Yesterday Ingrid and I went to the circus. (Eric was away in Italy, carousing with colleagues.) We’d been looking forward to it for a week, especially with all the posters everywhere.

And what a disappointment the show was. A dull performance with unimaginative numbers, not exactly badly performed but totally uninspiring. Two of the numbers seemed to be pure fillers, to make the time pass: musicians in shiny circus attire playing ordinary musical instruments in the middle of the scene. If I wanted to listen to a guy play the trumpet, I’d go to a concert, not the circus. During the break children were offered pony and camel rides (for a fee), or to go backstage and see the animals (for a fee, again) – and that’s on top of the steep ticket price.

Note to self: stay away from Circus Maximum, and probably from all such travelling circuses.

  • I am tired of being pregnant. It is boring and inconvenient. I can barely bend enough at the waist to get my socks and shoes on. I have to go to the loo once an hour, at a guess. I spill food on my clothes because I cannot get close enough to the table. I cannot run with Ingrid. (On the other hand, I float much better than usual, which is nice when we go swimming.)
  • I am noticing a turning-inwards. I am less interested than usual in spending time friends and family, or going out to do things. I would rather just do stuff at home, preferably on my own. I am also feeling a drive to get things done, which is why my GTD list is getting leaner while the blog is getting less attention.

The City and the City are Beszel and Ul Qoma, two overlapping cities somewhere in Eastern Europe. They literally exist in the same physical space. Some streets belong to one, some to the other, and some to both at the same time. Crossing between them, even looking at, even noticing the other city, is termed Breach, and is strictly forbidden. Children learn at early age to “unsee” the other city. In “crosshatched” streets, drivers navigate past cars from the other city without really seeing them.

The two have different cultures, different economic phases, architecture, clothing, and so on. Beszel is Slavic, Ul Qoma feels Arabic. (Makes me think of the Balkan countries.) This is all described briefly and in passing, but it still gives a feel of rich detail.

A dead body is found in Beszel, and it seems to the police detective investigating it that the murder was committed in one city and the body then dumped in another. The whole affair goes deeper and weirder than he could have imagined: conspiracies, unknown connections between the two cities, underground political movements (some nationalist, some aiming for unification of the cities), an archaeological dig in Ul Qoma unearthing objects from pre-Cleavage times, etc.

The plot is really pretty ordinary crime noir. The setting is what makes this book: there wouldn’t be a story here if it wasn’t for the two cities. The idea is a fascinating one, very clever. It’s hard to believe that it could ever work, but Mieville actually makes it believable. That is an amazing achievement in itself.

The book is a powerful combination of the everyday and the weird: the weird made ordinary, so ordinary that the local inhabitants don’t even think about it. A great read.

Adlibris, Amazon UK, Amazon US.

My back feels better during this pregnancy, perhaps because I move around more? I haven’t needed the Big V yet, even though it’s there in the bedroom, waiting for me.

Again I have a very active baby, kicking so you can see my whole abdomen wobble. There is no sign of him/her quieting down yet, even though there shouldn’t be much space in there. Now the little legs are so distinct that sometimes I can’t help poking them around when the baby kicks, pushing them one way and the other.

I have an audience this time. Ingrid likes feeling the kicks, especially when she is sitting on my lap or next to me and feels an unexpected kick against some part of her own body.

This time I’ve been having Braxton Hicks contractions – I can’t recall feeling any last time. It is really uncomfortable when the baby chooses to kick around during a contraction.

Being pregnant feels far less exciting and special this time. I am tired of the whole thing and wish the baby could come out now. Counting days (should be about 6 weeks to go as of yesterday).

There is no doubt about it: the theme of this month is secrets and surprises. There is a lot of “don’t look now” and “no peeking”. Then she does something – sometimes for a minute, sometimes for ten. If it takes long, she will remind us to not look, about once a minute. And then finally she says “come look now”, or sometimes “dinnng” which also means that the surprise is done. Sometimes she comes to me with a surprise already prepared, hidden behind her back, and then proudly uncovers it.

The surprise can be anything. Quite often she shows off her ability to do things on her own: either taking care of herself (getting dressed in the morning, or undressing and getting into bed at night) or helping us (setting the table for dinner, or bringing out all the breakfast goods), or even playing on her own. Once the surprise was that she had assembled like seven or eight jigsaw puzzles on her own. Or she may go out and pick berries for us, or show me a picture she’s drawn.

But the surprise can also be something sneaky, such as bringing a garden trowel and sneaking it underneath my skirt, where she lays the cold trowel against my legs, and then squeals with laughter when I yelp. Or something totally quirky and unpredictable, such as taking 10 books and standing them all up on the living room table so they make a “house”.

