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Blogging: Mark in Sweden-March 2006

I visited BTH in March 2006.

19 March 2006

I left my house by shuttle around 10 am (after taking the kids to church where Barb was singing in the choir), caught a flight at 12:20 for Newark, and then left Newark just after 5 for Copenhagen. I flew SAS in Economy Extra (how nice!). Dinner was a pasta and chicken dish. I watched Serenity during dinner (funny!), then tried (mostly unsuccessfully) to sleep.

20 March 2006


We got in about 7 am to Copenhagen. My body thought it was 1 am. I got my bags then caught an early train toward Karlskrona. The rail line is down past Kristianstad, so I caught a bus from there to Karlskrona. I mostly slept on the train and bus – thankfully, I was at the end of the line on each.

Danuta Fjellestad, Professor of English at BTH, and Ulrika Nilsson ("The Power Woman who makes things happen," Danuta explained), picked me up and drove me to the hotel (all of about 400 meters).

View from the bus on entering Karlskrona

The 100+ year old building where I'm staying, Hotell Conrad

I tried to sleep for awhile, then walked around Karlskrona for a while. I stopped at Travena Santorini (Greek place) for lunch. I ordered Gyros and was met with a pile of fried potatoes with meat on top and tzatziki on top of the meat. Sort of a steaming pile of gryos meat and potatoes, all brown. It tasted good, but wasn't what I expected as "gyros."

From a castle in the middle of the Square

I met Danuta at 3 for a two hour coffee meeting, where I learned some more about why they wanted me out.

Dinner that night was with the President and Provost of BTH, Danuta, and Lars Lundberg, who is a Professor in CS and the Chair of Undergraduate Education. Lissa Holloway-Attaway whom I know from Tech joined us later.

Barb asked me what I've been eating for meals, and to tell you the truth, I'm not always sure. That night was great. We had whitewater roe as an appetizer (pile of roe eggs with a bit of hash brown potatoes). I had lamb which was delicious, and then had vanilla ice cream with "cloudberries" (a Swedish delicacy) for dessert.

21 March 2006

Breakfast at the Hotell Conrad is quite a spread! Scrambled eggs and sausage and lots of kinds of juices. Then yoghurt and spoiled milk (on purpose – it's a Swedish-thing) and herring of various kinds, and cold cuts and cheeses and lots of kinds of bread. Meatballs, with no gravy. All kinds of cereals (not as in "Trix" and "Cheerios," but as muesli, and oats, and corn flakes) and lots of dried fruits. And delightful, thick Swedish coffee.

I caught a taxi just before 9 over to BTH, about a five minute ride.
BTH1.jpg BTH2.jpg

When Lars Haikola, President of BTH, visited Tech, I heard someone ask him, "How far away is BTH from the ocean?" To which he replied, "Oh, about 50 meters." It might not even be that far.


I had a fun meeting in the morning, talking about the MS in Computational Media degree that they're designing. I spent much of the time describing our HCC Ph.D. which has some clear similarities.

Lunch was at an on-campus cafeteria. I ordered the "Pitti-Patti" which was described to me as "Swedish leftovers." Kind of a hash with sausages and potatoes.

One the way over, I saw this cool cellphone antenna tower. "What is it?" I asked. Lissa said, "It's just a cell phone tower. But it's Sweden. It's designed here."

My talk was at 3 and was well attended, but mostly students. Since my talk was on "Teaching Computing for Everyone," it didn't quite work as well as it might, but they seemed happy. We went past time with demos of JES and DrJava – first time I've ever demoed both, and it went pretty well. Nice contrast and comparison. Questions were all on media, not on the talk content – how are pictures scaled? How do we shift pitches in a sound? Can I record ultrasound on a CD?

I walked back from BTH to my hotel. It took me about an hour, and I did get lost, but the views were pretty.

This is the view down the street from my hotel. Yes, I'm on an island.

I walked around then, and went back through the same section of town that night to dinner with Lissa and a visiting professor from the states, Talan Memmott.

They have a "snack" each afternoon at the Hotell. Swedish waffles are available each night. The snack on Tuesday was like the pitti-patti, but in a sauce over rice – pieces of meat, sausage, and undefinable vegetables. I tasted a bit of it, and it was okay.

Dinner was at an Italian/Greek place – the name was Italian, but there were lots of gyros again. They explicitly had one that was with "thin bread," so I went for that one with a Greek salad. The gyros was pre-rolled, like a burrito, and extended over my plate on both sides. It was huge. There may have been potatoes in there, but it was mostly greasy gyros meat. My stomach rolled that night.

22 March 2006

Today, I visited Ronneby, about a 30 minute taxicab ride away. The CS Department is actually co-located in an entrepeneurial incubator called the "SoftCenter."

