One-stop exotism

In Vindeln they don't have enough eaters for several different restaurants, so you have to combine them into one.


Vroom vroom

I found an old friend in the craft shop in Åsele: The Corgi De Tomaso Mangusta, the first toy car I remember having and driving along roads made with masking tape on the nursery floor. I must have been able to read already then, as I remember having been fascinated with the strange and mysterious name.


Falling off the waggon

Embla Viking at the gate at ArlandaHoneybuns' cats don't travel well, so since I was to be formally Introduced to the Honeymom, who lives up north, I got to fly for the first time in several years. Domestic. With the cats. Well, the cats actually ended up somewhere in a pressurised hold, but they still had to be excavated from inside the sofa and under the bed and stuffed into their travel basket and then brought to the airport. However, as we were travelling on Midsummer's Eve, the airport was all but empty and the staff had time to be friendly and helpful. The baggage dropper even emptied out a box of forms for me so that I could check in the Swiss army knife I only realised halfway through the security control I still had in my pocket.

The flight up on a SAS Boeing 737-683 was uneventful; the clouds disappeared somewhere over the Gulf of Bothnia and we arrived in Umeå under blue skies. We got out on the apron, but there was very little traffic to smell or look at apart from a very cool-looking ambulance helicopter.

We had a good week (of which more anon) and then flew down, cats and all, on another -683, finishing with a circuit over Stockholm, which was at its most beautiful. I was so seated that I could look down on Honeybuns' house as we passed it on final approach.


The large print giveth, the fine print taketh away

At the bookstore till I vainly waved my discount coupon:
discount on everything in the shop!*
* Does not apply to student priced books, magazines, gift cards, the Reading Circle, music CDs, DVDs, and electronics.

On the whole, would it have been too difficult to say “20% off on all books”?


Not a bot

In high school we declared the computer room to be an independent country (mostly due to a contrived joke on my part, which we need not go further into) and as such we needed a national anthem. The then-current hit “Systems breaking down” fit the bill perfectly. It's been unavailable for long, but now has resurfaced on YouTube, and I just can't have too much 1980s synth pop on this blog.


Sinking feelings

Honeybuns and I went to see the Titanic exhibition in Boathall 1 by Galärvarvet (The Galley Wharf). It was somewhat pricey at 120 SEK, but waving my Friends of the Vasa card at least gave me a discount. We were equipped with rather bulky items that turned out to be mil-spec MP3 players with the guide voice track to the exhibition. Then we were photographed on a simulated gangway before we entered the exhibition itself.

The voice track pretty much locked one to a particular, pretty high pace of going through the exhibits, which in the case they were, for example, written documents, couldn't be read while listening to the guide. With time I figured out how to pause the track and use the chapter skip buttons to adjust the timing, but that required conscious effort and some training. The voice track also had background music, which I quickly realised came from the famous film. As I haven't seen the film, I asked myself whether the exposition in fact followed the run of the film, but there were no overt references to it elsewhere. But the stated meaning of the exhbition was to remind us of the people behind the legend, who'd once lived, loved and worked.

Accordingly, each exhibit was typically a huge photograph of a person who had been on the Titanic with a case next to it, often showing personal items belonging to that person, postcards, diaries, watches, but also samples of cutlery, china, etc from Olympic, the sister ship of Titanic.

The final room listed the names of all who had perished and I noted an impressive proportion of not only Swedes, but also Finns, among the third-class passengers—emigrants to America. In an appropriately solemn mood we exited, passing the desk selling photographs of us boarding the exhbition and the souvenir shop with extremely expensive Titanic souvenirs. On the way home we thought about shipping disasters—while that of the Titanic may be the most famous, certainly it's not the worst? Wikipedia to the rescue (and several hours of reading)!

As I had remembered, Wilhelm Gustloff was the sinking with the greatest loss of life, but now I found that the latest estimates suggested around 9400 dead. What I had not known was that Wilhelm Gustloff was part of a huge rescue operation, perhaps a thousand ships moving over a million Germans from East Prussia to Germany and Denmark from under the Soviet army. Several of these ships were sunk, including the Goya with another 6000 dead.

In peacetime the worst accident is the Doña Paz sinking by the Philippines with perhaps 4000 dead, and the Kiangya, lost by the Chinese coast with around 3000 dead.

Closer to home, Estonia didn't have as many victims, but a much higher proportion of the passengers died than on the Titanic, due to the ship capsizing within minutes, trapping the passengers in their cabins.

I've always thought that a major advantage of air travel is that you die instantly if there is an accident.


I count

Silent sunny summer Sunday. I thread new laces in my shoes and go out. I pour a bagful of transparent glass containers into the recycling bin and then double back a bit. I've often passed the school, but have never been to it. No worries, a sign points out “POLLING STATION THIS WAY”. It's no longer entirely pristine, this is not the first election it's been brought out for. A few party representatives handing out ballot papers by the door. Arbetarinitiativet, who on Earth are they? Anyway, I've already made up my mind, so I pick up a ballot paper in the stand on the inside and scan it for any unexpected names. I locate the polling room for my district, greet the election officials and disappear behind the green screen to stuff my envelope. Voting card, ID, and envelope handed to the official, I'm marked off and on the strike of noon my envelope is dropped in the big box. I walk back home in the cool sunshine, wondering how the next mandate period will turn out for the MEPs.



