Thursday, February 28, 2013

Denmark's Eurovision Entry

It's a bit early, after all not all countries have chosen their final songs yet. But some bookies are putting Denmark's entry by Emmelie De Forest as an early favorite.

She can sing, at least, which not all entrants can! And the drums are a very Eurovision-y touch. I have a soft spot for Denmark, given my family heritage. But I'm not too sure.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The last semi-final

...was in Malmö last night. The opening bit of the show was quite funny, with an opening montage from Eurovision in the 70's. The hosts Gina and Danny were in "traditional" Swedish dress. They started with the typical awkward English-language banter between the hosts, the joke being that Malmö will be hosting the Eurovision final itself in May. The real host, Petra Mede, came on and put the kids in their place. Maybe you had to be there, but I got a kick out of it.

Onto the music. Ulrik Munther (whom I mentioned last year) has tightened up his act with "Tell The World I'm Here". I thought it was a good song, with a simple and effective staging in front of a big screen of stars.

The other act was Ralf Gyllenhammar, with "Bed On Fire". This one was a little odd. Ralf looks like a heavy-metal drummer with a neck tattoo and aggressive facial hair. And he sang alone on a piano (which went up in flames mid-way through the song). The funny part was his excitement when he won. Ralf was thrilled! He threw little Ulrik up in the air and in general acted like the happiest Melodifestival winner ever. Kind of endearing for someone who looks like one of Lisbeth Salander's friends.

Next week is the "second chance" round, where two of the lucky losers get picked for the final. The field seems pretty thin this year. Maybe one of the songs will grow on me, we'll see.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Big Mac Index

The Economist has published something they call the "Big Mac Index" for over 25 years. It started as a light-hearted look at purchasing power parity amongst countries around the world.

The idea is simple: the average cost of a Big Mac in the USA is set as the baseline. The cost of a Big Mac in another country is compared to the US price. Comparing the two prices gives an "hamburger exchange rate," if you will. This can be compared to the actual currency exchange rate.

This year's index is interactive, and it has kept me entertained for some time now. Of most interest for our readership, of course, is how a certain Nordic country fares in the index.

It appears that Sweden has one of the most overvalued currencies in their league table. In fact, in this past year, the official exchange rate for the kronor was almost 75% lower than the Big Mac rate, and that's been consistent over the years.

Is this good news or bad news for an ex-pat such as myself? That depends on your point of view. For transferring money from the US right now, it's not that great. My dollar buys almost 10% less than it did last summer. On the other hand, the value of my home in Sweden is commensurately higher in dollars. So short-term, a strong kronor is a bother; long-term it's a good thing.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

We've scheduled our trip!

It has taken a lot of coordination. My calendar at work is crazy these days. I'd rather go sooner than later, but Sooz, probably wisely, wants to wait until it's not so frosty. So we the settled on the end of April. Our SAS tickets are bought.

Eagle-eyed readers might notice there's a countdown clock just above the archive along the right side of the blog. It is set to the arrival time of our flight. I'll be really glad when it gets to zero!!!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Melodifestival Part 3

Another head-scratcher from Skellefteå. My favourite act, Janet Leon, didn't even make it to the second chance round:

I mean, come on! This is perfect Eurovision! Skirt-pulling! Catsuits! Synchronized dancing! Long blonde hair! But no, the voters went with a kind of emo-punk-hipster song by "State of Drama" and a bunch of old guys, "Ravaillacz", who had an old-fashioned Schlager song. At least they can sing.

I won't link to the winners, as SVT takes their videos down right away.

Going to the second chance show was Caroline af Ugglas. You may remember her from last year's eccentric performance of "Snella, Snella." Her song this year, "Hon Har Inte", had a more traditional performance, although it looks as if Caroline has spent the past year getting her body fat into single digits. It is possible to have too much of a good thing.

The funniest part of the show was a bit filmed in Rome, in which the host, Gina Dirawi, asked random Italians why they hated Sweden, the joke being they were the only country not to give Loreen any points last year. It was pretty well done!

I have to say I am not too thrilled about the choices this year so far. Sweden does not seem to be defending their title, unless there's a great act popping up Malmö next week.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Competitive wood planing

...yes, you read that right. I stumbled across video from a competition in Japan to plane the thinnest possible wood shaving. The winning entry here is only 9 microns thick. (For perspective, a hair is about 45 microns, a red blood cell about 7).

I believe the skill is really in making the plane itself. To design a tool that is sufficiently sharp and precise to shave a sliver of wood hardly thicker than a blood cell... that's the textbook definition of "skillful" I'd say!

Be careful with clicking the various links on the side, however. If you're like me, you'll spend an inordinate amount of time reading about woodworking techniques.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Melodifestival part 2

We all watched the second show from Göteborg live via the SVT website. My mom's still visiting, so she wasn't quite as bemused as she was during her first exposure last week. Soon, she'll be an expert.

It was an amazing show, really typical Melodifestival, with real head-scratching decisions by the telephone voters. Case in point: one of the winners was Louise Hoffsten, with her song "Only Dead Fish Follow The Stream". Yes, that's right. Dead Fish. Not only in the title, but over and over again in the chorus. But don't take my word for it:

The best act, Erik Segerstedt and Tone Damli, made it to the second chance show at least, along with a Bieber-wannabe which Sooz rather liked. Next week will be Skellefteå, which should be interesting. Shows in smaller venues are always more fun!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

A report from the Economist

This week's Economist has a number of articles on the Nordic countries worth a read.

The first talks about how Sweden, Denmark, and Norway seem to have found a new model, "avoiding both southern Europe’s economic sclerosis and America’s extreme inequality." It also counters many of the myths of Scandinavia being a socialist tax-and-spend paradise; for example, Sweden's budget deficit is 0.3% of GDP; America’s is 7%.

The second article talks a bit more about how it's being done. Simply put, "rather than extending the state into the market, the Nordics are extending the market into the state."And it seems to be working right now: "the Nordics dominate indices of competitiveness as well as of well-being."

Scandinavian countries still have a number of advantages over other countries in the EU. Their economies are small and relatively homogeneous. They have good infrastructure and high education levels. But still, it's hard to govern at all, let alone well. For the time being at least, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark are doing it well, indeed.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Melodifestival is back!

We watched the first semi-final from Karlskrona via the excellent SVT Play website. It was great fun as usual, but with perhaps a bit less filler in the show itself; I think they got right down to the performances much more quickly than in the past.

The clear winner was YOHIO, with a manga-inspired performance of "Heartbreak Hotel" which had absolutely nothing to do with the Elvis version, I promise. I gave them extra points for fireballs.

The other winner was David Lindgren, one of those artists who keeps coming to these shows and never gets very far. At least he made the final this time.

Lena Phillipson made an appearance in one of the numbers at the voting interval. I don't know what her secret is but she keeps looking better in my opinion. Look at this clip... and remember she just turned 47!

My mother is visiting and she got to experience the joy that is the Melodifestival first-hand. I think the best way to describe her reaction was... nonplussed.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

More photos from Annika and Olle

I woke up this morning to a number of photos from both Annika and Olle out on Aspö. It looks like a beautiful sunny day and Annika's photos are, as usual, excellent. Olle checked on my radiator and all is still properly warm. He sent along a few pictures of the house, too.

It is great to have neighbors who stay in touch! I miss Aspö a little bit less now.