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Category: Technology (page 2 of 3)

Samsung phones before and after iPhone

A comparison of Samsung phones before and after the release of the iPhone, inspired by the ecce homo Fresco restoration in Spain.

Jag köpte en bok till dig, Erika!

I just bought a great book for my former design director Erika Kihlgård.

Use your iPhone’s camera flash for alerts

If you are often in very loud places where you can’t hear your iPhone’s alerts signals or feel its vibrations, or if you’re in quiet places where noises and vibrations would be disruptive, here’s a way for your iPhone to get your attention boldly and quietly.

The Accessibility settings in iOS 5 offer a basketload of customizations for people with special needs such as poor vision or hearing. However, many of these settings can be useful for a lot of other purposes.

One of my favorites is the ability to use the camera’s LED flash as an additional alert whenever you receive a text or phone call.

To enable it, open the Settings app on your iPhone, then choose General, then Accesibility.

You’ll see an option called “LED Flash for Alerts” and you just need to turn it on. It’s that easy. Now your iPhone’s camera flash will give out several bright bursts of light every time you get an alert you don’t want to miss.

Kodak v. Duckface

An epidemic has consumed our young. Now it is set to ruin photography as a whole.

I’m speaking, of course, about girls making kissy faces and acting like models in every self-taken photo they post on the Internet. The plague has become known simply as Duckface.

Perhaps this pose was cute when Audrey Hepburn did it, but it just doesn’t have the same effect if you are holding the camera yourself, standing next to your toilet and wearing your ex-boyfriend’s high school hoodie.

Exhibit 1: Duckface


What ever happened to smiling?

Some may see the death of smiling in photos as a by-product of popular culture, but I think this plague has much deeper roots.

When I was growing up in the 1970s and ’80s, it was practically unheard of to take a picture of yourself.

Not only was it expensive, but for most people who didn’t have their own darkroom, you’d have to wait several days to see the printed proof of how stupid you look.

On top of that, you couldn’t take just one picture and look at it. Believe it or not, kids, but photographs came in groups of 12 or 24 or 36, what was referred to as a “roll” of film.

Fotomat drive-thru featuring one-day service. Frackin’ finally!

After shooting a dozen or more photos, you’d then drive to the Fotomat or SupeRx drugstore, drop off your film, and come back a few days later to collect your package of photos.

Inevitably, there would be fewer prints than the number of pictures you expected because something went wrong.

After all the waiting, that highly-anticipated photo you snapped on your school trip to King’s Island of your classmate who you had a crush on, well, it just didn’t turn out. A lot of things didn’t turn out right in those days.

If a photo you really hoped for wasn’t in the envelope, you may even resort to looking through the tiny brown and orange negatives that came with your prints to see what happened or to order a reprint.

The process of needing to pay someone to develop and print your photos also meant that some strangers somewhere would inevitably see every photo you made. Film photography lacked an entirely different kind of privacy than digital photography. Someone else always saw your pictures before you did.

Instant gratification

An advertisement for the Swedish comedy sketch show “Partaj” makes fun of “online beauty” and the duckface.

Certainly nobody would ever waste the kind of time and money it took to make frivolously large stacks of photographs unless they were as rich as J.R. Ewing or as indulgent as Mackenzie Phillips. But most ragers with that kind of party scratch (these are slang terms) would go the Polaroid route like Richard Pryor and Andy Warhol.

Polaroid was the instant gratification of its day and that luxury came with a premium price tag.

For generations, for the vast millions on Earth, the simple truth was that if you owned a picture of yourself it was because you had been in a room with someone else who had a camera. And that photo was taken at least several days ago.

Basically, photos were taken by friends, relatives and photographers.

These days, that’s not the case.


Today, any thuggin’ jackass or too-skinny 15-year-old suburban girl wearing too much makeup can play dress up and smooch to the camera for thousands of followers like she’s Anna Nicole Smith.

Don’t do that. Not cute.

The main difference, of course, is that if you were Anna Nicole Smith, you would be surrounded by photographers instead of holding the smudged lens on your Nokia Windows phone up to your bathroom mirror.

Thanks to digital photography taking pictures has essentially become free… and limitless.

As a result, during the past fifteen years, the total number of photographs created each day on Earth has multiplied millions of times over.

And the MySpace pose – an arm’s-length self portrait – spread like a disease on photography, even before the duckface entered the frame.


Kodak founder George Eastman. All business. No smile. No duckface.

From paper to pixels

Because the Eastman Kodak company is now in bankruptcy protection, you might think the company is a victim of digital photography.

In fact, the once-dominant giant in the field of photography brought this on themselves.

Through a series of both good and bad decisions and an inability to handle increasingly aggressive competition in the fields they created, Kodak has gotten the short end of several successive sticks.

I’d like to show some compassion to Kodak, given their dire straits, however I feel I have no choice but to personally blame them for the perpetuation of the duckface.


An early Kodak ad in “The Cosmopolitan.” So easy, even a boy or girl could use it, provided they are in school. Too difficult for dropout losers.

A “roll” of film

George Eastman, the founder of Kodak, patented the roll film camera in 1888.

Prior to that, film was produced on large plates treated with chemicals. Making a photograph required time to set up the camera, position the plate, prepare some chemicals, blah blah blah. It could take an hour if everything went smoothly.

Eastman’s genius was that he figured out a way to make photo film dry and flexible. This way it could be rolled up. It not only made the film portable, but it also made it possible to take more than one photo quickly once you got the camera set up.

His company was a hit and twelve years later, he brought photography to the masses.


Take your own pictures

In 1900, Eastman Kodak introduced the Brownie, the world’s first mass-produced, portable camera.

That thing was gangbusters. The company expanded quickly as the Brownie did for photography what high-fructose corn syrup did for XXL sweatpants.

Kodak was huge, an unstoppable force in photography, and the company didn’t show signs of losing their edge for nearly 80 years.

Polaroid inventor Edwin Land: “One day service? Ha! Check it out, bitches! Here’s a picture I took a minute ago.”

In 1976, Kodak’s dominance comprised of 90% of US of film sales and 85% of camera sales. That’s a position any company would dream of. Essentially untouchable.

And they were vigilant to protect their stronghold when Polaroid started gaining a small market share in the seventies. Kodak was already two steps ahead.

In 1975, the company assigned a project to one of their young engineers, a 25-year-old recent graduate named Steven Sasson.


Steven Sasson is a name everyone should know. Just three years after he began work on the project, he and Kodak were issued a patent for the digital camera. It was a futuristic, game-changing device.

Steven Sasson with his invention, the digital camera. It became even more portable later on, believe it or not.

When Apple brought one of the first consumer digital cameras to the market in 1994 – the QuickTake – it was Kodak who was manufacturing the hardware for them.

So how is it possible that Kodak has filed for bankruptcy? The company that gave film photography to ordinary people and decades later invented film’s successor – a successor now so ubiquitous that nearly every telephone you see these days is equipped with a Kodak-derived camera – they have somehow dropped some of the world’s most valuable balls.


Shockingly, despite Kodak’s forward-looking innovation in the seventies, the company all but abandoned digital photography in the nineties. Way to go, gang.

Fearing that the inexpensive nature of digital photos would steal business away from their incredibly profitable film processing business, they doubled down on film.

Schematic from Kodak’s US patent for the digital camera, 26 December 1978. Personally, I would have put the sync generator in front of the parallel to serial, but who am I to criticize another man’s work?

Basically, they feared that if they marketed cameras that could take an infinite number of photos, it would adversely impact the money they were making by charging people for pictures one at a time.

It turns out that they were absolutely right about digital’s impact on film.


It sucks to be right

The irony of course, was that by the time they realized they were right, they had so drastically reduced their digital investment that they were no longer in a position to take advantage of the exploding market they had pioneered. All the profits had moved from the film manufacturing and processing sides of the business to the camera and electronics makers.

A SupeRx drugstore in 1967 (image from Pleasant Family Shopping)

Kodak’s main competitor in film sales, Fujifilm, had brilliantly played both sides of the game. Through aggressive pricing on the film side, Fuji’s marketshare had been eating into Kodak’s since the company began marketing their film at disruptive prices in the United States.

The Economist reported earlier this year that Fujifilm “saw omens of digital doom as early as the 1980s. [Fuji] developed a three-pronged strategy: to squeeze as much money out of the film business as possible, to prepare for the switch to digital and to develop new business lines.”

Kodak failed to diversify fast enough, put their investments into things that didn’t work out, and the company was cast into a downward spiral as digital photography grew and the use of film declined.

As we now know, today’s reality is that most of the people in the western world have some form of a digital camera in their pocket right now. Many of them will use those Internet-connected devices to post images online several times today. Each one of those pictures – duckfaced or otherwise – represents money that Kodak isn’t making.

There really should be truckloads of money being dumped at Kodak’s headquarters in Rochester, New York, every day. Instead, unfortunately, those trucks may soon be hauling off the furniture.

Andrew W.K.

These are some photos from the Debaser Slussen club in Stockholm where I recently saw Andrew W.K. perform his entire first album in order. It was a fantastic show and my face hurt from smiling, thought don’t suspect I’ll win any awards for photography.

One photo shows a sign on the mixing board that indicates the maximum legal concert volume in Sweden. The limit is lower for shows with younger people.






Old light switch


A push-button lightswitch in the hallway of a Stockholm apartment building. Push to turn the lights on in the hallway. They automatically turn off after a few minutes.

Get your 3D glasses

Here you can order some anaglyph 3D glasses with red/blue lenses, suitable for viewing three-dimension content on Snuggling With the Enemy and in K Composite Magazine.

The glasses are made with genuine Chinese quality and feature light cardboard frames. They ship in packages of two pairs for just $2.00 US, plus cheap delivery to your address anywhere in the world.


I want you in my REAL magazine

I have published 13 issues of my own magazine, K Composite, which consists of interviews with my friends and non-celebrities. Now I am working to launch the next issue in an amazing new edition on the iPad, distributed through Apple’s App Store. This video will tell you all about it – and how you can get involved!

Visit this project on Kickstarter.

What I am doing

K Composite Magazine began as a fanzine in 1991 and the first full-color edition was released in 1999.

The early issues gained a cult following and national attention through features in Rolling Stone, Harper’s, The Chicago Tribune, and NPR’s Talk of the Nation. Ira Glass of This American Life beamed, “I love K Composite.”

Since then, the magazine has expanded to include other contributors who interview and photograph their own friends.

Moving the magazine to the iPad is already an exciting project. Gorgeous layouts will no longer be limited by the number of pages available, distribution costs will be dramatically decreased, and availability will be unprecedented.

How I am doing it

I have worked intensively with the Mag+ production team at Bonnier Magazines here in Stockholm, for six months.

As a result, I will be able to produce this new edition of K Composite using the same professional Mag+ production tools that are employed for the iPad versions of magazines including Popular Science, Transworld Snowboarding, and MacWorld Sweden.

Mag+ publications are stunning magazines with multiple layers and rich content. Steve Jobs himself hailed Mag+ in his 2010 keynote when discussing publications on the iPad, particularly Popular Science.

Standing on the shoulders of those giants, the innovative finished product of K Composite #14 will be a truly unique reading experience.


I have launched this project on a creative funding site called Kickstarter. The money raised there will go toward production in the Mag+ environment and the costs of moving the magazine through the necessary gateways for worldwide distribution in the App Store.

As a reward for your support, you can have your picture in the magazine or even be featured in a complete interview!

Check out the project on Kickstarter and check out the magazine’s website at

Be in the magazine without spending a krona

I really want to get readers of Snuggling With the Enemy involved in this project!

If you’d like to take a shot at being interviewed in K Composite without spending a krona (or dollar), you don’t need to invest a single blueback (or greenback). Just apply on this page at the magazine’s website at Be sure to mention that you heard about this through Snuggling!

Säkert! in 3D

My most dedicated readers of this space – and you are undoubtedly one of them – will remember that I am a big fan of Annika Norlin’s bands, Hello Saferide and Säkert.

I wrote fairly exhaustively on the topic a while back, when I had a short note published in the Stockholm City paper. And again that same year when I had the opportunity to see Hello Saferide at the festival called Where the Action Is.

Säkert is Norlin’s Swedish language band and Hello Saferide performs in English. So as I explained in those previous articles, Säkert is a band I fell in love with while barely grasping the language. Their record became a reference point for me as I learned Swedish. It unraveled itself before me a little more with each listen.

An Unexpected Return

For the past several years, amid rumors that Norlin was retiring from music completely and shoving off to live in a commune somewhere, it seemed that if she were to continue in the music world, Hello Saferide would be her focus. Her recent tours and records had been with the English language band, and at least to my limited knowledge, Säkert appeared to be a band that had recorded one record – one great record – and left it at that.

Babel in Malmö is an old church

Imagine my excitement upon returning to Sweden last summer and learning that one-album-wonder Säkert had, in fact, released a second album. Who knew? Within a few months of being back, I saw that Säkert was scheduled to play some shows around Sweden. Fucking wow.

This meant, of course, that I would have to make arrangements to see one or more of these shows with my friend Emma from Malmö. Emma had introduced me to the first Säkert album some years ago, long before the idea of living in Sweden was a realistic possibility.

Säkert in Malmö

So in March, I hopped on a plane to Malmö to visit Emma and to see Säkert quite literally deliver a perfect performance. Everything sounded exactly as it should. Better even. I love it when bands do something different with their songs in the live setting. Nearly every single one of Säkert’s songs was reworked in some way – arrangements, sequences, instrumentation – several of them resulting in jaw-dropping, head-shaking madness. Emma and I weren’t the only ones in the over-capacity crowd at Babel who looked at each other in disbelief of some of these effortless – and sometime raucous – reinventions.

