How to Become Norwegian: part 83

Skiing is something that Norwegians claim to enjoy and be experts at, without actually putting it into practice. The story that Norwegians are born with skis on their feet is just a cruel myth put about by nurses to explain the screams coming from the maternity ward. Most Norwegians will instead get skis at an early age and go through basic ski training – learning how not to fall over while standing still, how to get up and down a hill without taking your skis off. I did mine back when I was six or seven. 

Anyway, my darling wife got a chance to learn how to ski through the University in Oslo. A theory course explained the basics (pointy end forward, wax on the bottom of the ski, etc). This weekend and next are the practical courses.

Fay's first steps on skis

We went out into the cold snowy day/dusk on Saturday and made our way to Sognsvann (even the T-bane has problems in the cold). The skis were freshly waxed (with green swix suitable for the –10C weather) and the backpack stuffed with chocolate, thermoses, blankets, sandwiches and oranges. We were ready!

Pay attention, class

The instructors first got everyone to practice walking and gliding with the skis. This wasn’t too exciting, so after an hour of  wandering back and forth in the wind, they switched to a game of freeze-tag: run the monsters coming to tag you

 Tag! You're frozen!  Freezing Frozen Fay

After a vigorous hour of freeze-tag, it was time for a very cold lunch, and then it was on to the going-up-and-down portion of practice.

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Fay was understandably sceptical to the idea of sliding down a slippery slope on two planks. She was set on going home, but after a look at the slope, she decided she had to try it once, and once down, she wanted to go again. And again.  Falling down in the snow was not so bad as she first feared.


The wind picked up and started whipping up flurries of snow around the students. After an hour of fishbone-steps up and squatting down the hill we were more than ready for a warm subway car.

When we got back to the T-bane stop, the sign said “28 minutes” to the next train – but luckily it was off by about 18 minutes. The chocolate disappeared on the trip home.  My toes defrosted. 

Today the weather is nicer (the sun is shining through a thin cloud cover) but the temperature is around –17C, so no skiing lessons today. Another factor is that the unexpected exercise on the slopes has caused Fay’s many major muscle groups to complain about the harsh treatment they got yesterday. But the forecast for next weekend looks good. I’m sure we’ll be back outside with the skis on.

Fay’s view of the whole thing can be read over on her blog (in Mandarin – Google translate or the Babelfish is your friend).

Snowman on the balcony

It has snowed a lot while we were away. The weather is cold and clear and beautiful.

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Fay wanted a snowman, so we built one using the fine powder snow that has collected on our little balcony.

It is really too cold to build a proper snowman – the snow crystals does not sinter into lumps when it is so cold and dry – so it became more of a snow-pile than a snow-man.

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Finally the pile was high enough, and a small snow-lump on top served as a head. Fay carefully placed jellybeans for the eyes and nose:

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  Voilà! Casper the snow-man/monster. With a bit of left-over christmas wrapping he got a bit of hair too…


Very stylish, don’t you think?

Here is one we saw in Behai Park in Beijing earlier…


He has a a stick pipe and arms. More of a proper snowman than our snow-mountain.

Signage on Beijing Subway

While staying in Beijing, you will spend a lot of time travelling around by subway. The signage at the stations and in the subway cars is well worth discussing from an information design perspective.

Beijing takes the same  approach as most other major cities – with dedicated tracks for each line. Transfers between lines requires a walk to a different set of platforms.

When you come down the steps to a platform, the name of the end stations is the first thing you notice. This helps orient you to the correct side of the platform.


As you walk along the platform and look up you see the name of the station, and the ones immediately preceding and succeeding it are shown along the platform, along with an arrow indicating the direction of travel.


This tells you where you are and where you will go. Note that the preceding stations are greyed out to de-emphasize them. The remaining major stations (transfer stations and landmarks) and the end station is marked.

This is a typical use of focus + context. You see the nearby locations, and the overall picture, without being overburdened by details. The complete map of the network is also available on the platform and on the back of your travel-card.  If you need help planning your journey, a red-armbanded helper is nearby to assist you.

Once you get on the train, the travellers task switches to keeping track of where you are, and when to get off. Inside the train is a map above each door, that tracks the current station and the direction of travel. These update in real time.


The red dots indicate visited stations. When travelling between stops, the corresponding dots between stations are half red and half green.

When you arrive at a station, the station name is visible on the pillars outside, and the next stations is also shown underneath in smaller type. Along with the route map inside the train this helps you maintain your own map of the network.


It is re-inforcing the direction of travel and giving you extra context. Context you need if you are going to push through the crowd to reach the door in time.

Despite the helpful markings on the floor indicating where to queue and where to let out passengers, getting on and off the train requires a hefty shoulder and a good push to get out.


I’m guessing that a lot of these signage upgrades are a result of the Olympics, but whoever is responsible has done a really nice job with the information design. It helps keep travellers oriented and helps them maintain their internal maps of the subway system. These information hints will become more important as the network grows in size and complexity.

The Beijing subway is growing quickly – it has doubled in size since Fay left a few years ago. A new line opened just in the eight months since our last visit in April, and it is on route to become the world’s biggest subway system by 2020.

Queen of East and West Badaling

Queen of East and West Badaling, originally uploaded by xt1.

Fay gave me the great wall for Christmas. We took a taxi out to Badaling and walked up the shorter eastern section first. In december we had the wall practically to ourselves. Lovely and not too cold in the sunshine. After finishing the trip down to the bottom, we chose to attack the steep western section instead of going back to the taxi. The wind picked up, the sun was hidden by the ridgeline. Thus began a long climb up, one watchtower at a time. ‘This one will be the highest! This time for sure!’ only for another set of stairs to appear around the corner. Finally we reached the summit. The view is pretty impressive.

Now i just hope i can walk tomorrow.

King and Queen of the Great Wall – we are even more impressed by Stephen Robert’s achievements, having tasted a bit for ourselves.


Apartment++, originally uploaded by xt1.

After a back and forth with the bank, we got the keys to our new place today. 89 sq.m
at Ensjø
Tomorrow leave for SuperOffice EW09 in Amsterdam. Back on friday. Move on sunday. No problemo.

Christian via Mobile

SQL Server Express Installation Misery

I just wanted to play with OnTime, and figured I could install SQL Server 2008 Express as a database and be off and running quickly. Hah!

First attempt: download SQL Server 2008 Express from Microsoft.

The installation wizard starts and eventually gets through its prerequisite checking to get to the point where it has installed something, but I don’t know what. I’m lost in a maze of twisty wizards, all alike. The Express front end is the same as the full cluster-fail-over installer. The express front end is way way too comples.

Ok – uninstall 10 pieces of software and try the simpler approach.

Web Platform Installer apparently scripts the Express installer to get a default instance up and running with minimal fuss. Just what I need. Too bad it doesn’t work. It looks like I’m in good company.

I’m installing on a simple WinXP box – but the WebPI shell says the SQL Express install failed. Event log says

FCB::Open failed: Could not open file e:\sql10_main_t\sql\mkmastr\databases\objfre\i386\MSDBData.mdf for file number 1.  OS error: 3(failed to retrieve text for this error. Reason: 1815).

The SQL Server (SQLEXPRESS) service terminated with service-specific error 1814 (0×716).

Where the hell is E:\ coming from? I have nothing there.

I’m going to try uninstalling SQL Server again and trying WebPI again – maybe something got installed that it needed without realizing it…

Frakking black magic MSI.

All I want to do is play with OnTime