12.31.2015

Year of Books

One way of summing up your year is to look back at your reading. Quite early in the year I got my hands on Nicholas Drayson's "A Guide to the Beasts of East Africa" as a way of reconnecting with Kenya again before going to Nairobi. Then I continued with "A Sting in the Tale" and "A Buzz in the Meadow" by Dave Goulson, since I wanted to know more about bees and sustainable gardening.
From Warszawa 2015
During spring, I started to prepare for my journey to The Caucasus by reading several books such as Tom Reiss' "The Orientalist: Solving the Mystery of a Strange and Dangerous Life" as well as Anna-Lena Lauren's "I bergen finns inga herrar" (There Are No Masters In The Mountains) and "Frihetens pris är okänt" (The Price of Freedom Is Not Yet Known).
From Caucasus Highlights 2015
Summer was spent reading Aminatta Forna's sad and dramatic book The Memory of Love, Kristina Kappelin's charming observations in the "Italiensk dagbok" (Italien Diary) and my mother's copy of Danny Wattin's "Herr Isakowitz skatt" (Mr Isakowitz' Treasure) from the reading list in her book club.
From Stråvalla 2015
During autumn I enjoyed reading a book about books: Samantha Ellis' "How to Be a Heroine - Or, What I've Learned from Reading Too Much" making me want to go back and reread some classics. The stunning "The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance" by Edmund de Waal had been in my possession for quite some time and now I finally got around to read it (note to self: order his new book: "The White Road"). I also reacquainted me with JK Rowlings in the form of Robert Galbraith and her/his crime novel "The Cuckoo's Calling" (I've already ordered the sequels as a Christmas gift to myself).

Some of the last readings of the year had a common theme: cats. Takashi Hiraide's "The Guest Cat" is set in Tokyo, May Sarton's "The Fur Person" takes place in Boston and Henning Mankell's cat in "Italienska skor" (Italien Shoes) was living on an island on the east coast of Sweden.
From Nairobi March 2015
In sum, my books have taken me all over the world and spanned more than 100 years of history. I wonder where they will take me next year!

Happy New Year! Gott nytt år!

12.24.2015

Christmas Cry

In 2006, the Church of Sweden published a modern addition to the hymnbook. One of the songwriters who were asked to contribute was Py Bäckman. I think few people knew that she had secretly written psalm songs for quite some time by then, since she is more known as a rock artist.
I very much like her song "Koppången" although it never fails to make me cry. The church choir at the Christmas Carols concert in the Gothenburg Cathedral sang it softly yet powerfully and the tears started rolling down my cheeks, leaving me with a taste of salt in my mouth and a lump in my throat. The melody is beautiful, but it's the lyrics that get to me.
I know that those who have left us
Understand that we are like flares as long as we are here
There among glimmering stars, vanishing one by one
Life comes very close, like a glimpse of the truth
We are captives of the time, like a palm print on an old, frozen window
Who have been given grace by the ravages of time
I look around me in my apartment and think of those whom I don't see that very often and those who have left me for good. Some of them are easier to remember because of their dear gifts:

The glass prism from Lena, who taught me always to consider if more than one perspective can be right. The curling Santa from Ann, who demonstrated the importance of making the university a real workplace for both students and faculty. The penguin family huddling on their ice floe, from Maja-Helena who is much better than me at taking the learning road instead of the judging one. The matchboxes with cross stiches made by Åsa, who is the best leader and manager I know, sticking to the basic values long after being abandoned by her supervisors. The stout nutcracker from my aunt Kerstin, who never ceases to appreciate new music. The candlestick given to me by Randi, who showed me how to treat consultants as appreciated colleagues. The Christmas lamb from Marie, who helped me celebrate Christmas in Australia long time ago.
I'm surrounded by the warmth of friendship radiating through the years. Comforting me, as my eyes well up again. God Jul and Merry Christmas!

12.19.2015

Hedgehogs and Foxes

At Ekkullen where I live, a hedgehog has nested under my neighbor's terrace. We rarely see him/her but sometimes during the late summer evenings we can catch a glimpse. Foxes are scares here, but I've seen some in the countryside striding across the fields.
Both hedgehogs and foxes are mythical creatures, although associated with different features. In 1953 the essay "The Hedgehog and the Fox" was published by philosopher Isaiah Berlin. It draws on the work of the ancient Greek poet Archilochus who states that "a fox knows many things, but a hedgehog one important thing". Apparently, Berlin wrote it as an intellectual game but it was taken quite seriously.

In the essay Berlin divides writers and thinkers into two categories: hedgehogs, who view the world through the lens of a single defining idea and foxes who draw on a wide variety of experiences and for whom the world cannot be boiled down to a single idea. He claims that Plato, Dante, Hegel, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche and Ibsen are hedgehogs and that Aristotle, Shakespeare, Molière, Goethe, Pushkin, and Joyce are foxes. Although clearly lacking in gender awareness, Berlin doesn't favour any of the animals and they both seem to be very successful.

Management researcher Jim Collins is much more fond of hedgehogs. In his book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...and Others Don't, he introduces the "Hedgehog Concept" as the intersection of the following three circles: (a) What you can be the best in the world at, (b) What drives your economic engine, and (c) What you are deeply passionate about. According to Collins it's not a goal to be the best, a strategy to be the best, an intention to be the best, a plan to be the best. It is an understanding of what you can be the best at.

