive that the music wasn’t by John Williams. I think I will want to see the final part this summer.

2010-12-10

Veckans ord: parmesan

När klipperskeppen seglade med vete från Australien hade man bråttom och satte alla klutar till väders, ibland använde man till och med dubbla segel bredvid varandra, parmesan.

2010-12-06

Lazy!

I just ordered tickets through the web service of the Royal Dramatic Theatre and the mail receipt contains this mess:
Retrieve your booked tickets from the ticket office within ten calendar days, thereafter they will be automatically unbooked.

If your order is for a performance closer in time than nine days from the receipt of this message, the tickets must be retrieved at the latest three days before the performance.

You can also pay your tickets to our postal giro account and have the tickets sent to your home. Give your order number as reference. Note that it normally takes three working days for your payment to reach us.

[…]

Paid tickets are sent to the address you have given, if it is more than six days to the performance. If it is five days or less to the performance, they are in our ticket office.

Now, the web app already knows when I made my booking; on what day the performance is; and that I already paid for the tickets. So some web programmer couldn’t be arsed to write four lines of code to tell me directly that I have to get my tickets in the ticket office, since I booked the tickets on such short notice. Instead I have to work out the difference between calendar days, working days, and unspecified days, and possibly also get confused by whether Wednesday is two or three days before Friday if the performance is in the evening and if that is different if Thursday is a holiday even though they give performances then. That “postal giro” hasn’t been called that for five years just fits in with the rest of it.

A sternly worded letter has been sent.

2010-12-03

Veckans ord: kottfars

Kottfars är nån sorts al-buskis.

2010-11-26

Veckans ord: lomhörd

I Storsjö finns om somrarna en flock lommar som flyter runt mitt i sjön om kvällen. För jag oväsen så flyttar de på sig lite oroligt – jag blir lomhörd.

2010-11-21

Unthinking privilege

At one point I had applied for a position as Reader at one of the local universities. During the interview I was asked how I proposed to handle diversity. I responded that I was a white male engineer (with blue eyes and speaking Stockholm Swedish), so I would certainly be at a disadvantage in that respect. While I may attempt to consider diversity issues, it is by necessity a conscious, intellectual effort, as I belong to the privileged part of humanity and seldom need to think about this.

Mark Chu-Carroll has written an insightful comment on how one, enlightened and liberal as one may be, through upbringing and a constant barrage of threat projections, has so many ingrained behaviours and reactions going counter to one’s stated standpoint.

The point is not that a person, claiming to be, say, a feminist, yet will behave in a sexist manner, is necessarily a hypocrite, but that behaving in a correct manner requires effort. During my first year studies in mathematics, I learned that one cannot simplifying an equation by dividing both halves by an unknown quantity, since that unknown might be 0, so one has to partition the solution into two cases, one for the case = 0, one for the case ≠ 0. I thought this was a huge onus to place on the equation solver. With practice, though, it became a habit and less of an effort to do this. Would that politically correct behaviour can also be internalised by conscious practice of one’s principles.

The price for the liberty of others is constant vigilance on one’s own actions…

2010-11-20

Hedonistic rich man

This morning the Posse converged on Grand Hôtel and its breakfast buffet. The suburbs had been covered in snow, but in the warmer city this was reduced to a wispy drizzle which didn’t enhance the view of the Royal Palace, already partially obscured by ongoing repairs of the quay outside. We concentrated on the food. I’m sure an observing -ologist could have made much of our respective different choices from the buffet.

The conversation as usual degenerated into a punfest and sometimes I looked around to see if we were disturbing the rest of the patrons with our laughing, but nobody seemed to be glaring in our direction.

Two hours later we decided to call it a morning and left, groaning a bit. The weather did not lend itself to strolling, but we did a quick look-through of the shop in Nationalmuseum and continued on to Sturegallerian, looking with shock at the tacky Christmas decorations all along Biblioteksgatan, but found the more plebeian Gallerian to be more to our liking. Just window shopping today, but eventually we’ll have to make the annual sacrifices to the Yule gods.

2010-11-19

Veckans ord: nödrim

”Nörd” är ett uppenbart nödrim.

2010-11-16

My knackered knee

Got the results back from my MRT pictures: a (collapsed) Baker cyst, nothing to do anything about, unless it begins to hurt worse.

2010-11-15

I have seen Jesus!

I mentioned Adelsö church yesterday, which in turn reminded me that I’ve actually been there: Way back when the lab had planning days on Adelsö at a youth hostel (which in itself is an interesting nuance difference, the Swedish term is literally “wanderer’s home”, the visitors are all kinds of tourists and not necessarily poor youth).

The steamboat jetty, from which we were going to return home, lies just next to the church and since I’m rather fond of churches I decided to have a look inside. I pulled open the heavy door, entered, and my brain stopped in its tracks. By the altar stood Jesus, clearly alive and well!

Eventually I also saw the vicar directing his actor in preparation for the Sunday’s Passion play and the world turned right again. I left them to it. As I exited another curious colleague was on his way in and I warned him:
“Jesus is there.”
He soon came out again:
“I didn’t think you meant it literally.”

2010-11-14

Lost in translation

Yesterday’s post on Finnish covers reminded me of a specific case of how things can change in translation. Sven Lindahl’s ”Mälarö kyrka” was soon translated into Finnish by Sauvo Puhtila and Lenne Broberg performed both Swedish and Finnish versions of it (with a heavy accent, but nowhere near as bad as that of Hootenanny Singers). In the Finnish version the setting of a church on an island in Mälaren (Adelsö church, to be precise) has been genericised to an “old vaulted church”, but there is a more subtle, not to say insidious, change as well. In both versions the song tells of a little boy, practising on the church organs, hoping to become an organ player in the church like his father, but in the Swedish version he plays both Bach and Beatles and both kinds of music are explicitly said to be equally beautiful. This was to some extent a controversial statement at the time (and still, over a decade later) and in the Finnish one it has been removed completely, only the Bach fugues and the continuity of heritage remains. Whether this is just an accident I cannot tell, but it sort of fits with Finnish society.

2010-11-13

Music in Finnish

When I was young, hit songs were normally translated in every European country and artists on international tours sang in the local language of each stop as a matter of course, but at least in Sweden (Anglo-Saxon) music is hardly ever translated these days.

Now I stumbled on a treasure trove: FINNPICKS, where “DM” methodically goes through Finnish covers of popular music with comments in English giving bios of the artists, the history of the original version (and quite often the original artist is not the one who made the song famous) and full-length recordings of both the original and the Finnish version (or sometimes versions, when there have been notably different renditions of either). I grew up to this music.

Many covers are fairly straight-forward translations, or at least retaining the spirit of the original, but some have completely unrelated lyrics, which always makes for an amusing shock.

