Kittelfjäll report

The skiing here at Kittelfjäll is better than I had expected. There's not much snow, but still enough that it's possible to ski. The trick is to find the slopes that are a bit out of the way. Yesterday we found a few nice areas in the trees where there was plenty of nice snow. Tonight is New Year's Eve, so we will no doubt stay up late drinking champagne. I have taken lots of photos, and will post some soon.


Christmas dinner with salsa dancing friends

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Christmas Day, I caught a ride back to Stockholm with Lena and Lotta, caught a few hours of sleep, and then went to a dinner with friends. I was invited by fellow salsa dancer Evert, and the dinner was held at the home of another dancer, Robban.

I was pleasantly surprised to see lots of familiar faces there, including Helena, Jose, Leo, and my charming dance instructor Marina.

Robban prepared a delightful meal, afterward we all caught the subway down to Medborgarplatsen for the second annual Christmas salsa party at Debaser Medis. It was a lot of fun, but I had to leave after just a couple of hours because I was too tired. At the time, I was still recovering from the cold I’d caught a few days before.

Here are the best 38 photos from the evening.


Merry Christmas from Östra Husby

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Yesterday afternoon I took the express bus from Stockholm to Norrköping. Lotta met me at the bus station, whence we drove to her parents’ home in Östra Husby, a small village twenty minutes East of the city. This morning the sun rose shortly after nine, and peeked through the clouds for a little while later in the morning. Before lunch, I helped Kurt move some furniture up into the attic for storage and went to the grocery store to pick up a few last-minute items.

Tonight we had a lovely Christmas Eve dinner of pickled herring, potatoes, ham, Brussels sprouts, peas, meatballs, and ‘princekorvar’, small hotdog-like sausages. For desert we had a delicious apple pie Lena made with apples from the trees in her garden. After dinner we retired to the living room to open presents (people exchange giftss on Christmas Eve in Sweden and most of the rest of Europe).

Here are a few photos from the weekend.

I'm coming down with a cold so I'm not feeling very well at the moment. I think the worst is past though, and I hope to be feeling better in the morning.

I wish everyone a wonderful Christmas!


Christmas dinner with Maria & Johan

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Last night I went over to Maria & Johan’s place for a lovely Christmas dinner. I met Maria last year on the trip to Idre Fjäll. The dinner was delicious. I especially enjoyed Johan’s excellent homemade meatballs.

This afternoon, I’ll catch the bus down to Norrköping, where I’ll spend a couple of days with Lotta and her parents.


Boulder open #60 @ Karbin

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Last night was boulder open #60 at Karbin. I did the best I could, but it was certainly not my best performance to date. I completed 16 problems, a bit off my record of 26! Still, I had a good time and completed a few tricky problems. Here are a bunch of photos from the evening.


Lunch with Karin

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Friday I took the subway out to Alvik to join Karin for lunch. We walked to the sushi place. I have to admit that in wintertime, I enjoy the miso soup even more than the sushi.


Glögg-tasting at Stina’s place

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Last night I joined Stina and some of her friends to taste five or six different varieties of glögg. Stina’s friends were all new to me, except for Eleanor, whom I met briefly last year at Kittelfjäll at the same time that I met Stina.

Speaking that, Stina and I have booked a skiing trip up to Kittelfjäll over New Year’s week. I’m wondering whether this is a good time to buy a pair of skis. I really liked the Head Supershape Speed skis I rented in Åre last weekend, and have half a mind to buy a pair. But of course it’d be less expensive to get them at the end of the season, and even cheaper to get them when I visit the U.S. the next time.

The ride up to Kittelfjäll is on one of those sleeper busses, and one usually sleeps the whole way there and back. Unfortunately, Stina and bought the last two tickets, which means we got seats instead of beds. Oh well, I’ll bring my neck pillow and make the best of it. Let's just hope the bus stays on the road this time.

Beautiful sunset over Brunnsviken

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Yesterday afternoon I took a walk down to the water’s edge just after sunset. The horizon turned to a bright fiery orange, and I knelt down to capture the sky’s reflection in the ice.

The temperature has remained just below freezing for a few days, and it probably won’t be too long before it’s possible to skate on the lake.


Climbing with Miranda and friends

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Tuesday evening I went to Klättercentret for a bit of bouldering. It was the first time for me to see Matt & Lisa since returning to Sweden. Lisa and I an planning to thrown a combined party for our birthdays sometime soon. Our birthdays were in November, but the party probably won’t happen until mid-January at the earliest. Stay tuned.

The bouldering problems were a lot of fun. I conquered a few that I had tried last week but hadn’t managed to finish then. Pierre gave me some good tips on several tricky problems, and I think I’ll be able to complete a couple of them next time.

Miranda & Kalle were there. They’re up from Lund for the holidays. I gave Miranda the climbing gear I’d brought her from the U.S. and she seemed pleased. She said she plans to put it to good use when she goes climbing in Spain in a couple of weeks. I’m jealous!

Here are the nine photos I posted.

Miranda’s sister Josefin was there too, and she took lots of photos with her camera. She posted them to Facebook, if you want to see them.


Lunch with Åsa

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Monday I joined Åsa for lunch. Åsa’s colleague Phil joined us. Åsa often works in the South part of the city, so it's not every day that we can meet for lunch. I had lamb curry from the Indian joint.

This past weekend, Åsa & Patric went skiing in Trysil, Norway. They had both great snow and bright sunshine! Lucky bastards!

Photos from Åre

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The last day in Åre was fun, but I think we were all quite tired. It's a good thing we were there for only three days. If we’d been there longer than that, I don’t think we would have been able to maintain that pace of activity.

Early yesterday morning, we packed our bags and cleaned the apartment in time for it to be inspected at check-out time, 9.00. We then left our bags in Robban’s car and hit the slopes. After a quick lunch at Olympia Restaurant, everyone but me and Magnus piled in the car for the drive back to Stockholm. Magnus and I said our goodbyes and then returned to the mountain, where we skied another couple of hours. After a quick sauna and shower, I threw on a fresh change of clothes and went to catch the bus to the airport. Magnus’s train left about an hour later. The ride to the airport was about an hour long, and I slept the whole way. I also slept on the flight to Stockholm and the bus from Arlanda to the city. I guess I was tired!

I’ve posted about 70 photos from the weekend.


Quick update from Åre

The snow wasn't as nice today. No new snow fell last night. Two of our gang awoke just after 4.20 and took the lift up to the top for a free breakfast. This is, of course, the one lift that's open 24 hours per day. The lift is closed from 5.00 until 6.00 while the slopes it serves are groomed. Those brave enough to make it to the top before 05.00 are treated to a free breakfast. I was not among those folks. I slept until 7.30. After a quick brekfast, we hit the slopes. We had a good day of skiing, and were treated to sunshine for at least 3 hours. We went to Bygget for after-ski life music, fixed pasta for dinner, and had a quick sauna. Now we're going out!  Signing off from Åre.


Greetings from snowy Åre!

I caught a flight up to Åre early this afternoon to join Stina and some of her friends for a weekend of skiing. Stina's friend Magnus flew in this morning from Göteborg, and had already been skiing a bit when he met me at the cabin where we're staying. Affer I dropped off my bags, I walked down to the ski rental shop, located just 50 m from our door, to rent equipment. I opted for the "advanced" ski package and got what look like brand-new skis and boots. Shiny!

We hit the slopes around 15.30, just as the majority of the lifts on the mountain were being closed for the day. The only lift left running was the VM 8 lift. There's a single ski slope down from the top of that lift that is brightly illuminated all night long (24-hours per day actually). So we stuck to this slope, sking until almost 17.00.

The snow was probably great this morning, but by the time we go to it, it had been cut up pretty badly. There were patches of hard icy snow and thick clumps of heavy wet snow. Inconsistent snow makes for challenging skiing, and I fell a couple of times. These skis are really amazing. They're sharp and hold contact with the ground very well. This actually caught me by surprise one time, leading to one of the falls of the day. I caught a bit of air jumping over a clump of chunky snow, and landed on a flat icy patch. My uphill ski caught the packed snow and came off in an instant. I might tighten the bindings a bit tomorrow.

