Millenium: Volumes 2 and 3

Back in the Real World! I have had my nose in a book for the past 3 weeks or so - I have now finished all three books in the Millenium trilogy of Stieg Larsson. (My blog entry about book 1)

In Swedish! That is over 2100 pages of text that is absolutely riveting. WiseMan read them before me, and he spent days on his lawn chair not doing anything but read. The last two or three days (weeks?) I've been the same way. WiseMan made supper this evening (and did a great job making chicken breasts stuffed with spinach and feta) because I just plain had to finish that last book.

The hacking described is completely okay, except for the Internet connection via mobile telephone in the hospital. Not only do they frown on telephones in hospitals (even hidden ones), in 2004 there were no flat rates for pre-paids in Sweden (there are now, though) and you have to enter a passnumber to connect via Bluetooth.

But the rest is all doable. I suppose that is why the governments are so scared of hackers and want to ban them. They need to read this book and understand how - and why - people hack.

You have to read volume 2 and 3 back to back, number 3 starts exactly where 2 leaves off. And oh, my, don't even start these if you have other work to do! I had a whole pile I was planning to do on vacation, and instead I read these ;)


Everything is public in Sweden

Our neighbors in Sweden are selling their house, so we checked the web page, curious people that we are. And we found this information about the neighborhood:

  • 34% are between 50 and 64 years old (they don't say what the radius is here, but they must be hiding some young'uns somewhere)
  • Half are married (presumably not to the other half)
  • 25% are couples with no children living at home
  • About a third live in nice-sized houses built before 1931
  • People are interested in hunting, fishing, and mucking about in the garden
  • They still read the morning papers and subscribe to car magazines and house/home/gardening postilles.
They missed how often we cut the grass and what the average height of the grass is.


Can't call Telia? Well, call Telia.

We got rid of our landline in Sweden, just have prepaid mobiles and a mobile Internet flatrate. We got the quarterly bill for the flatrate, and they have a 200 SEK (20 €!!) charge for using it in Germany.

Now, I don't use it in Germany. I wanted to see the data on when this was supposed to have been, so I went to the web page and tried to log in.

  • The password and user name I have noted don't work.
  • My personnr doesn't work. Sweden still has a problem with using this as a key for all databases and to look up address information, because the programmers think that personnr are things all human beings have. Wrong. Only Swedes living in Sweden or foreigners who have a permit to live there that have been there over a year have them.
  • Even thought the web site says that you can use the bill number, it says that there is no such bill with this number.

There is a telephone number, so I try and call via Skype. First attempt - hangs up. Second attempt: Please press 8 for English. Great! I press 8. It continues in Swedish.... I hang up, try again. Press 8 for English, it continues in Swedish. What do I want? I try to ask for what I want in Swedish. Pardon? I repeat. "I'm sorry, I can't understand you, please call back." Click.


I dig around until I find a service E-Mail. I try and explain my problem and ask them to call me on my Tele2 pre-paid (since the call is only free from Telia pre-paids). I write that I cannot reach their toll-free number.

I get an email saying that they have received my letter. Good. 2 days later I get an automatically generated letter (this takes 2 days??). "Please call our toll-free number for more information!"

So now I have to find a telephone booth in order to clear this up. Normally you spend 20 minutes in the queue, I normally just let it say "Don't hang up" while I do something else. Imagine spending 20 minutes on hold in a telephone booth.

But Telia dismantled the telephone booth in our village. So I shall have to drive 30 kilometers to the next Telia store. Wanna bet they tell me to call the toll-free number?


The Hungry Caterpillars

I sat down the other day for breakfast and turned to admire my roses, which were finally coming back, it seemed, and were happily climbing the poles I put in for them.

One of the rose bushes was gone.

Well, sort of - the stalk was still there, but all of the leaves were gone. And the top of the other bush was also gone. Both bushes were covered in little black and yellow caterpillars, hungrily chomping away. "Hey, leave my roses alone!".

