… or The Soviet time and the Soviet man is a collection of recollections of the Soviet times in Estonia. A newspaper called for people to send in their memories of the Soviet times, and a selection of them were published in this book. There are sections about everyday life, “products and production”, fashion, shortages, etc.

Due to the source of the material, it’s an uneven book. The editor’s work appears to have been limited to selection and cutting (and probably correcting spelling mistakes). Inevitably some contributors have spent more energy on trying to sound cool and above it all than on actual content – several parts of the book have a rather unpleasant tone. And some central topics are only briefly mentioned, while others get covered by multiple contributors. It all depends on who felt like writing what down. The same goes for the supporting photos: no one has bothered to visit an archive, it’s just whatever they had at hand.

The selection is slanted towards older memories: there is more material about the 1940s and 50s than about the 1980s. I guess older newspaper readers are more inclined (or have more time) to write down their memories.

Despite its shortcomings, it’s a valuable book to me, because it serves to remind of something that was everywhere but now is nowhere. And such things are so easy to forget.

No longer available in shops; try a second-hand book store.

Some fresh bookmarks from delicious.com

  • A Farewell to Floppy Disks – Sony announced that they will stop selling floppy discs this year, making them the final manufacturer to halt their production.
  • Archaeologists unearth 6th century Ikea-style temple – Archaeologists in Italy have unearthed the remains of a 6th century BC temple-style building complete with detailed assembly instructions which they have likened to an Ikea do-it-yourself furniture pack.
  • Why content is a public good – In economic terms, content (movies, music etc) has never been a rival good and recent technological progress has made it practically non-excludable. Content is a public good. Which is not saying that content is free, or cheap to make. But it does mean that old business models based on content being a club good simply don't work.
  • NY Times: The Estrogen Dilemma – New science is showing that estrogen’s effects on women’s minds and bodies may depend upon when they first start taking it.
  • NY Times: Volcanic Ash Closes Down Air Traffic in North Europe – Authorities closed airspace and shut down airports as a high-altitude cloud of ash drifted south and east from an erupting volcano in Iceland. When volcanic ash gets into a jet engine, it can melt, causing the engine to flame out and stall.

The Victorian Internet is the story of the telegraph system, from the first optical signalling systems in the late 1700s all the way, to its decline as it’s overtaken by the telephone in the early 1900s.

The focus is on the social and business side of the story, rather than technical details. As the title indicates, the author views the telegraph as something similar to today’s Internet: a new way to connect people across the world and speed up communication, with all the attached hype, obsession, hacking, encryption, chatting, techno-stress, and talk about world peace that we got for the Internet. The comparison isn’t new or novel in any way, but many of the similarities and parallels were new to me. Interestingly the book was written in 1998, before the Internet boom got underway – but since the story it tells is 150 years old, none of it feels dated.

This was a diverting and enjoyable book. Read it and enjoy.

Amazon UK, Amazon US, Adlibris.

In terms of body shape & size I am stuck in no man’s land. Too thick around the waist to fit into my normal skirts and trousers; not round enough to fill out most maternity clothes. Some dresses sort of work, except then I need tights, and the normal ones don’t fit well and the maternity ones are of lousy quality and last about two days of use before I have to throw them out. I want a proper bump!

While I do have a stash of maternity wear from last time, it turns out to not really fill my needs. First, as expected, there’s the climate issue. April in London is a great deal warmer than April in Sweden. Second, my lifestyle has changed. There is hardly anything in my stash for gardening, playgrounds, and other such physical and semi-messy activities.

I need to shop. I dislike shopping at the best of times, and now I need to do it under time pressure. And the shops seem to sell jeans, and clothes in black and white. Depressing.

On the positive side, I am no longer tired, and not unusually hungry either. And I have been feeling movements for the past week or two. First it felt like a little fish fluttering around; now it’s a bit more focused and distinct, like a bubble popping, so I can actually imagine tiny legs kicking around in there.

Activity of the month, #1: cycling. Ingrid now loves the balance bike we bought last summer, whereas the tricycle has been languishing in the basement, unused. Last summer she said the balance bike was too difficult, and didn’t even want to try. Now after just a couple of afternoons of practice, she is zipping around on it like a pro. (Just like when she learned to stand and walk: she wouldn’t even try until she was sure she could do it.) On flat ground or downhill, she can go fast enough that I have to jog to keep up with her. She can glide for many metres with both feet in the air. She likes it so much that some days she’s even ridden it to nursery and back (despite her great fondness of lazing in the stroller).


Activity of the month, #2: writing. The third and latest of the 1-2-3 books came with a painting & activity book, where one of the activities was drawing the numbers, 1 through 3. She loved it. Eric printed out a few “worksheets” for her, with all the numbers and a few important letters (E and M so she can write emme, P and A for pappa, and all the letters in Ingrid.) All in big bold type and a light gray colour, so she can trace them with her felt-tip pens. It’s been both fun and useful: her hand is a lot more stable now. Today at the Estonian playgroup she wanted to write “pappa” on the paper gift bag she’d decorated. A month ago she would just have scribbled on it and pretended it says “pappa”, but now she asked me what letters she should write, and made a good attempt at shaping the right ones.

