2011-07-31

Om kriget som aldrig kom

Som jag nämnt tidigare, så gjordes stora ansträngningar under Kalla Kriget att skydda befolkningen inför och under sovjetisk invasion. Bergrum.se är ett försök att samla och systematisera information om dessa ansträngningar – ett inte helt lätt arbete eftersom man, just med tanke på en eventuell invasion, dokumenterade mycket lite, utan lät det mesta sitta i huvudet på berörda personer. (Och det man hade dokumenterat, skickade Wennerström och Bergling vidare till just Sovjet.)

Och när jag ändå letade runt, hittade jag Anders Jallais blogg där han gör sitt bästa för att dokumentera Sveriges dåtida, och enligt hans mening, fortgående underrättelsesamarbete med NATO.

2011-07-30

More Amazon shenanigans

I thought that Amazon Marketplace just made space available for sellers, but it seems the mechanism also contains a bit of what in computing is known as “intelligence”, i e there’s a programming interface and depending on the intelligence and foresight of the programmer things may happen for good and bad. Michael Eisen relates how the price of a book balloons to several million dollars when the scripts of two competing sellers attempt to optimise their pricing in order to appeal to different market segments and maximise profit. The comments even suggest that there might not be two separate sellers, but a single seller attempting to cover the market all alone. Perhaps nothing is what it seems.

2011-07-29

Veckans ord: surrealism

Mats Lundegård, Ingvar Hirdwall och Lars Molin, griniga gubbar som förkroppsligar svensk surrealism.

2011-07-27

Invisible Man

We went to Fotografiska Museet. As usual, there were several parallel exhibitions of varying degrees of interest: Robert Mapplethorpe leaves me cold—all his pictures are somehow just the same, regardless of the subject: same lighting, same æsthetics. But we’d really come to see the “Invisible Man”, excerpts from Liu Bolin’s series Hiding in the City—photographs of himself, bodypainted to meld in with the background at various places in Beijing. Looking at the pictures I realised there must be at least another invisible man: I can’t quite see how Liu could have managed to create the body paintings on himself by himself, matching them up with the environment behind him. There must have been at least another, quite skillful, person helping him with the paintings and adjusting them to the background. I find this a problem with art in general: there is this Romantic idea of the lone genius that the teamwork necessary for almost any piece of art is completely suppressed. Well, except for film, where it’s pretty obvious that the producer did not do it all alone and where the skills of all other participants have identifiable effects on the end result, so these days everybody in any way involved with the production is listed in the final credits and I can pay hommage to them by watching the credits to the end.

A slightly different example was Eleanor Coppola’s Circle of Memory, a memorial to her dead son in the form of an Irish passage grave recreated with hay bales, clearly not manually stacked by herself. However, this was more explictly a cooperatively created art piece, as the public were invited to write their thoughts on pieces of paper and attach them to the hay, so that others could read them. Honeybuns noted that it’s hard to express strong emotions without becoming banal. Indeed, quite a few of the writings had been directly cribbed from the quotable quotes at the bottom of calendar pages. So, kudos to the young woman who unpredictably but truthfully noted: “Don’t do a runner twice from the same taxi, you’ll feel so guilty.”

2011-07-26

Historical excursion

It transpired that on no occasion Honeybuns has been in Mariefred has she had time to visit Gripsholm castle. This obviously won’t do, so a castle trip was necessary. To have the maximum time available we took the train to Läggesta. We hesitated for a second whether to take the bus or the steam train to Mariefred, but clearly a steamtrain trumps busses. However, it turns out ÖSlJ does not take credit cards, but they were kind enough to let us come along anyway, get cash in a (the?) ATM in Mariefred and buy the tickets afterwards. Customer service!

In Mariefred we got ourselves something to drink in the station café (Note: In spite of a menu footnote to this effect, they don’t actually carry gluten-free sandwiches.) and had a quick look in the museum. When we got out to go the castle it had started raining, so we proceeded with some haste.

Gripsholm, with its almost 500-year history (600 since Bo Jonsson Grip’s original fortress), is a melange of all ages, being rebuilt about once every century to adapt it to current needs of each age, while honouring the past. It’s current guise is a sort of 1890s idea of what it should have looked like during the renaissance and I suspect that in quite a few instances the reconstructions may have gone beyond what was originally there.


A model of what the castle would have looked like ca 1600.

This corner is the tower on the far right above, extended by a new wing. The brick on the wing (on the left) is real, on the tower it is a pattern painted on plaster.

The bartizan is an 1890s recreation of one which was presumed to have existed here.