A recent article in Dagens Nyheter discusses “elite classes” in elementary school, i e classes where the students get more advanced courses in maths, physics, history, or whatever. The news item itself is that there is not a whole lot of applications to these classes, but they also quote Marie Granlund, Social Democratic spokesperson for school issues, to the effect that elite classes will create A and B teams in school, something which is anathema to the Social Democrats (to which I, on and off, count myself). I instinctively reacted with annoyance to this, but better to sort out what's what, and see what will be a rational position to take.

To begin with, as the reporter asks, why is it OK to have special classes for practical training, such as sports, music, etc, but not for more “intellectual” subjects? This never gets answered by Granlund, who just reaffirms that advanced physics classes cause student segmentation (skiktning), whereas advanced sports classes do not. Now, I've heard the argument before from Social Democratic school politicians that demands for raised academic standards are a means to keep working class children down. There is a point to this, though often left unspoken: Children in better-off families tend to get considerably more support* from home with doing homework, simply having a tradition of reading and education being taken for granted. Accordingly, I suspect the unspoken assumption is that the A and B teams feared are not split according to the giftedness of the children, but according to the wallet size of their parents.† This, I agree, is a Bad Thing. Unfortunately, the ingrained reaction of the Social Democrats is to insist that No Child Can Be Left Behind—no matter your grades, you always get to move ahead to the next class, to high school, to university, in the bizarre hope that the under-achieving student will be so overwhelmed by gratitude at this kind deed that they immediately get their act together and not only diligently study in their ordinary classes but at the same time also do all the studying they did not do in lower grades. I'm quite positive this does not work.

Segregation is a Bad Thing, as having no experience and understanding of how other people live is likely to increase tensions in society. Mixing is not a guarantee for peace, love, and understanding, but perhaps raises the chances a bit at least. Schools are of course segregated based on where the children live, which correlates with socio-economic status, so a relative once noted that compulsory military service was the one place in Sweden were men from truly all walks of life got to meet each other. I suspect this is not entirely true, certainly I had a higher than random proportion of friends working as programmers at Navy HQ and quite a few top dogs in society have passed through the famous Interpreter School, but in principle the idea held. Now that just a few get to perform their military (or non-military, for that matter) service, segregation would seem to increase.

Then again, segregation can be good, for other reasons. As I've pointed out before, being intellectually gifted is not necessarily appreciated by other people, whereas being, say, even a half-decent musician is always a hit. (Haha. Or, not to put too fine a point on it, you get more babes with a guitar case than with a laptop case.) I myself finally found my true peers and life-long friends in Young Scientists, where thinking about non-integral differentials, doing chemical experiments not necessarily (though fairly often anyway) aimed at explosions, or writing Lisp programs were not reasons for pariah-hood. So, from my own personal background I would expect “elite classes” to have social, not just academic, advantages.

I presume this means I'm for “elite classes”, but are we then likely to instead create another social stratum, separated from the rest of the world, creating engineers and scientists without much feeling for the human state of existence? I suspect this is a stereotype promulgated by those who prefer the guitar case-carriers and not even seeing all the nerds around them, the contact surfaces are there.

Much more worrisome are the barriers to properly getting gifted children through school, regardless of their family background. I am at a bit of a loss here. A common demand is that teachers should “see all children” and adapt their teaching to the children's different demands. This is obvious bunk, there are only so many ways (=1 in most cases) that you have time for to explain a concept. When we have one teacher per child, then we can have full adaptivity, but the entire idea of a school presupposes that you teach children in bulk. Having extra staff helping with homework etc can be a step, but at some point teaching must start with the parents. And what do you do with them? I frankly haven't a clue and, of course, people are complicated. Yet we really need to improve schools. Not necessarily for the matter of national competitiveness, curing cancer, or anything like that, but because young bright people deserve to have a chance at learning stuff for their own enjoyment, growing as a person and all that. It's OK if they want to be auto mechanics because they find their joy in muffler belts and suspensions, but if they become auto mechanics because they don't know that there is an alternative, or because they don't dare became anything else, then potential joy is being tossed away.

* It could be argued that I and my siblings also got support from home, but I'd say it was pressure more than suppport, we were expected to do well in school and continue to higher education, so as to get rich and independent (well, we did, I guess), but our studies we had to manage on our own.

† Another possible assumption, not outspoken either, is that sports and music classes will give working class children a chance to get ahead and become sports pros and pop stars and thus rich. Equality accomplished!



In the book I'm currently reading the author expounds on her tendency to become ill while travelling: “…and I ask you—I beg of you!—who gets sunburned in Stockholm?”

Well, I do. Quite regularly every summer, even though I try to stay out of the sun. Did she think we all live underground and never go out?