Monday, December 23, 2013

Dan före dan (The day before The Day)

Today is the day before THE DAY, at least in Sweden.  Swedes don't care much about Santa fitting through the chimney, reindeer sleighs in the sky, and stockings hanging precariously (and fire unsafetedly) at the fireplace.  What Swedes do is very different. 

Santa actually comes to your house on Christmas Eve, knocks on the door, and asks 'Are there any nice children here?'.  And the kids have to answer (and you better say 'yes' or you will be in trouble.  And then he takes out presents out of his big burlap bag, and hands them out to everybody.  After a while he says that he has more houses to visit, so he is just going to leave the bag with presents for all of you, and then he leaves. 

Soon after, Dad/Uncle/Big Brother/Grandpa shows up at the door after getting more firewood/checking on the ham in the basement/trying to find a screwdriver in the barn and all the kids say 'You missed him, he was just here!!!'.  :) 

 With this tradition Santa has had the most curious clothes over the years in our family in Sweden.  He always has a Santa hat and a fake beard, but the rest is up to innovation and whatever is at hand.  I have seen him in fleece jackets, big green wool coats and so on.  One year I was Santa and I had a red Margrete bowl on my head for a while. 

Santa's name in Swedish is JULTOMTEN.  Jul means Christmas, same word as Yule, and tomte are the little gnomes that are helpers around the farm.  Before the tradition of jultomten, it was a goat that came to the house and delivered presents, called JULBOCK.  I am not making this up, it is true, and it was the tradition before Santa became common.  We still put up things in our Christmas tree that looks like goats, made out of straw. There are also lots of little 'tomtar' (gnomes) hanging in our tree, supposedly keeping it safe.  Now when the cats are not inside anymore, we don't have to worry too much about the safety of the tree ornaments.

Swedes also have lots of candlelight, angels, stars, birds, and pigs around for Christmas decorations. We have Christmas trees too of course. 

Here are some Swedish Christmas stamps for you all to get the Swedish Christmas feeling.  The illustrators are Ilon Wikland (above) and Björn Berg (below).  God jul!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Sighs for the technological wonders

Someone said that if cars worked like computers, nobody would ever buy a car that randomly crashes, do not always start, have weird unexplained problems, can get viruses and other bad things that live inside it (and I am not talking about mice chewing on things under the hood of the car), or have parts that refuses to work with each other.  But that is what we get with computers.  These days, we are all also supposed to be able to figure it out ourselves, know HTML, command line code, a billion settings and options, and be able to find buttons that are hidden or staring us straight in the face but not associated with any description or text.

I have just spent more than one hour trying to fix why our little icons for 'mail this', 'recommend this', etc., wasn't showing up on our blog. This blog.  It was added by me a few years ago to the template through the 'click this button and you get it on your blog' in the Blogger settings.  But they never showed up.  So now, a few years later, I decided to see if I could fix it.  Some googling, lots of testing with suggested html code in new places, and now finally it works. 

The Blogger Help Forum didn't solve it, I found the solution in a post on another blog that had had the same issue. Such a simple thing, and just imagine how many of us that are trying to solve similar issues in our daily lives, including our daily work. 
"Why can't I import this file?" 
"Where is that command again to fix the white balance on my photo?" 
"Why did Word do THAT?" 
"How do I get rid of that?" 
"Help, I can't sign into gmail!"
"Why do I have to sign in everyday even if I click 'remember me'?"
"Why is Firefox so slow?"
"Why isn't Netflix working (again)?"
 And on and on...   Ever heard anybody complain about their cars like this?  No, me neither.

How in H*LL is anybody that knows nothing about html supposed to be able to fix something like this by themselves?  Why aren't these things foolproof?  If computers could be insured, and cause bodily harm, like cars are and can, then I bet we would have a lot better working computers.  It is pretty amazing how sensitive and breakable this system is, and I am not talking about silly buttons at the bottom of blog posts, but in general. We are pouring our work and private lives into these machines, and they are totally non-dependable.  Sure, they work most of the time.

But if you have a broken car you take it to a mechanic and he/she fixes it.   For computers, having them fixed by an expert would mean 1) at least weekly visits to a computer mechanic, 2) immense costs, and 3) sometimes things can't be fixed because of bad hardware or software.  For a car, you can usually choose not to fix something because it would not be worth the cost, but many times for computer you simply can't fix it, you are simply not given any options. 
"Sorry, you laptop monitor is broken, can't be fixed, better get a new laptop." 
"Sorry, I can't recover your harddrive data". 
And still, we have so much invested in these undependable units - photos, memories, letters, work data (a lot in my case), finances, and so on.

So, gals and guys, here is my advice:

  • Back up your data. 
  • Keep a data backup in a different house or building (or the computing cloud)
  • Realize that everything on your computer can be gone. Anytime. 
  • See the computer as a tool, not as your life.  Your life is what is going on when you eat, breath, walk, see, think... not what is stored on the computer. 
Do I follow this advice?  Yes, partly, but not well enough.  So I need to follow my advice better too. And now, you can all e-mail, Facebook, like, or tweet this post because I fixed the buttons at the bottom. (she says smiling... ).

Blurry Christmas

This morning, while it is snowing outside here in New Jersey. When you come downstairs, you are greeted by this happy tree, before it is overhung with decorations. Just lights and the greenery. Nice!

(Yes, it is meant to be blurry, that is how our eyes work in early mornings)

Monday, December 16, 2013

Sacred economics, and what is really worth something?

PP showed us this amazing video tonight, about what economics is about and what it should be about:

 It is very interesting and great, watch it! 

It questions our current society's focus on money, natural resources, lack of sharing and giving...  I want that Gift Economy that he is talking about.  Maybe, just like Paying it forward, we should be Giving it forward more in our lives.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Stamp of the Day: Hammarby

Not far from Uppsala, a little to the southeast on the large flat plains of glacial clays deposited just a hudnred thousand to a couple of million years ago, is a farm on a little hill.  It is Hammarby, Carl von Linne (Linnaeus)'s18th century farm, where he lived when he work as a professor of medicine and botany in Uppsala.  In town he had his scientific garden, and out here (within riding or walking distance) he had his farm and wild plants.

There are a couple of buildings at Hammarby, most built of horizontal logs that are painted with the typical red iron oxide paint of Sweden ('falu rödfärg').  This is where he lived with his family, the famous scientist that was convinced that he was put on this Earth to catalogue all living species and put it into some kind of reasonable system. And so he did.  Plants, Animals, Fossils, Rocks... all got a Latin name, a binomial of a genus and species epithet.  Like 'Homo sapiens'.

This Swedish stamp from 50 years ago shows Linnaeus in his garden outside the main building.  If you walk up the creaky and narrow (and extremely worn) stairs to the second floor and then take a right, you end up in his bedroom.  All the walls in there are covered with botanical prints, used as wall paper.  He was surrounded by plants, and even while asleep or in midwinter.  Tropical trees, orchids, fleshy flowers from far-away places were pasted onto the walls with starchy wall paper glue.  I assume there was regular wall paper printed in the mid 1700's, maybe not?  It is a bit strange today to see these antique and extremely valuable prints from the 1700s pasted up on the walls, covering every surface, and now stained with water, insect droppings, and dust.  Some of the prints are colored, maybe by hand. 

Hammarby is a great place to visit, so go there next time you are close to Uppsala.  And then go to the Cathedral inside Uppsala ('Domkyrkan') where you can step (or dance) on Linnaeus' grave.  His gravestone is set in the floor.