Sunday, November 27, 2005


One of the most eventful days of the year has come and gone: Shop window Sunday. In Swedish, it's called "skyltsöndag," as "skyltfönster" means "shop window" and "söndag" means "Sunday." (And "skyltfönstersöndag" is too long to say.) Today, all the shops fill their windows with Christmas decorations (as do people at home), so naturally everyone likes to go strolling through town and see it all. This has evolved into quite a festive day, when the town suddenly transforms into a market with all kinds of activities greeting the advent of Christmas. Because that's exactly what this day is; the beginning of Advent .

We started the day by going to the pet store, where they had a small cat exhibit. Of course I don't remember the names of the different cat races, but it was fun to see pure bred cats.

Next, we went to the town square. Funnily enough, one of the first things I noticed had little to do with skyltsöndag. Apparently, the hamburger kitchen that is frequently stationed on our square had a new paintjob.

I like the pixelated trees.

However, there were lots of things much more Christmas related. For example, children waited in line to talk to Santa Claus. He was on his way through town and had camped out on our square with Mrs Claus. The kids must have been very patient, because the line was long, as you can see in the first photo in this post.

Good thing he has a back entrance, in case he needs to get away from all those kids, and it's also a perfect way for me to take a few pictures.

Other activities not depicted here involved buying stuff to support a plethora of causes with different degrees of selfishness (from school trips to animal shelters). I'm guessing the following was one of those money scrounging activities, but it looked fun.

Apparently, they take children for rides in that military vehicle. I saw it driving around later, filled with children who were no doubt having the time of their life.

The highlight of the day was probably the troupe of santas who suddenly came marching across the town square. At first I just planned on keeping up with them for a while, trying to get a few good photos, but then I overheard someone say where they were headed. It sounded ridiculous, so I had to follow them. First note that it was a cold day; my poor fingers were freezing just from taking off my glove to snap these photos. Now watch the weirdos.

Yes, it's clearly on purpose and of their own volition. They're wearing wet suits under their costumes, so I'm guessing it's not as cold as it looks. I don't know why they're doing it though; it's not as if they ever asked for my money. Maybe as a publicity stunt, but since I have no idea who they are it feels kinda like they failed. On the other hand, they hadn't quite got started yet when I had to go. I wanted to hear the Christmas carolers.

This is actually three different choirs. They took turns singing Christmas carols, which made me half expect them to throw down and start a sing-off, heckling the other choirs while they sang. I was a bit disappointed when they applauded each other instead.

After their joint performance, the three choirs split up and went charoling around town. I bumped into one of them repeatedly riding escalators up and down, singing Jingle bells. Quite amusing, especially when hapless escalator passengers were caught up in the middle of the choir.

To round off this post, here's a crowd photo and a couple of shop windows. I almost went the whole skyltsöndag without taking a single shop window photo. Duh.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Dairy diary

Sweden is pretty big on dairy products. I've already posted photos of cows here, so you already knew that. What you might not know is that Sweden has a kind of dairy product that I'm not sure if it exists anywhere outside of Scandinavia, since I can't find a good translation for it. The closest I've come is "soured milk," but that sounds disgusting. So as to not upset any sensitive stomachs, I'll call it "fil" [feel], which is the Swedish name.

Fil is fermented milk, like yoghurt. I'm guessing that the difference lies in which bacterial cultures are involved in the fermentation process. Wikipedia backs me up on that, so I guess I'm right.

Apparently, a lot of Swedes enjoy pouring cereal in a bowl, and then pour milk in so that all the cereal goes completely gooey and unedible. Not me. I pour fil in my bowl, and the thick consistency can hold the cereal I pour on top. The result: Crunchy goodness, mine for the eating!

Now that you know what fil is, let's talk about the packaging. Above photo depicts a fil package. The photo next to this paragraph depicts a milk package. Fil packages used to be blue, which set them apart from milk with simple and effective colour coding. As of a few months ago, the two dairy products look very much alike. This can and has caused confusion, e.g. unwary people pouring fil in their coffee or splashing milk all over themselves, expecting the much thicker consistency of fil.

OK, maybe I'm exaggerating a bit, although mix-ups have happened. Now, from seeing only the front of these packages, you may get the impression that it can't be all that bad. After all, the red & white fields are inverted on the milk package. Telling them apart is easy as pie, right?

Well, let's take this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to observe the dairy packages in their natural habitat.

