Top ten sensors to further develop or add to the smart phone

I have touched upon this subject before: sensors in smart phones. In my opinion, the development towards implementing the all-round tricorder has somewhat halted. Phone manufacturers are focusing on improving speed, power consumption, standby-time, etc., which of course is good, but the driver is not that clear to me. Surf faster on your favorite news web portal? Watch youtube videos? Play in-app purchase games? Take photos with crap cameras? Ubiquitous computing?

So, where is all that useful stuff? The things that would make your phone a real companion in your back pocket. To be used in the kitchen, during the walk in the forest, when DIY-ing or mcgyvering, etc.

In this post, I list the Top Ten sensors (well, …) I would like to see implemented in a phone quite soon. As far as I can see, a lot of technology and hardware is already there, so why not start expanding and combining it?

With that said, some of the listed sensors already today exist as 2nd- and/or 3rd-party products that can be attached to, or wirelessly connect to your phone. But still, integration would be desired. Further on, some of the applications for the different listed sensors do overlap, I am aware of that, but they could also be complemeting each other and further strengthen the combination.

image01With the risk of missing some, but to the best of my understanding, the following sensors are available on the Samsung Galaxy S5:

  • Vision (Camera)
  • Sound (Microphone)
  • Location (GPS)
  • Accelerometer
  • Gyroscope
  • Gravity
  • Light (Diode)
  • Orientation (Compass)
  • Magnetic field
  • Atmospheric pressure
  • Proximity (diode)
  • (Notably missing: Thermometer and Humidity – available in Samsung S4, though)

which are perhaps more than one would first think is actually found in your phone. On Google Play some of these sensors are utilized for first-order versions of the sensors listed below. However, the accuracy is quite low and it calls for improvements. See the snapshot from one of the apps in the play store.

I have deliberately not put focus on health sensors, such as heartbeat, etc. There a lot of things are happening and would probably fill this list by themselves: spirometer, oxymeter, and so on. I have not listed mind-reading devices and polygraphs either, for that matter, and notably omitting the age detector.

(Doppler) Radar

image02Some week ago I had a visit by Prof. Dag T Wisland from Oslo University and Novelda AS in Norway. Novelda manufacturers a low-power ultra-wideband radar module, the Xethru. See their web page at The device consumes 120mW and is comparatively compact. (This is the transceiver, additional computing is of course required by SoC and software in apps).

Novelda suggests more practical applications by utilizing the phase shift due to the doppler effect: presence detection, respiration detection, etc. Place your phone on the kitchen table and use it as an alarm. Wake-up detector for your sleeping children.

Or, why not become an expert in finding the beams and wiring and pipes behind the wall? That would impress your spouse (well, …) if you can assemble that IKEA wardrobes and fit to the wall without any mishaps. Bosch offers these kind of devices:

I want that integrated with my smart phone – and imagine what a cool app you could have.

Ultrasonic transceiver

Using an ultrasonic transceiver is quite a similar idea to the one above, I guess: a way to look inside objects. I admit, if it is used to see inside your body, the phone might become a bit gooey when you put that conductive gel on. But in fact, ultrasound can be used for other things: ranging, non-destructive inspection to look for cracks, and even communication.

Could the plummer use it to inspect the pipes after welding? Could the home-cook use it to check the bread – has it proved enough?

With ultrasonic microphones and speakers in e.g. a room, the phone can be used to quite accurately find out its own position and also the positions of other objects. The optimum sheng fui garage could finally become true:


I would like a more accurate thermometer (and in S5 I do not have one anyway). Now and then we need to take the  temperature and check for a fever or so (hard to push the phone into your ear though, but nevertheless). Also the ambience temperature is of interest. It could be a matter of logging the temperature in my  house to adjust the indoor temperature or opt for closing a window. This could be used to lower the energy consumption in my house (assuming that your already-installed heating system is not optimized). But also more practical things: what is the temperature of my christmas caramel? Or bakery in general.

Some apps are already available on Google Play and small ambient thermometers are for example sold by in Denmark. Similar devices are available for ear thermometers. Powered and read out through the audio interface.

The thermometer does not necessarily need to be a thermistor, but could also be supported by IR camera – if it would be portable enough. Products for smart phones are already sold by eg.

