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Seamus K - Irish tech industry expat living in Sweden.

What is it like having Covid-19? (I think)

About a week and a half ago I came down with a “flu-like” illness. In Sweden you can only get a test for the coronavirus if you are admitted to hospital, or if you are a healthcare worker. Which means I don’t know for sure if I had the most famous illness in the world at the moment. But on the basis that – if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. I am going to say my temperature, cough, chest pains, and lethargy, on balance of probability, were covid-19. My name is Seamus, this is my story…

No C-19 test cert, no t-shirt!

Don’t worry, I am not going to bore you with all the details. But I started to feel ill around Wednesday the 25th of March. I had a cough, was feeling off, and that evening my temperature started to go up. By Thursday it was at 37.9°C and while that is not too high I had very little energy. Like everyone else I was working from home at the moment, but I told the boss I was just going to rest for a day or two.

As I went into the weekend my temperature continued to climb. It spent most of those days from about 38.6°C to (briefly) 39°C. I had a dry cough, and could feel a pain in my chest. I had almost no energy. I would have breakfast, watch an episode of something on TV and then, exhausted by that much effort, I would sleep on the couch.

Saturday was the point in time where I got worried (and I now know my friends and family were too). I was lucky that the kids had gone to their mother a few days before I started to get sick. That meant I only had to manage myself in the house. But if my temperature got much worse, or I started to have breathing problems then I was very much on my own. And while people in their mid-forties with no underlying medical issues generally do okay with the coronavirus, there are no guarantees.

I had family and friends checking in with me twice a day to make sure I was still responsive. And local friends were told where to find a key outside the house in case I could not be contacted. I was given a quick test to assess if I was having breathing difficulties:

Try and count out loud, from one to thirty, in your native language, without stopping or taking a breath. If you cannot do it, then you should contact a doctor.

My mother the nurse

Saturday was the day where I felt the worst. But it also was the point where I decided in my head I am not going to let this thing beat me. Once I did that it was like a switch was flicked in my head. Physically I was the same, but I felt a little better. And by Sunday night my temperature had started to fall. And after that it was just a slow return to normality. The sweats and chills stopped, my energy and appetite returned, though it was Friday before my temperature dropped below 37°C. Right now it is just the last traces of the cough I need to shift.

Simulating the pandemic

So what next? Well Sweden has become a bit famous for its unique approach to the pandemic. It is hard to tell whether they will test for antibodies in the future. I will probably never know for certain if it was covid-19 I had. And apart from the bragging rights, the more important thing is whether or not I am immune now. I hear there is talk in some countries of identifying those that are, so they can be given immunity certificates, and allowed to leave quarantine. But then the restrictions are relatively light in Sweden anyway. It would be my luck though to be immune and then for them to institute a full lock down…

The biggest question has been how to return to society. I wasn’t really hoping for a party, with a brass band, fireworks, and loads of beer. But some consistency on guidelines would have been nice. The WHO recommends you stay in quarantine for 2 weeks after your symptoms have gone.

Image may contain: possible text that says 'World Health Organization (W... @WHO "People infected with #COVID19 can still infect others after they stop feeling sick, so these measures should continue for at least 2 weeks after symptoms disappear. Visitors should not be allowed until the end of this period. There are more details in WHO's guidance"- e"-@DrTedros 5:00pm 16 Mar 2020 Twitter Web App Replies 3,097 Retweets 3,273 Likes Reply to @WHO @DrTedros'
WHO guidelines

Sweden says 2 days! In the end I have decided to go with the Irish guidelines: 2 weeks from when your symptoms first appear, or 5 days after your temperature returns to normal, whichever is longer. That means that, baring a relapse, I will open my front door, and emerge, pale, blinking, and trembling into the great wide open on Thursday morning.

I am pretty aware that I have had it easy in a lot of ways. I had a shitty few days, but I have had stories of other people my age being floored for several weeks. My friend Conor in Ireland was confined by his family to the playroom for 2 weeks. He was jealous that I had a whole house to myself 🙂

Now that it is pretty much done, I want to say thank you to all the people who helped me get through it. My ex minded the girls when they were supposed to be with me. Friends and family in Sweden and Ireland called me, sent messages and worried about me. It was a pain in the ass sometimes to deal with them when I just wanted to lie down and think about my poor life choices. But I also knew it was a sign people were worried about me and cared for me. That was a huge psychological help. And finally there are the people who made offers to bring me groceries. There were so many I could have had a twice daily delivery if I had wanted. But big thank you to Treasa and Johan, and Mark and Katarina who I did let do a few runs for me. Hopefully I can repay all of you in someway, just without you having to get the bloody virus.

