The Swedish Flag

This Friday there was an awful truck attack in Stockholm, where four people died. I wasn’t personally affected, even though it was just up the road from where I work, although I know several people who were scarily close to it. For the people who did lose somebody, it must be the worse thing in the world, and I can’t even grasp it.

A horrible situation, although on the day after I made damn sure to get into town and do the whole carry-on-as-normal thing. If life doesn’t go on, then we’ve lost.

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The view from my office after the attack

A few positive things came from the attack, though. One was the immediate and professional response from the police and emergency services, closing down the city and catching the guy a few hours later. The police were getting hugs and flowers from people all weekend, which was great to see in usually-reserved Stockholm.

Another was on social media, where the hashtag #openstockholm took off. People were offering accommodation and help and car rides and company to people stuck in town as a result of the attack and subsequent shutdown. It brought a tear to the eye, this random kindness on a massive level. Stockholmers, it turns out, have a great ability to react to crises, and will throw their doors wide open when needed.

Then people started putting Swedish flags on their Facebook profile pics, as one does after something like this. That’s when it got a bit strange for the Swedes.

flagHere’s the thing. Swedes are often embarrassed to fly their flag. They are generally damn proud of their country, but they don’t show it much. My Swedish workmates are much happier flying an Irish flag on St. Patrick’s day than flying a Swedish flag on any day, ever. It’s part of their “no boasting” mentality, but also because the far right have mostly claimed the Swedish flag, and the average person doesn’t want to be seen as a neo-nazi. You might see the blue and yellow on a bus on Sweden’s national day, or at a sporting event, or fluttering over a summer house, but that’s it.

It’s something that immigrants like myself find very odd. But after this attack, maybe it will change. I do love my adopted country and I hate to see them squirm and not show that love too. You’re awesome, Sweden, so go get your flag back. Remove it from the grubby hands of nationalists and “patriots” and fly it high and proud.

/ paddy

Roller Coaster Gröna Lund Sunday Bonus Combo

On the last Sunday of September (yes, in the past) I managed to combine all four of my least favourite things. Being around lots of screaming people, standing in very long lines, being very high up and having my cash pulled out through my nose by professional money-extractors.

Yes, I went with the lad to Gröna Lund, Stockholm’s tivoli/amusement park place, where people scream with joy as they spin and gyrate and move up and down. Kind of like in my bedroom. Ahem. Anyway. I hadn’t been there for years and that Sunday was the last day of the 2012 season. And as the boy’s now 13 I figured maybe he wouldn’t want to be seen there with his old man in the future, so it could be my last chance to go with him.

And, what can I tell you, it was fun. I love a good roller-coaster, and we went on four different ones, several times on each. They had a wooden roller coaster called Twister with a near-vertical drop that was increbible. The “Blue Train”, basically a ghost-train, was also excellent. There was a few rides I wouldn’t dare to go on, and you wouldn’t get me anywhere near one of those free-fall towers. But thankfully the crowd was smallish and the number of squealing and identical teenagers (seriously, are they clones?) was quite low.

And now I’m on youtube looking at roller coaster point-of-view videos from all over the world. Which is as good as thumb-up as you’ll get.

/ paddy

Great Things To Do In Stockholm When Not Naked

Saturday was one of those gold-dust days where everything went right. It might have helped that it was the first day of my official holidays. And that I have a decent income, no diseases, and live in a first-world country. That never hurts either. Anyway.

The day started off with me dragging my reluctant arse to Bodypump. That’s an hour of lifting weights to ridiculously over-the-top music and an instructor who says things like “feel the burn” and means it. There’s also the added bonus of all the nicely toned bodies (both male and female) to check out from my position in the back row. And the marvellous high afterwards from sitting in the sauna. I can recommend it.

That done I wandered by a local bike shop and had a slight but niggling problem fixed on my bike, right there and then, for very little money. Nice. Visit these nice lads here.

Then I wandered into town. Some guys handed me a flier and, for once, I read the thing. It turned out to be for a shop around the corner that sold vintage suits and shoes, on the entirely unpronounceable Östgötagatan. Aha, I thought. I went there and discovered the owner was (mostly) an Irish guy. We had a nice chat about the old country and such, and he showed me his very fine selection of vintage suits, shoes, ties and jackets. Go there, and buy some excellent vintage things. Do it now!

Then I wandered on down to my favourite barbers, Salong Andreas, for a haircut. There are three seats in this barber shop, and seat number two is the guy I always want. I rarely get him, as it’s drop-in only and it is entirely up to chance which guy you get. But today, I got the right guy. And a rather spiffy summer haircut. So, you gentlemen requiring a haircut – away with you to Salong Andreas tout suite!

That done, I went to one of favourite eateries, Cafe Blå. This is a small cosy place run and owned by the lady who always takes the orders. There’s no fucking TV and no bloody radio. Wonderful. The owner will make you up an excellent fresh sandwich on the spot. I also enjoy this place as the owner does tarot card readings for people right there in front of you.