Honeybuns was very fascinated and pleased with the window flannings that all had nice benches to sit on. One wonders to what extent they existed originally—to be sure most windows would have been smaller at the time that the castle was actually used as a fortress in the turbulent times of popular uprisings and dynastic struggles. I wonder what issues the builders in the past would have had with knocking new holes in the massive old walls to increase window sizes and attaching new wings to the castle—would there at any point have been problems with the structural integrity of the walls?

On my earlier visits I had clearly not been very attentive to the portraits in the collection, but now I realised that many of the standard depictions of people in Swedish history are paintings displayed at Gripsholm. I read the famous names, and indeed every now and then found ancestors of people whose history in the limelight went so far back. Honeybuns noted that the portraits up to the 19th Century were cast very much in the same mold and were all but indistinguishable from each other, mostly concentrating on the jewellery and exclusive clothing while rendering skin and faces as smooth, characterless surfaces, but from the 20th Century there was suddenly a great many portrait styles.

Photography was not allowed at all inside the castle—presumably to avoid the hassle of explaining to people with automatic flashes that flash photography is not allowed—so no interior pictures for you.

We finished the tour somewhat before the castle closed and returned to the town to see how to best return and perhaps to find something to eat. We found S/S Mariefred waiting by the bridge and decided to take the boat back to Stockholm.

2011-07-24

Hi-ho

From Upplands Väsby is just a short train ride to Uppsala and from Uppsala you can take the bus to Sala, so Honeybuns had a hankering to go see the famous silver mine at Sala. The mine is no longer in use, but there is a mining museum and you can go on guided tours in the mine. We signed up for the “Minors [sic] Path”, a tour outside the most easily accessible parts of the mine: Bring wellies and warm clothes.

From Sala station it’s a pleasant walk along a little creek running through a residential area to the entrance of the mine area. This turned out to be quite big and with a generous helping of tourist traps in the form of cafés and curio shops. We had a light lunch at the restaurant, looked through the mine museum and then assembled at the reception to await the guide, boots and borrowed hard hat on. The guide turned out to be a slip of a girl in 17th Century mining clothes, in complete command of the situation. She took us to a little brick house outside where we first got an introduction on how the mine had developed over time and were shown a map of its layout: There are four main shafts from which horizontal drifts follow the ore veins, opening into larger chambers at richer spots. The ore body goes at a slant, so in the middle ages the silver could be extracted directly at the surface, but as time went on, they had to dig deeper and deeper in a northerly direction. The deepest shaft, the Charles XI shaft, goes down to 318 m below ground level, but the deepest levels have filled with water, pumps keeping the mine passable only down to 155 m. Divers can go into the water-filled parts of the mine, but while exciting, it’s also very dangerous, so only a select few are allowed to do so.

Having explained all this, the guide opened a nondescript door behind which a staircase led down into the bowels of the Earth.


Into the darkness.

We started our descent. On entering the mine we were reminded that whistling and swearing was not allowed, so as not to anger the Mine Lady. Strangely enough nothing was said about how the Mine Lady does not allow any other women in the mine either.

It was, indeed, quite cold in the mine and my jumper did not quite keep the cold at bay. As we descended, every now and then we come to a level space where we could peer into adjoining large chambers, some with royal signatures from various kings who have inspected this, the foremost treasure of the realm. At one point the passage opened on the Queen Christina Shaft, the centre of the mine. I looked into the bottomless pit fading into black. A fine mist was constantly falling through the shaft.


Life will find a way. Mosses eke out a precarious living in the eternal artificial light.

At a depth of 55 m below ground we ended up in a large chamber with exits in all directions. It had been used as a concert hall, so had bleachers along the sides, but nowadays a chamber at 155 m was used instead. Here the easily accessible part with stairwells ended. We were handed torches and then struck out into a side passage. The wellies soon came in handy, the bottom of the passage was a muddy slurry with loose stones hidden, so we had to watch our steps.


A sludgy mixture of rust and bacteria occurring here and there.

After a while we had arrived at the deepest shaft. A fence kept us from going near it, but the guide suggested we throw a stone into it. I tossed a stone into the pit and we stood for what felt like a minute, listening to it bouncing off the walls—possibly it knocked other stones loose, because certainly it couldn’t have taken that long to fall even a hundred metres. We couldn’t hear it reach the bottom, the sound just faded out.


Presumably one will not get lost as long as one follows the tracks.

From here went a Decauville track further into the mine. The ceiling also became markedly lower, so throughout this section there was a constant syncopated rhythm of boots splashing through water and hard hats knocking into the ceiling.

We ended up in a passage where the floor was covered with pond of unknown depth. As none had walked in it the water was perfectly transparent. Someone asked if the water was drinkable. According to the guide it might be, but it was uncertain how much lead had leached into it.

