Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Google Image Meme

I spotted this at Carol’s place some time ago and it has been brewing ever since.

Instructions: For each of the following, search Google Images and post your favourite pic.

Where I grew up:

It is not easy to give you one place where I grew up since we moved quite a lot, every three years approximately. So I decided on the town where I started school, followed by a three-year gap, and then returning to spend my teens and most of my adult life until the age of 39 in Malmö.

Malmö is situated in the very south of Sweden, opposite Copenhagen in Denmark. When I grew up you had to cross the water by ferry, hovercraft, hydrofoil or whatever was available at the time. These days there is a magnificent link across to Denmark, consisting of a bridge, a man-made island and a tunnel. In the picture you can see it quite clearly with Denmark at the other end of the link. It is a truly beautiful bridge, and driving across it, you are treated to some gorgeous views.

Where I live now:

Another tricky one! I almost stared myself blind at pictures before I settled for this, rather simple one. I mostly found photos relating to the football team Borussia Mönchengladbach and other very uninteresting objects, so I took this radical view, a street sign!

My favourite place:

Thinking hard and long I went for a place with great emotional value, where I and my son spent our summers for his first thirteen years. The place is called Gullholmen and is situated in the archipelago on the west coast of Sweden. We both have wonderful memories from our holidays there. The tiny island and the village share the name, and the village spreads out onto another larger island. The small island is today a cluster of wooden houses for the wealthy; there is hardly any open space and prices, I believe, can compete with any major city centre. Gullholmen, the island, is on the right in the picture.

My name:

The most famous person to share my name is Anders Celsius, yes, the guy with the thermometer. Click on the links, one name link and one picture link, to read more about him.

My grandmother’s name:

Like most people I have two grannies, one called Victoria and the other one called Elma. When I googled Victoria, my screen filled up with pictures of Queen Victoria and Victoria Beckham, and to a certain extent Victoria Silvstedt, a Swedish “glamour model”. Instead I went for the slightly unusual name Elma. That was not easy; but in the end I found a painting by a 13-year-old girl from Sarajevo, Elma Softic. She says: “Today people talk a lot about environmental protection, but they should talk about how to protect the environment from their own destructive desire to ruin everything that surrounds them”. I thought it was rather touching.

My favourite food:

It has to be the French cuisine.

My favourite drink:

Elderberry! I just love that flavour. The picture shows exactly how I used to do it myself, both at home and with school children in London at the Swedish School. You get a delicious cordial which you can add gin to for the adults, the perfect summer’s drink.

My favourite smell:

Fresh air! The picture I found has an added poignancy to it, non-smoking. Just fill your lungs!

To round off I have to wish my readers a Happy Easter. Oh yes, we’re off to France again, two weeks or so. Cheerio!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

My 100th Post

I’ve been a good blog reader lately, but not a good blogger. It feels like ages since I posted anything. I have had ideas, but for various reasons I have not completed anything. Dithering is a word that comes to mind, indecision is another. Or is it simply signs of nerves, stage fright or plain cowardice, now that I am facing my 100th post?

I wanted to celebrate post #100 in style and got some inspiration from other blogs. There were a couple of memes that I spotted; I am still working on one of them but the other one, which seemed easy enough, disappointed me with its analysis of me. It was one of those “choose a picture that best represents your answer” to a number of questions. But as always it was too simplistic and decidedly quasi-psychoanalytical; just because I chose a picture of a beer glass I was deemed to be some bloke who loved to go out with a group of mates and down a few bevvies in a pub in order to get drunk; well more or less. Several other conclusions or interpretations were equally prejudiced.

I might still post the other meme. In the meantime this will have to do as my hundredth post. Dare I post my nr 101 later? You know room 101, the room in George Orwell’s novel “1984”, a torture chamber in the Ministry of Love where you had to face your worst nightmare, fear or phobia. Maybe this post really belongs in room/post 101?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Google Earth and Some More Stats Stuff

I have some friends in France who just bought their first computer some weeks ago. When we saw them in February they were on a very steep learning curve. Readers of this blog and, in particular, blogger friends will not find it difficult to imagine how much there is for these novices of the PC and the Internet to learn about. Everything is new, how to log on, how to navigate, how to find their way around the keyboard even! But to see the joy in their eyes when they very proudly showed emails with pictures from relatives was a great joy to me as well. They had also discovered Google Earth and had had a look at various places, where they lived themselves for instance. Great entertainment!