Most good surprises bear repeating. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been subjected to the trowel surprise.

Repetition combined with surprise has also been a theme in several of our games and conversations. There was the wizard game, when she’d ask me again and again what I wanted to be turned into, and then the sneaky wizard always turn me into something else instead. I’d wish to become a crocodile and she turned me into a stone instead, then I’d ask to become a bird and she’d turn me into an ice cream, and so on for a long time.

Or we might talk about how some people have cars and others don’t, and then she would start making up other things for which this is true. First seriously (bicycles, and houses, and trees in the yard) and then as weird as she could make it (roofs, doors, noses etc).

There is a lot of talk about ages. “When I am 5 I will be able to go to swim school. When I am 6 I will go to school.” But also: “I cannot go to the playground on my own. (Me confirming: No.) But I can do it when I am 6. (Me: yes.) But when I am 7? When I am 10? When I am 8? When I am 4?” and so on about many many things. She is very aware that she is three and almost four, and often informs friendly-looking strangers of this important fact – people on the train, other kids’ mums, neighbours etc.

We also talk about babies, and what they can and cannot do – sometimes in general, sometimes specifically about our baby. They cannot sit up, walk, eat, talk, etc. The baby won’t be able to ride on her bike, or climb the stairs, or even play with any toys at first.

Ingrid often mentions her own upcoming birthday. We’ve been talking about it for a long time already. Early summer we spoke about how we will first go to Estonia, then I will have my birthday, then she will go back to nursery, then the baby will probably come, and only then in the autumn will it be her birthday. Now she is back at nursery, and various other signs of “autumn” are appearing (the library is open again, and the ice cream seller at the playground has packed up for the season), so she thinks her birthday should be close, but of course it is still two months away. What an eternity to wait.

She is now quite confident with the days of the week, so anything that is less than a week away can be easily explained. This is very convenient. Yesterday she counted Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday-…-Sunday about 7 or 8 times in a row and asked, “will it be my birthday then?” and I said indeed it will. Today when we spoke about her birthday again, I told here it is many many days from now, and she said, “all the days I counted before!”.

The concepts of today, yesterday and tomorrow are, actually, harder than weekdays. She doesn’t seem to feel comfortable with the fact that “tomorrow” refers to different days. “Is it tomorrow today?” she asks. Now she mostly prefers to call them today, “the day that was” and “the next day”.

She’s also learned the basics of reading a clock. She knows to ignore the fast hand that moves all the time, and knows that the short hand is the important one. She knows that it is, for example, two o’clock when the short hand is on the number 2 and the long one is at the top. I don’t think she’s understood half hours yet – whenever the long hand is not at the top, we usually describe the time in relation to the full hour. “Getting close to two o’clock now, just past two o’clock, halfway between two and three” etc.

She’s comfortable with numbers up to 20, and can count to 29 without help. From there on at every x9 she gets stuck, but when prompted with the name of the next multiple of 10, she will keep going up to 100, as long as she doesn’t tire first. She often skips numbers like 44, 55 and 66 (as if one six should be enough already) and often forgets the sevens (37, 47 etc).

She may be able to count, but I get the impression that anything greater than 10 is still just an abstract concept for her. When there is A LOT of something she may say, “there could be twenty! or a hundred! or maybe ten!” as if all those big numbers are just about the same size.

On a few occasions she’s done some simple addition under ten: two plus two, three plus three, five plus two, and such. I think she knows two plus two by heart, but the rest she manages with the help of her fingers.

On a completely different topic, she’s come into contact with the concept of death repeatedly this month and the previous one. We’ve sometimes mentioned how people die, flowers wither, and food goes bad. We’ve encountered some roadkill, we’ve read fairy tales with stepmothers (where the mother has died), and she’s seen the frog king die in Shrek 3. “It’s like Snow White, but you never wake up.” She understands enough to know that everybody will die, and that it is not good. But there hasn’t been much more talk than that.

Other habits and skills worth mentioning:

We’ve done a lot of swimming and splashing around in the water, both this month and the last. Ingrid has long liked playing in water, but she has gained a lot of confidence this summer. She used to really dislike water on her face but can now put her whole face under water, or blow bubbles, or jump up and down so she gets water splashing over the top of her head. She can (either with my help, or with her armbands) float on her back. The greatest advances happened this weekend: she figured out how to actually move in water. With her armbands on she’d walk into quite deep water (up to her chest), lift her feet from the bottom, and then float and actually move in various directions using her arms and legs. She was actually swimming, albeit short distances and not very efficiently.

