From –25°C to above freezing in 4 days. Amazing.

Some fresh bookmarks from

  • The Economist: Printing body parts – A machine that prints organs is coming to market. Simple tissues to begin with, but larger organs should be possible, too.
  • NY Times: When It Comes to Salt, No Rights or Wrongs. Yet. – New US dietary guidelines due this spring may lower the recommended level of salt. Is this going to be a repeat of the low-fat debacle, where the advice actually led to worse diets?
  • Wired: How Google’s Algorithm Rules the Web – Google's basic algorithm is being tweaked continuously, teaching it about names, synonyms, context etc. There are so many changes to test that on most Google queries, you’re actually in multiple control or experimental groups simultaneously.
  • Fortsatt kaos i tågtrafiken – SJs tåg kan på en dag dra på sig uppemot 30 ton is, som måste tinas innan tåget kan tas in på verkstad för service. Avisning kan ta 4 till 8 timmar.
  • SJ skyller på regeringen – Tågnätet är överlastat och det satsas för lite på underhåll. Tågen byggs och testas i Mellaneuropa där det visserligen kan bli kallt men inte så här fuktigt.
  • The Story of P(ee) – In which phosphorus, a substance present in every living cell, is being used up and flushed away. The world’s supply of phosphate rock, the dominant source of phosphorus for fertilizer, is being rapidly — and wastefully — drawn down. By most estimates, the best deposits will be gone in 50 to 100 years.

Phew, I’m glad the electrical weirdness manifested on Saturday and not today! The temperature outside our bedroom window this morning was –25°C.

The public transport company of Stockholm was advertising a reduced train schedule on their home page, plus a total cancellation of service on the above-ground sections of the metro (subway) lines, and advising people to stay at home if possible. Luckily it is very easy for me to work from home, so I followed their advice. (The prospect of standing outdoors, waiting for a train for who knows how long, in –25°C was not the least bit appealing.) My colleague Oscar, who lives in a relatively central part of Stockholm, finally got to the office just past 11, after about 2 hours of travel time.

During the day the temperature went up to around –13°C, so going out in the afternoon was not so bad at all. And there wasn’t much wind, which helped matters a lot.

Indoors, pretty steady at 17°C. An extra fleece on top of the other one, and I heated my orange juice this morning. (Sounds weird, perhaps, but tastes really nice.)

Some fresh bookmarks from

  • Lingonkoefficienten – Måndagen 8 mars framträder Four Tops och Temptations på Cirkus i Stockholm. Båda grupperna har bara en originalmedlem kvar. Hur mycket lingon måste det finnas i burken för att den ska få kallas lingonsylt?
  • Why the Maya used a 260-day calendar – The Maya actually used three different calendars. The Tzolk’in ran on a 260-day cycle, and the Haab’ used a 365-day cycle. Then there was the Long Count, which counted days since a mythical beginning of time and also included the other two.
  • The Economist: Economics focus: Diversity training – Some developing economies are rich but crude, while others are poor but sophisticated
  • The Atlantic: Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond? (February 1982) – The history of the De Beers diamond cartel and their PR campaign to make diamonds an essential part of every engagement.
  • Temporal User Interfaces – Humans mostly use two dimensions to organize and identify things: Space and Time. People are pretty good at thinking in the dimension of time. We can take advantage of this ability when designing human interfaces.

Well we got snow all right. Here’s what our stairs looked like when Eric had shoveled the top one, this morning at 8.30:

And here’s the state of affairs less than 9 hours later, at 5pm:

And (as warned) there were disruptions to civic services. Train delays, of course – no surprise. Rather more surprisingly there was something weird going on with our electricity supply. At some point during the afternoon we lost power to a quarter of the house. It was early enough that I had no lights on, and I didn’t notice that my Mac had switched to battery power. After a while I thought it was getting unusually cold here, got up to check the temperature (thinking that perhaps I was just coming down with a cold) and indeed it was barely over 15°C. All the heaters in the room were off, and I quickly realized that we had no power in the room.

