Alex's Alliterative Adventures

Thoughts on Programming, Life, and Travel

Archive for September, 2006

I’m groovin, I’m doin it

The photos are a bit small, but they’re of me suspended above the ground, so they do the trick. And holy crap, climbing shoes are small.

I had to pay the second installment of my rent today.  I realized that my rent is around $200 cheaper for the entire term than my friend’s rent.  My friend lives 3-5 times closer to campus than I do, and his internet connection is 200 times faster than mine. And just to add fuel to the fire of jealousy, he’s trying to move here.  I mean, he’s a good guy, but I wouldn’t trust his decision making skills.

So I wandered down to Ye Olde Banke to pay my big ol’ bill, and lucky for me, I had just enough money between my chequing account and my wallet to cover the bill, with just under $2 CAD remaining. I gave the bank teller the invoice and started counting out an uncomfortably large number of bills, but I was interrupted by her quoting me an amount that was 50kr ($8 CAD) more than what the bill had said.  I blinked as she explained that there was a 50kr charge for paying a bill.  Sweden gets a lot of things right, but whoever thought up the fee-payment-fee needs a good ol’ fashioned face stabbing.

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Recent Events

First of all, I just wanted to say that I have a new goal in life: Become pacman.

I was invited out to a local pub with a few of my friends on Friday night. Since I was still feeling under the weather, I figured that a quiet night sharing a drink or two with close friends would be healthier than hitting up one of the Friday night parties here in Lund. I was obviously slightly misinformed, though, since the “pub” was actually a “traditional Swedish music and dancing night at the people’s university”.  I actually had a lot of fun.  I got to see a part of Swedish culture that I can only presume is usually hidden from the common tourist eye. Swedish dancing is crazy; they slap their shoes, slap the floor, and kick their feet out like Russians. After we’d seen our fill of Swedish culture, I lead my friends to an actual pub. Much to my surprise, my Austrian friends instantly identified it as an Austrian pub.  I might not have picked up on this the last few times I had patronized the place because they didn’t serve Austrian beer, and they also thought that the Austrian flags hanging in the middle of the pub were German. It was still a decent place, though.  There’s just something warm and comforting about drinking in what could’ve been an underground bombshelter in some alternative existence.

We ended the night reasonably early in order to be fresh for Saturday’s rock climbing expedition.  We headed to Soffabacken, which is an outdoor climbing area about an hour and a half north of Lund.  There was one other girl there who was reasonably new, but I wouldn’t feel ashamed in saying her abilities, like everyone else’s, were beyond mine.  For those of you who haven’t been rock climbing with me before, don’t feel left out.  I’ve actually climbed an actual indoor rock climbing wall about 5 times in my entire life. My outdoor climbing experience includes trees, low walls, ladders, and probably my dog when I was small enough to imagine he was a horsie. I had a ton of fun, and my climbing got a lot better as the day progressed. I didn’t finish a few walls, but I topped them all except for one by the time people were talking about packing up.  I decided to give the wall I had only partially climbed another chance.

I was off to a fresh start.  I used the techniques I learned from the other walls and other climbers to my advantage.  Lift with your legs, not your arms.  The chalk marks are the way to go. Trust your shoes.  Wearing pants reduces bleeding by up to 100%. Even though I was in fine novice form, I got stuck at the same place as before.  I saw two paths, and they both bested me time after time.  After each of my 5 or 6 falls, Emma (my belayer) would yell out her encouragement to me and convince me to give it one more shot.  Even when I asked her nicely to let me down, she urged me to try again. Even when I calmly explained to here that I had eaten batches of jello that were more firm than my arms were, she wouldn’t let me down. When I told her that I was done for the day, I’d accepted my defeat, and I didn’t have to climb every wall on my first day out, she told me she wasn’t letting me down until I tried just one last time.  The feeling of wanting to punch someone so very badly but having no energy left to do so is a very ironic one. I tried to focus myself for one last push. Trust the shoe. Trust the shoe. Picture Jenn at the top of the rope.  Trust the shoe.  Swear at the wall.  Trust the shoe.  Never stop swearing.  Trust the shoe.