The sun set around the time we began skiing, and was followed by at least an hour of dusk. The thin reddish-orange cresent of the moon was silhouetted against a deep azure sky. A light veil of low clouds was switfly passing overhead. Eventually, the clouds became thicker, and as we finished skiing for the day, the moon and sky had become completely obscured from view.

Around 17.00, we dropped off our skis and we changed into regular boots so we could comfortably walk into town to do some shopping. First we picked up some wine & glögg at System Bolaget, because they close at 18.00. Next we bought dinner and breafast fixings at ICA. We're gonna have tacos tonight, preparing dinner just in time for the arrival Stina and the rest of the gang. They are driving up from Stockholm.

I brought my camera with me, but I haven't taken any photos yet. I didn't dare to bring it with me on the mountain today. I will have to get very comfortable with my equipment and the snow conditions before I'll dare to bring my expensive little toy up with me. I might bring it up on the mountain tomoorrow, but I kinda doubt it. Maybe if the sun comes out and it's a really lovely day.

Lucia 2007

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Tonight I met Emma in the old city to enjoy a bit of music and candlelight in the big church beside the square.

The music was quite good. I'm not such a big fan of Kraus, even though he may be buried on the shore of Brunsviken near my home. But the traditional Christmas and Lucia songs were delightful. I wish they'd try some more challenging choral works like in years past!

By coincidence, Emma saw a friend of hers there. He works as a physical education teacher at Adolf Fredirks school and was helping out with the production. He told us that the king and Kofi Annan had been at the earlier performance tonight. We were “mingling with the elite,” as PO put it.

Here are a few photos from Storkyrkan.


Lunch in Kista with PO and Daniel

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Thursday at midday I joined PO and Daniel for lunch at Kista Galleria. I had brought some goodies from the U.S. for the gentlemen, so that was the first order of business. We had Indian food, and by the time I finished my food I was stuffed. Because I'd had glögg and gingerbread cookies in the morning, the big lunch was a bit too much.

After lunch I went by the bank to take care of some problems with my credit card account. I recently opened a private account that earns 3.25% annually. When I opened this account, I moved most of the money from my old savings account to the new account. The bank told me they'd take care of setting up automatic payment of the credit card and loans so that these payments were made from the new account instead of the old one, but apparently they didn't do this. This oversight caused me a big headache when the payments were not paid. The bank has now fixed everything and waived the late fees that had been levied.

Dancing with Anna and Anne Lene at La Isla

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After more than two months of salsa-abstinence, I hit the dance floor at La Isla last night. Anna joined me, and we took the drop-in course together. It was a bit of a weird lesson: at once too easy and a bit awkward. The dance floor was too crowded too. Oh well—I guess it can't be a great lesson every time.

After the lesson I stayed and danced with a bunch of friends I hadn't seen since before my trip to Austin. Around ten o'clock, Anne Lene showed up and we danced a few dances too. Her friend Felix was there too, and I got some nice photos of the two of them dancing. Here are all 13 photos from the evening.


First climb at KC after two months away

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After two months away from Stockholm, I returned to my usual Tuesday night routine last night, climbing a few hours at Klättercentret. Last night, it was just bouldering. I had a good time and to my surprise did a couple of rather tricky (black-graded) problems. The skin on my hands is not as tough as it used to be though, and I cut up my right index finger a bit on one of the grips. Tougher skin takes time to build up. I'm sure in a month or so I'll have nice callouses again.

When I went upstairs, I ran into Emma and got a few nice photos of her trying a fun problem. I also met some friendly folks named Björn & Emma, whom I hadn't seen there before (Emma must be one of the most popular names for girls in Sweden). Later in the evening I saw Anna and Lotta there too.

Here are the best 24 photos from last night.


Advent fika at Karin’s place

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Sunday afternoon, I went downtown and joined Karin and some of her friends for an Advent fika at her place. We made candy and gingerbread cookies, and tried several types of glögg. And of course the place was illuminated by candlelight. It was a perfect way to start the winter holiday season. I posted 22 photos from the fika.


A quick update from Stockholm

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I picked up an Arc'teryx Theta AR jacket at REI on the way to the airport yesterday and I've already put it to good use. The weather is nasty here in Stockholm, with gray skies and cold drizzle dominating the forecast.

Despite the weather, it’s good to be home. Tonight is the night of the Nobel Prize ceremony at Stockholm City Hall, so that’s the topic on all the morning news programs. I’m looking forward to Lucia on Thursday. I plan to go to the concert at Storkyrkan in the old city. I’ve attended that concert several times, and it’s always a rewarding experience. Beautiful music and candlelight are excellent antidotes to the melancholy of a Stockholm winter.


Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 zoom lens

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Here is the most recent addition to my camera bag, a Zoom-Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 lens. This is my first ultra-wide zoom lens, and after just a month on the market, it's getting rave reviews, besting most other ultra-wide zoom lenses on the market and matching or surpassing many wide-angle prime lenses.

The lens is a monster. It weighs a kilogram and the bulbous end of the lens protrudes quite a bit, especially when zoomed out to shorter focal lengths. I’m going to have to be extra careful with this baby to ensure that the glas does not get scratched.

I've taken a few shots with the lens and I'm very pleased with the results so far.


New hiking boots

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A couple of days ago I finally got around to replacing my old Merrell boots, whose soles kept coming off. The helpful folks at REI took back the old boots and knocked a big chunk off the price of a new pair. I opted for a pair of Asolo Power Matic 200 GV boots. The leather boots have Gore-Tex, Vibram soles, and neat little brass pulleys for the laces.

Climbing at Austin Rock Gym

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Last night I joined Ethan and Dave for some bouldering at Austin Rock Gym. It was my first time to do any indoor climbing in the U.S. The bouldering problems here are graded according to the ”Hueco” grading system, developed here in Texas at the Hueco Tanks State Historic Site.

In this photo, Ethan does a hand-foot match on the way up from under the overhang. Last night was Dave’s first time climbing. He did alright considering that!

Prior to last night I hadn’t done any climbing in more than two months. My strength has deteriorated noticeably and the skin on my hands has lost some of its toughness. Even so, I was pleased with the climbing. I even did a couple of rather tricky problems. I have missed climbing! I'm looking forward to returning to my home turf and resuming my routine of climbing twice or three times per week.


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I have a cute niece!

Lunch at Catfish Parlor

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I had lunch the other day with Ethan, Kelly, and a few other friends. Mike Kiser came, as did Dave Hill and a colleague of his named Brian. If you like fried catfish, it’s hard to find a place that makes it better than Catfish Parlor. I had the spicy fried catfish along with fried okra and yellow corn. As is my custom, I washed it all down with a frosty mug of root beer.

Dinner with Sasha

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No, not my cat Sasha. Another one.

This Sasha is an old friend from my days at UT. We haven't really kept in touch, but a couple of week ago I managed to track her down. Monday night we met up at El Chile restaurant on Manor Road for a nice dinner. On Sasha’s advice I tried the spicy orange margarita. It's quite tasty. I also enjoyed the enchiladas with red mole sauce. It's fun to get reacquainted with old friends!


Swedish wilderness, here I come!

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I've lived in Sweden for more than seven years but still haven't gone backpacking in the country’s expansive wilderness. That will change soon. On Saturday I got a new tent at REI — a “Mountain 25” tent from The North Face. My mom and dad offered to get the tent for me as an early Christmas present given that I won’t be in the U.S. for the holidays. I set up the tent in the meadow this morning. I think it’ll do just fine. With the rainfly, it’s a 4-season tent. That means I could even go camping in the snow if I were so inclined.