Ingrid now manages basic naviagation and playing movies on both Mac and PC, all the way from turning on the computer to turning it off again when done. Choosing the right profile, opening Explorer, choosing an mp3 file or opening the DVD in the media player, starting the movie using the shortcuts of the appropriate OS, switching to full screen mode, adjusting the volume, pausing, closing etc. The only thing she needs help with is knowing which media player to use (because we’ve got DVDs for various regions that won’t all play in the same one) and getting the DVD out of the case (and that’s mostly because we don’t want her to do it, after severe scratching of some DVDs).

She has acquired a habit of talking in a whiney voice, and various other distorted voices, when the mood strikes her. Both Eric and I find the whingy voice very annoying and say so, and we hope that it will pass soon. The other voices are not particularly annoying but can be almost impossible to understand, which doesn’t stop her from using them. She also likes to talk “like a baby”, meaning mostly “eeh” and “daah” and half words and lots of pointing. She is also still fond of the alliteration game, where the first sounds in all words are exchanged for a common one. “Klag klill kla kölk” for “Jag vill ha mjölk” and so on. Works reasonably well most of the time, except this morning I asked her, “who will pour the juice – you or me” / “mina või sina” and she wanted to answer using the alliteration game and got stuck… whatever letter she chose, “mina” ja “sina” were indistinguishable. So she switched to baby language and said “daah” and pointed at me.

She continues to be physically much more active than she used to be, say, half a year ago. Cycles to and from nursery, does not begin to immediately complain about walking, runs, skips and jumps. She is just learning to jump on one leg and can do about two hops in a row.

She goes to sleep in her own room and sleeps there until she first wakes, which can range from 2 o’clock to almost 7. Sometimes she wakes and shouts for me because she needs to go to the loo. We tried going without a night nappy for a while, when the nappy had been dry every single morning for a few weeks. But that quickly led to big puddles three nights running, so now the nappy is back. And the nappy is dry every morning again, so yesterday and today we tried without it again. Yesterday went well; we’ll see about tonight.

Sunday night I went to see and hear Leonard Cohen live at Globen. My first concert in over 3 years. I came home with mixed impressions.

On the plus side, Cohen is in great shape despite his age and he sounds as good live as he does on any of his albums – and he really gave all he had. (As he said himself, this might be the last time he is here.) Over 3 hours on stage at the age of 76 is quite impressive. It was nice to see him live, and to spend several hours just listening to music, which is not something I do often nowadays. And the sound was good, relatively well balanced between vocals and backing music, and not too loud.

On the minus side, Globen just isn’t a good venue for a concert (except for loud rock music). It’s a huge hall with seats almost all the way around. All music is piped through a bunch of large loudspeakers, which means there is, effectively, no stereo sound. The sound will inevitably be somewhat flat and come from a point in front of you.

Another slight minus was the lighting. As with the sound, the visuals are all delivered to you via screens. (From our seats I could just about identify Leonard Cohen on the scene, but not see much more.) In this case the scene was too dimly lit, so often half of whatever was shown on screen was in a dark shadow.

With the arrival of Baby 2 just two months away, I have started preparing a bit.

I’ve bought a (used) carry cot for our stroller (an Urban Jungle, which replaced the Bugaboo I didn’t like, which in turn replaced our beloved Stokke Xplory when Ingrid grew too heavy for it).

Why not use the Stokke? One, you can’t attach a standing board to it, and I do want to have that option for Ingrid for longer trips. Two, in Sweden’s climate we couldn’t make do with just the seat, we’d have to get a foot muff, or (more likely) a carry cot and a sleeping bag for it, and that would become expensive. Three, the Stokke is not very good in snow. So it will have to wait in the basement until spring.

I’ve also discovered that the concept of moses baskets is totally unknown in Sweden. I am now considering whether to make do with the carry cot we have (which is rather too heavy for that kind of use, really), or to buy a kind of a soft carry cot that some Swedish strollers use, or to make my own.

Clothes then and now

I have inventoried the baby clothes we have since Ingrid’s baby days. I had thought that we should have lots, probably won’t need to buy anything. But when I actually fetched the bags marked “0–3m” I saw there was hardly anything there. After a moment’s thought I remembered that we had borrowed a lot of clothes for the first 6 months. Now we’ve done some shopping at the Erikshälpen and Myrorna second hand shops, so we have something at least.

And, just as the Stokke was enough for a London winter but not for a Swedish one, I’ve realized that we will need to buy more warm clothes, hats and such. But I’m thinking that we should be covered for late September weather at least, so I’m leaving those purchases for later.