They don't speak English, German, or Swedish. So I got a bowl and put some water in it and knocked them all off the bushes and took them down to the compost heap. Eat my nettles, I think they are very tasty!

Next morning, the one remaining bush is covered in caterpillars again. So I knock them off and dump them in the compost. Can they smell the rose leaves?

Next morning, ditto. I inspect the area around the roses and find the weeds and strawberry leaves filled with little black dots. Some are starting to squirm. So even before my coffee I get down and pull out all the offending leaves, knock off the few caterpillars that are still climbing, and take the whole mess down to the compost.

I am reminded of the book we used to read to WiseKid: The Very Hungry Caterpillar (sounds better in German: Die kleine Raupe Nimmersatt).

Okay, so now I know what those butterflies were up to a few weeks ago around the roses. But how do I train them to just eat the weeds, not the flowers and my basil and marjory?


The Recycling Dump

My job was to take all the crap WiseMan cleaned out of the shed to the dump. I decided that Today Was The Day.

It had, of course, rained last night, sogging up the carpets and filling the rusty cans with water. Should have done this last week. Anyway, I got gloves on and chucked it all in the back of the station wagon. This is one reason to have a station wagon - to transport the stuff you buy and then the garbage back out.

I drove down to the local recycling dump. They have a container for everything and you are expected to be a good Swede and do your sorting. Electrical cables here, other electric junk there, broken gardening implements in this container (there were so many of them, and I contributed a broken shovel). Then there were the generics: metal, paper, plastic, burnable, non-recyclable, and virke. The latter turns out to be lumber and construction materials.

I did my best, but as I was returning from the metal container I found the lady in charge fishing my wooden + cloth chair out of "burnable" and putting it into "virke". She also picked out my wine bag-in-a-box from "burnable" and put it in "paper". But I was lazy, the bag was still in the box. I fully expected to get a dressing down from her.

I asked her about the oil and gasoline plastic containers. Oil containers are burnable, gasoline are treated like butter tubs - plastic. Whatever.

While I was there there was another women tossing trash - she had construction worker clothes on (screaming yellow or orange with a gazillion pockets). As she pulled away I saw the name of her company on the side of her truck: Byggamie. What a play on words! Bygg is Swedish for "construction", gamie is from the Greek for "marriage". Sounds like a couple in the construction business that have a very memorable name for their company. I smiled, and she smiled back. And I realized, we were more women then men (two Türkish guys with a truck) at the dump at that moment!


By the Pricking of My Thumbs

Swedish TV is running the British Miss Marple series, and they recently had "By the Pricking of my Thumbs" on. But since it was such a gorgeous evening, we decided on food + sauna + swim in the lake at sunset instead of TV, so we taped it.

Yup, taped it. My friends still use a VHS recorder. Seems it took so long to learn how to use this, and it still works, and they can't really figure out the digital one they once bought, so they continue on. Works fine! Oh, we missed the first 3 minutes because it had to be turned on manually, but whatever.

The next evening we watched it. I rather enjoyed it - Miss Marple had rather been a long time ago. And I was not acquainted with Terry and Tuppence, so I had no expectations to be dashed.

A death and a mysterious disappearance from a nursing home, and a wonderful English small town with a viscous, drinking vicar and a pub and lots of secrets are the major points of the film. Tuppance drives a new-fangled car, there is a painting of a witch's house (and the "real thing", which is so obviously a model, that it is actually funny) with some strange things added, and there is a very bratty girl who thinks she is a princess. I've known a few of those.

Anyway, we watched and enjoyed - didn't know who the murderer was until the very end. In a little side story, the American soldier Chris goes AWOL to go to London to find his English birthmother, but she wants nothing to do with him. He cries as he tells this story to Miss Marple, which I found very touching.

Strangely, all the next day I found myself thinking about bits and pieces and sequences of this film. That rarely happens with other films - you consume them, and then on to the next.


"Socialist" Health Care

I am truly puzzled by the pseudo-discussions raging in the US about "sozialized" health care and "death panels". I was born American, but have lived in Germany for over 30 years.