Blogger Abraham Kamarck is in contrast in favour of foxes. Similar to Berlin, he claims that you can be a fox by nature but a hedgehog of conviction, and use this in communication. However, sticking to one single thing in business when the environment is changing is not a good strategy. According to Kamarck, hedgehogs make great experts and often “win” TV debates, because they have a simple, easily communicated message. He has also looked into what happened to the great companies in Collins study and found out that they were "not not successful because they stuck to a single idea. In fact, quite the opposite, many of them radically departed from a proven strategy that had worked in the past…something a Hedgehog would never do!"
"The main lesson from the stories in Good to Great is that the companies created cultures that allowed them to adapt and switch directions (at that point in time). Collins’ Hedgehog Concept seems to miss this point." http://thefoxandthehedgehog.com/jim-collins-hedgehog-concept-is-wrong/
Recently the Economist used the hedgehog-fox distinction when discussing the merits of Clayton Christensen, famous for his theories on disruptive technologies. In the article, Christensen is described a being a hedgehog, clinging to a very narrow definition of disruptive innovation.
"In Mr Christensen’s theory, disruptive innovators are generally newcomers. But perhaps the most successful disrupter of recent years is an established firm—Apple—that has applied its mastery of technology and design to ever more areas. Mr Christensen greeted the arrival of the iPhone with a shrug: this was a “sustaining” rather than a disruptive innovation, with “limited” chances of success. He failed to see that Apple was reinventing an entire category of product, by turning the mobile phone into an all-purpose computer, entertainment system and shopping centre."
"Indeed, there are good reasons for thinking that this second kind of disruptive innovation may be more important than Mr Christensen’s: think of the threat that Google poses to carmakers, Facebook to newspapers and Apple to television stations. Back in 1995 Mr Christensen struck fear into executives by warning them that they could be put out of their jobs by companies they had never heard of. Today the biggest threats may come from people they talk about every day."
From Winter Collection 2015
I like both hedgehogs and foxes, the real ones, and I can see merits in both metaphors as well. I've also written a short story featuring a fox called "Raskar över isen". I found it difficult to translate because it is very Swedish in character, but I can give it a try should anyone insist.

12.12.2015

Wine Route

After his ark stranded at the Mount Ararat, the Bible says that Noah planted a vineyard, harvested grapes, fermented them and got drunk.
From Caucasus Highlights 2015
The story may well be true, at least the part about the wine, since archeologist have found remnants of wine-making equipment close by in a cave Armenia. They put the date of the technology to around 6.000 years ago. My mother wasn't too impressed with the Armenian wine, although she liked the Ararat brandy. It belongs to Pernod Ricard Group, which also includes the Swedish Absolut Vodka.
Georgia also has a long history of wine-making and UNESCO added its ancient traditional method using the Kvevri clay jars to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists. The wine industry grew with the Christianisation,  apparently disregarding the situation with Noah. Since Georgia consider themselves to be the third country in the world to introduce Christianity as the state religion, they've been at it for a really long time (since around 300 AD). To what extent you could really call something a country at that time and where the border of Georgia was and is, is a totally different story.
From Caucasus Highlights 2015
In 2006, the wine industry in Georgia was hit hard when Russia placed an embargo. Georgia is now trying to sell the wine to Europe and the US. In Sweden, your can't get Georgian wine in the Systembolag shops, but they are listed. On a totally different note, the Swedish saying "lägga rabarber på" apparently comes from misunderstanding the word "embargo".

There are more than 30.000 lobbyists in Brussels, on a par with the number of employees at the European Commission. Most of them represents various industries. The wine industry is well represented by organisations such as the Association of European Wine Regions and the European Federation of Origin Wines but also more general organisations such as FoodDrinkEurope and the European Spirits Organisation
From Brussels 2012
The number of lobbyists trying the influence the EU to restrict access to alcohol is much less and they have considerable fewer resources. I have visited IOGT-NTO's office in Brussels, and it was neat but not flashy.

Ever wondered why all these articles keep popping up in the news about the benefits of wine? And why the connection between alcohol and cancer is not mentioned that often, even though a rather small amount every day can considerably increase the likelihood of breast cancer. Thank you Julia Mjörnstedt who started Ung Cancer for bringing it up!

12.05.2015

Analog Nostalgia

I must admit: I produce heaps of poet's snow. Although I have a background in ICT and use lots of social media, I still prefer the old version of things. I enjoy my paper newspaper although I have to visit the recycling station often.  I read magazines at the library and some find their way to my mailbox such as National GeographicTrädgårdsliv and Lantliv.  I use my Filofax every day (it's a way of life) although it is heavy and worn, putting PostIt-notes on the pages with important messages to myself.
From Caucasus Highlights 2015
When faced with a longer text I have to read and really think about, I print it on paper (both sides) and go through it with a pen in hand. I still buy CD:s (I used Spotify when it was for free, and never got around starting to pay). I only watch the TV channels that come with the standard package, although I must say that the HBO and Netflix ads are very tempting.

When I travel by plane, I prefer to have my QR code on paper instead on the smartphone, but strangely enough I find it ok when I go by train. I prefer a paper map and real guidebook, although we almost lost the one on Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan in the customs.

I buy paperback books (in stores and from and Amazon and Bokus) and I put them on shelves (latest one: "How to be a heroine"). I prefer using real cookbooks (current favourite is "Sött, sweet, dulce") although sometimes I search for recipes on the web, such as this wonderful Christmas bread from Ernst.
From Skåne July 2015
However, I have stopped making scrapbook photo albums and focus totally on making them available through Picasa although sometimes I do a print version. I only send postcards to my aunt in the UK, everybody else gets Facebook and LinkedIn updates, emails or sms. I've never been good at keeping a diary, but I do have my blogg.