And much as I dislike pretty much anything new-age, I do have a soft spot for tarot. Mainly because I’m a sucker for symbols and it does seem very much like therapy. Slightly half-assed therapy, but still, she’s a nice lady. That’s Café Blå, for a quick bite. Just off Medborgarplatsen. Go on, dance with the devil.

I rounded off the evening with a concert in a park given by my friend Jessica. If this lady gets the right kind of luck, she’ll go far. She’s a singing-songwriting power to be reckoned with. I also, by an amazing co-incidence, built her website. Check it out. Awesome, I’m sure you’ll agree.

And that’s it for day uno of my holidays. This is looking like a mighty fine summer indeed.

/ paddy

Lazy Daze

It’s time for one of my rare “stuff in my life” post. For no better reason than it was a nice day and I’m not that inclined to rant about much.

No connection, but a great image

Far too early in the morning me and H11 went to meet some other members of his class, and a super-parent or two, to train for the upcoming kid’s mini-marathon. This is a 2km race for kids taking place in Stockholm in a month from now.

We all trotted through a beautiful area of Stockholm called Uggleviken (Owl Bay) where we didn’t see any owls but got some muscles burning. I am proud to report that I beat the 11-year olds up a steep hill at least twice. Thumbs up for pre-lunch exercise.

Next stop was the English Shop, where homesick treats were purchased. A Saturday in Stockholm without a visit to the English Shop is not a Saturday at all.

Then we ventured to the wonderful Muffin Factory, home of Stockholm’s biggest, fattest, tastiest muffins, where we enjoyed muffins and coffee and the company of fellow Stockholm blogger Melliferax.

After that H11 and I wandered around a few shops learning how to use my new toy, the TV-B-Gone universal remote that turns off every television known to man. TVs in public places bug the hell out of me; now I can fight back and stop the buggers in their tracks.

Then we wandered to the pet store, the excellent and cheap SoFo’r Pets, to fix some accessories for the wee critters, before heading home. And the plan now is to spend the rest of the day slouching about the flat, drinking tea, reading up on Java and watching the little degus as they continue their efforts to chew everything to splintery bits.

A good life is made up of sweet, calm days like this, and they should really be remembered. Let’s hope there’s many more of them.

/ paddy

Smart Card Fail

The Stockholm local transit people (SL) introduced a so-called smart card over  a year ago, and called it SL Access. Now, usually anything that SL introduces costs a pile of money and doesn’t work. We kind of expect it to be that way.

And, true to form, as SL were about to introduce their expensive system it became clear that the technology used, the Mifare RFID card system, had been hacked. The details of this are all over the net now. “Mifare hack” will get you started. It’s fair to say that this is not a good system, and as leaky as a sieve full of sponges.

Still life with RFID chip

It works like this, for those who don’t know. You “load” your card (or more correctly you update a database somewhere using your cards ID) and then swipe your whole wallet, with the card inside, over the reader. It’s actually a nifty system, despite the whole not-secure aspect, as you avoid having to dig out the card every time.

I noticed, by turning the card a certain way, that you can see the chip. It was about 5 mm across which, for the Americans, just means very small.So I reasoned if it could be removed from the card, then it could be put into more interesting objects that one could swipe across the reader.

Such as a head. Or a banana. Or a Mars bar. You get the idea.

Unfortunately, once extracted, the chip doesn’t work. A quick googlement showed that there is a thin antenna wire connecting to the chip that circles the perimeter of the card. This interacts with a magnetic field over the reader using good old-fashioned induction and transfers the data required. No wire, no data.

So it’s back to the drawing board with that one. Would be nice however to get me some hardware and hack the thing properly. I figure, in the interests of helping SL improve their security, it’s the only kind thing to do.

/ paddy

Platform Pointers

At 7.30 in the morning I pass through the excruciatingly busy Gullmarsplan station just south of Stockholm.

Here people are channelled cattle-like through a very badly designed environment as they emerge from buses, subway and trams.

You would think that the staff might be doing something to alleviate the congestion, or open the barriers to allow people through, or help people with buggies up and down stairs. But no, they have more important things to be getting on with. And that is to stand around and point.

Yes for some reason three or four uniformed personnel stand around on the platform, at the peak of the morning rush hour, and simply point.

When they’re not pointing, they are chatting to each other. But usually they just stand there and they point.

The pointing appears to be a general “this way to the trains” which is interesting as they are standing right beside the trains, and the trains are large and blue and kind of hard to miss.

It might be a “Look, there is space available on this part of the platform” kind of thing except for the fact that they are pointing at the entirety of the platform where some space may always be found.

I was indeed puzzled for a long time. But I now think that the pointing means: “Keep on moving as you were, that’s it, you’re doing fine, everything is just hunky dory.”

It’s nice to see, after four years of advanced pointing in a university, that these people can get some work somewhere. And it’s also nice to know that I am paying 700 Swedish crowns a month so that they can be there and do what it is they love to do. Which is to point.

It just goes to show, you should always follow your dreams.

Wherever they might point.

/ paddy