Nina’s 30th birthday party

_MAL4843, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

Gordana’s friend Nina turned 30 this week and Lilian and I went to the party. We started at Valzer, a bar near Kreutzplatz with subdued brown decor, dim yellow lighting, and loud music. The place lacks a sign outside so I guess they depend on word-of-mouth for business. After a few hours we continued the party at Diagonal, a subterranean club behind the Baur au Lac hotel. The music was loud there too, and before long, everyone was letting loose and having a good time. We met some fun people there too.


Lucia 2008 in Stockholm

_MAL4843, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

I just returned from my first trip back to Stockholm since moving to Züruch two months ago. I was in town on business for a couple of days, teaching a TWS course for IBM. I extended my stay to include the weekend and Monday so that I could spend a bit more time in my old home and visit with friends.

Friday night I went the Klättercentret’s fifth anniversary party. The evening began with a bouldering competition. I enjoyed it very much, especially when I surprised myself by completing not one, but 4 black-graded problems—and this after months without any regular climbing to speak of! After the competition, the climbing came to an end and the real party began. Thai food and beer were served, and later in the evening we toasted to KC’s success with Champagne. Around one o’clock in the morning, a bunch of brave men took turns leaping from the central tower to try to grab a trapeze hanging at eye level about two meters out from the platform. I managed to grab the trapeze with one sweaty hand; but did not manage to hold on. The guy after me was the first one to nail it. It’s not easy to jump straight off a platform fifteen meters up in the air, even if one does have a rope to catch one’s fall! A live band consisting of several fellow climbers provided entertainment throughout the evening, and I saw so many of my old friends there. Being back at KC was bittersweet. I really miss the place. In the evening, I caught a ride from Helena back to her place. She was kind enough to let me crash at her apartment for the weekend.

On Saturday, I had dinner with Shahyar and Farzhaneh, the couple who are leasing my apartment in Bergshamra. Farzhaneh is an excellent cook, and prepared seveal tasty Persian specialities. In return, I helped get their internet connection up and running.

Later in the evening I met Lotta on Gamla Stan. We went to the Lucia concert at Storkyrkan. It wasn’t as good this year as in years past, but I still enjoyed the concert very much. This time of year, and Lucia in particular, will always remind me of my first visit to Stockholm in December of 1999. After the concert, Lotta and I had cake and coffee in the cellar of Chokladkoppen, a hip and cozy little café on Järntorget located in a building that must be at least five hundred years old.

Saturday night after the concert, I joined Helena and went to O’Leary’s in Sundbyberg, where Salsaakademien was throwing a Christmas party. I had an absolute blast at the party, dancing with so many of my friends from the Stockholm salsa scene. It felt just like old times, and everyone seemed glad to see me. Some of the best dances of the evening were with the ever-lovely Alexandra. The Sacuye gang delivered some great dance performances too, including one by Ibi and Marina that left me with a bewildered grin on my face for the next ten minutes. Those two have talent!

Sunday morning I met a couple of friends for brunch at Café String, and in the afternoon I went to Karbin for a bit more climbing. There, saw Emma and Bobo, and I made two new friends, Michaela and Alex.

Monday morning before my flight back to Zürich, I met Åsa downtown at the main train station. After a quick coffee, we took a walk in the brillinant morning sunshine. It was cold and windy, but we endured the cold with ease, soaking in the light and warmth of the sun. We walked down to Stadshuset and to the edge of Lake Mälaren.

I’ve lived several months now in Zürich, and I am finally beginning to feel like it is a place I might someday call home. However, Stockholm is stil home, and this trip was reassuring, if a bit bittersweet. It’s nice to know that the city and friends that I know and love are just a few hours away, and ready to welcome me again any time I choose to visit.


ZRL in snow and sunshine

Move your mouse over me

ZRL in the snow. Hover over the photo with your mouse pointer to see ZRL in the sunshine.


Polyball 2008

_MAL3800, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

Last night I attended the 2008 Polyball, a big fancy dress ball put on by the technical university ETH here in Zürich. Thousands of guests were there—it was by far the grandest ball I’ve ever attended. There were many live bands playing: an orchestra playing waltzes in the main hall, a big band playing swing and foxtrot tunes in the sports hall, and a terrific Latin band playing in a vast, open foyer flanked by stairs with large landings.

I went alone but that didn't prevent me from dancing. I met several nice people through the course of the evening, including a group of architecture students including Tian, Sara, Nicholas, Christian, and Johanna. Tien and I danced a bunch of dances together including several waltzes. The experience reminded me that I need to take a Viennese Waltz refresher course! Sara is from Denmark and her mom lives in Stockholm, so we had a lot to talk about.

On the salsa dance floor, I met political science student named Elisa. She hails from the the Italian-speaking region of Switzerland, and was a terrific dancer. We had an absolute blast dancing together.

Despite the crowds, I somehow managed to bump into people I knew at the ball. After a few hours, I ran into Anke and Rupert, whom I knew would be there. I danced many fun dances with Anke, and spent a good deal of time hanging out with her, Rupert, and their friends.

Later in the evening, I saw several colleagues from IBM there too, including Tatiana, Luc, Samuel, and Conrad. Conrad and his date both come from Sweden, so I took advantage of the opportunity to speak a bit of Swedish with them.

Near the end of the evening (around 4:30!) I met an education student from Bern named Maria. She was a relatively new dancer, but was lots of fun to dance with.

The Polyball was a lot of fun and I can recommend it to anyone who loves dancing. Last night reminded me that I’m suffering from dance-abstinence. Bitten once more by the dance bug, I know I’ll return to the dance floor soon.


36th birthday in The Netherlands

_MAL3066, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

To celebrate my 36th birthday, spent a long weekend with my friend Kathrin in The Netherlands. I woke up at 4:45 in the morning on Friday in order to catch my flight. I slept on the very short flight to Schiphol Airport and caught a train to Leiden, where she lives. We took a walk around Leiden and had brunch at the Bagels & Beans cafe on Maarsmansteeg. Then we caught the train into Amsterdam for some sightseeing. After a nice walk around the center of the city, we ate a late lunch at Wagamama and then looked at the many masterpieces in the Rijksmuseum. We also looked at several photo exhibitions at FOAM, the Photography Museum of Amsterdam. Before returning to Leiden, we had a couple of beers at trendy Asian restaurant and then one more round at a tiny corner pub beside the canal.

On Saturday we saw some museums in Leiden, including the National Museum of Antiquities. The Egyptian artifacts there were simply amazing, and I posted some photos of a few of them. There was also an exhibit of aerial photos from Iran that was very interesting. In the evening we took a train to The Hague and ate dinner at Pastis, a charming French restaurant downtown. Then we took in a film, the latest in the Bond franchise.

On Sunday we went to the beach, where we were treated to sunshine for the first time in the weekend. It was there that Kathrin took the excellent photo of me above. After a long and eventful weekend, I flew back to Zürich late last night. I have uploaded photos from the weekend in a new set entitled The Netherlands, November 2008.


Lift every voice and sing!

Wonder, joy and hope!

