Smarter Grocery Shopping

Today I did something that, had I been a truly rational consumer, I would have done 20 years ago.

Fisksätra has two grocery stores. One is a big chain store and the other is a typical turkbutik, a mom’n’pop store run by immigrants from the Near East. Whenever possible, I have favoured the little store. I have often gone there first and then gotten only the stuff they don’t carry from the chain store.

The little store does not carry superior wares. Its assortment is far smaller than the big store’s, and there are very few items there that you can’t get at the chain store. I have shopped there for emotional and aesthetic reasons, just to favour the little guy, and I have had no idea if there is a price difference.

Now, the keeper of a small shop is of course no more noble than the owners of a store chain. He would in all likelihood prefer to own a chain, he just hasn’t quite gotten there yet. Neither store is a co-op. My choice is strictly between a large capitalist and a small one. Both stores employ immigrants who live in the area.

Today I bought two bags of groceries from the little store. Then I took the receipt to the big store and compared prices for the first time. Eleven of the objects I bought have close or identical equivalents at the big store. Six are cheaper at the big one, three are cheaper at the little one. The whole two bags of groceries cost 291 kronor at the little store and would cost 250 at the big one, that is, 86%. And on top of that, the chain store sends us refund cheques in relationship to how much we spend there.

So I guess mom’n’pop won’t be having me much as a customer anymore.

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Peter Köhler Show


My brother-in-law Peter Köhler is not only a very nice guy, but also a successful artist. He regularly exhibits his work at Magnus Karlsson’s gallery, one of Stockholm’s most prestigious venues. Peter’s next show there is scheduled for 9 Jan. through 7 Feb. and is titled “Black Magic”.

“A study visit to the Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle, Cornwall — where Peter Köhler was given access to the museum’s collections, photo archives and library — and repeated travels in China form points of departure. Peter Köhler works with spontaneous figuration and improvisation, but some of the content is taken from sketches made during his travels. Another source of inspiration is the artist Austin Osman Spare.”

Anthro Blog Carnival

The eighty-third Four Stone Hearth blog carnival is on-line at the Primate Diaries. Catch the best recent blogging on archaeology and anthropology!

Submissions for the next carnival will be sent to the keeper of A Primate of Modern Aspect. All bloggers with an interest in the subject are welcome to volunteer to me for hosting. The next vacant hosting slot is in less than a month, on 27 January. It’s a good way to gain readers. No need to be an anthro pro.

Is the Karmic Release Ubuntu’s Vista?

After six or seven weeks of Windows, I’ve finally gotten Ubuntu linux to run again. My installation crashed when I tried to upgrade on-line to the most recent version, Karmic. And then I couldn’t boot Karmic from a USB stick. I thought the copy on the stick had gone corrupt. Yesterday Tor lent me a CD burner, and I found that Karmic simply won’t boot on my netbook. It crashes midway through bootup in the same way regardless if I try a USB stick or a CD. So I downloaded the previous version, Jaunty, and it installed just fine.

Is the Karmic release Ubuntu’s Vista? Is it a dud release, like the second-to-last Windows version? I can’t tell, because it won’t even install on my vanilla 2008 netbook.

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The Sad Demise of Gildor the Elf


I suddenly came to think of my first character in a role-playing game. His name was Gildor, he was an elf and a “fighter” — I suppose he must have been a soldier actually — and he came to a sad end. I knew him only briefly.

From age twelve to twenty-five I was an avid role-player. Indeed, the person I was then would be really sad to learn that I quit playing eventually. But he would take heart somewhat if he knew that I have lately become a board-game geek instead.

It was about the time I turned twelve, in the spring of 1984, that my buddy Ragnar turned me on to the Swedish version of Runequest, Drakar och Demoner (“Dragons and Demons”). We had played standard board games together for some time. For that first game of DoD, it was only him and me — and Gildor. Ragnar (who would, a decade later, found Algonet, one of Sweden’s first public Internet service providers), was the game master.

On his travels, of which I know nothing before that moment, Gildor visited a village tavern one evening. There he was — and I wince as I type this — approached by a man with a parchment map who was looking for someone to undertake a quest. The villagers were having trouble with evil cultists whose temple compound was located nearby. People had disappeared, no demands for ransom had been made, and the feeling was that the cult might be behind it all. Apparently there was nothing similar to a police force or a militia in this world. Instead the villagers turned to the first armed person to enter their local boozer and offered him a reward if he would investigate the cult compound.

Gildor jumped at the opportunity. The very next day he used the map to find his way to the cult compound, a few hours’ walk from the village. The place was neither fenced nor walled in, and Gildor wasn’t shy: he simply walked in among the buildings in broad daylight and was immediately attacked by two heavily armed (evil) knights templar.

