18 December 2014

Dying in Sweden during the summer is not advisable

One thing that happens every summer in Sweden, especially after the so-called mid-summer day, is that the country closes down. It is very hard to do anything during the summer, from fixing your car to seeing a doctor.

But even dying is not advisable during the summer.

Why? Because there is nobody around to bury the dead body.

Here is the story: three years ago, the (Swedish) husband of a woman (whom we know) died suddenly in the middle of the summer by a wasp sting. This was very unfortunate and very sad. Very unexpected also. Indeed, some people may die from insect venom anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction). These fatal allergic reactions frequently, but not always, occur in people who have had a previous allergic reaction to the same type of insect.

Once the first shock passes, the dead person's wife tried to arrange for a funeral.  Funeral offices abound in Sweden and, as I explained in an earlier posting, they have a very different look than in other countries because they display their products (coffins, urns for ashes, etc.) in their windows. In the previous posting, I also analyzed the concept of a funeral office magazine which is issued at the hefty price of 9.50 USD. We receive it for free. And I described its contents. Therefore, funeral offices exist and are very well-organized. They even produce software for the management of death-related operations. (See my previous posting.)

However, they apparently all (or almost all) close down during the summer, so much so, that the unfortunate woman could not find any funeral office in Stockholm or in a nearby area in order to bury her husband. She searched and searched and nothing was available. Instead, she was told to wait until September, to have the body frozen until they reopen in September and resume business as usual. To be accurate, I believe that there are some funeral offices open but they work at a very low pace during the summer so they're fully booked. Hence the waiting time.

It appears, therefore, that dying during the summer should be avoided in Sweden. Or, if one expects to die, he or she should make a reservation with a funeral office a few months in advance. Perhaps this is why the funeral office magazines are being sent out: as a reminder to reserve a spot should you plan to die during the summer.

14 December 2014

Funeral office magazine sent to us for free

Back in 2011, I noticed that some funeral offices in Sweden are very different from funeral offices in any other country I'm aware of. That is,  funeral offices here advertise their products: coffins, cremation urns, etc.

Another interesting thing is that funeral offices produce magazines. For four years now, we've been receiving, at home, magazines from funeral offices, at least biannually. The latest magazine just arrived a couple of days ago and is a special issue for the Christmas season. It is called memento:
Translation: Top left: from the funeral office.  Title: The Nordic essence; mythical creatures from the graveyard. Bottom right: Price 70 Swedish Crowns (approximately 9.50 US dollars)
So, I guess, we are lucky! We get the magazine for free and don't have to pay.

Let's take a look at what's inside. It advertises coffins of special elegance. A picture (bottom right) shows the craftsmanship going into the material on which the dead body will rest, while another picture (top right) shows a path converging to infinity (of presumably metaphysical/religious significance)--the interpretation is left open for the reader.
A new age coffin, the path to eternity, and craftsmanship of the coffin's velvet interior
It also advertises hearses, that is, automobiles carrying the coffin with the dead body to the burial place. This particular company prides itself in being "a new generation of building concepts" and, in addition, offers extra long hearses. As this chart shows, Swedes are typically tall (and taller than in the past), so funeral offices with long hearses are doing better businesses. Interestingly, however, the taller a Swedish man is the less likely he will commit suicide, according to this paper.
Translation: Extra long hearses have been designed to facilitate your working day. High comfort and smart solutions provide a good working environment
The main story of the magazine is about mythical creatures that one can encounter in Swedish cemeteries. They look like this
They are called "myling" and are ghosts of children who died before they had a chance to be baptized.

The magazine also contains an article about death and art, photographs from graveyards, and an article about cancer
Death art
A photographer who sees death all the time
Dead bodies as art
Translation: Much remains even if the cancer is gone.
Interpretation: So be ready to die, we'll take care of you
and an ad about a computer program, "eulogica", for managing death operations:
Software for the management of death operations

Persons portrayed in this magazine often have their look of dead on their faces. This lady seems to be smiling at us in a very sinister manner
He he he ...
while this one's face is almost grey (I don't know if the color can be accurately reproduced, but it's true--welcome to take a look at my copy of the funeral magazine), as if she's about to die or just resurrected from the dead, like Lazarus.
Translation: We help you [so that when you die you won't have to carry your own coffin]

And, of course, since we're so close to the Festive Season, there is even a Santa Claus acting like everybody else around: typing away on his computer.
Translation: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year
This time of the year, there is just darkness around. We never have sunlight (5 hours in total during November). And there are no lights either. Strangely enough, lots of public places dim their lights down when darkness hits. I don't go to restaurants because I have trouble reading the menu--it is so dark.In general, it feels as if we're playing along with Bengt Ekerot in Ingmar Bergman's Seventh Seal:
If you ever wondered what Bergman's films mean, you haven't spent much time in Sweden
Fortunately, nobody committed suicide this year (as opposed to last year) at the university.

10 December 2014

"Get Me Off Your Fucking Mailing List" is an actual science paper accepted by the International Journal of Advanced Computer Technology.

The International Journal of Advanced Computer Technology accepted a paper by computer scientists David Mazières and Eddie Kohler titled "Get Me Off Your Fucking Mailing List".