[2020 Target: 7/52. 3,216/25,000]

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Quarantine cooking

It has become a standing joke that every “guy”* in quarantine at the moment has started experimenting with sourdough.

Why do women mock us so?

Now I am in quarantine myself (more details to follow in the next post). And yeah I embarked on a sourdough starter as well. Is it any good to point out that I have been working on my baking for a while now. And as my soda bread is not too bad, sourdough was next on the list of things I wanted to try?

Home alone, who am I to talk to with tales of my efforts?

The last thing the world needs now is another guy going on about the results of his sourdough work. All I will say is I was not impressed with my efforts. For all the input, my output was not great. I will give it another shot. But I see a future where if/when I want sourdough I will buy it in the shop. Or mooch it off a guy neighbour who can’t eat the 2-3 loaves a day he is producing and having to stockpile in the shed with his 300 rolls of toilet paper.

My sourdough bread, made with fulkorn flour.

Right now I am far more interested in my other project. The less trendy, less glamorous one, but probably more useful – figuring out how to make a good Rosti.

I was introduced to rosti in mountain huts in Switzerland. Grated potato mixed with things like cheese, onion, bacon, or peas. All cooked together in a sort of pancake. It is quintessential mountain food to me. Now I will admit that after a day hiking and climbing through the Valais Alps nearly anything will taste great (with the beer). But the simple, flavourful, and filling rosti was always something I wanted to be able to do myself.

Mont Blanc du Cheilon – climbed in 2003.

My problem was previous attempts fell short. They burned, they fell apart in the pan. I knew it could not be that hard – hut wardens with simple facilities manage it, so I should be able to. That is what I have been experimenting with in my quarantine days.

There are of course loads of online recipes. But there seems to be a lot of difference of opinion on the order to do the prep. The options are:

  1. Peel spuds. Parboil them. Grate and cook.
  2. Parboil the spuds. Peel. Grate and cook.
  3. Peel spuds. Grate raw. Then cook.
Rosti in the pan. Best cooked slowly with a lower heat.

I have got best results so far with 2. But it means boiling the spuds a half a day before so they can cool to be peeled. That is possible but a little labour intensive. So tonight I will trial option 3.

My best result so far. Tasted as good as it looked.

If I can make it work then it is something new for the kids. And it might become a “one-pot” staple as well for camping and kayaking trips.

* “Guy” was famously distinguished from “man” by the comedian Dave Barry as “Men went to the moon. Guys invented mooning”

[2020 Target: 6/52. 2,200/25,000]

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Democracy and health

It’s not just about building quarantine facilities (not really a traditional hospital), or locking up whole cities. Democracies have lower death rates than totalitarian regimes:

 

[2020 Target: 5/52. 1678/25,000] Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblr

A cautionary tale about IOT. Sorry, about poor design decisions.

This story turned up in my RSS* feeds this morning.

This has to be a nightmare story for someone working in PR. Your product is being used by a journalist. It fails in a major (if not life threatening) way. Your customer service people badly mismanage their call for help. The story goes viral.

PR person – your assignment is to suggest strategies for salvaging something from this shit storm.

Now that the story has grown legs, there will be plenty of people whining about 5G, IOT and the like. Except, I would say that this is a problem for the car company not with mobile connectivity. Because as someone who works in the mobile technology business** I can tell you that this is not an unknown issue. I was working on it over 10 years ago. 

Back then I was involved in a project around connected cars involving my employer and a luxury car manufacturer. This company had an emergency assist system in their high end autos – if the car conks out, or just runs out of petrol, then hit the button and you will be connected to help (for a very reasonable monthly fee). They wanted to make sure it was as robust as possible, and were interested in seeing what other services could be built on top of this once the car was connected.

There are a load of interesting challenges you have to connecting a vehicle (I worked on trucks as well at the time):

  • Vehicles tend to have long lives compared to mobile devices. So any technical solution had to be able to last for at least 10 years without maintenance, without going obsolete (is that frequency going to stay allocated to that tech for a few decades)?
  • It had to survive being stuck in a box somewhere that might be subject to extremes of heat, cold and vibration like say the engine compartment.
  • High end cars often have filament heaters in all the windows which effectively turn the car into a faraday cage. We could use an external antennae for the car system, but passengers cell phones will probably take a huge hit to their signal. 
  • Emergency systems tend be needed quite often in remote places where coverage is more of a challenge. And they were worried that someone paying a monthly subscription for this service would have no signal, while their au-pair’s pre-pay phone would. Embarrassing.