Photo- and laser diodes measuring longer distances and angles

Now and then I need to align some paintings or shelves to be mounted on a wall. Or find the center point on a wall, beneath a painting, or similar. This would be a way to complement the plane leveling-alignment laser, like for example Bosch sells too. There are apps measuring angles and distances given a couple of photos, gyro settings, etc.


With more intelligent software (and hardware) to control the laser pointer we could have the device “paint” the target on the wall directly. Let the phone auto-orient by identifying points through the camera or ultrasonic localization. Angles, distances, etc., could be measured and stored. Cleverly combining the diode and the camera could offer you to measure distances of complex objects.

A square box could indicate the boundaries for the placement of your latest diploma. The laser could be used to paint the actual time in the roof above your bed. It could be used for games and entertainment of many kinds. (But that is on the other hand not the path we want to go down in this post).


Already today, vibrations can be picked up by the accelerometer of the phone, and there is academic work out there describing how the accelerometer can be used for the purpose. For example, measuring the vibrations of machinery can be used to monitor the structural health of the device.

For more domestic applications the vibration in the washing machine could be logged to determine when the machine is ready. Earthquakes or traffic vibration, or for the handyman to check vibrations in pipes and ventilation could be used.

Perhaps it could be used in the car to detect and report quality of the road and in general give feedback on your car’s health and guide you towards service of the car.


The Samsung S4, for example, sports a humidity sensor. Use a phone to check the humidity health of your house or crowd-sense data and upload to the weather services. While sleeping at night or idling – let the phone collect information while still charging and doing nothing useful.

Those with sensitive skin are dependent on a healthy humidity level. With your phone you could more actively control a humidifier and let it adjust the level as per your presence in the house. Active humidification!

Metal detector

The phone does already today offer a magnetic sensor that can detect the field and disturbances in the force. The magnetic sensor in the phone will vary with presence of objects that alter the magnetic field. With the metal detector we can look for nails behind the wall, electrical wiring, pipes, “lost” wedding rings in the sand, etc.

Imagine you could finally get that superman power and see straight through objects. (Unless it is cryptonite, of course)! An xray could do the job for you, but I admit it would be hard to implement since you need to have a detector on the other side of the object or perhaps rely on microwaves and ultrasonic inspection. Then we’re back on list items 1 and 2 above.

Still though it would be practical to have right in the palm of your hand.

2016-02-29 11.10.24Scale

Weighing things has been integral for quite some time now. And wouldn’t it be good to be able to measure the correct amount of sugar for your cake? Pour up the sugar in a bowl and put it on the phone. Remove the bowl and the weight is displayed in the window.

In fact, a few phones (like my Samsung S5) does have a (air) pressure sensor and indirectly it could be used to measure the weight. In fact, there are (of course) apps out there that implement this – to a limited degree of success, perhaps. But who’s to blame, the handles are not really in place yet.

One would argue: why put an expensive phone in the kitchen and expose it to to water, fat, and grease? Good question, but consider this: the Sony Experia E4G, now cost approximately $70 dollars in Sweden. It is not water proof, but that’s semantics. The price is low and almost expendable.


Gas could be dangerous. Anyone who lives with (or works in the same cubicle as) someone that enjoys baked beans, onion, and lentils know that by now. Jokes aside. Mould, fungus, and moist could also be dangerous to your health (and to your house). A gas sensor in your phone would be able to sniff around the house and report any levels of strange gases.

To no surprise (?) there are third-party devices that can be connected to your smart phone to do the job. For example sensorcon,, does this. In fact, they have a sensor package that can do quite a few analysis in parallel.

At home, the gas sensor can also be used to detect smoke, checking if the cinnamon rolls are done or not, or indicating if you used too much perfume (or too little deodorant).


With a spectrometer you can measure the contents of a “foreign” object. See for example what Analog Devices currently is developing together with an Israeli startup :  a set of “market hand-held scanners that can be pointed at food or medicine to detect what’s inside.”

This is close to what the tricorder could do in the star trek movies. Just let the device scan the object and see what it is made of.  Other devices are suggested by commercial entities out there, such as the near infra-red spectrometer.

Top ten cool group photos related to (mostly) electrical engineering

I’m a bit tired of pictures of football stars, politicians, and similar being identified as iconic, epic, etc. Yes, of course they are iconic: Reagan tears down walls and Kennedy lives in Berlin, etc. However, let’s go nerd and embrace ourselves and our community.

