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.