Seamus K - Irish tech industry expat living in Sweden.

Author: seamusk (Page 1 of 15)

What happens next?

A little over a year ago I looked at this blog and set myself the ambition of writing a post a week all year. I didn’t quite make that, managing about half of that number. I won’t say I am dissapointed. It was not a target I would beat myself up over – I have children who can do that (what genius passed a law that says parents cannot hit thier children, but kids can hit their parents, crawl all over them in the bed at dawn o’clock, try to tickle them when they are carrying hot drinks, etc. etc).

I think I was my own worst enemy here. I put a bit of effort into thinking about what to write, how I should structure it, and I could spend a couple of hours on some posts. I was over thinking it. Which is funny as at work when I ask people to write blog posts that is precisely what I tell them not to do! Blogging should be informal, it should be natural. Write like you talk. It’s not much more effort than writing an email of the same length.

So what happens next here. I still want to keep the blog going. I have no idea how much traffic it gets. And that is not the reason for it. I just like writing. And occasionally I have an idea or concept, or just a memory I want to leave in a place where I can point anyone too (like should you water your whiskey, what should be done about cigarette butts, or just amazing images from other worlds). So it will remain here. And I will keep posting. I will try and do more posts, though many of them to be shorter. And I have some ideas for tweaking the theme I am using to reflect that.

For now, here is a pretty picture, and I am off to see how I can finally get up my photos from Kungsleden last summer.

The sundogs optical phenomena over the frozen edsviken.
Sun-dogs over Edsviken Stockholm. Feb 11th 2021.
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Being photographed professionally

Anyone following Brexit will probably have seen this horrible photo by now.

Crunch meeting in Brussels on the 9th of December

From left to right: David Frost – UK Brexit Negotiator, Boris Johnson – Prime Minister of the UK, Ursula von der Leyen – President of the EU Commission, and Michel Barnier – EU Chief Negotiator.

On the right von der Leyen, and Barnier are sharply dressed, and look professional. On the left, well, the UK team look like a pair of farmers who are in the big city to receive an award for their pig breeding program.

Plenty of other people have talked about the horrible optics of this, so I won’t*. I want to just briefly talk about how you stand when being photoed for business reasons. It is something that happens to me from time to time in my professional career – at conferences, customer meetings, after interviews. You get asked to pose to a shot. It can be a little awkward trying to figure out how to look the best.

At the start of my professional career I was given a few pointers for when delivering presentations – men should not put their hands in their pockets, women never try and adjust your bra strap. But mostly you figure this stuff out yourself unless you are sent on some proper PR training.

The difficult thing is what to do with your hands? At the side seems so odd I never do that. It always seems the easy and natural to put then behind you as Johnson, and Frost have done. But as you can see, it emphasises your chest and belly, and will be unmerciful at exposing your tailoring.

Putting your hands in front of you doesn’t seem natural. Who stands like that normally? And is a little odd to look at when you think about it. But for a business/professional photo like this it is clearly the far better choice. Even the fact that Barnier is doing something odd with his fingers is hardly noticeable when the eye is drawn to stretched shirts and suits, and straining buttons.

I will remember this the next time I am asked to pose for a photo.

* What is really odd is that as high profile public figures, Johnson and Frost have presumably been on expensive training programs about public speaking, presentation, and PR. But they still ended up looking like this in public?

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That gives me a great idea…

This video talks about the use of virtual sets for TV series.

A cheaper, better way to put together sets.

The first time I had heard about this being used was for First Man. Ryan Gosling is sitting in a model of the cockpit, and the sky beyond is projected. So the light on his face and the reflections on the helmet glass look real -as they are real – smudges, scratches and all. This is not something it would be easy to do with CGI.

Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong, flying the X15 high in the athmosphere

All this got me thinking. If I got a 60″ 4K LED TV I could put it behind me for video calls, and then stream videos like this. Static images are so last year…

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Landing your space craft

I am a bit of a SciFi geek. I like good “speculative fiction” in whatever the form. And when it comes to TV and Film I do love me a good space ship landing. It’s great when a director takes the time and effort to do a good landing. You get to see the transition from a stable orbit, down the gravity well, and onto the surface of an unknown world. This is spectacle, this is dramatic. And it is something that only SciFi can do. Though of course not all Sci Fi does do it. Star Trek typically just has its characters appear on the surface of a world – famously for budgetary reasons.

I wanted to show three great examples of the evolution of the art of the spacecraft landing from film. Each one uses the landing to make a transition in the story. They all go for an approach that emphasisies technology, and at least a passing claim to realism. Landing a space craft is a serious business, undertaken by serious trained professionals. They are there to do a job, and they will do it properly, because that is what will maximise the success of the mission.

First up is the Saucer Landing from Forbidden Planet – 1956.

The professional crew of the UniteD Planets cruiser skillfully take their ship down to the surface of an unknown world. Of the three it is the most high-tech ship even if the production is the most dated! Bonus points if you recognised Leslie Nielsen.

Second up is Aliens 1986.

The planet landing is a staple of the Alien franchise. It is never a trivial thing for the crew to do. And it marks the transition where the nervous but determined characters are comitted to the unknown on the ground. Its clear there is no simple way back now. “Aliens” is the most militarised of the Alien films. The military trope of the invasion or beach landing is is similar but different to the space craft one. Aliens brings them both together. The clipped chatter of the pilot, the rugged ship, all tell the story of going from the space environment to the planet. This is a job for professionals, and that is what these people are.

The last example is one of my favourites. But I am cheating a bit. It is not from a work of fiction. It is Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landing on the moon in First Man 2018.

Yeah this is a dramatisation of how the lunar landing actually happend in 1969 (almost mid way between the two fictional depictions). The presentation is modern (do blow up the 4k video if you can), with close up personal camera shots, only one long shot of the space craft descending, and an excellent athmospheric sound track. But it is a classic space craft landing sequence.

The crew have to get from orbit to the surface. They have a ship that is built for the job, and they are the professionals at operating it. What they will find when they get there is important, but right now the focus is on the flight from space to the ground. It is made clear to the viewer that this is not a trivial process. It is going to need a spohisticated machine, capably operated by experts. It just happens in this case the depiction is of a real event!

I will finish with a side note . I am not a writer, but I suspect that the TV Tropes website makes many authors, and script writers cry. It’s a very comprenhensive listing of every plot device, story line, and narrative element there is out there. If you can think of it, then TV Tropes can probably show you dozens of examples of it in use. I did some digging there, but I have not been able to find a Trope listing for the space craft landing!

[2020 Target: 24/52. 12,536/25,000]

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How to use a sleeping bag

“Em, you get undressed, you climb inside, and you go to sleep. How hard can it be?” – you think. Well guess what smarty pants, for the most part you are er, right. But despite having used sleeping bags for years I have found there are a few things I didn’t know. Since I came to Sweden I have done a lot more camping, much of it below 10C, some of it in freezing winter conditions, so I have had to learn fast!

Personally speaking when I am hiking and camping my biggest worry for discomfort, other than spending the day getting rained on, is not being able to sleep because of cold. After some research, some practice, and some trial and error I now know what I can expect from a sleeping bag, how much I can trust it, and how to get the maximum amount of comfort.

Three things I have learned are:

  • What the temperature ratings for sleeping bags mean
  • How to get the bag to actually deliver on those ratings
  • And what else you can do to have a good night’s sleep

Temperature Ratings

Sleeping bags always used to have some sort of temperature rating on them. But it is only in recent years that these have been standardised. The European Standard has been superceeded by the ISO one which delivers pretty much the same number. All the reputable sleeping bag manufacturers now use this standard.