Mood of the month: deciding. There is a lot of talk about “you will not decide what I do”. And when I sometimes nevertheless insist on deciding, Ingrid tells me what the consequences will be: “then I will be very mad at you and run away and shout that you are stupid”. (Just the way I tend to tell her what will happen if she does not comply with my decisions.) Sometimes she also tries to shout at me, “Come here right now!” But neither that nor “stupid mummy!” happen very often, probably because my reaction (mostly some vaguely acknowledging noise, and sometimes outright laughter) isn’t very satisfying.

First attempt at writing

For some reason Ingrid’s need to decide really comes to the fore at mealtimes. For a while she was so contrarian that every meal led to whining, shouting, howling and fights. Whatever we did, she would inevitably shout “NOOO not this one! NOOO not like that!”. The solution now is that we don’t even set the table for her: she brings her own stuff. And every step thereafter needs to happen on her terms. Either she asks for whatever she wants, or I confirm: “Do you want me to serve you some food? Shall I pour you some milk?” If I just do it, it’s bound to lead to a tantrum.

When she is REALLY upset, she sometimes breaks down and tells me she wants to go to bed. It took us a while to figure out why. Then one day after a tantrum she ran away to the bedroom and hid under the blanket. When she came back she told me she’d sucked her thumb. That’s something she is only allowed to do at bedtime. So when she says she wants to go to bed, she really means she wants to suck her thumb to calm down.

Speaking of willing and wanting, I’ve noticed that Ingrid needs a reason for wanting/not wanting something. When she feels full but still has food left in her bowl, she tells me she isn’t eating it “because I didn’t like it” – after having wolfed down two servings. Or she tells me she doesn’t want to go to Hedvig’s birthday party “because it’s boring there” even though the real reason is that I’ve told her we cannot go to three birthday parties on the same day. Sometimes she doesn’t make up her own reasons but invokes me instead. “Emme says that I should put two t-shirts on” she tells Eric, when I have of course not said anything of the sort. Other times it’s “the doll says I should eat the cheese first”.

Illustrating Ingrid’s (1) fashion sense,
(2) insensitivity to cold,
(3) habit of slouching in the stroller,
(4) fondness of fruit.

A new theme in her thinking is the concept of contests and winning. Often she’ll tell us that she won because she finished her food first, or that we all won because we all got home first, or something like that. She’ll also comment on her activities in game terms, with rules and goals: “now I’m playing that I have to climb up here, and then I’ll win, but it’s only for children and not for adults”, or “one has to jump all the way to the bathroom and then it’s OK to take the toothbrush but you’re not allowed to climb on the step stool”.

Ingrid makes up other kinds of little stories, too. Most often they’re about the things around her, and often the things are mothers/fathers/babies. The small bites of bread are babies, and they want to join their mothers in Ingrid’s stomach.

The longed-for independence is growing, slowly and gradually. She’s always been a lot more independent when I am not present – with Eric, or at nursery. It’s only when I’m there that she seems to lose all ability to entertain herself, or do anything on her own for that matter. It’s “Mummy you must help me” and “Mummy come with me!” all the time. (The helplessness seems to tie in with her continuing interest in babies, and in pretending to be a baby herself.)

But otherwise now she is starting to “let go” of me. When we visit her friends, she runs off and plays with them for a good while, long enough for me to get bored and wish I’d brought a book or something to do. This week, for the first time ever, she went home from nursery with one of her best friends, without me, and stayed there for two and a half hours. Afterwards she was quite excited about the whole thing, especially about the part with the car ride to their home.

In shops and on town she’s now prone to leaving me and running off on her own. I’ve never had to worry about this scenario before. One day she ran ahead of me when we were leaving the local supermarket, and around a few corners fast enough that I lost track of her, and only found her (by that time slightly worried, both of us) with the help of strangers who saw me looking around, asked if the little girl was mine, and told me which direction they’d seen her. Now I’m glad that she is generally a sensible girl – I know there is little risk that she’d leave the store, or wander into the street, or tearing up all the bags of flour.

She is still not very good at all at entertaining herself all on her own. In the evening, after nursery, while I cook or do other such stuff, she usually watches TV for a while. Occasionally she might pretend to cook and serve food for me. Sometimes she plays travelling: packs her bag, gathers up all kinds of stuff, and then pretends our bed is a boat that will take us to Estonia. But she spends a lot of that waiting time asking me whether I will read for her soon, or play with her.

I’ve set a limit to how long I will read for her in the evenings, because otherwise she will be up half the night, listening to me read. After eight o’clock or thereabouts, it’s no more mummy time. It’s OK for her not to go to bed, if she isn’t tired, but I’m tired and don’t want to read or play any more. Last month she’d usually decide to go to bed at that time. Now she’s not as tired any more and stays up longer. Even then she doesn’t play on her own. Usually she climbs up on my desk, next to me and my computer, and scribbles or cuts paper or messes around with sticky tape.