2010-11-12

Veckans ord: minkolja

Under kriget ledde minsprängningar ofta till massdöd av fisk. Var det kustnära kunde befolkningen gå ut och bara håva in fisken. Oftast var det sillstim, men ibland kunde det bli en och annan minkolja.

2010-11-07

It works!

My Venus flytrap is in fact catching flies.

2010-11-06

A beautiful day

Finally a day without obligations and a crisp cold November day at that. I went out for a walk around the grounds.

2010-11-05

Word of the week: peskytarian

A person who announces at every opportunity that they don’t eat meat, but they eat fish: a peskytarian.

2010-11-02

Robbed!

I got a call from my bank. I had made a number of credit card purchases in the USA for large sums last night, which seemed suspicious. Were they in fact fraud? Indeed they were. OK, they had blocked most of the purchases and cancelled my card and I could then dispute the fraudulent transactions. *sigh* Thank you.

I wasn’t exactly surprised: a major hobby store has apparently had their entire customer database stolen. While still unclear how this theft had happened, the major discussion item on modeller forums all over Europe for the last week has been people’s hijacked credit cards. Apparently the number of card numbers was large enough for them to have taken a while to get down to my card.

On my lunch I went down to the local bank office and got the necessary forms, then went to the police office next door to make the requisite police report. The bank office was crowded, the police office was not. My details were carefully noted. The next day I called the police and filled in some additional information. Yet I was called the next day by a police officer who wanted some additional information. I gave him the same data I had already called about. I was a bit surprised that all the police I spoke to seemed so unfamiliar with credit card hijacking. How did you notice the theft? Well, the bank called me about suspicious transactions they’d noted. Really? That was very clever!

I for my part would also have thought the purchases quite suspicious: Whoever it was has among other things ordered 150 USD worth of Christian-themed apparel from C28.com. Well, they get free delivery with that.

2010-11-01

Charity

With deregulation all over, everybody has to attract clients with something special, often quite aggressively so. Thus, once when I was waiting for a friend on Södermalmstorg I was accosted by a very insistent woman selling electricity subscriptions for GodEl. Their main selling argument was that they donate from their profits to your chosen charity. One would think that they should invest in energy conservation measures, renewable energy sources, or whatever, but charity it was. So, she asked me, what would be my chosen charity? Vulcan to the Sky Trust, said I. She was a bit confused by that, but still professionally cheerful, she wondered what that was. It’s for the operation of a nuclear bomber. What! But that’s awful! So? You said I can choose any charity I want. Her commission on the stake she had to agree, but in the end I still declined to seal the deal, on account of what I pointed out was unsound selling practices, based on opt-out agreements.

Later, much later, I did change my electricity supplier, but using the spreadsheets at Elskling instead. They did not point out GodEl as the best offer I could get.

On the other hand, now I would have to donate to Vulcan to the Sky by myself.

2010-10-31

Taking my breath away

Honeybuns, J, and I decided it was time to go see what the Air Force Museum looks like after the recent renovation, so I booked (with some effort) tickets to Linköping and then we got on the early morning train. Coincidentally an erstwhile colleague turned up on the same train. He dissed the “murder machine museum” in no uncertain terms, but we decided to go anyway and take up his more wholesome alternatives at a later point in time.


Paint peeling off the radome of a Tp 82.
Linköping was sunny as we rode the bus out to the museum (they have SMS tickets in Linköping, too, these days). We got there a bit before opening time, and had a look at the outdoors exhibits. The Tp 79, Tp 80, Tp 82, and Tp 83 were looking rather the worse for wear. Apparently, being lowly SIGINT aircraft (and rather large) they weren’t allowed indoors. It was all rather sad.

A freshly restored Thulin G right inside the entrance to Hall 2.

Eventually we got indoors. Even while Hall 2 was generally recognisable in its layout, the exhibits had been much improved: There were screens with pictures, video material and text on the exhibits and the walls carried huge paintings of what a Swedish military airbase would have looked like in the different time periods depicted, coupled with descriptions of the technical development in that time. Showcases along the walls showed various smaller paraphernalia, such as uniform details, instruments, etc. Unfortunately these were mostly not labelled, so one had to guess at much of what was shown. A feature which I particularly liked was that several aircraft had ramps up to the side, making it possible to peer down into the cockpits.


From the exhibition on the museum’s patron saint, Carl Cederström, a satirical play on his exploits. Note ”Flygberg”, a reference to Carl Richard Nyberg, the original inventor from Sundbyberg.
After a while IPMS Östergötland turned up for their last-Sunday-in-the-month modelling meeting, right in the middle of the big hall. Very inspiring, but there was much to see, so I, rather impolitely, exchanged just a few words with my southern colleagues, and then continued through the exhibits.

Eventually we felt rather hungry, and found that the food facilites had been much improved since last as well, the museum now had a pleasant little restaurant with perfectly good food.

We skipped the Flight lab with the simulators and instead entered the new Cold War hall, which turned out to be high point of the visit. While Hall 2 was very pedagogical, it was still mainly an exhibition of aircraft qua aircraft, the Cold War hall was designed to demonstrate a historical process. This was done in four stations from the 1950s to the 1980s. Each station was in the form of a contemporary home, with news clips playing on the radios (later in the tv sets), poster stations etc. The aircraft were placed on top of the stations, but they became relegated to the background as we were hard hit by nostalgia. Just seeing the Salomon backpack on the coat hanger in the 80s flat brought back so many memories, even though I never had one myself. I visited the Britain at war experience several years ago and was a bit disappointed by it, but suspected that Brits with more personal memories would feel differently about it, and this would confirm that, it was a very strong experience to suddenly be brought back 30–40 years in time.

Then, in the cellar, the exhibition Acts of Secrecy, with the retrieved and preserved remains of the Tp 79 shot down in 1952, still an aching ulcer. The setting was very solemn as befits a war grave. The facts were laid out dispassionately, but there was clearly much still unsaid, partly because much information has been destroyed over time, but also because there are still living persons affected. So, while the Vasa museum can display detailed reconstructions of the dead in the wreck, such would not have been acceptable here, we are not even told whose remains have been found (their identities are known, they are just not mentioned). Four crew members are still missing, leaving their fate open. That well-preserved items of clothing were exhibited in a show-case added to the feeling of unease.

Mats Johansson had prepared a large-scale cutaway model of the aircraft, based on the best available knowledge and guesses. It brought home how tense the atmosphere must have been with the five SIGINT officers, each by a rack of listening equipment, trying to extract as much information as they could out of all signals from different sources crossing the air, busily jotting down notes as the plane flew back and forth, sniffing out the most interesting scents, all so secret that the truth couldn’t even be hinted at for fifty years.

In one of the show-cases I found an antenna mast, identical to the one I have as a trophy in my living room, though mine is said to originate from the one B 3 that was modified for SIGINT purposes.

