Thursday evening at Skanzeen restaurant

Thursday night, it took me a while to find the right restaurant, becuase I didn't know the name. I knew it was on this street though, so I walked up and down the street a few times until eventually choosing one of the restaurants that seemed like it might be the right one.

I had a traditional Moravian dish of steak with cream and plum sauce: yummy and very filling. I washed it down with a few pints of the famous local beer, Starobrno.

More great Czech food.

Last night, I had dinner at the Valoria restaurant. Here's a photo of the first course of my meal, grilled turkey breast with potato, cheese, and a nice sauce.

The main course was a kind of bread dumpling with steak, a thick brown wine sauce, and cream and cranberries. It was delicious. I also tried Starobrno's red beer, Červený Drak (red dragon).

I could turn this into an advertisement for the brewery, eller hur?

It was a bit too cool to sit outside, but there was a nice courtyard in front of the restaurant.

The restaurant is situated in the South part of Brno, a bit off the beaten path.

Spořitelní akademie Brno

The class is being held at the spořitelní akademie Brno, run by Česká spořitelna, a. s. The academy is in the North part of Brno.

Here is a view of the front of the Spořitelní akademie Brno.

This is a hallway on the front of the building. With the white tile and the 60s-style chairs, it seems like a scene out of Kubrick's 2001.

Here's a view of the lounge. It could be right out of Logan's Run.

This photo shows one of the bathrooms from the academy where the class was being held. I find it interesting how each country has its own style of sinks, toilets, faucets, and all sorts of other every day plumbing.

This is the hallway just outside the classroom. Ahead on the left is a door to an small patio.

This is the outdoor patio; the classroom is behind the windows on the left.

I liked this staircase, so I took a picture of it too.

Lastly, here is a photo taken today just after the end of class. The classroom is a bit cramped, but we're making do.


"Err on the side of life."

President Bush claims that his attempts to prolong the life of the brain-dead woman Terri Shiavo are based on a conviction that it's always better to err on the side of life. The president is a hypocrite.

Former Governor Bush did not err on the side of life when he presided over the killings of hundreds of felons in my home state of Texas.

We all know that the criminal justice system is imperfect; if George Bush were consistent, then even a remote possibility of error would inspire him to abolish the death penalty. After all, how can a culture of life condone state-sanctioned murder when there is the possibility of making a mistake?

If George Bush has any consistent political ideology, I have seen no evidence of it. He appears to be acting more from opportunistic political motives than any principled stand for life.

The president's decision to involve himself in the Terri Schiavo case is however is in keeping with a pattern of crass, simple-minded decisionmaking. This pattern is exemplified by his preemptive war on Iraq. The Bush Doctrine is act first, think later.

In the context of recent history, the president's grandstanding about a culture of life only serve to highlight his one proven ability: to err.


First night in Brno

At the recommendation of some of the students in my class, I tried the beer and food at the Potrefená Husa restaurant in the center of Brno tonight. The place has the feel of a brewpub, and it's very obviously associated with the Staropramen brewery. I learned that Staropramen means old stream in Czech. I also learned that one does not order a Pilsner beer in a pub run by Staropramen. You might get away with calling any old lager a "pils" in Sweden, but not here. In these parts, Pilsner beers come from Plzeň and only from Plzeň. Once I realized my mistake, I clarified: "A tall glass of Staropramen would be grand, thank you!" I started out with a glass of Granát, a smooth medium red lager. I sipped this beer as I perused the menu and while I waited for my food. I then ordered a glass of Černý (a darker beer) to accompany my meal. For dinner, I had halušky s brynzou, a delicious dish combining potato dumplings with cured meat and sauerkraut. The starch in the potatoes is perfectly compliemnted by the sour taste of the cabbage; the meat, rubbed with black pepper, gives it flavor. It was very tasty! I can give this dish (and the restaurant) a hearty recommendation.

After my very filling meal, I took a walk in Brno's city center. Here's a photo of the square right in the middle of town.

And there's a big cathedral on a hill near the center. It's quite imposing, although the effect seems to be lost on the teenagers who are eyeing the photographer with what must be bewilderment, suspicion, or a combination of the two.

Here's a closer shot.

... and one more view of the cathedral. I'm sure it doesn't mean to impose, but it does.


Gone to Brno

I'm in Brno, in the Souteast part of the Czech Republic. I'll be here for a week to teach the TWS courses. For some reason, I had to take a bus rather than a plane from Prague to Brno, so I had an hour to wait in the Prague airport.

The bus stop out in fron of the Prague airport terminal.

On the way to Brno. Damn, that was one bumpy highway. Okay, not this particular section of the highway... but closer to Brno it felt like we were driving over cobblestones.

...all the modern inconveniences...

...and a very typical hotel bathroom.