A fuse, I thought, and spent almost an hour hunting the culprit. The wiring in this house is a mishmash, installed at different times through its history. As proof, consider the situation I had: living room all without power; some outlets in the kitchen OK, some not; ceiling lamps in the kitchen without power; ceiling lamp in hallway without power; wall outlet in hallway OK.

We have three fuse boxes, one up in the house and two side by side in the basement. The ones in the basement are at least labelled; the one up here was a total mystery – I wasn’t even sure if it was still in use. Anyway all the fuses in all boxes looked perfectly OK to me. Nevertheless I took three trips to the basement, replacing various fuses which I thought might be relevant, based on the scanty labelling. No luck.

During this time the temperature had gone from 15.3 to 14.7 and I realized that it will soon be seriously unpleasantly cold in here. I took a break from my investigations and focused on damage control instead. The good thing about electrical heaters is that you can plug them into any outlet you want, as long as you have enough extension cord. So I spread a network of extension cables from the kitchen to the living room, and got two of the three heaters hooked up, as well as some lamps.

Back to investigating. Now I went through all those unlabelled fuses up here (I think there were nine in total). Still no luck. Surely the juice in the living room couldn’t be affected by fuses labelled “heater (basement)” or “wall outlets and lighting, bathroom”! I couldn’t face more running back and forth between the house and the basement. It really was a task for two people and phones: one to fiddle with the fuses and one to check what happens in the house. But Eric and Ingrid were out at Junibacken. At this point I gave up, spent a little more time installing more extension cords to let me have a desk lamp in the kitchen, and started cooking dinner.

Eric and Ingrid got home, and Eric spent some more time investigating. Still no success. Then, just as dinner was almost done, the house went all black for a moment. The next moment the power came back – including in the previously dark part of the house. And we’re both thinking – wait a moment, what just happened here? Are we supplied by two separate power lines? But we only have one meter… Or is the old half of the house somehow more sensitive to small voltage fluctuations? No idea. Whatever it is, I don’t like it. I don’t like mysteries in my electricity supply.

The Swedish weather service is forecasting around –10°C for tomorrow, with gusty wind and heavy snowfall all day, and issuing a “class 2 warning” meaning “weather conditions which can be expected to cause danger for the general public, major material damage and major disruptions to essential civic functions”.

I don’t mind the snow – I’m probably going to remember this winter fondly for the next twenty years. I don’t even mind shoveling and sweeping it. I do mind it all coming down at the same time so the streets are impassable and the trains are all late.

Here’s the fence along the front of our garden, as of about two weeks ago. Whenever a snow plough clears the street, most of the snow just gets pushed to the sides, which is what you see along most of the fence. The streets around here are relatively narrow to begin with, but wide enough for normal-sized cars to pass when meeting. Now there’s just enough space for one car. Whenever we (with stroller) meet a car, we make our way to the nearest driveway. Otherwise we’d have to climb up on that bank of snow, or risk watching the car get stuck in the bank on their side.

If we did nothing, we’d have a similar snow bank in front of our stairs and our mailbox. To make the stairs passable, and to make it possible to deliver our mail, we shovel that snow to either side, every time the street is ploughed. That’s what has lead to the sizeable pile of snow in the foreground. It now comes up to roughly chest height for me, so now I’m having to choose between lifting snow to that height, or walking a few yards with every shovelful. Just after shovelling the pile looks rather dirty because of the sand mixed into the snow, but since we have been getting at least a light dusting of snow at least once a week, it’s soon nice and white again.

Wherever possible, snow gets ploughed onto open spaces adjacent to roads: greens, squares, etc. On inner city roads, where there is really no space to leave the snow, the city sends lorries to transport it away, when there is at least a few days’t break in the snowfall and they have time. But now Stockholm is running out of places to put that snow. Snow from central Stockholm is tipped in the city’s waterways. Snow is considered waste, so tipping it in the water requires a dispensation from the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, which the city has, but it’s now coming up against the volume limits for that dispensation. (600,000 cubic meters allowed, 450,000 cubic meters already utilized.) The city has been tipping snow in larger open spaces in the suburbs, but that’s of course not popular with those who live there – lots of noise from the heavy trafficy, ugly piles of dirty snow, worries about what will happen when it all melts, environmental concerns etc.