And then we retraced our steps back to the large chamber where we had a little snack and then returned to the surface with a lift through the Knight Shaft. Honeybuns was very pleased with the experience and decreed that we would return, stay at the hostel and explore Sala in detail, so expect further reports.

2011-07-22

Breaking eggs

So this guy had told himself that in order to achieve certain desirable goals, regrettably a large number of children had to be slaughtered as brutally as possibly. A sure sign of psychopathology one would think, but this kind of calculation is common among those who go as statesmen and strategists: “To hasten the end of the war, we are forced to bomb these civilians.” Unless we want to consider well-known heroes as psychopaths, we have to assume that the ends in fact do justify the means. The question then devolves to what ends justify the killing of people who don’t necessarily feel that their deaths would improve the world and who gets to define those ends. Is it OK if it is our elected representatives, presumably acting on our wishes?

So is it that the psychopath is the one who bears to actually meet the victims, while we normal ones are allowed the same kind of thinking as long as we do not personally create the corpses?

2011-07-17

Utö and Ålö


The Mill House is a short walk through the woods from the main building.
Back to Utö again. The morning doesn’t start off very well—the weather isn’t the best, the place is too crowded, the usual staff is on vacation, and a million other little things annoy us. However, we get a very cosy room in the Mill House and we go for what seems to have become our favourite activity here: Collapse in bed and wake up in time for dinner. A five-course meal later we feel a lot better.

The next morning we have breakfast outdoors and then make use of the bike tour we won last Christmas. We get a couple of sturdy bikes with balloon tires, buy us lunch in the local shop and then strike out to explore the map with secret bathing places we have been supplied with.


The sea is never far away.
In no time at all we are in a landscape which maskes me feel as if we were in a Swedish 1940s film, perforce the bike even wants to go on the left side of the road. We travel on wheel-track roads past green meadows with cows and sheep, the sun is warm without being hot (though I’ve taken the precaution of slathering myself with the usual SPF 50+) and it feels as if all the road is downhill. (We did start at sea level, but since we are moving southwards this must obviously be due to the curvature of the Earth…)


A TGB m/42 SKPD
We move into the firing range at southern Utö, open to the public during the summer. The landscape is as lush as before, but every few metres are placards with dire warnings about not touching unexploded ordnance. We arrive at a military compund with a couple of armoured vehicles on exhibit outside. We crawl around a bit on them and then continue on our way.

Eventually we cross a little bridge to Ålö, separated from Utö by the narrowest of sounds. Here is our first stop, we sit on a rock, looking on the sea and eating our lunch and then we just sit there and enjoy the day.


A Södermanland forest at its most beautiful.
Then to find the next bridge back to Utö. Next to it is a little hut like a ticket window, but its actual purpose is opaque. We end up on what goes for the main road around the south of the island. It brings us to a beach, perfect for amphibious assault exercises, but now occupied by a smattering of families with children. It turns out to be mostly impossible to bike through the loose sand, we have to push the bikes along until we get up on solid ground again. We continue, soon stopping to eat wild strawberries and chat with a baby squirrel sitting by the road.

Soon we find ourselves by the centre piece of the firing range, a long rail track on which I surmise targets are pulled during exercises. A seriously shot-up skip stands by the track.


Faithfully guarding the ramparts.
We aim for our final target, a cave by the shore. We have to leave the bikes by the road and follow a foot path through the forest for a bit. To Honeybuns’ disappointment, the caves are in fact little more than deep crevices, but the cliff landscape is fantastic and I suddenly find a dilapidated bunker hidden in a ravine. We jump around on the cliffs for a while, but now, how should we get back to the bikes? Probably best to just cut straight throught the forest. Of course, since this is a military area, the forest has never been logged and does not take lightly to our efforts to pass. Finally we sight the road and stumble up on it. Time for tick inspection. No nasty critters seem to have attached themselves to us. Honeybuns is relieved. I am even more relieved that we didn’t accidentally step on an old landmine or something, belatedly having realised what a stupid idea it was to go off-road.

Now it is time to return to the harbour and get home. Rather tired by now, we pedal along sedately when I see something brownish moving out of the corner of my eye. Another squirrel, no, a dog, no, AN ELK! The elk jumps up on the road behind me and I, flustered, pedal away as fast as I can, wishing I had a ten-speed. Luckily the elk drops the chase after just a few steps and returns in among the trees without showing much interest in Honeybuns, so she soon rejoins me. We return along the side of the shooting range and while we have seen very few people all day, now returning bikers appear on all tributary roads, heading for the harbour. Soon we are a convoy, heading north.

Luckily the Earth has revolved enough that it’s still mostly downhill, because by now we are really tired. We return the bikes and sit down for a breather. We have dinner in the restaurant on the main street and then get on the boat.