Before we were all done, the museum closed. We will have to go back.

2010-10-29

Word of the week: rebugging

A colleague noted that for each bug they got out of the software they found at least one more, clearly they were rebugging the code.

2010-10-24

The future pounces on you

Every now and then I realise I’ve ended up in the future. As now, when I transferred all my digital photographs to my new MacBook Pro, iPhoto, in passing, scanned them all for faces. Now I can select a random photograph and click on Name and I get a little box marking a detected face in the picture and I get to name that person. Then iPhoto suggests a number of other photographs and I can just confirm or deny that that person is in that picture. The algorithm isn’t 100% perfect, and I hadn’t expected it to be either, but it’s much, much better than I had expected, matching faces with and without hats, with and without glasses, in shade and in light, looking this way and that. Every now and then it confuses Honeybuns and Kipper, but in all suggestions it has found the human faces and never random faces in places.

2010-10-23

Inception

We went and saw Inception the other day. The idea was interesting, but I was a bit disappointed to find that special effects and action still are equated with explosions and shooting. Certainly there must be something else to come up with? The zero-g scenes were brilliantly executed, though.

Then of course, real dreams are a lot more bizarre: in the dream I woke up from the morning after, I had been running in clogs through Vasastan, trying to find the model of USS Saratoga that I’d forgotten in the top basin of the (actually non-existent) multi-level water works running down Odengatan, even though I knew it would be ruined. As I ran, I passed a primly-clad woman reaching deep into the US-style gutters in order to dig out duck carcasses. No explosions.

2010-10-22

Veckans ord: identitetshandlingar

Varje dag utför vi, medvetet och omedvetet, en mängd identitetshandlingar, för att vi är de vi är och för att vi vill vara en viss sorts person.

2010-10-21

Bad site, good sight

I booked tickets for an upcoming train excursion on the SJ web site. Through the perversity of capitalism or whatever, it turned out to be considerably cheaper to ride first class than second. This meant that breakfast was included on the way out. However, if you have “special needs”, e g being a vegetarian, you can’t just check a box for this, but have to call separately to order your special food. This I did today, and after having been shunted around a bit by different call centre persons (because of course the voice menus did not indicate which menu option would give you the menu options, as it were), I ended up with the right person, who, with some audible effort, managed to adjust the food orders in some, as it sounded to me, less than obvious user interface. Now, I thought that maybe I could also add dinner reservations for the journey home, which I had missed to do earlier. The CCP excused herself and disappeared for ten minutes or so, trying to work out how to add dinner reservations and eventually couldn’t come up with anything better than booking new seats for us, this time with dinner reservations. I didn’t think we’d eat so much that we’d need two seats each, so I thanked her for her efforts and left it at that.

Now, this conversation had been long enough and required sufficiently little of my attention that I’d managed to do other things in parallel: to begin with, look up on the SL site how to get to my ultrasound examination. They have the very useful checkbox “I don’t mind walking a bit if it gets me there faster.” and turning it on suggested I could get to my destination in a third of the time it would otherwise take me, just by taking a ten-minute walk through the woods behind my house to a bus stop by the big road. This was a nice enough little outing, though the little narrow and winding road through the woods turned out to be frequented by huge articulated lorries every few minutes. I’m not quite sure where they thought they were going.

In the time since the Google car had passed, somebody had carefully smashed all the glass walls of the bus shelter, but it was a sunny (though chilly) day, so it didn’t affect my immediate comfort too much.

Then I got to the care centre with a radiology department and got probed. I was fascinated to see that the bottles with conductive gel were kept in a little heater, so as not to be cold and nasty. Then I got to see the inside of my leg, and ye gods how thick the femoral artery is! Still, the ultrasound did not give sufficient resolution for a definite diagnosis, so next up: magnetic resonance tomography.

2010-10-19

Stats

I just noticed that Blogger is collecting statistics on the blog since May this year and found to my surprise that I seem to have a lot more readers than the three or four I was aware of. Hi there, unknown people!

Then there are a lot more passers-by, as it were, and as seems to be common, they end up here via Google searches for terms basically unrelated to the blog topic (whatever that is). So, the all-time most popular page read on Pointless Anecdotes is: Veckans ord: ytterliggare. Why are all these people googling for ”ytterliggare”? It’s not even a proper word, for heaven’s sake.

Then I get quite a bit of traffic from Åsa at Ting och Tankar. Hi there, archaeology fans, sorry I don’t have more in the way of Beaker culture grave finds, the only ancient artefact here is me.

2010-10-18

Geekiest punchline

Scenario:
Some coworkers are sitting around afternoon coffee. Newly employed D mentions having problems managing a website, the others speculate on what the cause may be and then the discussion turns to people’s favourite web programming languages.
A: “With all its faults, PHP is still pretty good.”
B: “Well, ASP with VBScript is better than its reputation, in particular the latest versions.”
C: “Rails, definitely!”
D [brightly]: “I’ve used CSS!”

2010-10-17

Burying fallen petals

More purry romantic than sad in the performance, but the recording with the best audio quality I could find.



The original.

2010-10-16

Stoic

I went to the local care centre to have a minor ailment looked at. As I had to repeat my little story at each level of triage, this particular snippet was also repeated at each stage:
“So it started about five, six weeks ago…”
“A week ago?”
Five, six weeks ago.”
[Weird look]

Is the concept of “Wait and see if it gets better” all dead? Or maybe just the practitioners of it.

Anyway, the physician suspected it was a benign condition, but referred me to an ultrasound to make sure, so further updates as and when I get probed.

2010-10-15

Veckans ord: tantläkare

En gynekolog är en tantläkare.

2010-10-14

Jobshead

My new 15" MacBook Pro has arrived! Somehow every Mac generation manages to be better-looking than the previous one. The touchpad is soft as silk and the screen so sharp.

The one blemish so far has been the step in the installation process where I was to transfer all the information from my old Mac: thanks to the still-living connector conspiracy the FireWire cable I’d borrowed from the office only fit the old Mac. The little manual implied that you could transfer wirelessly, but it wasn’t entirely obvious that I was supposed to press the little button “Use Ethernet” to get to another screen where I could select “Use wireless”, especially when the on-screen instructions exhorted me to press “Previous” in the case that I didn’t have a FireWire cable. Then it took all night and a bit to transfer all the data, but now it’s done and I’m happy as a lark with my new machine.


I take that back: it’s not just silky, the touchpad is like an antigravity surface and when I moved my fingers apart it scaled the contents of my browser window! At this rate I’ll have to buy an iPhone soon.

2010-10-11

Irreversibility

Remember the trees that were mowed down to make an very necessary parking place? This is how intensely it is used these days:


In the meanwhile I’ve found out that it is the Alliance in Stockholm that has enforced that each home must have a parking spot, which is just insanely stupid. Lately and belatedly, even they have to come realise that this is not a good idea.

