Stockholm, NordU 2001

Date: February 8-17, 2001.



A few months ago Martin Wahlén mailed me and asked if I would like to give a talk on something GNOME-ish during the NordU conference in Stockholm, February 2001. I naturally said yes, because I had never gone to Sweden before. I made up a reasonable topic for the talk, "GNOME technologies in real-world applications". The idea is to present how we use the broad spectrum of GNOME libraries in real applications, i.e. Evolution.

One of the goals of the GNOME project is to address the lack of certain modern technologies in free systems. We have created a number of libraries that make it easier to write large-scale applications. This presentation will show how the Evolution groupware suite uses the following features in GNOME: the Bonobo component model, the GNOME canvas display engine, the gnome-print libraries, the GtkHTML component, the Camel mail-handling library, and how all of this is integrated together to create a good experience for the user.

Preparations for the trip included buying a lot of film. Agfa RSX II ISO 50, Fuji Sensia II ISO 100, and Fuji Velvia ISO 50 color slides; Kodak Tmax ISO 100, Agfapan ISO 25, Kodak Plus-X pan ISO 125 black and white negative film. I took 9 rolls total plus the one that was on the camera. My friend Luis had borrowed my digital camera, so I would have to get it before I left on the trip.

I really did not want to haul around two bags, my usual backpack for the laptop and a camera bag, so I got a Tamrac 759 backpack from B&H Photo. This bag holds a laptop and a camera and lenses and a bunch of crap very nicely, with lots of padding and pockets and other backpack-like stuff. Luckily the bag was delivered on the day before I left for Sweden; I was getting nervous that it may not get there on time. It is rather heavy once you load it with the laptop/cameras/lenses/everything, though it is not uncomfortable when you actually carry it on your shoulders and put on the thick waist-level belt. I had also gotten a Manfrotto monopod and a very nice ball head to go with it, but those would go in the big suitcase during the flight. I did not want to carry my big tripod around. I imagined Stockholm would be covered in snow and it would be bitter cold and carrying lots of things around would be a pain; I thought that a monopod and a tabletop tripod would be more than enough.

As time allows I will scan the film pictures and put them here. For now I will just be lazy and put the digital pictures.

Thursday 8

Woke up a bit too early; I had gone to bed late because I had been at Luis's house to pick up my digital camera and CD burner, which he had borrowed. No weekly conference call this time, so I could leave earlier than expected to talk to my future landlord and hand him some money to make a "reservation" for the apartment that I will be renting; I do not want someone to sign a contract for it before I return from Stockholm and then Boston, where I will be away for two weeks.

Luis had offered to give me a ride to the airport. This was very nice of him; my original idea had been to take a taxi. In the early afternoon I dropped his office because we had forgotten to take the PCMCIA adapter for the digital camera's memory card and it was there. I also gave him some books I wanted to lend him. We went back to my house and I packed the last bits of stuff I needed. For once I had the feeling that this time I had not forgotten to pack anything.

We drove to the airport while it was getting dark outside. Traffic was terrible but nevertheless it flowed slowly. The moon was huge in the sky; it had been a full moon the night before and it was just rising over the horizon, so it looked big and orange and perhaps the eastbound traffic sucked precisely because everyone was mesmerized by that huge round thing in the sky. So we had plenty of time to stare.

Luis dropped me off at the entrance to the terminal for international flights. There were surprisingly few people in line at the KLM counter. I asked the clerk whether the flight was very full or not; I really wanted to be able to take over a row of seats to lie down. She told me it was not very full. My suitcase was checked in, and I went upstairs to the food court to get a good but rather expensive falafel; I wanted something light so that I would not be digesting through the whole flight. Eventually boarded, after stopping by the duty free shops to get an plug adapter for the sockets they use in Sweden: two round prongs, the ones that are more widely spaced than the other type of round prongs that are used elsewhere. For last year's GUADEC in Paris I had got a fancy voltage and plug converter from Radio Shack, but Michael Meeks witnessed as the stupid thing burnt and smoked while my laptop was charging. Moral of the story: get a simple plug adapter, not the fancy voltage converter / adapter combo. I also got a big 1.5-liter bottle of water because I get very thirsty on flights.