All of this reminded me that I had had the first version of Google Earth on my old PC, so I decided to download the latest Beta version. And boy was I surprised at how much it had improved. I could hardly believe my eyes when I zoomed in on our house; I could see my car parked in the street, and I am pretty sure the boot was open, which means I had just done some shopping and was at that very moment inside dropping off the first load. There is no mistaking a Nordic Blue (!) car with a sunroof, and the shadow and the rear end looked a bit strange, indicating an open boot. I was speechless! From other features around where we live I figured out that the photo was roughly three years old. I could see people crossing a road, cyclists on the cycle path and various other astonishing details. Talk about Big Brother! Isn’t it scary that these satellites can see you as soon as you set foot outside your front door? What next?

I have also had some tedious fun (can you say that?) checking my visitor stats again, since I am intrigued by how the flipping thing works! All those random hits seem to come approximately 14 minutes after posting (including the time it takes to type in the title and upload two photos), and keep coming for about another four minutes. Checking the referral feature I found out how it works, I think. A visitor from country A is referred by another blog in country B, and if this second blog has no connection with me whatsoever, the country A visitor must have clicked on Next Blog to get to me. Otherwise I cannot see how it works. So I set about to check out all the country B blogs.

I found an Italian visitor referred by an Aberdeen blog, a Mexican visitor referred by a Swedish interior design blog, a Portuguese visitor coming from a Uruguayan blog and a Sri Lankan visitor finding me through a Belgian children’s entertainment blog! How is that for international? Wow! All this only goes to show how widely spread the Internet is these days. Everybody seems to be doing it. You can travel the world from your desk, see all the famous sights, find out about how other people live, share thoughts, ideas and experiences and also make blogger friends. But hey, we must not fool ourselves, although it is a great way, it is a substitute. There is nothing like the real thing, don’t you agree?

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Stats Mystery

Something really weird happened today at noon. What, you wonder? Well, my photo blog does not attract many daily visitors. I don’t really try to promote it, though perhaps I should. All of a sudden, in just four and a half minutes, I had many more hits than what I usually get, like several weeks’-worth of visitors in one go! Before I checked the details in my Site Meter I thought it had to do with the fact that I had already had a mysterious comment, which I quickly deleted. That visitor’s comment seemed to be from an automated source, reacting to a key search word, namely “Sunbathing”, which on my blog was something completely innocent. The comment, from some playboy website, used a revealing vocabulary, offering an exchange of files. As if! Suffice it to say, I did not click on the link. Aaaam not stooopid!

On closer inspection of my stats, using the “Visitors By Referral” feature, I discovered this had happened before. I had not noticed this avalanche phenomenon previously, since I don’t check the photo blog stats very often. What I found was that these visits were all referred by the Blogger Navbar, and it all dawned on me. Of course! I do it myself; sometimes I just click on the “Next Blog” button, which takes you to a completely random blog. Somehow Blogger must put your blog in some sort of loop of available blogs for a few minutes. In my experience it is possibly a rather small number of blogs at a time, due to the fact that I have more than once been served the same blog within a couple of minutes. How do they choose what blogs to enter in the loop? Not a clue. All I know is that clicking that button and hoping to find anything you find remotely interesting, is like panning for gold in the Yukon. However I have to admit, I have actually found some nuggets in the last year. And of course it is always satisfying to boost a fellow blogger’s statistics; we all want the traffic, don’t we?

Garden Bird Watch - Update

I haven’t written much about birds lately, but there are always things going on in the garden. I normally make sure the bird feeder outside the glass patio doors is never empty. I have also tied two lard balls with seeds to it, so they hang halfway down to the ground. It is interesting to see which birds are light enough and agile enough to sink their little claws into the lard and at the same time eat from their foothold. As expected the smaller birds like Blue Tits, Long-Tailed Tits and Great Tits are frequent lard ball guests. The Greenfinches only occasionally try gripping the lard; instead they bully each other and other species on the feeder perches. Some of the aerial battles between Greenfinches are quite spectacular; it creates a yellow-green display like the flash photography they warn epileptics about on TV.

