Innsbruck
Sebastian Fiedler is busy trying to organize a BlogWalk meeting in Innsbruck on June 25th 2005. This on the day after the Microlearning Conference in the same city, which takes place on June 23rd and 24th. It certainly looks like a great conference also from a KM and social software viewpoint.
Are you going to the Microlearning conference, and would you be interested in participating in a BlogWalk meeting? Let me know, so we can let you know early enough what will happen, so that you can take it into account when making travel plans.
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mechel-02-2.jpgIt is our pleasure to announce the next BlogWalk meeting!
On May 20th BlogWalk 7 will take place in Mechelen. Tom de Bruijne, Maarten Schenk en Clo Willaerts have kindly agreed to be our local hosts.
The theme will be civic journalism.
BlogWalks are by invitation only, and the number of available places is limited. We are sending out invitations in the coming days. E-mail me if you’re interested to attend; usually we can fit all those who are interested.
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In the latest issue of Global Knowledge Review, the magazine by David Gurteen and Bizmedia bringing you KM practices from around the world, I contributed an article on BlogWalk. The full text of the article, titled Hosting Grassroots Conversation Between Knowledge Activists, is available from David Gurteen’s website.
Basically the article talks about how conferences don’t provide the environment to interact with others the way I want, and how that frustration turned into . That creating the right environment for meaningfull conversation ourselves was an expression of taking responsibility for our own actions. And that being able to create such an environment yourself might well be a critical skill in a knowledge economy.
By the way, the results of these BlogWalks, such as the one held yesterday in Chicago, are aggregated on the Blogwalk Topicexchange channel, and in the BlogWalk Wiki.

There are days when you would rather be somewhere else. Today I would have liked to be in Chicago, attending . But one can’t go everywhere all the time, and budgets have limits, at least mine do.
Today saw BlogWalk 6 in snowy Chicago. Not everybody could make it, according to AKMA, who blogged some live impressions. Krista Kennedy and Judith Meskill had to cancel, but Phil Wolff decided to attend last minute.
Topic today was a rerun of our London session, on social software in organisational settings. Lilia Efimova is representing both Sebastian and me, and I am glad to see that some characteristic features of previous sessions got transplanted across the Atlantic, such as the Windows Wiki (post-its on the window). Other traditions, such as the walk, got adapted to local circumstances: an impromptu snow ball fight.AKMA posted pictures in his Flickr stream, from which I copied a few shots.

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Window Wiki and Snowball fight, photos by AKMA

I am looking forward to reading more blogpostings in the coming hours/days.

