Signs of Spring

Signs of spring so far around where I live, apart from the obvious sunshine and disappearance of the snow & ice:

  • Crocus
  • Snowdrop
  • Scilla
  • Blackbird singing at sundown (ah!)
  • Magpies brawling
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Air Source Heat Pump

We recently installed an air source heat pump to heat our house. If you heat yours with electricity from the grid, and if the structure isn’t divided into many small rooms, then a heat pump will cut your power consumption so dramatically that the whole $2500 installation pays for itself in two years. And power consumption equals environmental footprint.

It’s quite a fascinating technology, and friendly to the environment too as long as you don’t rupture a pipe and release circulation fluid. You know a fridge? An air source heat pump makes your house into a fridge turned inside out.

Heat is movement among molecules. At absolute zero, molecules are still and there is no heat. What a fridge does is it removes heat from the inside of the cabinet and deposits it outside, in effect heating your kitchen ever so slightly at the expense of the food-spoiling microbes’ comfort inside. A heat pump attempts to refrigerate the outside world, depositing the harvested heat inside your house. Whether the temperature’s freezing outside is irrelevant: as long as it’s not absolute zero out there (which is rare even in Stockholm, Sweden), you can get all the heat you need.

In the summer, you can shift the thing into reverse mode and use it as an air conditioner. I’m in awe!

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Museum Opens Catalogue to User Participation

As chronicled here before, some forward-thinking colleagues of mine in the Swedish heritage business are embracing the social web and launching cutting-edge apps and projects. This is impressive not least because they are all working for state bodies founded in the 17th century. Just the other day Minister for Municipalities and the Financial Market Mats Odell gave the National Heritage Board a big shout-out for their Flickr project. (This is funny because Odell is a Christian Democrat and my buddies Lars and Johan are not so much.) Well-deserved praise!

Now Ulf Bodin has announced the start of beta testing of a Web 2.0 interface to the on-line catalogue of the Museum of National Antiquities in Stockholm. (This is the place where some of the staff reliably throw angry fits in the comments section if I criticise any of their other outreach efforts. I look upon the museum as my Alma Mater.) Ulf’s new application allows users to log onto the catalogue system and enter data into a set of user-available fields! You can tag catalogue entries in the same manner as on Flickr or YouTube, you can keep lists of entries, you can write notes and make them public, you can suggest relevant reading and you can point out errors. The integrity of the museum-supplied data still stands, but now us users can help accrete more info around each find and site.

The museum that keeps some of Sweden’s oldest human-made objects is also the one with the most updated on-line presence! And if you know a bit of Scandy, you can help Ulf develop the app.

Swedish Folkie Greets Spring

Spring’s finally reached Stockholm! To celebrate, here’s a song by one of the city’s finest folk singers, Stefan Sundström, off of his 1992 album Happy Hour Viser, “Happy Hour Songs”. I translate:

Spring Samba
By Stefan Sundström

One morning when he awoke spring was already here
He was bleary, tired and hung over, pretty bedraggled
She got in through the window like a crazy samba in April
And took him right there, no ifs ands or buts

She danced around the room like a stoned tornado
Like a fairy there to wake the mountain trolls
And she ran up to the window and yelled “Our time is now!”
And she stretched her arms wide to the sun

Chorus: Then he said, “Watch out, you might get burned
Watch out”

Well, there he was in the pollen storm, caught red-handed
With his winter’s introverted snowballing
The flies in the window had suffocated from the dust in there
Tired of midnight buzzing

After sitting around getting poisoned like Indian Faqirs
And talking crap for hours about this and that
After he’d gotten hooked on love, always unrequited
He happily ran head first into the wall

He asked her about a lot of things she didn’t know
All she said was “Too much love will only hurt you”
But he refused to believe it, yeah, he couldn’t believe it
And they didn’t care what would happen next

Chorus: And they sang, “But watch out, you might get burned
Watch out”

But now spring was here and swept away every trace
of all the pain way down beneath the snow
And she was zipping around his place throwing up dust clouds from the floor
Someone had to do it after his hibernation

They had to hurry to the train because there wouldn’t be many more of them
He was half asleep standing on the platform
And she left heading for the spring
And he went home and wrote this song

And he sang, “Watch out, you might get burned
Watch out
You gotta look out, my child
Watch out, you might get burned
Watch out”

Voulez-vous?

The Mama Mia movie has revitalised interest in Swedish 70s pop giants ABBA. The other day I heard 10-y-o Junior’s school choir perform “As Good As New”. 5-y-o Juniorette and her pals at daycare sing garbled versions of all the hits, such as “Oo-nay-boo” (“Voulez-Vous”).

I grew up with ABBA and I’m still a big fan. But I haven’t listened systematically through their oeuvre, haven’t really paid much attention to the lyrics as I do when I encounter new music. Looking at “Voulez-Vous”, the title track of the band’s sixth 1979 album, I found something funny.