Gee great, does this then mean that they're going to tear up the parking place and plant new trees there? Well, no. And even if they did, it would take about a human lifetime for the new copse to mature. It would be an ecosystem, but not the same as there was before, even if indistinguishable to the casual city-dweller’s eye (“Well, like trees, right?”).

Which brings me to irreversibility, that You Can Never Go Back. A feature of children’s tales is that Bad Things Happen, but the hero perseveres and brings everything back to The Way It Was—the witch’s wand is broken and all the people who were turned into pigs turn back and go home and continue their lives as if nothing had happened and even though they’ve been enslaved for untold ages their children still recognise them and their spouses have not found someone else. Toy Story 3 purportedly is about the inevitable loss of childhood, yet just a quick shower with the garden hose suffices to remove glue, paint, and rubbed-in dirt from the toys and return them into pristine condition—even the lost eye of Mrs Potatohead is retrieved.

Indeed, many stories for adults still work on this premise: Even while some may die in the process, once the tyrant is killed and everything goes back to the original happy state, armies of masterless soldiers on both sides shed their weapons and find gainful employment, nobody’s minds and bodies have been ravaged so that rehabilitation is impossible, no rancour lingers. Contrary to this, while being an action movie, Hrafninn flýgur makes the point that all the violence unleashed does not bring justice but only more violence, all survivors are left scarred and twisted.

So where does that leave the lost copse? It seems a decision was made on ideological grounds, without considering (or bothering about) the consequences, and when they become too apparent to ignore, there is no going back. Is there any drive for evidence-based politics? Would it be possible to develop a political science able to handle non-linear effects, scaling up from smaller-scale experiments, using agreed-upon statistical measures? Am I being a physicist?

2010-10-10

Late harvest

I did get some more eatables from the balcony plants.

Tomatoes and chillies

2010-10-08

Veckans ord: snorklar

Nu har jag varit snuvig i evigheter, jag önskar jag vore snorklar.

2010-10-07

Older than ever before

Today my youngest, my Only-Begotten Daughter, comes of age.

Against all (my) expectations, their mother and I have managed to bring up two fine human beings, who by all accounts should do well, by themselves and by others. Yet whenever I see them, superimposed on their gangly figures are the newborn baby, the sweaty sleeping toddler, the sick and crying child, the joyfully running pre-schooler, the earnest pupil, the love-lorn teen. I still want to protect them and I fear for their future, but they have to fend for themselves and they’ll do fine, they’ll do fine.

2010-10-06

Egna och andras sjukdomar

En bekant var förtvivlad över hur cancern bröt ner hennes närstående och det var blott med en övermänsklig ansträngning som jag lyckades avhålla mig från att kommentera:
– Jag hör att du är på dåligt umör.
men i längden går det inte att hålla det inne.

2010-10-03

NOTPU

Recently my Palm stopped sounding alarms. Very strange, the audio unit and everything else was functioning well, but scheduled alarms just didn’t appear. I decided to reset the Palm. To be safe, I synched it first. On synching, about two weeks’ worth of unacknowledged alarms raised a raucous ruckus. OK, so when I get up before the alarm rings and then don’t acknowledge it due to being in the shower or whatever, the alarm eventually times out, but gets stored in a buffer somewhere, and when this buffer fills up, no more alarms can be issued? I'm not sure I understand the logic of the implementation, but at least the solution to the problem was simple.

2010-09-26

Multicultural

Recently I had reason to register on a work-related web forum, so I went through the usual process of entering a handle, give my email address and then I got a CAPTCHA to ascertain that I was a real human. It gave me some pause, as half the characters I was required to enter were in Greek. Had I been on a Mac, it wouldn't have been much of a problem, but on my work Linux box I had no idea how to input the required text. Fortunately requesting a new challenge generated an ISO Latin-1-only string and I could proceed.

I wonder about the implementation of the CAPTCHA—did it really generate strings of random Unicode characters? Probably not, since the first half of the string was fully in Greek, and the latter fully in Latin characters, rather than a jumble of Chinese, Indic and Runic characters. So, if there was a restriction to certain character sets, why combine two different alphabets? Or was the implementation from a distant perspective of “Since these are all European characters, they can be generated on a European keyboard, right?” Or possibly just somebody being deliberately difficult. I know the kind, I am one of them…

2010-09-20

It's like Ishida was psychic

Ms Fuchsia crying

Kista morning

Army of engineers,
keycard dogtags.
Highspeed tenspeed,
floorball-stick banner.
Sensible mother
pedals sedately uphill.
Men in overalls,
up since five.
Fractions of fractured English.
Students dream of glamour,
important meetings in faraway places.
Executive,
cabin bag,
empty eyes,
full coffee cup.

2010-09-19

Secular rituals

I’ve often thought that while the Cold War was a Bad Thing and Swedish neutrality largely a sham, the hidden mobilisation depots, the air-raid shelters in all schools and the evacuation plans in the phone book still gave a comforting feeling that We Were Prepared, Plans Had Been Made and that serious people had Considered All Eventualities. Now, bunkers are filled with concrete, subterranean command centers are turned into exhibition spaces, air force road bases dismantled. The risk of war has diminished, but things are more uncertain.

So, it pleases me every time an election comes around, as the well-oiled process, honed over generations, turns into gear. Today it was time again, I walked up to the school, passed the ballot-toting party representatives chatting in the cool evening, selected my ballots, received the envelopes at the entrance to my precinct and went behind the booth to put the ballots in. Then, showing voter card and ID, handing over envelopes, the official carefully checking that there was only a single ballot in each envelope before he dropped them in the boxes, chanting for the other to mark off: “Yellow. White. Blue.” Thank you.

A young woman has not received her voting card, no worries, get to the City Hall where they can fix that, there’s still plenty of time.

Now, it’s just wait for the results to come in.



Update
And in that democratic process, almost 6% of the voters have decided that only people of the right ethnic background should count as first class citizens… Why am I sitting in a handbasket, and where am I going?

2010-09-08

Happy New Year!

There are very few Jews in Montana, which is probably why there isn't a Rosh Hashannah Montana.

2010-08-30

Update!

Now there is an update of the old Biochemical Pathways poster at SABiosciences. Not a complete view, alas, but chunks of pathways with diagrams, explanations, and references.

Activation of cAMP-Dependent PKA

2010-08-28

How do they do it?

We went and saw Toy Story 3 and much to our surprise we found that it was a threequel that had lost none of the ability to spin a new story on the old theme. I don’t remember the last time I saw a film where I was so genuinely fearful for the characters when they were in the ultimate pickle. Of course I’m also terribly sentimental and had to blink quite a lot on several occasions; hardnosed Honeybuns enjoyed the jokes and didn’t register the theme of loss of childhood at all, so from quite different perspectives we still thought it was a great film. I got a flashback to Tin Toy, where apparently some of the elements of the story were already present.