Stuart Henshall reflects on how he will move away from ‘traditional’ blogging in the coming year. This triggered some comments by me in his blog, but also this longish post, which is largely unorganized thoughts and assocations. Just a first step in sensemaking.
I’m seeing signs that blogs are declining in usefulness and utility as they are pushed into activities they are not suited for. […] Going Blogging was one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in the last few years. It has connected me with wonderful people all over the world. It’s brokered many a new introduction. Still I’m planning on giving up my blog in the new year. I’m migrating away from being just a blogger.
Stuart thinks the format is becoming too solitary for him, and he plans on being a more collaborative contributor. Oh I want to own my own words, and I hope create and nurture new pages to life. However, they shouldn’t stop there. For the most part a blog is a static repository while the world is a living organism. I want to breath life into change. Thus I need to open source my approach to writing, sharing, and becoming part of a broader collective intelligence. (For more on Collective Intelligence, please read George Por’s weblog)
A lot of what Stuart says rings true to my ears. I have seen my blogpostings become less frequent, in my mind as a result of spending a lot of time and energy in what Johnnie Moore calls the in-between spaces. In relationships, in collaboration etc. However this has been largely blog-induced. Blogs are great to think out loud and thus to trigger new conversations and relationships. That’s why I think Elmine Wijnia’s communicative definition of weblogs is hitting the nail on the head. Blogs are far less effective though in feeding and sustaining those relationships and collaboration it helped trigger, except as placeholders at which they are very good again. This is a point Denham Grey is repeatedly making.
Blogs aren’t evolving enough
Stuart says Blogs remain static in structure, they haven’t evolved much. I think I recognize what he means. Blogs not only give individuals a voice, but by the sheer number of them can also put people at a distance. Stuart notes I think that the large number of blogfeeds together form a filter, my community filter, of what is going on and what is thought to be important. Then not the individual posting as such draws my attention but the aggregate patterns I see in the info-soup. (See also Every Signal Starts out as Noise) The fact that individual bloggers to me are not only worthwile as conversational partners themselves, but also parts in the Early Warning System their collective rss-feeds form, is not something that is reflected in our blogs. Blogs haven’t adapted to their new additional role as aggregating piece of a wider filter/pattern.
Personal Presence Portal, revisited: Two directions in which to evolve
This brings us back I think to an earlier conversation on blogs as Personal Presence Portals. We have started our blogs as soapboxes, triggering conversations, which turned into relations and collaboration. At the same time your blogs created new horizons for me, making me aware of much more events, information and stuff than before. Putting all that together created a new filter to view the world with (and made magazine and paper subscriptions superfluous for me). If our blogs need to evolve than this should be in two directions I think. The first direction to serve us better on an individual level, the second to serve us better as part of the aggregate filter, as pixel in the pattern.
Evolving into full-blown on-line personae
One direction is to enhance value on a personal level, creating loads of more context. Not by only being an outlet channel for thoughts, but the on-line hub of my life. This could mean (more) integration with my other personal information tools (think private and public wiki, yasns), providing not only personal intellectual context (books I read etc.), but especially more social context. I feel my blogroll does not serve my purpose as an indicator of my network well. So being able to share information about my networks (localized yasn? Feeds from LinkedIn, OpenBC?) would be an option. But once I share that, I want to be able to determine who sees what on my blog. My network consists of circles, with different shades of intimacy and trust. I want the access someone has to my blog to reflect that, much like real online portals are able to do (or forums with their reputation systems for instance). If I work with you, our work should be accessible through my blog/wiki. Others should only be able to see what we want to share about it (nothing, the fact that we collaborate, some of the results, some of the work, everything). Also access to multiple communication channels falls into this category. Or I could think of things like a section “people I have been in touch with today”, showing us more of the in-between spaces.
My blog evolving into an effective part of your filter (and yours for mine)
Another route for evolution, to satisfy the role as filtering part of the whole, would be turning to microcontent a la Marc Canter more (who by the way talks of digital life style aggregators in the same way I think of presence portals). If I am part of your community filter, I should think about how to feed that filter better and more effectively. Only part of what I filter myself becomes visible in my blog. As I write this, dozens of links/articles/pages come to mind, which I won’t all mention, but are nevertheless important. You could benefit if I had a channel where I did open them up for you. Martin Roell’s Newsfeed sort of serves that purpose I think. De.licio.us, my bookmarks feed (rss), does as well. How about if I opened up those feeds right in my blog, adding the wiki-changes, feeds of comments I made elsewhere, etc. Or all the feeds I read myself. There is no need here for me to organize all those different info-particles or make some sense of them, just a need to show you which info-particles I encounter and pick up. It’s about leaving trails really, as Steven Johnson writes in his book Emergence.
So how feed the filter more? By supplying additional feeds, but also perhaps by supplying additional blogs/content streams. I write about Knowledge Management, but also (fledgingly) about alternate energy sources. A more traditional life-log could add perspective (especially if geo-tagged). Where have I been, what did I do, and not restrict it to the topic at hand (knowledge management in this case). It is through this type of info that things go click, in my mind at least, which helps me connect the dots. Stuart said his blog would have been more succesfull if it had had more focus. Even though I don’t know what success in this case means, I am suggesting that for my blog to be a usefull part of your community filter it would need less focus. Or at least, different foci in different sections of my blog as personal presence portal. Important here would be to open up this stuff to you in a non-time consuming way. I don’t want to write down the trails to feed into your filter, they need to be able to write themselves down.
Where to start?
The first thing that comes to mind is evaluating my current blog. What info is on there, and what role does it serve. Uncluttering the blog, and then recluttering it purposefully, you might say. A second step would be moving more traces into view, and add pointers to other foci. Change feeds for the wiki (or different wiki’s I am active in) and that sort of stuff.
What suggestions do you have?