Before my body had time to complain, I threw myself back onto the wall.  I pulled, I reached, I strained myself back to the the spot that I thought of as the peak of my accomplishments. And then, I was passed it.  I had kept hold of the next rock!  The next was suddenly in my hand, and the next came just as fast.  My weakening muscles were preemted by two things far more powerful – adrenaline and determination. I wish I had climbed with a camera, because the view from the top of that rope was spectacular. On the way back down, I was shocked  – I thought that I had nothing left.  I was sure of it.

I was looking for a quote from Gattaca that fit what I felt, but I found a much better one instead: It’s funny, you work so hard, you do everything you can to get away from a place, and when you finally get your chance to leave, you find a reason to stay.

As usual, there will be pictures when there are pictures.

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Rock!

A very strong argument could be made for the idea that there are two things which number among the best things in life.  One of those things is being at the absolute end of your ability, being so ready to give up that another attempt seems like it would be harder and more painful than anything else in the world, being so desolated by your failure that you can’t think of anything else… and then getting up, giving one final effort to the shouting and kind words of friends, and accomplishing things that you thought you never could’ve done.

The other of those things is free cheese.

When both of those things happen to me in the same day, I’ll be able to sleep happily tonight.  After the homemade lasagna, that is.

(ETA of rockclimbing pics: unknown.  current status: MIA.  response: draft letter of condolenses for next of kin)

I’ll actually talk about the real world as opposed to self-righteous idealism when I get home tonight.  Keep eating free cheese.

edit: I’m tired, and therefore a liar.  stories tomorrow.

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Lagom

For some reason, I’m really stretching for topics for a new post.  I figured you guys didn’t want to hear about how we’re reducing bandwidth consumption by applying texture compression algorithms in my mobile graphics class, and that’s about all I’ve got.  In the next few days, I’m going climbing and I’ll have finished applying to jobs (hopefully), so I might have some exciting tales at that time.  Until then, here’s the canned blog post:

 

There’s a Swedish word, “Lagom“, that can’t be directly translated to any other languages. The closest possible translation is usually said to be “just right”, “enough”, or “in moderation”.  None of these words really carries the meaning across, though, because they all imply settling or a lack of satisfaction, whereas lagom is more of a perfect amount; better than excess. When a rich man drives a nice volvo instead of a flashy corvette, it is said to be lagom.

There are certain things about Swedish culture which are really quite lagom. The world could learn a thing or two from this country.

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Jante Law

I’ve caught whatever bug’s currently hitting the students over here, so here’s a post I wrote when I got back from Aarhus. See kids, planning ahead means you can pass out and feel kind of like dying with no repercussions. 

 

A Norwegian/Danish author once created a concept describing Denmark’s culture, referred to as the Jante Law. Roughly paraphrased, it means that Danish society frowns upon those who intentionally try to make themselves better than others, or to wield one’s accomplishments over your neighbours’ heads. Although this is seen as a negative aspect of Danish culture, I find it really refreshing.  I like to judge my worth based on my own accomplishments, and how far I’ve come from where and who I once was in life.  I’ve never understood why people get so hung up on comparing themselves to those around them.  There are a near infinite number of people who are better than you at something, and they will always be better than you at that one thing, no matter how hard you try.  You will also meet countless people that you might be tempted to feel superior to for one reason or another. I don’t see the point in competing with your peers, you can’t ever really connect to someone if you’re constantly sizing them up to see which arbitrary pissing contest you can best them at this time. I’m not talking about sports or other set competitions, I’m talking about defining yourself as a person. It’s comforting to know that there’s an entire country that looks down on the idea of emphasizing the differences between people instead of their similarities.  But hey, what do I know.

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Aarhus Photos

I didn’t realize my rant was so long.  Oh well.  In other news, Aarhus photos are up.

I’m going on a trip to Stockholm in a month with my floor, which should be cool.  The school is also organizing some trips to Russia in November.  I’m going to be so damn poor.