I agree with Sherry Turkle, that we have to think deeply about the new kinds of connection we want to have. The devices we use, have a big impact on how we interact with others and if we're not careful, we might end up connected but still alone.
From Caucasus Highlights 2015

11.28.2015

Wall of Sound

During a very brief period in the beginning of the 1980s, I toyed around with the idea of becoming a mixing engineer. I was studying technology at high school and many of my friends played in rock bands. Although I realised I didn't have enough talent as a musician, I wanted to be part of that world.
From Caucasus Highlights 2015
At that time, you had to be into either hard rock or synth music. Always an eclectic, I felt a bit in between liking corporate rock like Boston as well as synthpop like Spandau Ballet. I also liked Toto and so did some of my friends in the band Tate. They played "Hold the Line" oh so well (although I've never completely understood the lyrics but apparently I'm not alone having this problem) and sounded a bit like the band The Toto Tribute based in Stockholm (who do a great version of I'll be Over You, and that I completely grasp).

Although I don't think that Toto used the Wall of Sound approach, to me they still sound great. Also around that time, the highly metaphorical Pink Floyd movie "The Wall" was released.

It's interesting and quite disturbing that the phrase "another brick in the wall" is used in academic circles for the accumulation of scientific knowledge with individual studies being the bricks from which a wall is being built. Doug Altman has gathered quotes about this, for example "Science is built up of facts, as a house is built of bricks; but an accumulation of facts is no more a science than a heap of bricks is a house.”
From Caucasus Highlights 2015
As a concept, a wall affords many things that can be used metaphorically. It separates things and people, it can be high or low, it can be solid or full of cracks, it can become higher or brought down, you can sit or stand on it, it can be thick or thin, you might hear things through it or throw things over it, have four of them and you can put a roof on to create a house, it can be made of various materials, and so on.

I'll end with something related to both walls and sound: The writing's on the wall, theme song from Spectre. And a soundless quote from Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy:

From New England 2012

11.21.2015

Dry Spell

On the last evening of our trip to Caucasus, we had dinner in a cosy caravanserai in Baku. The evening was warm and we were entertained by a belly dancer, a torch juggler, and a crooner. When I heard Sting's "Desert Rose" playing in the background, I came to think of the deserts I've been to.

When I went from Hurghada to Luxor, I had no notion of the vastness of the desert surrounding the Nile. It was a strange and creepy feeling standing in front of the Deir el Bahari temple, knowing that it was just a couple of years ago since terrorists killed 62 people at exactly the same spot.

In Tunis, we went to the salt plains at Chott El Jerid to ride camels and look at the Star Wars film locations. After all the dust and heat in the Sahara it was wonderful to swim under the stars in the Tozeur oasis.
From Tunisia Colour 2008
On our way to Petra, we passed on the fringes of the Wadi Rum desert. In the other direction was the continuation of the Rift Valley, creating a wonderful soft landscape in the sunset. I'd like to go back to Petra some time, and go to an evening concert.
From Jordan 2010
The deserts around Baku are filled with mysteries such as clay volcanoes, gas on fire, oil wells, temples and rock carvings. Thor Heyerdahl spent some time here, developing a theory that the Vikings originated from Azerbaijan, since the carvings in Scandinavia and Azerbaijan look alike. Well, I'm not sure he would stick to his theory if he'd been around now.

From Caucasus Highlights 2015

During my trip to the Caucasus I saw no traces of Food Deserts. The roads were littered with small food stands and the markets were numerous and plentiful. However, I'm sure we travelled though lots of Wage deserts. It's important to look at cause and effect.
From Caucasus Highlights 2015

11.14.2015

Beyond Spectre

It feels strange to do research on the Bond film "Spectre" when waking up to the news of the dreadful terrorist attack in Paris. In the Thunderbolt book, Ian Fleming placed the S.P.E.C.T.R.E. (Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion) headquarters in Paris. The organisation is not aligned to any nation or political ideology and its main strategy is to instigate conflict between two powerful enemies, hoping that they will exhaust themselves and then be more vulnerable for an attack. Is that what we see now?
From Malta May 2014
When I looked up "spectre" in the Oxford Dictionaries, one of the examples provided made me curious:

"In curing speech of specters and ghosts, analytical philosophy claims to cleanse the mind of a dreamy fondness for every sort of idealism, vitalism, Platonism, and transcendentalism."

The quote took me to a review of the book "The Making of a Philosopher" by Colin McGinn, written by then PhD student Matthew F. Rose who is now the director of the Berkeley Institute. The title of his review is "The Disconsolate Philosopher" and I believe the following sections are especially important:

"On the face of it, perhaps few concepts are as curiously matched for one another as intellectual autobiography and analytical philosophy. Intellectual autobiography is best told as a story of small detonations going off in one’s head, shocks that send its author reeling for cover and learning to return fire. It is stubbornly premised on the belief that ideas matter, and because they can make us saints or psychopaths, because they are worth living and dying for, they matter more than anything else. Analytical philosophy, on the other hand, is best explained by its belief that because we are restricted to the field of language, ideas do not really matter because they do not really exist, at least as nine out of ten of us think they do. It is, then, a cynic might say, the sheer improbability of such an undertaking that makes McGinn’s work remarkable, as if only a form of intellectual alchemy could turn the stuff of logic and linguistics into an intellectual life well lived."