You'll notice that the "spines" of the packages are very very much alike. Can you even tell them apart fully awake? If you can't, that's the fil package in the middle, with the subtle red & white flap at the top. The same flap on the milk packages is just red. Brilliant. Imagine that you're half awake, bleary-eyed and foggy-headed, straight out of bed (y'all betta make way). Of course you'll get the wrong dairy product every once in a while! Who's the dumbass who actually thought this idiotic redesign would be a good idea?! Gaaaah!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Dan Brown

I just read Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, and I liked it. Not because it's an earth-shattering revelation, since most of what he "reveals" in the book consists of obvious stuff concerning pagan ceremonies and celebrations being embraced, extended and extinguished by the Catholic church. I mostly liked it simply because I liked the characters and their interaction, the pacing, and the twisting plot. At times, it felt like a movie made up almost entirely of chase scenes and miraculous escapes bordering on deus ex machina. This kept the tempo going, but it kept teetering on the edge of becoming ridiculous. Sometimes you really had to suspend your disbelief to enjoy it, which is much easier with movies that constantly barrage you with a flickering stream of impressive images (which means you might like the upcoming movie). Luckily, the plot was wrapped up in an adequately touching end.

Sure, there was a fun Grail theory I haven't heard before. Since it's central to the book, and one of the few actual elements of surprise, I'm not going to spoil it. Suffice to say that I enjoyed how Brown weaved art, symbology and religion into a nice little mystery.

I've just now started on another Dan Brown book, Digital Fortress. Unlike the above mentioned book, this one starts off slow, babbling on about the relationship between the two main characters. I don't know much about art and religion, but this book is about language and computers, which I know a thing or two about.

Amazingly, it doesn't take long before Brown displays his complete lack of research. At one point, one of the main characters is translating chinese characters, and when his employers aren't happy with his results, he suggests that the characters might actually be Japanese. I guess they might, except that this supposed expert linguist uses the words "kanji language" to describe the japanese usage of chinese characters. "Kanji language"?! Kanji is not a language! Brown kind of back-pedals in the next few sentences and does state that it's a japanese writing system, but then it becomes clear that he's under the misconception that the three japanese forms of writing are just three different scripts, and thus completely interchangeable.

Now, I'm almost willing to forgive this linguistic error, because out of the kindness of my heart I can replace the outrageous phrase "kanji language" with "man'yougana ". That's just because I happen to know that the first known written Japanese was actually written with only chinese characters used solely for their phonetic value. I just wish Brown would have done a little bit of homework and mentioned that in the book instead of some half-baked mumbo-jumbo, because this really puts me off from reading on.

The fact that I've now read reviews stating that Brown apparently thinks a 16-bit key consists of 16 letters doesn't make the book any more appealing...

Thursday, November 03, 2005


If there's one thing I like about Sweden, it's the libraries. They all cooperate really well, for example by lending books to each other if the book you want to borrow isn't available in your library. This only surprises me since the rest of the country seems so disorganized. The only competent people work at libraries.

I digress. I was at the library a few days ago because my younger brother had a gig there. After he was done playing, I went upstairs and watched some capoiera. Apparently, there's a capoeira club in my town, and they had invited the caopoeira club from a neighbouring town to participate in the show.

I recorded this with a digital camera with no mic, so no sound in this clip. That's unfortunate, because the singing and rhythms were fun. On the plus side, it's a blast just watching that bald guy. I got the feeling that this guy was the instructor, since he led the songs, played the most complex looking intrument, and finished off the show with the coolest moves. The smoothness with which he easily flowed from move to move is exactly what I wanted to see.

Where the first clip was lacking in the sound department, this one is lacking in pretty much every department. At least it has sound, so now you can hear the singing and the sticks banging together. I've never seen this style of capoeira before (although I haven't seen much capoeira at all), and I must say I like it. Who doesn't want to see high-speed rhythmic stick fighting?

I'm guessing this week is some kind of culture week at the library, because today when I went in there to borrow some Richard K. Morgan books, I was greeted by piano and cello harmonies. To my mild surprise, a small ensemble was performing classical music to a rapt audience.

The music was nice, but I didn't have much time to listen to it since I was running around looking for a free computer to print out information on which books I wanted. Strangely, the music kind of fit my running up and down stairs. I suddenly had a private soundtrack for The Quest for the Unoccupied Library Computer, starring me as myself. I also got the privilege of shouting at a librarian for the first time, for her to hear me over the music. She seemed intimidated and frightened, but on the other hand, that's perfectly normal behaviour for a librarian.