I just watched John McCain concede defeat to Barack Obama. I’ve spent the past seven hours watching the election returns along with a few hundred other people here in Zürich: Americans, Swiss, and folks of many other nationalities.

In a few short months, Barak Obama will become the forty-fourth president of the United States of America. President Obama will be the leader of all Americans. The nation and world face tremendous challenges; here’s hoping that the supporters of John McCain will heed his call for unity.

Election party in Zürich

I’m with a group of Americans and others interested in the American election. We’re all gathered at a sort of community center that seems like the sort of place typically rented out for parties, conferences, and similar gatherings. It’s not too far from my new home in Zollikon, so I can walk home if I decide not to wait for the first tram around 5 o’clock. I think I will stick it out. In addition to a bar, there are two big screen TVs showing non-stop news of the election, in both English and German. There’s food, drink, company, and the most exciting political event in a generation. Fun!


ZRL in the snow

_MAL2414, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

Last week the rain progressed to slushy freezing rain and eventually gave way to thick clumps of wet snowflakes. What resulted was a record amount of snow for this time of year in Zürich. I took a few photos of the lab in the snow, including some shots from the roof of the main building.

My office is located on the ground floor of the K building, the three-story building most distant in the above photo. The Nanoscale Exploratory Technology Laboratory announced recently will be built in the field to the right of the K building. Groundbreaking is scheduled for early next year.


A busy week

_MAL2587, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

Today the moving company arrived with my boxes from Sweden. They’ve been sitting in a storage facility here in Zürich for the past few weeks while I sought a place to live. Before the whole place filled up with boxes, I went through and took a few photographs. Pictured above is the study on the East side of the house, facing the hillside.

Tomorrow night, I’ll go to a party with a bunch of Americans. We’ll stay up and watch the results of the U.S. presidential election. Wednesday I’ll rest and unpack. I have already unpacked my computer and some clothes, but there’s a lot more to go.


First evening in Zollikon

I’m spending my first evening at the house in Zollikon.
The dining room.

The office.

The kitchen.

And finally, the living room.

I’ll take more photos tomorrow. Now I’m off to bed.


A bit of exercise

Last night I joined Anke at her health club, Holmes Place in Oberrieden.
There, we did a “body combat” class—essentially a martial arts-inspired aerobics workout, with lots of punches, kicks, blocks, and jumps. It was exhausting and fun. Afterward I was glad to sit in the sauna for a while, and I slept like a baby once I got home.

Today I’m feeling the aftermath of that workout. My back and shoulders are sore. I think I might be out of shape! I must return to a regular regimen of exercise. I’m not sure whether I’ll sign up for Holmes Place though. It‘s a very nice place, but it’s a bit out of the way. Maybe it won’t be so far out of the way once I am living closer to the main train lines.

Speaking of that, I will rent a car tomorrow to facilitate moving into my new place. I plan to move my stuff there after lunch. My belongings—all seven cubic meters of them—will be delivered on Monday.


A quick update from Zürich

_MAL2335, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

The big news is that I have found a place to live. I found a charming house in Zollikon, the ground floor of which I will share with a woman and her husband. They spend much of their time abroad, so I’ll often have the place to myself.

This past weekend I finally got out and saw a bit of the city. I joined new friends both Saturday and Sunday night, dancing on Saturday, and taking a walking tour of the old city on Sunday. The photo above was taken on that walk.

I’ll move to the house on Friday and have my belongings delivered on Monday. Exciting times!


Whassup 2008


The incomparable Peter Sellers

I wanted to share a couple of videos that made me laugh.

Peter Sellers sings “Cigarettes and Whiskey and Wild, Wild Women” on The Muppet Show.

Peter Sellers plays both the U.S. president and the title roll in this scene in the war room from Stanley Kubrick’s classic, Doctor Strangelove.


Buy Nothing Day

A friend recently invited me to participate in Buy Nothing Day, which this year falls on Saturday, 29 November. Normally I would be a supporter of campaigns like this, just out of sheer rock-the-boat rebelliousness. However, this time, the idea got me thinking:

How much trouble would it be for me truly to buy nothing for a day?

By the end of November, I will probably have been in my new flat in Zürich for a while. So I suppose I won’t need to buy furniture or furnishings on that particular day. I can easily forego entertainment and luxury items. It’s a Saturday, so I can prepare my own food. But that means I’ll have to buy the food and kitchen supplies ahead of time. And of course I’ll still need to use water and electricity. I can’t very well ask the utility companies to take one day’s worth off my bill. Lighting my apartment with candles and cooking over a campfire in my backyard would be worse for the environment than simply purchasing electricity from the grid.

And what about the people paid though my taxes, to send a fire truck, police car, or ambulance in the event I should need one? Can I decline their services for a day and request a refund? Clearly, the idea can be taken to ridiculous extremes.

Conspicuous consumption is obviously destructive in some ways. But I wonder to what counterproductive lengths people will go in service of the idea of buying nothing for a day. I wonder too, what the unintended consequences would be if everyone took the idea to heart? If buying is an evil to be thwarted, then the the perfect world would be a world where not much gets done.

As a symbol, Buy Nothing Day is a useful tool. It helps us realize how dependent we have become on things that we don’t really need. But interdependence between people on the goods and services offered by their neighbors is also the way the world works. It is thanks to the free flow of people, ideas, and things that so many have been able to lift themselves out of poverty.
In order to change the world for the better, we must move beyond theatrical demonstrations of our concern. We must be cognizant of our impact on our world and our neighbors, and must put this knowledge into action on a daily basis, not just once a year.

Food for thought. Speaking of which, it’s close to dinner time here. I think I’ll go buy a bite to eat.


Don’t vote


What’s so great about Swiss banks?

I opened a Swiss bank account this morning, and was shocked by the dismal interest rates offered. On balances of less than 15,000 CHF, one earns a measly 0.125%, compounded yearly. It’s hard to see this as anything but paying the bank to keep my money. Larger balances earn only slightly more—still less than 1%. Oh, and the Swiss government insures bank deposits up to just 13,000 CHF, a pittance compared to the new 250,000 USD in deposit insurance now provided by the FDIC.
I don’t plan to keep any more money in my Swiss bank account than absolutely necessary. 


First day at ZRL

I'm just wrapping up my first day on the job at ZRL (here’s another photo).
Yesterday morning, I woke up to an empty apartment in Stockholm. I had consigned my stuff to the moving company the previous day, having spent the preceding week packing all of my belongings. The last two days were the busiest, and I probably wouldn’t have managed without the help of Lotta, Janaki, and other friends. I brushed my teeth, packed a few last things in my suitcase, and tidied up the flat a bit. I caught a taxi to the airport at eight o’clock, and arrived in Zürich around lunchtime. I caught the S2 train from the airport to Thalwil, and took a cab from there to my hotel, the Gästehaus Niedelbad, located just 5 minutes’s walk from IBM.

After leaving my bags in my room, I bought some groceries and had a late lunch at a picnic table in a park overlooking the lake. I met some American expatriates playing with their children in the park. It was nice to talk with some of my countrymen. One of them was even from Texas (Houston). After a walk around the neighborhood, I returned to my room for a nap. I had just a snack for dinner, chatted with a few friends online, and then crashed for the night. I don’t think I’d gotten a proper night’s sleep in two weeks, so it was nice to be able to catch up a bit.