"With his typical knack for having things every which way, G. K. Chesterton understood the necessity of playful seriousness in truth-seeking. For him, the only sane philosophy somehow managed to wear the color of fairy tales, the aura of gallantry, and the smell of incense. The Great Tradition, he wrote in The Everlasting Man,
looks at the world through a hundred windows whereas the ancient stoic or the modern agnostic only looks through one. It sees life with thousands of eyes belonging to thousands of different sorts of people, where the other is only the individual standpoint of a stoic or agnostic. It has something for all moods of man, it finds work for all kinds of men . . . it is able to distinguish between real and unreal marvels and miraculous exceptions, it trains itself in tact about hard cases, all with a multiplicity and subtlety and imagination about the varieties of life which is beyond the bald or breezy platitudes of most ancient or modern moral philosophy. In a word, there is more in it; it finds more in existence to think about; it gets more out of life . . . . It gets every type of man to fight for it, it gets every kind of weapon to fight with, it widens its curiosity or sympathy; but it never forgets that it is fighting. It proclaims peace on earth and never forgets why there was war in heaven."
From Malta May 2014
"There are no mysteries, only confusions."

11.07.2015

The Men

When I walked the streets of Yerevan, two things struck me. You could find statues in many places and almost all of them were depicting men. There was the explorer and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Fridtjof Nansen, the composer Alexander Spendiaryan, the author Alexander Shirvanzade, the main architect behind modern day Yerevan Alexander Tamanian and so on.

I even found a group of statues called "The Men", from a film in 1973 by the Armenian director Edmond Keosayan.

I could only find two statues of women: Mother Armenia looking down on the city with a really big sword in her hands, and an unnamed woman looking very sad.

When I came home I started to look around me in Gothenburg on my way to work. Male statues everywhere. The inventor John Ericsson looking puzzled by all the traffic in the Allé or perhaps from looking straight at the statue of Charles Felix Lindbergh with his walking stick, the men fighting with knives in Bältesspännarparken, King Karl IX on his "mare" at Kungsportsplatsen, King Gustaf II Adolf pointing his finger at his square and so on.

I wasn't alone in my observations. In a column in the newspaper Göteborgs-Posten, Ingrid Norrman stated that it's time recognise more women through presence in the public space. Apparently Gothenburg got its first statue of a named woman in 1987: the author Karin Boye outside the city library. Since then we've had another one: the midwife/surgeon Johanna Hedén outside a hospital.

I suggest Chalmers put up a statue of Vera Sandberg, who in 1917 became the first Swedish engineer. With two campuses, there should be enough space.

10.31.2015

Fire, Walk With Me

According to our guide in Azerbaijan, the Nobel brothers converted from Christianity to Zoroastrianism when they established their oil business in Baku. As evidence, he pointed to the facts that they used a picture of the nearby (still in use) sacred Atashgah Fire Temple as their logo for the Branobel company and named their first modern oil tanker "The Zoroaster".
From Caucasus Highlights 2015
I'm not totally convinced about the conversion, and I don't think the brothers asked for permission to use the names why they might not have gotten away with it nowadays when for example the Maasai are fighting for the control of their "brand". Then again, I'm not sure how the present-day practitioners of Zoroastrianism would interpret the situation, given that they believe that the purpose in life is to "be among those who renew the world...to make the world progress towards perfection".
From Caucasus Highlights 2015
The Nobel brothers did indeed belong to the ones who renew the world. They were among the first private persons to install a telephone in Baku, they built the first oil tanker, they helped build the railway between Baku at the Caspian Sea and Batumi at the Black Sea, and they funded the first oil pipeline. They also managed to get out before the Soviets took over in 1920, why it is estimated that around 12% of what become the foundation of Alfred Nobel's prize money came from his investments in this venture.

Apparently Alfred was not very happy with the way he had made all his money and how the world would remember him. Maybe he became a bit influenced by the time he spent in Baku, and started to focus on "Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds".
From Caucasus Highlights 2015
The Zoroaster, however, is still part of the renewal of the world, since its wreck forms the foundation of the artificial oil town Neft Daşları.

10.24.2015

Keeping Stories Or Promises

During one of the long bus drives in Armenia our Swedish guide told us a wonderful story featuring a caravanserai. It's supposed to be true, although I haven't been able to verify it.

Sophie was the daughter of the German ambassador in the Ottoman Empire. She quickly became a favourite at the royal court, since she learned how to speak Turkish and was very interested in the culture of her new homeland.

Since she didn't go home to Germany during the school holidays, the court tried to find ways to amuse her. They gave her a beautiful horse and taught her how to ride. Once they dressed her up as a boy and organised a small caravan travelling parts of the Silk Road.

One evening, one of the servants was bribed to let thieves into the caravanserai and they took all the horses. Soon after, the other servants woke up and started to search for the horses. The night was very dark and although they searched high and low, the horses could not be found. However, they kept on looking since they knew there was no way they could go back to the Sultan and tell him his precious gift was gone. Suddenly they heard the horses far away in the dark and managed to take them back to the serai.
From Caucasus Highlights 2015
During the trip, the caravan came across a family of storytellers. Sophie listened keenly. One night the storyteller said he was tired and asked her to tell a story. She did it and did it very well indeed. He said she could become a "licensed" storyteller, if she promised to never write the stories down.

She almost kept her promise. When she was in her 80ies, the world had changed. The Ottoman Empire was no more and neither storytellers nor caravans could be found. She was afraid that all the wonderful tales she had been taught would be lost, why she started to write them down. The manuscripts are now in a museum in Istanbul.