I’m going through all the old camping gear in the garage and trying to scavenge the usable equipment that's reasonably lightweight. Much of the stuff is too heavy for backpacking. When I went camping with the Boy Scouts as a youth, we went to most of our campsites by car, so weight wasn’t a big concern. I thought we had a couple of MSR stoves, but so far I haven’t had any luck in finding them. I also know I’ve got a 4-season sleeping bag hidden somewhere in storage. I’ll hunt for these items more later on in the week.

My plans to buy a car here have been put on hold for two reasons:
1. I don’t have a whole lot of cash at the moment; and
2. I don’t know how best to import a car from the U.S. to Sweden.

Solving problem 1 will just take time. I’m saving my money and trying not to buy things I don’t really need. Regarding the car, I probably should have used the loophole in the law that allows for the tax-free import of a car as an item of one’s personal belongings when one moves to Sweden. Unfortunately, I think it's probably too late for me to take advantage of this. I moved to Sweden in August of 2000.

It seems to be very expensive to import a car directly to Sweden from outside the E.U. The Swedish Custom Service has a web page indicating that one must pay 10% in customs fees on top of 25% in sales tax when importing a car to Sweden from any country outside the E.U. Importing a car from another E.U. country though is tax-free. So I'm thinking I could avoid Sweden’s high import duties and taxes by importing via a third E.U. member state. If anyone has ideas on this, please get in touch.

Saturday morning I’ll catch my flight to Newark and then continue on to Stockholm. I’m excited about returning home, but I’m also sad to leave my family. It has been a real treat to get to know my niece Evelyn a bit, and I regret that I won’t be here to see more of her first year of life.

Right now I’m taking a little lunch break from writing the redbook. I’m a bit behind on the writing, and will probably have to do at least some of the writing after I have returned to Sweden. The book is exciting to write though, an I’m learning a lot about the new version of TWS.

OK, time to grab a quick bite to eat and then get back to work!


A family portrait

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Today a photographer came by to take a few family portaits for us. He agreed to take one with my camera, and here it is. I think it turned out great. By the way, this is my first blog entry made from my new iPod Touch!


Happy 90th birthday, mama-papa!

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My grandfather Lorn Lambier Howard turns ninety today. As far back as I can remember, my mama-papa and I have had a special connection. If I had to guess, I’d say that we owe this connection to our shared scientific worldview and love of music — jazz in particular.

We had a fun party for Lorn last Friday in Dallas. Members of the family met for lunch and then assembled in the theater at Edgemere for a presentation. Tom talked about what was happening in the world the year Lorn was born. My cousin Lowry sang some songs for him. Lindsey performed her own interpretive dance routine based on a dozen or so words describing the family — words she had solicited from all of us by email weeks earlier. Hayden and Mark put on a great slideshow of photographs from Lorn’s life. And then Lorn’s myriad offspring gathered on stage to sing a special birthday song of my mom’s composing. After all the presentations, we mingled and had some delicious chocolate cake with coffee. It was a lot of fun and I hope we can do it again next year.

Photos from the get-together in Dallas are online now, including ones from Lorn’s party. All the photos are in my Thanksgiving 2007 photo set.

For a more detailed biography of my grandfather, see Lorn’s faculty page at SMU.


Me and my niece Evelyn

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I'm back from a busy and eventful weekend in Dallas, and I have a bunch of photos to go through and post. In the mean time, here's a good one from my trip to California a couple of weeks ago.


Uncle Billy’s Brew & Cue

Tonight I had dinner with Warren and Janice at Uncle Billy’s Brew & Cue down on Barton Springs Road. That was some darn good food! We had brisket, jalapeño & cheese sausage, baby back ribs, macaroni & cheese, and green beans. The brisket was great — almost as good as the County Line’s. The sausage was quite good too. The best part of the meal though had to be the green beans. They were crispy and spicy, just like homemade. I tried a couple of beers there, including Uncle Billy’s own Hefeweizen and a pint of Live Oak Octoberfest.

Afterward we went to Amy’s Ice Creams on 6th Street, where Warren treated us to some delicious desert. I had the Jamaican coffee ice cream — a creamy coffee-flavored ice cream spiked with Jamaican rum. Yum!

Tomorrow I'm heading up to Dallas for a few days with family. We will celebrate my grandfather's 90th birthday and Thanksgiving together.


No Country for Old Men

Yesterday evening I went to the Arbor Cinema in Northwest Austin and saw a matinée* of the latest Cohen Brothers film, No Country for Old Men. The film is a good one, but damn — uplifting it ain’t.

The film is beautifully shot, and expertly acted. I especially liked Tommy Lee Jones’s performance. It’s also and wonderfully written. Delightful and often funny dialogue and exquisite cinematography are interspersed only occasionally with brief sequences of action. And even these action sequences proceed at a measured pace, echoing the methodical determination of the story’s villain. His presence is felt throughout the film, even when he’s not in the scene. Even though the film is slow, it is never boring. The tension is maintained from start to finish.

The film’s violence is shocking not so much for its graphic nature but for its cruel pointlessness. Numb incomprehension in the face of heartless cruelty is a theme revisited many times, in the words of one character after another. Love and bravado aren’t enough to win the day; just when you think there is some fateful justice in the world, you watch as the wicked walk free. The story is a cautionary tale, blasting at once our culture’s slow decline into apathy, and the often simple-minded reactions this descent elicits from everyday people. I wonder how the average person reacts to this film: is it a call to action, or a reminder that life is pointless?

If you have a strong constitution and want to see a great film, No Country for Old Men fits the bill. I’m glad I saw the film, but I still hope the next Cohen Brothers movie is a bit more lighthearted.

* The practice of pricing matinée performances lower than evening ones has not made it to Sweden, where the state-subsidized company SF holds a near monopoly on cinemas. Yesterday’s ticket cost me $6.50, equivalent to 40.60 SEK — less than half the cost of a movie ticket in Sweden.


The Iraq war gas tax

If the president had decided to pay for the war in Iraq through a tax on gasoline, how much would that have cost the U.S. consumer?

The Iraq war is costing U.S. taxpayers around 229 million dollars per day.

U.S. drivers purchase about 400 million gallons of gasoline per day.

By my calculations, this means if Bush had had the guts to actually pay for the war from the outset, he could have done so with a tax of 67 cents per gallon. It would have been a bitter pill to swallow, but he could have called upon Americans to bear the burdon as necessary sacrifice at a time of war.

Unfortunately, Bush gave his cronies a tax break instead, and paid for it and the war by mortgaging our children's futures.


Swedish breasts in the news

The story about the young Swedish women fighting for the right to bare their breasts at swimming pools made it to the top three on digg today. As my friend Lisa pointed out, the story's popularity is in agreement with the axiom:

Sweden + breasts = lots of hits.

The movement certainly has a catchy name: Bara Bröst. It's a clever a play on words because it can mean just breasts but also bare breasts. Some of the brave women have begun to document their thoughts and experiences online: KristinK, Bara Badare.

One of the arguments for allowing women to go topless is that men and women should be treated equally, and that if men are allowed to swim without wearing a top, so should women. In a liberal democracy like Sweden, it's hard to argue against equality. The law is pretty clear too: it is illegal to put in place a policy that treats people differently on the basis of their gender.

Some of the activists pushing this agenda have also made the point that people are only upset about seeing breasts because breasts have been sexualized by society and popular culture. These young women would like to foster a society in which people are a bit more desensitized to the sight of breasts in public. I'll agree with this argument.

Swedes are the Puritans of Western Europe.

With respect to how much they cover up, Sweden has moved a lot closer to America in recent years. Women go topless seldom in Sweden, even though there is no law against it. Compared to bathers in Holland, France, Germany, or Italy, Swedish beach-goers are prudes. Where it is customary to go naked, such as in the sauna, there are almost always separate facilities for men and women. The main Swedish television channels show very little nudity. And it's forbidden in Sweden to display a woman's breasts in any advertising (although men's chests are OK for some reason). The argument behind that policy was that women's bodies should not be used to sell things. Women who referred to themselves as feminists were responsible for that law.

