Knee MRI

Ever since running the Stockholm Marathon two summers ago, I've gotten pain in my knees when running long distances. The orthopedic specialist I visited a few weeks ago believes he knows what the problem is, but he wanted me to get an MRI of one of the knees just to confirm his diagnosis. So early this morning, I went to Sabbatsberg Hospital to get an MRI taken of one of my knees.

The sign on the door into the room housing the machine warns that metalic objects should not be brought inside the room. Along the edges of the door and the door frame are flexible strips of copper, no doubt completing a Faraday cage around the entire room when the door is closed.

The MRI machine used to take the pictures of my knee was a Philips Panorama 1.0T; according to the operator it's the first of its kind to be installed in Skandinavia, and it cost fifteen million Swedish crowns.

It's big and loud. The noise is something I didn't expect. Plus, the whole aparatus vibrates and pulses when in operation — bit unsettling at first. After a while though (each image took 3-4 minutes to capture), the droning and throbbing of the machine became soothing, almost hypnotic.

I ordered copies of the data files produced in the examination, and hope to have them tomorrow.


Hot spiced cider

Yesterday and today I've been at home with a cold. When I'm sick during the winter, I often like to warm up with a cup of hot spiced cider. I pour a liter of apple juice into a small pot, and add a few cinammon sticks, cloves, and alspice seeds, as well as the juice of a small orange and strips of orange peel. I throw in a few tablespoons of sugar and a pinch of salt, and bring the mixture almost to a boil. I let it simmer for 20-30 minutes and then take it off the fire to cool. The result is a hearty, spicy cider that seems to warm my whole body the moment I take a sip. The aroma of the cider reminds me of the many ski vacations I have taken with my family in Colorado.

In addition to being warm and tasty, the cider also contains lots of vitamin C! I'm already feeling much better than I did yesterday, and I imagine I'll even go climbing tonight if I still feel okay later in the afternoon.


Daytrip to Sandhamn

_MAL5582, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

On Sunday, I went with my photographer friend Sara to Sandhamn, way out in the Stockholm archipelago. We spent the day exploring the island and taking photos. Unfortunately, I also came down with a cold during the day, and that was a bit annoying. I have posted the best of the photos from our excursion. Check 'em out.

Dancing Saturday night

_MAL5497, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

I went dancing Saturday and had a great time. I danced with lots of great dancers, including Inga, a charming girl from Riga.


Lindy hop social

_MAL3996, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

I went to a Lindyhop social last night. I've been to plenty of salsa socials, but this was different. Salsa and Lindy hop are both fun dances, but they have subtly different characters. Whereas salsa is sultry, Lindy hop is carefree.

Lindy hop is different from the sort of swing I have danced the past decade. I learned East-cost swing when I was in college, and I've been dancing it ever since. I'd consider both East-coast swing and Lindy hop to be forms of swing, but Lindy hop is more complex.

Lindy hop is essentially a superset of East-coast swing. It includes all the 6-beat moves of East-coast swing, but adds a whole repertoire of 8-beat moves to the dance. It's a bit difficult for me to remember to insert the extra 2 steps that make it a Lindy hop, because I'm so accustomed to the 6-beat swing. Experienced practitioners of Lindy hop flow seamlessly from 6-beat to 8-beat moves… without missing a beat.

I learned to appreciate Salsa music because of how much fun I had dancing to it. With swing, it was just the opposite: I learned to love dancing swing because of how much I enjoy jazz & big band music. Last night, there was a live band playing a Chicago,the Tommy Löbel Swing Band. They were quite good, and played a good mix of tunes. I'm sure I'll return for next week's Lindy hop social.

Be sure to check out the photos I took!


Sunny, snowy Stockholm

This week has felt like a full week, and it's only been a couple of days!

On Sunday, I went salsa dancing downtown at a club called Container. I had a great time and saw many familiar faces there.

Last night I had a fun and largely successful climb at Klättercentret. I rode my bike there through the snow, even though I do not yet have studded tires on my bike. I took it a bit slow and was careful not to brake or turn too suddenly. That seems to have worked because I didn't fall either going there or coming back.

_MAL3920, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

The sun was out for a good portion of the day today, and it was absolutely beautiful outside. I let Alex outside for an hour, and he actually enjoyed walking around in the snow. Sasha declined to follow her brother, and opted instead to lie on the windowsill, soaking up the morning sunshine.