It is our pleasure to announce a new edition of BlogWalk, the salon-like get togethers Sebastian Fiedler, Lilia Efimova and I are organizing.
In cooperation with Jack Vinson, our local host (thanks Jack!), we are in the process of organizing BlogWalk 6 in Chicago, United States. Lilia Efimova will be in the US and attend the BlogWalk.
When?
Friday January 21st, or Saturday January 22nd, 2005, depending on the preference of the participants (so let us know early!)
Where?
We’re hoping Seabury, Evanston IL (see picture), near Chicago, on the shores of Lake Michigan, though we don’t know for sure yet.
What about?
Social software in corporate settings. We are continuing the discussions started during BlogWalk London last September, and are curious if a North-American perspective yields different insights.
Who can attend?
Blogwalks are by invitation only. If you have an interest in attending please let us know, so we can invite you. There is room for about 25 people. Get in touch with me (e-mail on the left hand side), or better yet, with Jack Vinson directly.
For more information have a look at the BlogWalk wiki.

Seabury college (picture from their website)

We are also looking into organizing a new BlogWalk session soon in Europe as well.

The theme for the fifth Blogwalk in Umea was “Blogging on the Move”. It was loosely inspired by the fact that Howard Rheingold gave a seminar and workshop before the Blogwalk on SmartMobs and the effects of mobile devices on our behaviour. A second reason was that it required a lot of mobility to get to Umea, far up north in Sweden as it is.
We were only a small group of people but that enabled us to get deeper into the discussions as a group, and also to get some stuff done.
We were:
Stephanie Hendrick, our kind host, an American living in Umea
Karsten Kneese, intern at HumLab, hailing from Bonn Germany
Martin Roell, from Luxembourg, living in Dresden Germany
Susanne Sperring, PhD student from Finland
Jeroen Steeman, from Utrecht Netherlands, doing a Masterthesis on politics and blogging
Bas Schutte, Utrecht Netherlands, doing a Masterthesis on blogging
Elmine Wijnia, Enschede Netherlands, recently completed a M Sc on blogging from a communicative perspective
Ton Zijlstra, Enschede Netherlands, KM-consultant

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our little group moblogging during a break

Staking the ground
We started off with the thought that moblogging in itself might not be the real issue. Or to paraphrase Martin “I’m not a moblogger, I’m a travelling blogger having trouble getting connected”. I think we can paraphrase this for mobile knowledge workers as well. It’s not about mobility for the sake of mobility, it is about being able to take as much of your normal working and learning environment with you when you are on the move.
Stephanie raised the question of the requirements on tools for moblogging. Her experiences with live blogging at the JokkMokk festival (pdf), with batteries dying because of the cold etc, taught her that we need more robust tools than the fragile laptops for instance we were using during the Blogwalk session.
I also suggested the mobility between tools as a topic. To me flow between tools is more than just having access to the internet. I need my phone, laptop, pda, and especially the software that is available on them to be able to work seamlessly together or having connectivity is still largely of no use. (For instance I blogged once from a public terminal at the Vienna airport, which was largely useless because I did not have access to my laptop at the time).

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conversational hooks at start of our session

Behaviour
We discussed the penetration of the mobile phone in the nineties as an example of how behaviour changed and adapted to the ubiquitous availability of phones. We had to learn how to use them in our lives, before the devices really got accepted as normal tools. We had to learn to switch the damn things off in the theater or cinema. We had to learn not to speak too loud on the phone in the train (although some never seem to learn). Eventually we all settled in a rhythm of acceptable use. New implicit rules were thus created. With mobile blogging we have to learn again that there is a marked difference between being always connected to the net, and the power to decide to use it or not, combined with general availability of connectivity. A lot of people I talk to seem to think the two are equal, and I think I remember the same discussions when mobile phones were first introduced. It is also important to realize that connectivity is not merely an added layer to your surroundings, as if you have your tools and connectivity on top of that. Without connectivity what I can do with my tools is significantly reduced to hinder me in my activities. (Writing blog entries for instance without connectivity is very different than when connectivity is available. Retrieval of links, pictures etc is all rendered impossible, and I am already very accustomed to not save stuff locally if I know I can get it from the web at anytime.)
Moblogging opportunities
So when do we want to be able to blog on the move? We came up with the following list:

  • where you are physically on the move (plains, trains, automobiles)
  • where you are gathering info
  • where you are inspired/getting idea (Martin’s shower)
  • where you can reflect (in the park, at the lake, waiting at the airport)
  • where you are several hours on end (waiting at the airport, at night in your hotel)

And who needs it? Probably everyone who gets into situations where creativity/innovative solutions are required, which is an increasing number of people in our post-industrialist societies.
On the use of time for blogging
The most asked question when I speak to people who don’t blog, is where I get the time to do it.
In Umea we discussed time consumption and listed a number of time-consuming factors. Time is needed:

  • To get used to the tools
  • To grow a network
  • To get into action with others
  • To grow trust
  • For getting to know and find useful (re)sources
  • To find your voice (for yourself, for others)

This seems like a list of things that apply to a lot more situations than just blogging. For instance we compared it to Stephanie’s experiences when she first moved from the US to Sweden, and had to find her rhythm in a new country. It also resonates with my own perception that the time I spend blogging is either not very large, or all of the time. Reading blogs, writing to reflect and digest, writing to collect and gather, and sharing along different channels (blog, wiki, company portal, e-mails, etc.) is just the way how I collect and process my personal information flow. Asking me how much time I spend blogging, is treating blogging as an additional activity in my life (which it was at first), and feels to me like asking how much of my time I spend breathing.
On what drives people
We compiled the following list of motivations to moblog:

  • Keeping in touch with people
  • Keeping in touch with yourself (yesterday’s Lilia)
  • Feeding info to people who can’t be with you
  • Illusion of presence for others (making it look like you’re not gone at all)
  • Receiving info and feedback from people who follow your exploits from a distance
  • Finding local contacts, local (re)sources

In short, to me this has to do with the ability to keep up flow, and to maintain the richness of your context, whereever you are. This also helps to decide when you do not need connectivity: at the points where you are consciously breaking flow, like during holidays, breaks etc. Like switching of my cell phone during lunch so I can talk to my friends uninterrupted for a bit.
Requirements
As to what requirements would have to be met, or don’t need to be met, for mobile blogging:

  • Internet access (fast, cheap/free)
  • Access to information (blogs, google)
  • Blogging off line is difficult
  • Synchronous communication is NOT a requirement (asynchonicity allows you to be present and sharing/partaking in the on-line world at the same time, synchronous communication demands your presence in that communication channel)

Tools and Functionality
Tools need to be convenient in size, weight, price and robustness (weather, temperature, dust, water). Size is probably always a trade-off with useability, and there is a marked difference I think in when it is handy to take along a laptop, and when I need a handheld mobile device with small screen.
Functionality was the last part of our discussion, and we did not really work it out in full detail (but we will try to do that on-line in Traveler I think) The quick list of things we mentioned is:

  • multitasking
  • audiodictating
  • audioblogging background noise “soundpictures”
  • more easy publishing, one button recording/editing/publishing from all mobile devices
  • fast: no time consumption for cognitive overhead, because time is limited on the move
  • timeliness, actuality, afterwards it’s not important anymore

bw5liliacallingt.jpg At the end of our session Lilia joined us on Skype, and that led to some observations as well. On-line joining in the middle creates some awkwardness. I had the inkling to start summarizing what we had been doing in the session, which wasn’t a usefull idea. Lilia made remarks about how we did not introduce ourselves but started talking to her directly and she had to try and recognize our voices, as she could not see our faces. Both things are probably due to the fact that she knew most of us already. So we started talking from our shared level of trust. If it had been a stranger I probably would not have felt the need to summarize, and would have taken the time to say who I was.