– Continued below Säkert in 3D gallery –

Last weekend the band arrived for two more sold-out shows in Stockholm. The show for the beer-drinkin’ fans sold out post-haste, but I was, however, able to finagle a ticket to the all-ages performance. Regardless of the awkwardness of my freakish height compared to some of the other attendees, and despite being totally psyched up for the show all day, I have to say that I was totally unprepared for how breathtaking it turned out to be.

Säkert in Malmö (in 2D)

Without rehashing everything I wrote in those previous stories, one of the things about Norlin’s songs that make them special for me (someone who typically doesn’t connect with a lot of music on a regular basis) is that I believe her when she’s singing. I believe that the songs are sincere and that they are being delivered with a level of care that respects their importance as pieces of the author’s heart.

That turned out to be very true at this Stockholm show. As much as it hurt a little, I really loved that I could go to a show and have the material touch me and crush me inside. I could go into more details, but I don’t want to trivialize the experience. So I’m going to keep it to myself.

But enough about me. Let’s get to these crazy pictures.

This gallery of pictures from Säkert’s show in Stockholm are produced in red-blue anaglyph 3D format. They can be viewed with standard red-blue 3D glasses (red on the left eye).

There will be increasing amounts of 3D to see in my future articles, so get on board with some specs! If you don’t have any, you can get a free pair a few different ways:

• Buy my 2001 solo album Nashville Geographic. The CD packaging is in 3D and it comes with a pair of glasses. has used copies of it for one dollar.

• Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to:
Free 3D Glasses
American Paper Optics, LLC
2995 Appling Road, Suite 106
Bartlett, TN 38133 USA
Rainbow Symphony, Inc.
6860 Canby Ave. Suite 120
Reseda, CA 91335

• Or you can just order some from Amazon. In Sweden, there are some “fancy” ones available at this link.


The Love Affair Between Cats and iPads

A couple months ago, I started working at an awesome job with a magazine publishing company in Stockholm. The company is a huge, family-run, Swedish media empire, built over many generations. Let’s say it’s kind of like the Bingham family was in Louisville or the Hearst family in America. But much, much older.

At the office, I am a member of a stealth, futuristic team which converts print magazines into fluid, moving, living versions, to be read on Apple’s iPad. The office walls are white, the windows are big, the desks are made of natural wood, and there’s virtually no paper to be seen.

Most people expect magazines on tablet devices to be like flipping through a PDF of the print version. This couldn’t be further from the truth, at least for the ones we’re making.

Harry Potter

These magazines on the iPad have all the beauty of full-page magazine layouts, but with the added magic of designs that move on multiple layers. Think of the newspapers in the Harry Potter movies – how they look like a regular newspaper but the pictures are alive and you can interact with them when you want to. That’s where it starts.

(Of course, I’m a grown man, so I’ve never seen any of the Harry Potter movies nor read any of the books. I’m just going by what people have told me. I have certainly never dated a girl who drove a car with Harry Potter license plates or had an awesome dog named Potter. I don’t know the first thing about Miss Granger or the Weasley brothers. Honestly, I’m not even sure what everyone’s fascination is with those dirty little wizards.)

Compared with traditional print magazines (which can be both engaging and hefty) and website versions of the same content (which can be both annoying and forgettable), the iPad represents a wonderful new incarnation for the magazine reading experience.

This is the cutting edge of publishing and you really can’t appreciate it until you see it in action or use it yourself. You really need to drop what you’re doing right now and go buy an iPad so you can finish reading this article on it.

Samsung Galaxy tablet

Any time a groundbreaking piece of new technology finds its way to market, the media is abuzz with excitement and analysis about how it could change people’s lives.

What receives significantly less attention – from both the media and the developers who came up with this new gadget – is the question of how such new advancements will affect cats.

If you have ever been in the company of a cat and you tried to sprawl a newspaper out across the floor or use a laptop computer, you are no doubt aware that these two activities have long been deemed as incompatible with the cat world.

Cats view activities like reading and typing as supreme wastes of valuable time which could be better spent petting them or, frankly, doing pretty much anything else. Simply put, cats don’t understand reading and typing.

My old chum, The Mew, demonstrating the cat world's lack of respect for newspapers.

In their defense, however, if you have never taken a nap on a newspaper, or walked on your computer, you’re doing yourself a grave injustice. It actually is really fun. And if someone is also trying to use the newspaper or computer while you’re doing it, they’ll just have a devil of a time trying to ignore you.

You’ll be treated to a generous dose of what many cats crave more than rubber bands or plastic bottle safety rings – attention.

As much as cats are confused by reading, a lot of people are also dumbfounded by much of the new technology we’re being bombarded with. Researchers call these people “old.” I know all about it. I’m still trying to find the slash, the brackets, the “at” symbol and the dollar sign on my Swedish keyboard.

So if 21st Century technology seems daunting to you, keep in mind that for cats it’s the 63rd Century. You know, because of “cat years” and all.

Knowing that, if we roll back the clock many centuries, to the days of ancient Egypt – the people then were about as smart as the cats are today – even then, mankind had long recognized that cats are really, really stupid.

That ignorance, combined with softness and cuddliness, are some of the main reasons why people like them cats (and ancient Egyptians).

Cats have much of the same appeal as the popular and pretty girls in your ninth-grade class. They seem to never learn anything and yet they are constantly coddled and fawned over. The smart kids just can’t catch a break at Hogwarts. I mean, school.

Some old timey pics from before art was invented.

As compared with the cats who found their way into illustrations by ancient Egyptians – it has been said that the question mark itself was derived from the quizzical shape of a cat’s curling tail – just like us people, today’s cats have a lot more to process in their little heads.

There were no such wonders as televisions or whistling tea kettles in the days of King Tut. Just table scraps and dirt floors. Shit, they were still centuries away from high-tech advances like windows with glass in them and housing which accommodated sanitized ways of pooping indoors without that stank. Some accounts have King Tut himself undergoing a quite modest and primitive entombment, in fact, being buried in his jammies.

Whereas monkeys and even common hillbillies have some depth that includes longterm memories and basic emotions, the knowledge capacity that cats work with is stored inside of what scientists can best describe as “a tiny, cat-sized brain.” (their words, not mine)

Despite this lack of knowledge, these little fuckers are endlessly curious – something that’s true of both cats and scientists.

The Mew is seen risking a fall from a second-floor window in order to climb up a screen. She's in hot pursuit of a fly... or a bug... or something imaginary. My people-brain can't remember. This was 2005.

Researchers describe the so-called “cat’s brain” as a “cute, little bundle of two or three firing electrons.” While that may not seem to be a lot of activity, it is important to remember that those few electrons each fire up to 50 billion times a second. Squared. To the 15th power. Or more.

If you’ve ever wondered what’s going on in a cat’s head – what makes them assault the same piece of yarn for two hours, or never tire of chasing the laser pointer which obviously is a projection and ends up on top of their paws every time they try to smash it (fucking idiots!) – if you’ve ever reeeally wondered what’s going on up there in that furry little head, the answer is “practically nothing.”

Dr. Frank Davidson, one of America’s leading pussy researchers, says, “Cats are so wildly entertaining for precisely this reason. Inside their wee noggins, next to nothing is transpiring. However, that absence of activity is happening about 27,000 times every second. Their shit is quite lit’rally poppin’ off like crazy.” Bloke speaks with a Bri’ish accent to make himself seem smar’er.

While her owner is distracted in conversation, Evie is obviously plotting something... perhaps well-deserved retribution against the corner.

Dr. Davidson’s colleague at Southern Miami University, whose name is also Dr. Frank Davidson, has helped Davidson every step of the way during six years of research into the mysterious mind of the cat.

Much of their investigation centered around viewing the “Treadmill Kittens” video numerous times, in varying states of getting baked.

During their third year intensive experimentation and inquiry, they had what they describe as “a watershed moment.” That’s when they discovered that the word “feline” also refers to cats.

However, that was small potatoes compared to what they’ve been up to lately. The doctors brim with grimalkin enthusiasm when asked about the newest and most revelatory findings.

Ms. Peter Sellers suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, stemming from an episode in which she went missing for several weeks in Appalachian Ohio. She returned smelling of skunk and cheap booze. Surprisingly, her dead-behind-the-eyes appearance is a unrelated condition which pre-dates that ordeal.

Dr. Davidson (the second one) explains that contrary to popular belief, their latest research suggests that cats don’t actually have nine lives at all. Rather, cats’ brains are working so quickly “they are actually living the same life nine times simultaneously.” This is why they often eat so fast that they puke all over the place. They think they have to finish eating nine meals before they get full.

Despite not yet being circulated, the doctors’ controversial findings have already been met with considerable skepticism. Their full report is sure to garner even more debate when it is  published in next week’s issue of “Miniature Horse Enthusiast.”

“For any normal creature, having nine lives would be an invaluable way to learn how to make each one last longer or have a higher quality than the previous. A learning curve, if you will. But cats waste all nine of ’em in pretty quick succession.”

(As a side note, the two Dr. Frank Davidsons are not related. This can be a bit unnerving, since they have the same name and they look identical. Their fellow researchers claim to have never seen the two men at the same time, however, a grad student who works in their lab, whose name is also Frank Davidson, says the older one wears glasses and the younger one works second shift.)

The Mew, obviously not doing anything wrong. Just stopping to smell the roses.

(As another side note, despite not being related, the two Dr. Davidsons are the same age and were born on the same day, from the same mother, but in different hospitals. The elder Dr. Davidson was born at St. Anthony’s Hospital in Orlando, while the younger was born at Saint Anthony’s near Orlando.)

A landmark study by Phil Connors, a television weatherman in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, established this theory as the Groundhog Day Effect in 1993.

But Davidson adds that even if a cat has seen that movie four or five times during six or seven of their lives, “they wouldn’t remember it any more than they remember the fact that, even after you’ve pushed it away a million times, you still don’t want their ass in your face when you’re petting them.”

“Halfway through Life #7, our feline friends seem to have just as little respect for gravity as they did in Life #2. And just as little awareness that gravity actually exists.”

While cats may be fascinated by bright, shiny, technical objects, such as the iPad or random high-definition programming on the Animal Planet network, less animated objects don’t hold the same allure. Studies have shown that even though it seems they don’t respect newspapers or books, they are entirely oblivious to the idea that some clothes are black.

Ms. Peter Sellers, elbow-deep in biscuits.

Just as often as they forget that you don’t like their ass in your face, sometimes it’s almost like these li’l rascals have never even seen a spray bottle before. (What is it with these guys? How many fucking lint rollers do we have to buy this month?)

The cats in this laboratory video, for example, appear to believe that the objects displayed on the iPad’s screen are actually under the iPad. Wake up, dummy! It’s a computer!

As far as what cats actually can understand and remember, Davidson (the grad student) says, “Cats have very selective memories and they usually tend to remember just one thing: what feels good. They simply adore making biscuits and gettin’ some knucks.”

“Making biscuits” is a scientific term for the paw-kneading motion cats like to do over and over on soft pillows or your fat-ass belly. “Knucks” are the insane addiction cats have for forcibly rubbing their jaws on things.

Many cats will rub their teeth on your knuckles if you make a fist. Davidson (the one born at Saint Anthony’s) says, “It feels amazing. If you’re a cat is like crack cocaine.”

Does it ever. (Not that I’ve tried crack.)

This photo of The Mew would look exactly the same if it was a video.
That’s how serious she is about stalking yarn.

American magazine seeking people to interview in Sweden

Stockholm, Sweden, and Louisville, USA, May 17, 2011

K Composite is a magazine of engaging, colorful interviews with regular people.

Funny, smart and beautiful individuals who are unknown to the masses, are interviewed, photographed, and presented in vivid layouts.

K Composite is now being developed for the iPad. New issues will be distributed worldwide, free of charge, through Apple’s App Store.


Publisher Scott Ritcher says the most important part of making each new issue is finding the right people to interview.

That’s why Ritcher, who has lived in Stockholm since 2009, is inviting Stockholmers to get involved. “Designing each edition begins with faces and personalities,” he says. “That’s why I like to cast a wide net. It’s like having more colors to choose from.”

Ordinary people who want to be featured in the magazine can show their interest at The call is open to everyone, though the interviews and magazine are in English.


K Composite launched it as a fanzine in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1991. It has expanded to color printing and wide distribution in the US.

Ira Glass of public radio’s This American Life – no stranger to interviewing regular people – beamed, “I love K Composite.” Rolling Stone declared that being interviewed in K Composite was “the ultimate status symbol.” And Harper’s showed their affection by simply reprinting an excerpt of the magazine.

K Composite will debut on the iPad in August.

K Composite Magazine:



Wikileaks: No Alarms, No Surprises

The political and diplomatic worlds have been reeling in the wake of a quarter-million pages of confidential US government documents being leaked. Everyone has had an opinion about some part of it.

I hope I’m not alone in thinking this, but I’m not sure what all the controversy is about.

My reaction to every so-called revelation has been, “Duh. I knew that. Everyone knows that.”

These documents don’t so much announce anything new as they do confirm everything we have always suspected.

It turns out that what we tend to believe is the hidden truth actually is the truth.

It’s kind of reassuring in a way.


In case you didn’t know, the bottom-line suggestion of all the leaked information is that Americans in positions of power are assholes who think they run the world. They talk about other countries and leaders behind their backs. American leaders always think in terms of how America can use situations elsewhere toward advancing American interests. But you certainly must have already known that was true.

Another tidbit unearthed in these documents is that everybody thinks Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is nuts. A lot of people, including leaders of neighboring countries, live in fear that he’s erratic, unreasonable, and might do something unpredictable or dangerous.

Wikileaks file room: arrow shows the pink folder
of fake documents invented to embarrass Iran,
whose reputation was impeccable before this.