Master minds of the universe

A while ago I was at the D (Computer Science and Engineering) programme’s 40-year anniversary. John Wilander, from Apple, was there too, but unlike me he gave a presentation. He is a former D student at our university and also a former Ph.D. student at the Department of Computer Science. He talked about work culture in California and the way the engineers rule (in Silicon Valley at least..). People proudly stroll around with T-shirts: “I am an engineer”. That is less likely to happen here…

I got a bit inspired by that and wanted to evangelize a bit on top of that. So …

Here is my top ten list of cool group (arguably “group” for some of them) photos (arguably “photo” for one of them). But yet. Just imagine to stand there in the picture and the guy next to you is a Nobel prize winner, and the guy to your left and behind you. You’re a millionaire, but it does not matter, because the other guy is a billionaire, etc. I think you get the picture.

Behold: the top ten coolest group pictures of all time. And as usual – I do not claim any copyright on these pictures and I am also referring to the “original” source to the best of my knowledge and also credit them below the picture.

There is no special order of appearance.

  1. In the beginning was … Xerox

    We will start a bit slowly with the glimpse in the eye. However, people tend to forget Xerox from which – ironically – a lot of people copied technology… The mouse, the desktop publishing, and other things.

    For us in electronics engineering, we also remember Lynn Conway coming from the Xerox Parc facilities in Palo Alto. The Mead Conway revolution enabled a simplified understanding and option to fabricate chip for the “common-man”.

    In the center of the picture we have the hero of the group. The Xerox Alto machine, developed at the Xerox PARC, was one of the first computers to introduce the concept of a Desktop.

    The personal computer enters the world and we see computers with GUI and children are playing with the computer.

    [Link to Forbes]

  2. Steve Gates och Bill Jobs

    No comments needed really? The founders of Microsoft and Apple, a couple of future-to-be billionaires and philanthropists chilling in the stairs.

    This photo is taken in 1991 – a year when a 386 was da sh1t and the power-PC was discussed. Notice that during this time Jobs did not work for/with Apple. Instead, after he was kicked out in the mid 80’s, he founded the NeXT company. And as they chat, Jobs is not necessarily that future-to-be big guy. Notice that the operating system that he developed at NeXT (which was based on UNIX)later formed the basis of OS X, iOS and others.

    Even though we are today only some 30, 40 years into the computer era, is it fair enough to say that this is an iconic group photo? Well, I think it is. It shows that software is this the thing and it shows that design is also very important.

    [Linked to]

  3. Bell, Ford, and Firestone

    Bell, Ford, and Firestone are gathered around the American president in 1929. Why is this an iconic picture? (Bar the fact that everyone, but the president actually, are really, really famous). Well, we have a car manufacturer, a tyre and rubber manufacturer, and an electrical engineer (and inventor and much more). These people were among the most famous business men in the US at their time. They were also members of the exclusive Millionaire’s club.

    The interesting thing: Edison brought us the light bulb and other things. Mainstream electrical engineering becomes part of the new industrialization – equally important as cars and wheels.

    [From KineticBiz]

  4. Marconi, Tesla, Steinmetz, Einstein

    This picture is quite energetic. Not only brain power, but also electrical power is seen in the picture. Marconi is not in picture – in person. The people are however standing in front of a Marconi wireless station.

    The guy with the cowboy hat is a certain Prof. Einstein. The guy behind Einstein, to the right (for us), is not Nikola Tesla. (There have been some rumours about this picture). But since John Carson, the guy, is the inventor of single-sideband modulation (SSB) and looks quite much like the Serb, we will play with that thought for npw.

    More to the right, in the white suit, is Steinmetz. He was quite a prolific character of German descent. He took the name Proteus at arrival in America and then continued his career by contributing to the AC theory.

    There are some other famous people in the picture! For example Ernst Julius Berg – from Sweden. He has authored quite a few nice text books on electrical engineering that I plan to read some day. The soon more than 100 years old books are also available on-line.

    There are more people in the picture that you probably remember somewhere in the back of your head: Goldsmith, Sarnoff, and Langmuir (Nobel laurate). There is also Hull, the inventor of the magnetron among other things.

