Beartown by Fredrik Backman

Fredrick Backman knows how to get readers attention and make it hard to stop reading. That did not happen to me from the start of the book since I have not been exposed to team sports in the way the book describes, and it was hard to get motivated to read about all the small nuances of a hockey team that the first half of the book was about. The author was setting the scene in the first half of the book, getting us acquainted with the characters to execute the main part of the plot with the full strength in the second part of the book. It’s gripping and telling a hard and realistic story that would speak close to a heart of any parent.

Elena’s rating: 4 out of 5

2022 to 2023

“When the going gets tough the tough gets going”.

An abstract paining of a busy blond woman generated by DALL-E.

It’s time to reflect and make new plans. “How was your 2022?”, Paul said. “Probably the worst year of my life”, I replied. He looked shocked. “Oh, I meant on a macro-perspective. On a micro-perspective, it’s been a good year”. I already talked about the macro-perspective in my previous blog post. On a micro-perspective, it’s been an exciting first year in California for me and my family. It’s been the year of taking tons of vaccinations because we did not have our records from Sweden, buying furniture for the new house in the times of global shortages, choosing courses in the new school system, getting a car after eight years of being proudly car-free, and getting a drivers license for the fourth time in my life. It’s been the year of understanding and getting used to the new – the new school system, the new workplace, the new neighbours and the new traditions. It’s been a year of exploration, and exploration is exciting. We’re locals now; we’re from Palo Alto, California, when we get the question: “Where are you guys from?”. In 2022 we met many new friends who will be our friends for life, I’m sure. And we have strengthened our bond with the friends that we left in Sweden – luckily we meet quite often. I accidentally became a snowboarder. Elin join the swim team and water polo team, Alexander decided not to go for American football (what a relief) and went for soccer instead. Paul Jr is fluent in English and started to correct mine. We spent plenty of time with our amazing friends but that’s never going to be enough.

Work-wise 2022 has been an exciting year. After a long time working from home, we finally returned to the office. I never though that I would be missing going to the office but that’s a fact. 2022 was a year of many changes in my organisation, and 2023 will be the one where we can run faster. I have co-authored a book, together with Paul and Thanos – looking forward to its release in 2023! 2022 was my first full year as a fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering Sciences in Sweden.

My resolutions for 2023:

  • Less shopping!
  • More time with my mom!
  • More time with my friends!
  • Write!
  • Speak-up!

Books I read since last time…

Reading has different purposes, just like any other consumption, like eating or looking at screens. At times, I need a book to relax and think about something else than my day-to-day life. Those books are easy to consume, and normally the don’t give you a lot of long-lasting impressions. Some books give you a lot of new knowledge, and other books give you a lot of new thoughts, and some are just for comfort. This was a disclaimer for my somewhat mixed reading style.

Kazuo Ishiguro: Klara and the Sun. This was the best thing I have read in a long time. Just read it and tell me how you felt about it. Ishiguro did not receive his Nobel prize for nothing – he is a genius author with a very innovative touch. It’s a sci-fi book, which is not at all far from being seen just as fiction because the characters described in the book can in fact be our reality in a short time. The book made me surprised a couple of times when the story let you realise how it would develop. It does provide a number of ethical questions without giving answers to them. A must-read!
Klara and the Sun: 5 out of 5.

Camilla Läckberg and Henrik Frexeus: The Box and Cult. The Box was great – scenes where you cannot breathe started to catch me directly after the first pages (listening minutes). This was a great entertainment, and as a bonus I loved the interview of Camilla and Henrik at the end of the book where they describe the way two different authors collaborate to achieve a smooth experience for the reader with only one writing style. The book is a complex criminal story where the authors plant clues and false clues for the reader to start guessing who the bad guy is, keeping it exciting until the end of the book. I couldn’t wait to read the second book in the trilogy – Cult – and when it finally came out i got disappointed. Kult was not at all as exciting as the Box, and even as i write this review i can memorise a lot of scenes from the Box but nothing from Kult.
The Box: 4 out of 5.
Kult: 2 out of 5.