Maybe it’s a bit unforeseen that this belief is held even among some regimes we may think of as being not particularly friendly to the US. It’s at least interesting that you don’t need to agree with the United States to believe Ahmadinejad is off-balance.

The topic of Iran is where some of the responses to these leaks have gotten entertaining.

One of Ahmadinejad’s top advisers, Esfandiar Rahim Mashai, told Der Spiegel that he thinks the leaked documents are fake and the US government released them intentionally. Now that would be a surprise. For me, that’s further confirmation that the leadership in Iran is, how do you say, “unique.”

The reporter actually asked him, “Do you question the authenticity of the more than 250,000 documents?” Not exactly, he responded, “When someone wants to suggest something, they include fake information with real information so as to create a certain impression.”

Why, that’s the most shocking thing I’ve heard since Sarah Palin condemned Julian Assange’s “sick, un-American espionage efforts.”

Naturally, the habitually-unaware Mrs. Palin seems to also have been unaware that Mr. Assange is Australian. He was born un-American. I swear, somebody needs to change that lady’s Twitter password.

Secret communications were also unearthed which indicate that Nicolas Sarkozy is the big shit in France and he has surrounded himself with “oui” men. Everybody wants to please the handsome French prime minister with the super hot wife.

I knew this was true when I was in fourth grade and I realized that the rich, good-looking kids weren’t living like the rest of us. What was true at St. Margaret Mary School in Louisville apparently continues to be true at the highest levels of French government. Nice job, little man.

Julian Assange on a recent trip in Sweden

News flash! Canadians don’t really like being America’s little brother. They think Americans are scam artists with guns.

But still, they want to be invited whenever the big English-speaking countries get together to do stuff; stuff like deploying troops, sharing intelligence.

And why not? Canada is the third most populous English-speaking country in NATO, after all. What?! Canada is in NATO? There’s your front page story!

Some things we still haven’t learned about Canada: Do they have a president or a prime minister? Can you name him or her? Whose queen is that on their coins? That’s what I thought. So sad. Nobody knows anything about America’s li’l bro.

The $3.00 way to get out of talking
about politics when traveling.

Despite all this, I have a feeling Canadians would prefer their current arrangement with the United States to any alternatives.

The truth is that Canada is a huge, awesome country that goes largely unnoticed internationally. And because they’re so cozy with America, nobody’s gonna start any shit with Canada. The scam artists with guns below their unsecured southern borders are the best thing that ever happened to the Great White North (John Candy notwithstanding). The cost of securing their gigantic borders and maintaining an army proportionally sized to Canada’s population and land mass is essentially unnecessary.

Besides, Canada’s secret existence makes it easier for American travelers around the world when things like George W. Bush come along. Just slap some red maple leaf flags on your luggage and no Europeans will lecture you about American foreign policy.

A casual, candid shot of Vlad on a normal day.
Someone with a camera just happened to be there.

Did you know that Vladimir Putin is like the Godfather in Russia? News to me. Even though he’s not officially in charge anymore, it’s clear that he’s still the man. The leaked cables referred to Dmitry Medvedev as “Robin” to Putin’s “Batman.” Now, if Batman was really in charge of Russia, you’d have my attention. Instead, again, we learned what we already knew: Medvedev is Vladimir Putin’s little bitch.

Nothing happens if Putin doesn’t like it. And when certain things do happen, the people who did them won’t be trying anything like that again.

Just like the Godfather, if you’re lucky, he’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse. But usually, I wouldn’t expect an offer. Just know which dark arts you’re not supposed to be dabbling in – journalism, for example.

Putin Huntin’

Did you suspect anything less from the dude who organizes photo shoots of himself riding horseback with his shirtless Russian muscles glistening in the sunshine? (Some photos suggest he’s even too much of a real man to use anything over SPF-5.)

Here’s a shocker: Afghanistan is a certified mess. If someone is in the Afghan government, they’re probably corrupt. If someone is in their army or police force, they’re probably corrupt. If they’re in the Taliban, they’re probably corrupt. If they’re from Pakistan or working with the Americans or just in Afghanistan on vacation… shit, if someone is the president of Afghanistan they’re probably corrupt.

I was gonna say all these Taliban guys are corrupt,
but I don’t recognize the one with the pot of chili.

I had no idea. I was under the impression that international meddling in Afghanistan always turned out well.

However, according to this shocking new information, Afghans don’t typically pop out the champagne and crumpets when a foreign army shows up. How rude! And I thought the Vietnamese were ungrateful.

Speaking of excursions of that nature, it turns out that people in the United States armed forces don’t always act respectably toward other cultures and it’s possible that sometimes – just sometimes – when they’re under extreme pressure and away from their families for years at a time – they behave in inappropriate ways.

“Let’s see here… A-H-M-A-D-I-N-E-J-A-D-D-DDDDDD…
Shit, I hate this thing. Can we just call Washington?”


Honestly, I have to say, the biggest genuine revelation in the release of all these diplomatic cables is that people still communicate using cables!

How do you even send a cable? What is that anyway? Is that like a telegram or something?

I mean, I presume “sending a cable” is a secure means of communication. As many people may not know, the US government has its own parallel Internet which is completely separate from the public, civilian Internet. Still, its obvious why diplomats, the Pentagon and the State Department wouldn’t just use phone calls or emails.

Well, we might learn something here after all.

It turns out that a cable may not actually be a “cable” at all. It’s an old timey word from the days when a secure line of communication actually was a physical cable. These days, while they are still called “cables,” they are actually secure, encrypted messages which are sent electronically.

Genuine US Embassy cable obtained by this
website during a lengthy investigation

What is certainly not shocking about all of this is that people are freaking out for absolutely no reason. That’s to be expected.

Perhaps I should say it more clearly: the main reasons people are freaking out (the stories I mentioned above) are not revelations at all.

I’m still waiting for something to get leaked that is not what everybody always thought was true. I’m still waiting to hear something that surprises me… Like, parents actually do understand. Or that one of KFC’s secret eleven herbs and spices is Soylent Green. Or that you can get pregnant by just kissing… but not if do it standing up… or if you’re wearing jeans.

Next they’re gonna tell us that Sweden and Switzerland really are the same country. Again, no surprises. Most people already think that’s true.

(Oh, and by the way, the prime minister of Canada, since 2006, is Stephen Harper.)

Block This Application: Life After Social Networking

I recently deleted my Facebook account. Although it occurred to little or no fanfare, it was a long time coming.

Facebook was a nice way to stay in touch with people near and far, especially given that my life has been spread across two continents in recent years. But the site ultimately became more of a burden than a joy. It seemed every login in was followed by a marathon of clicking “ignore” to a dozen different requests.

Who is this person? Why do they want to be my friend? How is it possible that I don’t know, since we have 67 common friends?

Bill Gates acknowledged in the New York Times that he once had a Facebook account, “but every day ‘ten thousand people tried to be my friend.’ He said he spent too much time trying to decide ‘Do I know them? Don’t I know them?’ Ultimately, he said, ‘I had to give it up.” Amen, Four-eyes.

That megarich supernerd was right. The number of daily requests wasn’t ten thousand for me, but it was enough to contribute to the overall feeling that Facebook was more of an imposition than a convenience.

Several months ago, before I escaped the whole thing, I tried to establish some boundaries on Facebook. By grouping my “friends” into categories, then limiting access to particular parts of my profile based on those groups, I hoped to customize my experience in the site into something tolerable – to make it what I wanted it to be.

For instance, my contacts in the “Actual Friends” category could see everything on my profile, whereas my contacts in the “People I Know” group had limited access. Still another group called “X” included people I had met only once or were business connections. You know, people it may be nice to stay in touch with but also people who I don’t want up in my personal business.

Before this, I had already been limiting my own access to excessive or annoying updates by hiding other people’s updates from my view. This happened on an ad-hoc basis whenever someone bothered me or wasted the space. Pictures of your baby? Hide. … Three updates in an hour? Hide. … Constant nonsense about Lost, True Blood or Twitter? Hide.

After a few months of limiting access and grouping people into boundary-specific sets, it turned out that much of the problem wasn’t with all these people. The problem was with me.

I was simply not adapting well to the idea of all these people being mixed together nor my new role of patrolling and maintenance.

I had this same adverse reaction to my first cell phone sometime in the mid-90’s. In a technological homage to Muhammad Ali, I threw my cell phone out the window of my car while crossing the Ohio River on the Clark Memorial Bridge. (I know, I know, that story about Ali throwing his gold medal off the same bridge isn’t really true, but it seemed like an apropos watery grave for such invasive devices.)

In so many words, the Internet has really screwed up how people interact with each other. While it has made people much easier to find it has also made people harder to lose.

In place of letter writing which used to take days – or even phone calls which were natural conversations – Internet communications are delivered in a second. As soon as something is sent it is delivered. There is no pause between sealing the envelope and waiting for the reply. And on a site like Facebook, many of these personal notes and interactions are on public display. (Maybe people felt the same way when mail delivery began on trains insead of horses, or when the first public announcement kiosk was put in a town center.)

It is also entirely possible to build an online relationship that doesn’t actually exist in real life, or at least one that doesn’t translate when it goes face-to-face. People have different personas online than they do in person. People say different things online and the way they say them is open to more interpretation, not only from the recipient but from a wider audience of associated people.

Perhaps most importantly, everyone is on Facebook for a different reason. Each person brings their own ideas and expectations of how people should behave when they join the site.

Do I really want to be “friends” with someone I went to middle school with and haven’t seen since? Do I need to be in contact with everyone I meet on tour? Do I give a shit if someone I worked ten years ago with just refinished their deck? Do I want to see pictures of their bratty kids with chocolate on their faces? Do I need all the negative energy in my life of constantly having to say “no” to people?

If someone adds me and that person’s reasons for being on the site are different than mine, it opens up a whole can of worms and explanations. Before all this, we could have just been two people who peripherally knew each other and said hello when we happened to meet. Now, if I say “no” I feel bad and the other person feels offended. If I say “yes” out of guilt, then I feel like I’ve been coerced into doing something I didn’t want to do, and the other person might feel like we’re actually friends. Jesus, who even knows what the other person thinks?

As my actual, real-life friend Bob said, there’s no way to know what’s in the unwritten social contract that any particular person has with you when they add you as a friend.

Therein lies one of the biggest pitfalls of this kind of networking: use of the word “friend” rather than “contact” or “connection.” Truthfully, that’s what most of these people really are.

Being a member of a social networking site introduces and entirely new set of questions and decisions into your life. It makes a lot of identical information about you available to your friends, your peripheral acquaintences, your significant other, your business contacts, hell, sometimes even your parents or your exes. The fact is that I have distinctly different relationships with all those people. I have a different and unique dynamic with everyone I know. To think that all those people should be privy to the same forum is absurd and inherently unnatural.

The ease with which people have become comfortable divulging and sharing personal information is alarming. Not me. I will thank you to mind your own affairs, sir.

The average person doesn’t have more than a handful of true friends. I know for sure that a very tiny percentage of the hundreds of “friends” I had on Facebook are actually people that I could comfortably go out to eat with.

It has been said that any friend will help you pick out furniture or find a new apartment, but a true friend will help you move.

Perhaps that’s the way it should stay. I still have a phone, an email address, a mailbox and a face. Those always worked for me before. Maybe I’ll have a change of heart at some point, but for now, Facebook is not for me.

Malmö’s Turning Torso

At the southwestern tip of Sweden, just across the strait from Copenhagen, Denmark, lies Sweden’s third most-populous city, Malmö.

Malmö has a population of a quarter-million residents, sitting in an urban area of about 635,000. These Swedes, in the province of Skåne (pronounced Skoa-neh), speak a crazy dialect of Swedish called Skånsk. It sounds like a hybrid of Danish and Swedish.

Skåne was actually part of Denmark at one time, but to the surprise of some, that changed somewhere around 1658. Sometimes news takes a while to spread. On a clear day, Malmö and Copenhagen are visible from each other’s shores. The Öresund Strait which separates them is just 4 km (2.5 miles) across at its narrowest point.

Today, the countries are joined by the Öresundbron, a relatively new bridge and tunnel network which opened ten years ago this summer. At a cost of more than $3 billion, this highway and railroad connection was completely financed by a company jointly owned by the Swedish and Danish governments at no expense to the taxpayers. (That was $3 billion when dollars were actually worth something. Today it would be in the neighborhood of $5.6 billion.) Vehicles pay a toll to access the crossing and the project is expected to be paid for by 2035.

Before the ribbon was cut on the bridge ten years ago, ferries were the primary means of moving people and vehicles between the two nations. But on July 2, 2000, trains carrying King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden and Queen Margrethe II of Denmark (the King’s cousin) met on the artificial island of Peberholm about halfway between the crossing. A ceremony there officially opened the span to traffic which now amounts to nearly 30 million crossers per year.

Like almost all European countries, Denmark and Sweden share an open border. Travelers are not checked or required to stop when passing from one to the other.

For decades, Malmö was most easily recognized by the image of the Kockumskranen, a monstrous, seaside gantry crane which could move 1,500 tons of freight to and from ocean cargo ships in a single lift. In the late 1990’s when plans were announced to remove the crane, a local movement began to establish a new icon for the city.

That movement resulted in the unique, twisting, 54-story apartment skyscraper which towers above the city today. A picture is truly worth a thousand words when talking about this piece of modern architecture.

As the tallest building in Sweden, the Turning Torso was competed in 2006, rising 190 meters (623 feet) above the harbor and offering sweeping views of Malmö and neighboring Denmark, weather permitting. 147 residential rental apartments make up the bulk of the building, filling the 14th to 52nd floors. Offices and conference space make up the rest.