Next to the seminar and reception with Howard Rheingold we enjoyed last Thursday afternoon we also joined a more small scale workshop with Howard Rheingold on Friday morning. Our little Blogwalk group made up about half of the audience I think.
In a group conversation setting we discussed several topics. One of the more interesting things to me was when Howard Rheingold showed us the tools he uses in his personal information strategy. For the bloggers in the room there really were not many surprises. RSS, BlogLines, Del.icio.us, all with actual screenshots, came up. He stresses weblogs as his community filters for information. Most people I talk to blogs about seem to think they’re publications, sources next to other sources like papers, where I see them as conversations. Howard spends some 4 hours in the morning engaging with his on-line community and sources of information, after which he spends the afernoon writing. He does keep an eye on IM and e-mail in the afternoon though.

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What struck me is how little we actually talk about our info-strategies, and info-diet, and the tools we use for it. Especially tools can be almost a secret thing in organisations that have rigid rules to what people are allowed to use on their desk- and laptops. My laptop is stuffed with different tools, most of them Open Source or freeware, that did not come with the pre-installed proprietary environment. My company is ok with it, but does not expect me to ask for support on the stuff I install myself. If my colleagues are convinced of the value of a tool, it will be added to the standard provided and serviced mix of tools we use however.
Talking about how we do things, hunt and gather info, filter stuff, feed it into our workflow, pick the relevant items to act upon etc. is something we should do a lot more I think. Anyone who wants to compare notes?

humlabt.jpgThursday, after a pleasant early morning flight from Stockholm to Umea where Stephanie Hendrick met us at the airport, we enjoyed an afternoon seminar with Howard Rheingold. The seminar was organized by the Humanities Lab (HumLab) of Umea University. The HumLab provided a great space, a cross between a high tech laboratory and welcoming living room, it lured everyone into pleasant and interesting conversation immediately.
What led to writing Smart Mobs
Howard Rheingold told us his stories of the observations that triggered him into writing Smart Mobs. (also see Jill Walkers excellent notes from two days before when Rheingold presented in Bergen) Several of his observations were:

  • in 2000 he was in Tokyo and saw how 1 in 4 on the sidewalks was looking at their phones.
  • in 2000 he saw in Finland how youths were looking at their phones, smiling, showing eachother stuff, even while in conversation with older people at the same time. A parallel event seemed to take place.
  • in the Phillipines within hours after the government seemed to censor tv transmission about impeachment hearings of the president, thousands of people showed up on a central square in black clothes. Not by central organization but by sms-ing eachother.
    The interesting thing to Howard Rheingold was that everywhere he went he saw these new phenomena and heard it describe in the same words. Metaphors like birds flocking to seemingly random places, to suddenly move on again.
    He then realised that mobile phones were growing into multifunctional and multimedia devices, text, speech, and internet and camera turned it into hybrid devices. This enabled what his colleague described as Collective Action.
    How devices enabling collective action will change the world
    howardrheingoldt.jpgWhen the PC came to our homes, we did not use them the way we used the same calculating power in mainframes. We invented new uses. An effect that is well known from philosophy of technology. We can expect the same from mobile devices, which will make available huge calculating power away from the desktop. A critical barrier is price. The average monthly income world wide is $60-$70, when prices drop below that a tipping point is reached. Already these devices are creating change. Fishermen getting text messages while at sea where to get the best price for your catch. That literally helps feed your kids. Mobile devices foster emergent patterns, by providing until recently only centrally available capacities to distributed masses. This enables collective action. (Interestingly one of Humlabs people, Jim, told the story how the Swedish police went after the people who were trying to coordinate the informationflow during the anti globalist riots in Goteborg. There were no leaders to prosecute, so they went after the information agents.)
    When the devices are widely distributed so will the uses. People will create applications fitting their needs. Tim Berners Lee did not need permission to create the Web, he just wrote something that was useful to him, and as it turned out to a lot of others.
    When thinking about how this stuff will have influence, also think about projects already using distributed calculating power, like SETI or the Folding Project (http://folding.stanford.edu). Add location awareness (geotagging, RFID) to the mix, with millions and millions of RFID chips being spread around the world. Barcodes are an advance warning, of what can happen with these chips permeating the environment, certainly if combined with e.g. Google searches.
    Rheingold rightly warns about that none of this technology is intrinsically good. It can be used both for good and for bad. He points out that the violent riots surrounding the Miss World pageant in Nigeria were also the result of SMS-based communication.
    Q&A session
    In the Q&A session several interesting things came up.
    Asked if centralization wouldn’t be a threat to the changes he described earlier, Rheingold observed that the development of technology is moving away from centralization, and active devices are increasingly becoming their own infrastructure. (think for instance of the Apple wireless cards that can both serve as a Wifi-card and as an Acces point) Of course centralized vested interests will battle this (something we are already seeing in the music and movie industries I think. By the way, Rheingold also passionately spread the message that current intellectual property laws are killing of innovation)
    What will be the information containers of tommorrow? Where to store all our information is indeed an interesting question. There are basically three containers involved, the cloud of internet, storage devices and our heads. How much cognitive overhead can you deal with to keep track of all those info-containers. Will we cope? Howard Rheingold seemed uncertain, or as he said he may be too old, but I think we will adapt. Information overload does not exist.
    Collective action also in the past changed things rapidly. Collective hunting drove bigger mammals into extinction quickly, agriculture made possible cities and empires, which in turn required administration. Writing exploded because of it, being followed by the printing press etc. It is a continuous process of acceleration. He wonders if we will keep up. I think we will, or at least the younger generations will. Institutions change slowly, only when the old people die Continuing this thought by the way would confirm my own intuition that the current ageing of the workforce, and the imminent retirement of large parts of the workforce in Europe can be an enormous catalyst for change and innovation.
    Howard Rheingold sees huge potential for virtual ways of dealing with information, as opposed to more tangible stuff like books etc. He uses the word co-evolution. It reminds me of Dennet’s book about evolution where he explains culture as a realm accelerating our evolution because we can change and adapt without having to change our physical lay-out. The virtual world is a place within culture where even more acceleration is possible.
    He points to India and China where two billion people are on the brink of adding their creativity to that mix.
    All in all a very worthwile afternoon, even though much of what Rheingold talked about wasn’t new, at least not to my ears. He did add different perspectives though, and hearing your own observations and suspicions put into words by others helps to reflect on them better. During the small scale reception afterwards, to which we were luckily invited by Patrick, head of HumLab we had plenty time to talk to the people of HumLab and Howard Rheingold in person, continuing on the themes of his earlier presentation. Howard Rheingold seemed interested in the concept of our Blogwalks, as it too is a collective action from distributed agents.
    Next entries will go into the workshop with Howard Rheingold on Friday morning and the Blogwalk meeting on Friday afternoon.
    [Update: The videostream of the Seminar (RealPlayer needed)]

  • During one of my first philosophy courses we talked about different systems of government, and how they deal with power. Democracy is different from other forms because the place where the power is, is empty. There is no person or object that embodies the power. People just pass through the place of power, objects lose their symbolic significance when not used. Everyone knows the emperor has no clothes, but that doesn’t hurt at all, simply because there is no emperor to begin with.

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    Children around the Speaker’s seat in the Swedish Parliament

    Today we saw that demonstrated before our eyes.When we walked through Stockholm today we passed the Parliament and saw a poster indicating that today was open house. We entered the building on a spur and within minutes we stood in the plenary room, playing around with the Speakers hammer. Children were playing Speaker, their parents taking pictures. A couple had themselves photographed making out between the MP’s benches. How different from the struggle to fill the void Yasser Arafat left behind when he lay dying in a Paris hospital. Or can you imagine two random teenagers walking in from the street having themselves pictured kissing in the Oval Office or in the US Senate speaker’s chair?

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    the Speaker’s hammer

    In the rooms around the plenary hall different parliamentary commissions actively engaged citizens into conversation about different topics. We chatted briefly with MP Ingvar Svensson about Sweden’s place in the EU and how the people rejected the Euro in a referendum. After having a look in the former plenary room, we left and continued on our way. The Swedish sovereign power not the least tainted by the fact that we played around with it’s symbols for a while.

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    Elmine taking a seat in Parliament

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    The urn used in Swedish Parliament for personal secret ballots. Note how this important artefact is a playfull object of art, depicting the islands on which Stockholm is build, with the Parliament as the red bridge. The Kingdom’s golden apple on top.

    We enjoyed our little stroll through Stockholm