In 2005 they created this highly profane ten-page paper as a joke, to send in replying to unwanted conference invitations. It literally just contains that seven-word phrase over and over, along with a nice flow chart and scatter-plot graph:

An Australian computer scientist named Peter Vamplew sent it to the International Journal of Advanced Computer Technology in response to spam from the journal. Apparently, he thought the editors might simply open and read it.  [Source.]

Instead, the journal automatically accepted the paper — with an anonymous reviewer rating it as "excellent" — and requested a fee of $150.

There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of journals like this online these days. They publish anything for a fee. They do not review, they don't even open the papers submitted. Jeffrey Beall, a librarian at the University of Colorado, keeps an up-to-date list of them to help researchers avoid being taken in; it currently has 550 publishers and journals on it.

But the International Journal of Advanced Computer Technology is not  the most dangerous of its kind. It can easily be dismissed as bogus. The danger lies in semi-serious journals that pretend to be more scholarly and which are taken seriously by university departments. The list of them is endless. Everybody is trying to publish, whatever, whenever, and wherever, and the result is the creation of these crappy journals.

Why do these journals survive? Because, clearly, someone, some people take them seriously. Alas, these people are not closer than we may think.

7 December 2014

Two videos, two murderers

In the first one, a soldier describes how he murdered innocent people and how he regrets it.
In the second one, a police officer is seeing murdering a guy on the street.

In both cases, the murderers acted because they had been trained to be so, and had been indoctrinated in believing that their country was behind them and supporting them.

There was no murder conviction in either case precisely because the murderers had been taught to never think and always believe in those who teach them: any conviction would necessarily require conviction of those who instilled in the murderers' minds the belief that they are allowed to kill.

In both cases, the murderers had been stripped off their faculty of reasoning.
This is why belief is such a stupid and irresponsible thing.
The sleep of reason begets monsters.

4 December 2014

Jehova's witnesses: finally, they found me!

I've been told that Jehovah's witnesses exist in Uppsala and they do their usual thing: go from door to door, in pairs, trying to convert people. I've been in Sweden for more than 4 years and haven't met a single Jehovah's witness. And finally it happened. Twice in a week.

Last weekend, in the center of Uppsala I saw a bunch of guys distributing some kitsch-looking pamphlets in English and Spanish. I stop for a second and looked. One of them approached me and asked me if I wanted one. What are you, I asked. Jehovah's witnesses, he said. Oh, there they are, I thought. But why in Spanish? Well, there are South Americans in Sweden and we try to get to them. Are you Swedish, I asked. No, Greek, he says, I was born in Athens but lived in Sweden all my life. Do you know about Jehovah's witnesses, he says, in Greek? Sure, I said. Interested? No, thanks, no. I don't like religions, especially those that were established in the US and brought over here, like you, Mormons, Pentecostals, and others. (Not that I like non-US religions, but I felt like saying this to point something out he probably didn't want to acknowledge.) He looked at me puzzled. We're not an American religion, he says. Sure, you are, check your facts. Ok, he says, sure, the first people who thought about the truth were American, but this does not mean that we're an American religion, we've gone everywhere, we're international... We exchange a few friendly sentences in Greek, he asks me about my religion and wish him well and good luck and go.

This morning it happened again. The bell rings. I open the door and two friendly women introduce themselves to me. While doing so, I look at what they were carrying so I saw similar kitsch-looking pamphlets and I guessed... Yes! They were Jehovah's witnesses. Are you interested in.. event... tomorrow.. bla bla... No, no, thank you. Take this leaflet. No, thanks, I won't. Smile. What do you believe in, they ask? Believe? What is "to believe"? I consider the word "belief" something that has to be avoided as much as possible (while, of course, being aware of the impossibility and slight irrationality of the statement I'm making), but, in fact, I don't believe in believing. So we chat for a few minutes. Nice ladies, quite charming, not pushy at all, I felt I could be as pushy as I wanted, but, hell, why should I do that? We talked about the perils of believing, they kept referring to the bible, even though I told them it's not a book that contains uniformly consistent and contradiction-free information, to which they replied (I guess it's one of the things they learn by heart when they receive their training) that it depends on how one reads the book. I gave them a disapproving look so we switched to a different topic. They seemed to be happy with our conversation because, as they said, Swedes typically don't speak to them and that, at least, I had lots to say and that all made sense. It took about 10 minutes of discussion and then they said goodbye and left.

So, am I in the Jehovah's witnesses' friend list now? I don't know. Let's see.. Should I do like the father of someone I know who tells me that he's been inviting Jehovah's witnesses for tea every time they knocked at his door and that, at some point, they wondered "how come, after so many visits, you are still not convinced?" Answer: "oh, because it was me who was trying to convert you." I believe they didn't show up again.

P.S. This posting was discovered by a religious site. Look!


What measure theory is about

It's about counting, but when things get too large.
Put otherwise, it's about addition of positive numbers, but when these numbers are far too many.

The principle of dynamic programming

max_{x,y} [f(x) + g(x,y)] = max_x [f(x) + max_y g(x,y)]

The bottom line

Nuestras horas son minutos cuando esperamos saber y siglos cuando sabemos lo que se puede aprender.
(Our hours are minutes when we wait to learn and centuries when we know what is to be learnt.) --António Machado

Αγεωμέτρητος μηδείς εισίτω.
(Those who do not know geometry may not enter.) --Plato

Sapere Aude! Habe Muth, dich deines eigenen Verstandes zu bedienen!
(Dare to know! Have courage to use your own reason!) --Kant