10.17.2015

Collective Economy

In both Armenia and Georgia, evidence of the failed economic policies of both the Soviet Union and the new countries are abundant. Empty factories are part of the landscape, built by the Soviets, bought by shady businessmen, stripped of everything that could be sold, and then left to decay in a way that only Jan Jörnmark can appreciate.
In the countryside, large abandoned farmhouses can be found in many areas. They are the results of the kolkhoz policy requiring villages to give up their private land to focus on one kind of farming, often irrespectively of what the land was suited for. However, the transition from the Soviet centrally planned economy to a market economy has not been easy. Not every family was prepared for the sudden responsibility for all the tasks involved in farming, leaving a substantial part of the rural population longing for the old times.

Mistakes were also made regarding the major industries and infrastructures, creating private oligopolies instead of having a healthy mix of a large number of both private and public bodies. Monopolies and oligopolies hold about 60 % of Armenia’s market, according to a new World Bank report "Republic of Armenia: Accumulation, Competition, and Connectivity.

In Georgia, the Law on Competition came into force in September 2014 and is supposed to be enforced by The Competition Agency. Since Georgia is very much pro-EU, the law is strongly influenced by EU legislation and reflects concepts from contemporary EU rules and practices. However, not everybody is convinced they are doing a good job.
From Caucasus Highlights 2015
The idea of villages specialising their production has been taken up in other contexts. Japan's OVOP initiative inspired Thailand to introduce the OTOP movement resulting in, among other things, really lovely scarves now in my home. In EU, the Smart Specialisation strategies are spreading, thankfully designed as a bottom-up process and supported by the S3 platform.

Today, there is again much talk about collective economy, although in a somewhat different shape. Maybe there is something to learn from this movement also for the South Caucasus countries and they probably have insights to share. Inspiration can be found everywhere: In Sweden, the Forum for Social Innovation Sweden recently released an ABC in collaborative economy (in Swedish). If you live in Gothenburg, you can join the new Collaborative Economy Göteborg Association. If you're more into going to France, I recommend the next OuiShare Fest in Paris in May.

One aspect of collective economy is the sharing economy trend. It's really easy to get lost in this area where there is a big difference between companies like Uber and Airbnb, making loads of money, and voluntary associations or initiatives not earning a penny. I recommend reading the report "The Sharing Economy - Embracing Change With Caution".

A favourite sharing initiative right now is the Fruktförmedlingen (The Fruit Agency) where you can see where you can get fruit for free in Sweden.
From Höstmarknad sep 2014

10.10.2015

Threat Intelligence

It is important to make an intelligent choice when faced with a severe threat. You probably already know about fight-flight-freeze, but there is another common behaviour among both children and adults: fawn. As I see it, the Stockholm syndrome is a kind of fawn response, where you try to survive by sucking up to your aggressor.

According to Pete Walker, the way you were treated as a child has an impact on to what extent you are able to use all four responses or if you over-rely on one or two. In Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan people sometimes talk about Russia/Soviet as there parent nation, their father. Although these countries have much in common when it comes to how they have been treated by both Russian Empire and Soviet, they (or perhaps their presidents) now demonstrate very different coping approaches.

Outside the parlament building in Georgia you find the blue EU flag beside the white Georgian flag with the red crosses. Not only there, but everywhere including TV. Georgia's aggression towards Russia probably cost them both South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
With its oil and gas safely under government control (or perhaps more to the point, the president family's control), Azerbaijan confidently develops the country and its image, the most recent event being the much criticized European Olympic Games 2015. However, being the richest country in the region they are also acutely aware of the hungry eyes from the Russian bear staring at them across the northern border and from the Nagorno-Karabakh region, where they are "helping" the Armenians.

With no natural resources and not much industry, Armenia is very dependent on Russia when it comes to energy and export. Being in conflict with both Turkey (regarding the holy Mount Ararat) and Azerbaijan (regarding the region Nagorno-Karabakh they call Artsakh), takes its toll on the meagre state treasure chest. Although many of the seven million Armenians living outside their home country are chipping in, the leaning on Russia is obvious.
Responses to threat can change, especially after therapy (or a new breed of citizens and technology). Al Jazeera recently reported on demonstrations in Armenia after the decision by Armenia's Public Services Regulatory Commission (PSRC) to raise the prices of electricity by 17%, effective from the beginning of August. The Electric Networks of Armenia is a monopoly owned by Russia.

"While the outcome for Armenia is far from certain, the shock of a resilient challenge to the traditional post-Soviet authoritarian model should worry a number of neighbouring countries. As Russian rule loses stability in the region, the seeds of unrest are bound to spread and grow." Al Jazeera

According to The Huffington Post, the "Electric Yerevan" movement has had a major impact, despite or perhaps because its lack of political leadership:

"A new culture has now been created in Armenia and in the post-Soviet area, a culture of exclusively social movements, "live walls" serving as a deterrent, and this way, the police and the government are afraid to engage in violence against the demonstrators." The Huffington Post

Traces of threats to organisations or countries can be found by surveilling internet traffic and enforcing computer security. Some of these threats are also focusing on ICT infrastructure, becoming cyber attacks. According to Gartner, Threat Intelligence is a growing market. However, as pointed out by Anton Chuvakin, information about a future attack is not enough, you also need a way to handle it, i.e. back to coping strategies.

Perhaps as a threat intelligence service provider you need to take into account your customer's coping strategy, and maybe help him/her/it develop a broader response repertoar making it more agile. Who knows, this broader scope and expansion of language might also help attracting more females to the business.

PS By using social network analysis (first developed by unsuspecting anthropologist) some of the intelligence services in the above mentioned countries have probably pin-pinted you as a potential threat since you are reading this post. Sorry!