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future. I love reading biographies of interesting people and Elon is surely a fantastic innovator, disruptor, a person with a can-do attitude when everyone else is saying that something is not possible. He is a challenger or many traditional concepts, including the concept of family. The book is not a biography but rather described the path of building the companies, with ups and downs, with almost not references to Elon’s private life which is certainly hoped for. Still, exciting to learn about the smart steps and the mistakes on the way, especially after our move to Silicon Valley and buying a Tesla after eight years of being car-free.
Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future: 4 out of 5.

Sophie Danell and Pia Sander: Priset Jag Fick Betala. A very well described drama story of a woman cheating on her husband with all its consequences. A read for women only, and can be categorised by a Swedish term “tantsnusk”. The book is written in a very personal way which makes me wonder if it’s based on a true story. An at-the-moment entertainment that does not persist.
Priset Jag Fick Betala: 2 out of 5.

Delia Owens: Where the Crawdads Sing. I liked this book even though at times I did not have patience to read the low-paced story that was supposed to get the reader in the right mood, almost in a meditative fashion. The book is describing the challenging life of the main character, Kya, and towards its second part grows into a murder mystery. The book provides the reader with a certain feeling of presence in the main character’s life that remains with you long time after reading it.
Where the Crawdads Sing: 3.5 out of 5.

Björn Natthiko Lindeblad, Caroline Bankler, Navid Modiri: Jag Kan Ha Fel. A life story of Björn Natthiko Lindeblad of his life as a buddhist munk, with its internals and specifics. Fascinating story but not something that inspires me. The question of discipline, however, is interesting as we face it every day. On the other hand, it must be easier to be disciplined under strict conditions and rules. Another interesting aspect of the book is that munks living under such strict conditions are happy people, which is something to remember.
Jag Kan Ha Fel: 3.5 of 5.

Ernst Hemingway: A Movable Feast: Restored Edition. I re-read this one. In my opinion, it’s the best book ever written. It’s a pure joy and something that gives you energy, motivates you and remains with you. This book became a moveable feast for me.
A Movable Feast: 5 out of 5.

I did try to read a couple of more books that I did not like, or they did not like me and did not stick. I won’t rate those.


My father passed away in the beginning of this year. It’s something you can never get prepared for. My mother lives alone in Saint Petersburg after being married to my father for 56 years. Extra tough for me after my recent move to California. What I felt that day and the amount of tears was incomparable to what I felt on the 24th of February, when Russia, the country where I was born and lived half of my life, invaded Ukraine. That day I had no words, only tears. This is so much bigger than a personal tragedy of losing a family member. This unexplainable act concerns all of us. Beautiful historic cities in Ukraine are being bombed, people are being killed, and they are hiding and fleeing in fear. And Russians did not ask for this, they are horrified. There are demonstrations on the streets across the whole country and people are raising their voices against the war, under the risk of ending up in prison. The day it started I had no words, only tears. But having no words is not an option. We all have words and we need to make ourselves heard. My 13-year old son who appears to be the only Russian in his school did an interview and spoke his mind for peace. My dear friend Ivetta is organising a concert in Stockholm for peace in Ukraine, with hundreds of people attending. I love Ukraine and Ukrainians, respect and cherish their traditions, and I am in tears every time I watch the news nowadays. Russians and Ukrainians have always been brothers; how do you turn brothers against each other?

My family always had a tradition – every new years eve, while the clock hits 12 times and crosses the midnight, we would write a wish on a small piece of paper for what we hope for the coming year. When I was little and had hard times putting down my wishes my parents always said – write “PEACE”, the word is short (“МИР” in Russian), easy to write and is the most important thing in life. Both my parents were born in 1941 – my mom under evacuation in Samara, and my father in Leningrad, where he got to experience the siege. True stories from that war told by my grandparents have always been with me, like a distant nightmare. No one could think that the evil social exercise will be repeated. I kept writing PEACE on my small piece of paper, every new years eve. This time, the paper will have to be a lot bigger and the voices a lot louder. Because every voice counts.

