Why Do They Buy Buses Everyone Hates?

Stockholm has a great mass transit system, called SL, despite the annual problems when subway trains can’t handle the snow or the leaves on the tracks are the wrong kind for the commuter trains. But a few years ago, when they started buying new buses, the models they chose were pretty awful.

Basically most of the new buses have very little leg room for most of the seats, and lots of the seats face backwards. The latter is kind of crazy, because no one likes to travel backwards, and some people can actually get sick from it. The only advantage of having a unit of four seats where two face the other two is if four friends get on together. But almost always when that happens one or more of the four seats is already occupied, so it doesn’t help anyway.

One might have thought enough people would have complained so that SL would stop buying these uncomfortable buses. Apparently not, because new ones have appeared recently, with even less leg room and more seats facing backwards. In the earlier ones it was perhaps one quarter of the seats that faced backwards, which was pretty bad.

But this morning when I got on one of the new busses I actually counted. Seventeen seats facing forward, two fold-down seats facing sideways in the middle of the bus where the baby carriages travel…and no less than twelve seats facing backwards!

That’s just under forty percent of the bus passengers being forced to travel backwards!

Whatever SL’s considerations in buying these buses, passenger comfort and passenger opinion are apparently not high priorities.

Has the BBC Changed Its Podcast Policy?

One of my favorite radio programs is the BBC’s “In Our Time”. Every Thursday, except for a summer break, Melvyn Bragg and three varying and eloquent academic experts discuss what in Swedish would be called “idéhistoria”. Besides pure history, the program takes up the history of science, philosophy, religion, and culture.

Recent programs have taken up the Spanish Armada, imaginary numbers, and the Neanderthals.

What is frustrating is that only the program from the past week has been available as podcasts. This is especially odd as several years of programs are archived for online listening, on-demand. Which means that anyone can play the files and record them as mp3 files. Having done this several times I can confirm it can be done, but is very time-consuming.

And programs going back to 2002 can be downloaded from the Pirate Bay. So the lack of a podcast archive on the BBC website has been hard to understand. Especially since the nature of the program means there can’t have been rights issues.

No more…since the program’s return after the summer break all three episodes are still available for downloading:


Hopefully this signals a change in policy at Broadcast House. It would be nice if the back archives could also be made available, but this is great news!

Hopefully this signals a n

eBookstores Not Ready for Primetime? No Nobel

Often when the Nobel Literature Prize is announced, I run down to the fairly large bookstore near work to see if they have anything by the new laureate in English. Sometimes they do, often the don’t.

So I was looking forward to being able to download a Nobel winner to my iPad this year.

Sadly, there is nothing by Mario Vargas Llosa in the (US) iBook store, nor anything in English in the much larger Kindle store. And no audio books from Audible in the American iTunes store.

This is not a minor poet in an obscure language. The eBookstores can’t have everything perhaps, but the fact that they ignore such a major, albeit non-American, writer demonstrates that they have a way to go.

Transcending the Kindle


Are eReaders the savior of newspapers?

In the latest issue of “Wired” Steven Levy argues for the usefulness and more serious role of the Kindle compared to the iPad:

“But longer, deeper plunges into literature—what the critic Victor Nell calls “ludic reading”—are a different matter. After 20 minutes or so, the 1.6-pound iPad starts to feel pretty heavy. (The new Kindle is 8.7 ounces; Gravity’s Rainbow, about 2 pounds.) The backlit screen tires your eyes and is lousy in sunlight. As for smartphones, have you ever tried to hold one in a reading position for two hours? And then there are the distractions: It’s tougher to concentrate when email, box scores, and addictive games are a click away. Why struggle through a difficult passage of prose when you can play with … angry birds?”

Granted you can use the Kindle in strong sunlight, where the iPad is hard to read, but I think I would be more convinced if his final words didn’t quote Amazon bos Steve Bezos, apparently channeling the latest Kindle vs iPad TV ad:

“You’re going to want to go on vacation and read by the pool,” Bezos says. “And guess what—many people pay more than $139 for their sunglasses. So these are not expensive devices.”

I love my iPad and find that the phyical books I have bought since I got it (because they don’t exist in digital format) are just sitting on the shelf.

Even Steven Levy agrees the iPad is superior for reading magazines and newspapers. So it is particularly frustrating that you can’t actually subscribe to them on the iPad. I’ve let my subscription to “Wired” itself lapse, since I can update the app every month. But I would much rather just pay for a subscription and let each issue download automatically rather than having to go through the trouble of paying for a download once a month.

Because Apple hasn’t bothered to launch the iBook store in Sweden, all of the books I’ve bought for my iPad are from Amazon’s Kindle store, and read on the Kindle app. Even when the iBooks store comes to Sweden I’ll probably stick with Amazon, because I might get a Kindle someday, and then I can read all my books there.

Amazon does offer a bunch of periodicals available by subscription (like the “San Francisco Chronicle”) but as they recently confirmed in an e-mail, these are only for the Kindle, and not the Kindle app in other devices:

“Unfortunately, periodicals such as newspapers, magazines, blogs, and personal documents can currently only be delivered to a Kindle and cannot be viewed on the Kindle application…I’ll let the Kindle team know that you’re interested in the ability to receive subscriptions on your Kindle application. They’re always looking for ways to improve our Kindle offerings and may be able to make this feature available in the future.”

One hopes they (and Apple) come to their senses soon and start offering subscriptions to periodicals on the iPad. Maybe National Newspaper Week could be an inspiration.