Of course Toy Story is in 3D, as is required of all new film these days, but that doesn’t make much of a difference for the film. In contrast, the introductory short: Night & Day makes brilliant and innovative use of 3D—by combining it with 2D graphics.

2010-08-27

Veckans ord: musarm

Vem har det värst: den som är fattig som en kyrkråtta eller den som är musarm?

2010-08-02

Bad harvest

In spite of the good start the crop has failed. This is it:

All of seven beans

2010-08-01

Birka

Ulf suggested we go to Birka. The weather forecast didn’t look too promising, but once we were on our way in M/S Mälar-Victoria the clouds started to scatter and when we arrived at Birka the sun was shining very nicely, offset by a little breeze.

We tagged on a guided tour. Marika the guide was very good, deeply knowledgeable about the subject matter, able to make her voice heard a long distance without visible effort and going off at high speed across the island in her non-period trainers. The audience was also well-prepared, with relevant questions about what’s known about Birka’s time. After some final questions about gender issues in the late Viking age we let Marika off to her next group and pick-nicked on the side of the hill fort with a beautiful view over Björköfjärden.

We then had just a little time to try on archery and discuss Viking age metallurgy in the smithy before the boat left for the city again. As we left, the clouds gathered again, but stayed aloft.

The Black Earth of Birka
This used to be a bustling merchant city with a thousand inhabitants. Now it’s sheep pasture. Across the bay, the church at Adelsö is faintly visible, by the site of the then royal compound.

2010-07-31

Put on your Saturday Suit

Today was the joyous climax of Stockholm Pride, the Parade. I hadn’t seen it before, but others indicated it was relatively low density compared to when Stockholm Pride coincided with Euro Pride.

Still, it took the procession three hours to pass our perch on top of the exit of Söderleden.

I was a bit disappointed by how few Dykes on Bikes rolled at the front, but maybe the explanation was the absolutely huge crowd of pram-pushing gay parents coming somewhat later: they’d eventually had to switch vehicles…

Notable was how the political parties (with notable exceptions) embraced the issue and turned out in force, in some cases I suspect the entire party was there. However, Honeybuns noted that all political organisations (including trade unions) appeared in predictably modest and boring fresh and clean T-shirts made for the occasion. Nothing like the fancy outfits worn by, say, Scandinavian Leather Men, who I thought won the parade.

The gay clergy of the Church of Sweden was also there and I was much amused by the chosen musical accompaniment: “He has opened the Pearly Gates so that I can enter”. It was on purpose, right?

The gay members of the armed forces were there and carried a big banner—in a camouflage pattern, so I couldn’t see what it said.

When the end of the parade finally passed us we left to do some shopping, and apparently so did thousands upon thousands of other people, Stockholm was well crowded today.

2010-07-30

Veckans ord: getölj

En gåvomöbel: getölj.

2010-07-29

There’s no reason to applaud

One of the things that makes a spex a unique experience is that the audience can demand instant replays of particularly funny scenes, typically with an alternative rendition of the scene.

In the spex ”1492, eller, Expedition: Inkvisition” princess Joanna feigns madness in order not to be married off. Then she meets and falls in love with prince Philip. When Philip suddenly dies of poison she becomes insane for real. At the performance I saw this became an absolutely heart-rending scene. A small section of the audience shouted “Restart!”, but all the rest squeezed “No!” past the lumps in their throats. The emotions were too real, there could be no restart, no jokes to make light of what had happened. The play ended on an unusually sombre note for a spex.

I felt much the same when I finally heard the lyrics to “Another Day in Paradise”—how can you dance to this?

2010-07-26

2010-07-23

Word of the week: blight-seeing

And yet another president is blight-seeing at yet another natural disaster.

2010-07-22

Earworm

The voices in my head compel me: everybody else must also have this buzzing in their heads.

2010-07-19

When bygones are bygones

Friday evening was spent at the Usual Place in the company of friends. Just as we got up to leave, my mother called.
“Hi, when are you coming over tomorrow?”
“…… Oh! The cherries! Right, er, uh, I’ll get in as early as possible.”
And so I did.

Mother’s cherry tree had excelled this summer and was full of plump red cherries. In a few hours we had picked perhaps 15 litres of cherries, and there were still plenty left in high branches. Being a mother, Mom admonished me sternly when I stood swaying on top of the ladder and reached for cherries, yet had no qualms at all about standing on the selfsame ladder, taking the saw to branches she decided were better off gone.

All picking done, I took some bags of cherries to take home and then we took some bags to my aunt. Chatting over cherries, coffee, cake, and Coke.
Then I got home for an evening of nothing special.

In the morning Mom called:
“Auntie said there were worms in the cherries, you should throw yours away.”
“Moom, I ain’t afraid of no worm. Anyway, I’ve put the cherries in the freezer, so any worms will be dead now.”

Honeybuns and I prepared for a day outing to somewhere, but just as we were ready to leave Auntie called. She’d just been on the phone with Mom again and Mom had had no recollection of any cherries, any visit, or anything. This surely couldn’t be good?
Uh-oh! I immediately called Mom and indeed she denied having talked to Auntie recently, did not recall having spoken to me either and certainly I hadn’t been there yesterday. Oh, no! 112 connects me to a nurse who listens to my explanation and suggests that it probably isn’t anything dangerous, but to go and check on Mom and call again if anything further happens.

In the taxi out I review the options and decide to take Mom straight into hospital anyway. As I arrive Mom is very upset, since I’m so clearly agitated.
“What’s happened? What have I done?”
I try to explain that she may have had a stroke and that I want her to see a physician. Further conversation makes clear that she has no memory of the last day or so, but neither is she aware of having lost any memories. She is much confused by my insistence that there is a problem, since she feels perfectly OK. When we get to A&E we are within minutes received by a neurologist and further testing bears out that this is the case: Mom is in good shape (for her age), knows perfectly well where we are, what day it is, who I am, and it’s so nice to see Honeybuns again. So, everything OK, except that Mom does not remember the events of the last day.
The neurologist explains that this probably is a case of transient global amnesia—causes are unclear, but it should clear up by itself with no aftereffects. Nevertheless, they’re going to run some additional tests and keep her for observation over the night.
After a CT Mom gets rolled up to a Neuro ward. More tests. She passes them all with flying colours. Some bits of memory seem to be returning, but Auntie’s phone call is still completely gone.

My brother and his girlfriend arrive. Sis is away, but is informed of events.

A decision is made and Mom gets rolled into the monitoring room. Four beds, all monitored from a central desk. Mom gets hooked up to a machine that goes bing. I’ve always found medical machinery comforting. Nothing shows that you’re taken care of as well as a machine that goes bing. Or breeep, as the case may be.

