Trouble is, I don't have a free day for at least a couple of weeks. This weekend, I'm off to Göteborg for salsa dancing. Next weekend I plan to return to Kittelfjäll for a bit more skiing. So the next two weekends are booked. And most weeknights I'm either climbing or dancing. Maybe I should take a day off work just to get my place in order! My social life might well depend on it.
My most recent change is the addition of a photo collection for artistic photos — in other words, photos that have more artistic than informational value, and I hope are appealing as more than mere what's-Michael-been-up-to reportage.
Portraits is a new set in this collection. I think some of them are quite good, but I'll let you judge for yourself.
My next task it to go back through the set and remove photos that are either not strictly portraits in the classic sense of the word, are are simply uninspiring. My intention for the sets in the artistic collection is that these sets contain only aesthetically pleasing photos.
Unfortunately, I was inside troubleshooting a software problem for most of the day. I hope to see a bit of the city before going back to my hotel. I also though I might try out the spa facilities at the hotel. They're not cheap, but they do offer a view of the city and the sea. It might be worth a few crowns to sit in a hottub or sauna overlooking the Baltic.
Tomorrow I'll spend the day leading a workshop to get the IT staff here up to speed. With any luck, they'll be able to do most of the subsequent migration work themselves. In the late afternoon tomorrow, I'll catch the flight back home to Stockholm, where I might go Lindy hope dancing, but will probably unpack, tidy up the apartment, and just turn in early. Thursday I have meetings and a lunch date; and Friday afternoon, I'll join some salsa-dancing friends for a drive to Göteborg, where we will spend the weekend enjoying the festivities of the Scandinavian Salsa Congress being held there.
Over and out from Sundsvall.
This morning I met Matt and Lisa at T-Centralen, and went down to Kolartorp in Haninge. It's a forest that lies a few stations south of the city by commuter train. I've gone mountain biking there before — the area is also called Rudan. This was my first time to do any bouldering on real boulders, and I had a blast! The folks we met there, including Jenny, Patrik & Isabelle, showed us the best places and let us share their crash pads. I posted 69 photos from today's bouldering excursion.
On Saturday night, I went to the birthday party of my friend Zita. It was actually a combined party for both Zita and her friend Sofia. There was an interesting mix of folks there, including graduate students from the same astronomy program in which Zita is studying, and Zita's friends from salsa dancing. By coincidence I also saw a colleague of mine there. I also met a charming biology Ph.D. student named Maria who lives in my neighborhood. It's a small world. Here are the photos from the party.
On Saturday afternoon I did some a few hours of climbing at Klättercentret. I made some new friends, including Jenny, Patrick, and Isabelle, who invited me bouldering in Hanninge the next day.
Here Åsa tackles a fun bouldering problem that involves an upward traverse around the end of the wall. I took lots of photos. Åsa has had photography experience, and she took some great photos of me too. I have posted 18 of the best ones.
Ok, to continue the story of the many bottles...
As you can see from the above photograph, I did manage to get my precious alcohol safely home to Sweden.
When I was shopping for all this stuff in the wholesale market and supermarket, I honestly didn't even remember the new rule limiting the amount of liquids that can be carried onboard commercial aircraft. So I bought quite a few bottles. When I arrived at Frankfurt airport, the situtation became clear to me. I had a choice: either I could try to put the bottles in my checked bags, or I could leave them behind. I chose the former.
I put four of the liqor bottles in my checked luggage, along with most of the cans of beer. Then I emptied my backpack of almost all of its contents, such as my laptop, headphones, camera, iPod, and papers. I then filled the backpack with the remaining bottles, and checked both bags in, marking them as fragile. I carried my computer, camera and so forth on the plane in the big plastic bags from the supermarket.
Miraculously — or perhaps more accurately, thanks to the fine baggage handling staff in Frankfurt and Arlanda — all of the bottles arrived intact. I have already enjoyed a few of the beers. I took several with me to Sundsvall, and just drank one of the Würzburger Hofbräu Pilsener lagers with my luch today. In Germany, that beer is considered just so-so. But it's better than almost any of the mass-produced lagers here in Sweden.
I will take me a while to finish all the liquor on my own though, so I think it's time to arrange a party.
Monday morning I accompanied Andrea to the school in Schweinfurt where she teaches French and English to middle- and high school students. She made me part of her lesson plan, and instructed the students to practice their English by asking me questions. Their questions included:
"What do Americans think about Germany?"
"Did you vote for President Bush?"
"What do Americans think of the war in Iraq?"
