Back in the days when I was new to roleplaying, I played a fair share of Chaosium’s RPG Call of Cthulhu. Investigators exploring occult mysteries typically ending in horrible death from untimely confrontations with hideous monsters. While I was never particularly into the horror genre, I did appreciate the historical setting, exploring how is was to “live” in the 1920’s East Coast USA. The game also showed an alternative way to play than the monster bashing party of wizards and elves that came out of the D&D red box that was the gateway drug in Denmark.
My taste buds later got used to drama style games with juicy dramatic choices being more important than detailed simulations of fictional events. However, I still have a weak spot for historical facts that drive conflict and drama.
Then in the Year of the Covid, a group of gifted Swedes published a Swedish edition of Call of Cthulhu. However, it isn’t just a translation into Swedish of the game mechanics and the monster tables — it comes with an intriguing 1920’s Sweden setting and a number of campaigns and scenarios. I checked them out and I realised that 1920’s Scandinavia is an excellent place for the central conflict between science and existential horror.
As I was fortunate enough to now have a semi-stable group of players for online play, I strategically sent a link to Santa — and behold, Santa was kind this year:
It’s a triple win: I get to practice my Swedish, I will learn more about Swedish history and culture, and I get to hang out with friends.
So how does the game check out? (No spoilers here). So far very well. The hard cover, full colour books are beautifully illustrated and the typesetting and editing are great from a first glance. There are juicy historical details, including maps of Stockholm 1926 and Gothenburg 1921, and the sections on how to play are well reflected.
The campaign (which roughly translate to The Bull Figurine from Kingsmoor) will draw the investigators into a conflict between eldritch forces and take them on a trip of urban and country side Scandinavia anno 1926.
From a game design point of view, one thing that the original Call of Cthulhu game failed to generate consistently was the story arc of the rational minded investigator slowly creeping into insanity as existential truths materialize (I recall most games ending in sudden death or sudden insanity). As the slow realisation is a central theme in Lovecraft’s stories (e.g. in At the Mountains of Madness), it seems as a fundamental flaw. From a brief skim, this looks unchanged. However, the setting is great, so let’s see if a good Session Zero can set us off on a good course. Maybe an investigator will be inspired to write a journal to warn the rest of mankind from following the trail into the unknown?
Respecting the local COVID restrictions we have turned to hiking in the forest every weekend for exercise, fresh air and — weather permitting — a bit of sunshine. As the days get shorter and as both my wife and I work from home, we need to get out. Our youngest on the other hand has to endure: she is outdoor in the kindergarten most of the day and only goes inside for meals and short sessions in smaller groups.
When we moved to Stockholm three years ago our financial realities gave us a choice between moving to a small flat near the center with a short commute or to a larger house with a one hour commute. These days when we both work from home, we enjoy that we chose the latter.
Forests and lakes are abundant around here even 20 km from the centre of a city of more than one million. Freeways and railways cut through rough terrain, and just a short walk away you can get lost in the wilderness. The landscape is the work of the retracting ice leaving steep hillsides with rough boulders to be slowly conquered by pine trees and oaks.
You discover the traces of several thousand years of human activity have left on the landscape. A rune stone mourning the death of a loved one near not far from a memorial spray painted on a concrete wall mourning the death of a loved one. A goodbye-dear-homeland carved into a rock wall from an America emigrant in 1872 not far from the concrete tower blocks welcoming in immigrants since the sixties. A Stone Age petroglyph next to a mosque. Contrasts that make you think.
The local municipalities provide good facilities. Apps and websites show were to go. Parking lots and information boards are easy to find. Paths are marked with coloured dots, wet patches are enhanced by wooden footbridges, and picnic tables and shelters are frequent.
So far we have visited four different lakes in four weekends, all within a 15 minutes drive. Enjoy pictures from our trips.
I spent a lot of time on RPG forums back in the days before Facebook and SoMe stole most of the traffic though never quite delivering the same experience. Well, flame wars definitely happen also on SoMe, but I never quite saw the meticulously argued conversation about a niche topic between a few dedicated and well articulated debaters.