Oh yeah, and Jamie is good at this blogging thing.

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9/11: Lest we forget

I realize that this is a day late, and for that I’m sorry.

Yesterday I had a great conversation with Jenn about the great tragedy that 9/11 has become. The tragedy is that honest, hard working American citizens are STILL hung up on something that happened 5 years ago.  The USA has been turned completely upside down because a few terrorists got exactly what they wanted, they caused the strongest nation in the world to curl up into a little ball and lead its citizens into a brave new world of fear, uncertainty, and doubt.  Let me make myself clear:  9/11 was a terrible thing.  Roughly 3000 people losts their lives to a bunch of sick nutjobs whose twisted mental state lead them to believe that killing thousands of innocent people was the unquestionably right thing to do. It is a day that should be remembered for those who were murdered.

One thing 9/11 is not is proof that those crazy terrorists are going to kill us all. Let’s put things in perspective.

  • The estimated number of deaths attributable to obesity each year in the US is approximately 280,000 
  • The annual death rate from traffic accidents hit a record low (per person) in 2004 at 42,800 deaths
  • 30,622 people committed suicide in 2001. Even if you attribute all of those suicides to 9/11, the article goes on to say that suicide made up 1.3% of the total deaths that year.  29% were from heart diseases and 23% were from cancer
  • The tsunami that hit Indonesia in 2005 killed over 200,000 people
  • The US Department of state reports that 56 US citizens were killed worldwide as a result of “incidents of terrorism” (you can also check out the entire report)

All of these things cause way more death and harm than any terrorist could ever hope to.  I wouldn’t be surprised if terrorists secretly worship Ronald McDonald. Yet 9/11 still has people worked up into a frenzy, but obesity is shrugged off when it kills almost 100 times more people each year than 9/11 did.

A poster on slashdot, a geek news site, ran some numbers and came to the conclusion that the average person is less likely to be killed by terrorism than they would have of winning the lottery if they played once a week for 52 years.  Now admittedly random people on the internet and their calculations are not to be trusted, but I’d say it puts things in the right ballpark.

An analysis of the recent liquid bomb scare came to the conclusion that it was completely unfeasable for anyone to do significant damage to a plane using TATP, one of the alleged explosives in the plot. The responses to these events by governments and people around the world have simply been shocking.

Anyways, that’s my rant.  Feel free to delete the past post from your brain. I should include the disclaimer: This is my opinion, it is not fact.  It is not necessarily right or valid in any way.  I got my figures from the internet, which is a dubious source at best.  I’m also an uneducated middle-class guy. Take all of this with a grain of salt.

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Prosperous Pirate Postlude

The pirate party was, in short, awesome. A scavenged wheelchair was turned into a mighty vessel that mastered the seas. One of my Canadian floormates is officially my new favourite drunk viking. I suppose I should really let you guys decide for yourself, though.  Here’s an excerpt from the new album:

If that’s not quality internet content, well then dang nabbit I just don’t know what is.

I don’t have any pictures from Aarhus yet, but there weren’t that many anyways, so for now I’ll just weave my tale of adventure and lederhosen. The morning after the pirate party, Dalia and I hopped aboard a series of trains bound for the second largest city in Denmark: Århus, or Aarhus to the rest of the world that uses real letters. Sunday was the last day of a 10 day annual festival in Aarhus, so we planned on showing up on Saturday afternoon and seeing where the wind took us.  We arrived a couple of hours before the main music stages opened up, so we wandered around the city to see the sights it had to offer. The church in the centre of town, Århus Domkirke, was quite beautiful. It contains the largest organ in Denmark, as well as being the tallest church at 96 vertical meters. Pictures of that one will be available when they actually exist.