I knew that Lutheran is the state religion in Sweden, but it hadn't occurred to me that I'd see that influence in daily culture. When I got to the CS department common room for coffee before my talk, I found that they literally nail their Ph.D. theses to the walls – it was explained to me that it's a cultural pun, about Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the church and about finishing/"nailing" their dissertations.

The talk was from 10-12, and it was much more challenging and interesting. I did end up demoing both Python and Java, but the audience asked much rougher questions.
  • "Do you cover the same abstractions as in a normal CS1?"
  • "What do you think is the most important part of your design – motivation or content?"
  • "How do you teach UML in this context?"
  • "Did you just lower your standards?"

Lunch was a buffet. I had a rubbery square of veggie-potato-I'm-not-sure, and chicken, onion, and mushrooms over rice. I'm eating lots of salad – I recognize virtually all of that!

After lunch, the talk was all about Threads (TM). They were particularly interested in "How will you market it?" I told them about Merrick Furst – that Threads were his idea, and he was the one who was taking up the charge of figuring out how to market it. I expect that they'll be visiting him the next time in town...

I was done before 2 and back at the hotel before 2:30. I've got dinner today with the Dean of the Engineering school. Tomorrow, I have a two hour meeting with BTH's CS1 and CS2 instructors – that should be challenging (and fun!), and then to Stockholm. On Friday, I'm meeting with the guy who is the President of the equivalent of NSF in Sweden!

23 March 2006

I had a great dinner with Jan-Olof Gustavsson, Dean of Engineering at BTH. We went to Taverna Santorini which turns out to be a really nice place for dinner. The tzatziki is excellent – as good as I can get in Detroit's Greektown. I ordered "meat skewers" (shish-kebab via Swedish then translated into English?) which came with roasted (not fried!) vegetables. Jan-Olof is a signal processing guy now Dean, so he found media computation interesting as a form of signal processing for CS, and he had insights for me as a new administrator from an old-time. He's also quite the adventurer, having backpacked to Mt. Kiliminjaro and Mt. McKinley.

I actually slept last night! Woo hoo!

This morning, I bid farewell to Karlskrona.

I didn't post this earlier – this is what I saw each morning leaving my hotel building.

I had a fun two hour meeting with the instructors of CS1 and CS2 at BTH, both here in Ronneby and up the road in Karlsham (sp?). The folks in K-town teach "media technology" (like digital audio and computer games), not computer science. Here in Ronneby, their programs are actually in computer science (one program), telecommunications (another program), and information security (a third program). They're all teaching Java, and all having huge problems with enrollment and success (about 50% failure rate).

The issue for them is that they don't have tuition. Money comes from the government dependent on the number of students in your program. When students fail the class, they often leave the program, so the numbers are really small. That hurts the whole department.

I got lots of interesting pushback on Media Computation, e.g., "How do you know that they can abstract if you're teaching them all instances?" They (with me just kibbitzing) got the value of having the visual and auditory impact of using media. I definitely steered them toward seeing that the critical thing was the context that made the computer science relevant.

I had lunch in a big group that included a guy who went to graduate school with Rich Pattis and Mike Clancy. (I heard his name, but I'm finding that I have to have names repeated, slowly, for me to go from the Swedish into a phonetic representation that I can remember.) I then met with Elisabeth from UIQ, a company that builds interfaces for cell phones. Like I said, the CS department is in this interesting incubator park, and UIQ (at 200 people) is the largest company in the park. It turns out the relationship between UIQ and the CS department is strained because of the too few students coming into CS. UIQ can't count on students for projects that might lead to real products and real employees. They're trying to establish other connections (e.g., BTH doing some UIQ employee training), but the strain of too few students is hurting everyone here.

This one's for my kids: Here is something I've found interesting in Sweden. There aren't large bathrooms with stalls. Instead, there are these little rooms (like below) just in the hallways, often for either males or females, with all the essentials. Real rooms, two to four in a cluster.

24 March 2006

On the 23rd, I worked in an office in SoftCenter overlooking the reception (lobby) area where the taxi was expected. I waited until the taxi showed, then pushed all the unlock buttons that Lars had showed me so that I could get out. And the taxi was gone. It was still going up the street, so I waved like a madman, but they didn't come back. I gave them 10 minutes (maybe they weren't sure of which building?), but after 10 minutes in 32F-and-dropping, I figured I'd better find another option. I stopped one guy who just said "No English!" I tried to stop a graduate student leaving SoftCenter, who looked at me then sped off in his bike. I noticed a sign for a bar/grill, which turned out to be in a bowling alley. There, the cashier called a taxi for me and I made it to Ronneby airport (a really small airport).