So it is gratifying, if a bit surprising, to see Swedish women standing up for the right to show their breasts. It is a fitting tribute to the true spirit of feminism.

What I do find odd is that some of the women involved in fighting for the right to bare their breasts are doing so in the hopes of desexualizing women's bodies. This effort will meet with limited success.

Women's breasts are inherently sexual in nature.

Evolutionary psychologists have argued convincingly that the human female evolved breasts specifically for the purpose of attracting men. The argument goes something like this: when our ancestors began to walk upright, females needed to evolve a means of attracting males that differed from those sexual signals that are useful only among species that walk on all fours. Something showy in the front, perhaps? Yeah, that works. No other primate species displays such a great degree of sexual dimorphism in breast size. No other primate species stores such a large amount of fat in the breasts; this fat doesn't seem to be needed to for strictly functional purposes, and is there whether or not the woman is nursing. The human female's unique breasts are a primary sexual trait of her gender. Along with other attractive traits like curvaceous hips, clear skin, and symmetrical faces, men are going to find breasts attractive.

That said, I think over-sexualization and over-sensationalization of the human body is damaging too. Forcing women to cover their breasts in a way draws more attention to them. What is customarily hidden from view will naturally be all the more intriguing for its scarcity. In Victorian England, even the sight of a woman's ankle was considered scandalously provocative. Obviously things are a bit more relaxed today, but we still have our own form of Puritanism; we've only moved the line a bit between what's no big deal and what's scandalous. Imposing the most conservative standards of modesty on everyone doesn't make sense, but that's what we'd have to do to please anyone who might be offended. Prudishness is not just a harmless bit of cultural baggage though. It is psychologically demeaning to people, because ultimately, it aims to convince them that they should be ashamed of their own bodies. I find it much more offensive that some people believe it's their duty to impose their prudishness on others.

Although women are no doubt sexual creatures, it is surely frustrating for some women who feel that their value is diminished by right of the fact that some men view them primarily as objects of sexual desire. However, the respect these women seek cannot be codified into law. Prohibiting bare breasts in advertising, for example, will not cause men to stop finding women (or their breasts) desirable. Nor is this what most reasonable women want. What they want is to be seen as whole people, with more to offer the world than just their bodies. Of course we are animals, but we are also uniquely capable of rising above our baser instincts. The way to do this is not to deny these instincts, but to accept them — both the strengths and the weaknesses. So the solution is not to deny that breasts (or hips, or whatever) are sexual in nature; but to accept the fact, and move on. Respect doesn't mean ceasing to be a sexual creature. Respect means caring about others and taking their views into account. What seems like flattery to one person might be insulting to another though, so one size definitely does not fit all.

I've been to nude beaches in France and to nude bathhouses in Germany. I've also seen the many Muslim women in Sweden who out of modesty chose to wear the veil or burka when in public. It's clear that there is a great deal of variability in cultural standards when it comes to what parts of their bodies people are comfortable showing in public. The world is full of people who accept without question their own particular prejudices and reject with equally unquestioning moral indignation the differing views of others. Prudishness with regard to nakedness is a good example of this sort of fundamentalism. When people of different cultures come together in the same bathhouse, you can imagine that not everyone is going to be completely comfortable with the clothing choices made by everyone else. It can be a challenge to make rules that foster an environment in which most people can feel comfortable.

It's also often the case that some people will have to be made uncomfortable, at least for a while, in order to bring about a justified change. The end of racial segregation in the U.S. was just such a period of uncomfortable transition. Changes that grant new freedoms to one group of people inevitably impose some uneasiness in other groups of people. So it is with topless women in Swedish bathhouses.

The women swimming topless in Swedish bathhouses are evidently willing to make some of their fellow bathers uncomfortable in the name of exercising their freedoms. I wonder if they would also support allowing men and women to bathe naked. Or would that make them uncomfortable?


Back from the Bay

_MAL0256, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

I'm back in Austin after a lovely time with my brother's family in Santa Clara. I took quite a few photos while was was in California, and have now posted a few of them.  Here’s one from my sojourn up the peninsula to San Francisco. Take a look at my Flickr photostream for more photos, including several of my adorable new niece Evelyn.


Radiohead’s experiment a success

A few weeks ago, the band Radiohead released their new album on their website. Fans of the band were allowed to download the album and requested to pay what they thought it was worth. A lot of fuss is being made over the fact that many of the people who downloaded the album paid nothing for it, and those who did pay something paid an average of only six U.S. dollars.

I'd like to see some analysis of how much the band is making on sales of the album, and how this profit compares to what they might have made if they had gone through the traditional channel of selling CDs through a major recording studio label.

In the media frenzy about how greedy people are to download the album without paying for it, what's getting overlooked is that the band is likely making more money on this album anyway. The band is not paying a red cent to a recording studio or publisher, so they get to keep all the profit for themselves. Considering how small a cut artists typically get in contacts with the major labels, Radiohead’s experiment has to be considered a success.


One day by the Bay

This morning I awoke around 8 o’clock and fixed a pot of coffee in Ethan & Kelly’s percolator. Ethan headed off to work at Apple and I stayed behind to enjoy my coffee. Kelly and I watched a bit of television until it was almost time for Evelyn's check-up appointment. She got a clean bill of health. I dropped Kelly and the baby off at home and then joined Ethan for lunch at the Apple campus. We ate at “Macs Café,” the main company cafeteria. I had a delicious barbecue chicken burrito with black beans and guacamole. Oh, and I saw Steve Jobs in the burrito line. It took him a while to place his order. He is particular with details when it comes to burritos too, apparently.

Speaking of attention to detail, I picked up some goodies at the Apple company store, including the exquisitely designed Apple keyboard.  The thing looks like it's made from a solid piece of aluminum. Simply brilliant. The wireless one is even prettier. Unfortunately, it's not available in a full-sized version.

After lunch, I drove up to San Francisco for a few hours. I took some photos of the Golden Gate Bridge, took a walk on Baker Beach, and then took a drive through downtown. After I came back to Santa Clara, we ordered a pizza for dinner and watched “The Producers” on TV.

Evelyn was a little angel the whole night, mostly sleeping or nursing. Now it's time for bed. It's been a full day and I'm flying back to Texas around lunchtime tomorrow.


Uncle Mike

PICT0456, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

Here I am holding my niece. She's a sweet baby but only for a few minutes at a time. Then she gets hungry and only mommy will sate her cravings. I'm sure she'd like me more if I gave her milk. Today was a busy day and I've been awake for a long time, so I'm looking forward to a long rest. I'll get it too.

We're setting our clocks back to standard time tonight too. The time change and the time zone change mean that for me, tomorrow morning will seem to come three hours later than this morning did.

Signing off from California.

First night in California

Greetings from Santa Clara! I flew into San Jose airport earlier this afternoon. Ethan picked me up and drove me to his home, where my parents and Kelly were waiting. Of course, I got to meet my lovely new niece Evelyn too. She was mostly asleep, but for a few minutes I held her in my arms. I also helped change her diaper — Fun!

After a while we all started to get a bit hungry, so we went to the Trader Joe’s store in Sunnyvale to buy some groceries, including a few bottles of “Two Buck Chuck,” a California Chardonnay I've tasted and that's quite okay. I also threw a tub of Ben & Jerry’s chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream in the shopping basket. I'll enjoy that later.

Now I gotta run. Evelyn is awake and in good spirits. It's time to go introduce myself!


Four generations, one video chat.

3-way iChat session, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

Last night, my mom was having a video chat with my brother in Santa Clara, and Ethan was showing off his lovely daughter. Then my grandfather called on the telephone. I suggested that he sign on and we invited him to join the chat. This sort of thing is easy with iChat, an application that comes with every new Mac.

