Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Another incinerating toilet

I found a fascinating article about a project which combines a bunch of my favourite toilet-related things: high-tech design, environmental solutions for the third world, and (especially) waste incineration.

The Solar Bio-Char toilet is being developed at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Solar power is used to generate very high temperatures, which turn waste into a sanitary charcoal. It's like my beloved Cinderella, except it uses the sun rather than electricity.

Given sanitation issues in much of the third world (more people have a cell phone than have access to a sanitary toilet), a self-contained system such as this could make a significant improvement in public health for many millions of people.

Boulder is a good place for such a project, as it is one of the sunniest places in the US. (It's also Sooz's alma mater!)

Friday, April 25, 2014

A home in Nova Scotia

A friend recently sent me a link to an off-the-grid house in Nova Scotia. The article is much longer than my usual links, but is really worth the read.

The house is off the grid by choice, and the design and living decisions driven by that choice are really interesting. Real-time feedback allows the residents to alter their behavior to meet the energy that is available. In fact, the owners host local schoolkids to see how the house works.

Another thing I liked in the article were the number of construction photos included. Usually, these kinds of pieces just show the finished house in a carefully-edited state of cleanliness. This time, I got a much better sense of what it was like to build and live in the house, which is what I'm after in the blog.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


When we moved to Sweden in 1989, it was immediately apparent that the most important thing we needed to be part of Swedish life was a personal identity number, or personnummer. Everyone in Sweden has one; it's like a social security number in the US or national insurance in the UK, but even more so.

In Sweden, even 25 years ago, everything that had to do with the government in any way was tied to one's personnummer. Sooz and I got our own numbers, and I have kept the original document to this day.

When we moved away from Sweden, those numbers were kept, but turned inactive. When we returned to build our stuga, I found we couldn't use them to open our bank account, as personnummers are only for residents. So we had to use a workaround for our bank, the electric company, the tax authorities, etc. Although everything is set now, it was much harder to do without a personnummer. A recent column on The Local describes the problem of the numberless very well.

Workarounds aren't always available. Sooz has been trying to get a bonus card (for discounts and deals) at our local ICA for at least a year. Her application has been either ignored or rejected for various reasons. I called ICA on my last visit and finally got to the bottom of the mystery: we needed a personnummer. Sooz couldn't even get a discount card at the grocery without it. She has a Swedish driver's license, we own a home and pay taxes in Sweden, we're both EU citizens, we both had personnummers, but no number, no grocery card. Annoying.

I heard a story on Swedish radio which indicates I'm not the only one impacted by this numberless status. The National Board of Trade wants authorities to make it easier for foreign nationals to obtain a number, and therefore move more easily into daily life. I'd love to re-activate my old number one day!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Farnsworth House

Sooz and I flew up to Illinois to tour the famous Farnsworth House. It was an excellent trip, the house is beautiful. I have a flickr page of photos from the visit for anyone interested.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Environmental Stoves

I've blogged a lot about my love for fireplaces.  My head knows it's not a great idea to put one in our little stuga, but my heart still wants one. (I'm not Emily Dickinson, so my head wins that argument. For now.)

As part of my trolling the internet for fireplaces, I came across Envirofit, an organization that designs and sells small stoves for the third world. They're a inventive company with a product that fills a useful niche, and worth a look.

Monday, April 14, 2014

New transportation systems

We've developed a pretty solid public transportation routine for our trips out to Aspö, at least for those times we're not mooching a ride or borrowing Marcia's car!

However, everything's been thrown into confusion now. We used to buy a strip of coupons for our travels on the bus and subway. Each journey simply decremented part of the strip. Anything unused on one visit's strip could be used our next time over.

However, that system has been replaced by a stored-value access card, much like the Oyster cards in the UK. Fill it up with money, and touch the reader whenever you get on a subway or bus. Quick, simple, and much less susceptible to the fraud that paper coupons allowed.

Marcia gave me one of her access cards, I filled it with kronor, and I was on my way. That transition to the new system was smooth.

However, I had another wrinkle when I boarded the Waxholms boat. Many years ago, we bought an access card from Waxholmsbolaget. I could pay 750 kronor and receive 1000 worth of credit on the card. Everytime we traveled, I popped in my card and the boat trip's value was deducted from the 1000. It was quick, simple, and a 25% discount!

When I used my card on my last trip, though, I was told that the cards weren't being used any longer, although it was unclear just what was replacing them. I asked at the ticket office in Stavsnäs and didn't get a full answer. It appeared the Waxholms card was going away in favor of the new access card. But not yet because of technical problems, and the 25% discount was probably going away. I was told to keep my Waxholms card "just in case" but I couldn't refill it just now. Very confusing.

I'm glad to report that it's not just me, the dumb tourist, who's confused. The local skargarden newspaper ran an article (in English and Swedish) recently which captured my confusion perfectly.

I'll be curious to see what system is in place when we're back this June!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

This is why I love Eurovision

Austria has announced their entry for next month's Eurovision contest, and it's a doozy. Drag artist Tom Neuwirth, performing as "Conchita Wurst", will be singing "Rise Like A Phoenix" in Copenhagen. I'm sure the broadcasters in places like Turkey are just thrilled.

It's a nice-enough ballad, with a fairly standard video to go along with it. The designer stubble is what sets it apart.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A couple of story updates

The Economist has published a couple of stories lately that touch upon my favorite blog subjects.

First, my February 7th post on Swedish domination of pop music is followed up with news that Swedes are leading the way on music consumption as well as creation. Spotify, a Swedish company, is on the forefront of consumers moving from downloads to streaming. It's an interesting read.

Secondly, it appears tall wooden buildings, or 'plyscrapers', which I wrote about last August, are also gaining further acceptance in the marketplace, according to this recent article.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

"Welcome To Sweden"

There's a new TV show on Channel 4 in Sweden. It's about an American who travels to Sweden to live with his girlfriend. It's based on the true story of its writer and star, Greg Poehler.

It's common for English-language shows to be broadcast with subtitles, but this one is a bit different. Although it is a locally-produced show with a local cast, it is largely in English. This has allowed the show to be shown on the NBC network in the US this summer. (Greg's having a well-connected sister also helps, I think.)

There was a pertinent exchange in a recent episode. Greg is at the summer house of his new Swedish family, and the father is always busy working and building. Their conversation describes my life on Aspö perfectly :

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Eleanor Pritchard

I stumbled across her website recently, and it is filled with all sorts of beautiful textiles and upholstery. Her style is right up my alley.

My favorite is the 625, perhaps because I'm a TV geek, too!

When I was in Stockholm last week, I visited one of my very favourite stores, the Nordiska Galleriet

And what should I see as soon as I walk in? Yes, it's the exact same pattern by the same designer. Amazing. It looks even better in person, too. I was sorely tempted to make a purchase...!