I will use my Haglöfs LIM +1 bag for this demonstration…

This bag, like any you get now days, has a temperature rating made up of three numbers:

  • Comfort: +6°C which is the external temperature that a woman will sleep in a relaxed position. So the “cosy” temperature.
  • Lower Limit: +1°C the temperature a man can sleep at when curled to conserve heat. The “practical” temperature.
  • Extreme: -13°C the extreme temperature a woman can sleep at without getting hyothermia. If you are using the bag at his temperature, you are probably in trouble, and you are almost certainly not having a good time.

The ratings are good because they take into account the differences between men and women. And they give you a realistic idea of what a sleeping bag can help you cope with. But achieving a good sleep at those comfort and lower limit temperatures doesn’t come automaticatlluy. Some work is needed!

Getting to the rated temperatures

When I first got my new down bag I was surprised that I was feeling cold and not sleeping well even at 5-10°C. At first I was thought the problem was the bag – down bags lose effectiveness if not stored correctly. Maybe it was that. Or was the bag defective? It took me a while to learn that the sleeping bag was fine, the problem was me.

Hitting the tempeartures given by the ISO ratings assumes a few things. To get those numbers you need to:

  • Use a sleeping bag liner. As well as helping keep the bag clean, it gives you a little bit more thermal margin.
  • Dress properly – you should to be wearing a single thermal base layer. I keep a wool top and leggings just for sleeping. And if it is cold I will have warm dry socks, and sometimes a hat. The thickness of what you wear will depend in how cold it will be and how comfortable you want to be!
  • Cover your head. The factoid that you lose half of your heat through your head is not true. But if your head is sticking out of the bag it make you a lot cooler. Make sure the bag is pulled over your head and the drawstrings pulled to keep it there.
  • You will also need a sleeping pad under you, and wind protection – either a tent or a bivvy bag, or even just a wind shelter.

It was this learning to layer inside the bag that really made a difference for me. That and ensuring that my head was not leaking heat.

Bag liner and thermals
My bag, silk liner, and merino wool sleep clothes

What else you can do

Two other things to add to the list. The first is touched on above – you need a sleeping mat. I know a lot of people use one to try and get a soft, comfortable surface to sleep on. But the primary purpose is to provide thermal insulation between you and the ground. I learned recently that there is work underway to come up with a standard for how mats are used (the “R” rating). It is not ready yet, though manufacturers are already providing some ratings. And I was able to use that information when I was going on Kungsleden to change the mat I usually use to my more thermally insulating Thermarest ultra-lite mattress.

Tent by a river on Kungsleden
Me camped by STF Sälka.

And secondly, a tip from half Scot-half Swede, former soldier in the Swedish army… When he was doing his winter training in the north they taught them that sleeping bags do not make you warm. They just keep you warm. If you are cold when you get into the bag then you will have a lot of difficulty warming up. Instead Swedish soldiers are trained to put on all their clothes and run around, or do star jumps. Then undress quickly, and jump into the bag while you are nicely warm!

All the things I had learned were put into practice when I went to do Kunglesden last summer. I had 110km of hiking, and about 3 nights of camping to do. the forecast was for about 6C at night. I was a little nervous going north, as I didn’t want to be cold and sleepless on the trip.

I had my LIM +1 bag, a silk liner, the ultra-lite Thermarest, a tent, and some wool clothing for evenings. I slept soundly every night. Certainly at least as well as the two nights I spent in huts!

A stony campsite by the Kebnekaise hut.
Camping by Kebnekaise, where neither the stoney ground, or the cool nights kept me from a good sleep.

A more severe test was a came a few weeks ago at the end of October when I went hiking and camping in an early cold snap. A friend and I were staying in a wind shelter with temperatures down -2°C. As the temperature was below the the rating of the LIM bag, I supplemented it with second older bag outside it (I have tested that combination down to -8°C on my balcony in the snow)! Before going to sleep I warmed myself at the fire. And with the bivvy bag on the outside, and the wool thermals on me it was another sound night’s sleep.