More tests are done in the course of the evening. Mom is perfectly clear and lucid. Eventually visiting hours are over and I have to leave.

In the morning, all us siblings call the ward in turns and get updates. More tests and then Mom is discharged. Probably nothing to worry about, but keep an eye open and do follow-up tests in a couple of weeks. Mom is much pleased to come home, but is still wondering about Auntie’s phone call that she just can’t remember.

Presumably I did the right thing taking Mom to hospital, even though it worried her and us others—it could have been something much more serious. Still, if Auntie hadn’t felt like making an extra phone call, possibly neither Mom nor anyone else would ever have noticed that anything was amiss, just another day in the life blurring into all other days and might not merit any specific mention.

2010-07-18

Trädgårdsgräl

 – Jag sköter gödslandet av rabatten, du ska bara skita i den!

2010-07-16

Veckans ord: grötrim

Grötrim äro: blöt, nöt, söt, tröt, sköt, njöt, bröt, stöt, möt, slöt, göt, tjöt, ljöt, bröt, flöt, snöt och poet.

2010-07-14

Poms vs Bruces

Have tried Vegemite. It is distinguishable in taste from Marmite, but not by much. Works well on toast.

2010-07-13

Livet i överklassen

…och när man rumlat färdigt vid Stureplan går man till korvkiosken och köper en bratwurst.

2010-07-12

Like a ferret

A recent research article indicates that people’s blogs correlate with their personality type, at least in the choice of words used.

Mattias Östmar has independently developed Typealizer, which analyses the contents of blogs and determines their personality type. This is the analysis of Pointless Anecdotes:

ESTP - The Doers

The active and playful type. They are especially attuned to people and things around them and often full of energy, talking, joking and engaging in physical out-door activities.

The Doers are happiest with action-filled work which craves their full attention and focus. They might be very impulsive and more keen on starting something new than following it through. They might have a problem with sitting still or remaining inactive for any period of time.

I recognise the character, but it’s not me—Honey, you have taken over the blog…and I love you for that!

2010-07-11

City on water

Delfin XA day of sweltering heat, time to do something! As last year, Honeybuns and I went touristing in our own city, this time on water: Under the Bridges of Stockholm with the long and low Delfin boats. We started with lunch, good and plentiful Thai dishes in one of the eateries in Kungsträdgården and then got on the boat at Strömkajen.

We leave the quay and don the headset for the audio guide. I turn to the Finnnish channel, to see what it’s like. I note that since there is a person speaking, the translation has to be good, as a Google translation would be unspeakable. (What if you did do a Google translation, that then was read by a non-native speaker? I just tested translating Swedish into Finnish and then running the results through the Speech service of my Mac. Oh dear, oh dear&hellip) As tour guides are wont, we get a stream of random factoids about Sweden and the parts of Stockholm we pass. In the breaks we get “Swedish music”: various hits arranged as cocktail jazz—just imagine “The Final Countdown” tinkled on piano. Or, rather, don’t.

Skerry boats by Skeppsbron

The city is at its best, the sun glitters in the water, the houses glimmer in the heat. People from all over the world have come to see the fabled city—the Chinese woman speaks with an unmistakeable Småland accent. A sea breeze blowing in through the open door to the bridge cools us. Happy screams from Gröna Lund echo over the water. Cruise ships line the quays, skerry boats, sailboats, jet skis, and RIB boats fill the water…

LOOK OUT!

Out of nowhere Djurgården 7 turns up on our port side and only a sharp turn saves us from colliding, the boats miss each other with perhaps a metre to spare! While we passengers already have imagined tomorrow’s headlines featuring our watery demise, the captain doesn’t seem to think that there is anything amiss, as no apology or explanation for the event is given; we proceed as if nothing had happened to Karl-Johansslussen in order to enter the Mälaren side of Stockholm.

It is a hot day, and every bit of the waterfront is filled with people tanning or paddling about in the water.

Smedsuddsbadet utterly crowded

We round Reymersholme and continue through Årstaviken. All previous companies at my erstwhile working place seem to have been replaced by others, judging from the new logos on the glass façade of the building.

The tour guide prattles on about how the vikings honoured great story-tellers and another great story teller was Carl Michael Bellman. [Musical interlude] Argh! While Fred Åkerström was a famous Bellman interpreter, ”Jag ger dig min morgon” is not by Bellman, but Tom Paxton! (the original).

After having passed through Hammarbyslussen we pass
Hammarby Sjöstad, its buildings and inhabitants basking in the sun. On our way through Danvikstull the guide notes the sheer cliff face is a popular haunt for rock-climbers and indeed a woman is negotiating the cliff, her rope secured by her family. She looks around but decides not to wave at the passing boat.

Soon we have returned to our starting point and get ashore on schedule, 1 h 50 min after departure.

We feel like exploring more, so go for a walk around Skeppsholmen. One of the secret military tunnels in the rock exudes cold air and we stand at the entrance for a while cooling off.

We are still pretty thirsty and when we find Restaurang Hjerta we go in and order something to drink. This turns to be about as easy as buying cheese and it’s only late afternoon! In the end I get a glass of ice water, and not very good-tasting water at that (for free though).

We admire the ships along the quay. While they are all well-kept and well-loved, many of them clearly have not left their moorings for a long time, which is a bit sad. We follow the waterside and end up at af Chapman, where we get something decent to drink and while the afternoon calms down, we sit on the deck and philosophise on how the Red Queen’s Race manifests itself in our lives—you can never say “Yes, this is just enough work for me.”, but have to keep doing more things, just to get to keep doing the things you do.

Biological math

It just struck me that unicellular organisms multiply by dividing.

2010-07-10

Tämliga barnvisor

Nisse ville sjöman bli,
segla till Jamaica.
Beska piller fick han då,
tvångströja fick han också
om den breda, ludna bringan.

2010-07-09

Veckans ord: vitterhetsakademin

Vittrorna är upprörda. Inte nog med att befolkningen i gemen är avogt inställda mot dem, det finns en hel statsstödd akademi som hetsar mot dem.

2010-07-07

From the Tourist Board of Västerbotten

Some holiday snaps:

The bog on top of Nalovardo. Needs more elk, says Honeybuns.

Nalovardo

Waterpolished rock at Mårdseleforsen. Honeybuns used this as a slip-and-slide in her youth.

Mårdseleforsen

Serious forest in Vindeln. This is a couple of kilometres from the town centre.

Fir forest

Storsjö is getting depopulated.