The Turning Torso was designed by famed Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. His long list of impressive credentials includes the 2004 Olympic Stadium in Athens, the Milwaukee Art Museum, and the new PATH railway station at the World Trade Center site in New York.

His work is laden with flowing, sweeping curves and clearly displays his training as both a sculptor and civil engineer. The Torso is based on one of his earlier sculptures and, in fact, other pieces of his artwork decorate the interiors of the tower.

Polaroid of the Turning Torso, August 2008

Calatrava is also the designer of the now-on-hold Chicago Spire, a much more imposing swirling tower that is intended to be the new tallest building in the United States. Financing problems have plagued that project. Calatrava now has a lien filed against the building, claiming the developer owes his architectural firm more than $11 million.

Calatrava’s twisting building designs present a laundry list of uncommon construction challenges. Reckon that’s why they pay him $11 million to draw pictures all day. Aside from the top and bottom floors, the floorplans for most tall buildings and skyscrapers can be identically configured and repeated throughout the building.

Generally speaking, the 4th floor and 23rd floor of a building – and all floors in between – are the same shape and have the same layout. In swirling designs such as the Turning Torso and Chicago Spire, because of their bending and curved silhouettes, the dimensions and shape of each floor are unique. That is illustrated fairly well by looking at the building from above, as in this satellite view of the Turning Torso.

Perhaps more compelling than the outward appearance of the Torso are some characteristics of what it the building actually does while quietly watching over the harbor. The building’s developer and owner, HSB, participates in a program called Detoxifying the Construction Business which influenced many of the materials chosen during construction. The Swedish mindset of conservation and efficiency no doubt also had an effect.

To that end, Turning Torso is outfitted with an active recycling system that converts tenants’ discarded organic waste into biogas to fuel some of Malmö’s city buses. And not only does the Torso generate energy for buses, but the building itself is powered entirely with locally-produced renewable energy.

Picnic with Emma at Västra Hamn, August 2008

In addition to the unveiling of this distinctive, new tower, the area of Malmö surrounding the building, Västra Hamn (“Western Harbor”), has undergone a remarkable reinvention in recent years. Less than a decade ago, this neighborhood didn’t even exist in its current form.

A major effort to reclaim the shoreline has essentially erased a run-down oil port and industrial zone which previously occupied the space, and transformed it into a modern seaside residential area. Today, large, open, green fields give way to rocky beaches and pristinely clean water. Malmö’s residents as well as tourists flock to Västra Hamn’s beaches in the summer.

A long, shoreline promenade was also installed during the neighborhood’s redevelopment and has proven to be popular at all times of the year. In the summer it is populated with people of all ages. The walkway is dotted with small shops and a few vending carts offering ice cream, coffee and snacks.

Västra Hamn includes a number of other notable tenants who have moved into the area. It is home to Malmö’s City Archives, the Media School, the World Maritime University, an ice skating rink and sports center.

I have visited the area several times in the past couple of years, both during the summer and winter. In 2008, my Swedish friend Emma (who lives in Malmö) and I rode bicycles from her apartment to Västra Hamn to indulge in an oceanside picnic on a crisp and perfect late summer afternoon. (Some readers may know that I fancy myself a semi-professional picnic planner.) That sunny day was just a few weeks after Emma and I had visited another famous skyscraper, the Empire State Building, with our mutual friend Wictoria. Good times. The Turning Torso, if located in New York, would be that city’s 71st tallest building.

Maggie developing a Polaroid of the
Turning Torso in August 2009

Last summer I was at Västra Hamn again when my buddy Maggie from Louisville was visiting Sweden. On an unusually hot day last August, we enjoyed a refreshing swim in the crystal clear water. Emma was out of town that time, but she was nice enough to let us trash her apartment and socialize with her capricious cat, Skrållan, while she was away.

The first time I laid eyes on the Turning Torso in February 2008, the weather was as swirling as the building itself. In freezing rain, I scoped out the tower from every angle. When you’re standing on the ground looking up at the edifice, it truly does not look like it should be standing. The sweeps and angles it takes seem just a little too drastic. I have heard that residents have reported the upper floors swaying a bit in the wind, but most tall buildings do have some flexibility.

Not everybody drops in on the the Turning Torso in the same casual and relaxing ways I have. The building made news in August 2006 when, like an extreme sports version of Philippe Petit, the Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner parachuted from a helicopter onto the the top of the building, then jumped again to the ground. A video of that craziness can be seen at this link.

Now, I’d like to invite you to enjoy these handsome photographs from my visits to the area:

The last five views are from the HSB Turning Torso website. The site is in Swedish, but worth a look whether you can read it or not.

James B. Irwin Was the Eighth Man to Walk On the Moon

From K Composite Magazine (2000)

James IrwinJames B. Irwin Was the Eighth Man to Walk On the Moon: The Amorous Tale of America’s Sexiest Astronaut and the Wicked Web of Seduction and Scandal that Surrounded His Secret Life

Everybody knows Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon, and some even know the name of the second guy, Buzz Aldrin. But can you name the other ten guys who subsequently traversed the lunar surface? This phenomenal article will share that precious information with you, as well as many other forgotten or unknown factoids of feeble humanoids and their exploits in trying to leave Earth.

The brown nose of James Irwin

James B. Irwin – or Jimmy as I like to call him – was born in 1930 in Pittsburgh. That was a long, long time ago. Jimmy lived many places and did many things. He was a real bookworm and got all kinds of BS degrees and stuff. He got really into experimental flight and fancy flying schools. Bo-o-o-ring! But no matter what he accomplished academically or as a test pilot, all his achievements would eventually totally pale in comparison to when he became one of the few humans to ever leave the planet.

Florida: more than spring break

At the age of 41, on a beautiful Florida day, the robust man of 160 pounds boarded a rocket. July 26, 1971 was the day that some chumps in work clothes strapped James inside a little soup can by the name of Apollo 15. From the “launch pad” he “blasted off” (that’s space-talk) and traveled to the moon in very, very close quarters with two other guys. I don’t mean nothin’ by that, I’m just sayin’. A man with two first names, David Scott, was the spacecraft commander. Dave was the seventh man to walk on the moon, right in front of Jimmy. They probably planned the order before they left so they wouldn’t fight about who’s getting out first all the way to the moon.

This trip to the moon was a real adventure for these young lads. But as far as the public was concerned, Apollo 15 was small potatoes. Shits and giggles, that’s all. Previous missions had delivered the goods and the public was sufficiently wowwed as a result. Namely, Apollo 11 put the first guys on the moon. Apollo 12 proved we could do it twice, like it wasn’t just luck the first time. Apollo 13… well, you’ve seen the movie about that one. They were almost lost in space, but luckily Tom Hanks bravely made oxygen out of socks and duct tape, and saved the day.

By the time Apollo 15 rolled around in the summer of ’71, the moon was a real stinker in the PR world. Nothing new.

James Irwin on the lunar surfaceNeil Armstrong? Never heard of him.

Sucks to be James Irwin. For the rest of your life, every time somebody mentions Neil Armstrong, you earnestly pipe in with, “He’s not all that. I was the eighth man to walk on the moon!”

They would undoubtedly give you a reassuring smile and augment it with a stock sincere line like, “Heavens, I bet that was really something,” followed shortly by the inevitable rolling of the eyes and an awkward silence while turning away and shuffling off.

Where ya headed? The moon?

Alfred Worden was also on Apollo 15. Alfred was the command module pilot. A real fancy title, but if you’re an astronaut you know that “command module pilot” is just a nice way to say “the guy who drops off the other two dudes at the moon, and then flies around the moon for a while, and then picks them up again when they’re finished having fun, and has to hear them talk all the way back to Earth about how awesome it is to walk on the moon.”

Yes, that’s right. On each one of the six trips humans have taken to the moon, three guys went there and only two of them got to get out. The other poor sucker just had to circle the moon and wait to go home.

So if you think nobody cares about the fact that you were the eighth man to walk on the moon, imagine what it would be like for that old sap Alfred Worden who went all the way to the moon and had to stay in the boat.

Your daughter might come home from school one day yapping, “Hey daddy, my teacher said Neil Armstrong is a hero of humanity because he was the first man to walk on the moon!”

You would respond modestly, “Oh sweetie, that’s nice, but did you know that a few years after Neil Armstrong was on the moon, your daddy went there with the seventh and eighth men who walked on the moon.”

“Wow, daddy! I didn’t know you walked on the moon! You’re my hero!”

“No, honey. I didn’t actually walk on the moon. I just sort of dropped some people off and brought them back.”

“Gosh, daddy, it’s sort of funny that you’re a taxi driver now, because that’s what you did on the moon! Maybe when you come to Career Day you can just leave out the part about you staying in the plane.”

To add insult upon injury, they spent more time on the surface than any prior mission. Just how long did glorified chauffeur Alfred Worden sit in the command module by himself doing loops around the moon while Jimmy and Dave were cruising around in the moon buggy? Twenty or thirty minutes? Try 67 hours! Holy shit! That’s almost three whole days! I guess it’s probably still a thrill to go to the moon, but man, total buzzkill, dude.

Yuri Gagarin? Never heard of him.

Maybe you’ve heard of the Soviet Union. It was a country in Asia that used to be a really big deal, but they broke up. When they were still together, they were trying at the same time to put a man on the moon. Maybe you’ve heard of this so-called “Space Race.” Who would spike the proverbial football on the moon first? The Soviets or the Americans? Anyone? Anyone?

The engineers and scientists in the Soviet space program tried really fucking hard to get a man on the moon first. In the beginning, the commies kicked some serious ass. In 1959, the Soviets were the first to hit the moon with a probe. Nice shot. Two years later, Yuri Gagarin became the first man to orbit the Earth. Five years after that, they safely landed the first unmanned thingamabob on the lunar surface. Then in 1968, the Soviets sent the first vehicle containing life into lunar orbit and returned it safely to Earth. What was it? A dog? A monkey? No, it was turtles. That’s right. Turtles.

Things dreadfully slowed down for the Reds after that. Over the next months, it became apparent that their little stunt with the turtles wasn’t gonna to cut the mustard anymore. The Americans were steppin’ on the gas. The Soviet program was disorganized and short of cash. It had been struggling since chief designer and visionary Sergei Korolyov croaked in ’66. The sluggishness and lack of direction was no match for all the money, brains, and horn-rimmed glasses at NASA. A few months after the turtle show, the Americans flew a living person around the moon, totally facing the Soviets. “Yes! Eat our moon dust!” That’s something that might have been said at the time.

Neil, did you hear something?

Despite all the serious facializing from the capitalist pigs, the commies weren’t about to give up. They were trying anything they could. They did some world class blowin’ up of expensive hardware. Some rockets exploded during lift off, while others reached the moon, but just turned into fancy fireworks when they got there.

Interestingly, an unmanned Soviet spacecraft, Luna 15, crashed into the moon during a landing attempt while the Apollo 11 astronauts were on the surface. While the world was captivated watching Neil Armstrong and crew making history, a Soviet ship was crashing somewhere else on the moon. “Neil? Did you hear that?” “Huh?”

More than a year later, in September 1970, the unmanned jalopy called Luna 16 careened wildly toward the moon and made the first successful Soviet landing. It picked up a sampling of moon rocks and dust and brought them back. Ultimately, believe it or not, a Soviet cosmonaut never walked on the moon. They were never able to pull it off. It’s kind of sad really, if you think about it. It’s really kind of sad. Kind of sad. A little sad.

Russian Rocket with Pizza Hut LogoYour logo here: $1.25 million

In modern times, the Russians are still having a little trouble paying for the expense of exploring space. This time around there’s no race going on, a bunch of countries got together and are building a space station, in space, of course. In July 2000, the living quarters for the International Space Station were delivered to orbit after being launched from Kazakhstan. The powerful Russian Proton rocket carrying these living quarters into space placed the unit into orbit only 15 minutes after being launched… oh yes, and it had a Pizza Hut logo on the side. This is a true story. In exchange for the princely sum of $1.25 million, a 30-foot-tall Pizza Hut logo was painted on the outside of the rocket to help the Russian space agency pay for the launch and keep their program on schedule. This isn’t a new thing for the Russians. In 1996, Pepsi paid the agency five million dollars to have cosmonauts photograph one of their soda cans floating by the Mir space station. A Japanese television reporter has even flown into space courtesy of the Russians, in exchange for “green stamps” (that’s CB jargon, it means “money”).

Ironically, NASA is prohibited from selling advertising on US spacesuits, but private companies have been involved in the US program for years. Shuttle missions regularly deliver privately operated satellites and commercial gear into orbit. Who would have guessed the Russians would be the first ones selling ad space on their rockets? I mean they used to be communists, right? I thought I said that.

Speaking of communists, the Chinese space program is coming right along, too. “What the…?! Did you say Chinese space program?” You bet I did! After completing a successful test launch and return of the unmanned Shenzhou capsule, China plans to put three people in it and send them into Earth orbit in 2001. Without the people in it, the capsule weighs less than 200 pounds! That’s less than most Americans! China is now becoming a playa in the elite club of people with ability to leave Earth. They’re also debating becoming involved in the International Space Station.

The dirty dozen

I suppose it’s about time I deliver the goods I promised at the beginning of the article. That is, the names of all twelve people who have walked on the moon. They are all white, American males. Just like Jesus. Here they are in order: Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Charles Conrad Jr., Alan Bean, Alan Shepard, Edgar D. Mitchell, David R. Scott, James B. “Jimmy” Irwin, John Young, Charles M. Duke Jr., Eugene A. Cernan, and Harrison H. Schmitt.

The Americans went there

The US silver dollar coin has a picture of the moon on the back. Curious, isn’t it? The moon isn’t part of the United States. It doesn’t belong to anybody, or maybe it belongs to everybody. So why should we have a picture of it on one of our coins?