My first day of work has gone very smoothly. I now have a badge, office, telephone, and a new MacBook Pro. Actually, I’ve had the Mac for a while now. My colleague Stefan sent it to me in Stockholm a few weeks ago so that I could move my files over to it from my old ThinkPad before handing that computer back to IBM Sweden.

My new workplace is situated on a hillside overlooking Zürichsee, above the village of Rüschlikon, and just 15 minutes by train from Zürich’s main train station. One of my primary tasks in the coming two weeks will be to find a place to live. I already have one apartment to look at, and I have a feeling I’ll see several before making a decision.

In the coming days I will open a Swiss bank account so that there will be some place for my salary to be deposited. I’ll also register my presence with the local government, through which process I will obtain my Swiss residence permit.

That’s all for now. I’ll post again soon, with photos!


A busy Sunday in Stockholm

_MAL1888, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

Sunday morning, I went to Café String for my last brunch there in a while. Linda and Anna came, as well as a couple of their friends. It was nice to enjoy the laid-back atmosphere and just relax for a few hours to take a break from packing.

_MAL1858, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

At my insitence, Linda massaged my shoulders a bit. She made me regret having asked! ;)

_MAL1943, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

In the afternoon, Janaki and Lotta came over to help me pack. A bit later in the evening, Patrik and Isabelle came by with Thai take-out food. As we sat and ate dinner together, I was struck by the love of my friends. These are people I will truly miss!

Here are all of the photos from Sunday.


Nikkor AF-S 50mm f/1.4G

It’s about time!

Nikon has finally updated its standard 50mm lens. Today at Photokina, Nikon announced the new AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G lens. It uses an incorporated ultrasonic motor (“Silent Wave Motor” in Nikon-speak) for focussing, so it will focus much faster than its predecessor, the venerable AF-Nikkor 50mm f/1.4D.  It will also allow the lens to work on newer entry-level digital SLRs like the D40 and D60 that lack the focus motor needed to drive AF in older lenses. The new lens also sports a diaphragm with 9 blades; this should result in softer and rounder out-of-focus elements (bokeh).

I will purchase one of these lenses when I visit the U.S. around Christmastime.


Quiz night at Southside

_MAL9664, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

This evening I went down to Söder and put in a quick appearance at Chicago for a bit of salsa dancing. I didn’t stay long though, because my plan was to meet up with Linda at Southside, a pub located further down Hornsgatan, just few minutes’ walk from Chicago. It was quiz night at the pub, and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I joined Linda’s team, and we had fun trying to come up with correct answers to the questions posed by the quizmaster.

_MAL9669, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

Our team included Linda’s friends Lisa and Anneli (above). We didn’t win, but we had a good time playing. Here are all of the photos from quiz night at Southside.



Last week I had an opportunity to play with an infrared camera. Ayse, who works at FLIR Systems, was kind enough to bring one of the testing units from her office to Klättercentret, where we did some bouldering and took photos of one another.

The camera we used was a P640. This camera’s lenses are not made of normal silicate glass; they’re made of an oxide of the element Germanium. They are silver in appearance and are opaque to visible light. The camera is sensitive in the long-wavelength (8–15 µm) infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. Warm objects emit IR radiation in this range, with a wavelength inversely proportional to their temperature. What you see is a picture of the heat being emitted from the body. For this reason, photography in this range of the EM spectrum is often referred to as thermography

In the photo composite above, you can see Paula’s profile in both visible and long-wavelength infrared light. The visible light photograph was taken with my D300. I’ve posted many more thermographs from the evening to a new Infrared photo set. All of the photos from that evening, including visible light photos, can be viewed here.


Drinks with friends at Monk’s Café

_MAL6418.jpg, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

If you like beer, there are just a few places in Stockholm that I'd recommend. Monk’s Café on Wallingatan just north of Norra Bantorget is one of them. Last night I joined Kathrin, Jonas & Malin for drinks there. I had three different beers from Bavaria. I was particularly fond of the last one, a dark lager sold under Monk’s own name, but brewed by Riegele in Bavaria.


Sunday afternoon at Karbin

_MAL6338.jpg, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

This morning I joined Pete and Per for brunch at Frapino on Långholmsgatan just North of Hornstull on Södermalm. The food and the conversation were varied and satisfying. Afterward, I joined Pete at Karbin, the excellent climbing gym in the Southern part of the city of which he is part-owner. I climbed a few hours with Elin and Malin, and then bouldered for a while. While bouldering, I met a friendly chap named Pelle. Eventually, Ewa showed up and I took a bunch of photos of her as she traversed across the wall. She's an excellent climbing model: she has strength, skill, looks, and attitude!

Here are all of the photos from Sunday afternoon at Karbin.


Partial lunar eclipse in Stockholm

_MAL6247.jpg, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

Tonight on the way home from dancing, I thought the moon looked a bit funny. Then I remembered that there was to be a lunar eclipse tonight! As soon as I stepped in the door of my apartment, I grabbed my telephoto lens and tripod, and walked right back outside again. I snapped a bunch of photos of the eclipse, including several sets of bracketed exposures with ±1, 2, 3, and 4 EV (9 exposures per set). I’m still trying to figure out how best to combine them. Any tips?


An afternoon update from Stockholm

This morning I went to the ICA to buy milk for my coffee. While I was there, I bought a bag of lovely potatoes and a package of Nürnburger bratwurst. I saw two older women discussing the merits of two totally forgettable varieties of Swedish “sausage.” I felt compelled to interject and extoll the merits of the real thing. One of them added a pack of brats to her shopping basket. After today, she’ll be ruined for the Swedish stuff. My work here is done.

I am now enjoying a late lunch of bratwurst, mashed potatoes, and sauerkraut. Yum! I trust I can obtain these things in Zürich too. ;)

Speaking of my soon-to-be home, I saw this morning that IBM and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology have embarked upon an ambitious nanotechnology partnership. As a part of the project, IBM will construct a new laboratory building at the ZRL campus; when it is built, it will be the largest building on the site. Groundbreaking is anticipated in March 2009. I have no doubt that I will have more to write about this in the future.

This evening, I’m going to join Linda, Lina and some other folks for an evening of film, food, and frolicking in the park. Yes, it’s time for the Stockholm Film Festival. During the festival, a different film is shown each night on a big outdoor screen set up in Tantolunden park on Södermalm. The film tonight is Marie Antoinette. I had originally planned to go to La Isla for salsa dancing; but after six days of physical activity, I opted instead for a bit of relaxation. I’ll pack a picnic dinner, a few drinks, and maybe a surprise for my friends (desert?).

The weather’s been unpredictable lately, with rain showers and brief thunderstorms interspersed with periods of bright sunshine. I hope we’ll have clear weather; otherwise, the ground’s gonna be wet, and so will we. I’ll bring a tarp or blanket to sit upon.