What happened next was very special. My grandparents Lorn and Etha in Dallas got their first opportunity to see their great-granddaughter Evelyn via live video from Santa Clara. And of course my mom and dad and I watched the whole thing. Evelyn was alert and active, looking at the screen to follow the faces of her far-away loved ones. We were all impressed by how intelligent she seemed for a two-week-old baby. After a few minutes though, hunger overcame curiosity, and Evelyn began to cry for her mommy. Kelly dutifully plucked her up and fed her mother's milk.

To be able to share this experience with far-flung relatives was simply magical.

As Ethan pointed out, it was a stroke of genius to add iSight cameras to all new iMacs and Mac laptops. Having the camera built-in (and not having to go through any extra steps to add or configure it) means that any Mac user can have a video chat with any other Mac user. Just grand, I say.


Greetings from Austin

_MAL0319, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

I took this quick self-portrait as I left my parents place yesterday afternoon.


Back in the swing of things in Austin

It's my third day here in Austin, and I'm beginning to get accustomed to the routine. Each time I move back and forth between Sweden and Texas, the switch gets a bit easier. Monday evening I had dinner at Steve & Jill's place. I helped make breadsticks using pre-perforated sections of dough from a can — one of many clever innovations we don't have in Sweden.

Last night I had dinner with my parents and then had a nice long telephone conversation with my grandfather. He'll turn 90 next month, and we'll all go up to Dallas to help him celebrate.

I'm shopping around for air travel to the Bay Area next weekend. Prices aren't particularly cheap at the moment, but I'm hoping to find a good deal between now and then. I am eager to meet my new niece!

Buggy Saints Row, the musical

Cabel Sasser's muscial critique of the bugs in the video game Saints Row was just too good not to post. The guy's not just a great Mac programmer; he's also got a sense of humor and substantial musical talent!


Okay to do it, but a crime to take photos

Sometimes I'm proud to be an American. Other times, not so much. After reading about two Florida teenagers convicted of child pornography offenses, I had to shake my head in disbelief.

Two teens, aged 16 and 17, took racy photos of themselved having a bit of fun. The photos somehow found their way to the police (by way, perhaps, of their overzealous parents). The two teens were prosecuted for, and convicted of, creating child pornography.  The 'children' in question? The two teens themselves. The law was used to punish the very people it was meant to protect. This is a crystal-clear example of how zealots in law enforcement and the justice system abuse the legal system to promote their narrow Puritanical world-view.

In Florida, it's perfectly legal for two people the ages of these two teens to have sex. This means that it's okay for teens to have sex, but it's a crime if they document it. This ridiculous situation arises out of the vast divide between how the law is written and how the real world actually works. People past the age of puberty are going to have sex. That's just a fact of life, and there's no point in trying to fight it. Denying that teens will have sex is like sticking one's head in the sand. Denial is not a basis for sound public policy.

The law seems to have been written based on the assumtions of a world before the arrival of the internet and digital cameras. These outdated assumptions no longer hold, and for this reason alone, the law is is poorly suited to the real world conditions today.

There was a time not too long ago when it wasn't possible to take intimate photos without exposing them at least to the staff of the local photo development lab. This no doubt discouraged many who might have otherwise liked to take racy photos from doing so. But with digital cameras, people can take private photos without having to rely on a stranger to develop them. Millions of people are taking photos today that they wouldn't have considered taking a few years ago.

When the photos are on a computer, it's also easier than ever for people to share them. In the case in question, the two teens emailed the photos from one of their email accounts to another, and did not appear to intend to share them with anyone else. But of course other people might chose to share similar photos with their friends, or even with strangers. 

The judge writing the majority opinion in the case explained his descision by claiming that the teens could have sold the photos. To me it seems silly to punish someone because something he created could potentially be abused. If it's selling of the photos that the judge wishes to punish, then why punish the teens? Why not instead punish any eventual act of selling the photographs?

The judge also claimed that the very existence of the photos could cause shame and psychological trauma to the teens involved, and that they lacked the maturity and wisdom to understand the consequences of their actions. If the photos were to be disseminated, the judge argued, then it could cause irreparable harm to the teens' future lives and careers. It seems to me that the act of prosecuting the teens, and dragging them through a lengthy and expensive court battle, causes much more damage than the original photos could possibly cause. First of all, if public attention is something that is inherently damaging and shameful, then drawing more attention upon the matter cannot help.

Secondly, there is no objective standard for judging things like psychological trauma. Yes, it's possible that the photos might cause embarrasment to the teens. But how much of this is due to the photos themselves, and how much is due to the people telling the teens how they ought to be ashamed of themselves? The Puritanical anti-sex fundamentalists would have us believe that sex dirties all things it touches. What if the teens fully appreciated what they were doing and were not ashamed? What if they were proud to be a couple, and just wanted to memorialize their expressions of affection for one another? What interest does the state have in telling them they should be ashamed or that they should feel traumatized?

Thirdly, as with some other crimes, (like casual use of marijuana) it is hard to see who the victim of the crime is. Yes, the law sometimes has to protect people from their own lack of judgement. But this time, the law punishes the very people it is supposed to protect. It's hard to see the value in the whole exercise when it is the law itself that is the source of the majority of negative consequences brought upon those prosecuted under it. The very act of criminalizing something brings with it significant costs. In this case, the costs are hard to justify.

Most governments have equally lofty goals, but how they go about reaching those goals varies a lot from place to place. Living in Sweden for more than seven years has given me some valuable insights into how governments attempt to accomplish their goals. In Sweden, people are often treated as though they are all children. I'm a fiercely individualistic person, so it's ever more difficult for me to have understanding for the sort of thinking that says people have to be protected from themselves. Sweden is also fond of punishing the many for the sins of the few. The high taxes on alcohol are a good example of this. A libertarian at heart, I have a hard time understanding the argument that it's a good idea to criminalize xyz just because xyz could have negative consequences.

But America isn't perfect either. It's painful for me to watch as millions of American youth are taught to be ashamed of sex. Remember the judge's quip about psychological trauma? Well, repression of sex causes more psychological trauma than does sex. And nevermind psychological damage. What about objective measures of how well a country is preparing its youth for responsible sexuality? Just look at the rates of teen pregnancy of sexually-tranmitted diseases in the U.S., and compare them to the same figures for just about any other industrialized nation. Repression also gives rise to perversion. Just look at Japan: here's a state where sexuality is strictly controlled, and it is this very repression (combined with a culture of extreme patriarchy) that has given rise to some of the most degrading pornography in the world. Sexual repression causes much more harm than good.

So how do we fix it? For one thing, parents have to stop living in denial. As soon as their children hit puberty, they're going to start getting interested in sex. There's no point in pretending that this isn't the case. Our children deserve love and respect, and we can't give this to them by pretending they are asexual creatures. Parents should teach their children about sex not only so that they can make good decsions for themselves, but also so that they can understand and respect the views of others. Parents need to teach boys especially to respect girls as more than mere objects of desire.

But also, the law needs to grow up with the rest of the nation. Laws that draw a bright line between child and adult are blunt instruments applied to delicate problems. The real world is complicated, and there are gray areas. For one thing, teenagers are sexual creatures and there's no point in trying to criminalize teenage sexuality. Laws intended to protect children from being taken advantage of sexually are often ill-applied to older teenagers. Age-of-consent and child pornography laws should be updated to allow for the fact that different people mature at different ages, and that physical and emotional maturity arrive at different times in different people.

The law should concentrate on punishing those who commit actual abuse, such as those who use their position of authority to take advantage of youth. In Sweden, for example, the difference in age between the two people makes a difference to whether sexual relations between them can be considered statutory rape, as does whether the older person is in a position of authority. This is the sort of flexibility needed to make the law appropriate for situations in the real world.

What the F***

A few days ago, Mister Gruber at Daring Fireball linked to Stephen Pinker's essay in The New Republic on the topic of cursing: What the F***: Why We Curse. I finally got around to reading it and must say I agree with Gruber's analysis: it's fucking great. I so enjoyed the H. L. Mencken quotation in the article that I placed it in my blog's masthead.