International Space StationSince the beginning of time, creatures from dinosaurs and pteridactyls to horses, chimps, and humans have all seen the moon at night. Hundreds and thousands of years have gone by in which people looked at the moon. The moon was there the night before a primitive human invented the wheel. Moses lived with the moon in the sky. The Roman Empire grew and fell under the moon. The moon was above Johannes Gutenberg the night he created the printing press. Napoleon conquered Europe, seeing the moon light his troops each night. The telephone was invented. All of these things happened with their participants having the moon in the sky as a part of their everyday lives. But until the Americans came along, nobody had ever been there. That’s why it’s not so nuts for us to have picture of the moon on one of our coins. People from our country left the Earth and walked on the moon. Nobody from anywhere else, before or since, has done this. So for all the havoc the Americans have brought on other people in the name of democracy, capitalism, oil, and fast food – and all the shame and/or pride that comes with it – we at least have this humbling, monumental achievement to our credit.

The Romans paved the roads. The Swiss made cheese with holes in it. The Americans left the planet, landed somewhere else, and came back.

The Jimmy Irwin Story: Epilogue

After returning to Earth in 1971, Jimmy Irwin got an assignment as a backup crew member for Apollo 17. That means he would do all the training and everything like a real crew member, but he would only go on the mission if one of the dudes in the real crew got sick or couldn’t go at the last minute; like maybe he forgot his in-laws were coming in town or something. He was like the understudy.

Anyway, his backup crew position didn’t last very long because he got wrapped up in a scandalous investigation and was removed from active astronaut status. Allegedly, he and some of the other Apollo 15 guys had taken some stamps and envelopes to the moon and were busted selling them back on Earth. Pretty cool racket, but the Feds caught up with it and threw the book at ’em.

Jimmy wrote a few books in all his spare time after he got canned. “To Rule the Night” is an autobiographical piece about his career as an astronaut and some loopy “spiritual revelation” he experienced while walking the moon. As a result, he made six expeditions to Turkey in search of the remains of Noah’s Ark. Turkey, indeed.

In 1991, Jimmy Irwin died at the untimely age of 61 in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors, and no matter what, he will always be the eighth man to walk on the moon.

The end.

D-Day for Incandescence

In your face, Thomas Edison!

The man who perfected and commercialized the incandescent light bulb would be aghast if he were here today. With the rest of us, he would be seeing his bright, warm glow being dismantled all over the world, and replaced with buzzing, pale blue tubes that make people’s skin look as dead as his became in 1931.

It has now been almost a month since the initial ban on buying and selling incandescent light bulbs in Europe went into effect. Compact fluorescent bulbs are now the law.

Phase One started September 1st when it became illegal within the European Union for distributors to sell incandescent light bulbs over 100 watts and for shops to order new supplies of them. Fines for circumventing the ban start around $8,000 for individuals and have no limit for businesses.

Existing supplies on retail shelves can still be sold, but they’re pretty much all gone at this point – snapped up by selfish people who don’t want to have mind-splitting headaches for the rest of their lives, and those who don’t want to wait three minutes for the lights to come on before they to walk into a room.

The remaining, clear, warm incandescence in Europe will fade below 60 watts in September 2011 and will be gone completely in less than three years.

The switch is on to these new bulbs whether we like it or not. (See how I did that? “The switch is on”? You know, like a light switch? Yep, still got it!) Even the Energy Saver icon in Mac OS was recently updated to the new bulb.

Not everybody is happy about the switch, despite the environmental benefits.

Outside of making everything look like shit, these new bulbs are also potentially quite hazardous. They emit the same crazy UV rays we wear sunscreen to avoid when we go outside. People who have skin conditions like dermatitis and eczema are especially at risk. And if one of these bulbs happens to break in your house, well, they’re full of mercury. I think I heard something bad about that stuff once. Oh yeah, I remember, it kills babies and makes your body reject its aliveness. (Yes, aliveness is a real word.)

If these bulbs are so painfully inadequate, flickering and harmful, how can they possibly be better than the warm, delicious incandescent light we’ve been basking in all our lives?

Well, it all comes down to the fact that Earth is a cowardly sphere that relentlessly retreats into darkness for half of every day – or half of every year in places like Sweden. Man has combatted this darkness since the beginning of time, using everything from camp fires and mobs carrying torches to white pants and neon lights.

When Edison came along with his commercialized light bulb, it was like fucking gangbusters. That shit was bananas. People had been in the dark for countless centuries – eventually updating to candles, gas lamps and other bullshit like that – but suddenly there was electricity (whoohoo!) and light bulbs and you could just, well, you could just turn the lights on.

Following the first public display of Edison’s light bulb in December 1879, people were shitting their pants. Everybody wanted one of them newfangled electricalized luminescent orb apparatuses.

Just four years later, in my hometown of Louisville – walking distance from where I was born and where Edison had lived for a number of years – the gigantic Southern Exposition was illuminated by five thousand electric bulbs, the largest public demonstration to date.

People all but forgot Shakespeare’s line about being “in love with night.” Trå-å-å-å-åkigt! Let’s light this fucker up!

Man’s passionate love affair with light still continues to this very day. Maybe you’ve heard of Las Vegas – or the inside of your refrigerator. Edison’s doodads are everywhere.

According to Fast Company, in the United States alone, more than five and a half million new light bulbs are purchased every day. The Wall Street Journal reports that America has a current installed base of 4 billion fixtures, burning a third of the world’s total of 12 billion light bulbs. (Relax, I don’t really read Fast Company and the Wall Street Journal.)

If Americans are buying 5.5 million bulbs a day, one could presume that means 5.5 million are also thrown away each day. That’s a lot of garbage. This is where compact fluorescent bulbs start sounding better. Despite their downfalls in quality of light, compact fluorescents last more than ten times longer. You would need to use more than ten consecutive traditional incandescent light bulbs in order to reach the average ten-thousand-hour lifespan of a single compact fluorescent bulb.

So while these fluorescent bulbs are still by now means good for people, after they burn out each compact fluorescent bulb can save landfills from nine additional bulbs. If such a ban were in place in the US today, the 2 billion burned-out bulbs discarded annually would be reduced to 200 million. If you can save 90% on anything, it’s a no-brainer.

Landfill space is great, but the real savings come in terms of electrical costs and the greenhouse gases that are emitted into the atmosphere by power plants as a result of everyone operating less-efficient incandescent bulbs.

If there actually was a 100-watt incandescent bulb that could last ten thousand hours, burning it that long would contribute more than 1,100 pounds (500 kg) of additional carbon dioxide. That’s half a ton of additional carbon dioxide in the atmosphere per light bulb. Using a light bulb creates a half a ton of something?! What? That’s insane!

Granted all bulbs aren’t 100 watts – some are 60 some are 150 – but if you multiply that half-ton of greenhouse gases by 12 billion bulbs, well, that additional 6 billion tons (5.4 billion metric tons) of exciting, action-packed, global warming-causing gases is something in the air that I can’t even wrap my head around.

Suddenly it becomes a choice between living in a wash of pasty, flickering, anemic light or maybe not being able to sustain life on the planet at all. All because man created light where there was darkness. Sounds familiar.

After seeing those numbers, any attempt I could make to liken this ban to a Twenty-first Century version of Prohibition would seem utterly unfunny.

Like many important and similar issues, the United States seems last in line to address this one as well, though surprisingly not too far behind the curve. Incandescent bulbs in America will begin their phase-out in 2012. The year Europe finishes is the year America begins. Cuba and Australia beat all of us to the chase. Cuba is already completely flush with fluorescence.

I’m sure nobody in America knows about it yet, but it’s only a matter of time before the priceless public debate on the topic reaches the airwaves. Even though the ban in America will take the unholy step of daring to threaten the almighty free market, maybe it will be tolerated since the average American household will save around $70 through the life of a fluorescent bulb in energy and bulb-replacement costs. That seems like something Americans are into – being cheap and worrying about how much it will cost them personally.

If you miss the pleasant coziness of incandescent light you could always light some candles, right? Shit. I hate to be the bearer of still more bad news, but believe it or not, candles are actually worse for the environment than any of these kinds of light bulbs. Candles are one of the least efficient ways to produce artificial light. Ya just can’t win, can ya?

Candles produce less light, more pollution and more heat per lumen than incandescent light bulbs or fluorescents, and this pollution is not isolated to the smoke from the burning flame.

Not only are candles considerably heavier than light bulbs, resulting in more energy and pollution being expended in transportation, but they don’t last as long. This requires multiple candles to create light for the same length of time and because they are so dim it is rare that people use just one candle at a time.

Most candles contain paraffin wax which – talk about bad for the environment – is made from crude oil, a fossil fuel (petroleum sludge to be precise). Candles that don’t contain paraffin, for example those made of beeswax, are slightly better environmentally but generally more expensive. Beeswax produces less smoke but burns hotter and still contributes waste in the form of transportation and multiplicity.

Turns out that a candlelit dinner truly is special, if not indulgent! (Candles are really nice though.)

I guess artificial electric light is just like Mexican food or anything else. If you never got used to having the good stuff, you wouldn’t know it amazing could be. For kids who are being born just now, they’ll never know the difference. But for the rest of us, a lifetime of that bright, warm glow can’t be so easily forgotten when we walk into a cold, dim, blue room.

There are only a couple small incandescent lights left in our apartment and I really treasure the time I have with them. I can only hope that some new technology comes along that creates a quality of artificial light on par with incandescence. I haven’t seen it yet.

Maybe it’s best to just sit in the dark and wait until the sun comes up again.

Thirty and forty years ago

Maybe you’ve heard something about this: A few decades ago, America could do anything. Liberate Europe from the Nazis? Done. Defeat the Japanese at the same time? Done. Rebuild half the world after the war? Done. Lift a rocket off of the Earth with people in it and land them somewhere else? Done.

John Kennedy, who famously dedicated America to the cause of going to the Moon, observed, “The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life.”

Maybe it all started going to their heads. Maybe they felt all things were possible. The war his administration started in southeast Asia is probably a big part of what eventually began to unravel all the trust and goodwill that made such grand accomplishments possible.

Regardless, there’s no dispute about America’s crowning moment. It’s this day forty years ago when, after countless centuries of people looking to the heavens at a glowing white sphere in the sky every night, the United States sent some people to go check it out in person.

For everything the United States is known for, this one thing is more powerful than anything else. For the entire history of human life, the entire history of the world, thousands of generations of people were tied to the ground by gravity. The Americans were the ones who left the planet and landed somewhere else.

They stood somewhere nobody had ever stood before, and from the dusty surface of the Moon, they saw everything in a way it had never been seen before.

From that perspective they could gaze back on the Earth as a tiny blue marble, floating in the darkness of space. Three men, alone, could see in a single glance, the entire globe. The place where everything had ever happened was hanging right there. Suddenly the huge, hard Earth seemed so fragile.

From the invention of the wheel and cave drawings, to the Pyramids, to the Roman Empire, to the bubonic plague, to Shakespeare, to the horseless carriage, to electricity, to the Kaiser – they could hold a gloved thumb up in front of their view and hide all of it.

People who were alive then – of which I am not one – all remember where they were at that moment. It’s similar to how Americans feel about the assassination of Kennedy and the attacks in September 2001. The difference, of course, is that landing people on the Moon was a good thing. Rather than being a spectacle of what people could destroy, it showed what people could create and accomplish. Machines and science, dedication and resources, and the best and brightest made it possible.

All this, which still seems amazing to people who were born after it happened, was done with what we would consider to be primitive tools. The computers NASA used in 1969 to land this craft on the Moon and return it safely to Earth had only 74KB of on-board memory had no storage space. By comparison, the computer I carry around in a shoulder bag has 2 gigabytes of memory. There’s more than twenty-eight thousand times more power in this laptop I could walk into a store and buy off the shelf.

Apollo 11’s computers were employing processors with a clock speed of barely over 2 megahertz. Compare that to the 667 megahertz I carry in my pocket in the form of an iPhone, and my MacBook Pro which has a processor speed 1074 times greater. Flying to the Moon and landing? There’s an app for that.

Program commands for Apollo’s guidance computer were entered on a calculator-style keypad as series of two-digit numbers and took the form of program, verb, noun. The programs they were running, and even those now used on the Space Shuttle, contain simple code in contrast to the operating systems on our home computers.

The Shuttles have five redundant computers all cycling simultaneously. If one acts up, the other ones can vote it out of the loop. It assumes that the majority of machines which did not produce the error are operating correctly. On nearly 150 missions, there has never been an instance when all five computers failed.

Whereas much of the Space Shuttle’s guidance (aside from the airplane-style glided landing) is out of the astronauts’ hands, Apollo-era travelers had to be trained in these cerebral programming tasks along with their physical preparation and everything else. The staff at Mission Control in Houston was just a crack-beep away if something came up, and things did come up.

When the ship finally reached the Moon, four days after leaving Florida, not only did the guidance computer begin spitting mysterious error codes at them, but the area they had planned to land in was littered with huge boulders.

With Houston’s consent, the astronauts overrode the computers and Neil Armstrong’s skills as an Air Force test pilot were put into use. Armstrong took control of the Eagle and manually maneuvered it to a safe landing spot, setting it down on the surface with only 20 seconds of fuel remaining. It was dangerously close to being a very different kind of historic day.

When I was nine years old, my family went on a vacation to Florida. We arrived at the Kennedy Space Center on a hot July day in 1979 amid a crowd of other tourists.

There were hundreds of people there, in fact, and a buzz in the air. It seemed like Cape Canaveral must be one of the most popular tourist spots in Florida.

We walked into the center fully unaware that the day my parents picked was the tenth anniversary of the first lunar landing. It was quite an unexpected surprise to stumble into.