Fun climbing at KC

_MAL5597.jpg, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

Last night I completed a fun 7a+ on the tall wall at Klättercentret—the first 7-graded route I’ve done on that wall! The photo here is of another 7 that I’m working on. I took a wrong turn on this attempt though, and ended up having to lean on the rope a bit later in the route. Next time, I'll do the whole thing in one go. Thanks to Ayse for taking the photo!


Crescent City Stories

One of my favorite weekly podcasts is Le Show, a satirical creation of the versatile Harry Shearer that might best be described as variety program, but that has to be experienced to be understood.

Harry Shearer is probably best known for his roles as the voices of Montgomery Burns, Apu, Principal Skinner, and many other characters from the animated series The Simpsons. But Shearer is a modern-day renaissance man. In addition to his work with The Simpsons, he’s also a gifted musician, a talented comedian in his own right, and has a long memory that comes in handy when he points out with dry wit the hypocrisy and incompetence of public officials.

Recently I stumbled across a new project he’s been working on, devoted to telling the story of New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina. Here we see a gentler, more human side of Shearer, as he interviews his friends in the city to learn how their lives have been affected since the storm.

Watch Crescent City Stories on MyDamnChannel.com.


Sailsalsa 2008

_MAL3057.jpg, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

Sailsalsa 2008 was a great success. We were treated to five days of warm, clear weather in the Stockholm archipelago. A group of about 25 salsa dancers and outdoor enthusiasts met last Sunday afternoon on the dock in Stavsnäs, where we boarded a ferry to Vindalsö. We stayed at a scout camp there for the next week. We spent our days sailing, swimming, and making new friends; and we danced each night until almost dawn. It was an idyllic week, and a perfect memory of Stockholm to take with me when I move.

I’m moving to Zürich

A while ago I took a trip to Zürich for a job interview. Well, ZRL offered me a job, and I’ve made up my mind: I’m moving there in a couple of months. It was not an easy decision to make, but I think I made the right decision. I will start work on 1 October, so I’ll probably move a few days before that date. More to come!

Colbert’s still got it

This episode of The Colbert Report is one of the most entertaining I’ve seen in a long time. Crosby, Stills & Nash are bit past their prime, but you gotta applaud out of respect if not pity. Take a look!


Happy Independence Day!

Colbert acolyte, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

I had a nice video chat with my family this afternoon, and for a lark, draped myself in the flag. I liked the look so much that I asked Åsa to snap a photo of me. The cowboy hat was Daniel’s idea. I was going for the Stephen Colbert look. I think I hit pretty close to the mark!

Bouldering in Kolartorp

_MAL9482.jpg, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

I’m trying to catch up a bit with my blogging. Here are some photos from an afternoon of bouldering in Kolartorp with Patrik, Isabelle, Hans, and Halvard.

Alpine touring in Stryn

_MAL1192, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

One week ago today, I returned from a weeklong vacation in Stryn. I have now posted all of the photos from the trip, including those from the last day, when the four men went ski touring up the back of the mountain. Above is a photo from that tour, made last Thursday morning. This was my first time to use randonnée bindings, ski bindings that allow the heel to move freely for ascents and traverses. We attached synthetic skins to the bottoms of our skis. The nap of the fur points downhill (toward the back of the skis), providing grip on the snow to prevent slipping backward, but still allowing the ability to slide forward. The rear bindings on my skis could be twisted around to provide three different heights of heel support, for varying angles of inclination when ascending a slope. Patrick hiked in snowshoes, with his snowboard on his back.

It was a lot of fun! We hiked for about an hour or so, almost to the peak of the mountain behind the ski area. Then after a quick breather, we switched to downhill mode. The three skiers removed the skins from the bottoms of their skis and converted their heel bindings to alpine mode, locking the heels in place. Patric stowed his snowshoes and strapped on his board. What followed lasted just a few minutes, but was without a doubt the best run of the week. We had a wide open bowl of fresh, totally untouched snow, all to ourselves. It was glorious.

When we reached the bottom of the bowl, we found ourselves at the edge of a steeper slope crossed by several horizontal crevasses. We could not easily see what lay beyond them (more snow, or glacial moraine?), so we backtracked a bit, hiked over some rocks, and found a higher slope that looked safer. On this slope, we could more or less see the whole way down, so there was less risk of ending up in unskiable terrain.

We skied down and across the slope, down toward the lake at the bottom of the valley. The road through the valley was on the other side of the lake, and there was no bridge across. I saw ski tracks across the ice and snow atop the lake, but I didn't dare follow them. The hike back to the ski center took half an hour.

I’ve been thinking about getting my own skis for the past few years. Now that I've tried randonnée, I think I'll get this kind of equipment. It offers a lot more freedom than ordinary downhill gear.

My Stryn photos and Patric’s are now online.


A beautiful day in Stryn

_MAL1009, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

Today was lovely. The sun came out in the morning, and we got a great day of skiing in. I found a slope that's a bit off the beaten path, and it offered more of a challenge, and better snow, than the area served by the lift. You gotta walk up over the ridge after you get off the lift, and that takes ten minutes or so. But it's worth it. I did this slope twice today. here's a photo I took on my last run of the day, with a snowmelt lake in the background.

In the evening after dinner, I took a quick dip in Strynsvatn, the lake beside the cabin where we're staying. It was probably the coldest and quickest swim I've ever taken in my life. Geez, that water's cold. Take a look at the new Stryn photoset I created on flickr to see more photos from recent days, including my hike up to the nearby waterfalls yesterday and my quick swim today.

Tomorrow will be our last day here in Stryn. We'll pack up the cars with all our bags early in the morning after breakfast, and then drive up to the ski area. If the weather looks good, we'll ski part of the day. If not, we'll start driving back to Stockholm already in the morning. In any event, we'll be back in Stockholm soon. It has been a relaxing, exciting, and very enjoyable trip.


An afternoon at the bath house

_MAL0727_6_5_tonemapped, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

The weather was rainy today, so we drove to Loen and spent a few hours at the Alexandra bath house there. It was lovely, with three different saunas. There were also a few showers with that had programmed combinations of different types of water spray, different scents, and even variations of illumination. More of an experience than a shower, but pretty fun. My favorite was a shower that combined heavy drops, a warm mist, and a eucalyptus fragrance. I gotta get one of those at home!

The bath had a water slide, a big indoor pool, an outdoor pool, and several hot tubs. I spent most of my time alternating between the saunas and the hot tubs, and relaxing on a lounge with a view of the fjord. Here are a few other photos from today.

The photo above is a picture of the sauna & shower area, with the cold pool in the foreground. This mage was created by combining three exposures of slightly different shutter speeds.

We're hoping for sunshine tomorrow so we can go skiing on the glacier again. Good night from Stryn!


Rainy morning

Wispy clouds cling to the verdant mountains, and a cool mist of rain blankets the valley. The lake is calm; no wind blows. The veil of clouds doesn't seem likely to lift any time soon, so the gang will probably skip skiing today. We might take drive in the mountains.

Summer skiing in Norway

_MAL0656, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

Greetings from Stryn!