Safe and sound in Austin

I'm in Austin, just about to hit the hay. After dancing with Åsa R. at Happy Feet in Sickla last night, I stayed up until after 3 A.M. packing. Because of this, I got only 3 hours of sleep. This actually worked to my advantage though, because the sleep deprivation allowed me to sleep through much of the transatlantic leg of my journey this morning. There was a one-hour delay in Newark due to problems routing the baggage. However, everything else went smoothly. On the flight to Austin, I sat next to a colleague of Steve's. Small world!

After arriving in Austin, I had dinner at Conan's with my family. Yum! Afterward, I went to my parents' place and watched the Red Sox-Indians game.  Looks like Boston's gonna be in the World Series again this year!

Now I'm exhausted and full of beer and pizza. Life is good. Over and out from Austin.


Evelyn Marie Lowry

Evelyn Marie Lowry, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

I'm now an uncle, thanks to this cute little girl. My new niece is named Evelyn Marie Lowry, and she's the first daughter of my only brother Ethan. She was born last night, delivered by Cesarian section. I'll fly to Austin tomorrow to begin a six-week assignment for work; I will probably fly out to San Francisco for a long weekend at the end of the month so that I can visit with Ethan and Kelly and meet my lovely new niece. Exciting times!


Dinner with Paula in Amsterdam

Last night I met Paula for dinner. By coincidence, she's also in Amsterdam this week, preparing for her new job in Prague. We had a beer in the hotel bar and then took the tram downtown for some traditional Dutch food. We had been advised to visit D' Vijff Vlieghen restaurant, but they were fully booked. So we walked to the nearby Haesje Claes restaurant instead. There we had hotche potche, which as the name suggests is a mix of several different things. Mine was mashed potatoes, sauerkraut, beef stew and sausage. Nothing pretentious -- just Dutch husmanskost as we would say in Sweden. The food was hearty, filling, and perfect for a cool and rainy night in Amsterdam. After dinner we shared a couple of beers at the adjoining Koningshut bar and then called it a night. Paula will be in Prague for a year at least, so it was nice to get a chance to visit with her. Here are four photos from the evening.


Tivoli Top Gun, October 2007, Amsterdam

Here's our class photo, taken outside the hotel.
_MAL0114, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.


Feeling much better now.

Yesterday afternoon I skipped a bit of the training that was a repeat of trainging I took a few months ago. Instead, I took a nice 2½ hour nap in my hotel room upstairs (the training is being held in a conference room in the hotel). I rejoined my colleagues for the wrap-up session and drinks later in the evening. I felt much better after my nap. I skipped diner and retired back to my room quite early. I had a bit of trouble getting to sleep, but still managed to get a good solid 5 hours of sleep. Unlike yesterday morning, this morning I was able to eat a nice big breakfast. Today is off to a good start.


Sick in Amsterdam

Greetings from Amsterdam. I'm here for the IBM Tivoli "Top Gun" training. It lasts all week, and I'll return to Stockholm Friday evening.

Yesterday, I got sick from something I ate, and I'm not a happy camper this morning. I have an idea of what it was that made me sick. Yesterday morning I went to Lotta's place to say goodbye to her and the cats before my two month absence from Stockholm. When Lotta opened the door to let me in, Sasha jumped up on the table and started licking the sliced ham Lotta had laid out for breakfast. I ate the ham without bothering to rinse it, and I suspect that's what caused my stomach problems. Already while I was packing I felt like something wasn't quite right. In the taxi on the way to the airport I had to ask the driver to drive more smoothly because I was feeling quite queasy. I managed to make it through the flight and even eat some dinner on the plane, but I got progressively worse as I made my way through Schiphol airport and took a cab to the hotel. I eventually had to ask the taxi driver to pull over so I could throw up. I felt much better after that, and checked into the hotel a few minutes later. I took a long hot bath and went straight to bed around 9pm. I slept fitfully, waking up in a sweat every half hour or so. I think I was fighting a fever pretty much all night long. This morning I feel weak and still have body chills, but I think the wost is past.

I managed to eat some fruit and cereal for breakfast this morning. So far, so good. I imagine I'll be okay this evening once the bug has had time to work its way through my system. I hope so, because I want to have a chance to see the city while I'm here. Ok, the class is beginning again, so I gotta go. Over and out from Amsterdam.


One sunny Monday in October

Whew! I feel like I have finally — alomst — caught my breath.

After a marathon weekend I managed to get a solid eight hours of sleep. I awoke to glorious sunshine, brushed my teeth, and sat down at my computer with a tall cup of coffee. Email and paperwork were the first order of business, as well as preparing for my upcoming trips. I'll spend next week in Amsterdam taking more training for work. Then I'll return to Stockholm for just a day to do laundry and repack for my two-month trip to Austin. I'm planning to take it a bit easy this week so that I am well-rested before these trips.

I met Sara and Katy for lunch near Rådmansgatan today, at a nice vegetarian restaurant called Organic Green. I had apricot-walnut stew with cauliflower and beans, served with Quinoa and a nice salad. It was really delicious, and I left the restaurant totally full! My friend Eva is a vegan, so I'll have to remember to tell her about this place. I'm not a vegetarian, but I know I'll return to Organic Green soon. If every vegetarian dish were as tasty as the one I had today, I could almost imagine sticking to a vegetarian diet. Almost.

I'm back at the Kista Entre office now, preparing to dive into another mountain of paperwork. Even though I'm still suffering a bit from a cold, and my head feels a bit heavy, I find that I'm still in a great mood. I think the weather might have something to do with that. Outside, the sky is clear and the sun is shining. After a week of gray skies, seeing the sun again brings a smile to my face. It's amazing that a little sunshine can effect such a lift in my spirits.


Exhausting but fun weekend

Friday night I went climbing at Klättercentret. The place was empty, so I just bouldered for a while.

Saturday morning I awoke with a sore throat and felt like I was coming down with a cold. I got a message in Facebook from a girl named Kajsa I had met climbing at KC 14 months earlier. She had apparently seen my downhill photos from Åre because her message was an invitation to come biking with her and three friends in Hellas. I wasn't really in the mood for biking, or even going out of doors. I felt more like making a hot cup of tea, sitting on the couch, and reading a good book. But the idea of turning the day into a challenge appealed to me, so I looked up Kajsa’s phone number and gave her a ring. There was no answer, and I initially felt relived that I would be able to stay home after all. But then I decided to pick my butt up off the couch and go biking by myself. I figured I might even run into Kajsa and her friends on the trails.

So I threw on my biking clothes, packed my backpack, and went to Hellas. I biked down South through the city, across Södermalm, and into the Nacka Nature Reserve where Hellas is located. I biked for a while by myself, but eventually caught up with a group of bikers, started to chat with them, and rode with them for a while. After a couple of hours we stopped at the café for a fika. As we were ordering our food, My climbing friend Kajsa walked through the door. Her three friends were Niklas, Emil, and Ewa, three folks I also know from climbing. So I said goodbye to my new friends and went to sit down for fika with Kajsa, Ewa, Niklas, and Emil. The guys were gung ho for some hardcore biking and the girls told us not to wait for them. I was out of shape and had trouble keeping up with Niklas and Emil. Of course I have excuses! I was a bit sick, had biked all the way to Hellas and it was my first serious bike ride of the season — I spent most of the weekends this past summer climbing, not biking. My bloodstream was full of adrenaline and lactic acid for the next two hours. The trails were fun and very technically challenging. By the end of the ride I was totally spent and had to muster the last of my strength to ride back home.

Oh, and the whole time I was biking with 4 half-liter cans of beer in my backpack because I had stopped by Systembolaget in the city on the way to Hellas.