Inside the Welcome Center, we were greeted with a huge banner and and even larger, banquet table-sized cake.

A ceremony was underway, commemorating the anniversary, and for a nine-year-old boy who was fascinated by space exploration, the “kid in a candy shop” metaphor is really inadequate. I was surrounded by the candy laboratory, factory, warehouse, and testing cafeteria. And, yes, I did get to eat a piece of the cake! Space cake, if you will.

One of the first things we recorded when my family got a VCR was a PBS documentary about the space program. I really don’t have an estimate for how many times I watched it in our Middletown, Kentucky, basement. I do remember being able recite it along with the narrator. I think if I saw it again today I may still be able to follow along with it.

At that age, I didn’t know anything about Sweden or any other place else that wasn’t America.

It doesn’t take much to capture the imagination of such a kid, though. Being able to fly is cool. Flying into space? Mind blowing.

I guess I didn’t realize until much later how lucky I was. Some countries don’t have telephones or fully-paved roads. America has space ships. I really can’t think of anything cooler than this. Most kids… shit, most people don’t ever get the opportunity to see a space craft except on television or in pictures.

This is a photo of me and my brother and sister, 30 years ago today, standing in front of a fucking space ship. This is not imaginary or science fiction or futuristic. In fact, it was ten years after an American walked on the moon and a few years before many of my friends were born.

These photos are all from Kennedy Space Center on July 20, 1979, the tenth anniversary of the lunar landing. The Space Shuttle seen on the launch pad, I believe is Columbia. This is about two years before the first Shuttle launch in April of 1981. It looks a little different than the Shuttles do today because on the first few Shuttle launches the external tank was painted white. NASA later discovered this wasn’t necessary and leaving the tank bare (the familiar rust-orange color) freed up 600 pounds of extra weight that could be used for additional cargo.

We returned to Kennedy a few years later to actually see the sixth Shuttle launch in person. I could write about that all day. If you can imagine how amazing just to think about people leaving the Earth, it is beyond description to see it happening. There is nothing like like it.

Camped out on a narrow Florida highway with thousands of other people, miles away from a small figure on the horizon, with a hundred car radios broadcasting the countdown in unison through the humid morning air… the sky lights up, the Earth shakes, the air is filled with an incredible roar.

After a minute, among dropped jaws, cheers and applause, a white trail hangs in the sky, showing the way to space.

So, wait, what? I’m supposed to be writing about Sweden? Sorry.

Space Invaders at Thorildsplan

As we’ve learned in several previous stories, Stockholm’s Tunnelbana (subway) system is often called “the world’s longest art exhibition.” Each station has been decorated by a different artist or several artists, and some stations were even designed as walk-through art by architects. This underground art project began in the 1950’s and continues today.

The latest station to receive an artistic makeover is the Green Line platform at Thorildsplan. The station opened in 1952 and was previously decorated. However, in the fall of 2008, the existing art at the station sadly had to be removed because it had been so badly damaged by repeated vandalism.

To replace it and refresh the station, 43-year-old Swedish animator and painter Lars Arrhenius was selected.

Inspired by popular, vintage video games and computers, Arrhenius used the context of the easy-to-clean grid of tiles that traditionally blanket subway stations as an enlarged canvas of gigantic pixels.

I have a feeling that many of my friends who see this will go nuts for what he did with the station. I was certainly dazzled, tickled, amazed and blown away by it. It’s truly jaw-dropping and seemingly unimaginable by American standards of publicly-sanctioned art.

As always, you can click on any image to see it much larger.

A plaque at each station speaks of the art and artists. This one is near the entrance and greets you as you’re walking in from the street.

It says the artist wanted to make the station, like a large computer game, specifically the early arcade games of the 1970’s and 1980’s. Like in these old games, the moving trains are like traffic around the carousel and are constructed of different entrances and exits, bridges, tunnels and elevators.

He has been inspired by different kinds of pixels, symbols and data icons from these types of games. With all these symbols, he created his own game with the same objectives as the sources that inspired him: enjoy the journey and capture a ghost and UFO along the way.

If you’re arriving from another station and getting off the train at Thorildsplan, the wall surrounding the ramp and stairs that descends to street level is your introduction to the artwork. A long scene that wraps around this short wall is inspired by Space Invaders…

…and Pac Man wraps around the stairs.

As artist Lars Arrhenius said in his statement, just like a subway station, old video games are filled with elevators, ramps, stairs and moving vehicles. It’s quite exciting how he has brought the two together.

As you walk around the short wall to get approach the stairs, a bridge to the elevator is sandwiched with a ghost from Pac Man and a mushroom, which I’d like to think is from Centipede but is probably more of the Super Mario Bros. variety. Swedes know more about mushrooms than I do.

Pointing the way down the stairs is an early Microsoft Windows-style arrow.

On the wall opposite the Windows arrow is the bomb that would appear when your vintage Macintosh produced a system error. It’s true, kids, old Macs used to completely crash. However nostalgic I may be, I don’t miss seeing that old guy in the middle of my work, but it did get me in the habit of hitting Command-S to save all the time.

To the right of the Mac bomb are rain clouds and more mushrooms from Super Mario on Nintendo.

Clouds connect between the opposing walls, revealing a Super Mario smoke stack. A ladder next to them could be from any game, I’ll pick Donkey Kong.

More Space Invaders on the outside of the stairs.

Cherries from Pac Man

A long ramp cuts through the middle of the platform and this side is covered in tunnels reminiscent of Dig Dug.

Opposite from Dig Dug is an old Macintosh trash can, last seen in System 6, complete with Oscar the Grouch inside. I don’t know if it was an Easter egg put into the system by Apple programmers or if it was a thrid-party add-on, but I remember some very old Macs used to have Oscar in the trash can. He would sing a line of “I Love Trash” when you emptied it.

Here we see more Windows-inspired icons, the unforgettable hourglass and the magnifying glass.

E-mail? That seems kind of futuristic, but Blinky seems to love it. (FYI: I didn’t really know what the red ghost from Pac Man was called. I had to Google it.)

A bridge from underneath showing more of the marriage between video game aesthetics and subway architecture.

One interesting characteristic of the all-over art at this station is that it even wraps around the outside of the structure. This photo and the one below are parts of the station you would only see if you jumped onto the tracks or lived on an upper floor of the apartment house across the street. You can catch a glimpse of this for just a second if you’re inside the train when it is passing through. I wanted to see it, but I didn’t think it was worth an arm, so I waited until just after the train left to hold my camera out around a barricade to get these shots.

What I really love about the art at Thorildsplan is that we usually think of video games and computer systems as disposable. The iconography and graphics employed here have undoubtedly become a part of our everyday lives, but any game or operating system really only lasts a few years in general use.

Some of these classic icons from wildly popular video games bring back the same kinds of memories for us that songs and movies do, but only if you’re old enough to recognize them and young enough to remember how they affected you.

By embedding this imagery into a permanent structure, it becomes official. The bomb from the old Macintosh operating system or the ghost from Pac Man are not just memories or blips on screens anymore. They are a part of history.

The art at this station may be “cool” or “campy” right now, but when visitors pass through here in forty years, they will look at the displays in a much different way than we do. It may not tickle or thrill them the way it does for me. They may simply see it the way we see a tribute to old black and white movies. That’s just the way things were.

Note: Though it is too old to include the new art at Thorildsplan, there is a downloadable PDF booklet in English about art in the Tunnelbana system at this link on the Stockholms Lokaltrafik website.

My previous Tunnelbana station art visits are here: Solna Centrum, Bandhagen, Medborgarplatsen, Midsommarkransen, T-Centralen Blue Line, Bagarmossen and Transit Museum.

Uniquely American

Today, I’d like to talk about two huge financial systems in the United States and how they could maybe benefit from – once again – a little Swedish influence. No, this isn’t about Wall Street or the economic crisis, but perhaps they share some of the same types of thinking, or lack of thinking, that have contributed to those problems.

Ever since I was a kid, I have been baffled by the concept of check writing. Essentially, when you write a check, you’re saying to someone, “I have the money I owe you, but it’s not with me right now. I’ll write you this note that says how much money I’m giving you and if you take it to my bank they’ll give you the money.”

This primitive system is totally based on trust. If the person writing you a check has made a mistake in their checkbook or if they are simply lying to you about the document’s validity, you may not ever get paid.

A bad check will cost you money in fees from your bank and will likely cause you to unknowingly issue a few bad checks of your own. Maybe the person writing a check to you has received a bad check and will be surprised that they never paid you.

One bad check can start a chain reaction through the accounts of any number of people, bringing headaches for people who don’t deserve them and a money train of fees collected by their banks.

When everything goes right – if someone writes you a check that actually is good – it can take as long as a week before you are able to spend the money. That’s because when you deposit a check into your account, your bank has to then send it to the issuer’s bank to actually collect the money for you before the funds are available to spend. This delay of typically 3 to 5 days is a hassle as well.

There’s a reason “the check is in the mail” is a funny line. It takes forever to move money this way. Convenient, because usually the person saying it hasn’t mailed it yet.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written of the absurdity of this system and the ways American banks exploit it to collection hundreds of millions of dollars each year by generating a laundry list of stealth fees on their customers’ accounts.

One of the most popular things I’ve written over the years was an article titled In Banker’s Clothing. By “popular” I mean that I hear about it from people more than most other things I’ve written. Maybe it’s not so much popular as it is something that invites them to share their feelings of mutual disgust and infuriation. Like health care, every American has a banking horror story.

In 2001, I bounced a check when registering my car in Louisville. This was right before I moved to Rhode Island. The news of a bounced check is communicated by mail, which takes a long time, especially when there is an out-of-state change-of-address involved. I really can’t express what a series of pains in the ass the chain reaction of this bounced check became.

Even though I repaid the check to the office as soon as I found out about it, unbeknownst to me, the County Clerk’s office issues arrest warrants for these infractions. Furthermore, such a warrant is not automatically canceled upon payment.

Years later during a visit to Louisville, I was arrested and spent the night in jail – not for jumping the fence of an apartment building with a bunch of friends to go swimming in the middle of a hot night, but for a bad check that I had repaid years ago and forgotten about.

I’m no fan of banks, suffice it to say. For years, my life has been conducted as much as possible in a cash-only manner. I do have a bank account and debit card, but I have not had a credit card or any loans or real debts in more than ten years.

Funny thing, if you jump out of the system like I did, it’s almost impossible to get back in. A few years ago I tried to buy a house in Louisville. I have been a lifelong renter and this was at the time when “everyone can buy a house” in America. Well, not me. I had more than one mortgage specialist tell me, “You don’t have a credit score. I’ve never seen anything like it.” In the ’90s, I had bad credit, now I have none. Possibly it was a blessing in disguise that I was unable to buy a house when “everyone” could. We all know how that turned out for “everyone.”

When I started writing this article today, I had a line in it that described checking as “a preposterous, archaic, 18th Century way to do business.” Upon further research, I found I was being way too generous with that burn. In reality, checking dates back to the 3rd Century. Yes, the Third Century. You know, about 1,800 years ago? The fucking Romans came up with it! One empire’s innovation is another empire’s… I don’t know, something.

In the same way that personal checks rely on everyday people to be both honest and skilled in math, so do income taxes. It is truly mind-boggling that individual Americans are responsible for calculating their own taxes each year.

In the United States, the country that is the undisputed world capital of inventing new ways to scam people, expecting everyone to honestly calculate their own share of taxes is simply an insane way to collect funds for public services.

Not too long ago, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that “an estimated 30 percent to 40 percent of taxpayers cheat on their returns, defrauding the government of some $290 billion a year, according to an Internal Revenue Service analysis of 2001 returns. Some believe the real percentage of tax cheats is much higher.”

How much money is $290 billion a year? Quite simply, it is more than almost any previous year’s Federal Budget Deficit. (Read that again!)

The Federal Deficit is an annual number that is the difference between what the government collects and what it spends. Each year, this difference is added to the national debt.

Before this year’s stimulus-reinvestment-bailout budget, the annual deficit had only tickled $290 billion a few times. The amount of money that individual Americans are defrauding their own government is a main reason why the nation is in debt. It averages out to about $2,000 per taxpayer per year.

Theoretically, if Americans were not cheating on their taxes, the government would never have needed to borrow money from banks or foreign nations, and consequently would not be in debt.

You could, of course, go further and say if the US was not fighting two simultaneously monstrous wars that are draining the coffers, the resulting surplus and ability to provide better services would be even more spectacular. And if you wanted to, you could argue that if Americans weren’t already paying one of the lowest tax rates in the industrialized world, and if everyone over a certain income level (including corporations and religious groups) paid taxes at a fair, across-the-board rate… well, I was dreaming when I started this line of thought in the first place.

Only about 1% of tax returns are ever audited. Those are pretty good odds and Americans know it. Joe Antenucci, professor of accounting and finance at Youngstown State University said, “Any gambler will tell you, when you have a high payoff and low risks, that is when you want to be involved.”

Just like with check writing, when everything goes right, taxes are also a headache. Each year, Americans labor through confusing tax forms, calculate their taxes, and live in fear of the IRS. A national poll conducted by the Discovery Channel in 2000 showed that 57% of Americans feared the IRS more than God.

Nothing’s scarier than getting an envelope in the mail with their logo on it, even if that logo looks like a chicken with big tits.

How does this have anything to do with my ongoing discovery of Swedish culture?

Rightfully so, both check writing and self-calculation of your own taxes seem totally insane to Swedes. As you might have guessed, the back-asswards process of individuals calculating their own taxes and being responsible for the errors is uniquely American. It’s almost as insane as trusting someone who writes down an amount of money on a piece of paper, thereby magically transforming that piece of paper into a bank note worth that amount.