Speaking of clothes, I have learned that there is no official one-to-one conversion of clothes sizes from the UK scale (0–3 months, 3–6 etc) to the international one (measured in centimetres). Depending on the manufacturer, 0–3 months may correspond to 56cm or 62cm, 3–6 will be 62cm or 68cm, and so on.

By the way, here is what I wrote about buying for your baby and more specifically about buying baby clothes back in 2007.

Some fresh bookmarks from

  • Charles Stross: Space Cadets – Why colonizing space would be fundamentally different from colonizing the Wild West, and why the libertarian-leaning people who like to talk about space colonization wouldn't like the reality.
  • Life without language – The case of a profoundly deaf Mexican immigrant who grew up in a house with hearing parents who could not teach him sign language. At the age of 27 he still had no language.
  • xkcd: Period Speech
  • Bad code isn’t Technical Debt, it’s an unhedged Call Option – Call options are a better model than debt for cruddy code because they capture the unpredictability. If I slap in an a feature without cleaning up then I get the benefit immediately. If I never see that code again, then I’m ahead and, in retrospect, it would have been foolish to have spent time cleaning it up. On the other hand, if a radical new feature comes in that I have to do, all those quick fixes suddenly become very expensive to work with.
  • YouTube – Domino's Pulling the Cheese – All the work (and all the tricks) that go into shooting a pizza ad. Tweezers, screws, blowtorches…

While I was away in Estonia, SIFO (a Swedish polling / market research firm) sent me their Sverige Nu 2010 questionnaire (Sweden Now 2010). A few days ago I finally finished filling it in.

Filling in the questionnaire took a while – the questionnaire is 40 pages, all of them packed with checkboxes. There are so many boxes it becomes physically tiring to check them. Not all of the boxes need to be checked, of course, but I counted 87 checks on the center spread, which is reasonably representative of the whole thing.

I like questionnaires. I like seeing what kind of questions they ask. What is important to these people? What do they care about? And I like answering them, because I think in many respects my answers are different from the average respondent’s. I feel like I provide some balance and perspective to their data.

In this case, the focus of the questionnaire was on two things: what do I consume (and what could I be induced to consume), and what does my media consumption look like. On the whole, I got a distinct impression that this data will primarily be used by all kinds of firms to plan their advertising strategies.

How much do I earn? How much do I spend on clothes? Which hobbies do I have? What capital goods do I have in my household?

The categories for my spending were a bit odd: very detailed in some cases and yet not comprehensive. But when seen from an advertising angle, the questions all started to make more sense.

(First they ask me how much I spend on women’s clothing. Then two rows further down they ask specifically about underwear. Or, to take another example, there are separate categories for each of wine, spirits, and beer, and a category for weight loss products – but none for food, or household products.)

Which newspapers and magazines do I read? How often do I watch TV? Which channels? Which programmes? Which time of the day? Which Internet sites do I visit? (Some of this was spectacularly boring to answer. I watch no TV, I read a single Swedish newspaper and a single Swedish magazine, and visit almost no Swedish web sites. Swedish ones were the only ones they cared about, and a few large sites like Google and Facebook. Swedish companies aren’t going to advertise in the Economist or on after all.

There were also some questions specifically about my opinions about advertising – what are my views on ads on TV, Internet, radio; do I open unaddressed mail, etc.

The other interesting thing about this questionnaire (apart from its unstated and yet clear focus on advertising) was its unevenness.

Some questions are very broadly applicable and SIFO will likely be selling those data to many of their customers. Other questions appear to be included by request of some specific company. (“How often do you visit Casino Cosmopol?”)

The questions appear to be designed by different people, with no one person responsible for co-ordinating the entire thing. Many questions have a scale of responses: how often do I do something, or how much do I spend on something. The questions will naturally have somewhat different scales – some things you do frequently, others less so. But the scales sometimes differed in detail when the overall range was similar. E.g. one question might have the alternatives “never, a few times per year, a few times per quarter, a few times per month, every other week, every week, daily / almost daily”, whereas another would have “never, a few times per year, a few times per quarter, a few times per month, 1-2 times per week, 3 times per week or more”, and a third would have the same as the second but add even more detail at the end. A few more hours of work would have made the whole questionnaire easier to use. At least they had a clear layout guideline – the smaller amounts always came first.

Some questions had noticeably badly designed response ranges. “How many times have you used the following sections of the Yellow Pages during the last 12 months? None, 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8, 9-11, 12-14, 15-19, 20-29, 30-49, 50+”. Who could possibly recall if they opened the Yellow Pages 6 times or 9 times in the past year? It’s going to be pure guesswork, and not very reliable data.