    [Used at Wikipedia, but found on]

  5. Touching the sky

    This is a back-stage photo. It is the “green room” for the ground personnel (probably there is a NASA abbreviation for that…) supporting the astronauts traveling to the moon during the Apollo 11 mission.

    During the missions these guys were the ones pulling the threads and making things happen. These are the ones helping you to macgyver an air filter in space in case you would have a problem.

    We have a set of engineers with neck ties and characteristic 1960s glasses. They are roughly your grandfather’s age. Monitors on the wall also offer not only information on display, but act also as coat hangers and places for the umbrellas.

    (What about the guy to the left, standing over the engineers’ shoulders? No neck tie, a pipe, Steve Jobs-polo shirt! The 1970s is rapidly approaching. The right-most guy, sporting a more formal black suit, looks a bit disappointed or suspicious with the polo-shirt appearance.)

    [From Nasa]

  6. Von Neumann, Oppenheimer and a maniac

    To the right we have von Neumann. He’s quite easy to identify for us.

    The fifth from the left is Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist known from the Manhattan project and one of the inventors of the atom bomb. “Despite” his German name, Oppenheimer was actually born in the US. He studied in Europe, during his Ph.D. studies, together with some of the greatest minds during that time.

    Far behind, we have another quite famous character: the MANIAC. (No, not ENIAC). The mathematical analyzer, numerical integrator and computer was developed by von Neumann and the name was chosen to stop the trend of silly computer names (UNIVAC, ENIAC, ABC, …)

    An interesting note: von Neumann worked at his best when listening to loud music (especially German march music…) and being in noisy enviroments. This annoyed his colleagues quite much. Oppenheimer ended up in the post-war anti-communist American age of fear and got discredited. (But pardoned by Kennedy in 1963 when Oppenheimer was awared the Enrico Fermi Award. Interestingly the Award was first given to von Neumann in 1956 which further links the two.).

    [From Princeton]

  7. Go out and save the world!

    Imagine this conversation in the 1940s England:

    -“Hah, today I mowed the lawn and gave the flowers some water! Hard work for a busy man. What did you do, honey? Pedicure?”
    -“Nothing special, I just cracked some codes, intercepted a few messages, shortened the war by a few years, saved the lifes of say 3-4 million people. Just an ordinary day for a 1940s housewife.”

    Below we find a group photo from the Bletchley park. It seems to be a sunny day in England and a set of codebreakers seem to enjoy standing there to be prepared to save the world.


  8. If you can carry that, you can carry this…

    If you are an imperial super power, rule over some 75% per cent of land and where the sun never sets then you better have some control over your colonies. There are stories of England being defeated in battles just because it took 40 (!) days to carry the messages back to London. This could not stand. Morse proved that long distance telegraphy could be done across the US continent. And if it can be on land, why not under the sea? Why not pull a cable 2200 miles (3000 km, or going from the southern tip of Sweden to its northern tip – and back again) across the atlantic and then send messages that way. In 1858 that sounded like a good idea, just before the North American civil war.

    So, off we go. Construct a 2200-odd mile long cable and gently drop it on the sea bed. (Gently was the key word, since the cable snapped quite a few times while placing it). The depth at the deepest places was as much as 14300 feet, 4400 metres. Pulling a cable across a 4400 metre high mountain on-land would in it self be an achievement.

    Anyway, the cable arrived in the end to the other continent and the first messages could be transmitted on August 16, 1858. It was a message from the queen to the US president. It took 17 hours to transmit – at a fantastic speed of 0.1 words per minute. Just imagine the frustration while hitting the key. The cable did not last long since one of the operators came up with the master plan to increase the voltage to speed up the messages a bit. The cable burnt up somewhere on the ocean border.

    The voltage, btw was in the order of kilovolts, and the resistance was a total of kilo-ohms. The current return path was through the ocean itself (and earth).

    In the picture below (it is not a photo, it is a painting. And a very staged one too: even the painter is in the far background of the picture – but still…), we have among others Mr. Morse (Morse code, anyone?). A bunch of long-bearded guys with the mindset to connect the world (and make some money on the deal). Cyrus Field, even though he connected the continents, however, ended up in bancruptcy at the end of his life.

    [From New York Stated Educational Department]

  9. Fairchild semiconductor

    These guys we shouldn’t forget either. They are the traitorous eight leaving Shockley “alone” in his lab. They are chilling in the foyer of the Fairchild Semiconductor venue.