It became clear that while it was the dawn of the 3G age, GSM was the way to go for the moment. But it also was clear that any service needed roaming – both international roaming (big problem in Europe where you can get through 5 countries in a day) and also national roaming. And there you step from a technical problem to a business and economic one. Which of course is why I was involved…

At the end of the day perfect coverage is never going to be possible (ever tried to get a cell signal at the bottom of a remote forested valley, or the basement level of a car park, or even just in many countries metro systems)? Any system needs to be able to handle this. I think there is a technical term for this – oh yeah “Failsafe“.

So while my employer, and I, and a very large global industry base, will continue to push IOT (and 5G and ubiquitous connectivity) forward, we understand that it has its limitations, like any technology. You need to be ready for when (not if) it reaches its limits. And in the case of the connected rental car this was a predictable failure. The system should have been better able to handle a loss of signal. The article says the company has some approaches for this, but they were not robust enough to keep this journalist moving.

And as for the support person who suggested to a journalist for a globally read publication that they should spend the night sleeping in the car in the woods

Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear…

* Do you remember RSS? I do, and still use it all the time. Because I am one of those weirdos who think I should decide what new stories I want read. I remain unwilling to let Google or Facebook or Twitter decide that for me. Give me the firehose of 100 and I will pick the ones I want dammit!

** My employer is one of the big three mobile technology vendors. Which means a) I have an interest c) actual knowledge about this topic c) strong opinions on it 🙂

[2020 Target: 4/52. 1640/25,000]Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblr

Stockholm’s winter

It has been a very mild winter. Just 2 light snow falls before Christmas, and few days with good freezes. But every so often the Swedish winter puts in an appearance and Stockholm looks magical for it.

Frozen Edsvik, Stockholm at dawn.

[2020 Target 3/52. Words 888] Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblr

Britain as Canada (or how to live as #2 to a much bigger and more powerful neighbour)

This was an interesting read. 

There is a major difficulty though. As the article says:

Canada’s understanding of its role in the world is one of its core strengths. “No Canadian ever kidded himself that we were a great power,” he said. “No such memory clouds our thinking.”

But that is one of the great difficulties Britain has. Too many in Britain (at all levels of society and government) still see Britain as a global power. It was inherent to the whole concept of Brexit. Clinging to it was one of the drivers of a desire to depart from the EU. There is little chance that those people would now take a realistic assessment of their diminished role on the global ladder. That would just negate so much of the justification for Brexit in the first place. 

It is one of the many reasons why Brexit is an illusionary destination. And having achieved it, the UK will remain trouble with itself for a long time to come.

It was nice as well to see further recognition of the blinder that was played by the Irish government and diplomatic service:

In Britain’s negotiations with Ireland over Brexit, some senior politicians in London were dismissive of the effectiveness of Irish diplomacy. One cabinet minister, who asked for anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations, told me that Ireland was a small country, which meant that the quality of its ministers could not match that of those in the U.K.. And yet this attitude proved part of London’s undoing in the negotiations, which saw Ireland win more of its objectives than Britain did.

The Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin deserve a huge amount of kudos for the work that has been done. I know a few people from the embassy here in Stockholm, and I like to praise them for their work on this when I meet them. It’s easy to bash the government and civil service at times. But they need to be recognised for they excellent work as well!

[2020 Target 2/52. Words 850] Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblr

New year. New me?

I have never been a great person for New Year’s Resolutions. If you are going to change your life, even a little bit, why start at this time of year? But sometimes I do manage to do so. Last year I was a bit concerned that I had stopped reading books. So I set myself the target of reading 15 in the year. I am not sure what the final number was, but it was probably closer to 30 than 15. Along the way I jump started my reading habit again. There is a medium height stack of un-read books beside my bed at the moment. Sometimes the personal challenges work! 

This year there are one or two things I want to do differently with my life. Some of them are focused on fitness and health. But I can assure you I will not be joining a gym. On the mental side, if last year was focused on reading, then this year is on writing. And one of the things I want is to do more with this blog.

I like writing, and I like sharing my writing here. I am setting myself the challenge of writing at least a blog post a week. At an average post length of 500 words, then I should produce about 25,000 words. If this then is to be the first post of the year I guess I had better drag  it out to 500 words then so. This and all the future ones will be tracked (look for some numbers down at the bottom on posts out of 52, and total word count). 

At the moment Google says about 4 people a week read this blog. Which is nice. And it would be nice if it were more. But it is not why I am here. I write for myself. I would like if some people are enjoying what I write. Still lets see can I get a few more people dropping by each week.