The flight was packed. Sat in the middle section of the plane, next to the aisle. To my right sat a Spanish girl that was going to Madrid and to her right there was a couple from Stockholm who had gone on vacation to Acapulco. The Spanish girl and the Swedes talked to each other most of the trip; I read a little book by Julio Cortázar and listened to plenty of Shostakovich on my discman.

The airplane's TV showed a program with little capsules of different sports. The last capsule was of a weird thing where big Nordic people take 20-Kg fish and hurl them for a distance throw. This totally made my day. The Spanish girl was laughing as well; we discussed whether everyone just shared the same fish or if they had a carefully-bred set so that the competition would be fair.

Airplane dinner consisted of some sort of nondescript broiled chicken, string beans, a tiny salad that was not bad at all, bread, and a little piece of cake that was almost too sweet.

I asked a flight attendant for a pair of black cloth goggles; that really helped me sleep. I woke up quite a few times, anyways, to shift my body in the stupid narrow seat, but I could still get some good sleep.

Friday 9

Breakfast woke me up. Very bland scrambled eggs, even blander cantaloupe, a little croissant, coffee.

The Schipol airport in Amsterdam is nice. It is actually not a pain in the butt to walk inside it. No fussy customs or paranoid officials like in the U.S. where they lock in-transit passengers in a boring, claustrophobic area until their next flight departs. Here you just step out of the plane and are free to wander around. I did not have much time for wandering around, so just went to get another bottle of water (3 dollars for half a liter, sheesh!). There was a nice bar with tables and computers and network connections by the place where I got the water, but I would not have had time to plug my laptop and flush my mail queue. So I just went to the departure gate.

The Swedish couple that was going to Stockholm sat on the row behind me; we chatted for a little while. They would be going to Yucatán next year, so I wished them good luck; the peninsula is quite an incredible place. I was sitting next to the aisle again, this time on a smaller plane. Next to the window there was a friendly, quiet guy who read a newspaper during most of the trip. Right before they closed the airplane doors some businessman with way too many bags rushed in, and he took the seat between us. All the luggage bins were full, so he had to cramp himself to fit all his stuff under the seat and on his legs. The guy on the window seat and I tried not to giggle too obviously; there really was not any room for all the stuff that the businessman was carrying.

I started reading Jorge Ibargüengoitia's Estas ruinas que ves, and was laughing all the time. This guy is awesome. Went through about half of the book, with more of Shostakovich's string quartets on the headphones, and then we landed. Non-fussy customs officials, friendly information staff. Changed some money to Swedish crowns. You know Sweden must be a cool place when you see that next to the airport gates there is a "hopscotch area", marked and all.

Hopscotch Area

It was not insanely cold as I thought it would be; apparently the previous week it had been around -15C but it was just over freezing by this time, which means that I can go around with just a warm fleece sweatshirt instead of the wool overcoat. Asked about my hotel in the information desk, got a train ticket, and a phone card. Took the train from the airport to downtown Stockholm. The train is impeccable and colored in bright red and yellow, and looks like something extremely cute built out of Lego pieces and brushed aluminum. Tried to take a few pictures of the inside the train, but it was shaking too much and there was too little light to get a good picture. Eventually got downtown and walked about 6 blocks to the hotel. The streets are spotless and the sidewalk is not very slippery; it seems like most of the snow had melted away.

Airport train (0) Airport train (1)

It turns out that the girl who attended me in the reception desk was from the Canary islands, so we chatted in Spanish for a while. She showed me a few restaurants on a map of the city, and told me where I could take interesting pictures. I will walk around the city tomorrow, south to the little island between the river and the sea where all the old buildings are.

I wanted to leave my stuff in the room and then go out to get some food, but I just fell asleep and woke back up at around 23:50. It was rather confusing, because I thought it must be like 3:00 in the morning and my body felt somewhat like it should indeed be 16:50 in the afternoon.


Maid Sleep

European hotel bedrooms are small. Way smaller than American hotel bedrooms. Individual beds are a bit skinnier and a bit longer than a standard twin-size bed. My room has such a bed, a nice little wooden desk and chair, a tall mirror, a small bathroom with a gorgeous sink, a small closet, TV, and a small minibar fridge full of overexpensive munchies and liquors.

Bedroom bed and window Bedroom bed and desk

My bedroom overlooks a pedestrian street, "the only pedestrian street in Stockholm" according to the Canarian receptionist, and through the window I can see some sort of office building with lots of computers and TV screens that are still turned on; it looks like a news agency of some sort.