The Danish RPG forum died when Brian pulled the plug on the server and moved to land of the guns. Forge and story games also got quiet until both closed down. I had some RPG chatter on Facebook and Google Plus, but Plus died and I deleted my Facebook account after moving to Stockholm (and after Cambridge Analytica).
So now when raising kids and home improvement projects take less of my time, and I need to get a geek fix, I’m turning to the Swedish RPG forum at rollspel.nu, this has the added benefit of helping me understand Swedish language and culture better.
One example of what a geek forum can do for you is this thread where a person in earnest is wondering if the details of a fictional landscape in certain types of genres have enough influence on the story generated through play.
Well, funny enough, this is actually one design aspect I’m working with in my hack of How We Came to Live Here by Brennan Taylor.
From https://tbe.se (Healthcare Media): “Lethal tick disease more common than previously known” and “2017: More cases than ever before”.
Plus plenty of pictures of ticks and kids. I’m reminded by the scene in The Truman Show where Truman visits a travel agency to buy a plane ticket and there is a poster of a plane being hit by lightning on the wall behind the sales agent.
Into the sales funnel
Ticks are common also in Denmark and Skåne where I lived before, and while I was taught from childhood to check for ticks and too look out for infection, the danger was Borelia, another tick-borne disease, for which there is a cure (antibiotics, if given early). However, in certain areas, ticks also carry TBE, and one of these areas is the Stockholm region.
So as a good parent, I was naturally fully intended on getting the family vaccinated. Who wouldn’t want their kids to go play in a forest? Which parent doesn’t do their best to protect their kids against the dangers of the world?
First summer in Stockholm came and went without us getting vaccinated (or infected), we were busy doing other things. When life started to calm down — and triggered by the ever present reminders all around — I looked into the practicalities of how to get it done. But there was one thing that was nagging me: Sweden generally provides good public health care, at least for kids, with vaccine programs and regular health checks. So if TBE is so dangerous, why doesn’t Sweden provide the vaccine for free?
So I looked into the facts.
What is the risk of catching TBE?
According to the Swedish health authorities, the number of TBE cases reported per year in the Stockholm region are:
2017: 146 or 6,32 per 100 000 inhabitants
2018: 116 or 4,94 per 100 000 inhabitants
2019: 98 or 4,12 per 100 000 inhabitants
The numbers I have cited are the cases reported as infected in Sweden. The region of Stockholm contains about 2.3 million people.
For comparison, the number of people who have tested positive with Covid-19 in the Stockholm region so far is above 15 000. However, the vaccine has been around for some time now and I don’t know how many in the Stockholm region has been vaccinated. Maybe we are the last four in the region who hasn’t got our shots?
Checking other sources, here is from CDC: “The overall risk of acquiring TBE for an unvaccinated visitor to a highly endemic area during the TBE virus transmission season has been estimated at 1 case per 10,000 person-months of exposure.”
Also, even if you happen to catch TBE, most cases are mild. Again from CDC: “The European subtype is associated with milder disease, a case-fatality ratio of <2%, and neurologic sequelae in up to 30% of patients. “
Say we are exposed to ticks for one month per year through our behaviour, this puts the odds of someone in the family catching TBE at less than once per 10 000 summers of outdoor activity.
What does the vaccine do?
Vaccines are not miracles, even if they come close. To be fully effective, three doses must be given over one year, with a re-vaccination every 3-5 years.
From the Swedish Health Authority: “After three doses according to the normal time table, almost 100% of the vaccinated is protected for at least three years”
Not bad. Each dose cost around 400 SEK. So the family could be protected for three years for just under 5 000 SEK.
Why doesn’t Sweden provide a free vaccine?
Åland (between Sweden and Finland) provides a free vaccine to its citizens while Sweden has chosen not to do so. In my search to understand why, I found a study by the Swedish Health Authority from December 2018 which clearly examines the costs and benefits for three different vaccine programs.
Essentially doing the same calculations as above, the study concludes that it is not cost effective to provide publicly sponsored vaccination.
The cost of saving one life-year lands at way above 1 000 000 SEK per year in all of the scenarios. While the study does not put an exact break-even number — as this is essentially a political question — it does state that costs of more than 1 000 000 SEK/year is generally perceived as not cost effective.