Sure, our health care system could be better. But compared with the US, it is indeed one of the great things our civilization has brought fourth! An American in France has blogged about this as well, and she explains what the medical panels are for. Not for determining who dies, but for seeing how severe your sickness is, and whether you get to go on sick leave!

As it stands in the US, so many are without insurance! They doctor themselves, only going to seek medical care when a condition has turned severe. My aunt in the US - with no health insurance - called a friend to take her to the hospital when she felt heart pains instead of an ambulance. The friend called the ambulance, but it was too late, she was dead on arrival.

Here in Germany we have multiple schemes, and we bitch and moan about the costs and the waiting times and the co-payments on medicine and whatnot. And sure - the more advanced (= more costly) procedures are perhaps only done on people with private insurance.

But if you are sick, even deathly sick, you don't have to worry about your family having to sell all your assets just to pay the nurse. And that is a big, big advantage.

There was a post in the US in Twitter, supposedly by Sarah Palin but arguably done by someone else, concerning these so-called "death panels". What it appears to be, is that there are provisions for people to be informed about end-of-life choices. Do they want palliative medicine, do they want to be at home, CHOICES. Palin (or her ghostwriter) was concerned that people would be coerced into choosing a convienent death. What is this woman's take on the world?

Of course we have things like Living Wills - when you are still able to decide what you want, you write it down and then caretakers have to abide by that!

Why doesn't the American public and media *inform* themselves before they write such nonsense?


Pirate Party in Sweden

There is an interesting debate article in the Swedish national newspaper Dagens Nyheter this morning about the Pirate Party written by the party leader, Rick Falkvinge. He explains what the problem with information policy today is and why it is necessary to have a political actor who understands the problems and possibilities in today's information soceity.

I had a discussion with my hosts about that over the breakfast table, they - and many of the discussion articles on the page - think that the Pirate Party is the same as the Pirate Bay, which was a file-sharing site. The party was founded as an answer to the shutting down of the site on the grounds that it was doing illegal stuff like letting people download intellectual property without paying for it.

We have had fights like this every time a new technology starts. Remember Betamax? And the fight with the networks? Sony vs. Universal Studios. Having a video recorder meant that you could tape a TV show and replay it at your leisure without having to pay the TV stations or the movie people again! Universal Studios took Betamax's creator, Sony, to court, and guess what: the Supreme Court found that even if there are illegal things that can be done with the technology, there are also many legal things that can be done with it. It's the people who misuse the technology, not the technology itself. And it is fair use to make copies and watch them some other time.

And gee, remember when old Gutenberg figured out how to make cheap books? That meant that people could learn to read and think for themselves, without having a priest or a politician tell them what to think. Bad news for the ruling class.

We now have the "Information Society" upon us. This is rapidly and radically changing the way that many things work - some for the better, some for the worse. Many companies and very many politicians do not understand how information technology works. They have very vague - and often wrong - notions about the underlying technology and what can happen if certain data is compiled and cross-referenced.

Too many people with knowledge of information technology have little or no interest in politics, and so they have left them to their own devices. Suddenly we discover that there are infringements being imposed on us that violate our basic rights. Sometimes we find information being kept on us that violates our privacy. And many times we discover that we are being asked to pay again and again for things that the taxpayer has already paid for, or we are expected to pay horrendus sums for things just so that the "distributors" (which are no longer needed) can make enough money to keep them in luxury goods.

Just as with Betamax, there are many legal uses for file-sharing and other technologies. For example, we can use them to enable Open Access, Open Source, and Open Content. There wouldn't be a Wikipedia without it!

It is time for people with technological knowledge to go public. To go political. Sure, this tends to be guys. I've been in computing since over 35 years, and I am often the only woman in the room. We have to get more women into technology, so that also more women can work politically with an understanding of how technology affects the world.

The Swedish Pirate Party has grown very fast and has over 50.000 members, making it the third largest party, according to their own web site and the Swedish Wikipedia. They will be standing for seats in the national and local government of Sweden in the elections next year. I hope that by then they manage to make it clear to the citizens of Sweden that they are not just about scoring free films and music, but that they are trying to bring an information technology perspective to politics.