Photo by Dea Piratedea on Unsplash

Cixin Liu, Harvey, Dahlen, Keyyo

  1. Three Body Problem, Cixin Liu

    At times hard to grasp but so worth the time spent. Science fiction with crazy yet realistic ideas blended with accurate physical theories. Global perspectives on the world and evolution. Plenty of smart quotes that I wish I could remember. Here’s one favourite: “In China, any idea that dared to take flight would only crash back to the ground. The gravity of reality is too strong.”

    Elena’s rating: 4 out of 5.
  2. En liten bok om lycka, Micael Dahlen

    A tiny book where Micael, in a non-consistent form, gives a bunch of advises to the reader based on statistical studies. Break the rules, eat Christmas candy year round, plan ahead, be spontaneous, skip classes, etc. The book was given to the school teachers of my kids from the class as the end of term gift so I read it to get an understanding what we gave. Neither novel nor entertaining for me, which could mean that I did think about the subject long enough myself. And, btw, isn’t Micael Dahlen a vegan? What’s up with skumtomtar in that case? They are not vegan. Or did he go that crazy that we went for breaking two rules at the same time?

    Elena’s rating: 1 out of 5.
  3. Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, Steve Harvey

    Now that was a great short read! Very entertaining and with some nice hints. I do not entirely agree with the recommendations (being an atheist) which is OK. A fun read for ladies. Not for men.

    Elena’s rating: 4 out of 5.
  4. Mitt Livs Buffee, Keyyo

    I sympathise with Keyyo being born in Russia just like me and spreading a very positive image of my home country in Sweden. She released a cookbook mixed with stories from her life. A short and fun read.

    Elena’s rating: 3 out of 5.

Spring 2020 with Lars Kepler, Ida Warg, Anders Borg, Camilla Läckberg and Extreme Ownership.

  1. Ida Warg – Min Egen Väg.

    My 12-year-old daughter comes to me and says that I need to read Ida Warg’s book. I am hesitant after being disappointed with Margaux Dietz book. Still, being curious about young successful influencers and of respect to my daughter I go for it and enjoy it, to my surprise. Ida has a drive to get inspired of that brought her success, she is a hard-working person focused at winning and finding own ways of doing things. As a bonus you get confessions from someone with eating disorders which is a must for every little girl to know.

    Elena’s rating: 3 out of 5.
  2. Lars Kepler – Lazarus.

    I used to be a big fan of Lars Kepler but it felt like I have become more spoiled. Same brutal detailed crime scenes, and an annoying feeling of knowing what happens next. After having read all their previous books and having The Hypnotist as one of my favourite novels I got disappointed with Lazarus, as it felt like more of the same but with a lower quality.

    Elena’s rating: 2 out of 5.
  3. Anders Borg – Finansministern.

    For someone not working with neither finance not politics this was a fascinating though heavy reading.

    Elena’s rating: 4 out of 5.
  4. Jocko Willink – Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win

    The book is based on one idea – as a leader you have to own it, the decisions and actions of anyone being led by you. Never blame on someone else, take full responsibility. The book is based on real-life stories where extreme ownership was a game-changer. This is not a novel idea for me, as I have learnt to both give extreme freedom and take extreme ownership for my organisations. Moreover, in every role I was aspiring for, I took the ownership even before getting it. When working in a global company one needs to start taking ownership even beyond your sphere of direct influence.

    Elena’s rating: 3 out of 5.
  5. Camilla Läckberg – Vingar of Silver

    I was really waiting for it after Camilla’s “En Bur Av Guld” that i loved. This one is an easy read, on one breath, girls-only. The story was not worked though as good as in the predecessor, and there were some inconsistencies in the book that I reacted upon (when Faye met the guy at the bar and fell in love immediately (which is not her thing to start with) the readers immediately realize there is something fishy with the guy). BUT the details, and the empowerment that the book gives you is priceless!