    The photo is taken in the 1950’s. The men have slick glasses, neck ties, and suits. Back then this was the standard equipment for engineers. No pocket protectors nor repaired glasses.

    Anwyay, here they are gathered and prepared to revolutionize the world and probably change it forever. Speeding up the process of microelectronics engineering has today brought us more or less everything younger than 30 years that we see around us.

    Among others in the picture we find Robert Noyce (who effectively founded the Silicon Valley), Jean Hoerni, and Gordon Moore. Knowledgeable people that have influenced us all.

  10. Alea Jacta Est

    This is probably the coolest of the coolest guys in the hood. Only guys? Well, not only…

    In the front row, we have a lady who slipped into the picture to marinate in the sun together with all the professors and gentlemen. Is she there just to get some attention?

    Well, this is Marie Curie… She attended all of the Solvay conferences until her death. And she got the Nobel Prize too – twice! That’s more than the others got. She simply rockxz. (More than half of the people in the picture have got or will get the Nobel Prize).

    During the Solvay conference in 1927 electrons and photons were discussed. Einstein stated his famous quote when discussing the Heisenberg uncertainty principle: “God does not play dice”.

    Besides Einstein and Curie, we have again Langmuir but also Planck, Lorentz, Bohr, Dirac, Schrödinger, Pauli, and Heisenberg. Quite a team!


Top ten electronic inventions that are older than you think

Top ten electronic inventions that are older than you think

Consider a modern, mobile phone and all that’s inside it: electronics, touch screens, computer-in-your-palm, internet connection, games, gadgets, sensors, etc.
Revolutionary, isn’t it. Or?

In this post I have dug up some older patents/publications/products with respect to all these things in the phone – but were already out there – quite a while ago – in some form. Now, some of these examples are up to a discussion, of course. There is even older, prior art here and there, and there are also certain inventions that (p)laymen could have realized quite easily and thus the origin could be discussed.

One can also argue about terms like electrical vs electronic vs electro-mechanical, but let us leave that discussion for now.

The electric filter, 1915

Filters are key components in most circuits and systems. Filtering out noise, interferers, select channels, etc. So, when was the first electrical filter used? Quite long time ago and probably even before Doctor George Campbell at the AT&T published his two patents on electric filters in 1915. He proposed in patent US1227113 the electric wafe-filter consisting of the ladder networks that are so widely used today.

In patent US1227114 he proposed the filter as a way to protect equipment by filtering out components at different frequencies.


The first flip-flop, 1918

I posted about the first flip-flop before and it is fascinating, almost exciting, that we soon celebrate 100 years of flip-flops, or so…

So, back in 1918, the researchers realized that they could take a set of “ionic relays” and connect them such that they can remember previous states they have been in.

You can read the original patent and find a picture like this.


Here we find more or less a regenerative latch, a flip-flop, invented by FW Jordan and WH Eccles. Mr. Eccles did quite a lot of other things too with respect to early electronics. I encourage you to do a bit of researching there.

The Miller effect, 1920

I am putting the Miller effect into the picture here as it is kind of crucial for analog design, especially amplifier design. It is not an invention as such, but rather a pretty direct conclusion from the maths given that we have a set of stages that provide gain.

The Miller effect states that capacitance is amplified by (approximately) the raw gain of the stage over which the capacitance is connected. This is for good and bad. It can be used to efficiently compensate a system to improve phase margin, but it will also inevitably increase the effect of (undesired) capacitive components.

The concept is valid for any impedance/admittance, but a resistance/inductance would decrease by the gain instead. For inductors and resistors the use is perhaps of less interest, whereas area can be saved for capacitors as it effectively multiplies the capacitance.

John Milton Miller published material in 1920 on this effect, but then using vacuum tubes rather than transistors.

  • J. M. Miller, “Dependence of the input impedance of a three-electrode vacuum tube upon the load in the plate circuit,” Scientific Papers of the buerau of standards, 1920

2014-07-02 13.02.00

The phase-locked loop, 1921

Another important building block in your electronic devices is the phase-locked loop (PLL). It allows you to adjust, or multiply, or divide, what have you, a frequency or a clock. Dependent on the accuracy of the hardware you can transform one frequency into more or less any other. This is of course useful in modern systems where you want to minimize the number of reference clocks to a single one and then, from that, derive all other internal frequencies required to drive the radio, display, microcontroller, CPU, GPU circuits, and many more.