It was interesting to chat with the students. I tried to impress upon them that not all Americans are ignorant of the rest of the world. I also encouraged them to study abroad if the opportunity presents itself. Nothing helps one better to understand oneself and one's home country than a fresh, outside perspective.
School ends around lunchtime in Germany. So after her classes were done, Andrea took me to one of her favorite lunch restaurants in town. We had aufläuf, a sort of noddle casserole. It was tasty and filling. It reminded me a bit of Belgian or Slovakian food: hearty, and with lots of noodles and cheese.
Later in the afternoon we went to a wholesaler similar to Costco, where I bought a bunch of liquor at about 1/3 the price one would have to pay in Systembolaget in Sweden. Then I picked up about a dozen bottles of assorted beers at a local supermarket. Yes, I know it's not possible to take large quantities of liquid in one's carry-on baggage. What was I thinking? More on this later.
Saturday morning I accompanied Andrea & Karim on a trip to the Neubert home furnishings store in Würzburg, where they looked at couches and entertainment center furniture for their living room.
The weather was unpleasant. It was a few degrees above freezing, windy, and raining. Andrea told me about a bath located about 45 minutes away by car, so I suggested we spend the afternoon there. The weather became progressively worse as we drove to Bad Kissingen, so I was glad we hadn't decided to spend the day walking around in the city.
KissSalis Therme is a large and modern thermal bath similar to Caracalla Therme, a bath in Baden Baden that I visited while backpacking around Europe in the summer of '92. There main area of the bath is devoted to two indoor-outdoor pools and several relaxation & aromatherapy rooms. The "Sauna Park" area in the back has at least half a dozen different saunas, a couple of steam baths, an a few more relaxation rooms. Like at Caracalla, swimsuits are required in the pool area, but not allowed in sauna area. Germans are pretty darned comfortable with nakedness.
Outside, behind the main building were three wood cabin saunas that could only be reached by walking out into the cold rainy weather. My favorite was the Finnish sauna, built in the shape of an octagon, with a wood-fired heater in the center. There was something quite magical about sitting in the darkened sauna, watching the flames of the fire dance and cast their orange glow on the log walls.
After a few hours of swimming and sitting in the various saunas I got a brush massage. It was quite a different experience from a traditional massage. With traditional massage, the muscles get most of the attention, but with a brush massage, its the skin. The masseuse used two wooden brushes with soft plastic bristles, plus lots of soapy warm water. I lay on a heated green marble table for the massage. I get the idea that this sort of massage is intended to clean and exfoliate.
After leaving the bath, we had dinner in the adjoining café. The food there wasn't very good, but we were hungry and it was at least filling.
I'm having a good time in Würzburg with Andrea & Karim. They have a lovely home on a hill in Zell am Main, overlooking the Main river and the city of Würzburg. Last night they took me to a traditional Franconian restaurant called Die Alte Mainmühle (The Old Main Mill). It was some of the best food (and beer!) I've had in months.
Today is one of the few Sundays that shops are allowed to be open in Bavaria (it's heavily Catholic down here), so we might go shopping today. The weather is cool and overcast so we might also go to a bath to warm up.
I took this photo of Andrea & Karim at a bar where we went for cocktails. I had a very passable frozen strawberry margarita that cost only €4.20!
More photos can be found in my flickr photostream.
So early this afternoon I'll fly down to Frankfurt, rent a car and make this drive down to Würzburg. I'll spend a couple of days with Andrea & Karim and then drive up to Mainz Monday night. I will attend the training in Mainz on Tuesday during the day, and I'll return to Stockholm in the evening. It's been a while since I visited Germany, and I'm looking forward to it!
I went to Klättercentret for a bit of climbing tonight. Matt has been down with a cold, so he wasn't there. Lisa couldn't come 'cause she got a flat tire on her bike. One's never alone at KC though: there are always familiar faces and friendly people.
In addition to the usual bunch of folks that I often see there, I met a genetics researcher named Lisa who was just getting started with climbing. I also climbed a bit with a group that included a half-English, half-Swedish girl named Colleen, and a couple of massage students named Åsa and Hannah. We took turns climbing. Hannah was kind enough to take some photos of me too.
All in all, I posted 41 photos from tonight's climbing session. Look a bit more and you'll also see a couple of nice shots of city lights and water. I took these photos as I biked by Brunnsviken on my way home.
Ever since I bought my Mac Pro, I have been disappointed with the Apple “Mighty Mouse” that came with it. I like the innovative scroll ball, but aside from that the mouse is frustrating to use. Specifically, the Apple mouse isn't particularly usable if you want to right-click.