This evening at sunset, I took a walk down to the lake to take some more nature photos. I didn't manage to get many good ones though, in part becaus the clouds moved in from the North just as the sun was setting. I did take one decent shot of the moon, and a few other shots that I took more for practice than anything else.

It was cold out, but this time I was well prepared, wrapped in layers of Polartec & Gore-Tex. My fingers were the only parts of my body that got cold. The big ski gloves I was wearing arn't terribly good at keeping out the cold. They're also too bulky to allow easy operation of the camera through the gloves. I think it's time to invest in some thinner, warmer gloves. Next weekend I'm going skiing, so I guess the timing is right.

Just after sunset, the snow began to fall. It began as a light snowfall of tiny flakes; but the gentle fall of snow became gradually heavier as I carefully trudged down the hill toward the lakeside. Once on the path by the lake, I walked under the shelter of the pine trees, along the shore and back to the warmth of my apartment.

Tonight I'll go to Chicago, a dance club on Hornsgatan, for a Lindy hop social. I have been to several salsa dance socials, but I haven't been to one of the Lindy hop socials; so I'm eager to see what it's like. There will be live big band music, so it can't be all bad!


Snow around Tivoliudden

_MAL3520, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

I took a long walk at lunctime today. I walked down to Tivoliudden and walked up to the top of the little hill there, where I had a nice view over Brunnsviken. Then I walked back down again and followed the water back toward Kraus Grav and back home. Along the way, I met another photographer who was taking photos using a very similar set of equipment to mine. He got some great photos at the edge of the lake, where birds were occasionally alighting.

_MAL3612, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

I'm beginning to get the hang of macrophotography, but I'm also realizing that it's a lot more work than I thought. Getting the right shot requires planning and patience. I found that capturing snowflakes is especially difficult. The autofocus is almost useless because of the low contrast, and sideways shots often require a very tight aperture in order to have sufficient depth-of-field. Today I got the best results when I used my tripod, so I'll probably be lugging that thing around with me a lot more in the future.

_MAL3553, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

The light during today's walk was quite inconsistent, but I managed to get a few good shots when the sun shone through gaps in the clouds.



_MAL3192, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

Last night while I was climbing, the snow began to fall. By the time I left the climbing gym, there were several centimeters of snow on the ground.

After climbing, I went downtown to listen to some live jazz music at Glenn Miller Café. On my way there, I took this photo of snow-covered bicycles with the Stureplan's Christmas tree and famous “mushroom” meeting place in the background.


BloggerBot is dead. Long live BloggerBot!

Today, BloggerBot was deactivated. It has been widely known for a while that the end was near, but BloggerBot's final demise is nonetheless disappointing.

Since 2004, I have posted photos to my weblogs using Hello and BloggerBot. The interface made quick work of the job of uploading a series of photos and providing a short caption of each one.

Nothing Google has provided offers the same simple way of uploading photos to a blog. For this reason, I have stopped posting many photos to my blogs, and have started posting them to flickr instead.

BloggerBot was a useful tool, and I'll miss it. I hope the good folks at Google are working to make improvements the remaining systems, so that uploading photos is again as easy as it was with BloggerBot.


Apple's iPhone a wonder of innovation, but not without faults

Last Tuesday, Apple announced its revolutionary new mobile phone, the iPhone. The iPhone combines a cellular telephone, a digital media player, and an internet appliance into a sleek iPod-like handheld device that is set to become the next must-have item for the fashion-consious technophile.

The iPhone introduces several important technological innovations that set it apart from other so-called “smart phones,” and at present, the iPhone has no rival that can match its capability and ease-of-use. I will categorize these innovations under design, user interface, applications, and integration.

Apple is famous for its groundbreaking industrial design. From the original Mac to the iMac and the iPod, Apple has shown the rest of the industry how to make great-looking and fun-to-use devices. The iPhone is like a modernized combination of an iPod and a Newton. The sleek and solidly-engineered stainless steel and aluminum case of the iPhone just begs to be held on one's hand. It's a bit large compared to some smart phones, but one doesn't get the feeling that any of the space is wasted. Most of the front of the device is devoted to the gorgeous display. The display is an innovation all by itself. Its 160 dpi resolution offers unprecedented clarity and detail for a device of this kind. The absence of a mechanical keypad may seem unusual at first, but it seems like a smart move. Why waste space on the device with lots of different buttons when the screen itself can be any button you like? I'm confident that Apple is ahead of the curve on this one, and that other mobile phone manufacturers are already scrambling to catch up.