It was an unusual check-in process. I checked in via an automated machine (fine), then it spat out the baggage tags (interesting). You're then supposed to haul your bags over to the security place – which was closed until boarding time. So me and my checked-in bags went to grab something to eat. I had a sandwich of something undefinable (mayo? eggs? veggies?) and a beer in the cafeteria, by which time, check-in was open. When they announced that we could board the plane, there was a mad rush out onto the tarmac, where there were stairs at both ends of the planes.

Uneventful and fine flight. On domestic SAS flights, I learned, there's no free anything – you pay even for soda.

I got to Stockholm and took the Arlanda Express into the city. I caught a taxi to the hotel, as Danuta had recommended, but mostly just to get my bearings. It was a 10 minute walk. I was way downtown.

The room reminded me of a cruise ship room – skinny and cramped.

I went out for a beer with Anders Berglund, who's a lecturer and CS Education researcher at Uppsala, and who lives near Stockholm. He very kindly gave me a copy of his thesis, and we had a long chat about the community, what he's been doing, what I've been doing. Very nice.

The next morning, even the view outside the window was foreign (to me) and cool.

I had breakfast in the hotel (even bigger spread than Hotell Conrad! But I still find it odd to make sandwiches of cold cuts, cheese, cucumber, lettuce, and tomato for breakfast), then started wandering Stockholm.

Just outside the hotel, the Concert House and an open market.

Finally, I have evidence that the Swedish really do eat mashed potatoes on hot dogs:

I did some of my tourist-y shopping, then met Mats Daniels, Senior Lecturer at Uppsala and also a CS Ed researcher. He took me on a tour of the Old Town, which was fabulous. It feels like Venice (with twisty turny small streets) surrounded by water and beautiful buildings, like Paris.

The Opera House on the way to Old Town:

Streets of Old Town:
streets-oldtown1.jpg streets-oldtown2.jpg streets-oldtown3.jpg

The state of St. George defeating a dragon:

Here's Mats in front of an obelisk near the King's castle in Stockholm.

This is a view from the front of the castle:

Mats and I ate at a pizza place in the Old Town. We had a long talk about his research and how to get his Ph.D. finished. We came up with an idea that would include doing an international cooperating software engineering class between Georgia Tech and Uppsala – and could even have a good project for Mike McCracken in it, too. (Their enrollments are plummeting, too.)

We got a nice view of the town hall on the way back.

Then we went back to the hotel. I said good-bye to Mats, and waited for Danuta. She arrived right on time and we walked over to meet Per Eriksson, the President of Vinnova, one of the NSF-like funding agencies in Sweden. Maria, from the Bank of Sweden's Foundation, also joined us. We talked about Media Computation, the problems facing CS and other hard disciplines, the need for contextualized computing education. They asked me if I was interested in taking a leadership role in improving computing education in Sweden (!). I said that we can keep talking.

Afterward, Danuta took me to a real coffee house – not a Starbucks, but a house in which they serve coffee.

I said good-bye to Danuta, picked up my bags, and headed back to the Arlanda Express. On the way, I saw one of Barb's favorite restaraunts (well, the name anyway) in Stockholm!

I had time to hang out in the Stockholm airport. You don't see posters like these in Atlanta...
airport-poster-dubai.jpg airport-poster-moscow.jpg

The trip to Copenhagen was fine, and I got checked in fine. I'm trying to keep myself up later tonight so that I can get back on Atlanta time easier. I'm so looking forward to going home tomorrow!

25 March 2006

The Hilton Copenhagen Airport is a really nice place. Beautifully designed. The breakfast spread was amazing–everything from a full English breakfast (eggs, sausage, and bacon, but also including stewed tomatoes, baked beans, and sauteed mushrooms), through more Scandinavian fare (e.g., fresh bread, sliced meats and cheese, cucumbers and lettuce, herring) and lots of sweets (great cinnamon rolls!) and cereals (including cocoa puffs and "frosties").

The view out my window was terrific – the airport is right on the ocean.

I didn't have time to go into Copenhagen, but it was a short walk into the local neighborhood, so I did for a mile or so. (A short COLD! walk – low 30's and a really stiff wind.)

Talk about great placement – the yellow building is a gambling joint. Right next to a bank. Convenience!

Isn't this cool? Steel light poles!

I did a lot of shopping after checking in, and spent up all my DKK's.

I was in Economy Plus on the way back, too, so I had power and could type the whole way. Wrote some 20 more pages on the data structures book. They fed us Danish food all the way back – toast with sliced eggs, mayo, and little shrimps for a snack; chicken meatballs in creamed spinach. Highlight of the trip: It was clear over Greenland, and I got a great view of it.

When we got into Dulles, I had a great big slab of pizza and relished being able to read all the advertising! I got into Atlanta early and had Barb and the kids pick me at the curb. HOORAY! I'm HOME!

Last modified 27 March 2006 at 9:26 am by Mark Guzdial