One can perform a right-click with the Mighty Mouse, but it ain't easy. There's only one switch in the mouse to register clicks, and one clicks the mouse by pressing the whole mouse down. The top of the mouse is one solid pice of plastic, so the left and right mouse buttons are not physically separate. The mouse determines left-clicks from right-clicks using a touch-sensitive surface on the top.
Because there's only one clicker switch, the mouse has a hard time knowing what to do when you have your fingers resting on both sides of the mouse (as I usually do). Apple's engineers decided that the best way to solve this problem was to interpret any click as a left-click if the user's fingers are touching the left side of the mouse. So in order to right-click, you must click on the right side of the mouse without having any fingers resting on the left side. If any part of your hand is touching the left side of the mouse when you click, the mouse will interpret any click as a left-click. It's very, very annoying. As you can probably guess, it's also impossible to perform a simultaneous left-and-right-click with this mouse.
Apple's design decision means that the mouse looks good, but doesn't work well.
It's yet another example of how Apple has sacrificed function in the name of form. Some of Mac OS X's eye-candy features, like the magnification of icons in the Dock, fall into this category as well.
I had tried to adapt my mouse-using behavior to match the constraints imposed by Apple's faulty design; but it was no use. I found myself having to click twice or even three times before the mouse would properly register a right-click.
I shouldn't have to change the way I work to adapt to the peculiarities of a tool. It should just work.
So yesterday I finally bought a replacement for the Apple mouse. After a bit of searching, I opted for the Razer Pro|Click v1.6 mouse. It's not wireless, the side buttons are a bit awkward to use, and the scroll wheel isn't as nice as the Mighty Mouse's scroll ball; but even considering these shortcomings, I'm very happy with the new mouse. After one day of using it, I'm already working much more efficiently than I ever could with the Apple mouse.
Update 2007-03-15 21:45 UCT — The drivers included with the mouse were compiled only for PowerPC. Razer's web site has updated drivers that work with Intel-based Macs.
I do. I went down to Chicago for a bit of Lindy hop last night, and had a good time. I shared my blog address with several folks there, and I'd like to welcome the new readers to my blog. My apologies for not posting the photos last night (I had told one girl there that I'd post them as soon as I got home!). The USB cable I was using to connect the CF card reader had a short in it and was causing my comptuer to crash. This morning I located a spare cable and was able to move the photos over without a problem.
I have posted the best 23 photos from last night.
So if global warming isn't caused by CO2, what is the cause? The answer suggested in the documentary has to do with solar activity, solar wind, cosmic rays, cloud formation and the greenhouse effect caused by water vapor. Take a look; I found the data persuasive.
The documentary doesn't claim that global warming isn't happening; on the contrary, it claims that global warming and cooling are natural phenomena that have happened in cycles for as far back in time as we can see in the data. The point is that a lot of human effort is being expended reducing emissions of CO2, a molecule that the show's creators claim plays a comparatively miniscule role in climate change. It makes me wonder if the priorities of environmentally-conscious people around the world are a bit out of whack.
Perhaps we should instead concentrate on reducing the sorts of pollution that cause demonstrable harm to people, such as soot, pesticides, and runoff from mines. Also, even if we accept that the current trend of global warming is a serious problem, reducing CO2 emissions might not be the best way to address the problem. Perhaps we should find other more effective ways to address climate change. Some scientists have suggested deliberately seeding the upper atmosphere with dust to reduce the amount of sunlight that reaches the surface. The idea is that this would cause cooling similar to what is seen after large volcanic eruptions.
Another question is why so many people accept without question an explanation of global warming that is based on a backwards interpretation of the data. Is this just another example of groupthink?
The trip up to Riksgränsen was great! Åsa & Patric and I booked our tickets Thursday morning, went to the airport around lunch time, and flew up to Kiruna in the early afternoon. The flight took a bit less than two hours. From Kiruna airport, we took a bus to Riksgränsen. We got up early the next morning and caught the train across the Norwegian border to Narvik, where we skiied the whole day. We had dinner at an Italian restaurant in Narvik and then returned by train to Riksgränsen, where we spent the next two days skiing. The sun shone on two out of our three skiing days, and the snow was quite good. We met lots of friendly folks, and spent a a fair amount of time in the evenings at the hotel bar. Check all 267 photos from the weekend!
First of all, here's a photo I took out the train window on the way from Riksgränsen to Narvik. The bridge in the distance crosses the fjørd.
Here's the gang at Narvikfjell, a nice ski resort in Norway that overlooks the fjørd and the town of Narvik, the worlds Northernmost port that has open water year-round.