A very decrepit barn

Not visible in the photographs are the mosquitoes. One evening Honeybuns noted with some concern that I had a biggish rash on my arm and wondered what had happened. I responded, with some surprise that she had to ask:
“It’s a mosquito bite, and here’s another, and another, and another, and another, and another…”
“What!? You’re not immune?”
Oh, so that’s why people manage to live up here…

2010-07-06

Social services

A couple of weeks ago my employer informed us in a brief meeting that the company would perform “cost reductions”, i e layoffs. Further information to come by the end of June. I had seen the writing on the wall and wasn’t particularly surprised, but unemployment was of course still a course of concern, so as soon as the meeting was over I got on Facebook (allowed at work) and sent out an SOS. Within minutes consolation and suggestions started coming in. A particularly hot tip came from a former student who works for Major Corporation. By next evening I had updated and sent off my CV. In the morning came the phone call: could I come for an interview the next day? Indeed I could!

A week later I was in for a second interview. I left with a signed contract and felt relieved, elated, nervous about how I’ll manage the new job, but also deeply grateful to my friends who came through so effectively, and of course also to the fancy social networking system that speeded up the job search so remarkably.

Now I’m wrapping up stuff and will soon be looking at the world from Kista Science Tower. Banzai!

2010-07-05

Special people for special baggage

Once we at the lab were going to an important conference to demonstrate some multimodal interaction and thus had to bring quite a bit of Fragile and Expensive Equipment with us. We packed it as carefully as we could, wrapping stuff in layers of our underwear, bubble wrap, foam peanuts and other soft items we could find. Then off we went to Arlanda and as we checked in we explained we had Fragile Things with us, so could they please be extra careful with them?
“Oh, then you must take it to Special Baggage around the corner there. Here’s some FRAGILE tape for you to mark your boxes with.”
We criss-crossed the box with red-and-black FRAGILE markings and then went around the corner to Special Baggage. Nobody there. We looked around a bit and went:
“Ho-hoo! Anybody heere?”
Presently a lady came out, looking very bored and continuing to look bored while she had us put our box on a conveyor belt and supplied it with the necessary bar codes.
Then she started the belt. We looked curiously as the box slowly moved towards a rubber curtain at one end of the room and then started parting the curtain so we could see beyond it. NOOOOOO!!! I threw myself towards the curtain and the π/4 incline beyond it. Too late, we could just watch in dismay as the box tumbled end over end down the seemingly infinite belt. The baggage lady barely bothered to look up at the commotion, but wore an expression of dull incomprehension: what were we going on about?

It was with some trepidation that we unpacked our precious box at our destination, but our careful wrapping had paid off and everything was in fact unharmed.

Now, many years later, I was again at Arlanda (I know, I know, but at least I’ve had planted 80 trees in Africa as an attempt at expiation) and, as usual, belatedly realised that my army knife had somehow returned to my pocket from the big bag that I had already checked in. What to do? Better put the knife in the backpack I had intended to carry on board and check it in. I return to the baggage drop and explain the situation and note I have fragile stuff in the backpack (the work laptop, some stuff supposedly couldn’t wait until after the vacation).
“Oh, then you should take it to Special Baggage over there.”
I take the backpack over to Special Baggage, where the guy at the counter x-rays it and notes I have a knife in the bag. Indeed. All contents of the bag are clearly visible on the display.

Off we fly and when we have arrived, refreshed ourselves and all that, I pick up the laptop to have a look at the latest messages. Oh, foo! The screen is cracked. Somewhat incensed I navigate a number of answering machines until I get hold of a person at SAS Baggage Handling. No, no, computers are not allowed in checked-in baggage, it’s all my own fault if anything got broken, and clearly their check-in staff has no responsibility to inform anyone of anything. Aargh!

Trains it is for the future!

2010-07-04

Young art

A rainy street in Stockholm.As the Only-Begotten Daughter reminds me, she has recently had her first art exhibition.

Teater Accént, in addition to schooling young performers, have initiated Galleri Accént, where young artists can exhibit their work in the theatre’s premises. So the OBD and several of her friends worked hard for weeks sculpting, photographing and painting, spreading the word through all those wonderful social media and then rigged up the labyrinthine cellar spaces of Teater Accént with both art and a nice setting for viewing.

This is when we arrived on the scene. I was pleased and proud, though not a bit surprised, to find that the Daughter’s pieces were among the best featured, in particular her photography. (Anything else would clearly have been against the laws of (parental) nature.) She even managed to sell a painting (though not the featured one).

2010-07-03

Burial traditions

Walking through Vindeln cemetery I found the headstones rather spooky as they often had a still-living spouse’s name already engraved, just waiting for the final date to be added:

Herman Holmlund, his wife Anna

Unfamiliar to me was also the custom of carefully mentioning the home parish of the dead. I wondered in confusion if the family dog had been buried in the same grave, but of course Rambo was where they (had) lived:

Lindberg family from Rambo

Particularly sobering was the mass grave for Finnish infants evacuated from Rovaniemi. We searched the church; there were lots of leaflets in several languages on the history and architecture of the church but no information on the refugees and how they had come there.

27 buried refugees

2010-07-02

Veckans ord: reparationsångest

Det är alltid lite läskigt att sätta igång även med absolut nödvändiga lagningar, man lider av reparationsångest.

Dress code

I don’t have very good memory for faces, so that I didn’t quite recognise the fellow coming towards me in the street was no surprise, but the T-shirt he wore came from a data communications workshop small and obscure enough that I knew all participants and it had been twenty years; accordingly I greeted him cordially.

It turned out that while he liked the T-shirt a lot, he had no idea what it represented—he’d been given it at the homeless shelter.

I think this is what sartorially immaculate Honeybuns has been trying to tell me: hobos look just like computer scientists.

2010-06-25

Veckans ord: ingroddienser

Smuts består av ett antal ingroddienser.

2010-06-18

Veckans ord: tristinformation

Vid alltför många möten har man fått ta emot alltför mycket ointressant tristinformation.

2010-06-11

Word of the week: madchine

HAL 9000 is driven insane by the conflicting requirements placed on him, he becomes a madchine.

2010-06-07

In my style

I’ve been reading the aviation magazine Le Fana de l'Aviation lately. I have been amused by the editorial style: Myths and entertaining but untrue stories are given no truck and are curtly dismissed, failures are called for what they are while no unnecessary awe is spent on successes. Yet it’s a glossy magazine with well-researched and thoughtful articles, high-quality photo material, and often CGI reconstructions of aircraft that were never built.

2010-05-14

Retour/detour

Time to go home!

We have several morning hours before we have to leave, so we walk down to the beach. It is hors saison so we have it to ourselves.

Algæ on the seawallNo points for guessing how high the high tide reaches.