In Sweden writing a check to make a purchase or pay a debt is something that happens only at very high levels of corporate trade and finance. Ordinary people never come in contact with checks.

Instead of personal checks, in Sweden (and in essentially every European country), they use a system called giro (or girot, depending on the country, all pronounced JEE-roh). The nearest thing Americans could equate it with is direct deposit. However, the difference between giro and direct deposit is that giro goes in both directions. It is not just for deposits and the system is accessible to individuals, not just large companies.

For example, if you get a bill in the mail for your rent, telephone service, cable TV, school tuition, or anything else, it comes with a tear-off stub that has a unique giro number on it. You take the stub to your bank and give it to the teller. The money is instantly transferred from your account to the requester’s account. No waiting. Because of the unique number assigned to each stub, the company instantly knows you have paid them. Of course, this can all be done online as well, and some of these debits happen on regularly scheduled dates, requiring you to do nothing.

Wow, this giro system that processes instant payments from account to account sounds pretty modern, right? It must be on the cutting edge and reliant on fairly new technology. Guess again. Sweden implemented the giro system in 1925. By the 1950’s, practically all of Europe was using some variant of it. For decades, it has been the standard way money moves in Europe.

Sveriges Riksbank, which is Sweden’s central bank, says that in 2007, “giro transfers accounted for a good 94 percent of the total value of transactions and for 29 percent of the number of transactions” in the country. Most small transactions are completed with debit and credit cards, and by “most” I mean practically all of them. Riksbank says it was 62% of all transactions in 2007. Paper money was barely a blip on the radar (which is a shame since Sweden’s currency is downright gorgeous) and checks were basically non-existent.

In fact, several of my Swedish friends have told me they have never seen a check in real life. They know what checks are only from American films and television. You’d think it would be funny, like when you see an 8-track tape in an old movie. To the contrary, even in Sweden, a country intimately familiar with American culture, someone writing a check is one thing that seems truly foreign.

Swedes use debit cards for everything. Even the tiniest, little amounts, like one cup of coffee or a candy bar at a convenience store are paid for with cards. Almost nobody will run a tab at a bar – each individual drink is paid for with an individual debit card purchase each time – and most of these transactions require a PIN code entry at the point of purchase.

A few months ago, while I was in Sweden, someone made a duplicate of my debit card and went on a shopping spree in Florida. Sophisticated thieves are apparently now able to manufacture fake cards with real numbers and use them in stores. Someone’s card number can be intercepted virtually anywhere and a new card can be produced from it. This was the second time it has happened to me.

Every Swedish person I talked with about the situation asked the same question, which was not “How did they get your card number?” but rather, “How did they get your PIN code?” Swedes are blown away by the fact that you don’t need a PIN code to make a purchase with a card in America, all you need is the card. And if you’re making a fake card, you can just put a name on it that matches an ID you have, on the off chance that a merchant asks for your ID.

Checks, giros, debits and taxes all cross paths at this point in our discussion. In Sweden people are paid from their jobs in essentially the same automatic way as they pay their bills. On the 25th day of every month, money appears in their accounts automatically. (Good luck going out to eat or to the state-run liquor store Systembolaget on the Friday after the 25th.)

Money appearing in your bank account is like direct deposit in America, and this happens with the taxes already deducted, but that’s where the similarity ends as far as taxes are concerned. For Americans, the amount removed from their paycheck is just one piece of a nerve-wracking puzzle that must be assembled in paperwork at the end of the year.

For the majority of Swedes, everything about tax collection is also automatic. Taxes are taken out of your wages before they are deposited into your bank account. At the end of the year when your tax forms come in the mail, all the numbers are already filled in. That is, when you open the envelope, all the numbers are already on the page. All you have to do is confirm that the numbers are correct, which you can do by telephone, text message, or computer. If everything looks right, that’s all you have to do. You’re finished. (There’s more to it if you’re self-employed or a business owner, of course.)

You’re not faced with a stack of confusing forms or the burden of fear if you make a mistake.

I should mention something else as well, that Swedish tax forms are comparatively beautiful. They’re borderline cute even (this year’s forms had a flower and a cartoon kitty cat on the front), colorful, reminiscent of Ikea order forms and easy on the eyes. The tax collection agency, Skatteverket, even has a logo that’s not so bad either.

Aside from automatic income taxes and the 25% sales tax, as I discussed a few months ago, there is one tax in Sweden that people are expected to pay voluntarily. That is the television and radio tax. This tax of about $250 a year helps regulate the airwaves and backs the operation of five publicly-funded television networks and more than forty streams of radio programming.

Whereas 40% of Americans are cheating on their income taxes, even though many Swedes hate the TV and radio tax and feel it is unfairly levied, 9 out of every 10 Swedes are sending in these additional payments voluntarily. Only about 10% are not.

Long story short, for every American who has criedthere’s got to be a better way” when balancing their checkbook or preparing their income taxes, well, there are better ways. Again, just like health care, these better ways haven’t been made available to Americans, probably because there are people somewhere making tons of money off of keeping the systems broken and confusing.

It’s only common sense that there should be no delays, doubts or leaps of faith necessary in financial transactions or tax collection.

Both of these complex, antiquated systems invite inaccuracies and unnecessarily allow the processes to become corrupted. Americans can’t be relied on to do the right thing if the opportunity to make an extra buck exists.

Further, in a country whose schools are so lacking, I’m not sure who ever thought it would be a good idea to trust the general public with math. We need not mention the complexity or comprehension involved in addition to the calculations required for paper-based banking and tax preparation.

Even though I had the advantage of being able to go to private schools in my youth, I was never in a course that covered balancing a checkbook, preparing tax forms, calculating annual percentage rates, or any of the basic, real-world financial knowledge every last dumb ass is expected to have.

No wonder 57% of Americans are more afraid of the tax man than the wrath of God. A simple mistake can put you in jail, and if you don’t understand how it’s supposed to be done in the first place, well, that starts you off with a pretty wide margin for error.

I know Obama’s got a lot on his plate and neither of these topics will likely ever be addressed, given the larger, pressing issues of the moment, but like those problems, I think these are indicative of a pervasive “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mentality. Such thinking can only ultimately result in nothing ever being improved, until it reaches the point of being unwieldy.

It is possible to fix things that “ain’t broke.” In fact, it’s advisable. If people made something, there’s always room for improvement. You can’t just keep adding rooms on to the outhouse until there’s a ramshackle mansion attached to it.

iPhone and iPod Touch icons

Over the weekend, I made custom iPhone icons for several of my websites. You can see them in the top row of icons in this screenshot from my iPhone.

If you have an iPhone or iPod Touch and you add one of my sites to your home screen bookmarks (using the + symbol in Safari), it will appear with a custom icon on your home screen. You may have to shorten the page titles when you add them, like I did here, so they appear nicely in the limited space under the icons.

One nice feature of this is that I can change or update the icons at any time. When you visit the site again the icon on your iPhone will update automatically.

Here are the links:

iPhone-formatted live headlines from News N Shit (

News N Shit’s regular site (

K Composite Magazine (

The Metroschifter (

Sweden Dot K Composite (

Louisville History Timeline (

Slussen and 8664 revisited

Last Thursday, I posted a story about the upcoming reconstruction of Stockholm’s central Slussen interchange. In detailing the project, I discussed how it reminded me of a gargantuan project in Louisville. I took the opportunity to compare the different approaches the two cities are following.

Louisville’s undertaking involves the expansion of Kennedy Interchange, including Interstates 64 and 65, and the construction of two new spans across the mighty Ohio River. This project, which includes placing 23 lanes of traffic between the city and its waterfront, is absurd in scale and cost. That has not gone unnoticed.

In March, the American transportation site The Infrastructurist proclaimed it Number One in their ranking of the “Most Ridiculous New Roads Being Built In America.”

All this came up in my discussion of life in Sweden because Stockholm is faced with a similar situation at Slussen. The difference is, in my humble opinion, that Stockholm is continuing to do everything right and Louisville is digging itself deeper into obsolescence. These divergent paths go all the way back to the 1940’s – public transit, airport expansion, streetscapes, you name it.

As I said last week, when you think about what has happened to oil prices, driving trends, and auto manufacturing, just in the past couple years (Louisville’s traffic congestion declined by 39% in 2008 alone), a fifteen-year project like this truly deserves to be Number One on that list.

It brings me a lot of pain to say things like this, but I think the people in charge in Louisville simply aren’t seeing the big picture. (Really, Scott? Why don’t you do something about it like run for office?) What’s more, they’re not listening to what the informed public wants.

Today, more than 11,000 Louisvillians are registered members of 8664, an organization that has proposed an alternative plan to send thru-traffic around the city, restore a sense of reason to the project, and reconnect the city with its riverfront. And a recent poll showed Louisvillians favored routing traffic around the city by a margin of 2 to 1.

Last week I tried to sell the case that making tough choices and doing the right thing is sometimes not popular. The more I think about it, though, making the tough choice in this case would be popular!

With the governments of Kentucky, Indiana, Louisville, and the United States facing such revenue issues, it seems to me like giving the public what they want and stopping an obscene, multi-billion-dollar construction project is a no-brainer.

Louisville’s light rail project that was shelved in May 2004 had a pricetag of $1 billion, if I recall correctly. 8664 and light rail could both be built for the cost of the currently planned monstrosity, and at a savings of nearly a billion dollars.

For readers in Sweden: Yes, it’s true, Louisville is a metropolitan area of over a million people and has no rapid transit system. Further, despite its central US location, within several hours from a dozen major cities, Louisville is not even served by any passenger trains to other cities.

The reason I’m bringing all this up again so soon is because I wanted to mention that my comparison of the Ohio River and Slussen projects was cited Saturday on The Urbanophile, a Chicago-based site that deals with Midwestern urban and transportation issues.

Then on Monday, to my surprise, the 8664 website itself referenced both my discourse and The Urbanophile’s analysis. Fantastic! When I received the 8664 update newsletter in my email today, it also included a mention of the two.

I started this blog (shudder) as a way to provide updates and my thoughts to friends and family about my adventures in Sweden. I’m pleased and surprised that it is serving a purpose for people who may not know me. Kanske ska jag glöm inte att det är på Internet och alla kan läsa det. Kanske också att jag kan inte ännu pratar svenska. Eller…

Free at last

This picture might not mean anything to you, but it is really big news for me. This is the screen of my finally-unlocked iPhone displaying my balance with a Swedish telephone operator.

Yes, it’s true. After many attempts during the months I’ve been in Sweden, I have finally successfully sprung my iPhone loose from AT&T’s shackles and unlocked to use it locally. It was made possible by a new process that just surfaced in the past few weeks which allows for the reverting of the modem firmware update back to version 02.28.00. Blah blah blah this isn’t an iPhone site. Talk about funny Swedish shit!

The whole process took nearly three hours. It was not easy and is not an undertaking I would recommend to anyone without a great deal of patience.

I am now happily out of T9 prison and texting again at the speed of thought. One less device in my pockets!


Over the weekend, Comedy Central began blocking online viewing of videos on their website for anyone outside the United States. This includes The Colbert Report and The Daily Show.

How the hell am I supposed to get any real news in this damn country full of liberal socialists if I can’t watch these?

Of course, I can circumvent the restriction and trick their servers by entering an American IP address into the proxy settings in my network connection preferences. That’s what I ended up doing last night to catch up on a few episodes. What a pain in the ass. Life really sucks, huh? You can’t watch free comedy any more? You poor dear.

The same situation was already the case on other major US network sites like ABC and Hulu. There are actually a quite a few television sites that are blocked outside the US or are redirected to local media partners.

So much for the “world wide” web.

More Stairs and Coffee

Public stairs in Sweden almost always have accompanying ramps or elevators. The ramps are used for wheelchairs, bicycles, rolling suitcases, baby carriages, you name it. Here is a small sampling of some around Stockholm.

Rådmansgatan Tunnelbana Station

Pendeltåg (commuter train) platform at Handen.

Also in Handen near the Pendeltåg station.

Adjacent to Medborgarplatsen (Citizens Plaza).

The coffee shop you can see in the last image is in the base of Söder Torn, the tall, octagonal building I described in an earlier discussion of stairs and architecture.

A lot of the coffee shops in Stockholm are named in English with monikers that seem designed to sound American. The Swedish word for “coffee” is kaffe, but around town you’ll see places named Coffee By George, Wayne’s Coffee, Espresso House, Robert’s Coffee, The Coffee Spot, just to name a few.

Although Starbucks has about 14,000 stores in 40 countries, there’s not a single one in Sweden. The closest one to Stockholm is in the Copenhagen airport, about six hours away in Denmark.

I always enjoy going to different places to get coffee to see how they do things differently. Really, if you open your own coffee shop, there are any number of ways to make it look. Especially in a design-conscious place like Sweden, there are a variety of gorgeous and creative examples of what can be done. It doesn’t have to have the uniformed, corporate look, and the same assortment of beverages.

But it’s no secret that some of the coffee chains here – like Wayne’s Coffee and Espresso House – are filling in the Starbucks void with derivative designs and products. That’s fine. I’m not a coffee snob and I’m not saying it’s good or bad, I’m just reporting the news here, people. I’ve been to a Wayne’s and an Espresso House within the past week.

What the…

Language, temperature, currency, distances, weight, geography. I thought my list of things I have to re-learn was complete. Then it came time to do the laundry. This control panel greeted me:

Needless to say, I had to look up some words, Google some symbols, and convert some temperatures. I had a pretty good idea of what was going on based on the symbols and colors, but you can never be too safe when it comes to laundry. After all, clothes are the bulk of all my worldly possessions at the moment. I wouldn’t want to end up with an entire load of pink clothes, like I did in Germany once upon a time.