So, when did the first PLL pop up? In 1921 the amazingly accurate Shortt synchronome clock (it was accurate to 1 second within 12 years of ticking!). It used a reference clock at lower speed to tune the main clock and by adding a little push or a gentle stop on the main pendelum (similar to a charge pump after the phase detector!) it adjusted the main clock. So, a more accurate lower-speed clock could be used to tune a higher-speed one. Beautiful.

The transistor, 1926

The field-effect transistor, more or less the father (or mother …) of all CMOS transistor we see today in the microchips we remember from Shockley’s work, etc.
But actually, the FET was patented some 20 years (!) before that by Julius Edgar Lilienfeld.


By then, however, the material science had not advanced enough to make it possible to physically implement them. This was the advance by Shockley and the traitorous eight. And the rest is history.

Electronic games, 1936

Did you know that the first electrical/electronic arcade game showed up already in 1936?

It was was called ray-o-lite and was produced by a company called Seeburg. In the game you shot down ducks with a light gun (well, a rifle). A mechanical bird “flew” over the arcade carrying a light sensor.

Light would be emitted once you pull the trigger on the rifle and if you aimed correctly, the light detector tube on the bird would trigger and eventually alarm a bell.

I have below borrowed a picture from Pinrepair which shows the duck on its way as well as a counter on the tap. Visit their page for more information.

The first electronic computer, 1942

Now, a definition “computer” is a bit vague and there are older computing machines as such. The first computer is traditionally said to be the ENIAC computer, but since 1973 it was decided that the patent for an electronic computer went to the inventors of the Atanasoff–Berry computer (ABC) and not the inventors of ENIAC (who filed a patent after the ABC was finalized in 1942).

It is now 72 years since the ABC was first operational and in the 90’s they built a replica of the computer and is on display. See below.

As a side note, the ENIAC was based on decimal arithmetic, while the ABC was binary.

User interfaces, the touch screen, 1965

In terms of user interfaces, or perhaps more correctly: human-machine interfaces, we are now slowly going away from the keyboard and joystick and mouse towards the touch screen (even though I still have my doubts with respect to touch screen in front of a terminal…).

A while ago, the CERN touch sensor was highlighted in media (maybe due to a 30-year anniversary). However, dependent on the definition of a touch screen and touch buttons, etc., the common opinion is however that the first touch screen was suggested (and implemented) by E.A. Johnson in the UK. It used a capacitive technology and enabled touching on different parts of the screen.

User interfaces, the Pantomation, 1977

Speaking of user interfaces. This is a rather cool one: the Pantomation was a product out of research done at the SUNY in the latter half of the 1970s. With the aid of a camera and a computer they used indicators (of distinct color) that you kept in your palm, or strapped on to your feet, or where ever. The computer could then track the objects and on the screen overlay with artifical, CGI objects – in real-time. This predates the xBox and play stations by quite a few years.

Apparently it was first used for the music arena and musicians. I bet that Kraftwerk would have been interested in this one.

The movie tells the whole story quite well and I guess it is just a question of time before we see this in our phones too.

Pay with your phone, 1997

With swish, mobile banking, and what have you in your phone today, we are now starting to effectively replace cash and credit cards and instead do payments on-line. But when did we do our first mobile banking or payments?

These services were first offered in Finland in vending machines (Note, it was Coca-Cola, not alcohol!). The payment was done through SMS. In some sense impressive, since the first commercial SMS was sent in 1992. Interestingly, as late as in 2011, this was still considered an innovation.

[Picture from Indiamart.]

Top Ten Semlor

Today is fettisdagen, Shrove Tuesday. Time to boost your fat layer before lent. Easter is approaching! Old traditions here in Sweden (and Finland, apparently) call for eating a lot of unhealthy things to be able to endure the last batch of Winter days filled with cold and misery.

So let’s get to the point. Here is my top eight list of semlas and the first entry will start the story. You will find semlas for everyone’s taste – almost. In order to follow the recipes more easily, I have also added some illustrative pictures (sketches).

1) Originalsemlan

The original semla consists of whipped cream, almond paste, all stuffed in a piece of bread – sort of.

