Category Archives: Relax a bit

The Grand Ol’ Tour

Top Gear is back (at least the one you want to watch), now called The Grand Tour, and involving the familiar three and lots of colour saturation. thegrandtourApparently, there are lots of things they cannot do that was in the old show, but this has a track, a moveable open studio, and the usual bantering and car racing. Celebrities drop in and out (quite literally.) The video quality is exceptional and the opening five minutes – apparently consuming most of the lavish budget – a kind of panoramic and unapologetic pun on just so many things. The banter seems a little bit forced in the beginning before shoulders come down and jokes get worse and worse (especially Clarkson’s.)

Very much like a comfortable old jacket and some well-worn jeans, in other words. I quite like it – it is uncomplicated, yet polysyllabic, masculine escapism. And best of all – it is included in my Amazon Prime subscription, now useful over here in Norway, too.

Top Gear II

OK, so they got horrible reviews (at least in Norway). Chris Evans needs to reduce his dosage a bit. Matt LeBlanc could actually be cool if he upped his celebrarity (is that a word?) a bit. Well, “appeared more intelligent” would be more precise.

Nothing about this program that hiring Stephen Fry as a third host wouldn’t fix….

Friday futuristic reading

I am not a big fan of science fiction – way too many people in tights staring at big screens – but I do like the more intellectual variety where the author tries to say something about today’s world, often by taking a single aspect of it and expanding it. So here is a short list of technology-based short stories, freely available on the interwebs, a bit of reading for anyone who feel they live in a world where the technology is taking over more and more:

  • The machine stops by E. M. Forster is the classic on what happens when we make ourselves totally dependent on mediating technology. Something to think about when you surf and Skype from your home office. Written in 1909, which is more than impressive.
  • The second variety by Philip K. Dick details a future with self-organizing weapon systems, a future where the drones take over. Written during the Cold War, but in a time where warfare is increasingly remote and apparently bloodless there is reason to think about how to enforce the “laws of robotics“.
  • Jipi and the paranoid chip is a brilliant short story by Neal Stephenson, the only sci-fi writer I read regularly (though much of what he writes is historic techno fiction, perhaps fantasy, and not sci-fi per se). It is about what happens if technology becomes self-aware.
  • Captive audience by Ann Warren Griffith is perhaps not as well written, but I like the idea: What happens in a society where we are no longer allowed to block advertising, where AdBlock Plus is theft.

There is another short story I would have liked to include, but i can’t remember the title or author. I think it was about a society where everything is designed with planned obsolescence, where a man is trying to smuggle home an artisanal (and hence, sustainable) wooden bench, but has issues with various products, including the gift wrap, which decays rapidly once it has reached its “best before” time stamp…

And with that, back to something more work-related. Have a great weekend!

We Travel Alone

Ole Paus is a Norwegian singer-songwriter with a very sarcastic bent – essentially, a Norwegian Tom Lehrer with a guitar and a much longer career – frequently referred to as Norway’s best text writer. This is a loose translation of one of his best, a song called “Jeg reiser alene” – about children shuttling back and forth on airplanes between their divorced parents. I listened to it coming home from Shanghai, and thought it deserves a wider audience:

I travel alone
(Ole Paus, 1994)

I travel alone
I fly over land and town
children used to come with the stork
now they come by plane

I travel alone
I fly over mountains and fjords
from Mommy in the south
to Daddy up north

And under me is the whole earth
where grownups and children have their home
but if you ask me where I live
well, it’s in SK305

We travel alone
a flying army of children
equipped with teddy bears
and a suitcase with clothes

And in front of the plane lives the General
he takes all the children from home to home
and down on earth in the terminal
awaits Mommy or Daddy or God knows who

I travel alone
the stars are coming out
they are many
but we are many more than them

We are so many that you would not believe it
and the purser he is my best friend
and then we land on a spinning earth
and then we go up again

I travel alone
I fly over land and town
children used to come with the stork
now they come by plane

Car-ried away a bit

I really should not be writing this – I have numerous other demands on my time, sitting in my home office and writing outlines for a couple of new courses, doing my taxes and preparing for a class in Shanghai next week. But I just read this column by Bob Cringely and, well, last Friday I picked up this beauty:

2014-03-14 12.41.36 

Now, this is a $100,000 car and you might be asking yourself why on earth a not too well paid academic should go out and purchase something like that. The answer is complicated and very Norwegian. We needed to update the Andersen car fleet (have a 1996 Mercedes C class and a 2002 Toyota Previa, both due for an upgrade). The kids are moving out, eventually, so we no longer need the minivan, and we were thinking about an SUV or perhaps a Volvo station wagon, about 5 years old. The problem is that a car like that costs $40-50,000 in Norway, due to the 200% taxes levied on almost all cars when they arrive in the country (more, if it is sportier.)

Anyway, for electric cars, there is no tax. Moreover, if you take it as a company car (I have my own consulting company), the assessed benefit is only half of what it would be for a regular car (or even a hybrid.) Moreover, you can park for free in Oslo, drive in bus lanes, get a free E-Z-Pass (i.e., the Oslo equivalent), there are free charging stations around and there is no annual road tax. Electric energy is clean and plentiful in Norway. The upshot is that this great GT car will cost me just a little bit more per year than our 12 year old Toyota. In short, a no-brainer. The Tesla S is a very cheap car in Norway, and consequently, Norway is the second largest market in the world for it. The dealer told me they were taking delivery of almost one thousand of them only in March.

It drives wonderfully, as Cringely says. After having driven it for a few days I have a permanent grin on my face. The effect is similar to driving my veteran Mercedes 6.9 – smooth and effortless power and comfort – but without the $2/mile fuel cost. In fact, driving the Tesla 100 km (60 miles) costs around $2.30 in electricity if I charge it at home, which is quite manageable, thank you very much. Now I make up excuses to drive somewhere, and constantly have to watch the speedometer, since there is no motor noise to help you estimate the speed.

iPhone Screenshot 1Right now, of course, I am not driving the car, since I am slaving away at my keyboard. But there is an app that allows me to see where it is – and currently my wife and youngest daughter have driven it to Sweden to do some shopping. With the app, I can see where the car is, how much juice it is consuming, and its speed. Great for constructing annoying messages to my wife commenting on her driving…

There has been an interesting debate in the Norwegian media the last few months about the subsidies for electric cars. The first electric cars were really not very practical – range and speed limited to 50 miles and 50 mph, respectively – and so the tax incentives where set up. Then the Tesla comes along with technology blowing everything else out of the water, and now you can be environmental and have fun at the same time. This constitutes an almost existential crisis for a number of people, who write angry articles about these monster cars that, well, don’t pollute (at least not in the use phase) and, well, should not be that good. We are, apparently, meant to suffer for the environment in order to save it, not enjoy our cake and eat it, too. (I am, of course, a technology researcher and can make the excuse that I should be familiar with new technology – in fact, perhaps I should charge the thing to my research budget…)

But I am not suffering at all at the moment. Instead, I am looking forward to tomorrow when my wife, perhaps, will not need the car and I’ll get to drive it.

If you need a Toyota and a Mercedes or two, just send me an email….

Knocking off early today…

…to go to Stockholm for a three day dance event called The Stockholm Dance Heat, where Lena and I will receive dance instruction from, amongst others, these two:

(Keep in mind that what they are doing here is improvised, strictly lead and follow – though Jordan Frisbee and Tatiana Mollmann have danced together for years.)

So, have a great weekend – I sure will!