While I was looking up that stuff, out of curiosity, I did an image search to find a photo of the controls on the washing machine I was accustomed to using in Louisville. Here it is below: two knobs!

Some things are so American that I think they are comical and endearing at the same time. This control panel is certainly one of those things. When I saw it again, I laughed heartily, but I also had a warm feeling similar to when you see a little kid with chocolate all over their face. Awww, there, there, little buddy…

I especially love that one of the load sizes is “Super!” …and whoever took this picture had the knob in that position. Yes, in America you can even super-size your housework. Laundry sucks. Put that fucker on Super. I’m washin’ everything at once!

It’s true, though, American appliances are monsters in comparison. Monstrous perhaps even compared to some of the cars here. For example, this tiny delivery truck I saw today.

On the topic of knobs, controls, appliances, and consumer products, there is a new documentary about industrial design out now in America called Objectified. It is directed by Gary Hustwit who made one of my favorite movies, Helvetica, a documentary about the typeface of the same name.

Based on the trailer, I expect Objectified to go into some psychological detail about our reactions to devices and products. Though it will probably be a long while until I can see it, I can’t wait. I’m looking forward to hearing the ideas the designers and experts interviewed in the film have on human emotional responses to everyday products. My friend John recenty sent me a link to this gigantic page of cassette tapes. It brought back so many memories, I couldn’t finish looking at it.

Helvetica is now on DVD. Nothing short of fascinating. Below is Helvetica itself in use at Älvsjö, one of Stockholm’s Pendeltåg stations. Älvsjö was formerly the word I was having the most trouble pronouncing. I wouldn’t have a clue as to how to type it out phonetically. Maybe “el-fuh-whehh” is my best shot at that. Swedish is almost as much about inflection as pronunciation. The entire language is like a song. I think I’ve got this one word down. Now I’m stuck on dygn.

Sweden: not so far away after all

A great deal of the writing I’ve done here has been observing the subtle differences between the people and cultures of Sweden and the United States.

This morning, I saw this article on the CNN site. It’s about Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell’s address to the National Press Club in Washington this week. He discussed his belief that life from elsewhere has been to Earth. “There really is no doubt we are being visited,” he said.

Mitchell isn’t the only astronaut or NASA insider to have said things like this publicly, but hearing it from him is perhaps more unique because of his personal history.

Edgar Mitchell was born in Roswell, New Mexico, where an unidentified craft was said to have crashed in 1947. He was 17 at the time and was undoubtedly intrigued by the newspaper stories and rumors that the US military had recovered an alien ship with bodies inside.

Twenty-four years later, on the Apollo mission to the Moon, Mitchell became one of the twelve men to have ever left the Earth and landed somewhere else.

It’s remarkable but true. As I wrote about James Irwin a few years ago in K Composite Magazine, only twelve people have ever walked the Moon – or anywhere else that isn’t Earth. They were all white American men. Just like Jesus.

I kind of think of Edgar Mitchell as Earth’s exchange student. Foreigners came to his small town when he was in high school, then years later, he traveled farther away from his hometown than anyone else ever had.

When you look at it from that perspective, Stockholm isn’t really that far away from Louisville. In the perspective of other “people” visiting Earth from farther out in the universe, things like language, public transit, architecture, stairs, currency, measurements, weather, sunlight, et al; they’re really not so different. I mean, it’s not like I’m living in Japan or China. I’m pretty sure those places really are on another planet.

As you can see in the detailed, scientifically-accurate map of the solar system I posted here, Louisville and Stockholm are practically in the same neighborhood. Man, but, after you get past Mars, it’s a long way to the next toilet. (Special note to our friends from Jupiter: I’m just kidding. We don’t really think your planet is a toilet.)

In the 1971 photo above, you can see Edgar Mitchell on the left, Alan Shepard in the middle, and Stuart Roosa on the right. Stuart Roosa? Who the hell is that? I ain’t never heard of him! Me neither. That’s because he was the command module pilot.

On every Apollo mission there was one guy who went on the trip but didn’t get to walk on the Moon. He just had to stay in the module that was orbiting the Moon and pick up the other dudes when they were finished making history. Sucks, man. That was Roosa’s job on 14. And he has red hair, too? Shit. Some people just can’t catch any breaks.

Somebody needs to write a book about post-mission command module pilot depression, or PMCMPD. Maybe I just made this up, but even if there are only six or seven dudes who have the condition, it’s gotta suck to go all the way to Moon and have to wait in the car. Nobody wants to hear that story… especially if Alan Shepard is at the party. Fuck, what’s Roosa doing here? Who invited him?

Shown here is a 3D image of Edgar Mitchell walking on the Moon. How many people do you know who have vacation photos like that? You need red-blue anaglyph glasses to see it in 3D, but if you happen to have my Nashville Geographic album, the glasses that came with that CD will work. Looks like you can get it used on Amazonfor 63 cents.

See, even though this was all about our place in the universe, I brought it back around and found a way to make it about me and one of my old CDs. Still got it!

Here is another photo Alan Shepard took of Mitchell on the Moon. This one is in regular, boring 2D. It seems like Shepard is sneaking up behind Mitchell. I think that would pretty much scare the shit out of anybody, if you’re on the Moon and somebody grabs you unexpectedly. Ultimate vacation prank! Not funny, dude, I just used up half my oxygen.

While all this hootenanny is going on, I imagine poor Stuart Roosa orbiting in the command module taking pictures of himself and updating his MySpace page. Mood: lonely.

A visit from the TV tax man

In Sweden, there is a television and radio tax which supplies funding for the state-run SVT television networks and SR radio networks. In order to pay for the regulation of the airwaves and the operation of the networks, everyone who owns a television must pay a tax which is about $250 a year (roughly 2000 kr).

These networks are like PBS and NPR on steroids: five different television networks and more than forty streams of radio programming. They include services like PBS and NPR – news, documentaries, and children’s programming – but they also have comedies, movies, reality shows, dramatic series, et cetera. Of course, Sweden has a multitude of commercially-operated television and radio stations as well.

Both SVT and SR have services that I use regularly that other stations don’t offer. Sveriges Radio runs a daily 10-minute program called “Klartext” which is the day’s news in simple, clear Swedish. This is available as free podcast through iTunes and I used to listen to it every night in Louisville when going to sleep. On television, most SVT programs have the option of onscreen text, like Closed Captioning in America. Both of these services are helpful for anyone learning the Swedish language because pronunciation and dialects are difficult to get used to. When you hear the language spoken, it is sometimes not how you would expect it to sound from the way it is written. On paper, my Swedish comprehension is way farther along than where it is with the spoken language. My pronunciation is evidently still quite hilarious. Fy fan!

Anyway, I had heard tale of this mysterious TV tax, and sure enough, Wednesday evening the TV and radio tax man came to the door in Hägsatra. My roommate Sander wasn’t home, so I just took the paperwork and acted like I didn’t know anything about it. By law, the man collecting the tax is not permitted to enter your home or apartment. You can just tell him you don’t have a television and he is not allowed to look around to see if that’s true or not. I get the impression that most people aren’t so dishonest, again surprising, since Americans are always busy perfecting the art of the scam. However, I also heard that the TV man only comes to your house if you don’t pay the bill they send in the mail. If that’s the case, nobody in our building is sending it in voluntarily.

There are a few catches about the tax that Swedes get temperamental about. If you own a television but only use it to watch DVD movies and never watch any broadcasts, you still have to pay the tax. Also, if your television doesn’t work, you still have to pay the tax.

When I was at the Kristofer Åström show, my phone started ringing. As soon as I saw Sander’s name on the phone, I knew it was about the TV tax. I knew he was probably freaking out because he thought we were going to have to pay the tax. Sure enough, when I arrived home later, he was bouncing off the walls. He had unplugged the television and hidden in the closet.

I told him that the TV tax man was very persistent (which he wasn’t) and that I said we had three televisions (which we don’t). Anyway, the tax is per viewing residence, not per television set. Eventually, after I could see that Sander’s head was going to explode, I told him the truth.

More new English words!

Here is a screenshot from the English/Svenska dictionary application on my iPhone. It allows you to search for a word in English or Svenska, or to scroll through the alphabetical list.

As I mentioned a few days ago, sometimes when I look up a Swedish word, the English translation is a word I have never seen before in my life. I took this screenshot when I happened upon an entire screen of English words I had never seen before. Yes, these are English words!

Just now, I was going to say that “bacciferous” seems vaguely familiar, but as I was typing it, my Mac underlined it – meaning that “bacciferous” is not in the spell-checker dictionary on my computer. I also ran it through the proper dictionary on the Mac, which is based on the Oxford American Dictionary, and it also wasn’t in there. Where is SlovoEd getting these words?

As an experiment, I looked up all the “English” words from this screenshot:

bacchanalia: drunken revelry, from the Roman festival of Bacchus
bacchanalian: characterized by drunken revelry, riotously drunken
bacchante: a female priestess or follower of Bacchus
bacchic: another name for the Greek mythological character Dionysus
bacciferous: (no entry)
bacciform: (no entry)
baccivorous: (no entry)
baccy: British informal term for tobacco (Really? That sounds made-up.)

So it looks like I happened upon the section of the dictionary that would be super useful if you run into a Swede who is really into talking about Roman festivals and Greek mythology. That’s reassuring that I’m not completely crazy or forgetting my English vocabulary. The Oxford American Dictionary hasn’t heard of three of these words either.

FYI: If you have an iPhone and want to take a screenshot, just press both buttons at once. Your screen will flash and it will save the image in your photo album.

Scenes from a dator

Sorry I haven’t gotten back to you, I have four billion messages! I’m not sure how or why this happened, but when I quit and reopened Apple Mail it was back to normal.

Say, that reminds me of a joke. There’s a mechanical engineer, an electrical engineer, and a software engineer riding along in a pickup truck. The engine putters out and they coast to the side of the road. The mechanical engineer says, “Maybe it’s a problem with the spark plugs or the oil.” The electrical engineer says, “Maybe it’s the alternator or the battery.” The software engineer says, “Let’s all get out and get back in again.”

This is a screenshot my “networks with the most friends” pane from Facebook. Sweden is quickly gaining on New York and UofL. I think Louisville is safe for now. I’m still in the Louisville network myself. Wow, Scott, that’s so interesting! I can’t wait to see what other priceless tidbits are coming up tomorrow!

Repurposing my iPhone

In the weeks since my iPhone service was deactivated, I have still have been using the device it all the time. Though it no longer makes phone calls and sends texts, it has continued to serve me well as a camera, audio recorder, iPod, English/Svenska dictionary, memo pad, and when there’s WiFi around I can use it as a web browser, Facebooker, emailer, et cetera.

The iPhone apps are something I never really seriously explored. I would just get whatever was interesting and free that I heard about by word of mouth, or found by searching for a particular purpose. That’s how I found the SlovoEd translation app and Res i Sthlm which calculates the fastest point-to-point routes to take in Stockholm’s public transit system.

Res i Sthlm (the name means Travel in Stockholm) is fantastic and really unlocks the mystery of which train/bus to take to get somewhere. Indispensable for a newcomer like myself. The SlovoEd Compact English-Swedish app is convenient and contains over 50,000 words, but it has a habit of producing English words I have never seen before in my life. (What? You never use English words like: vacuity, abaft, gadabout, jacobus, and sacerdotal?). And by “bad habit” I mean that I’m learning new English words from it pretty much every day. I just hope that these are actual words and not bogus entries the added to beef up the word count. I’d hate to natter or confabulate with a compeer in America, only to learn that I’ve been hornswoggled.

Other than a few apps like those, I never spent any time exploring the App Store until now. A few days ago, I spent about an hour looking only at the various photography apps available. There are nearly 600 applications in the photography category, but I picked out a few that looked fun and I ended up keeping three.

Two of the apps I kept were free, but I actually paid the princely sum of 99 cents for one that is my favorite. MoloPix is a multi-shot photography app that uses the iPhone’s camera to simulate a Lomo ActionSampler camera. I had an ActionSampler in Louisville and it was one of several great cameras I had to get rid of when I moved to the other side of the world.

Unlike an actual analog camera, the MoloPix app gives you the instant gratification of seeing the photos within seconds. There’s no suspense of waiting to get your pictures developed. The app also gives you a lot more flexibility by allowing you to select the number of frames it shoots (2, 4, or 6), and the time interval in between, or you can shoot manually, hitting the shutter button for each frame. If you’re shooting a set of four frames, it uses the iPhone’s accelerometer to automatically choose vertical or horizontal frames based on how you’re holding the phone.

In the middle photo above, you can see some guys cleaning up the ground near my apartment. Like in any city when it snows, workers come around and throw out sand or gravel so people can walk on the ice. In a place like Stockholm that gets tons of snow over a period of many months, rocks and sand get scattered hundreds of times. After all the snow and ice is gone, much more gravel is left behind than what will wash away naturally. That has to be cleaned up. In many places, like T-bana platforms, there are huge containers of sand that gets used over and over. In this photo you can see all the gravel on the platform at Handen after months of snow has melted.

One more note about the iPhone, I have been surprised that the GPS function still works without cellular service. That’s pretty cool and it has been useful. Even though you need WiFi to load the maps, once a map is loaded, you can wander away from the connection and GPS will continue to update your position on it.

An app I have been thinking about getting is Stockholm Maps Offline which does exactly what you would expect from the name. It is a self-contained, GPS-enabled collection of Stockholm maps. I have been hesitant about it because the resolution doesn’t look so good, the reviews aren’t great, and it costs $2.99. I know, right? With the price of apps going through the fucking roof… I can usually find an open network within a few blocks of anywhere I am if I search around, so I think for now I’ll stick with the built-in maps on the iPhone.