The Great Enigma

Strong and slow wind
from the seaside library –
I’ll rest here

From "The Great Enigma" by Tomas Tranströmer, 2004 this particular verse translated from the Swedish by Anatoly Kudryavitsky

From Kungshamn Midsommar 2014

There’s a tree walking around in the rain,
it rushes past us in the pouring grey.
It has an errand. It gathers life
out of the rain like a blackbird in an orchard.

When the rain stops so does the tree.
There it is, quiet on clear
nights waiting as we do for the moment
when the snowflakes blossom in space.

From Tomas Tranströmer’s New Collected Poems, translated by Robin Fulton 

From Upplid X-mas 2010 BW

"Det finns mitt i skogen en oväntad glänta, som bara kan hittas av den som gått vilse."
Ur Gläntan av Tomas Tranströmer


Tasteful Language

In a study by Francesca Citron of Freie Universität Berlin and Adele Goldberg of Princeton University investigated metaphorical concepts related to taste recruited brain regions. They used 37 simple metaphorical sentences and their literal counterparts, which differed by only a single word – such as “The break-up was bitter for him” versus “The break-up was bad for him.” The researchers recorded participants’ brain activity as they silently read these sentences.

They found that the taste metaphors engaged not only taste-related areas of the brain but also emotion-related areas more than did the literal sentences. Apparently, words taste!

From Heidelberg November 2007
In an interview by The Cognitive Neuroscience, Citron reveals that she thinks that the implication of their results is that it can pay off to use figurative language in order to communicate more effectively. However, as a listener, one should be aware of that you could be overly influenced by metaphorical language.

For a Swede, the name Citron certainly evoke taste-related areas in the brain, since that is what we call a lemon. Some years ago, I found out that there are actually sweet lemons. So much better when confronted with the saying "When live gives you lemons, make lemonade" which incidentally was the title of the 2014 TedX Göteborg event


Speed of Darkness

Today is an equinox, where the day and night are equal. Tomorrow there will be more light than darkness. We know about the speed of light. We also use it as an expression for "very fast". But how about the speed of darkness?

According to Dr. Christopher S. Baird darkness travels as quickly as light. Or rather, it doesn't travel at all but it happens as quickly as the light moves. When the last ray leaves the sun, it will take 8 minutes and 19 seconds before it gets dark. Darkness is the same thing as no light.

However, a shadow may move quicker than the speed of light. Don't think that's possible? Watch this video, where you can even see shadows kissing.
Light and darkness are often used to describe moods. However, is it that simple that without darkness there is light? And does light and darkness come at the same speed when it comes to how you feel?

It's very comforting to know that there are a number of tricks you can use to get happy when you're sad, to chase the darkness away. Making it leave at the speed of light. You don't have to have nyctophobia to want that to happen!


Transcending Irrationality by Squaring the Circle

As a keen follower of I Fucking Love Science, I have noticed the growing interest in the pi day why I want to make my own contribution to the celebration. To what extent pi day really is today of course depends on which date format you prefer, but disregarding that, π nevertheless is an interesting concept.

π is a mathematical constant, defined as the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter, commonly approximated as 3.1415926. But it also has other characteristics worth mentioning such as that it is an irrational number, having decimals that never ends and never settles into a permanent repeating pattern. The digits appear to be randomly distributed, although no proof of this has been discovered yet which of course means that a large number of mathematicians are still trying to do so. Also, π is a transcendental number which implies that it is impossible to solve the ancient challenge of squaring the circle with a compass and straightedge.

Now, I don't understand why anyone would want to square a circle unless you consider the idiom "square peg in a round hole" for example occuring in the chick-flick movie "The Holiday", sadly shown every Christmas on Swedish television.

To me "squaring the circle" is more interesting as a metaphor than as a mathematical activity. Apparently it has come to mean "to try to do the impossible". Been there, done that. However, since it has been proven by Ferdinand von Lindemann in 1882 that squaring the circle is impossible, it should be used with caution since it is really difficult to prove that something is impossible and not just hard. Of course, you can always do what mathematicians often do: cheat. Or, in their language, do an approximation.

From Cambridge UK 2015


Bacha Posh

In my world, there are three kinds of trolls. There are the mythical creatures living in the deep woods that you tell your children about as a bedtime story. Then there are the patent trolls, who make their living by intimidating patent holders to pay a lot of money. And then there are the Internet trolls, who go after individuals, often women, in social media.

Recently I listened to an episode of This American Life, where Lindy West told how she actually got in contact with one of the trolls harassing her. He explained to her that he was so full of self-loathing since he lost both his job and his girlfriend, that he couldn't stand they way that she carried her head high and where outspoken despite being overweight (and a woman). The anonymity of the web gave him an outlet of the rage he felt, although he was now very sorry for what he had done.

In 2012, the report "Sex and World Peace" was published. It presents research demonstrating that the security of women is a vital factor in the security of the state and its incidence of conflict and war. This means that in societies where women are treated badly, men are also more likely to be hurt or killed. The authors claims that the future clash of civilizations will be between those who consider women as humans and those who don't.
From Malta May 2014
The report was highlighted recently by the SvD reporter Jenny Nordberg. In one of her articles she remarked that violence against women are often considered to be a "women's issue", when it in fact seems to be at least a big indicator of something that really concerns the whole human race. "Those who hate women, are also the biggest threats to the world peace." She has also written a book on this theme: "The Underground Girls of Kabul". There she describes how families dress girls as boys to give them better opportunities in life, such as being able to go to school and move around freely.

Even if they are not as bad as Afghanistan, there are also other contexts where you are sometimes better off pretending you're a man. One example is the computer game community, where a lot of Swedish women have come forward lately, describing the kind of abuse they get from "fellow" players. The industry and research community have reacted against this abuse, although I think stronger actions are needed against the sexism that can all too often be found in games.

I remember when I read the book Backlash when travelling to Australia in 1993 that I thought about the predictions in the book. There will be repercussions. For every step you take forward as a woman towards the same rights and the same opportunities as men, there will be people trying to hold you back. Or hit you back. And in addition, they will tell you it's your own fault. That none of this would have happened, if you had just stayed in your place.

Sometimes both men and women criticize all-female networks like Women in Wireless and Geek Girl MeetUp. However, having a background myself in the ICT area, I can fully understand this need to be among fellow females. To go to a place where you don't need to bacha posh.