Fire burning in front of a vindskydd, at night. Gear for 2 people set up inside.
Bivvying in a vindskydd in near Stockholm.

I first started camping in the wild in the mid 1990’s. So it has only taken me 25 years to figure out how to use my sleeping bag!

[2020 Target: 23/52. 11,882/25,000]

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Swedish myths and legends

This is a post about Swedish myths and legends. Not the ones about Thor, and Odin, and Freya. If you want Norse mythology Neil Gaiman’s book is quite entertaining. No, this post is about the stories that people far from Sweden tell about this country.

I once was interviewed by Google’s country manager in Ireland. He admitted that he liked to cultivate an air of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory about the place for outsiders. Sweden seems to have developed a similar aura. It is prosperous, well governed, and has an outsize impact on the world. But stuck all the way up here in the frozen north not many visit. So it has become a canvas for people to paint their own pictures upon.

It is the land of Abba, of blondes, of Vikings! It is a social democratic paradise! Or lately because of Covid-19, it is a beacon of liberty and freedom in a world gone mad with nanny-state health regulations! Funny how it is simultaneously a poster child for both the left and the right.

Those of us who actually live here can be amused and exasperated by this. As an expat immigrant who is still connected to the media back home, you do hear various questionable tales told of Sweden. I thought I should call BS on a few. In no particular order…

There are no strikes in Sweden” – I remember hearing this as I wondered whether I would be able to fly to Ireland because SAS cabin crew were having a dispute. While strike rates are low, only 7,500 days in total in 2019, Sweden does have them. But there are strong cross industry work agreements between unions and employers, so serious disputes are rare.

Sweden is moving to a 30 hour work week” – I wish! When I first started hearing this I would have been really happy with just working 40 hours a week. There was a lengthy trial. There were some positive results. But it wasn’t suggested this would become the norm for the country. The legend was born though! And now if I had 10kr (about €1) for every retweet or facebook share of it I probably would be down to a two day week myself.

One of Sweden’s better ideas – Fika.

Sweden is a tolerant and open minded society“. This is mostly true. Stockholm’s Pride week is a huge celebration of values that are still marginalised (or worse) in some places in Europe. But what if you are talking about vices? Alcohol is only sold in the state run Systembolaget shops with restricted hours, and high prices. There are strict laws for illegal drugs, with severe penalties for possession which are based on a zero tolerance policy and no distinction between hard and soft. And the approach to sex work is to criminalise the buyer, something which is, er, controversial.

Sweden has more public holidays” – I had a debate with an Irish Labour party researcher about this one. Yes Sweden has 13 public holidays this year, whereas Ireland has 9. Two of the Swedish ones are Easter Sunday and Whit Sunday which em, fall on Sunday each year. That takes us down to 11. However in Sweden (just like Austria when I lived there) the holidays are on fixed dates. With one or two exceptions, if they fall on a weekend they are lost. This year 3 of the days fell on a Saturday. So we will have 8 in total. And while it isn’t specifically Swedish, the person commented on having holidays evenly spread out during the year. Sweden cares not for such things! Our last public holiday was Midsommar eve on June 19th. The next one is Christmas day! You can do the maths yourself 🙂

All Swedes are blondes” – Sometime around 2007 a Swedish woman admitted to me that her blonde hair came from a bottle, and she was not unusual in that. That was the day my Swedish dream died, and I have never fully recovered.

Swedish has achieved gender equality” – Yes, Sweden is ranked as amongst the best in Europe. There are more women in the Swedish parliament (46%), company boards (over 30%), the gender pay gap is narrower (women receive 95% of men’s pay), and there is generous parental leave which includes a requirement for men to take time off. But more can be done. Women still take more of the burden of child rearing, of housework, and they still face disadvantages in the workplace.