User interface
Apple's Multi-Touch user interface system is remarkable in its simplicity and intuitiveness. One flicks through lists like one might flip through cards in a Rolodex. On pinches to zoom in or out, just like pinching pizza dough to compress or stretch it. When I saw Multi-Touch in use the first time, my first reaction was “That's so obvious it's a wonder that no one thought of this before.” Once again, Apple has created an interface paradigm that works so well you don't have to learn how to use it. The integrated accelerometer and proximity sensor are also important innovations. Turn the iPhone sideways and the interface flips automatically. Put the iPhone up to your ear and the touch screen is deactivated. These features are so obvious that users will wonder how they ever used devices that lacked them. User interface eye candy is abundant. Transitions are smooth. Interface elements slide, fade, flip, and zoom to reveal new information. The user interface is a pleasure to behold. These niceties make using the iPhone a pleasing — almost relaxing — experience, and convey the impression of a well thought-out and carefully-designed device.

The main applications of the iPhone are mobile telephone, music player, and internet device. The iPhone delivers innovations in each of these areas. These innovations set the iPhone apart from other smart phones on the market today. The phone features are simple and intuitive. Making a call, switching from one call to another, joining together two calls into a conference call, switching to speaker phone — all of these functions are simple and easy to perform. As a music player, the iPhone builds on the best features of the iPod but also adds some nice capabilities from iTunes, such as Cover Flow. I'm sure that the iPod features work well; this is the area in which Apple has the most experience when it comes to mobile devices. Lastly, the mail and web features of the iPhone work pretty much the same as Mail and Safari do on the Mac. Apple is clearly hoping for another “halo effect,” and I think the iPhone offers a great opportunity for this. Once users have a chance to see how well mail and web applications work on the iPhone, they'll be more confident about how well these functions work on the Mac too. Although not talked about much, the iPhone also incorporates a small 2 megapixel camera. It will be interesting to see how photos taken with the camera look.

The iPhone is tightly integrated with other applications and systems. The contacts are synced with one's address book (I suppose this means a version of Address Book.app is coming to Windows); and music, photos, and videos are synced with iTunes. Apple's visual voice mail is yet another obvious innovation; it will allow folks to listen to the one voice mail in which they're interested, rather than having to listen to them all in order. The iPhone is also integrated with Yahoo mail and Google maps. On the phone, the applications are also integrated well with one another. For example, copying a photo from one's photo library to an email message is a simple matter. The iPhone represents a big step forward in the area of integration.

I have several concerns about the iPhone's limitations and drawbacks; and I will group them into four categories: battery, storage, camera, and openness.

Although Apple has said that the iPhone will have 5 hours of talk/play/browse time, the company has made no comment how long the battery lasts when the phone is not in use — in other words, the length of standby time of which the phone is capable. During his keynote address, Steve Jobs rightly pointed out that the “killer app” of a cell phone is making calls. But having a phone that works when you pull it out of your pocket is an important part of that, and most mobile phones have a standby time of many days. No one wants to be required to charge his phone every day. If the standby time of the phone is only a couple of days, this will be unacceptable to many people.

The battery is not user-replaceable; this is especially worrisome when one remembers the high fee Apple charges to replace the battery in an iPod. This also means that it won't be possible to carry a spare battery or two when one is away from civilization for many days at a time.

The phone has somewhat limited storage compared to the video iPods; if this phone is truly intended to play widescreen videos, it needs to have the capacity to store them.

There is no expansion slot and seems to be no way to add extra memory to the phone. With the falling prices of flash memory, it seems like a no-brainer to include an expansion slot in the phone so that the user can add the amount of additional storage he needs.

Considering that small pocket cameras are now averaging five to six megapixels, it seems odd that the iPhone's camera will be capable of only two megapixels. And when one beholds the lovely display on the front of the unit, one is at a loss to comprehend why Apple did not devise a way to facilitate iChat-style video-conferencing with the iPhone. Perhaps two cameras (one front, and one back) would have been too costly. A camera that can be flipped from backward-facing to forward-facing was surely an option, but this might have been seen as taking away from the simple, solid feel of the device. Improvements along these lines are surely destined for future revisions of the iPhone.