Sydsvenskan only gave this film two horses (out of five), so there were only four of us at the early evening showing of Baltasar Kormákur's Brúðguminn (The Bridegroom, to be released as "White Night Wedding" in English). But it was being shown in the Icelandic original with Swedish subtitles, so there was just no way I was going to miss it.

As a typical Icelandic film, nature plays the main role. This film was made on the island of Flatey, the summer I was up in the Western Fjords. And oh, what a beautiful island it is (when it's not raining)!

This seems to be an attempt by Kormákur to make a rather serious movie about love, in this case, a professor at Háskoli Íslands explaining an author's take on love to a very, very bored class (except one girl). He can't contain his humor, however, and has some extremely funny scenes woven into the piece. He gets extra points for having a woman do the obligatory pissing scene, in her wedding dress.

So I would give this at least 3 1/2 horses - an entertaining film.

Further thoughts: I think Swedes and Icelanders don't like the film, because it hits too close to home. It pokes fun at "typical" women, being interested in the arts and making "weird" things and cooking and needing their men to tell them every day how much they love them, and "typical" men who have the good jobs, even though they don't really do any of the work and who like to drink an awful lot and do crazy stuff with their mates and don't understand the women.

Ladybug invasion

I had heard about some sort of ladybug invasion in Denmark and the south of Sweden, but hadn't seen more than the occasional one. So today, when in Malmö, I first just brushed one out of my hair, and then followed the little guy who landed near me with my camera.

I headed out towards the beach at Västra Hamnen (a very nice looking beach), and wondered what all the flying things were. Then it crunched under my feet and I looked down - ladybugs, everywhere there were ladybugs.

Resolutely I marched on, passing drinks that had been abandoned to the bugs. Thick swarms of bugs. I found a nice place to sit behind two nice-looking young men, and had a seat. And realized that I had bugs crawling all over me.

I swatted them away, but then one bit me. Ouch! I didn't realize they bit. It got worse and worse, it appeared that you had to get into the water to escape them, and there was no wading here, it was jump-off-the-pier-into-deep-cold-water. So after about 5 minutes I got up and left, crunching ladybugs as I went. I briefly considered a drink at the bar, but there were swarms of them there, too. Strange that people were still sitting there, trying to enjoy a drink.

At the bus stop I found this nice piece of dropped red pepper - with ladybugs feasting on it. The bus had quite a few as well, as they came in attached to people's clothes. I wasn't until I got out downtown that the ladybugs were gone. For now.

Off to Louisiana

WiseMan has to get back to work, but since all I need to work is my laptop, I can continue staying in the woods for a while. He was leaving from Copenhagen (via Kiel to say "Hej då, Löwe" with 10.000 other fanatics) so I decided to tag along with an Öresund rundt ticket. 249 Swedish crowns (about 25 Euros) gets you a two-day ticket on all busses and trains in Skåne and Greater Copenhagen, as well as the boats between Helsingør and Helsingborg. You are supposed to take the boat one way and the bridge the other, but no one bothers to scratch off the direction that you go, so I assume you could spend all day on the boat if you wanted to (and people do, drinking a lot).

There was a horrific train delay, good job we took the train that was to be in Copenhagen 1 1/2 hours before his train time and not 1/2 hour, as the train was 45 minutes delayed, some feat on a one-hour train ride. He disembarked at the main train station and I carried on up to Humlebæk (with delays all the way). In all it took me 2 1/2 hours to get up there.

But it was a gorgeous day, and the walk down to Louisiana was very nice. This Museum of Modern Art is beautifully located above the Öresund Straights. They had an exhibition about "green archicture". It seems architects have just discovered ecology, but they still need remedial work on mathematics. One nice display comparing large cities by their "DNA" - population density, murders per inhabitant, electricity use per inhabitant, etc. was good idea. But looking closely at the graphics I saw that New York had three times the energy consumption per capita of Berlin, but the graphic was 9 times as large! They increased *both* dimensions by three, causing a nine-fold increase in the visual area of the symbols. Straight out of "How to Lie with Statistics".