Yesterday evening the owners of the Strynsvatn camping site where we're staying built a bonfire on the old pier that juts out into the lake. I walked down to the pier, watched the fire, and struck up a conversation with Magne-Hild, whom I believe is one of the owners. She has lived in this part of Norway all her life. She was born in the little village of Flo, located on the hillside just across the lake and a bit to the Northeast from here. In the days of her youth, the road tunnel through the steep mountain ridges abutting the lake's Eastern edge had not yet been dug, so her village was accessible only by boat. She told me that it was exciting and scary around the time of year when the ice on the lake was too thick for boats, but not thick enough for foot traffic. If someone fell ill and needed a doctor, it required a perilous and uncertain journey. I thought this sounded like the basis for a wonderful story!

Today I did my first summer skiing, on a glacier in the mountains East of here. It was sunny and warm in the morning, and aside from the slushy snow, the skiing was quite okay. The clouds moved in this afternoon, and it's been cool and rainy since then. I managed to get a few good photos while the sun was shining, as well as a lot more in the haze and fog. Here are some photos from today and yesterday.

Tomorrow I think I'll take a break from skiing and go hiking in the mountains South of the here. There's a pass there that's supposed to be about an hour's hike from the water's edge. I'll pack a lunch and head out just after breakfast. With any luck the weather will be nice and I'll get some good photos of the lake from up there.

It's after midnight here (or almost midnight if you go by standard time), and yet the sky outside is not dark. The clouds hanging over the mountaintops are still glowing with the light of dusk-dawn (one and the same at this latitude and at this time of year). There is no night here in the summertime, only a darker twilight. In twenty minutes, it will be at its darkest and will begin to get lighter again.

It's time for me to get some sleep. I'll brush my teeth, crawl up into the top bunk of the bunk bed where I'm sleeping, and nod off for a few hours. Over and out.


Midsummer's eve in Stryn

Yesterday afternoon, Åsa and Patrik picked me up and we drove to Norway. We stayed the night in a friend's cabin in Trysil, and then continued our drive Westward this morning. We crossed over the pass, through a few tunnels, and down into Stryn, where we'll spend the next week. We're staying down in the valley in a cabin by the fjord. In the morning, we'll drive twenty minutes back up to the pass, where we'll ski on the glacier atop the mountain ridge. It should be great!

We just sat down to a lovely midsummer's eve dinner of pickled herring, gravad lax, boiled new potatoes, and broccoli and ham quiche. We washed it down with beer, and of course, Norwegian aqvavit. Damn, alcohol is expensive here. One half-liter can of beer in the grocery store costs about 4 USD.

If the skiing is too slushy on the glacier, there are other options down valley. We can go kayaking on the river or climbing on any of the many cliffs. The latter depends on somewhat dry weather though, and right now it's still raining. Typical midsummer weather!

More to come soon, including photos. Love from Norway.


An evening in Zürich

I had dinner at the Zeughauskeller restaurant tonight, and had a delicious dish of veal in mushroom sauce with fried potato hash. I'm surprised I was even able to find a place that was open. This city seems to close down completely on Sundays. Tonight is not boring for footbal (soccer) fans though: throughout the city, outdoor TVs are set up to play the Euro Cup matches for the public. Tonight's match is between the Czech Republic and Turkey. I've posted a few photos from today. More later.

Thanks to Sam for pointing out that the tournament being held in Switzerland is the Euro Cup, not the World Cup. As you can probably see, I'm not much of a sports fanatic.

A cloudy afternoon in Zürich

I'm in Zürich for a job interview tomorrow at the IBM Zurich Research Laboratory (ZRL). I passed through the airport here on my way to Andermatt a few months ago, but this is my first visit to the city proper. I'm going out now for some dinner and a bit of sightseeing.


My first traditional climb

It was less that one year ago that I did my first lead climb, indoors at Salveo Gym. Since then, I have gotten quite good at lead climbing on indoor and outdoor bolted routes (those with bolts permanently attached to the wall or rock). Last year, I bought a bunch of traditional climbing equipment while in the U.S. on trips to Texas and Massachusetts. My climbing bag is now well-stocked with climbing equipment, including nuts, cams, and an assortment of other devices. However, until this past weekend, I had not actually done any actual “trad” climbing—that is, climbing wherein one secures oneself against a fall by placing protective devices in cracks in the rock. I thought I should give it a try, put my expensive gear to use, and see if I liked it.

So this past weekend I did my first trad climbing. I took a two-day course arranged by Solna Klätterklubb. The instructor, Andreas Bengtsson, was knowledgeable and friendly. On Saturday we went to Vårdberget near Fituna. The other students who had originally signed up for the course had cancelled, so Andreas had told me I was welcome to bring a friend. I invited Linda and she joined us for the first day. It was a beautiful, sunny day; the temperature was well above 25° C, and probably closer to 30°. Once at the cliff, we got some basic practice building anchors and placing protection. In the afternoon, we sought refuge from the sun by retreating into the shaded crevice at the left end of the wall. After a long and sweaty day, we cooled off with a refreshing dip in the sea.

On the second day, Andreas took me to Grönbrinksberget, another cliff in the Fituna area. I had never been to this cliff before, because almost all of the routes there require trad climbing. We started off by rigging an anchor from a big pine tree at the top of the cliff and rappelling down. Next, I climbed an easy 4+ route on a top-rope, but placing protection and clipping in another rope as I ascended, just as though I were leading the route. Once I had reached the top, I rappelled back down. Having familiarized myself with the route already, I felt confident enough to do my first traditional lead climb on the same route. A route with a Swedish grade of 4+ is quite an easy route for me, but it was a completely different experience leading it and placing protection along the way. It felt like a 5 or even a 6 because of the added work of placing protection. It's psychologically more demanding as well, because the protection one places is the only thing one relies upon to stop a fall in the event that one looses one’s grip! I completed the route without any problems though, and it was actually easier and less scary than I had expected. I attribute this to the work done leading up to that point, getting comfortable with the trad gear and learning how to place it properly. In addition, the route was very easy to protect, with excellent places for nuts and cams all the way up the route. I must also give Andreas credit for his patient tutelage.

After my first trad lead climb, I secured Andreas as he climbed up and reviewed the pieces of protection I had placed. He pointed out potential problems but in general there were none. He told me that I had an eye for good placement of “pro.” Once he reached the top, we took a break for lunch. As a place to have lunch, it's hard to beat the sunny and windy top of 30-meter cliff overlooking the Swedish countryside. By coincidence, we ran into Matt & Lisa at the cliff. They were also there for a day of climbing, along with Johan and Maria, two other climbers from Klättercentret. They joined us at the top for a while and we all had a bite to eat.

After lunch, we moved the top-rope to another route and constructed an anchor using a rope around a pine tree and a cam placed in a crack in the rock on the top of the cliff. We rappelled down one by one and then I repeated the same procedure as in the first ascent: climbing secured by the top rope, but placing protection as though I were leading. This route was quite a bit more difficult than the first one, and I reached the top only after resting on the top-rope a few times along the way. If I had been leading the route, I would have had to down-climb or fall at the points where I had run out of strength. That scary prospect convinced me that I wasn't quite ready to lead this particular route.