2011-07-16

Two films to end them all

As the first installment of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows had proved to be good, the second part had to be seen as well. This time in 3D. The OBD had already been to the opening night, accompanied by appropriately costumed friends, and reported of very emotional scenes. When we went, a couple of days later, the trufans seemed to have petered off—when the curtains lifted the opening music was all but drowned by the sound of popcorn munching.

But, the film then? Yes, it worked, it covered the events and did it well, mostly without falling into mere action gimmicks. Much had had to be cut, so for instance leaving Aberforth Dumbledore’s angry accusations hanging in the air with no further explanation, and the battle for Hogwarts felt so compressed in time, I hardly had time to react to the carnage. Nether did the hectic pace allow the protagonists to play against each other as well as in the first part. Still, having read the book I knew what was supposed to be going on and could follow along.

The 3D didn’t add a lot, and in fact I often experienced cross-talk between the stereo channels and there were occasional issues with focus in the image. Thinking back on it, it may be that these were most pronounced in scenes with natural backgrounds rather than mostly-CGI scenes, but I’d have to rewatch it to make sure.

When the huge credit list had rolled by and the lights turned on, we looked out over the aftermath of a major food fight in the cinema: popcorn and paper cups everywhere; I myself had taken a half-eaten submarine right in the chest.

2011-07-15

Veckans ord: kökaos

– De ä förskräcklit va de loktar i ditt kök. Va ä de för kökaos?

2011-07-09

Not my idea

Ed Brayton quotes a student-teacher exchange:
When I informed this student that I suspected her paper was plagiarized, she said to me, “I got my paper from one of the students who was in your class last semester. How was I to know that she had plagiarized?”
Back when I was an undergraduate, copying was treated fairly cavalierly—it was of course wrong, but students will be students and all that, so if caught out, typically you would just be asked to redo the exercise. Over time the attitude has become much stricter and these days I understand students can be suspended for up to six months for cheating. I don’t know if this is a reaction to increased cheating or just a sign of harsher times. Certainly there is increased pressure on students to graduate on time.

Anyway, once upon a time, long enough ago that I believe it has been statute-barred, we had a mandatory course in business administration which was considered to be neither well taught nor very interesting. During this course we were to do a group project, working out the economics of some process of a fictitious company. The parameters were different for each group, but we figured out that they were reused from year to year. It was decided in my group that we would ask the students from the previous year to give us their report, retype it and present it as ours. The seniors kindly handed over their report and I ended up with the task of retyping it. Now, already then I had proofreader’s eyes and while I was copying the text I realised that the calculations were off: our predecessors had made a sizable arithmetic error. Still, they had passed, so apparently the grader had not read through the report very carefully. (The problem admitted many different solutions, depending on what assumptions and prioritisations you made.)

I mulled this over for a minute or two, but decided there was only one thing to do: Start over and do the calculations right. And so I did. Our group passed too.

2011-07-08

Veckans ord: handlinskraft

Tio gångers förstoring är en rätt normal handlinskraft.

2011-07-07

Auto-correction

The information we get from our environment is pretty noisy, and we constantly apply an error correction which seems to align our perceptions to some kind of Platonic ideal. Consider for example a spoken dialogue with someone: the words are often slurred, affected by surrounding words and sometimes just plain misspoken, yet we adjust to them almost effortlessly and hardly ever think about what was actually said, rather than what was meant. Or what we think was meant—sometimes we over-correct something, a new word that is similar to one we’ve already heard.

It was years before I realised our next-door neighbours actually were called Sällström. My parents pronounced the name quite correctly, but compensating for the Finnish accent I assumed they meant to say Kjellström.

A quite proper lady of limited computer literacy consistently referred to the “dildo” character on the keyboard (~). I never dared ask her what she thought the word meant.

Now I found a grad student referring to a “defector standard”. What would that be—an Anthony Blunt a year?

2011-07-06

Presumed healthy until further notice

I went to see the oral surgeon for my diagnosis. He was somewhat frustrated: in spite of me having visible lesions in the oral mucous membranes I felt no pain, was not even itching and to boot the biopsies showed nothing but normal tissue, so he grudgingly had to admit there was nothing he could do for (with?) me but ask my normal dentist to keep her eyes peeled for any changes and let me go.

OK, I guess?

2011-07-02

Life goes on

It had been raining for two days but the rain had held up for an hour or so when the guests started to arrive. The urn stood outside on a small white table, surrounded by meadow flowers.

Her mother made a brief speech; Honeybuns carried the urn to the boat and soon her uncle’s ashes were dispersing over the lake he had loved so much.

The messuage had already been sold to a distant relative, but the moveables would be auctioned off. Honeybuns picked through her childhood memories and set aside the few items she could fit into her home. She returned several times to say a final goodbye to the houses.