In the beginning of this month, Ingrid was moved up to the next group at nursery. Normally the whole group of children move through nursery together, but now the oldest children in one group were shifted to the next group, in order to make space for more young children. (For economic reasons the nursery needed to either let go of staff or take in more children. They chose the latter, and all the children queueing for places at this nursery were young ones. Hence the reshuffle.)

It wasn’t a huge change, really. The groups have already spent time together, especially while they’re outside, and towards the end of each day when the groups shrink as kids are picked up. So she was familiar with the staff and some of the kids too. Still, it meant a lot of new experiences for Ingrid. From being near oldest in her group, she’s now among the youngest ones. The new group is larger. And of course they do other things that the younger kids haven’t tried yet, and do things differently.

Possibly as a result of this, or possibly for some completely different reason, Ingrid has been really tired. The kid who was staying awake until 9:30 in the evening, is now telling me she wants to go to sleep sometimes before 8 o’clock. And she means it: sometimes she asks me to tell her a fairy tale instead of reading a book, so she can lie down and not have to look at the pictures. And after the story she is asleep within 5 minutes, instead of the 40 it could take as recently as early autumn.

Also perhaps contributing to the tiredness, Ingrid had a serious growth spurt early this month, with a LOT of eating. She was eating huge portions, and for a few days she asked for meals at two-hour intervals. That’s mostly past us now, but one thing that’s become part of our daily routine is having a banana on the way home from nursery.

Hair clips and sparkly flowers

Earlier this autumn Ingrid brought home her soft doll from nursery. During the schooling in period, back in 2008 when she started there, each parent was given the materials to make a soft doll for their child. They used those dolls daily in some activities (singing I think). Now they’re no longer using them that way, so the dolls were free to go home. Ingrid has become really attached to hers, and for several weeks she’d take the doll with her to nursery every day (and also take it with her wherever we went during weekends). It’s the closest she’s had to a comfort blanket, but now it seems to be waning in importance.

After nursery we often go to the library. They’re only open two evenings in the week, and most weeks Ingrid’s more than happy to utilize both. Mostly we read books there, but when it’s time to go Ingrid often says she wants to borrow a book, and then picks one more or less randomly. Often she loses interest in it by the time we get home. It’s the routine itself that’s important. When at the library, one borrows books, so that’s what we do.

At home there’s a lot of movie watching going on. So much so that I’ve started keeping an eye on the clock and putting an end to the fun after about an hour. Eric ripped several DVDs worth of old Disney shorts to MP3, and Ingrid’s learned how to play them all on her own. There’s a shortcut to the right folder on her desktop, and Eric set up her profile for single-click to open stuff. She turns on the computer, chooses her profile, opens the folder, clicks on a random movie in the list, and then “makes it big” with Alt+Enter. Pausing and unpausing with space bar is old hat. She even knows that when an unwanted “label” comes up (like a warning from the firewall) you click the red X to get rid of it. She still likes to type letters on my laptop, too. (Hmm… perhaps we should just set up Notepad on her profile?)

We recycle

Last month’s game of bears continues almost every day. The two of us are both bears, and we have to hide ourselves under the duvet because it is winter and we need to go to sleep. Then she gets up, just like Alfie in When Will It Be Spring?, and wakes me and tells me it’s summer already! Sometimes I’m allowed to do like Alfie’s mom and tell her that she’s wrong, it’s still winter, and we go back to “sleep”, but other days she tells me “but let’s PRETEND it’s summer”, as if I wasn’t aware that’s what we were doing. During “summer” she picks nuts and berries and honey for me, and then it’s autumn and we start all over again.

There’s less counting going on now, and we can actually pass houses without reading out all their numbers.