I slept on the plane to Prague and on the bus to Brno, so I think I'll have no problem getting up in the morning. That's a good thing, because I agreed to meet my Czech counterpart at IBM at 7:00. It's time for bed. Over and out.


Happy Birthday, Ethan!

Dear Ethan,

Of all the people I know in the world, you are the person most similar to me. I still remember the night when you were born — in fact, it's probably my earliest memory. Even though you and I live on different contienents, I still feel very close to you. I really wish I could be there in Austin to wish you a happy birthday in person and to join in the celebration. I made a gift for you that I thought you would appreciate:

I've been working on this an ambigram of your name for several days; I rejected 9 different revisions before deciding on this one. I hope you like it!

Ethan, I wish you the happiest of birthdays. Have a healthy & prosperous 30th year!

Your loving brother,

For the aboveambigram, I took inspiration from the gothic style of J.L.'s four elements ambigrams.


Two things to be thankful for this Tuesday

  1. I passed the TWS 8.2 certification exam today with a score of 92%. I answered all the questions in well under half the allotted time, but I spent most of the rest of the time adding comments and corrections to many of the test questions. I think if some of the questions hadn't been poorly written, I might have gotten closer to 100%. Maybe I'll write the exam next time.

  2. I fixed an excellent dinner tonight: chicken with mushroom and white wine sauce, served on a bed of basmati rice. Having already opened the bottle of 2003 Château de Rochemorin for the sauce, I thought it a shame to let the rest go to waste; I finished well over half the bottle before I came to my senses and remembered to save some wine to accompany the leftovers tomorrow. I must thank my lovely English friend and former neighbor Pamela Ware for introducing me to this delightful wine. It's a bit more expensive than the wines I usually buy, but it's worth the extra few sovereigns.
Drinking three glasses of wine with a large meal tends to stave off insomnia, so I'm sure I'll sleep well tonight. Over and out.

More photos from skating on Sunday.

It's a good thing I got my skating in on Sunday. I had a feeling that might be my last opportunity to go skating this year, and it seems like I was probably right. The temperature yesterday was a few degrees over freezing, and today it was 8.6 C when I checked. I doubt there's much left of the ice on Edsviken now. What remains will surely be gone soon, because the forecase calls for temperatures around 8-10 C in the coming days. I welcome Spring's arrival with some reluctace; the skating on Sunday was fun, and only one afternoon of skating is not really enough for a whole year.

Here are a few more photos from my outing on Sunday.

A nice Irish woman named Norma took this excellent photo of me. We skated one lap together and chatted about living as foreigners in Sweden.

There were plenty of other skaters on the lake, so I was not at all concerned about safety. Nevertheless, I had my safety equipment with me just in case the unexpected happened.

Sollentuna appears across the ice, silhouetted by the sunset.


Skating on Edsviken on the vernal equinox

Considering my lack of success finding a place to skate yesterday, I thought I should give it one more try today. Today is the vernal equinox, so Spring is on its way. The weather forecast calls for warmer temperatures in the coming week, so today may be my last opportunity to go skating!

I had read online that there was a track plowed in the snow on Edsviken, but when I walked yesterday with Tobbe and Martina to Ulriksdals Slott, we saw no plowed track.

I learned that the path plowed in the snow on Edsviken is in the North half of the lake, betwen Sätra Äng and Jungfruholmen. So today I took the bus to Sätra Äng and made three laps around the 6 km track. The weather was perfect, as you can see in this photo taken from the shore at Sätra Äng.

Because I was alone, I took a photo of myself by resting the camera on the snow beside the track.

A few seconds later, another skater agreed to take a couple of photos of me.

As the sun began to set, it cast a warm orange glow on the cliffs on the East side of the lake. At the base of the cliffs you can see a walking/biking trail. I've biked around this lake before, but I haven't yet worked up to a point where I'm ready to run 22 km. The Stockholm Marathon is about 9 weeks away though, so I need to start training in earnest soon.

After the sun set, the ice seemed to changd from dark to light in color, reflecting the glowing sky. The temperature dropped rapidly after sunset, and I got a little chilled waiting for the bus. I just missed a bus by less than a minute, and I had to wait 30 minutes for the next one. I was glad when it came.

Water ambigram

Here is my attempt at the fourth and final of John Langdon's four elements ambigrams, Water:

I guess that this was probably the most difficult of the four to design. Making the w/er combination work must have taken a lot of tinkering. The at/ta combo is really impressive too. It's particularly interesting how the top of the t serves as a base for the letter a, and does so in a way that does not hurt the readability of the a. The crossbar in the letter a works really well too. It sticks out to the right of the letter a just as much as it intrudes into the interior of the letter; and yet this does not detrimentally affect the appearance of the a. These tricks are very subtle an take a lot of practice and intuition. John Langdon has talent!