This leaves the market open for the commercial actors to convince people like me that what they offer is of value to me. Looking at the dropping number of reported TBE cases for 2019, it looks like they have been very succesful doing this. Or maybe the ticks just didn’t like the hot and dry summers of 2018 and 2019.
My personal risk appetite is definitely higher than 1 per 10 000. So I decided to not get us vaccinated but rely on the well known prevention measures: Wear long trousers and closed footwear when going into the forest, check for ticks when returning home, pay attention also to worn clothes. That saves the family three trips to a clinique and cash for a new iPad. It’s not like we are camping in the archipelago every weekend anyway.
Now after looking into the details, I can safely walk past the infomercials and still feel like a good parent. Of course, if it so happens that one of my kids gets bitten by a tick that causes a serious case of TBE, I will have to live with the consequence of knowing that I — maybe — could have prevented it. Or, hang on, maybe I should buy the kids an insurance, another heavily-marketed product in Sweden…?
It is the best of times, it is the worst of times, … it is a time like any other time.
When Charles Dickens wrote the introduction to a Tale of Two Cities, he was writing a historical novel about the French Revolution. Many times since first reading his gripping story, the first sentence in the book has resonated with me when the present has presented itself from its worst and best sides. Trump, Brexit, and Corona, but also smartphones, drones and internet everywhere.
For me personally, Corona Time has meant lots of quality time with my wife and kids. After the initial disruption and the re-discovering what is valuable, important, meaningful and possible right here, right now, we have enjoyed many great moments.
We live in a beautiful spot with forest and lakes close by, in a suburbia with bike lanes, play grounds, shopping facilities, and still close to nature. A few weeks ago, I took off the supporting wheels on Sofie’s bike at her own request, and soon after she was biking on two wheels. This Sunday, we went to Hågelbyparken, a 3 km ride each way, to enjoy the afternoon sunshine with Sofie biking herself both ways. Saturday on the way back from a car trip to the south tip of Botkyrka, a mother elk and her young kid were grazing in the evening sun right next to the road as we passed by.
It is more than 2 months since I’ve been in the city center of Stockholm and I don’t miss it.
From change comes opportunity
I was laid off from my job a few weeks ago. It’s never fun, but it was the right decision for the company. I was in a strategic position with a short notice period. It was great to get to know the company, but also great now to get to re-invent myself. At work, I had a colleague argue “it has been like that for 15 years, we can’t change that”, while at the same time, outside, people stopped going to concerts, movies, and plays, and stopped visiting relatives and holding parties. A time of change is a time of opportunity, rules are being rewritten.
I’m half way in my professional life, I’ve worked in the space between technology and business for 20 years. I’ve written code, designed libraries, frameworks and tools, I’ve initiated, executed and closed projects. I’ve set up a company to launch a hobby project. I’ve picked up countless new technologies (and vaporised buzzwords) and I’ve worked with lots of smart people. I’ve met my wife at work and we moved to Stockholm to explore new opportunities.
And still the best is yet to come.
So I’m discovering the job market in Stockholm (again). We hear a lot about the companies that are hit hard by the crisis. But there are winners as well as losers. Plenty of open positions are being posted on LinkedIn, at least the kinds I qualify for. So, to land a good next job, is like playing a game or optimising a process, both of which I enjoy!
Here are some insights I’ve gotten so far:
Python & Data Science is hot!
LinkedIn Learning does have good quality content!
Covid-19 has shown that working full time remote is possible! But companies and recruiters have not yet found out!
Getting into Python and Data Science could be great fun — let me explain why.
I first came upon Python 20 years ago. I was fascinated with the core design principle, the Colombo egg of having white space replacing the semantic meaning of curly braces and semi colons. And then, having learned Matlab at university, it felt very familiar.
Then I joined SimCorp and became an APL programmer for 10 years. APL is one of the inspirations for Matlab and Python. APL has a run time interpreter and awesome native array support for working with vectors and matrices. The one thing that puts most people off is the non-ascii characters, which certainly impose a learning curve for newcomers. For SimCorp, this meant establishing its own training programme and developing lots of libraries internally.
I also came upon Daniel Ross’ talk from PyCon Sweden 2019 on why Python is huge in finance, well worth half an hour of your time.