Instead, we moved back to the first route we had climbed in the morning and I practiced falling. This was perhaps the most scary part of the day, but also the most rewarding. With me belaying him, Andreas climbed up and placed a few pieces of protection. He then fell on the top piece a couple of times to confirm that it would catch a fall. Then he came down and I climbed up to just above where his pro was, placing a large nut in the same crack. I climbed up a bit more and then, after a moment of hesitation, convinced myself to let go of the rock. I was probably a good 10 meters up the wall at this point, so letting go was not really easy. But I did it, and of course I was alright. The nut didn't budge, and I fell twice the distance from the point to which I had climbed and the nut. I actually fell a bit more than that, there being a bit of slack in the system. Next, I climbed up a bit higher and did the same thing. No problem: scary to fall, but so reassuring to experience first-hand that the protection does work. I then repeated the same procedure a bit higher up on the wall with a cam. I placed my green Camalot in a lovely crack in the rock, clipped in the rope, climbed up a bit, and then let go. The cams are a bit more complicated devices than the nuts, so until I actually took a fall on one, I wasn't really sure it would work. But I'll be darned if the thing moved a millimeter. I climbed up a bit more and took what was probably the longest fall of the day, 3-4 meters. Again, the cam held. I wasn't completely prepared for the length of that fall though, and I ended up bumping into the rock face with my hip and shoulder. I was a bit shaken, but otherwise unscathed. I have much more confidence in my equipment now that I have fallen on it a few times. The falling exercise was a good way to end the course.

I look forward to doing some more traditional climbing soon. But one thing I have learned is that some traditional climbing can be risky. If there aren't any good places to put protection, it could be tempting to some climbers to satisfy themselves with a poor placement and to just continue climbing. However, I prefer to avoid this kind of risk. Yes, there is some risk involved. And yes, part of the excitement comes from imagined risk, and from overcoming the fear associated with that feeling. However, the way I climb, I do not do anything that is actually very risky. I have no intention of climbing routes that cannot be well protected.

Over and out from sunny Stockholm.

Oh yeah, one more thing: Lisa took a few photos of me when I was preparing to my falling exercise. I will post these photos and more soon.


AT&T-Citibank loses a customer forever

I have had an AT&T-Citibank Universal MasterCard for more than a decade. I applied for the card when I was in college, and have been a loyal customer since then.

Today, AT&T and Citibank lose me as a customer. A few months ago, due in part to the company's greedy and inflexible policies, my account was put on hold. After several lengthy discussions with their customer service personnel, my account was reactivated and several fees were waived. I was so frustrated by the experience that I wrote about it at length.

In a rare event that I at the time chalked up to good karma, I was given the opportunity to provide feedback on my experience with AT&T-Citibank's customer service. I filled out a survey form and explained what happened. I detailed what the company had done wrong and what they could do to improve their service. I emphasized that the people with whom I had spoken had done they best they could to help me, and had always been polite. I also referred to the aforementioned blog post so that they could learn more about my experience.

Well, apparently someone read it because shortly after that time, AT&T-Citibank permanently closed my credit card account. They did so without so much as notifying me. I learned about it only today when I tried to use the credit card to buy some flowers for my mother's birthday.

I am very disappointed by the actions and policies of AT&T-Citibank. Until such time as I receive a formal written apology, both of these companies have permanently lost me as a customer.


Bouldering at Kolartorp

This evening around six, I joined Patrik and Isabelle for some bouldering in Kolartorp, located in the forest a few kilometers South of the city. It was a warm and sunny, just perfect weather. Isabelle’s brother Hans joined us, as well as a Norwegian chap named Halvard whom we met at Klättercentret.

We had a lot of fun climbing the boulders in the mossy pine forest above the lake. I conquered a couple of quite tricky problems that really tested my will. We all got scrapes and bruises for our trouble, marks of honor among climbers of course!

I think I got some good photos, and I'll post them soon.


Lindy hop dancing by the lake

_MAL9353.jpg, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

The weekend concluded with one more fun coincidence. Almost exactly one year ago, I bumped into fellow Lindy hop dancer Lee on the subway when I was heading home after an afternoon of rock climbing. I ended up tagging along with her to an outdoor pavilion by a little lake near the university, where a gang of folks had assembled to picnic and dance in the evening sunlight.

Well yesterday, the same thing happened again.

On my way back home from the extended brunch, I sat across from a girl who looked quite familiar. After exchanging a few inquisitive glances, I asked her how we knew each other. "Lindy hop," she said. She reminded me of her name, Jenny, and we got to talking. I learned with amusement that she and her friend Jonna were on their way to the same dance place in Stora Skuggan that I'd been two one year before. As I did last year, I decided to tag along.

I saw lots of folks I knew, including Lee, my friend from last year, and Lasse, a fellow photographer who often takes photos of Lindy hop dancing in Stockholm. Jenny's friend Jonna is also a photographer. She had her D80 with her and took a few photos of me while I was dancing. If I manage to get copies of them, I'll post therm here.

A picnic brunch in Rosendals Trädgård

_MAL9301.jpg, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

Sunday morning, Janaki joined me at the brunch arranged by my climbing buddy Pete. The last time I went to one of Pete's brunches, there were lots of other rock climbers there. This time, Pete and I were the only two climbers in attendance. I had never been to Rosendals Trädgård before, and I'm really glad I discovered the place. It's just lovely. We bought sandwiches and drinks and ate on the lawn beneath the apple trees in the orchard attached to the nursery. The sun was out, so the place was filled with people. Children ran and played barefoot in the cool grass. At one point, I lay back and put my head on my rolled-up UT Longhorns sweatshirt, dozing off into a half-sleeping, half-meditating state. It was idyllic. This is what I love about Sweden. The summers, when they are good, are almost painfully beautiful. I look forward to more days like this!

Coincidences abound!

_MAL8512.jpg, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

After saying goodbye to Anna, I sat on the grass in the square and soaked up some rays. That's when the weekend's many surprising coincidences began.

First, I ran into Isabelle on the square. I had seen her just the night before, climbing at Klättercentret. She was out for a day-long bachelorette party with the bride-to-be and a bunch of their friends.

A few minutes later, I started a conversation with the owner of an adorable border collie that was running around and playing with a ball. After a moment, she asked me if I danced salsa at Chicago. It turns out we have danced several times at the same place. Her name is Teresa, and even though we have never danced together, she remembered my face (or perhaps the ever-present camera).

Not ten minutes later, as I was taking photos of the random folks on the square, I spotted two more familiar faces. Maria and Johan (pictured above) were sitting beside the fountain at the center of the square. I first met Maria on a trip to Idre Fjäll last winter, and met her again while ice skating a week later. Oddly enough, I also ran into Johan in Andermatt. We bumped into each other in the bar there the night I arrived; he had been there a week and was just winding down before heading back to Sweden.

Sometimes the world is a very small place indeed.

Lunch with Anna

_MAL8409.jpg, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

After dancing, I took the subway down to Södermalm and met Anna for lunch. She's almost eight months pregnant, and she looks it! We had pizza at an excellent restaurant on Bondegatan, just a block from Nytorget. It's called Primo Ciao Ciao and they have the best thin pizza I've tasted in Sweden. They make it with fresh ingredients and bake it in a woodfired brick oven. I had the pizza salsicia and a Krusovice dark beer. it was delicious. After lunch, we bought ice cream and ate it on the square. The place was packed with people, due no doubt to the warm sunshine.