And here is yours truly taking a picture of himself in the mirror, in full just-out-of-a-nap messy-hair glory, monopod and all. That round thing is the wide-angle lens on my digital camera. That cable thingy is the power cable, because the stupid thing eats through batteries like yours truly through curried fish. Mmmmm, curried fish.

Self-portrait in the mirror

Saturday 10

Woke up way too late, at around 14:00. I still felt very tired; obviously my body thought it must be some unspeakable hour of the morning. Was hungry, so took a shower, discovered that I had forgotten to pack my shaving machine, took the cameras and the monopod in my backpack, and went out.

The temperature outside was just above freezing, perhaps 3 degrees or so. I ate a kebab and an orange juice, which should be enough fuel for the afternoon. I went looking around for an Internet cafe or some place to plug my laptop, but none of the ones where I asked would let you plug your machine. Drat. So I just had a coffee. Asked around and found a couple of good camera shops, which were closing for the day; it seems that getting an extra quick release base for the digital camera will have to wait until Monday.

You can find all sorts of interesting store fronts.

Flowers Kolingen night club Troll

I mostly walked along the Drotnigsgatan, the pedestrian street, first to the North until it turned uninteresting, and then South. It was getting dark, and it gets dark really fast at this latitude; by 17:00 the Sun is below the horizon. I took a bunch of pictures, mostly with the film camera, when I could still use the light.

There are konditoris (bakeries) and candy and coffee shops all over the place. People seem to be very friendly.

In the corner of Drotnigsgatan and the big Klarabergsgatan avenue there was a group of South-American people playing traditional music. I left some coins in one of their guitar cases. They were not playing with all the zest that one normally finds back home; perhaps they were too cold. I asked one of them where they were from; some of them came from Peru, others from Ecuador. I chatted for a bit with him and then with a man from Sri-Lanka that was watching the band very amused.

I kept walking South, then across the river to the old part of the city.

Arch Waves Balcony

The Sun was going down really fast, so I did not have much time for sightseeing. I basically arrived to a little port where tourist ships come and go, and watched them for a while. At some point my camera's battery must have gotten very cold because the light meter stopped working. Fortunately the F2 itself is completely mechanical, so I could take a few extra pictures by using my hand-held light meter which was warm from my pocket. The digital camera remained happy, though, so the ships got some shutter treatment.

Ship (0) Ship (1) Ship (2)

It seems people were rushing away from the cold and back to their homes, because the streets slowly emptied themselves.

Fat ugly thing steals a mermaid Buildings Tables Statue

It was past dusk then and I was getting hungry anyways, so I walked back. Street stalls were closing, but I could still find some very pretty wooden toys.

Light spire at night Wooden toys More wooden toys

Went back to the hotel to leave my stuff there, and went across the street to the Kungshalle to get dinner. Had a very good souvlaki in a friendly Greek restaurant. Watched a couple have a very fast and amusing-looking conversation in Swedish, of which I could sadly understand nothing.

Sunday 11

Woke up at around 13:00. Showered. Shaved with the little dingy shaving machine I got from the front desk of the hotel. Cut myself.

Went to the Konzerthuset to get tickets for the Sunday concert. I still had about an hour before the performance, so I went for lunch and had Thai rice noodles. Then, back to the concert hall. The string players from the orchestra gave a little chamber performance of several works: . FOO got the best performance. Piazzola was sadly a bit rigid.

Two violinists Many string instrument players

It was snowing lightly when when concert ended, and people were rushing around. The snow melted instantly when it hit the ground, and it was starting to get slippery.

The English versions of the signs you see around are not always very good. Indeed, poor door.

Alarmed door


The conference took place and it was interesting. My talk went so-so. I was massively jet-lagged all the time, so that did not help matters. The hackers were friendly and crazy as usual, and we had fun going to restaurants and bars and walking around the city in large packs of people who talk about unintelligible technical things, making other pedestrians look at us.

On Thursday 15 we had a guided visit through the Royal Armoury, a museum of sorts in the large and ugly palace where the royals live. It was pretty interesting to see the old clothes, carriages, shields, weapons, and randomly expensive and unique paraphernalia.

Stirrups Coat of arms Shield Armor Jewelry