The beer was for the evening’s festivities at P.O.’s place. He and his sambo Lotta were throwing a house-warming party at their new flat on Södermalm, and the party was to begin at 19.00. As I biked back homeward from Hellas, I passed over Södermalm. Too bad I hadn’t planned a bit better; I could have left the beer and a change of clothes at P.O.’s place and borrowed his shower before the party. But I wasn’t that prescient, and I had to get my bike back home anyway. So I bought a monthly SL card and hopped on the next Northbound train at Stockholms Södra station, just a few hundred meters West of Medborgarplatsen. I took the train to Ulriksdal station and biked the rest of the way home. What followed was the longest, hottest, most satisfying shower I've had in months. After stepping out of the shower, I toweled off and crashed on the couch. I could easily have remained there, but the party had started a half hour before, and I couldn’t reneg. I hadn’t seen P.O. in a long time, and I had been looking forward to the chance to catch up a bit.

I grabbed the nearest clean and pressed shirt and got dressed as hastily as I could manage. I felt like I was already drunk and I hadn’t had a drop to drink yet! P.O. and Lotta’s place is really lovely: a spacious and modern-styled apartment in an old building on Folkungagatan. They had just finished months of renovations and the results were impressive. As usual, P.O.’s tastes were evident: plain and austere black and white surfaces, stainless steel appliances, squarish leather furniture, and red accents in the form of lamps and the like. The party was a lot of fun too. I saw a few familiar faces there and also made several new friends. When I finally left the party, it was in the wee hours of the morning. Delays in the subway system led to an hour-long trip back home. When I finally laid my head on my pillow, it was after 04.00.

I awoke at 09.00, fully intending to fulfill my promise to go climbing outdoors with Sara. When I rang her number, I was actually glad to discover that I had awoken her, and that she was as tired as I. We agreed to climb indoors later in the afternoon instead — a revised plan that fit my wishes perfectly. I fixed waffles for breakfast, did some cleaning, and then took a nap. Let me tell you: it was hard to get out of bed after that nap. My body would have been perfectly happy to remain in bed all afternoon and through the night as well! But I somehow managed to crawl out of bed and get dressed again, this time packing my backpack full of climbing kit.

I saw Katy online and we chatted for a while. I invited her to come climbing with me. We met at Liljeholmen station and took the bus from there to Karbin. There, I introduced Katy to Sara, Elin, Lisa, Udo and Fredrik. Katy had tried climbing once before, but this was her first time to climb in Sweden. She did a great job and even learned a few tricks on the bouldering wall from Elin. I wasn’t really in top form, and contented myself with a 6a and a 6b.

After I arrived home a couple of hours ago, I did a load of laundry and had a snack. My bed beckons, so I think I will sign off for the night.


On the way back from Åre

We're on the train heading back to Stockholm after a terrific weekend of downhill biking in Åre. We had excellent weather both days -- cool, but sunny. I met a local on the lift up the mountain and learned that this past weekend was they've had in Åre in over a month. So we got lucky! The trails were a bit muddy on Friday, but we had a great time anyway. The cable-car to the top of the mountain was running too, so we got in a few runs on the rocky peak above the tree line. On Saturday it was a bit cooler and quite windy, so the higher lifts were closed and we stuck to the wooded trails on the lower part of the mountain. I was stuck with a not-so-great bike the second day because the shop accidentally lent out my bike to another person. The rear shock didn't rebound fast enough, so fast trails with lots of bumps were just no fun at all. But I made the best of it, and did trails that seemed best suited to the bike -- slower, steeper, more technically challenging trails. I even went over the steep root-encrusted drop-off that scared me so much last year. In fact, I did it twice this time around. It won't be as scary next year. It gets easier every time.

I collided with a young girl at one point, and that gave me a scare. I was biking down one of the gravel roads that cuts across the mountain. The girl was walking down the road about twenty meters ahead of her family. I passed her parents and brother without incident. Then as I was about to pass her, she suddenly panicked. Without looking, she ran across to the other side of the road, directly into my path. I hit the brakes and veered to the side but couldn't avoid hitting her with my right handlebar. I crashed into the bushes below the left side of the road, but quickly got up to see if she was okay. She was face-down and crying, and I did my best to console her until her parents arrived. He mom helped her stand up. She was frightened and scraped up a bit, and she'll probably have a nasty bruise where the handlebar hit her; but otherwise she seemed to be okay. I apologized profusely to her and her parents. They were very understanding, having seen the whole thing happen in front of them.

In our group, there were some minor scrapes and bruises, but no major injuries. Lots of photos were taken by me and Kalle, another D200 friend of Patric's who was also along on the trip. I'll post some of the best ones tomorrow or the next day.

Update: My photos are online. Åsa’s photos are too!

Update 2: Calle’s photos are also now online!


Downhilll biking in Åre

It's time for the second of my annual autumn trips to Åre for downhill biking!

In a couple of hours, I’ll meet Matt, Lisa, and a few of Patric & Åsa’s friends at the central train station in downtown Stockholm. There, we’ll catch the midnight sleeper train up to Åre. We shall arrive seven hours later, just in time for sunrise. Once in Åre, we’ll have a bit of breakfast, rent downhill mountain bikes, and charge our lift cards (the same RFID-chip-containing cards we use when skiing at Åre in the winter). Then we’ll hit the mountain!

The downhill biking trails weave through the woods, weaving back and forth in switchbacks. The bike trails are therefore typically not as steep as the adjacent ski slopes. But like the ski slopes, the bike trails are graded according to difficulty. Some of the black-graded trails are quite challenging indeed. I don’t plan to take any unnecessary risks or to ride in a reckless fashion; but I do plan to push my limits a bit and see what I can do.

I will take my laptop with me and see if I can upload a few photos during the weekend. I am not planning to bring my camera up on the mountain though — at least not while biking. I might go up once on foot just so I can get some good photos of my friends.

Time to pack. Talk to you again from Åre!


Training at Skytteholm

Hej from lovely Ekerö! I'm here at Skytteholm for three days of training to help me get up to speed in my new job at IBM Software Group. We just finished our second day, and I'm sitting at a table by the window in the small cabin where we've been meeting. Right now I'm looking out over the long sloping hill down to the Lake Mälaren about five hundred meters to the Southwest. The evening sun is casting a warm light on the land, illuminating the brown, green, yellow and orange leaves of the maple trees outside. In a few minutes I'll walk down the hill to the hotel and for dinner. Tomorrow is the last day, and although I am enjoying the time here on Ekerö, I am also looking forward to returning home to Stockholm. I have taken a few photos, and I'll post them when I get back!


Michael’s week in review

It’s a lovely sunny Sunday afternoon here in Stockholm. It’s cool out — about 15° C, but the sunshine makes it feel a bit warmer. I just finished my morning cup of coffee and I thought I’d sit down and write a bit about the week that has just passed.

Remember that friend-of-a-friend I met online a few weeks ago — you know, the one who seemed nice at first but then gave me the cold shoulder? Well perhaps she reads this blog, because the day after I put fingers to keyboard to write that missive, she added me as a friend in Facebook. So the other day I gave her the benefit of the doubt and sent a nice long email. We shall see if it was worth the trouble.

Monday night I went downtown to for my boogie-woogie lesson. The dance is a bit like Lindy-hop, but different enough that I must concentrate so as not to fall back into dancing Lindy out of habit. It’s fun but I think I'm going to have to take more lessons to get good at this dance. The lessons are held in a dance studio about ten minute’s walk from Östermalmstorg. After the lesson, I sat in the sauna for a while. It’s getting cooler here in Stockholm, and I really enjoy taking a sauna when the weather turns cold. There is no sauna in my apartment building, so I have to take advantage of sauna opportunities as they come up. There’s a sauna at the IBM headquarters in Kista, and one in the office on Wallingatan. But I don’t spend much time in these offices, and as far as I know, there isn’t a sauna at the Kista Entré building where I currently spend most workdays.