Fire ambigram

Here is my rendition of the third of John Langdon's four elements ambigrams, Fire:

This is probably my favorite of the four, in part because it just looks good, and in part because it's simple and elegant. Note how the shape of the top crossbar of the F is replicated in the middle crossbar, establishing a link between these elements of the character and making the two strokes seem to be a part of the same character. And see how the round parts of the r and e essentially dissapear when these letters are inverted; when inverted, these curves seem like mere artistic flourishes and do not detract from the readability of the characters — very clever.

Air ambigram

I've been having a lot of fun making tracings of John Langdon's ambigrams. As I wrote in a recent post to a forum devoted to discussion of the novel Angels & Demons (along with other Dan Brown novels), the real trick to designing something that looks good is not simply tracing an outline. The small GIF files on John Langdon's site lack sufficient detail to be scaled up without losing quality. The mind makes lots of assumtions about what a character looks like, even if the letter is very small. When a raster image has been scaled up and the basic outline traced, the small details must be added in a way that is consistent with the mind's assumptions so that they look smooth and natural.

I had to make some assumptions about how the small details are supposed to look. I guessed based on what feels right, and on the particular style of gothic calligraphy employed by J.L. in his designs. Given the fact that I've had to make some educated guesses, I am sure that my drawings differ in some ways from J.L.'s originals.

One helpful tip to prospective ambigram designers is to look at how many ways a letter can be written. There are many variations for each letter; some can be reversed more easily than others. In the course of trying to find out how the fine details of each of the letters in these ambigrams should look, I found it very helpful to look at samples of gothic calligraphy on the internet.

The drawing tools are actually not as difficult to use as I thought they would be. This exercise has illuminated the art of designing ambigrams in particular, and has also given me some insight into some general principles of drawing. It has been a lot of fun and I'm sure I'll be designing more of my own ambigrams in the near future based on what I have learned.

Here is the second of the four elements ambigrams, Air:


Earth ambigram

I'm trying to learn how to make better ambigrams. As a part of this, I'm learning how to use Adobe Illustrator. Illustrator is a very versatile drawing program. I originally drew my veritas ambigram using Adobe Photoshop; but the fixed-size image produced by Photoshop cannot be easily scaled up. So I traced the original raster image into a new Illustrator document.

To get more practice with the drawing tools, I took on the challenge of tracing the excellent ambigrams of the four elements that John Langdon designed for the book Angels & Demons. I downloaded the small GIF files from johnlangdon.net, and then used the pen tool in Illustrator to trace the outline. I also had to make lots of small adjustments to add in the details that are absent from the low-res originals. I had to make educated guesses about how these details were supposed to look. Here's the first one, Earth:

This seems like a relatively simple design, but the ea/th combination is not at all an obvious solution. It's clever and very effective.

Afternoon on the ice

I went "skating" with Tobbe and Martina this afternoon. Unfortunately, there was too much snow on the ice so we walked rather than skated.

In some places near the shore, the water is warmer and the ice thinner. These are sometimes dangerous places for those venturing onto the ice.

Here are Torbjörn and Martina. We had a picnic in the middle of Edsviken. Danderyds sjukhus can be seen on the right side of the image in the background.

A hole in the ice, frozen over again.

Ice melting in the sun.


Veritas ambigram, 1st revision

I traced my "Veritas" ambigram into a drawing program to make the curves smoother and the edges sharper. I am very pleased with the result. Once I learn how to use this software, I think I'll be able to make ambigrams more quickly. I've begun dashing off quick ambigrams for my friends (and their children!).

This morning the sun was shining, but it was still quite cold outside. Like the sidewalks in my neighborhood, the path from Kista up to the IBM office was covered with ice. As I carefully made my way up the hill, I listened to one of one of my favorite pieces of music on my iPod: an excellent performance by the Canadian Brass of J. S. Bach's "Little" Fugue in G.

As I walked and listened, it occured to designing ambigrams must be a bit like writing a fugue. In an ambigram, one glyph must play two different roles at different places in the overall composition, much as a phrase of music must be both melody and harmony, depending on its place in the fugue. To make this work, the characters often must be warped, stretched, and distorted beyond their normal shapes. The trick is to find a way to make these adjustments so that each character works well with its neighbors, and so that taken as a whole, the ambigram is instantly readable. To be more acurate, designing an ambigram must be similar to composing a mirror fugue.

I wonder if talent in the visual arts is correlated with talent in music.


This week, we've had some of the lightest, fluffiest snow I've ever seen. I took some close-up photos of the snow on the branches of this tree.

Let's play spot the squirrel. Are you ready? Ok, go!

There are two squirrels in this photo. Can you find them both?

Here's the last one.