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Seamus K - Irish tech industry expat living in Sweden.

Category: General (page 1 of 11)

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 😉

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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 2019

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Starlink – a humble proposal

It looks like the Starlink satellites are already causing problems for the scientific community. There are less than 1% of the planned constellation of sats in orbit but they have begun interfering with astronomical observations. And if the company gets its way the dozens they have today will grow to tens of thousands! 

Leaving aside the whole question of whether this is the best way to provide internet connectivity to the unserved (full disclosure I work for a company that is committed to alternatives like 5G), what could be done to help?

Two things spring to mind. First, to get around the light pollution issue the best location for the astronomer’s telescopes would be in orbit, above the problem satellites. And secondly in most of the world the principle is “polluter pays”.

My humble proposal then is that Starlink’s parent, SpaceX, should be responsible for providing a constellation of space based telescopes in orbit for astronomers. There is a lovely symmetry to this. SpaceX touts their ability to reduce the cost of access to space, and how their work benefits humanity in the long term. They are have the rockets, and are building/commissioning satellites by the bucket load anyway. And the astronomers would then get an improved platform for observations. 

The article does mention that there is no legal protection for the scientific observation community. But in most of the world, the western bit anyway, regulatory approval would have been conditional on an impact assessment. And it would be possible to make permission to proceed conditional on making sure that impacts are mitigated. Wouldn’t it have been great if Starlink could not get their project rolling until they had built dozens or hundreds of space based telescopes first?

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Stuff that comes to work with you…

…because you forgot to check your pockets before going out the door.

It would be nice though if I had my own desk where I could leave a few personalised touches lying around. They gave me this little warm feeling while they were there. Another reason to despise hot desking.

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If the Lough Ness Monster doesn’t exist, where did the story come from?

Searches can’t find the animal, and science has shown there isn’t the food supply to sustain a population of such creatures. So where did the story come from? 

Vox Hiberionacum, the excellent debunker of historical nonsense related to Ireland has an informed examination of the subject on Twitter.

 

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Bored at a work meeting? Then leave

I am supposed to be at an all day productivity training session today at work. But I have some other urgent stuff so I left. Funnily enough I talked to a few people at one of the breaks and they had similar feelings. The idea is fine, but there is no way we need to spend an entire day on this stuff. 1-2 hours tops. 

It is a pity when our time is getting tied up (and there were over 30 people in the room this morning) in this way. 

The best advice I have heard on meetings and productivity recently is from Elon Musk. He famously has said:

“Walk out of a meeting or drop off a call as soon as it is obvious you aren’t adding value.”

“It is not rude to leave. It is rude to make someone stay and waste their time.”

It takes a bit of bravery to do it. But you feel better afterwards, and you end up getting more real work done.

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Great story about people, and about politics

This is a wonderful story about the constitutional convention that lead to the legalisation of gay marriage. It left me with a lump in my throat. It’s an English translation of an article originally published in Germany

As well as being about two people it also talks about what I think is a powerful tool for resolving political issues in the future. Saving politics from the politicians so to speak. 

 

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Give me a cabin in the mountains. Please?

I have discovered I have a weakness for rustic mountain cabins. Show me a picture of some hikers and skiers relaxing in a simple wooden building, solid fuel heating, maybe no electricity, and being remote from civilisation and I will pause and droll momentarily.

STF is the Swedish Tourist organisation that runs the mountain/winderness huts here. I am a member and get their magazine, so several times a year I get to see photos like this.

Expect to see more here 🙂

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Bringing ice to eskimoes

Sweden is the land of white crockery. We were in IKEA yesterday, and I don’t think we saw anything other than plain, brilliant white cups, plates, bowls. and mugs. Which is all nice. But when I saw these beefy, brightly coloured mugs in Dunnes* in Cork I had to have them. 

Mugs from Ireland

They bring a nice bit of cheerful colour to the table. But it does seem a bit funny bringing delph to Sweden.

* Okay I have cheated a little, the jug is from Flying Tiger which I suppose does make it Scandinavian.

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Going to the moon. Maybe

It is the week of the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing. And a bit surprisingly it seems like there may actually be a return to the moon within the next decade! Though there are technical, monetary and political challenges to be overcome first. 

The Economist has a good summary of the different national plans, and some of the “why”. 

The fun thing is that the new 2024 deadline is being driven by Trump. He would like to have this milestone with his name against it before he leaves at the end of a second term. But to do that he will need money from the Democratic congress to accelerate the original (and already challenging) timeline of 2028. Want to bet the Democrats will give it to him?

This is all part of the ongoing debate in the US and elsewhere about where to point a manned space program as the International Space Station’s end comes into sight. Bush said Mars, knowing it would never happen on his watch. The efforts there were never serious. It can be done. But the technical and logistical challenges are huge. It would demand a financial and political commitment that to be sustained for over a decade. I struggle to see how any single government will do that (from the US or any other nation). Elon Musk’s plans are a wild card. But even they have to be regarded as speculative.

Obama effectively killed the Mars plans. Instead the target was made an asteroid landing. And along the way the moon reappeared. But now Trump’s administration, with an eye to its legacy, says it will be the moon again. Fair enough. There are hairy logistical challenges to face as well though.

NASAs description of the “Gateway” to the Moon

The US probably has a rocket for the job (the delayed and over budget SLS). It should have a spaceship to carry astronauts (the delayed and over budget Orion). The gateway is under contract (even if the timelines are to be advanced and it will be smaller than planned). The missing element is the moon lander itself. 

If all the political stuff bores you, then there is the question whether the “Gateway” idea is a good one at all. NASA likes it as it is a permanent piece of infrastructure that will anchor the manned program beyond low-earth-orbit (LEO) for years. But if your longer term objective is Mars or elsewhere, then it may actually be a speed bump. 

In the case of going from LEO to the lunar surface, the delta-v required is 6.1 km/second (it takes 4.1 km/s to get from LEO to low-lunar orbit and another 2.0 to get from there down to the surface). By contrast, to go from LEO to the Gateway’s proposed halo orbit—and then to the lunar surface—requires a delta-v of 6.85km/s.

Put another way, a spacecraft could leave LEO, reach the surface of the Moon, and return directly to Earth for a total delta-v cost of 9.1km/s. To do the same mission through the Gateway, both coming and going, requires a delta-v of 10.65km/s, a 17 percent increase. This is one reason why Zubrin has taken to calling the lunar Gateway a “toll booth,” because it adds significantly to the energies needed to reach the Moon.

Personally I think the solution to these various problems would be to massively increase the (relatively modest) spending there is on space exploration and do all of these things – moon with Gateway, a Mars program and whatever else besides. In the US NASA costs the average tax payer about $55 per year (0.5% of a $10,500 annual tax bill). And in Europe the European Space Agency is about €10 per person.

I doubt there is much political appetite for that though. Especially as in the mean time the public seems to be largely happy getting its space fix in a cheaper, and far more spectacular form from Netflix, HBO, and Amazon…

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