“Voulez-Vous” is a rousing disco tune, set to raise your pulse and make your pelvis wiggle. The French words mean “Do you want to?”. Its musical mood is excitement, anticipation of something pretty steamy:

People everywhere
A sense of expectation hanging in the air
Giving out a spark
Across the room your eyes are glowing in the dark

But reading the lyrics, I realise that the song’s a bit of a joke: it’s actually about being bored with the disco meat-market:

And here we go again, we know the start, we know the end
Masters of the scene
We’ve done it all before and now we’re back to get some more
You know what I mean

Andersson and Ulvaeus are about 33 years old here. They’ve made all the disco conquests they care to make. Though still certainly not unaffected by music, they’re no longer very excited by the prospect of taking a stranger to bed.

Voulez-vous?
Take it now or leave it
Now is all we get
Nothing promised, no regrets
Voulez-vous?
Ain’t no big decision
You know what to do
I can still say “Voulez-vous?”

And while I’m at it, let me point out that “Feel the beat on the tambourine” is a really strained rhyme. The beat? On a frickin’ tambourine? I don’t think so!

Being Mean to Girls

I suddenly remember a few times when I was mean to girls when I was fourteen. I feel really bad thinking about it now. Being mean and bullying was particularly ugly for one such as myself who had just barely reached the end of his years as an object of bullying. But I see a pattern there that wasn’t visible to me at the time. It doesn’t excuse my behaviour in the least, but it sort of explains it.

H was thin as a rake and had a highly strung personality. She didn’t seem to expect to be liked, and I believe few did like her much. Yet she wasn’t the sort to fade into the background: she was quite raucous. Me and another boy wrote a parody of the Ten Commandments and taped it to the door of the veranda where our Bible study class convened. One of our commandments was “Thou shalt not covet the ample bosom of H”. The joke here, such as it was, was that us boys had about as ample bosoms as H had at this stage. Somebody told me she cried when she saw the note.

A was a rubenesque working-class girl who had received all that had been withheld from H and more. She wore a “BOY TOY” track suit, went pendulously topless on the beach and had a phlegmatic demeanour. She tried to be friendly to me, bless her heart, but I just sneered disdainfully at this Venus from the wrong side of the tracks. Luckily, A would take none of it: she asked angrily, “Why are you always so mean to me? Huh?”. I mumbled an apology and then we avoided each other.

T also had an early onset of curves. Her personality was phlegmatic to the point of sleepiness, very quiet. One summer day she was sitting opposite to me and a friend on the commuter train wearing a mini skirt and no panty hose, her freckled thighs much in evidence. I quipped sardonically, “How very generous of you, T, to offer the world a glimpse of your fine assets!”. T looked down and said nothing. I pretty much immediately felt bad about the whole thing, but I never apologised.

See a theme? This adolescent boy, barely into sexual maturity, is being nasty to girls about their budding womanhood. Not just to any girls, but to ones with little social graces, and girls who, he feels, are deviating from his tribe’s norms of female behaviour — norms of modesty. I was mean out of sexual insecurity to girls I believed unlikely to fight back. Part of it was of course actually an expression of desire.

About a year later I hooked up with the woman who would become my first wife, and that took care of that, thank goodness.

Danish Metal Detector Festival

i-812ad3c564d6a169d495d4568932ce50-Danish metal detecting.jpgDenmark has an excellent system in place to enable and govern a responsible and constructive metal detector hobby. While the UK’s ploughsoil heritage is largely being trashed by nighthawks (despite the valuable efforts of the Portable Antiquities Scheme) and Sweden’s is left to corrode untouched out in the fields, the Danes organise metal detector festivals, inviting skilled amateurs and professionals alike! One is taking place at Halsted on Lolland between 3 and 5 April. The public is welcome to watch on Saturday the 4th. Rest assured that the international crew of 70 detector-wielding participants will re-write the area’s history and later prehistory in those scant three days.

Thanks to Tobias for the press clipping.

Update same day: A few commenters feel that I’ve overstated the problem with nighthawking, i.e. clandestine metal detecting, in the UK. I based my assertion on an article on page 5 of the April issue of Current Archaeology (#229), which reports on a recent investigation by English Heritage:

“The survey found that nighthawking was rife on scheduled ancient monuments and ‘honey pot’ sites (mainly Roman settlements and villas) that have been targeted repeatedly, with considerable damage to crops and fields, as well as to archaeology.” There is “… a vicious circle of under-reporting of the crime, which in turn creates a false picture of the seriousness of the situation, making this a low priority crime for the police.”

Update 26 March: For some perspective on whether the UK nighthawk problem is serious or not, see these links provided by Aard regular Jonathan.

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Regardless of the nighthawks, of course the UK has major legislative problems in this area. Landowners own all finds (!) and the archaic “treasure trove” law presupposes an interpretation by the county coroner of why each individual find was buried back in the day. (Did I get it right now, Jon?)

Pipe Smoking, Tango Listening Auteur

We’ve all had the same realisation: sooner or later somebody just has to make a series of several thousand short films of themselves smoking various tobacco pipes and listening to tango music, and put them all on YouTube. Well, fret no more: it’s been done. And don’t tell me this isn’t an art project on a par with anything shown in up-scale galleries in the world’s largest cities!

Thanks to Pär for the tipoff.

Hard Core Finnish Easter Dessert

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It looks like chocolate fudge cake. It tastes like compact sour-dough rye bread and molasses. It is basically compact sour-dough rye bread and molasses. You have it at Easter, cold, with cream and sugar. It is a Finnish thing. It is very strange.

It is memma. You will grow to like it.