Saturday, March 26, 2011

UK Eurovision is Blue

No, I'm not describing the color or the mood; I'm referring to the boy band 'Blue', who are performing the UK's entry for Eurovision this year.

Blue were very popular in the UK from 2001-2005, split up, and reunited last year. There's a bit of debate in the country over the question of performing for Eurovision: would it help or hurt a 'serious' artist's career?

In the rest of Europe, it's not a critical question, but being from a country that produced the likes of the Beatles, the Stones, the Clash, and Radiohead...well, let's just say that puts a lot of pressure on the boys from Blue. I think they'll be OK if they get a respectable score in the contest. But if it's nul points, then I think it's bad news for their comeback.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Extremes of weather

One thing I've noticed living in Texas is the huge swings in temperature. Over the past two months, we've had a low of 15ºF and a high of 85ºF, making a swing of 70 degrees.

Looking at the same time period for Stockholm, the lowest temperature was a chilly -13ºF, with the warmest being 44º, making a swing of 57 degrees.

It's no surprise that London was the most temperate, with a high of 59º and a low of 26º, making a difference of only of 33 degrees.

I have to say, living in London all these years, I'm not used to overcoats on Tuesday and shorts on Thursday. I think the cycle of warm and cold (and this summer, just blazing hot) takes its toll on a building. I've actually run heat in our house at night and the air-conditioning in the afternoon! It seems to me the more gradual cycles of hot and cold are easier for a structure to deal with, and I haven't even mentioned hairstorms or tornadoes yet!

Friday, March 18, 2011


One of the things I notice in the USA is the amount of garbage I see being put out in my neighborhood. In London, we had two wheelie bins, one for trash, the other, recycling. Each was picked up every other week, along with food waste which was picked up for composting weekly. We did fine with that, in fact, even with Grant in the house generating lots of food waste, we rarely filled either bin.

In my new neighborhood, however, the trash is picked up twice a week, and there is an amazing array of refuse out of the curb on pickup days. Selfishly, I don't mind that because I have a lot of moving trash to get rid of right now, and there's no financial penalty to me if I leave a huge pile of boxes and broken junk out on the curb. All of that is paid for in my monthly municipal fee.

There's a move afoot in more liberal (or landfill-strapped) parts of the US to something called 'pay-as-you-throw'. The idea is that the average family's garbage would cost them about what they pay today. If you throw away less, you pay less; big trash producers would get hit in the pocketbook. Having a direct link between actions and costs is Economics 101. The EPA has a good webpage about the concept.

The same applies out on Aspö, with a bit of a twist. The island residents pay into a fund to the Värmdö municipality for trash pickup at the big dock during the peak summer months. So there's a financial contribution, but almost the bigger cost is the effort required to wheelbarrow stuff to and from one's house.

The solution is called 'precycling'; reducing waste by thinking about our purchases holistically. Recycling is good, but there's still energy required to sort and reprocess materials (and, on a very local level, to carry them down to the dock). Precycling tries to avoid excess stuff to begin with, to eliminate trash and recycling materials at the time of purchase. Good examples of this are box wine, rechargeable batteries, or UHT milk, all of which are island staples.

When one has a high cost to throw away something, either a fee from the local government, or the hassle of carting it a kilometer to the dock, it's a great incentive to avoid having those things to get rid of in the first place!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Eric Saade wins!

I'm intensely jealous of Marcia, Rutger, and Camille because they went to the Globe yesterday and were in the sold-out audience for the dress rehearsal of the melodifestival final.

The winner, as I had pretty much expected, was Eric Saade with Popular:

It was popular among the Globe's crowd, too, but as Marcia put it, 11-year old girls with their cell phones put Eric over the top. Not that sure how well he'll do in the big show, however.

But my favorite part—in fact, one of my favorite bits of television in a long time—was a performance by Nanne Grönwall, Christer Sjögren, The Ark, and the gorgeous Lena Ph performing the Scorpion's "Rock You Like A Hurricane". Check it out: 

We're only 2 months from the big show in Düsseldorf. I can't wait!

Friday, March 11, 2011


When I was at the house last Christmas, I pried off a few of the darkest slivers of its exterior. My thought was that Rutger could get the wood tested for mold.

Recently, I saw this family-friendly testing kit during one of my many visits to the local Texan home-improvement store. I gave Marcia a ring and she graciously mailed me the ziploc bag with its little shards intact.

The kit was simple to use; I put the special solution into the petri dish, tweezed in the bits of wood (mold side down), and waited.

And guess what? Nothing happened. There was no growth at all. Sooz thinks maybe the mold didn't survive the rigors of its trip, but I think sitting outside in Aspö right now is even more harsh on a fungus than a baggie in Marcia's dresser.

I'll bring along another kit and we can test for mold in situ this May.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Oh My God the title of one of the Melodifestival finalists this year, by the Moniker. I don't have the critical skills to describe it properly. Take a look and see for yourself.

The rest of the final ten to compete at the Globe this Saturday are almost as goofy. There's Swingfly's dual-rapper "Me and my Drum" with the bizarre drumming-girl break at 2:05.

And there's the lavishly-tattooed Nicke Borg, a long-time punk rocker who sings a power ballad in English. (Think Poison's "Every Rose has Its Thorn"). The tats come out around 1:25. Still don't get the trousers though.

The Playtones are a bunch of middle-aged guys doing a rockabilly number which should be a German entry, actually.

Danny's "In The Club" might have won in 1989.

I think the winner might be Erik Saade's catchy "Popular". It goes last in the final's running order, which is good. All the girls love him. Good thing it's not a lyrics contest, though, although the shattering-glass trick is pretty cool.

I will miss going to the Swedish pub in Marylebone to watch it, that's for sure.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Texan IKEA

No matter how many different IKEAs I shop in all over the world, it still amazes me how similar every store is. Our new store in exurban Texas was spookily like the one in Barkaby, down to some of the smallest details.

It gave me an odd feeling, as I've apparently associated shopping at IKEA with trips out to our stuga in an almost Pavlovian way. But now, we're looking at things for a very different kind of house. It will probably take me a few trips to recalibrate my thinking from 'small house and hard to transport' to 'big house and fill up the station wagon'.

By Texas standards, our house isn't all that big, although it is certainly larger than the average suburban English or Swedish home. As we've been unpacking and settling in, I've noticed a few fundamental differences between my new home and my previous ones in Europe.

There's a shortage of homes in the UK. Planning restrictions make it difficult to build new homes, and so the law of supply and demand make them increasingly expensive. As one reaction, homes are getting smaller and smaller. I posted previously about home sizes around the world, with the UK trailing the list with an average of 76 square meters, about a third the size of the homes in their former colonies.

Those problems don't exist where I live now. There's empty land seemingly everywhere, so it is easy to throw up housing subdivisions. On my way to IKEA, I drove past suburb after suburb, on a six-lane tollway that didn't exist when I lived here last. This creates a virtuous circle; land and homes are cheap, which attracts people and businesses, which in turn attracts more growth, and so on. This keeps costs of new homes down, or allows them to be built even larger at affordable prices. I've seen some real monster houses in my neighborhood.

However, this cycle has its drawbacks, too, which I'll save for further exploration in future posts.