Language-wise Ingrid’s doing great. I no longer have any worries whatsoever about her ability or willingness to learn Estonian in parallel with Swedish. She still often switches to Swedish when telling me about stuff that happened during the day at nursery, but in general she is fluent in Estonian and almost always uses it when speaking to me. Of course there’s lots more to learn – all the grammatical irregularities and more advanced sentence structures and so on. But even if she stops here, even if her underlying Estonian skills never get better than this (apart from gradually growing her vocabulary) she will get by. If she were dropped in Estonia without anyone to help translate what she says, she would manage. Most importantly, she knows to ask “what does xxx look like” when there’s a word she doesn’t understand.

Last month’s trend towards polite language continues. There’s quite a lot of “can I have some more milk please” and “could you help me with this”. We’re also hearing more and more expressions and phrases she is obviously picking up from nursery: “look at what I am doing!” and “you can take it if you want” and “we can pretend that it’s [something]” and so on.

Other such phrases confirm my impression that she’s (unusually?) sensible and willing to follow rules. This afternoon when a boy asked her about some toy at nursery, “is this yours?” she replied “no, it belongs to the nursery, everyone can play with it”. Quite often she tells me “you have to share the toys”. Indeed she’s sometimes so sensible that I worry she has no chance to make her own mistakes and messes and learn things herself. She tells me “you have to be careful when climbing here, otherwise you can fall down” and reminds me to keep to the side of the road when we’re walking home, so we don’t get hit by a car. If an adult gently suggests something, she often takes it pretty much as an order, so I try to suggest as little as possible.

Favourite foods: anything starchy (pasta, cereal, rice, bread); anything with ketchup. Bell peppers, sweetcorn, peas and beans of all kinds.

Foods she absolutely refuses: mushrooms and aubergine, both for their squishy texture I think.

Favourite movie: old Disney shorts.

Favourite book: none in particular; our reading is pretty evenly spread over most of our books.

We were invited to a wedding this weekend, and I’ve been hand crafting a wedding present for the past two or three weeks. Now that the present has been handed over and the couple have had two days to open and view it, I think I can finally safely post photos without ruining the surprise.

The project: two monogrammed kitchen towels. The “canvas”: Klässbols linen towels Herr Ask.



In progress


Eric and I both like books, so we own quite a lot of them. Many of them have lived in storage boxes for years now – a sizeable portion of our library stayed behind when we moved to London, and we were only reunited when we moved to this house a year and a half ago. Now, during those winter weekends when there’s nothing to be done in the garden and the weather doesn’t particularly encourage cycling or other activities, we’ve been slowly unpacking and sorting through them all. We’re finally almost through.

There will still be a few boxes for special cases, but most of the books have ended up in one of two places: the shelves, or the charity shop. This weekend we drove to the charity shop with 5 boxes full of books.

Store: Children’s literature that Ingrid’s too young for. Books in French that I read while living in Belgium (that I think I will someday re-read, even though I cannot envisage when or why I would do it). Books that we want to keep for nostalgic reasons. Books that we really don’t open often but like too much to give away.

Shelve: Books we haven’t read yet. Books that we would love to re-read if we had time. Books that are fun to browse. Books that bring back fond memories. Books with a historical meaning (remember dictionaries?).

Ditch: Many books about business and economics from our university days. Lots of mediocre fiction. Various lexicons and reference books: we use the internet instead.

Partway through this work a thought struck me: the entire decision process is founded on the premise that the world will go on functioning as it does today. In particular, we’re assuming that the Internet will go on existing, and that I can use it to look up anything I want.

But if one day we should have an apocalypse that wipes out our communications infrastructure – meteorite, collapse of civilization or whatever – we would probably really miss those reference works and rue our decision to not buy an encyclopedia. The people hoarding all their old books would be the heroes.

Is it worth keeping an encyclopedia packed away in the basement, as a sort of insurance policy? What is the probability of an apocalyptic event happening within my lifetime? A general collapse of civilization could probably be foreseen some way off, but the meteorite scenario is trickier.

Of course if anything like this did actually happen, we’d have bigger problems than lack of information and history. We should instead make sure to equip ourselves with books about basic medicine, growing your own food, and carpentry and metalworking and construction and so on.

See what kinds of thoughts books can lead one to!

Some fresh bookmarks from