There’s only one sauna at the dance studio, shared between men and women. On this occasion I was the only one there, so I didn’t have to feign modesty or cover up with a towel. Stina’s advanced boogie-woogie lesson is right after mine, so when I was finished with my sauna, she was almost finished with her dance lesson. I stuck around until she was done and we walked back to the subway station together.

Tuesday is my regular day for climbing, and this week was no exception. I tried a new 7a route at Klättercentret, and was humbled by it. I've only climbed one 7-graded route in my life, and that one took months of work before I was able to complete it in one go. I guess I shouldn't expect to be able to complete new 7s on sight. Not yet anyway! This was also Stina’s first time to come climbing with me. We had been planning to go climbing together for ages, but only got around to it this week. She did really well and I took a few photos of Stina climbing a 5c!

Wednesday evenings, I take two salsa lessons. This week I went to La Isla for a bit of social dancing afterward. A new friend named Katy came along. I had met her last weekend at my friend Johan's birthday party. She's from the ’States, and is doing a postdoc in finance at Handels. She and I are going for a walk in Hagaparken later this afternoon. I love Swedish people, but it’s nice to hang out with a fellow American once in a while.

Thursday night I joined a bunch of colleagues at the Stockholm Beer Fest. I managed to get a press card thanks to the huge camera around my neck. Members of the press drink free, so I had a good time. The festival has not just beer but also cider and whiskey, and I tried two interesting liquors distilled from beer. One tasted like a typical whiskey, while the other was more like a cognac. Both were new tastes for me.

Friday night I made another trip to Klättercentret, but this time did only bouldering. On the bus back to Bergshamra, I met a nice girl named Jenny. She’s studying chemistry and lives in the student flats in Kungshamra — the same area where my friend Eva lives. Eva and I are meeting for a fika at Café Sjöstugan right after lunch this afternoon.

Yesterday afternoon I went to Långholmen to get some photos of a downhill bike race there. Patric was one of the competitors, and I got some excellent photos of him and his fellow bikers. I’ll post them soon.

Last night I went to Lisa R.’s birthday party. When I arrived, there were a bunch of women there, but I was the only man there. Eventually as other people began to arrive, the ratio balanced out a bit. We drank wine and battled one another in the karaoke game “Singstar.” That was a lot of fun. It was nice to meet Lisa’s sister and her friends. They are as friendly as she is. One of her friends, Linda, turned out to be a skydiver friend of my friend Patric. It’s a small world! I also enjoyed hanging out with Linnea again. I hadn’t seen her since we went swimming in Årstaviken a month ago.

Tonight I’ll join Janaki for some dinner and dancing. We’re going to a new place we’ve never been to before. It’s always fun and interesting to try new places.

Monday through Wednesday this week I am taking training for my new job role. Then on Thursday afternoon, I'll take the train up north for a long weekend of downhill biking in Åre with Åsa, Patric, Matt & Lisa.


Weekend recap

I've just stepped out of the shower and brushed my teeth, and I'm looking forward to laying my head on my pillow in just a few minutes. I'm really tired after a fun and eventful weekend.

The original plan for Friday evening was to go climbing and dancing with Åsa R. Unfortunately, she found out at the last minute that she had to work late, so I changed my plans a bit. I skipped climbing at Klättercentret and had dinner at home instead. I was actually partly relieved to have a little time to catch my breath and wind down a bit after work. Around 10 o’clock I went down to La Isla for a bit of salsa dancing. Some other friends who had planned to show up never did, and the place was really dead. Lots of the folks from the Stockholm salsa dancing crowd were on a Baltic cruise this past weekend, so maybe that's why the place was so empty. Elin was there with her new dance partner Paolo, and I danced a few dances with her. I also saw Niklas and Suzanne there — two of the folks from last weekend’s Sailsalsa after-party. After a while I saw that Janaki was there with some of her friends. We danced a bit, but after just a few dances, the D.J. started playing only reggaeton and disco music. We decided to try another club, Mojito, instead.

Mojito was packed, but not as crowded as the last time I was there. Plus, with the cooler weather, one could actually breathe. It wasn't a sauna this time, but it was still hot and sweaty. We danced until closing time. It's fun to dance at different clubs because each one has its own crowd. The crowd at Mojito is definitely Cuban and Central/South American: much more relaxed and easy-going than La Isla, but also a bit less serious about dancing.

Saturday I spent most of the day just lounging around and relaxing. I went outside for a while to take some photos of the flowers in Vibeka’s garden. I had mixed success because of the clouds that obscured the sun much of the afternoon.

In the evening I took the commuter train out to Johan K.’s parents’ place in Spånga for his 28th birthday party. I met some nice folks at the party, including Tennessee native and MIT graduate Katy, who moved to Stockholm two weeks ago to begin her post-doctorate work — something related to finance and mathematics. Inger and Eva also showed up after a while. It was through Inger (and Elias) that I met Johan three years ago. A few hours into the party, a bunch of folks went down to the basement playroom to compete in a dance-based video game. One plays by dancing around on a mat on the floor that's connected to the game machine (a Playstation 2). It was a lot of fun, and Johan’s sister was the best of all of us. I dind’t realize how late it was getting, and before I knew it, the time was after 3 in the morning. The trains had long since stopped running, so I called a cab to take me home. During the drive home I chatted with the friendly driver, a man from the Kurdish region of Iran who has lived in Sweden for 30 years. I finally got to bed around 4.

Sunday morning I was awakened around 9:30 by a phone call from Åsa B., reminding me that the “IBM Day” at Gröna Lund was about to begin. IBM reserved the amusement park between 10 in the morning and midday, and bought tickets for all of its Stockholm employees who wanted to come. I managed to make my way down to the entrance on Djurgården just after noon. Once inside the park, I met up with Åsa and Patric and went on a few rides with them. We rode the blue roller coaster and then rammed into one another in the bumper cars. Åsa and Patric had been in the park riding the rides since just after 10, so after those two rides, they went home. Left to amuse myself, I rode the roller coaster again, and then rode the fun catapult tower that shoots you up to the top of the tower (sort of like an inverted free-fall tower). It was quite cool outside, and after a while it started to rain. The cold weather and a slight hangover discouraged me from riding any more rides, so I took out my camera and started taking photos. I took a few photos of people and the rides; but mostly I photographed the park’s nice flower arrangements. I was reminded then that I had met a girl on the subway a few months ago who told me she worked maintaining the flowers and plants at Gröna Lund. I can't remember her name, but I do remember that she was friendly. The flowers were lovely, so she must be doing her job. I'll post some of those photos soon, by the way. I also met a fellow Nikon SLR owner (and soon-to-be Mac owner) who was there taking photos of her friends. Her pictures from today are already online, so you can take a look at them to see what the weather was like today.

After a couple of hours at Gröna Lund, I went down to Karbin for a bit of climbing. I had expected to see one friend there, but she never showed up. Instead though, I ran into lots of other friends, including Sara, Elin, Emma and Ewa. I wasn't really in top form, so instead of climbing intensely, I make more of an effort to get some good climbing photos. I went up to the top of the wall, tied in with a sling, and took a bunch of photos pointing down as my friends climbed up. With the help of a new friend named Joachim, I also got some photos of myself. Also climbing with us was another new friend named Jessica. She comes from Canada, and despite being relatively new to climbing is very good at it.

The rain was still coming down outside when I walked across the street to the bus stop. As I sat and waited for the bus to Liljeholmen, another fellow climbing walked up and sat down. We started talking and I learned that his named was Alexander. It turns out that he has an American fiancée and plans to move to Denver soon.

When I arrived home around nine P.M., The Bourne Supremacy was just starting on TV. I watched it on-and-off while answering emails and fixing dinner. That film is pretty good: better than the third, but not as good as the first.

Well, that’s it. That was my weekend. Lots of activities and very little sleep. Of corse spending half an hour writing a blog entry doesn’t help the balance of my sleep account very much, now does it? But what are you going to do? Over and out from Stockholm.