The top bird in the pecking order is still the Nuthatch though. Funnily enough it is not much bigger, if at all, than some of the other regular visitors. Maybe it is the dark, horizontal line across the eyes, making the Nuthatch look like a masked cartoon burglar, that is the secret.

One bird that has become a regular as well, is the Bullfinch, imposing and almost majestic in its bright red, although the female has more subdued colouring. They look like straight out of a Christmas card. Initially the male, who is the more adventurous, would sit on a branch and take in, study, the goings-on around the feeder. He would then descend to the ground and calmly eat some of the seeds that normally fall down from above. Every species has its own favourite seeds and sometimes discards the unwanted seeds by a quick flick of the beak. Often there are ten or so birds on the ground and only one or two on the feeder.

But lately the male Bullfinch has made it to the feeder itself. First you can see him sitting on an adjacent branch, eyeing up the feeder; he looks like he is measuring the distance to fly, the angle of the approach and most of all making sure there is no other bird around. He has the most cautious approach imaginable. The first times he tried, he actually failed. He seemed a bit clumsy, unsure of his own ability. But after quite a few tries over several days, he made it to the feeder, holding on for dear life. It seemed to be a genuine learning curve in action. Now he is very self-assured; he fights off even the big Greenfinches! He has turned into the Red Hulk all of a sudden, but he is still not all that steady on his feet; big-headed and macho perhaps, but not yet an acrobat exactly!

There is also a Blackbird couple, who normally nest in the tree next to the feeder tree, and they often share the food on the ground with a young squirrel, who does not seem to be interested in even chasing off the birds. In fact the female Blackbird is the more aggressive one; she regularly chases off other birds if they get too close.

Sometimes a bird, with whom I am unfamiliar, turns up. I wrote about a Firecrest in an earlier post; I had never seen one before, but my bird book helped me identify it. Lately a rather nondescript bird has visited almost daily. I have scratched my head, I have consulted my book, but to no avail. Last week I realised what it was, a Dunnock. Click on the link and you will understand my difficulties, I am sure.

Three other birds that I have observed in the garden and not knowingly seen before, are the Coal Tit, the Siskin and the Brambling. The Siskin looks like a smaller cousin of the Greenfinch; some more stripes on the sides and a black patch on the head. One thing that makes it difficult to determine what species a newcomer represents, is the fact that they do not always look like in the book! You have to approximate and average out, if you see what I mean. It depends on the season, the gender and the age of the individual bird. But it is all good fun, until a cat on the prowl scares off all my avian friends. I then retaliate by opening the door and frightening the feline fiend, who promptly flees off through the fir trees. Ms S sometimes points out that I am turning into my own grandfather, who used to feed the birds better cheese than they had on their own table! Nooo waaay!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Astrid Lindgren and Pippi Longstocking

Astrid Lindgren is Sweden’s best-known children’s author by far. She has left behind a treasure trove of books, loved by generations of readers. Here in Germany her books are also very popular and you see them in all the bookshops. Astrid created a number of much-loved characters and she almost single-handedly produced a whole “nation-worth” of children’s literature. She was an amazingly creative author and an extraordinary woman in other ways as well. Take a look at the Wikipedia entry and see for yourselves.

When I arrived in Germany a little over four years ago I started doing supply teaching in British primary schools with age groups younger than I was used to teaching. I needed some “emergency” lesson plans that could be used at short notice. What to do? I produced some work sheets that I always kept handy. One of them was about Pippi Longstocking, based mainly on reading comprehension and involving drawing, which most children love. It was not particularly demanding, almost everybody could do it, and it gave me an opportunity to answer their questions about Sweden as well. The lesson served both as an ice-breaker and a time-filler.

Astrid’s most famous character, Pippi Longstocking, lived in a house on her own; she was very strong and could lift the horse she kept on the veranda; she also had a little monkey, who often sat on her shoulder. Pippi always did things her own way, which most of the time was exactly what well-mannered children would not dream of doing, children like her friends Tommy and Annika.

These are some professional illustrations.

And here are the instructions to the children, who were 7-8 years old at the time.

To enjoy the children’s attempts at drawing our rebellious young heroine, Pippi Longstocking, please press the button. It will make you smile!

Click to play Pippi Longstocking
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