10.03.2015

Forget-me-not

Outside the Khan's palace in Baku is a sign commemorating the so called March Days in 1918, when thousands of Azeris where killed by Armenians in the chaotic situation in the wake of WW1 and the Russian Revolution. The word "genocide" is carefully included in the text to describe the horrible event, although perhaps not exactly living up to the definition. A hundred years later, Armenia and Azerbaijan is still at war, with the Nagorno-Karabakh situation unresolved and a million people displaced from their homes.

To the untrained eye, the holes in the wall surely looks like they were made by bullets. However, nowhere is information found about the September Days from the same year, when the Ottoman Islamic Army of the Caucasus advanced and together with the local Azeris killed about the same number of Armenians in Baku.
This year Armenia commemorates The Armenian Genocide Centennial. The forget-me-not has been chosen as a symbol, and can be found everywhere in the country: on shop doors, on taxis, in hotels, out in the countryside and in Jerevan.

"The color of black symbolizes horror and the memories of the Genocide. The yellow color symbolizes the sunlight, which gives hope to live and create. The inner radial light purple symbolizes involvement in the recognition and condemnation of the Armenian Genocide. And the predominant purple lies in the basis of Armenians’ self-consciousness, in vestments worn by the servants of Armenian Apostolic Church."
During the summer of 2015, the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet held a competition to where you could vote for the most beautiful word in the Swedish language. Words such as "snöflinga" (snowflake), "glänta" (clearing in the wood), "juninatt" (night in june), "gryning" (dawn), and "västanvind" (wind from the West) were suggested, but it was "förgätmigej" (forget-me-not) that won.

The author Björn Ranelid, who were among the people who had suggested this word, motivated his choice this way:

"What joy to be a wish, a desire and a declaration in one single word. However, the imperative does not have an exclamation mark in its tow, but hides a neglected verb in its chalice." (my own, very crude translation)

9.26.2015

Dead Souls

In his book Changing Places, David Lodge introduces the game Humiliation. It's about confessing great books you've never read. Apparently, for AS Byatt, one of her entries was/is Gogol's "Dead Souls, now in a new English translation.

Landowners in Tsarist Russia were taxed on their payroll of serfs (souls), which included those who had died between tax-assessments. At one level, Gogol's book describes how a man, Chichikov, has formed the plan of buying the dead souls of various landowners in order to use his list of fictive slaves to buy real land to "resettle" them and to become a landowner himself. However, the book is much more complex than that, why I recommend Dead Souls Demystified for a more thorough analysis.
From Berlin 2015
According to Tom Reiss, the Jewish oil barons from Baku, who after the Russian revolution escaped to Berlin, talked about their oil wells as "lost souls". They had surely read Gogol's book and perhaps discussed it with Vladimir Nabokov, who also had fled Russia for Berlin.

There is much to say about Russia and oil, and its history is full of dead souls of all kinds, perhaps especially the kind that Chichikov represents according to Byatt:

"Chichikov himself is also of course, a dead soul, a man self-designed to be unremarkable, agreeable and acceptable, a smiling confidence-trickster whose plots, as Nabokov points out, are neither very clever nor very coherent."

Or, using Nobokov's words, he is the manifestation of the untranslatable Russian concept of poshlost.

9.19.2015

Compulsory Vacationer

In the beginning of small workshops I often introduce an exercise aiming at making the participants aware of their own role in the outcome. I'm not sure where I picked it up, but it probably was from Esther Derby and Diana Larsen who combined the ideas behind agile software development with appreciative inquiry to create a new way of doing Lessons Learned sessions called “Agile Retrospectives”.

In the exercise all participants are asked to report anonymously which of the following roles they will take on during the workshop: Explorer, Shopper, Vacationer or Prisoner.

Explorers are eager to discover new ideas and insights, and really wants to contribute. Shoppers will be happy to go home with one or two useful new ideas. Vacationers aren’t especially interested in the workshop, but are glad to be away from the daily grind.  Prisoners feel that they’ve been forced to attend and can actually sabotage the workshop. Should the group consist of only vacationers and prisoners, then the workshop really needs to focus on why that is the case. Thankfully, that has never been the case during my workshops.

However, I wonder if not people take on the same role no matter the topic of the workshop. Although we certainly differ in our interest in various areas, I think our general disposition shines through.

We often get stuck in old habits. When I drive to visit my sister and her family in Jönköping, I pass a a campsite just beside the motorway at Ulricehamn. Apparently people return to this place every year and some caravans stay during winter. The view of the lake is beautiful and the small town is quaint, but the beach is nothing special and the roar from the road must be deafening. I shake my head in wonder and drive on.

I must admit though, that I too have my special places I seem to return to over and over again. One of them is the sculpture park Pilane at the west coast of Sweden (2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2009, 2007). Another is the amazing garden at Läckö Castle (2015, 2012, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007) designed by Simon Irvine who was there when I visited this year. Nearby Peter Korn's garden is also a must (2015, 2013, 2011, 2007) and he's always so nice to talk to.

I suppose it's the combination of certain recognition and elements of surprise that keeps me going back. Maybe this is a habit I share with other people!?!

9.12.2015

Summer Lovin

Every autumn I make a list of all the fun things I did during summer. It's amazing how long the list always becomes, and the memories keep me warm through the winter.

It's a bit tricky to know when to start counting because many days in May are much warmer than the ones in June and July. For example, I spent some lovely days in Kalmar at the end of May going to  the HSS conference focusing academia-industry collaboration. Lots of interesting seminars, but best of all was the disco and we danced all night long. This time I managed to visit the beautiful Krusenstiernska Gården.
In the beginning of June I had the chance to sneak out to one of my favourite places in Stockholm: Rosendal's Gardens. Next I went to Warsaw for a seminar on innovation, but I managed to get to know the city a bit too with its great parks and old (rebuilt) town.

