Thursday, November 28, 2013


Time for the yearly Thanksgiving post. We're back in Minneapolis with my mom and extended family. Everyone, that is, except Ollie, who's back in Texas at his favorite kennel. He's still doing fine, 5 years after his surgery, and I'm very thankful for that.

We have an extra special guest in Marcia & Rutger's son, Tim, who is in school in the US. He was able to join us for his first American Thanksgiving, and my mother and sister filled him to the brim with turkey and all the trimmings.

In fact, everyone is doing well, and it's been a great family day.

Friday, November 22, 2013

"What Sweden Can Teach America"

An interesting article and short video on the CNN website pokes holes in the thinking that Sweden is a big-government, socialist paradise. To quote:

"It turns out that socialist Sweden is not as socialist or crazy as the American right would have you believe. Instead, the changes of the last two decades reveal a Swedish government and people who are pragmatic and adaptable."

The idea is that Swedish government is not really 'big', but rather 'smart'. Of course nothing is perfect, and I know Rutger and Janne can point out many flaws about life in Sweden. But it is interesting to see that significant social and political changes can happen. That's perhaps the most important lesson to be learned in the US.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Funky Radiators

The New York Times ran an article recently on the trend of radiators as art objects.

Radiators are not nearly as prevalent in the US as they are in Europe. In the UK and Scandinavia, few homes have (or need) air conditioning. In the US, forced air heating and cooling is much more common to deal with the extremes of temperature. (Here in my Texas home, my thermostat has a setting to run the heater at night and the AC during the day. I thought it was a gimmick, but I have used it more than once!)

Since radiators have such prominence in European homes, it's no surprise that artists and designers are looking to move them from being utilitarian into being more of a statement. The Times has a slideshow of many cool designs.

Some homeowners take a completely different tack and use radiant floor heating. Marcia & Rutger's house has such a system, and their home is perfectly cozy, even on the coldest days, as if by magic.

We aren't out at our little stuga that much in the coldest time of the year. We get by just fine with our radiators and Dyson fan. Regular blog readers know, however, that I still pine for a nice little fireplace. Perhaps one day...

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Waxholmsbolaget Strike?!?

I missed this one completely, I'm sorry to say. The Waxholmsbolaget went on strike November 5th, ending a number of ferry services, including the Stavsnäs-Aspö run. That would have been a pain in the neck if we had been out on Aspö.

The strike ended last night; details are on Radio Sweden. I'm upset with myself that I missed such a breaking and pertinent news story!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Gender Neutrality

Boys with toy guns and girls with baby dolls. Not in Sweden, that is.

The Wall Street Journal shares the story of the gender-neutral Swedish Toys R Us catalog. In its pages, boys handle hair dryers and girls hold giant Nerf cannons. It's not just altruism on the part of toy retailers; Swedish authorities watch these kinds of things very carefully!

In fact, cinemas in Sweden are starting to classify films according to the Bechdel test, which is essentially a measure of the presence and importance of a film's female characters. (I'm intrigued to see that three of my favorite movies, all candidates for the best films of all time, each fail the test spectacularly.)

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Wood buildings

I've posted previously (here and here) about ever-larger buildings being made of wood. Seeing how our little cabin is literally made of nothing but glue-laminated wood and a bucket of screws, I've become quite interested in wood construction.

It appears the 'big guys' are getting interested, too. Skidmore, Owings & Merrill is a world-renowned firm who have built the Sears Tower and the Burj Khalifa, among many, many other projects. (Frank Lloyd Wright called them the "three blind Mies" which is probably the best architecture joke ever.)

SOM have turned their hand to the idea of wood in skyscraper construction, and lo and behold, they see quite a bit of promise in the idea. The New York Times reports that SOM have determined tall wooden buildings to be feasible from an engineering standpoint, and more sustainable than concrete-and-steel, to boot.

I have no plans to build a multistory stuga, even if Värmdö kommun would allow it. But the idea of using wood, especially wood from sustainable forests, to build tall, is fascinating, and likely becoming more common in the future.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Internet redux

There has been a good deal of movement on the quest for better internet service out on Aspö. My connection now is OK, but it is slow and a bit fiddly. I've been yearning to improve my connectivity.

During our last visit, we talked with Tony, who told me that Thomas, a fellow resident, and the man who manages the Aspö website, has been using a 4G wireless setup from Telia which he's been happy with. Tony also told me about a similar system from 3, who I have today as a pay-as-you go provider.

The Telia setup is interesting. It's only 99 kronor a month for existing customers. I'm not an existing customer, but Rutger is. Perhaps I could have him get a unit on my behalf and then I pay him back the 99 monthly? Advantages: I could have a constant connection so I could set up that webcam I've been dreaming about. Disadvantages: I'd have to hassle Rutger and I'm sure there would be some billing or provisioning complication or two.

I emailed the nice people at 3 and they responded quickly and in perfect English. Essentially I can buy their 4G unit for 1500 kronor (about $230), use my current account and get nice fast 4G at a lower price. Advantages: I can use my current account and not involve Rutger and his billing. Disadvantages: not as cheap as the 99:- monthly through Telia. There's a potential curveball, though. The router they use is available on the internet for something less than 3 wants for it. Perhaps I could attach a bootleg router to their network? After all, I'm doing it already with the 3G USB dongle.

One other possibility is xcomglobal. For Americans leaving their shores for points beyond, they'll provide a wireless router for use on their travels for $15 per day. This isn't as cheap as any of the other options above for us as Swedish 'residents', but it would be good for traveling or occasional use.

All this is potentially trumped by the latest news from Stefan on Ladholmen, who has been a champion of the Nämdö fiber project. He emailed me earlier this week: "Hi Don! We have just awarded contractor for fiber in stage 1, the southern Nämdö and surrounding islands. Our three islands and northern Nämdö will probably be included in stage 2, which is currently projected, the probable procurement in the beginning of 2014."

So it looks possible, at least, that we could have that super-fast Swedish connection as soon as next year. I would just love that!

UPDATE November 8: I received an email from Nilla on Nämdö, informing me of a December 8 board meeting. She also told me she expected the submarine cable for stage one should be laid before then. So there is lots of progress, indeed!

Friday, November 1, 2013

A sense of style

I found a fascinating article on the official Visit Sweden website. It was entitled "Why are Swedes so Stylish?" The most interesting part to me is that the article was more about politics and culture than the mechanics or history of good design.

As the article says, the Swedish aesthetic comes from the very Swedish concept of lagom, a word that translates roughly as "just right".  That is a rough translation, too. A lot is packed into that one word.

Lagom has a strong social connotation. It means having just enough as compared to your neighbors, the idea that "I'm not OK unless everyone else is, too". It means avoiding ostentation or displays of consumerism. The celebrity culture, the consumer culture, that is so evident in the US is not nearly as strong in Sweden.

Another way to look at is the Power Distance Index, a measure of the "distance" between the powerful and less-powerful members of a society. Where I live in Texas, there are many gated communities; you need to be pretty wealthy to get in. I think there are very few such communities in Sweden.

The idea of having very little distance between someone powerful or famous and the average person on the street strikes me as a very desirable concept. The Swedish idea of "everyone being in it together" is one of the things I love so much about my adopted country!