The other thing then is writing fiction. Someone wise once said that everyone has a book in them. And another wise person said that that’s probably the best place for most of those books. I have a few ideas in my head. But I have not written fiction in a long time. I am tempted to try. Again this is mostly for my benefit – will I enjoy the craft of writing? Can I wrangle the ideas in my head into something coherent on a page? Will what I write look any good? Would anyone want to read it? And that is the tricky bit. Posting it here is a totally different matter to some 500 blog post. If I do manage to make the time to write, assume initially only a select few will see my output.

Okay, that’s enough personal introspection and nonsense. Expect future posts to be more fun, and hopefully a bit more thought provoking. After all I have 3 readers to keep entertained!

[2020 Target: Post 1/52. Words 492/25,000]Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblr

Using the weather to torture Brits and Dutch…

My Christmas visit to Ireland will end in the morning. Sweden should be nice and cold when I get there. Which is as well as my New Year plans for cross country skiing will work better in snow than mud. While I was back I enjoyed some nice Atlantic winter weather – heavy downpours, strong winds, and sometimes both at once. It’s why, despite the rain, umbrellas are not popular here,  unless you like running down the street!

Swedish summer houseI do miss the big storms you get in Ireland, and the violent Atlantic they unleash. As a child I fondly remember driving out to the Clare coast to look at huge storm waves crashing into the land. When I moved to Sweden I discovered that in the Stockholm Archipelago people’s summer houses are built right down to the water’s edge. This messed with my head for a long time. In Ireland you build high, and build far back from the water – if you want to still have a house come the spring!

Irish coast houseExperiencing and being able to deal with the worst of Atlantic weather does seem to be something we take perverse national pride in. A few years ago I was in Plano Texas and my phone woke me in the middle of the night with a weather warning. Winds of 70mph were expected, and I was advised to take shelter immediately! Two things went through my mind. The first was WTF Texas? Take shelter for 70mph? We hardly bring the washing in off the line for that in Ireland! And secondly – I need to figure out how to disable bloody push alerts on my phone.

Possibly because people are a little too blase about weather warnings, or just to make their work sound a bit cooler, the Irish and British met services agreed in 2015 to jointly name the big Atlantic storms. Each year they draft a list of 26 names for the coming winter. Storms of sufficient intensity (you know, the sort of ones where they send out Teresa Mannion) get their own name. And if they are sufficiently powerful, then the name is gifted to posterity, and retired from the long term rotation.

The Irish and UK met people have been having so much fun with this, that the Dutch met service asked to join in. So for this winter they contributed characteristically Dutch names like Gerda, Jan, and Piet to the 2019/20 list, alongside Atiyah, Francis, and the very ironic Noah!

Now English and Dutch are Germanic languages, and Irish/Gaelic is a totally different language family. Which means pronunciation can work very differently. So it did occur to me that we could really have a bit of fun here.

Imagine Met Eireann insisted that we had to have quintessentially Irish names in the list. Names like Aoife, Blathnaid, Caoimhe, Daithí, Eoghan, etc. Across the UK and Netherlands, professional weather forecasters and members of the public would be trying to figure out – how they hell are these pronounced? Or are the Irish just fucking with them?Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblr

Be careful if you marry a Swede…

A long time ago I heard a story about a married couple trying to get a spouse green card in the US. One of them was from the UK so there was a interview process by the immigration authorities to confirm their marriage was real. They talked about the confusion when they were asked (in separate interviews) what floor their apartment was on. One said the first floor. The other the second floor. Because of course in the US the bottom floor is numbered 1, and in most of Europe that is numbered as 0, and the first floor is the one above.

But not in Sweden. They have their own special way of doing this!

Swedish lift panelIn any given building the lift panel will usually have one button that is marked as the floor where people enter and exit the building. Usually with a green ring around it. But god only knows what number that will be! 

This is the lift panel in the building next to my office (my company uses both). The entrance floor isn’t 0 or 1, but er, number 2.

Swedish lift panelMy office building is even stranger. Apparently the entrance is on floor 4!  Because we are on a hill, and there is a lower down slope entrance we do have a floor 3. But can anyone tell me where floors 1 and 2 have gone to?

With this eccentric approach to floor numbering I would be surprised if many Swedes can pass their US immigration interviews 😉Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblr

The snows comes to Sweden

Last night we had the first proper snow of the season, in Stockholm anyway. 

First snow in Stockholm

Being so close to the sea Stockholm doesn’t get as much snow as the rest of the country. And global warming isn’t helping things either. We usually get some before Christmas, but the serious stuff, that will stay on the ground for days, and the cold that freezes the water for the skaters, really only comes in January and February. 

Away from the balmy south it is a different story though!

 

This was the snow map for the country for yesterday.

Swedish snow 28th November 2019Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblr

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