They had a few new things outdoors, one was the green Moebus strip pictured above that came with an instruction booklet that I didn't understand. The other was a house build of PET bottles - specifically designed with a jigsaw-like lock that could - after use - be filled with sand and or garbage and linked together to make a house.

They just had a birthday last year or so and many collectors and even the Danish government were generous and helped them buy more things. I liked the one where the artist threw some caviar at a canvas, glued them tight, and then numbered each one. Unfortunately, I forgot to write down his or her name. I liked the Olafur Eliasson installation with lights that makes your eyes see things that are not there. And there was a fun one with black and white figures that turned out to be from Jean Dubuffet. There were a few photos by Richard Avedon, very, very vivid ones that make me want to see more.

The posters were all far-out stuff or a Picasso scribble that they probably paid a fortune for. The gift shop had cute stuff, but very expensive. At least the book I wanted to buy was on special price....

As I was leaving, I wondered if people forget to take the coins with them that the lockers give back to you. I wandered down the row of lockers, inspecting each one. Indeed, I got not one, not two, but three 20-Danish-Crown coins, enough for a sandwich and coke on the train back home.


Men who Hate Women

Finished! I've just spent the last few days (noticeable by the dearth of blogs/tweets/moves on Scrabble) finishing reading Stieg Larsson's "Men who Hate Women" (Swedish: Man Som Hatar Kvinnor, German: Verblendung, published in English as The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo). It's a 600 page monster, and I read it in Swedish. Had to look up a few words in the dictionary, but otherwise: it was such a good read that I just kept going.

WiseMan had been curious to know if the "computer stuff" was correct. Not only is it correct, now I know what Schäuble (German minister of the interior responsible for pushing "the federal trojan virus" through parliament. Stop laughing. He means it. Really.) was reading, or what his advisors were reading. Yes, it is theoretically possible to do what Lisbeth did. But not in general.

Yesterday evening, WiseMan sat on the lawn in his chair finishing up book 3, I sat on the lawn in my chair finishing up book 1. Now we can go see the film, which just opened in Sweden and has gotten good reviews.

Larsson died rather young in 2004, so there will be no more books like this forthcoming. It is such a shame. On to book 2!


We decided to do a Turkish meal with friends this evening, so we drove down to town where there is a local Turkish market. I looked around at what he had and decided to make Burek (sigara böreği) with Sucuk, because I didn't know if the teenage kids of our friends were vegetarians or not.

Sucuk was easy, and I found some yuffka, but it had sugar in it, which didn't sound right. I explained to the guy behind the counter what I wanted, and he showed me the freezer. Thin Chinese spring roll leaves are just the think for börek. Okay, and I saw what I thought was frozen spinach, so I just grabbed a bag of it and we paid.

When I went to pitch it in the freezer, I discovered that I had a bag of mulukhiyah. The English instructions called it mulukhia. Never heard of it. We decided to use it anyway, since it kind of looked like spinach. I fried up two chopped onions in butter, then added about 200g of the frozen stuff cut up in chunks, some sour cream, some salt, and a can of piknik börek peyniri (picnic burek cheese). This is a feta-like cheese made of cow's milk.

When everything melted and began bubbling we took it off the heat and started the production line. Teenage girl with long fingernails picked off the next spring roll leaf. I put a teaspoon or so of the stuff on it, experimented with different rolling and pinching techniques, and piled them on a plate. Teenage boy (who wants to be a cook) fired up a pan with lots of olive oil in it, and we made about 50 of the things.

They were very, very good. We then looked up what mulukhiyah is on the internet. It is a plant, widely eaten in Egypt and the Middle East, full of good stuff like iron and vitamin A. They are also called mallow leaves. Good job we didn't boil them - boiling apparently turns it into an inedible block of fiber.

I don't know that this will end up my favorite food, but it was an adventure! And I will make burek again soon, that was easy with the spring roll paper.