Apple touts interoperability and adherence to open standards, but pays only lip service to these ideals when upholding them would conflict with the the company's goals and its relationships with other big players. For example, the iPod is a closed system because this allows Apple to lock iPod users to the iTunes software and iTunes store. And Apple's contrived system that makes it difficult to move ones music around was certainly a concession to the RIAA. Why is it easy to share photos, but not audio files? Simply because the RIAA is a more influential lobby than the photographers' guilds. It seems that the iPhone will represent one further step away from openness for the company.

At least initially, the only way to get the iPhone will be to sign up for a two-year commitment to the Cingular cellular network in the United States. This may simply mean that the user is contractually locked-in to using Cingular; but it may also mean that the iPhone will locked to the Cingular network. I realize that Apple probably relies on its agreement with Cingular in order to keep the price of the phone down, but eventually people will want to be able to use the phone with other networks. Also, Cingular doesn't exist in Europe, so it remains to be seen how Apple will release the phone outside of the U.S. Will the iPhone be locked to another mobile network in Europe, and if so, which one?

Steve Jobs said in his MacWorld keynote speech that the iPhone will run Mac OS X. He mad a big show of the various Mac OS X technologies that the phone will use, at his mention of CoreAnimation would appear to suggest that the iPhone will be running a variant of Mac OS X 10.5, “Leopard.” However, it seems that calling the phone's operating system Mac OS X was really more of a marketing decision than an accurate description of reality. Unlike a Mac, the iPhone will not be open to third-party software development. In other words, you won't be able to install and run on your iPhone applications that were not designed by Apple. This is too bad, because one could imagine all sorts of useful third-party applications that could be developed for the iPhone, for example, a program that allows text input using a stylus, or a program that allows video-conferencing (when used, say, with a mirror contraption that lets the camera face the user).

An open platform would encourage innovation and allow developers and network providers to offer competing applications and services; a closed system helps Apple to keep the backing of the big media companies and allows it to cut lucrative deals with its chosen network provider. It remains to be seen whether the iPhone will be an open or closed system.

The iPhone is a major milestone in the evolution of the mobile communication device. Its simple and innovative user interface will set the standard by which future mobile devices are judged. Its integration between applications and services will raise the bar for other mobile phone manufacturers and network providers. The iPhone is certainly not without problems. It dosn't have enough storage, and its battery is not easily replaceable. If the iPhone is closed to independent software development, or locked to a particular mobile network, this will limit its appeal somewhat. However, even its detractors have praised the iPhone. To paraphrase one reviewer, “the iPhone has several deficiencies, but I'm still planning to buy one.”


Climbing @ KC

_MAL1735 (1).jpg, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

I captured 30 photos at KC on Friday. I love this route of green-colord holds on the tall wall. The crux near the top is tricky and fun.


Photos from the New Year festivities in Oslo

_MAL0237, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

I have posted the best photos from Elina's excellent New Year's party in Oslo. Thanks, Elina, for a great party!

More photos on the way

PICT0032, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

I have begun to put more photos into my various flickr photosets. After looking around at different options, I decided to become a paying “Pro” member of flickr.com. This move stemmed from Googles decision to retire BloggerBot. Without BloggerBot, there is no easy way for me to post lots of photos at once. flickr works better than Google's Picasa Web Albums, it offers unlimited uploads and storage for a relatively low price, and there are several programs for the Mac that work well with flickr.


A bit of climbing at Karbin on Saturday

_MAL2218, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

I went climbing with Anna at Karbin on Saturday. We had a good time and I posted several photos from the day.


The Real Group

Recently, I've been listening a lot to The Real Group. They are Swedish vocal group that sings mostly a cappella, and whose repertoire includes classical works, traditional songs, jazz standards, and also some of the group's own compositions.

Yesterday I found the group's home page and learned that they released their first DVD just last month. Without hesitating, I ordered the DVD, The Real Group Live at Stockholm Concert Hall. It arrived today in the mail. Watching the five group members sing is a real treat; they clearly enjoy what they do. I look forward to getting tickets the next time they perform in Stockholm.

To get an idea of what their music is like, listen to one of my favorite songs, Words (in RealAudio format).


A bit of fun

To start of the new year with a smile, I offer some fun diversions for you.

First of all, a classic: SVT's horse choir.

Next, something my friend Lisa A. showed me. Mix and match to create any of thousands of different faces.

Entertainment Weekly's funniest quotes from 2006.

And lastly, some guy's pick of the 100 funniest jokes of all time.



Happy New Year 2007!

Greetimgs from the future! As my friend in Australia told me a few hours ago, the future looks much like the present. But don't give up hope! The future will be better tomorrow!

Love from 2007,