    Elena’s rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Linked Data, Inference and Chinese Whispers.

Technology is simple, people are difficult. People create a piece knowledge, like this one: Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public, which also has a timing aspect to it. This piece of knowledge immediately starts spreading and transforming on the way. Knowledge is there to be spread, of course, but there are different ways of doing it. The way I just did it myself, by linking to the original piece of knowledge, does not give me a piece of that spotlight. In a search of a piece of spotlight, people start para-phrasing the original piece of information, picking out pieces, adding own views and passing it on. This leads to a plethora of information pieces out there, with no possibility of backtracking to the original knowledge object.

What’s the mechanism of retrieving the ground truth, that initial knowledge object provided by empirical evidence? An answer to this is linked data. Instead of copying and passing on a piece of knowledge we send a reference to it. This is why I am against sending files via mail – you never know which version of the file you are getting. If instead we only share pointers to knowledge objects we can choose to always get the latest. The knowledge object can by itself evolve as well but keep track of the changes and detect if anyone has tempered with it.

To complicate it further, people, including myself, love detecting patterns in pieces of information, combining knowledge objects together and inferring new pieces of knowledge. We need to make sure we can back-track this chains of inferencing to original facts and ground truth, in line with what Hans Rosling said in Factfulness. A tiny tweak in a piece of information along the chain of reasoning may lead to an incorrect decision in the end of the reasoning chain.

The tiny tweaks may be intentional and unintentional. A minor variation of the ground truth or an error in the reasoning chain may lead to wrong decisions being taken at the end of the reasoning process. When this process concerns life and well-being of people, business-critical decision-making, or societal challenges, it needs to adhere to certain principles:

  • Data should never be copied. Send pointers to data, not the copy.
  • Traceability and explainability in decision-making needs to be in place.
  • In a search for optimal decision, don’t experiment on a live system without boundary conditions.
  • Back-tracking should be possible.
  • Mechanisms for resolving conflicts should be in place.
  • Mechanisms for detecting tweaks in data should be in place.
  • Mechanisms for reversing decisions should be in place.

I’m in love with the T-shape of you

I am going through yet another leadership training program and yet again I get the same verdict: goal-oriented, structured, achievement-driven, knowledge-driven. I whisper into my colleague’s ear: “I am not a people person”. He whispers back: “then maybe you don’t have the right job”.

jigsaw puzzle

The fun fact is that I find a lot of people who are like me. So, I started to analyze the strengths of my leadership team as a whole and came up with; warm, innovative, fun, and some great people leadership skills. So luckily, together we represent all the different but important pieces that we need for this organization.

It got me thinking, last year I wrote a blog post about playing solitaire. This time it’s different– It’s all about putting together a jigsaw puzzle.

For instance, my leadership team comes to me and says: “Elena, we need to have regular all-employee meetings, and no, it’s not OK for you to join online, be present, visible, receptive” – exactly the push I need. I am thankful to have support from my team in various dimensions – we complement each other as pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Each team member comes with a set of special skills, and together we are complete and efficient.

Each piece of our jigsaw puzzle is unique – we have different backgrounds, skill sets, preferences and passions. My unit is a self-going agent within a company close to 100,000 employees representing all its values. Our shape is perfect for our mission, to be the driver of artificial intelligence technology leadership for Ericsson. But if you zoom out, we are a piece of a bigger puzzle.

Let’s now zoom back in again. It’s not just our unit that has a shape. Each person has a shape as well. A T-shaped person has in-depth knowledge in one field (vertical bar of T) and a broad knowledge of an application domain (horizontal bar of T). For example, a statistician specialized in political systems. Or, a politician who knows statistics. It is important that the two bars are connected. For instance, if you are really good at solving differential equations and know a lot about French porcelain of 17th century, then you cannot automatically call yourself a T-shaped person, as they are not really connected the same way.