At the top of the gondola is a restaurant where I bought an expensive beer (about $8). In the background, you can see the Narvik shipping terminal, where cargo ships are loaded with iron ore from the Swedish town of Kiruna. We saw several trains loaded with ore travelling over the same tracks that we traveled. We heard that 11 trainloads of ore make the trip each day, and that each one brings a profit of 500,000 SEK to the town of Kiruna. From Narvik, the ore is loaded onto ships and sent all over the world.
Today we were treated to some of the most amazing views as we skied the slopes at Riksgränsen.
I took this self-portrait to show off my new goggles.
The name Riksgränsen means, literally, The Kingdom's Border, and the name is apt. Riksgränsen lies just next to the border with Norway, in the Northwesternmost part of Sweden. This will be my first trip to a part of the world North of the Arctic Circle. It shouldn't be too cold though; Sweden is having unseasonably warm weather these days, and the travel agent informed us that its -5 °C and sunny up there right now.
I'm lookin forward to a few days of excellent skiing too. There's supposedly a lot of fresh powder on the slopes. The best part is that we got the trip for a steal of a price: 995 SEK per person paid for airfare and accomodation for three nights!
I'll take photos but I doubt I'll be able to post any before I return Sunday night.
Last night after my salsa lessons, I caught the subway down to Söder to get in a few hours of Lindy hop at Chicago. I arrived just as Stina was about to leave. Stina is one of the folks I met up at Kittelfjäll a couple of weeks ago, whom I later discovered was a Lindy hop dancer. Well with a little encouragement, I managed to convince her to stay for a couple of dances. She's an excellent dancer, and I was having so much fun dancing that I forgot to try to get a photo.
That's my dilemma: take photos of fun stuff, or do fun stuff.
It was hot in the place; if the air conditioning was working at all, it was hard to notice. Everyone there was sweating — literally dripping sweat. A change of shirts wouldn't have made a difference for longer than a couple of songs.
Later in the evening while taking a breather, I pulled my camera out of the bag and began taking some photos. One of the folks from my previous dance class, a nice dancer named Hanna, took some photos of me dancing. Emmie, one of the instructors the “intermediate” course I just began on Sunday, also took some photos with me in them, including this fun shot of me dancing with Karin.
When I finally got home last night, I was so exhausted I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. If you suffer from insomnia, I recommend dancing for six hours straight. I have posted 41 photos from the evening!
Tonight's climbing session at Klättercentret was fun a productive. Lisa and I attacked the roped routes for a while and then did an hour or so of bouldering. I managed to do several red problems and one black one. Thanks to Tjell for recommending the black one. It was fun; the heel-hook on the right starting hold was the trick for me.
I carried my camera up while climbing the tall wall a couple of times, and took some photos from up there, including this self-portrait. More photos from Tuesday are also online.
It's an amazing view of the two most familiar objects in our sky: the moon passing in front of the sun. I find this sort of view of the sun just captivating. Not the perfect disc envisioned by our ancesestors, our our mother star Sol is nonetheless beautiful in its own way.
Even so, my familiy was (and still is) quite religious, although the Methodist church to which most of my family belongs is on the more liberal end of the American religious spectrum, and these days my closest relatives are less observant than when I was a child.
So I wonder: in this modern world, where rational explanations are sought for everything, what purpose is served by religious belief?
Ever since I began to question religion at an early age, I have wondered why people held religious beliefs so strongly. Studies in biology, along with what I learned from my two psychologist parents, informed my thinking into this matter. When I began to learn more about evolution in college, and particularly evolutionary psychology, I began to wonder what adaptative advantage a gene endowing its owner with religious belief might bestow. In other words, perhaps a tendency toward religious faith — thought not overtly advantageous today — was advantageous at some time in the distant past.
Some years ago, this theory began to take shape in my mind. In the environment during which the human brain was undergoing its last surge of evolution, language and consciousness appeared on the scene. For the first time, it became possible for humans to examine themselves mentally. With these newfound abilities though came perils. When one can comprehend one's own mortalilty, for example, this understanding can be debilitating. Perhaps a predisposition towards mysticism allowed people to posit (or accept from others) quick-and-dirty solutions to the unfathomable problems made possible by human cognition.
Imagine two of our ancient ancestors: one guy who pondered his mortatlity but found no comforting answer, and another fellow who had the same questions, but answered them with a story about an afterlife. Apply the same idea to other areas of religious belief: heaven & hell, the observance of rituals, and so on. Perhaps, my thinking went, the guy who had a quick answer to the unanswerable questions was more able to just get on with life than his cohort who lacked the easy answers.