Rueda practice

_MAL8396.jpg, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

I've joined a group of folks who meet every Saturday morning to practice dancing rueda di casino, a variation of Cuban style salsa in which several couples dance in a circle, switching partners frequently. It's a lot of fun. It's also a great way to learn new salsa moves. I think part of the reason is that we practice one move at a time, over and over again until we have it down pat. Another reason may be that each move has a name. I think this makes it easier to file the move in the brain, somewhat like an index card in a card catalog helps one locate a book in a library.

I think the move I'm doing with Mikaela in this photo is called the carousel.

Oh baby!

_MAL8275.jpg, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

Friday night I joined Isabelle and Patrik for a bit of climbing at KC. I had bouldered there for a few hours the night before, so I didn't expect great accomplishments this night. Even so, I completed a white-graded problem that I'd never seen before. It's probably only the fourth white problem I've completed. Yay!

Here, Karthik climbs a black-graded problem that involves a big leap at the end. Well, it involves a leap for him. I can pretty much do it statically. I think I did well this night because I warmed up properly, starting on the blue and red problems and only proceeding to the black and white ones after the first half hour or so.


Climbing at Ekoberget on Sunday

_MAL6661.jpg, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

On Sunday I joined Charlotte, Pia & Johanna for an afternoon of climbing at Ekoberget. It was crowded when we arrived around noon, with many of the easier routes already occupied. With some trouble, we managed to set up a top rope on one of the anchors. To do this we walked around to the top, set up an anchor on a tree there, and I rappelled down and traversed up to the anchor. It was scary but we managed. We then tried to climb the crack to the left of the anchor, but it proved too difficult due to the distance of the anchor from the crack. The route under the anchor was fun but at 7b a bit too hard for us. Finally we got to climb a relatively easy 5c. I led it without difficulty and the girls climbed afterward.

There were lots of familiar faces at the cliff, including Sara, shown here climbing a 6c with the moon and an airplane in the sky behind her.

After climbing, I took a dip in the sea beside the cliff. The water was cold, but the warm evening sunlight felt great on my skin once I got out. I'm looking forward to more great outdoor climbing this summer!


A day in the sun with Linda & friends

_MAL6237.jpg, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

On Saturday, I joined Linda and some of her friends downtown to watch the students' parade. It was funny and silly, with lots of creative and ridiculous floats and themes. Afterward, we walked up to Tegnérlunden where I surprised the girls with a bottle of bubbly and a big slice of watermelon. Reclining on the grass with five beautiful Swedish girls, drinking Cava on the most beautiful day of the year. Could life be any better?


Sailsalsa pre-party 2008

_MAL5624.jpg, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

The Sailsalsa 2008 pre-party was this past weekend, and it was a lot of fun. Helena and I met at Bromaplan, where we caught the bus out to Ekerö. At the very end of the bus route we stepped off and walked a few hundred meters to Älghorn, a little piece of land that sticks Northward into Lake Mälaren. It was there at the club house of the Essinge Boating Society that we had the party. Lots of people were there, including Janne, who came all the way up from Copenhagen just for the party (well okay, she had some work to do in Stockholm too).

We played some games outside, including frisbee races around the cabin, and seeing who could stand the longest on a mat of tiny plastic spikes (no big deal!).

Then we grilled our food over a fire down by the lake and ate dinner. After dinner, it was time for dancing. There were a few more women than men this time around so I didn't have much time to rest. We danced until the first light of dawn appeared reflected in the lake outside. We even danced a bit of Lindy hop!

The weather was just lovely, and we spent quite a bit of the time outdoors. When the sun was shining, it was warm enough to sit outside in just a shirt. And even when it wasn’t that warm out, there was always the sauna. Several brave souls warmed up in the sauna and then took a dip in the lake’s cold waters. Refreshing!

When we left to return back to Stockholm on Sunday afternoon, it was with considerable reluctance. After such a lovely weekend, I’m looking forward to Sailsalsa in week 31.

Hungarian Parliament building in Budapest

_MAL3957.jpg, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

In photography, taking several different exposures of the same scene, each with slightly different settings is called bracketing. in the days of film, photographers often used bracketing when they weren’t certain of the correct exposure or aperture. By bracketing (capturing a few photos with settings in each direction below and above the current settings), a photographer could increase the chances that at least one photo would have the desired exposure, depth-of-field, or whatever else he was looking for. Bracketing is also a useful tool in teaching the art of photography: having several photos of the same scene taken with different apertures, say, helps one to understand the effect the aperture has on the final photograph.

Nowadays, the bracketing feature built into many cameras can be used for some cool new techniques that were not possible a few years ago. With the help of software, it is now possible to combine multiple photographs into a single photo that contains more information than any one of the original images.

Two techniques that fit this description are focus stacking and high dynamic range imaging. Focus stacking involves combining several photos taken with different focal points into one photograph that has a greater depth-of-field than any of its constituent photos. The advantage of this is that the aperture can be left relatively wide. This lets the photographer shoot with shorter shutter times and reduces refraction artifacts often introduced by tiny apertures.

I haven’t yet tried focus stacking. But today I made my first attempt at high dynamic range imaging. The result is the image above.

While in Budapest on business last month, I took a bunch of photos. I haven’t had time to go through most of them yet, but this morning I took a moment to take a look at some of the photos I took of the Hungarian Parliament building across the river from my hotel. I set the camera to take a decent middle-of-the-road exposure. Normally, this photograph would have been quite okay; but it would not have been perfect. The problem with this kind of scene is the big difference in brightness between the darkest and the brightest parts of the image. A photo that properly exposes the brightly illuminated dome would be far too dark to reveal the details of the building’s wings; and a photo with a long enough exposure to capture these details would be blown out in the bright parts.

So I took five of different exposures of the same scene, each with a slightly different shutter speeds: [-2, -1, 0, +1, +2]. I rested the camera on a flat railing and started the exposures using a timer, to ensure that the five photos were of exactly the same scene. The software essentially combined the best-exposed portions of each of the images, resulting in a single image that appears perfectly exposed across the dynamic range. Obviously, the full range of luminosities of the original scene is not represented exactly the same in this image. The original colors have been reassigned to a different palette displayable on standard computer displays, using a technique called tone mapping.

I'm pleased with the result and plan to take more similar photos soon.


Busy day

I got up at seven on Saturday morning for Sarah & Thomas’s wedding. It’s now a quarter ’till five on Sunday morning, and I just got home. I might not make it to Hellas today! :)

Time for bed.


Back in Stockholm

I flew back Stockholm last night after a nice week in Budapest. Yesterday I finally managed to arrange a trip to one of the baths, Gellert. It was a surreal and somewhat disappointing experience. I'll write about it soon.

Now I have to pack and rush off. I'm shooting the wedding of my friends Sarah and Thomas today, and I have to make it to the bride's house to get some photos of her and her bridesmaids getting dressed and putting on their makeup.