Data Scienceis all around us
Well, what is data science? Beyond the hashtag and buzzword, it is about using domain knowledge and statistical and mathematical models to understand and analyse data. Funny enough, back in my university days, I put together a master program in applied mathematics for myself with courses in numerical analysis, optimisation and data fitting, and a thesis in stochastic calculations. So getting into data science is quite like going back to the roots.
The arrival of Covid-19 has popularised modelling and data-driven decision making as never before and correct understanding of a phenomena and the data are crucial for life-and-death decisions these days. In the next Netflix drama, a Data Scientist will be played by cool, young, diverse actor and — in the voice of a prophet — correctly predict the consequences of messing with the laws of nature.
Let me leave you with one final link, an extraordinarily informative presentation of the concepts of epidemiology we now hear every day: https://ncase.me/covid-19.
This morning I caught a rat. We haven’t seen them for a long time, but yesterday I saw one in our winter garden* and set a trap.
Rats was one of the surprises that came with moving to Stockholm. I guess it comes with many people living “close to nature”, with lakes and forests and dumpsters.
We discovered their presence shortly after moving in and soon took our precautions. I sealed off entries into the house and under the house, I removed all bushes near the house, we keep the doors closed and the lawn short, we don’t leave food around outside and garbage goes into closed bins only. I also bought a trap and competed with the neighbours to get the most kills, at least those who still cared.
The autumn where they renovated the sewers under the house, the rats were running around in the play ground in broad daylight.
The last year or so has been quiet on the rat front though. So yesterday’s visit was a surprise. Some quick troubleshooting revealed the issue: My wife had left a bag with stale bread in a plastic bag in the winter garden.
Because of the Holodomor*, Ukrainians never throw away food. In spite best effort, we still fail to consume what we buy from time to time before it is spoiled, and as we don’t have animals — at least some we want to keep around — we do sometimes end up with food waste. So we go feed the ducks in the lake with the kids every now and then. Yesterday we were overdue. Today we caught up.
As everyone else we are impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, trying to hit the right level of changed behaviour to stay safe while still carrying on living. Oskar’s party is postponed. My business trip to Denmark this coming week is off. Easter vacation in Denmark to open the summer house for the season is at minimum shortened.
A time of change is a time of opportunity. More time playing with the kids and to enjoy the spring.
Take care, stay safe. Wash hands, cough in your sleeve, and don’t leave food around for the rats.
Winter garden. With four different languages around at home and after being confused about the Swedish term ‘uterum’ which both means outhouse and an unheated room in extension of a house, we decided to officially name the rooms in our house to at least be consistent. While we do keep flowers the room, it is maybe more aspirational to call it the winter garden, it’s mostly where we store boxes and garden furniture in the winter.
Over the holidays, I listened to Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Mathew Walker as an audio book while driving.
If it wasn’t because what Mr. Walker sells is free (sleep), he would classify as a snake oil salesman. There is almost no limit to what natural sleep can do for your health: Improved learning, memory, immune system, and mental health. His writing style is a little bit too American-centric for my taste. Anyhow, if you can endure the chapters where he detailed and relentlessly puts the evidence on the table of the benefits of sleep, you eventually get to the chapter on the impact on sleep of modern lifestyle choices.
Lots of this boil down to common sense: do as your mother said, get a good night’s sleep, 8 hours, every night. Before an exam, after an exam, before a flu shot, after a flu shot, as a kid, as a teenager, as an adult, and in old age. Every day, all life.
Coffee, alcohol, and artificial light (such as from smartphones and tablets) are all stuff that messes with your sleep rhythm. Well known stuff. Worth reflecting over always.
So after the long holiday without an alarm clock, I’m aiming to establish good routines to help us juggle the activities that makes up our working weeks. Getting to school and work on time, with proper clothing and homework done and with a mental state to meet the day’s expected and unexpected demands.
As a father and caregiver of two kids (aged four and seven currently), we are past the time where kids woke up several times during the night. While still enjoying the comfort of sleeping in our bed from time to time, we can establish good routines (sleep hygiene as Mr. Walker calls it) and expect long, sleep-full nights all four.