After touring the church, we wandered outside to hear a danish children’s choir singing to a captivated audience. I was amazed by how good they sounded.  I guess Richard was right, there’s really no reason why children can’t learn to be amazing singers. From there, we followed our ears to the sound of traditional Danish music.  A band dressed in traditional garb (read: lederhosen) had the stage, and their tubas, flugel horns, and clarinets pumped out the oom-pah-pahs like it would be outlawed when their set ended in only one precious hour.  We grabbed a drink and sat down and found that the crowd was just as entertaining as the band. A group of twenty-somethings were making the best possible use of the festival by displaying their Danish pride and singing along with the band and its yodeler. When they saw Dalia snapping pictures and capturing their patriotic swaying on video, they immediately cleared a few seats and gestured to us to join them. With in minutes, we were sharing a pitcher with what seemed like old friends; linking arms, swinging side to side, and yelling along to a tune you can almost hear was really the only appropriate course of action at the time. The Danes told us that the band was, in fact, German. Oops.

After the band’s conductor finished chugging what may have been her fourth beer on stage, the band’s set ran to a close. Our newfound Danish friends were parting ways, but a particularly friendly fellow by the name of Rasmus took us on a tour of the city. The 23 year old was born in Sweden, but he moved to Denmark at the age of 13, so he really helped us to appreciate the subtle differences between the two cultures.  By that of course I mean that he laughed at us when we chose not to grab another beer at one of the beer stands on the street. By the end of the night, he had introduced us to over a dozen Danes, pointed us in the direction of a proper Danish dinner, bought us drinks at at least 5 different establishments, and was generally a classy fellow. We drank and swapped tales with his friends until 4am, at which point we headed to a local bar to dance to Danish favourites until 5:30 or so.

I never stopped feeling welcomed by Rasmus, his friends, or the Danish people.  I spoke with the two Danish girls who insisted I dance with them about how different Europe and Canada are, and yet how similar they can be. I’m reasonably certain that I had at least two conversations with people that didn’t speak a word of English. I didn’t wear my new cowboy hat on the 7am train ride home, but that’s just because the sheriff’s star would’ve caught on too many things when we tried to find unclaimed seats for the 3rd or 4th time. (Seriously Denmark, get your act together.  Sell reserved seating tickets, or sell general tickets.  Don’t sell both on the same train, especially when we want to sleep.) I stumbled home just before 1pm feeling exhausted, broken, and completely satisfied with how I had just spent what may have been the best 24 consecutive hours of my life.

When I asked one of the Danes I drunk the night away with what I should bring back home to best represent Aarhus, he thought for a few minutes and translated a Danish saying for me: “Take what you can, and leave with a smile”. He said it exemplifies the Danish people and their openness, generosity, and trusting nature. The warmth and happiness I felt while getting to know these strangers can’t quite be summed up by that phrase or any other, but it’ll have to do. I’ll leave you with a random phrase you can use to make people think you speak Danish: “Jeg elsker Djursland”. When people think that you love Djursland, the nose of the face that is the shore of Denmark, then you’ll have a pretty hard time convincing them that you’re not actually made of Danishes.

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Norse Mythology

Like most languages, the Swedish names of the days of the week have their roots in mythology:

Monday – Måndag – Måne – Moon

Tuesday – Tisdag – Tyr – One-handed God of Battle and Bravery

Wednesday – Onsdag – Odin – Chief God of Wisdom and War; God of Generally Being A Badass and Wielding a Giant Sword In Final Fantasy IV

Thursday – Torsdag – Tor – Thor (son of Odin), Norse God of Thunder and Lightning

Friday – Fredag – Frej – Freya, Norse God of Fertility

Saturday – Lördag – Löga – Old verb meaning “to wash”

Sunday – Söndag – Söl – Sun

I find it kind of cool that religion has been such a profound part of human history that even the most literally every day words originate from religions.

And washing.

 

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Pirate Party

Never before have I been so surrounded by pirates.  It was absolutely excellent. The pictures are being downloaded from a friend’s camera as I write this. I’ll post a few more when I get back from Arhus.  I’ve also set up a blog post that should automatically be published during the weekend while I’m gone, which hopefully should actually work.

Have a good pirate-filled weekend.

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