Tomorrow I'll make the year's premier ride in Hellas. It's gonna be a busy weekend.

More soon.


Budapest notes

I'm in Budapest for a week of technical courses related to the Tivoli software I work with in my new role at IBM Software Group. So far, so good. This morning I'm going through a bunch of hands-on labs that show the new features in the most recent releases of IBM's enterprise monitoring tools.

Budapest is beautiful. The weather reminds me of Texas: it was sunny and warm the first day, we had a thunderstorm that night, rain yesterday, and it's hazy and humid today. Last night I joined some Swedish and Norwegian colleagues for dinner at a traditional Hungarian restaurant on the Pest side of the Danube (the hotel is on the Buda side). After dinner, I walked a few blocks to a restaurant/night club where I had read there was supposed to be salsa dancing every Tuesday evening. Unfortunately, I was misinformed. The dancing is only on Fridays and Saturdays. So instead of dancing, I took a long walk along the river and took some photos of famous bridges and buildings. I tried out my D300's bracketing feature for the first time, taking several exposures of exactly the same scene, but with slightly different shutter speeds. I intend to combine the photos in the computer, taking the best-exposed portions of each photo. The result should be a single photograph with "high dynamic range." HDR is a relatively new set of techniques. Do a search on flickr for photos tagged with 'hdr' and you'll get an idea of what's possible. The result can be quite dramatic.

My colleague and friend Warren is here from Austin to give several talks related to IBM's workload automation products. Tonight we plan to find a brewpub and sample some of the local beers. If there's time, I might also take a dip in the Széchenyi fürdő (thermal bath) here. I went to that bath with my good friend Agnès when the two of us traveled around Eastern Europe together nearly sixteen years ago. I remember that the Hungarians had an amazing tolerance for heat. They sat unperturbed on the top bench in a sauna whose lower bench proved too hot for me. I also remember that bath as the place where I was treated to the best massage of my life. Not the sexiest massage, mind you—my masseur was a very large and very brusque Hungarian man. But it was the best massage. Afterward, I felt like a piece of cooked pasta.

I'll return to Stockholm Friday night. Saturday, I'll attend the wedding of my friends Sarah and Thomas. I'll also be tasked with taking photos at the wedding, so I'm excited about that.


Climbing at Nacka Kvarn

_MAL3459, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

On Sunday afternoon, I joined Daniela, Robban, Herman, Eric, and Claire for my first outdoor climbing of 2008. We met at Nacka Kvarn. The cliff is across the creek from the road. It's on the way to Hellas, where I often go mountain biking.

I had never been climbing there before, and I had a good time. Clarie led a 7a and I followed on top-rope. Later I led a 6c. Lots of fun!

Here's a shot that Daniela took of me.



Helena, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

I haven't designed an ambigram in a long time, so when Helena asked me to fill a page in her diary, I began to do a few sketches. I quickly had a few ideas and drew up this ambigram on my laptop. I then traced it into her book with pencil and later colored it in with black and red ink.

Hi Helena!

That's more like it.

Since writing a couple of days ago about my undeserved reputation, many friends have gotten in touch to share their thoughts. Most have been supportive, telling me to be myself and not to worry about the folks who don't get me. It's gratifying and reassuring to know that most people see me as as a friendly and outgoing person. One friend told me that she initially found me a bit too talkative, but admired my ability to make friends with so many people. It seems clear that the ones who have gotten the wrong idea are in the minority.

My father also sent me a thoughtful letter. He has counseled many people on similar matters in his professional capacity as a psychologist, so he surely knows a thing or two about the roots of this sort of misunderstanding. He offered me some valuable insight into the way people interact, particularly when they are just getting to know each other.

One thing emerged as a common theme: people in general, and women in particular, often interpret enthusiasm and openness as desperation. The reasons for this are myriad, but they all basically boil down to a basic principle of economics:

supply and demand.

Put simply, if one seems too eager sell oneself, the perceived value of what's being offered is diminished. In a comment on my previous post, Jacob pointed out an editorial in DN entitled The importance of appearing uninterested. It's in Swedish, but the gist of it is that at least in Stockholm, acting aloof seems to be de rigueur. Fascinating and funny.

This reminds me of an enlightening experience I had last year. A salsa dancing friend had recently gotten together with a Latino man. As she and I sat across from each other on the subway after a night of dancing, I asked her to explain the secret of the Latino appeal. She described the things that initially attracted her to him, and talked about how their relationship began. I asked for suggestion on how I could learn from the Latino approach. After a while, I'd heard enough. I had to interrupt her:

"So you're saying I should be an asshole!" 

She insisted adamantly that this was not what she was suggesting, and explained that the traits I saw as negative were in fact intriguing to her. She told me that the aloofness I considered so unattractive was actually something that she found attractive. A man who put all his cards on the table just wasn't someone who piqued her interest. She liked a bit of mystery, liked the chase, and actually enjoyed having to work a bit to get the man to open up.

I wasn't convinced, but I agreed to give the "asshole approach" a real try. A few days later, I had my first opportunity to do so.

I joined a friend one Saturday at a public park. She had invited her friend along too, and I found her friend attractive. Normally, I would have reacted by being friendly and trying to start a conversation with her. But this time I deliberately chose to keep my distance. I gave her a compliment to let her know I was interested, but then I backed off. I talked with my friend but pretty much ignored the other girl. She and I exchanged numbers, and I was surprised when she called to invite me out the following weekend. We had a great time and I thought "hey, this asshole thing really works."

But then I spoiled it. Instead of remaining cold and distant, I began to warm up and quickly returned to my normal, friendly self. I called to ask the girl out and received a limp response. I tried a few more times to get in touch, but my attempts to connect were met with disinterest. We haven't met since.

The experience taught me that I can make some people more interested in me by acting as though I am not interested in them. However, I didn't try this technique again. I decided that the kind of people who react to friendliness by withdrawing are probably not my kind of people anyway. The fact that so many of my friends have written to tell me not to change the way I am confirms the wisdom of this choice.

However, this doesn't preclude my being more perceptive of how others react to me. This is what I was getting at in the last paragraph of my previous post. I know can do better at adapting my approach to the particular personality of the person with whom I'm interacting.I am getting better at reading the signals people send out: body language, tone of voice, and so on. By being a bit more flexible in the way I interact with people, I can probably avoid giving the wrong impression. This doesn't mean I have to accept as friends people who are clearly not my type. But I think it's also quite likely that some of the people who have so misread me could have developed a more accurate picture of me if I had taken a more nuanced approach when first meeting them.

And who knows? I might even try to adopt a strategy of keeping myself in shorter supply. I'm my own OPEC cartel, and I have full control over access to the precious resource that is me. I begrudgingly accept the wisdom of this approach in some situations. 

It's clear that I still have a lot to learn about people. It is with wonder and humility that I look forward to this ongoing journey of learning.

I'd like to thank my friends for their thoughts and their support. There are so many wonderful people in my life, and I'm grateful for them all. I'd especially like express my appreciation for the friend who stuck up for me to the doubters. She's the kind of friend one keeps for a long time.