Sunday, November 30, 2014

Привіт мої українських читачів!

That post title translates as "hello to my Ukranian readers."

Why the Ukraine, you may ask? Well, it appears that I have recently gained a Ukrainian readership. I've had over 800 page views from Ukraine in the past month, which outpaces readers from every other country, even the United States.

I have no idea what's behind this recent popularity. If anyone in the Ukraine has an answer, please let me know in the comments. In the meantime, Ми раді, що Ви відвідуєте нас!

UPDATE: It appears these visits may not be curious Ukrainians, but instead spambots or other potential hacking activity. I will look further into this; Google provides a range of analysis tools which I haven't really bothered with up to now. I will report back.

UPDATE 2: Sadly, it appears there's some sort of nefarious activity going on. Most—if not all— of my Ukrainian visitors have come here from websites that sell Viagra. Goodness knows why that might be the case; that's not a product I'm familiar with...

Thursday, November 27, 2014


Time for my now-traditional Thanksgiving message.

Looking at my previous posts, I don't have much different to report. We're in Ohio this year, visiting Sooz's family. Grant flew in from Boston, but sadly, Ollie didn't join us, instead enjoying his turkey treats at his favorite Texas kennel.

Our Corgi is still doing well, older of course, at 11½, with six years now on his repaired back. But he remains the happy and handsome dog he's always been.

I'm thankful for not just Ollie's, but everyone's, continued good health and happiness! We wish the same for all of you, too.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Sweden's new font

I find typefaces fascinating. The design of a font makes a huge difference in the message it conveys. I regret that my blog platform keeps me restricted to the simplest of typefaces, although I can understand the need to keep things simple across thousands of blogs and millions of readers.

Sweden recently commissioned a new typeface for its international communications. It's designed to present a uniform image to the world. The website (of which I've written before) is a very well-done portal into the country.

I've found a few articles on Sweden Sans, which look at the typeface, and the ideas behind its creation, in different ways. There's a nationalistic take, a radio interview, and info from the designers themselves.

For an overview on typography, a useful primer is at Gravitate, and I Love Typeography is good at absorbing lots of my free time.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Barkeeper's Friend

"Barkeeper's Friend" sounds like a punchline to a joke, I suppose. But it's also the name of a cleaning product we brought along with us to Aspö on our last trip. Why, you might ask? Aren't there plenty of cleaning products on the Kingdom of Sweden?

A valid question, indeed. We brought along our barkeeper's friend as it contains oxalic acid as one of its ingredients. Oxalic acid turns out to be very good at removing stains in wooden furniture.

One of the things we have to get used to with our new deck is that our table is much more exposed to the elements out there. Up until now, it's been tucked next to the house. We left a couple of heavy metal tea light holders out on the table in an overnight drizzle, and the next day, we had a nice dark stain on our otherwise pristine wood.

Although I don't have a photo of our stain, the one shown here is pretty similar. What happens is that water, containing iron, interacts with the tannins in the wood, causing a kind of rust stain. The fact that we had a nice iron candle-holder in the rain simply made the staining process more efficient!

This photo is from a website I found addressing the problem (as well as an array of other little projects, too.) I thought it worth a try, hence the can in our baggage from Texas.

I'm happy to report the treatment worked perfectly! After just two applications, we were able to get the stain completely out. I may even see if I can use it to deal with a few remaining jarn vitriol spots on the house. After all, it's an iron oxide, itself. I promise to take pictures next time.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

How's Life?

I've blogged before about various attempts at measuring well-being, happiness and quality of life around the world. Sweden and Scandinavia always rank highly in these measurements.

The OECD has published a fascinating new web tool allowing a broad view of well-being in many different regions of the world. A few clicks allows a look at how where you live compares and contrasts with other parts of the world.

Stockholm comes across pretty well, except for the shortage and expense of housing, which I've written about recently. My home state of Minnesota looks darned good in the ratings, I'm happy to say; Texas, a bit less so. The website is a marvel of data visualization, and is an informative way to spend time on the internet!

These measurements are imperfect, of course. Measuring civic engagement only through voter turnout, just as one example, leaves out many things that make up a community.

The New York Times published a superb article summarizing the OECD's work and its usefulness in making comparisons around the world. I highly recommend having a read!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Learning Swedish

I've been reading about a company that is offering a 'new way' to learn a foreign language. Voxy takes advantage of internet connectivity to connect its students to a more dynamic and real-time type of language learning and practice.

They published an interesting infographic about the difficulties of learning various languages. Swedish is in the 'easy' category. According to them, six months of study at about 25 hours a week would allow proficiency.

I would really love to do this. I know it would make a big difference to my life in Aspö. If I stay retired, I may just give it a try.

The problem I have is that, living here in Texas, I don't ever have a chance to practice speaking Swedish. I can listen a bit on the radio and TV, and goodness knows there's lots of Swedish to read online. I never have a chance to speak it in the Lone Star state.

But that's a little bit of an excuse. I have Swedish friends here, and I should probably work a lot harder at speaking with them on a regular basis when/if I start studying in earnest.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Party Lights!

It's been pretty well documented in this blog that I really like my lights. I've installed a number of different types of lighting so far- cable lights in the kitchen, embedded LED's in the deck, halogen downlights in a drop ceiling.

Sooz really wants one more type of lighting: party lights for our new outdoor space. She likes the old fashioned European bistro lights with clear, round bulbs on a string.

I found a set by the venerable European company Konstsmide which seemed pretty good, but at nearly 500kr for a string of 10 bulbs, I thought it pricey.

I've had success in the past with purchasing a few multi-voltage goods in the USA (or the UK), and just using them with a different plug when in Sweden. I've found that more & more things are made to operate on 110/220 volts these days, a benefit of globalization, I suppose.

However, that doesn't seem to be the case for party lights. I found a number of vendors, being the biggest. They have a wide array of bulb sizes and types, lengths of strings, etc. It's even possible to custom-order strings to one's own specifications! I was salivating.

My hopes were dashed, however, when I found that everything worked only on American-style 110 volts. I called to see if I could order a 220V set. I was told that wasn't possible, in a tone of voice that made me think I wasn't the first person to have asked that question.

I did find a company that could get me a 220V transformer, and to make up my own set to order. However, at $2.25 per foot of wire, $5.75 per bulb, and about $150 for the 220V transformer, the cost was getting quite a bit more than the Konstsmide set I had rejected as too pricy!

A bit more googling found that the set I wanted also came in a 20 bulb length. I could find it in the UK for only £30, or 350 kronor. A simple plug change, and voila! I have a nice string of bulbs, twice as long, and for two-thirds the price. A good deal all around.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Sun-Mar composting toilets

Since toilets seem to be the most popular subject on this blog, I've found another interesting design for our dear readers.

Sun-Mar make a range of composting toilets which, to me, are a bit of a hybrid between a composting and septic toilet. They make a self-contained unit, which is something like the tried and trusted Separett. It's quite a bit more advanced, however, with evaporators and dryers to speed and civilize the composting process.

They also provide a central system, where one or more toilets is connected to a tank beneath the house. Composting then takes place away from the bathroom, making the process even cleaner and quieter.

These units can run with and without water, and even with or without electricity. It's quite a wide range of composting toilet products. I am impressed!