Sweden’s Healthcare System – In Ireland you will often hear the complaint that the health care system is “third world” – there are waiting lists, long queues at A&E, people sleep on trolleys. “If only we had a system like Sweden” they cry. Well when I broke my wrist ice skating in 2017 it took 7 hours from contacting the health sevices to getting out the door with a cast. I am told that is about the usual. A year ago I spent 17 hours in A&E! Around 02:30 am they wanted to admit me to the hospital, but they had no beds. I was to be admitted on paper, but would have to sleep in the waiting room. Sound familiar? The system here is very good. I have no complaints about the quality when I have needed something for me or my family. But it has a load of its own problems too (getting to talk to a GP is considerably easier in Ireland).

Sticking with healthcare, it has been the year of covid, COVID, Covid-19, Covid. And because of Sweden’s different approach to managing the pandemic there have been a load of stories around the world about what Sweden is doing and why. Though many of the people writing them do not seem to have checked with Sweden on what is actually happening on the ground. So some Covid myths…

There were no shortages in Sweden” – I was told that Sweden had not experienced any product shortages in Spring 2020. Hahahaha. Despite the fact that Sweden produces about 3 million rolls of toilet paper per day – we had panic buying and loo roll shortages as well.

Shemves without toilet paper in a Swedish supermarket
March 22nd – People can only buy one packet at a time. And they are still sold out. Empty shelves behind too.

The biggest Covid myths have been about how exactly Sweden has tackled the pandemic. And unlike the other myths these are more of a right winger thing. I have seen it said “There are no lockdowns”. “There are no restrictions”. “Sweden is pursuing a ‘herd immunity’ strategy”, and so on. This is one area where Swedes get defensive. They feel the national approach has been misrepresented, Sweden’s particular circumstances downplayed, and they are being used to justify other’s agendas. I would say they are right.

Sweden has implemented restrictions, they just have differed from the full lockdowns elsewhere. But their situation is different too. Half of Swedish households are single occupant. There is a broad, deep social welfare net to protect workers who are ill – so people have no hesitation to “stay home if you are sick“. The Covid campaign is directed by a respected expert, Anders Tegnell, and Swedish people mostly follow the guidelines without grumble. The focus has been on a sustainable long term management of the pandemic – measures that people can live with for 12-18 months.

There are issues of course. The disease badly hit elderly homes and immigrant communities. Infection and death rates have been higher than in surrounding countries. Dr Tegnell has said he should have recommended more was done in the Spring. Right now we are experiencing a second wave, and restrictions have been tightened. But in general when you talk to Swedes they feel that: first they are happy with how things are being handled. Second Sweden’s approach works for Sweden, they would never suggest they have the answer for the rest of the world. And third, this is a long-term campaign. It is only at the end will people be able to properly assess how effective it has been.

One thing that everyone is very clear on, is that Sweden is NOT following a “herd immunity” strategy. They are not letting the disease run through the young and healthy (claiming a few thousand along the way) in order to protect the vulnerable. If that was the plan, you can see it isn’t working too well. It’s estimated that about 20% of Sweden has been exposed to Covid at this stage. Herd immunity needs about 70-80% of the population with antibodies. It would take over 2 years at this rate (and tens of thousands of deaths) to acheive it. So no, that is not the Swedish Covid strategy.

I think Sweden is a wonderful country. There is a lot about it I love. The people and the political system here have done a great job building what is a pretty fair, just and equitable society. Which of course is why it scores so strongly on different indices of Human Development, Democracy, Corruption, Quality of Life, etc.

Humourous graph if Europe.
“Basically every map showing data on Europe” Tom Moylan @moylato

It is not paradise though. It has challenges too – political, social, economic. And you try finding decent bagels, or Barry’s Tea here. Also I am told the Guinness is generally shocking.

Many places can learn a lot from Sweden. But simple lift and shift rarely works. The unique Swedish society, and history, and geography, and economy come together to make Swedish solutions work in Sweden. But it does help if the wonderful Swedish idea you want to adopt, or the Swedish outcome you want to achieve is actually real, and not just another myth as tangible Odin himself.

[2020 Target: 22/52. 10,740/25,000]

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