For a while she’d describe various things as “ugly” and “disgusting”; seemed like something she’d heard at nursery and wanted to try out at home.

Favourite colours: green, followed by blue. She likes drinking straws, which we buy in packs of mixed colour. The green ones run out first, then the blue ones. She usually takes two or three at a time, in mixed colours. When the best colours are gone, she loses interest in the straws, and the rest of the pack lasts a bit longer.

Favourite movie this month: Disney’s The Prince & the Pauper.

Observation #1: she likes pointing out “this is me” in books and movies. She’s the prince in The Prince & the Pauper, the princess in Så gör prinsessor. Sometimes she’s every single child in a picture; sometimes daddy is the largest person, I’m the mid-sized one, and she the smallest.

Observation #2: she likes princes and princesses. Luckily, no demands for princess outfits yet.

Observation #3: she has great vision. She sees better in the dark than I do, and can discern fine detail at much greater distance than me. She also has great visual memory: remembering where some small detail lies in a big picture book, or playing Memory.

Observation #4: it’s become important for her to kiss and hug me good-bye in the mornings. Some days I’ve had to run off to catch my train before she was satisfied with the amount of kisses she’d given me, so now she starts the day with a kiss, to make sure I get at least one good one.

The news sites are all talking about the volcanic ash that’s shut down Europe’s air traffic. Bus, train, car rental and taxi companies are doing great, as people like John Cleese take a taxi from Oslo to Brussels.

Now they’re saying that the ash cloud might hang around for months. I’m wondering what will happen to our Beijing trip, which is only a month away.

This is my summary of Nathaniel Schutta’s “Making web apps suck less”, a session I attended at ScanDevConf 2010. Please understand that, except for the notes at the top and bottom, this post reflects the opinions of the speaker, not me.

[various examples and illustrations of bad usability]

What does usability include in web apps?

  • Learnability
  • Efficiency
  • Memorability – how easy is it to pick up an application again after a few months’ absence
  • Handling errors
  • User satisfaction

How much should you focus on each of these? As usual in software development, the answer is “It depends”.

  • How many users will the system have?
  • How often will they use it?
  • Will they get training?
  • Do they have alternatives to using your application?

How do you find usability problems?

  • Ask users
  • Watch them
  • Try doing it yourself
  • Just as comments are a code smell, (the need for) documentation is a usability smell. Warning signs include post-its stuck to the screen, looking things up in the manual.

Paper prototyping is a powerful tool for evaluating usability. Test them with actual users!

My opinion: A good intro for those who have never given usability much thought. Luckily we’ve come a bit further than this with our application.

This is my summary of Brian Marick’s “Seven Years Later: What the Agile Manifesto Left Out”, a session I attended at ScanDevConf 2010. Please understand that, except for the notes at the top and bottom, this post reflects the opinions of the speaker, not me.

The Agile Manifesto has an outward focus: it tells the business how the development team will work with it. What it does not talk about is how the team must work within itself and with the code.

What should the team keep in mind?

  • Joy
  • Naivete: ignore the people and books who say that it’s impossible
  • Ease: tools should work as if they are a natural extension of your hand. Pay attention to what it feels like to work. Spend time fixing the annoyances.
  • Reactive: ignore the future. Don’t back up – change your course forward instead. This forces you to make your code easy to change.

Being wrong: is an opportunity to learn.

My opinion: Nice words and nice thoughts, but what do I actually do with them? Less inspiring than Brian’s first talk at ScanDevConf; rather vague and fluffy.

This is my summary of Thomas Lundström’s “BDD approaches for web development”, a session I attended at ScanDevConf 2010. Please understand that, except for the notes at the top and bottom, this post reflects the opinions of the speaker, not me.

Development should start with user stories.
Then break these down into acceptance criteria:

  • Given «situation»
  • when I «do this»
  • then «this happens»

This should be done before the sprint planning meeting. Know what you commit to!

The rest of the session was a demonstration/walkthrough of automated BDD.

My opinion: The non-automated part of the session was a somewhat useful recap of BDD. The automated example involved, as usual, an extremely simple application and extremely simple user stories. While I understand that it will work in that case, I have great difficulty envisaging how we could possibly use it in our system.

This is my summary of Diana Larsen’s “Creating a Climate for Project and Team Success”, a session I attended at ScanDevConf 2010. Please understand that, except for the notes at the top and bottom, this post reflects the opinions of the speaker, not me.

What is a team? A group of people with…

  1. a common purpose, undertood and committed
  2. interdependent work and skills
  3. a shared approach to this work
  4. joint accountability
  5. small size
  6. a mutual history (at day one, you are not yet a team)

How do you achieve these? What do these imply?

  1. A project kickoff, project charter; reminders and mini-re-kickoffs
  2. Think about what skills are needed before you select people for your team
  3. Have a working agreement – “we aspire to work this way”. Make implicit norms explicit.
  4. If the team is too large, it will break into sub-teams.
  5. Common adversities and successes; stories to tell about the team; knowing each other.

My opinion: Basic stuff. I guess there are groups out there that need these tips but they were not of much use to me.