Here Gildor did something unexpected. Instead of running away or shooting at the knights with his bow or drawing his sword, he chanted the words of a magic healing charm — backwards. This piece of black magic caused wounds instead of healing them. And fending off both of the knights’ blows with his shield (which is not actually permitted by the combat rules, but me and Ragnar didn’t know that), he actually managed to kill both of his adversaries. Yes, they fought to the death, did not call for help, did not flee. And nobody apparently heard the commotion.

After catching his breath, casting the healing spell on himself and stealing the purses off of the dead knights, Gildor left the bodies in the compound’s main yard and quested on — straight into the main temple hall. Here he defended himself successfully against land jellyfish, gas-filled floating horrors with long burning tendrils. Then he found a staircase leading down into the temple’s torch-lit basement. Unconcerned about the risk that cultists might wait for him on the ground floor when he got back, Gildor descended into the underworld.

The temple’s basement was largely empty. I don’t quite remember what Gildor did there, except that he saw a non-hostile ghost and removed a pile of rubble in a collapsed stretch of corridor. Yes, he put down his weapons and spent an hour or two clearing rubble with his bare hands in the evil temple’s basement. Nobody disturbed him. On the other side the passage continued into a warren of caverns inhabited by goblins. Apparently the cultists and the goblins had happily shared the area, with no sign of conflict or even contact between the two groups.

Torch in hand, Gildor sneaked into the goblin caves. Don’t ask me why. And the goblins fought him: they were all sitting armed and ready, and many died from Gildor’s backwards healing charm, whose attendant magic gestures he could apparently perform despite holding a torch in one hand and parrying many scimitar blows with a large shield held in the other. But not one goblin fled to alert the ones in the next room, not one made any noise that carried into the tunnels.

Come this far, Ragnar asked me, “How many psychic power points have you got left, anyway?”. I had no idea. I had forgotten all about the cost of magic spells. And my game master hadn’t thought of informing me that Gildor was becoming so… very… tired. In just a few hours, the elf had probably cast about three times as many healing spells (backwards and forwards) as he should have been able to without taking to his bed for a week.

So, in that dark underground goblin warren, surrounded by the bodies of his foes, victorious Gildor dropped his torch… Then his shield… And collapsed, dead, his brain thoroughly fried by magical power expenditure.

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2009 Enlightener & Obscurantist Awards


The Swedish Skeptic Society‘s annual awards for 2009 were announced yesterday.

Professor emeritus of ecological zoology Staffan Ulfstrand receives the Enlightener of the Year award,

“… for his engrossing and pedagogical books about evolution [such as Savannah Lives: Animal Life and the Human Evolution of Africa] and his many pop-sci talks, particularly during the double Darwin jubilee of 2009. Staffan Ulfstrand frequently appears on nature shows, in Q&A columns and in debates about biology and behaviour. He has also frequently explained evolution in a pedagogical manner when it has been misinterpreted and misunderstood.”

Enlightener Ulfstrand receives a cash prize of SEK 25 000 ($3400, €2400).

Doctor Annika Dahlqvist, a former general practitioner who appears obsessed with Low Carbs High Fat, receives the Obscurantist of the Year anti-award,

“… for making particularly unsupported statements during the year about the link between diet and sickness. She has warned against swine flu vaccination and instead recommended a changed diet, without any scientific support at all. If her advice had been heeded, then the flu would have taken more lives.

Annika Dahlqvist has also published strange claims about links between diet and cancer. According to her, people who follow a diet rich in fat do not get cancer, which is not only ignorant but also lays blame on cancer sufferers. She sees industrial interests behind the healthcare authorities’ recommendations. She claims that the ‘establishment’s’ dietary advice causes cancer and that mammography is therefore useless.”

Update same afternoon: The Swedish Skeptics usually get quite a lot of national press coverage of our annual awards, but it seems that giving the anti-award to Annika Dahlqvist is getting us even more air time and print than usual. The tabloids like dieting and they like maverick doctors. Dahlqvist combines both traits, and so she’s been a lot in the tabloids over the past two years or so, bearing the epithet “The Doctor of Fat”. She also has a lot of altie fans reading her books and her blog. And now our anti-award is the main story on Expressen’s broadsheet and the alties are going nuts in the Swedish Skeptics’ executive-board in-box.

More coverage at Aftonbladet, Dagens Medicin, Radio Västernorrland, Sundsvalls Tidning, Sveriges Television.

Don’t miss TV4’s live debate between Dahlqvist and the chairman of the Swedish Skeptics!

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Aard’s Third Blogiversary

I recently celebrated four years as a blogger. But disregarding what I was doing before I joined Sb, today marks Aard‘s third anniversary! It’s one of the older active blogs on the site: of the 55 that joined at various times in 2006, less than 39 see timely updates today.

I’m still having fun and hope you are too! I recently updated the Best of Aard page for those of you who want to check out some past goodies.

Fear of Time Travel

The blog entry I had been thinking about and repeatedly forgetting about came back to me. Turns out those story beginnings never went far because I had been thinking about situations where I probably wouldn’t survive for long. I’ve had this scary scenario playing in my head, while awake, for quite some time.