The days at home were fun too, picking mushrooms, raspberries and blueberries and just basking in the sun by a lake with a book in hand. We also tried to educate us by learning more about herbs and other plants at Gunnebo Castle.

At Midsummer, a new tradition has been established and I went to Kungshamn for a cosy weekend with friends again. This year we walked on the slippery cliffs at Ramsvik. Before the end of June, I managed to go to Berlin for another academia-industry conference and had the opportunity to explore a bit of the city center. It was quite rainy, why we went to museums and KaDeWe. Summer is not complete without a visit to Peter Korn's Garden, and this time I could cuddle with one of the tabby cats.
The first weekend in July promised to be very hot, why we headed for the coast since we knew this could be the only really warm days. According to Mum we used to go to Stråvalla beach when I was a kid, although I don't remember this at all. After that we tried to educate us again through taking part in a tour in the Rose Garden in Trädgårdsföreningen between the showers. We also took a one-day job at my uncle's current favourite pastime: the Munkedal museum railway.

Another sweet spot is the sculpture park Pilane, this year followed by a walk around the exhibition of wooden boats in Skärhamn. A new acquaintance was Vrångå island in the south part of the archipelago. We watched the families walk off the ferry and went in the other direction. Another new experience was going up Säveån by Paddan, watching new parts of Gothenburg. Going to Hönö for lunch and shopping is becoming a very tasty tradition. I love my new blue trousers! Dinner with friends in Hällsvik was also very inspiring.

Despite the weather, we also managed to go to Läckö Castle. When we went to the beach at Hindens Rev, the wind was so strong we had our picnic behind the changing rooms. We had better luck when biking on Ven island, and visiting other beautiful spots in Skåne such as Kullen and Hovs Hallar. The sun was also shining when we went to Särö Västerskog and had a family dinner at Blomstermåla.
I had the good fortune to attend some fun events such as the stand-up comedy show Badjävlar, the Midnight Run competition, the Music on the Water concert with Eric Gadd, a birthday party for my sister and her children, and a village get-together with my parents' former  neighbours. We also had some very nice lunches and coffee breaks at Lärjeåns GardensRåda Säteri and Gunnebo, with homemade bread and ice-cream. In addition, many hours were spent at the allotmentkilling slugs, weeding, harvesting and looking at the wonderful sunsets.

According to the meteorology science, summer continues into September at the west coast, at least when it comes to temperature. That's why I also count kayaking at the coast near Fjällbacka as part of my summer activities. A very nice way to spend the end of summer, with lots of sun, wind, good friends and curious seals.

9.05.2015

Alias Bey and Said

When my mother was nine years old, she had read all the books in the small country school. The teacher recommended her to read something from her father's library and so she did. I don't think she asked her father for permission, because the first two books she picked are not especially suitable for young children. "Blood and Oil in the Orient" and "Twelve Secrets of the Caucasus" namely contain stories of genocide, rape, war, murder and so on. They also include wonderful fairy-tale-like stories about knights and castles, heroism and bravery, strange customs and remote villages, sunny deserts and stormy seas - all though the eyes of a young boy. They were so exciting that my mother has yearned to visit the Caucasus ever since.

When I started to read these books this spring, I became interested in the author Essad Bey, since especially the first book was supposed to be a kind of autobiography. However, when I looked it up on Wikipedia it turned out that it was a pen name and behind it was a man called Lev Nussimbaum.

I was a bit weary to tell my mother this, since the books had meant a lot to her. As it turned out, the story of Lev Nussimbaum was even more intricate than the two books. His story has been captured by Tom Reiss in The Orientalist: Solving the Mystery of a Strange and Dangerous Life. Amazon describes his book like this:

"A thrilling page-turner of epic proportions, Tom Reiss’s panoramic bestseller tells the true story of a Jew who transformed himself into a Muslim prince in Nazi Germany. Lev Nussimbaum escaped the Russian Revolution in a camel caravan and, as “Essad Bey,” became a celebrated author with the enduring novel Ali and Nino as well as an adventurer, a real-life Indiana Jones with a fatal secret. Reiss pursued Lev’s story across ten countries and found himself caught up in encounters as dramatic and surreal–and sometimes as heartbreaking–as his subject’s life."

During his short life, Lev Nussimbaum managed to produce an astonishing number of articles, novels and biographies. He depicted Stalin, Lenin, Mohammed, Reza Shah of Iran and many more. For some he used his first pen name Essad Bey. Towards the end of his life, he wrote his most famous book: Ali and Nino. According to Tom Reiss, that is, who claims that Nussimbaum is the man behind the pseudonym Kurban Said.

In her review of Reiss' book, Veronica Horwell ends with these words:

"Reiss, through obsessed sleuthing, has retrieved a believable liar and revealed a secret, the last notebooks of Lev-Essad-Kurban, purportedly a novel called The Man Who Knew Nothing About Love. He decently respects the connections inconsequence can make, from the Interpol officer who hooked him on Ali and Nino to the chance arrival at his Manhattan dinnertable of the last heir to the Ottoman sultanate. And his descriptions of cities of exile resonate so in a time of transit that I hope his next book will be a history of diaspora capitals."