Let’s borrow a quote from Wikipedia (under Creative common’s license

“Today, the Swedish-Finnish semla consists of a cardamom-spiced wheat bun which has its top cut off, and is then filled with a mix of milk and almond paste, topped with whipped cream. The cut-off top serves as a lid and is dusted with powdered sugar.”

So this forms the template for the rest of the semlas.


2) Sillsemla (herring semla)

Going back to the Swedish tradition: Midsummer. Dancing around poles, having one or two drinks and “enjoying” a large variety of herring and potatoes. Why not do a herring semla? (Well, honestly – why …)

Do a so called Gubbröra, chop your herring, mix with sour cream, onions, spices, and stuff your dough with it. For this, probably the sweet bread does not make sense. Pick a normal roll – don’t use a too heavy bread, but also not too light. It should be lagom, just about right. You could use some darker bread for the purpose. Rye, or so.

Spray with sour cream and top the semla with flaked salt.


3) Tacosemla

Another upcomer in Swedish (?) cuisine is the Tex Mex, the tacos, etc. A Mexican or a Texan would probably laugh at our pity trials with minced beef and taco spices, and tortillas, but still – most Fridays, Swedes sit there and stuff them self full with “Mexican” food.

I definitely vote for the tacosemla – it could be an all-time favorite. Fry up some ground meat with Taco/TexMex/what-have-you spices. Don’t make it too soggy, but not too dry either. Then spray guacamole (the mashed avocados) on top and put the lid on. Top it all up with raw onion and/or all-spice. Why not take a bread baked with corn flour? A bit yellow-ish and more resilient.


4) Lussesemla

In Sweden we have a tradition of celebrating Lucia, on December 13, i.e., Saint Lucy’s day. Think singing people, walking in procession, white robes, candles, etc. (No, not those guys!). Those days, lussebröd and mulled wine, etc., are also served. Think saffron, raisins, cardemom, exotic (for us) spices and more. A highlight in the beginning of Swedish Winter.

So, use saffron in the dough (will become yellow and smell nice). Then you could take raisins in mulled wine and mix them slightly. Preferably chop the raisins rather than mixing them. Stuff your semla with it. Then top with whipped cream before you put the lid on.

Dust some cinnamon on top.

5) Semla Tartare

Ok, so this is for the freaks. Why not go wild and impress your partner with a semla tartare. Inspired by the Steak tartare. Take a slightly more robust bread, chop the lid of, and remove the center. Stuff it with raw, minced meat of nice cut. Let it be a bit bloody, such that the bread can soak it up a bit for those flavours to come out.

Take an egg, separate the yolk from white. Put the yolk on the raw meat and whip the egg white and put on top. Then add the lid with some sprinkled, chopped capers on top.

Don’t leave it out in room temperature for too long. It might crawl away after a while.


6) Curry semla

An homage to our Indian students and colleagues. Why not think semla – Indian style? Curry semla, anyone? Take a naan-type of bread and try to make some kind of bun out of it. (Good luck trying to get it to stick to the walls of that special clay oven they use). Don’t burn off all your hair on your arms… Get the bun out, open it, fill it with chicken vindaloo.

On top of that, take some Ghee and whip it up to get some air into it. Put it on top of the chicken mess and then close the lid by eventually powdering some Garam Masala on top.



7) Falu semla

We need to make the children happy too. The Falu semla would consist of the famous Falukorv. Chop it up and mix it with ketchup and possibly some mustard – not too much! Children normally shun mustard. Then think hamburger bread as a substitute for the sweat dough. I would suggest building a small “silo” with a couple of hamburger breads with holes cut out of them. Glue the layers with ketchup.

Stuff it with the Falu thingie. Put mashed potato on top and then the lid with the sesame seeds forming the top layer. I bet you that the children would love to do this.



8) Semla Surprise

Save the best for last, and possibly inspired by one of the others above. Here, in Sweden, people tend to – for some odd reason – eat fermented hering. I’m thinking of going all in with the Semla Surprise.

Take the bun, throw the stuff in the middle away, fill it with stinking, rotted, fermented hering. Top it up with sour cream, put the lid on –QUICKLY- and sprinkle chopped chives on the top.

Serve, as fast as possible and get the stuff out of the kitchen ASAP! Enjoy?



But seriously, what’s wrong with these guys (bar that they want to eat crisps with soured hering).