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.


An undeserved reputation

Sometimes life’s little surprises turn out not to be so surprising after all. A case in point was the surprise that came tonight.

I have a reputation.

While chatting tonight with a woman I consider a good friend, I learned that she has recently heard similar things about me from several women. Apparently, some women in the Stockholm salsa dancing scene have gotten the idea that I’m desperate, that I’m too friendly, and that the only reason I go dancing is to hit on girls.

I wrote that the news was not really surprising. Why? Well, my undeserved reputation probably explains the cold reaction I have gotten from some women.

The timing is ironic. This is because I have in the past year made a conscious effort to be more open and more direct with people, on the theory that honesty and forthrightness are their own reward. Be straight with people and they’ll be straight with you. I’ve made many new friends by letting this side of myself shine. In a way, I’ve become reacquainted with the person I was many years ago, before adolescence. This has made me wonder: kids make new friends so easily, so why isn’t it as easy with adults?

The answer, of course, is that adults often have hidden agendas that they conceal deliberately. I’ve written before about friendliness to strangers and making friends; and it’s obviously more complicated among adults than among children. Most adults with any amount of real-world experience have learned to be a bit suspicious of eagerness.

How suspicious people are, and of whom, depends greatly from person to person and culture to culture. The groups of people who dance salsa in Stockholm perfectly illustrate this. In the Swedish salsa dancing scene, there are basically two types: Swedes and Latinos. The Swedish men who dance salsa are usually more or less like Swedish men in the general public: a bit cold, distant, and yet for the most part egalitarian and respectful of women. Swedish men make good friends once you get to know them, but it's often a mystery how they ever work up the nerve to break the ice. Many Swedish relationships start only after months of friendship, and/or owe their start to the consumption of large quantities of alcohol.

The Latino men on the other hand are the exact opposite of their Swedish counterparts. Latino men are totally upfront, expressing their desires as soon as they feel them. Unfortunately, these men don't seem to know the difference between love and lust, and can therefore sometimes overdo it. I have heard many stories of Latino men expressing their undying love for a woman they just met on the dance floor. These guys are definitely not egalitarian, and are seldom interested in being friends with women. They tend to be macho bordering on misogynistic, and quite often don’t turn out to make good boyfriends to the Swedish women who fall for them.

It's fair to say that with my personality, I fit in somewhere between the serious Swedes and the lusty Latinos.

Realizing this, I decided some time ago to apply my friendly forthrightness not just to new acquaintances and friends, but also to women who caught my eye. If I found a woman attractive, I would be open about it: I’d break the ice and see what happened. If the feeling’s mutual, great; if not, then at least I tried. It’s better to express one’s feelings than to hold them inside. Once they’re out in the open, it’s easier to move on. Or at least that was my theory.

When my friend heard the rumors, she tried explaining to the women who related them to her that I was in fact a decent human being, and that they were mistaking my outgoing and friendly nature for desperation. Her attempt to defend my character was met with skepticism and doubt.

I must admit that even though I’m not truly surprised, I am very disappointed.

I had hoped that by being myself I would allow folks to know the real me. Instead, I’ve given the wrong impression to at least a few people.

Not five minutes after learning the news of my playboy reputation, I received a phone call from a new friend. She and I met a few weeks ago at the salsa congress in Göteborg and learned soon after meeting that we were both interested in photography. I think it's fair to say that we also share very similar world-views. We’d chatted on the phone before and I had enjoyed our conversation. After receiving such disappointing news, I was glad to hear a friendly voice. She and I talked for more than an hour and I shared my thoughts with her:

I face a dilemma. I could try to be more like Swedish men, aloof and distant. Or I could try to be even more like the Latino guys, forward and gregarious. Neither path takes me where I want to go, and each requires unacceptable compromises.

I had no epiphany, but I did reach an important conclusion: In striking a balance between these two paths, I seek to preserve the best qualities of both sides of my personality. I will not forfeit friendliness, playfulness, trust, or respect. These qualities make me the person I am.

Also, I cannot be all things to all people. Some people will always get the wrong idea, no matter what I do. I think I know who these people are, and I guess I’ll just have to back off for a while and keep them at arm’s length. There’s no point in continuing to extend the hand of friendship to someone who sees it as a threat. Maybe a little distance will help them to see me for who I am. If not, well, I can’t please everyone.

Speaking of pleasing everyone... the photos from Göteborg will have to wait another day at least. I needed to get this off my chest tonight.


Silver treasure found near Arlanda

472 silver Arab coins from Viking times were found in an Iron-age archeological site near Arlanda. Fascinating!