Criticism of the sources was apparently not so important in Sweden in the 1930s, because when I look at the cover of the Swedish edition of "Twelve Secrets of the Caucasus" it includes three positive reviews of "Blood and Oil in the Orient". Among them one by Professor Carl Skottsberg, the creator of the Göteborg Botanical Garden. Somewhat of an adventurer himself, he still had time to write book reviews for the former newspaper Göteborgs Handels- och Sjöfartstidning, renowned for its anti-Nazi profile. I'm not sure what Skottberg would have written, had he known the true identity of the author and of his ambivalent attitude towards the developments in Germany and Italy.
From Azaleadalen Botaniska 2013
I'm sorry that I didn't know all this when I visited Positano in 2001 with my mother. Then we surely would have visited Lev-Essad-Kurban's grave like Elizabeth Kiem did:

"But one headstone prefers the direct exposure of Tyrrhenian sun. It wears a turban in place of a cross. It faces away from Positano, south towards the next outcrop of a town. It is the resting place of Essad Bey, aka Kurban Said, author of that tale of Azeri star-crossed lovers, Ali and Nino. In Positano he is known as “The Muslim.” Thanks to Tom Reiss, he is also known by his birth name, Lev Nussimbaum.

I like to think of him as the Weimar Scheherazade."

8.29.2015

The Memory of Love

When I went to university in the late 1980's, in addition to studying Computational Linguistics I also enrolled in an English class, one of my best decisions ever. One of the courses was English Literature and, of course, it included one book of Graham Greene: The Heart of the Matter. Escape, war, responsibility, passion, guilt, failure, shame and pity are some of the issues dealt with in this piece.

“When he was young, he had thought love had something to do with understanding, but with age he knew that no human being understood another. Love was the wish to understand, and presently with constant failure the wish died, and love died too perhaps or changed into this painful affection, loyalty, pity…” Graham Greene, The Heart of the Matter

“The truth, he thought, has never been of any real value to any human being- it is a symbol for mathematicians and philosophers to pursue. I human relations kindness and lies are worth a thousand truths.” Graham Greene, The Heart of the Matter

These themes can also be found in Aminatta Forna's The Memory of Love, also set in Freetown, Sierra Leone. In both books, the title appears somewhere in the middle. In Forna's case it describes how one of the main characters feels "the lost love of his life like his amputees feel their phantom limbs; the "memory of love" is an absence every bit as desperate and intangible as any more physical haunting" according to The Guardian.

Love is concept often described in terms of conceptual metaphors. Many examples are provided in the song "The Rose", a smash hit from 1979 written by Amanda McBroom and sung by Bette Midler.

"Some say love, it is a river
That drowns the tender reed.
Some say love, it is a razor
That leaves your soul to bleed.
Some say love, it is a hunger,
An endless aching need.
I say love, it is a flower,
And you its only seed."
The Rose
From Gunnebo Summer 2015
There are two parts in a conceptual metaphor: the often more concrete source domain that we are supposed to know something about (river, razor, hunger, flower) and the more abstract target domain that we want to understand better (love).

Viewing love as an intrinsic part of yourself, similar to a limb, seems to me related to embodied cognition. Love can be warm or cold, it is sometimes painful, your often take it for granted and only miss it when it's gone.

At Chalmers, researcher Max Ortiz Catalan has developed a new mind-controlled prosthetic arm that also minimizes phantom pains. To make it available for more people, he has also created an open source platform for the development and benchmarking of advanced prosthetic control strategies called BioPatRec. I wonder if a similar thing could be developed for lost love, and to what extent that would be a good idea. However, I'm sure it would gather a substantial transdisciplinary international open source community.

"Your body will remember
What your mind learnt to forget" Level42, Two Solitudes

8.22.2015

Wind Alert

During my dotcom journey in the late 1990s, I worked a lot with managers from the City of Gothenburg. One of them had a poster on the wall with a sailing ship and a quote attributed to Seneca: If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favourable. At that time I thought it made some sense, but didn't think much further about it. Ten years later on I was asked by one of my colleagues in a totally different organisation to speak to his friends about leadership. They were a bunch of guys all in their early forties getting together twice a year to have dinner and some input for more serious discussions.

I thought long and hard about what to say and I believe I talked a lot about strength-based development and my own experience of appreciative inquiry. However, I think that what got to them most was when I talked about what consequences lack of goals could have.

From Pilane 2015
You can find the quote above in various versions, one even attributed to Lewis Carroll, although he actually did not write "If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there." In my own experience, the truth is more likely to be this: "If you don't make up your mind about where you want to be in the future, you'll think that every road/wind may perhaps take you somewhere nicer."

I talked to the guys about how it felt to be together with someone who very often worked overtime, spent endless time at conferences and meetings far away, stayed late at work-related parties although not really enjoying them, and so on instead of spending time with you. Who never wanted to make plans, in case something more interesting came up. Not because he was determined to reach a certain goal, but because he wanted to have as many opportunities as possible. Chances he never used, since he didn't have a goal.

By then I had a couple of failed relationships behind me that I partly blamed on this phenomenon. I found it really hard to compete with going to the Cannes Film Festival or meeting Gary Moore backstage to check out his light rig, when all I had to offer was a cosy evening at my place or a picnic in the beech tree woods at Fjärås. And it would have been ok to lose out to Gary and the likes of his once in a while, but it got to me to lose what felt like almost every time and to everyone. To see the one you loved only if all his other arrangements fell through.

Some of the guys in my colleague's network had rather recently gone through divorces, and they confirmed my story. Without a clear goal, it is hard to discriminate what is really important since everything becomes an opportunity.

I believe that if you want a proper relationship that must be a clear goal in itself. And also to make sure to use good systems in order to be able to catch really favourable winds, to have a Wind Alert.

The answer my friend, is blowin' in the wind, Bob Dylan