We walk in the sand just by the water. The sand is unpredictable, sometimes it holds, sometimes our feet sink deep. Shells have accumulated right by the edge of the wet sand. The only others on the beach are a woman and her daughter, the latter perhaps eightish is digging a sand castle when we pass. She is so like the Only-Begotten Daughter at that age. Suddenly a thought strikes her and she rushes off to the wet sand. She stops, jumps ahead on one foot and then carefully treading creates a design in the sand—a heart. A new jump inside the heart, making letters, adjusts them balancing on one foot. Finally it is ready and she runs, runs to fetch her mother. Je t’aime, Maman ! She gets a kiss on the cheek and maman photographs the heart.

A small, small girl in a big, big world.


Further along the beach a sand artist has created a menagerie.

Sand animals


We walk by the sea in the not yet quite warm breeze. Finally we have to return to the hotel via the local E Leclerc where we buy food for the day. It is another of the French stores that no longer sell single-use plastic bags, we get a sturdy bag to haul our stuff in. On the way to the railway station we stop in a chocolate store and buy presents for deserving friends at home.

Regional train in ArcachonAt the railway station I notice in passing that the arrivals/departures displays have been covered up and the timetables instead written on big sheets of paper, but our train seems to run on time anyway, so I think no further of it. The train to Bordeaux is clean, modern and very high, as if originally intending to be a double-decker but preferring a high ceiling instead. We leave on time at 11:25 and arrive in Bordeaux 50 minutes later.

According to the original itinerary laid out by the DB planner, we should now proceed by a series of local trains via Coutras, Angoulême, and Poitiers to Paris, but I had found out that there was actually a direct TGV from Bordeaux to Paris with which we could leave a lot later and thus have time for a look at Bordeaux, so we just need to rebook our tickets. We deposit our bags in the luggage deposit (Yay, there is one!)—the bags get x-rayed and we are told that laptops are not allowed to be stored, strictly forbidden, so I have to take it out and carry it around in Honeybuns’s handbag, but at least the rest of the bags get in a locker.

There is quite a bit of people in queue at the ticket desks. I glance at the departure table and note that our original departure isn’t shown, but local trains may of course be displayed somewhere else. We finally arrive at the desk and I present my case, we want to take the direct train from here to Paris, arriving no later than 20:30, and no, we don’t want to leave immediately, but with a later train. The ticketeer starts working on her terminal, looking very concerned. Things don’t come out the way she wants. She fetches assistance, this person just glances at the screen and gives up, she fetches another person who also leaves her to it with no further concern. She is much distressed. She explains that it will be quite expensive to rebook. Oh, well, hm, it will be much more convenient, so let’s go for it. She works away at the terminal with the look of a marathoner with too much distance left to the finish. Eventually she succeeds with whatever she’s been doing and explains that she can’t refund us for the unused ticket, we have to do that at the site of purchase, but she has new reservations for us at 3 EUR each. Excellent! I thank her profusely and we walk away. I then have a look at the tickets. Oh no! They are for a train that will arrive 21:30, much too late for our connection! I rush back and wait while she finishes the next client, then break in and explain that we have to arrive 20:30. She gives me a look of unbearable suffering, but starts working on her machine again, cancelling the just-issued tickets and then printing out new ones (and receipts and whatever, a lot more comes out of the printer than I get in my hand). This time I check the times of the tickets before leaving the desk; they are now OK. But, they require us to first take a bus to Libourne. By now I have added up all the little signs and signals that have been shouting at me for the last few hours and realise that SNCF are taking the opportunity to perform some much needed maintenance during the long weekend and there are in fact severe traffic disruptions over the entire region. Specifically they are today replacing the bridge over the Garonne just outside the railway station, so all traffic northwards has to go by bus at the moment. Presumably the ticket lady assumed I was well aware of this and that that was why I wanted to change our tickets. Oh well, at least we got the right ones, even if by accident.

Now, out to have a look at Bordeaux. We pick the first little restaurant across from the station for lunch. The waiter automatically addresses us in quite passable English, the first time this has happened during this trip. The food is quite passable as well.

Rue FiefféNow what? I’ve spied a biggish church some distance away, there’s bound to be something to look at there, so we walk towards it on rue Fieffé, a little back street that stretches out like a yawning cat in the sunshine. Everybody must be doing lunch right now, the only other person we see is a sushi deliverer. We reflect on the incongruity of this: the houses along the street do not seem particularly posh and are sometimes downright shabby, but the parked cars look expensive. This has also been a pattern in the other places we’ve been, that the houses often seem pretty neglected. One could imagine that this is because the climate allows this, but even in Provence winters get quite cold and surely even more so here by the Atlantic coast. Perhaps it has something to do with arcane French legislation making it complicated to renovate houses, or maybe it simply is more important to have a well-polished car.

Sacré Cœur, BordeauxWe find the silent and empty Sacré Cœur and have a look-see inside it. Another couple also come in, they disappear with determined steps through a passage behind the chancel. Still, we are not exactly in the bustling cite centre, so we return to the station along a parallel street and then decide to see what we can find in the other direction. This seems to be more towards the centre, we arrive at the Garonne with a park along the riverside as far as we can see. We walk through it until it’s time to return to the station. We note that Bordeaux is built of the same drably pale grey stone as is Paris, a letdown from the brighter-coloured buildings in the south.

Shuttle bus to LibourneWe retrieve our bags and then locate the bus station when shuttle busses to Libourne leave. The trip is not all that long (but I get very excited when I notice an Airbus 380 fuselage transport barge in the river, on its way to Toulouse) and Libourne seems a nice enough little town with the usual mediæval accoutrements. However, its railway station has probably never before seen this many passengers at one time, the little waiting hall is full of people milling around and the coffee shop and newspaper hawker are making brisk business. Still, there is no particular chaos, there have been scores of people in SNCF jackets guiding people and the trains are basically running on (the rearranged) schedule.

So, the 17:41 non-stop TGV service leaves on the dot and we travel north through a flattening landscape. We again reflect over the many seemingly abandoned buildings and ruins along the way. Parallel with the railway is a canal system we curiously study. At 20:30 we arrive at Gare de Montparnasse, a brutalist concrete maze. We quickly disappear down into the Métro, from which there is a straight connection to Gare de l’Est.

City Night Line in Metz, heavily image processedFrom Gare de l’Est we just retrace our tracks. Non-stop TGV at 21:39 to Metz at 23:02 where we catch up with the City Night Line that had left Gare de l’Est several hours before we arrived there. We continue to Hannover Hbf, 23:53–07:02. ICE from Hannover Hbf to Hamburg Hbf, 07:36–08:53. ICE from Hamburg Hbf to København H, 09:28–14:11, with ferry. X2000 from København H to Stockholm C, 16:19–21:39.

Then we just have to get to the cat minder, retrieve angry cat from under the sofa, stuff both cats into travel basket, clean up all traces after them and cart them home where we finally drop in bed late, late at night. I never bother reclaiming the 6 EUR for the unused tickets.