First, imagine that you’re dropped into a foreign city with only the clothes you wear. No wallet, no hand bag, no money, no cell phone, no identification. Pretty scary, huh? But still, most of us would get out of the situation fairly easily. We would find the embassy of our country of origin, or if it were in another city, contact the local police and ask to use their phone. A few days later we would be home.

That’s not the scary scenario I rehearse. Imagine that you’re dropped into the city you live in with only the clothes you wear. No wallet, no hand bag, no money, no cell phone, no identification. And it’s 500 years ago. (Or for you colonial types, 300 years ago in one of your country’s first cities.)

How do you survive?

You don’t know anybody and nobody has any loyalty to you. You’re wearing extremely strange clothes. You speak the local language but with a really strange accent and a completely outlandish vocabulary: many of the words you know have completely different meanings. You’ll have a very hard time just explaining where you’re from, which the authorities will no doubt ask. You know little to nothing of how society works, things like what polite manners are and even how to count the denominations of the local coinage if somehow you get hold of money. You’re in a violent, patriarchal, disease-ridden place with no concept of the dignity or equal value of all humans.

Some might think that a well educated modern Westerner would soon become one of the sages of the age thanks to their superior technological and scientific knowledge. For one thing, it wouldn’t be hard for most of us to become the best doctor in the world of AD 1509 if knowledge was all it took. But I have a feeling that such knowledge would not be easily applied in a society that is completely unprepared for it, and not easily implemented in an environment where none of today’s infrastructure exists. And say that you’re actually a doctor or an engineer – how much could you achieve without access to any materials or tools invented in the past 500 years? I mean, I know the principles of nuclear fusion, aviation, antibiotics, vaccination and basic biochemistry, but don’t ask me to put them into practice starting from scratch!

I’m pessimistic. I have a feeling that I’d end up dead, plague-struck, imprisoned or a manual labourer pretty soon. (If I were a woman I’d reckon the first sexual assault would come within hours.) And the funny thing is that somehow I actually worry about this time-slip scenario. It’s akin to the low-level anxiety it causes me in the real world to be living off stipends and not having much of a steady income. But actually, somewhere deep down I’m more afraid of being time-machined barehanded into the Stockholm of Svante Nilsson’s stewardship.

Update 7 January: Turns out a book of survival tips for time travellers to 14th century England was published little more than a year ago: Ian Mortimer’s The Time-traveller’s Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century. I haven’t read it, but send me a copy and I’ll review it.

Update 28 January: This post inspired additional takes on the theme from the perspective of a cancer surgeon and a chess player.

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I’ve had this decent idea for a post popping up in my mind twice and then dropping out of it before I had a chance to write myself a note. It’s something about fragments, about beginnings of stories stacked onto each other like a collage. Or so I seem to remember. Maybe it will come back to me.

So, instead, here are some random jottings about my Christmas.

  • We have a lot of snow and I have been shoveling selected bits away from the yard and the outdoors stairs using a shovel that the previous owner of the house left for us in the garage.
  • I also had to shovel a track to the compost container. Trucking compostable waste to a garbage incineration plant is just stupid.
  • We haven’t had any sunshine, so I have taken walks with my mp3 player instead of going skiing on the golf course. I am unhappy with the quality of recent Skepticality episodes and I consider Dr. William Meller to be a Palaeolithic romantic and a Zen hippie muddlehead. In other words, I am skeptical of his claims.
  • My dad gave me a book of fancy bread recipes and complained about the bread I bake every two weeks or so. My non-fancy bread takes about 2:15 h to make from start to finish. Looking at the first recipe in the book, the basic levain, I found that it takes about 6:00 h to make — provided that you have already prepared a yeast culture some days beforehand by dunking raisins in water and leaving in out on the countertop to ferment.
  • My kids have the flu, poor tykes.
  • I’ve read Shea & Wilson’s first Illuminatus! book and found it mildly entertaining. Its paranoid pattern-seeking then turned up in another book, Fredrik Strage’s Fans, in the thinking of a schizophrenic woman who believed an old celebrated poet communicated with her through ads and headlines in newspapers. I also read Jincy Willett’s 2003 novel Winner of the National Book Award and liked it though it has a poorly crafted fizzle ending. Now I’m reading J-K. Huysmans’s Against Nature.
  • I watched bits of The Wizard of Oz with my daughter and noted that some of the actors play double roles, both in Kansas and in Oz. I don’t remember getting that when I saw it as a kid. The same device of course occurs in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. (By the way, what is that spooky cartoon show my daughter watches where one of the characters is an unabashed ripoff of Riff-raff?)
  • My son and his mom gave me the Fleet Foxes album, and what little I’ve heard so far is great! Reminds me a lot of the Midlake album I bought at the recommendation of a Dear Reader.

What about you guys? Let’s hear something interesting about your Christmases!