So, here is where my key takeaway from the book came: The impact of the alarm clock. Most of us wake up with the use of an alarm clock (or smart phone alarm). The alarm clock triggers a fight-or-run stress response which can save your life on short term but is bad for your health on the long term. Furthermore, most of us snooze, i.e. voluntarily expose us to the stress factor of the alarm clock multiple times each day.
In response to this, I decided to immediately do an experiment with my alarm clock:
1: I changed my alarm clock for 15 minutes later with a commitment to not snooze.
2: I changed the alarm from a buzz to play Edvard Grieg’s Morning Mood.
As I have grown older, I have noted in myself how I have changed from a night owl to a morning person. I now particularly enjoy the reflective moment between waking up and getting up, where the brain is fresh and rested and can plan and explore how to meet today’s challenges.
My immediate experience was that I woke up before the alarm clock, so I still got this moment of reflection.
However, we had failed to tuck in early the first two nights of the week, so mornings were still a rough ride. So yesterday I started the bedtime ritual early. My oldest was very fresh and rested today in the morning and was ready for school before I was. He said we should go to bed early every evening. Clearly a success!
So now I’m doing a new experiment: I’ve set an alarm clock to remind us when to go to bed. Wouldn’t it be great with an alarm to go to bed instead of an alarm to wake up? Let’s see how it works!
One question I get a lot lately is how is the job market? It is not an easy one to answer. There are plenty of jobs posted on LinkedIn, but I only need one job, so what I care for is if there one for me and how to get it.
When I returned from vaction, I started sending applications. Typically, I didn’t hear anything for weeks besides the automated “application received” response. Then another automated mail, “we have chosen to proceed with other applicants”. Maybe it is just the holiday period, but I think not. Even for the jobs that sounded cool enough to follow up on, responses were slow to come and vague in details. Not very useful (1).
So how to improve?
What do I want and what are they looking for?
I have had the pleasure of doing many fun and challenging jobs in my career. I like new challenges and have been thrown into different situations and delivered. I want to do more of that!
Looking at my cv, others will easily see me as 20 year experience running complex, financial software development within large development organisations and thinking they will hire me to do more of that. This may not give me the job I want!
So part of the application process has been to tailor the cv to just look right. More emphasis on the stuff that matches the job post (and using the same words as in the job post), less emphasis on the stuff that point towards other interests and skills.
One of the insights gained in this process is that while I may have seen myself as an agile project manager, a lot of what I have done is what is also called business analysis, business intellegence and business process modelling (2). And I prefer heading in that direction rather than towards a role as scrum master or agile coach.
Tailoring the cv to the job post assumes that the company articulates what they actually are looking for — and that what they are looking for is what they actually need and will hire. I have seen job posts that mention specific tools and technologies like Tableau, Power BI, Azure, or AWS (3), when the truth is that picking up a new tool or technology and using it in a specific context could take no more than a week or two, while a cultural mismatch can’t be fixed as quickly.
It’s a broken process
The hiring process seen from the recruiting companies is not super fantastic either: First the hiring manager needs an approved headcount. Then the manager drafts a job description which goes through HR before it is published on whatever platforms the company has chosen to pay for. Then in a week or two, they get 200 applications, most of which are from people with no connection to Sweden or Scandinavia and no insight into the business, products or customers. Screening applications is then outsourced or done by a keyword match. Even if this produces a decent shortlist of candidates, it takes time to set up and do interviews and tests before you maybe get to send out offers. During which the headcount approval may need to be renewed or the candidate may have accepted another offer. Only if you end up signing with one candidate, you get to write feedback to the candidates you didn’t hire. It’s a broken process. It is designed to avoid mistakes, not to act fast on opportunities.
Do it differently
Obviously, there is another way to do things. It is called networking. A few weeks ago, I announced widely in my network that I am available for a new opportunities. I haved received great response, and it was great to catch up with people I haven’t been in touch with for a long time. Thanks!
This resulted in 3 interviews over the last two weeks. One of them led to an offer that I have chosen to accept — I’m starting a new job tomorrow.
Then you can start asking how is the new job?
(1) Feedback should be specific, acurate, objective, timely and usable.
Today’s headline steal from Trump is that he contemplates buying Greenland from Denmark. Maybe he is playing the long game after all? Or maybe he just likes the photo opportunity when he invites world leaders from fossil fuel economies to play golf with him in front of a melting glacier.