And similarly to T-shape, there is a Pi-shape with one more leg of in-depth knowledge, and an E-shape… you get the point. In general I would say, the more “bars” you have as a person the more interesting you are. Of course, and in case you choose to be I-shaped, you can still be endlessly interesting for people who are into the same field, but you run a risk of being seen as ‘just a geek’ by everyone else.

Personally, I have been working hard on diversifying my professional profile (or adding more bars to my shape) while keeping it all connected. I gladly take opportunities of diving into new areas and shifting my focus from old areas. In the long run this strategy should bring me to the shape of a Swiss army knife. There are plenty of “bars” of different shapes and directions, and they are all connected, and one can actually choose which parts of the knife to fold in or out. Or, if we were to tweak the rules of the jigsaw puzzle, the more skills you have, the better you fit in with the other pieces.

Still, having all these different skills is one thing and enjoying using them is another. Doing a good job is not necessarily the same thing as having fun at work while doing a good job. Being a fan of multi-parametric optimization problems, I aim at maximizing the fun, so that we all get to use our favorite skills. So forgive me for not being a people person, luckily I have my team to compensate for that. And next time you find me hiding in a corner during a mingle, please come by and say: I read your blog post!

love who you are
Written by me and originally published here:

Balance for Better

Do you know what’s the best strategy for playing solitaire? Balance your piles of cards.

When you have a choice between piles to reveal the next down-facing card, you should pick from the largest pile. It has been a while since I played solitaire, but the rule got stuck in my head. We all have many different piles in our lives, formed by our jobs, families, and hobbies. To succeed in the long run, we need to pay attention to all the piles, and specifically to the bigger ones. Every time we have a deadline at work, we give that pile more attention, which is ok for a while as long as we don’t forget to shift the balance later because we want to win the whole game, not just empty one of the piles.

Now, imagine that our piles represent blocks of different opinions. It may seem tempting to only work with opinions resembling your own. That way you may seem efficient in the short run but will be doomed in the long run because diversity is important for success. Diverse teams create the most innovative ideas and solutions. When you run an organization, a project or a meeting, don’t forget all the different perspectives, otherwise, in the long run, you may end up in a local minimum.

I love my diverse team at Ericsson Research. AI Research is composed of researchers based in Sweden, India, USA, Brazil, and Hungary. We have forgotten why physical co-location was so important and instead do virtual co-location. Working on the same data sets, within the same environments through the same tools and on the same projects is way more important than physical closeness. If only we could do something about the time difference…

On the other hand, when we in Europe come to work, we can build on the results from our Indian colleagues, and when we go home, we hand over to our colleagues in The Americas, so that cross-continental projects can deliver results around the clock. Diversity has a great social aspect to it as well. Our diversity is something that we all have in common, and something that we gladly discuss with each other.

Now to my biggest passion – technology. Working with Artificial Intelligence is fun – it’s broad and deep and can be applied to so many things. And one of the things that fascinate me most is that AI technology is inspired by humans and nature. This means that whatever humans found to be successful in their lives and in evolutionary processes can be used when creating new algorithms. Diversity, inclusion, balance, and flexibility are very important here as well, with respect to data and knowledge, and diverse, organizations are for sure better equipped for creating responsible algorithms. In the era of big data, let’s make sure we don’t discriminate the small data.

This blog was written by me and initially published here:

Jan 2020 monthly report

January swished by and it’s time to follow up on the progress of new year’s resolutions.

  1. Books ✔. I have accidentally read four. The lovely app I am using for streaming audiobooks is so good at serving me just right things, making me curious and getting me hooked.
  2. Exercise. I managed to achieve 1.75 per week on average and that wasn’t easy.
  3. Blogging. I have only written three this month (one internal and two external). I have plenty of ideas and not enough time discipline to put them on paper. You know these activities without deadline. Can someone force me please?
  4. Teach Paul Junior to ski and to swim ✔. Planned.
  5. Wear heels. Improvement area.
  6. Spend more time with my parents ✔. I have trips to Saint Petersburg planned in March, May and June and July ❤

How can i improve? Read or write while exercising on high heels?