Yesterday my dad — the brother and son of Methodist ministers — sent me a link to a fascinating article in the New York Times. The article covers in a fair amount of detail the current state of research into the evolution of religion. I'm glad to see that some of my ideas are shared by renowed scientists, and that the topic is getting the attention it richly deserves.
Well today I finally figured out how to do what I really want to do. Instead of creating a separate tag for each event, I can simply construct a URL that performs a dynamic search for photos that match multiple criteria. For example, the URL
displays the same collection of photos, assuming the photos are tagged with container and salsa. I prefer using generic tags so I'm in the process of removing the old event-specific tags and replacing links with dynamic queries like the one above.
The only drawback I have found to this way of linking to my photos is that the search results page displays advertisements from Yahoo. I guess ad-free search pages aren't included with my Flickr Pro membership.
After my Lindy hop class, I caught the subway up to Odenplan and got in a few hours of salsa dancing at Container. I hadn't bothered to put on my sweater on the way there, because I figured I'd be out in the cold for just a few minutes. Then I decided to step into the supermarket on the way so I could grab a liter of milk: gotta have milk in my coffee tomorrow morning, ya know. Naturally, the supermarket's not really on the way, but lies a couple of blocks to the North. So there I was walking in subzero temperatures wearing a shirt soaked in sweat from the Lindy hop class — perhaps not the brightest idea.
When I finally got to Container, I was a bit chilled. Luckily, a few dances did the trick and I was soon warm again. Before long I was once again drenched in sweat. Better warm sweat than cold. I changed shirts and kept dancing. I'd brought spare shirts with me before when going dancing, but I'd never used them before tonight. It's a nice idea. It feels nice to put on a clean shirt when you've been dancing for a couple of hours.
It's a good thing I have my own washer and dryer, because with all the sports and dancing I do, I go through a lot of clothes in a week. Those appliances were the most practical purchase I made last year. Not as fun as my Mac or my D200, but much more practical.
On the walk back to Odenplan, I got a nice shot of Gustav Vasa Kyrkan.
Tonight was my first lesson in Chicago's “intermediate” Lindy hop course. It was challenging. Oh, and the air conditioning wasn't on, so we were sweating the whole time.
Usually when the instructor introduces a new step, he'll run through it with us a few times without music, once or twice with a slow song, and then a few times with a quicker number. Tonight I think I heard the slow song a total of one time. It was difficult to do steps I had just learned to music so quick I could barely keep up. Oh well, I guess I should just keep up or go back down to the beginner's class.
I definitely got a workout tonight. I guess that's good though because I skipped my bike ride today and I needed to get some cardiovascular exercise.
The sunset tonight was lovely. Most of the day was overcast, but the clouds cleared a bit in the late afternoon and the sun shone for about an hour before it set. I took a few shots of bare trees silhouetted against the glowing sky as I made my way up the icy sidewalk to the subway station earlier this evening.
For more photos, take a look at my Nature photo set.
After climbing, I ran to Solna train station and caught the commuter train downtown. At the central station, I took the red line down to Söder. I was down there to attend Sara & Elena's birthday bash at Chicago. Many of my salsa friends were there, and we danced until almost three in the morning. The party was lots of fun. Happy birthday, girls!
Last night I had a couple of beers with exchange students and fellow Texan Erin Stanford. She goes to Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas, just a few miles down the highway from my hometown Austin. We met at Monk's Café, a restaurant, bakery & bar located on the corner of Vasagatan and Wallingatan. They have a big selection of beers — well over 1,000 differenent varieties. It was fun to chat with someone from “back home” for a while.
Yesterday I worked in Sundsvall for the day. I had been to the same customer back in June for a proof-of-concept. They've decided to go ahead with the project, so it looks like I'll be heading back up there in a couple of weeks. Yesterday was just a planning meeting.
Sundsvall looks quite different in the winter, but this isn't a real winter by normal standards. It was only -2 °C yesterday.
Now I'm back in Stockholm where it's +3 °C. I hope there's some ice on the lakes this weekend, 'cause I wanna go skating. We shall see.
After coming back from Kittelfjäll, I went out to Hässelby to pick up the cats from Sarah & Tomas. They fixed a lovely meal of Leila's Moroccan hamburgers. Sarah told me that Alex woke them up with his meowing the first night, but that he calmed down a bit the following night. He's such a troublemaker. But he's also adorable, so I put up with him. As we ade dinner, Alex and Sasha laid on top of the shelf above the radiator. They always find the warmest place in the house to sleep.