I visited Birka a few weeks ago, “the first city in Sweden”. For a few hundred years, it was a trading hub bringing people together near and far. Objects from today’s India, Egypt and Ireland have been found in or near the area. The city was abandoned by the end of the 10th century, some two hundred years before Stockholm was founded. In between, Sigtuna prospered.
One possible reason that Birka was abandoned is the change of coast line as the land rose following the melting of the ice from the last ice age. In this part of the world, near Stockholm, the land has risen 5 meters in the last 1000 years. When you compare it to the sea rise predictions from the melting of the inland ice on Greenland, it’s quite significant.
So anyway, back to Trump and Greenland, if you put your money on that we will fail to reduce the impact of the climate change, buying property in Greenland is a long term bet. It fits into a narrative to delay the burst of the carbon bubble.
200 years ago, people thought buying prisoners of war, sailing them across the Atlantic Ocean and selling them into slavery was a perfectly fine thing to do. 40 years ago, people thought drinking 10 beers and driving a car home was ok. Two years ago people thought burning fossil fuel to fly around the planet for pleasure was ok. Times are changing. Will Trump be on the winning side of history?
I made my claim to say “I told you so” with my 2012 story game Plus 3.0 when it all goes up in smoke and tears.
One of the companies that I’d love to join is DeLaval in Tumba. Not just because of the short commute (I still miss my daily bike commute from when I was living in Copenhagen), but also because of the challenge they are addressing: Optimizing dairy farming using IT.
Humans have kept cows for 5,000 years and dairy farming has been optimized quite a lot already.
DeLaval is one of a handful companies who produce and sell milking robots — or voluntary milking systems. I’ve seen these in action at different sites in Denmark — the milking process is fully automated, the robot places the suction cups and milks the cow while the cow chews away on some power grain. Key figures like milk temperature, time since last milking, and quantum milked per udder are shown on a nearby display.
Milking robots have been around long enough for the technology to mature. When you have 500 cows not being milked while your system is down, reliability and availability are not just about money but also animal welfare. Once the system is in production, it needs to be in operation 24/7. Cows don’t go on weekend or take time off for Christmas.
Dairy stables are hostile environments for computers, they need to be protected from moisture, heat, and being stepped on by animals weighing nearly a ton.
Robots have moving parts that needs maintenance. Hence, one challenge is to service the robots. So far this has involved a service technician visiting the farm and measuring the machines with handheld devices to help decide which parts to replace. As farms often are located in remote areas, having the right spare part at the right place and time is a problem to be optimized. Replacing a component too soon because you are not sure it will last until the next scheduled maintenance visit costs money. Having a wide selection of spare parts in the service car just in case they may be needed costs money. Scheduling an extra service trip to replace a broken part costs money – and a lot of money if it has to be done express due to a production stop.
Enter the cloud: What if diagnostic data from the milking robots is collected automatically 24/7 and uploaded into a database in the cloud? Service technicians and the farmer can then monitor and analyse the data remotely to plan service visits and be sure to have exactly the spare parts needed.
This is what DeLaval is working on right now. In itself a desirable goal. But the implications down the line can be huge as it allows changing the business model:
What if a farmer does not invest in a milking robot but buys milking as a service? The operational risk will be on the milking service provider, not the farmer. Financing dairy production will move from CAPEX (farmer investing in machines financed by a bank loan) to OPEX (farmer paying for a service). The farmer needs to know less about operating milking robots and can speciliase in other areas like breeding cows, optimizing fodder, stable facilities, product development or doing marketing events like kosläpp.
Just like the Cloud has lowered the threshold for new companies to put a new product or service on the market, the Cloud can disrupt the business models around dairy farming. The bank may become less of a gatekeeper for young farmers to enter the business. Independent service technicians will have fewer opportunities to improvise fixes to mechanical problems and upsell while they are visiting.
Times are changing and it would be cool to help create optimal outcomes for the involved stakeholders.
The cows will probably not notice though.
I have actually worked with dairy farming previously: Back in my university days, I had a part time job to optimize scientific calculations to run on super computers. One of the programs did breeding planning for dairy farms.