May 2003 Archives

Mercklen Family

I've uploaded a gallery of pictures from Moselem Springs in Berks County, Pennsylvania. This area was settled by many Protestant Alsatians fleeing persecution following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in France, including my great-great-great- great-great-great-grandfather Johann Christian Mercklen. Johann left the city of Metz for Pennsylvania in 1703. His descendants lived as farmers, blacksmiths and millwrights in western Pennsylvania, at one point owning over 1,300 acres of land.

Although the family land was sold in the 1960's to build a golf course, most of the buildings remain, including an 18th-century house and mill. The Lutheran church nearby has a graveyard with many family tombstones from the past 250 years. Most are carved in German blackletter and eroded by the elements, which makes deciphering the names difficult.

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This will have to hold you untill I can process the two hundred pictures I took today in Berks County, Pennsylvania, in and around Moselem Springs. This gravestone is from Zion Moselem Lutheran Church, founded in 1743.

Edit: more here.

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On Wednesday May 21st, Al-Jazeera broadcast an audio tape allegedly from Ayman al-Zawahri, a member of al-Qaida, urging terrorist attacks on several countries including Norway. The United States has since temporarily closed its embassy in Oslo due to security concerns, and Norwegian interests and companies all over the world are now trying to come to terms with a threat unprecedented in their history. An Associated Press piece provides some more background.

Norway had a small part in the war in Afganistan, sending some mountaineering troops in to assist coalition forces. Some think the threat was actually intended for Denmark, which had a large rôle in the war in Iraq -- security has been stepped up in København considerably as a precaution.

Amidst all these theories, there is one that has not gotten much play in the US press. Abdel Bari-Atwan, editor of the London Arabic-language newspaper القدس العربي (al-Quds al-Arabi), says that Norway's treatment of a radical Kurd may be the reason the country was singled out as a terror target in the audio tape.

The Norwegian police arrested a man named Mullah Krekar in March on suspicion of financing terrorism. The arrest came shortly after the Norwegian foreign ministry declared that Krekar had to leave the country within three weeks, then quickly reversed itself when it discovered such an order was illegal under the terms of the asylum law. His case is now being handled by Økokrim, the Economic Crimes unit. You can read the complaint against him on the website of the Høyesterett (Supreme Court,) if you understand Norwegian. Interestingly, according to paragraph 147a of Norwegian law, Norway's interests do not necessarily have to be threatened by the alleged terrorism, so the arrest may have to do with planning for an attack elsewhere in Europe or the world.

Krekar, 47, founded the Ansar al-Islam movement in Iranian Kurdistan and has lived with his family in political asylum in Oslo since 1991. He has shadowy links with both the Iranian and (former) Iraqi government. Colin Powell is on the record as saying that Ansar al-Islam shelters members of al Qaeda, a charge Krekar denies. In February, the State Department designated the group as being linked to terrorism.

"In the eyes of extremist Muslims, it is a serious matter that the extremely religious Krekar risks punishment and exile from Norway. In addition, Norway was an extremely zealous ally in the war against Afganistan," says Bari-Atwan from London.

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Stamps from Norway

Some stamps from Norway -- from a package sent at Christmastime, thus the seasonal knit cap.

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New Phone

My trusty Ericsson T39 finally bit the dust the other day, searching in vain for a signal without ever finding one. Looks like its time for an upgrade, but navigating the confusing world of service plans, phones and carriers is enough to confuse even me, who's had a cell phone since high school. You are in a twisty maze of rebates, all alike.

Throw into the mix the fact I'm moving to Seattle in late August, and that I want a phone that is not SIM-locked (restricted to one carrier), and that the company with the best prices on new phones (T-Mobile {née VoiceStream}) refused to deal with me because I'm a current customer and thus not a new SSN for their quota.

I finally went ahead and ordered the Nokia 3650 through ATT Wireless -- after years of loyalty to a Swedish phone, I'm Finnished. I can't find anything in SonyEricsson's current lineup for $150 which has

  • GPRS
  • Tri-Band GSM (for use in Europe and Asia)
  • IrDA Infrared
  • Bluetooth
  • VGA-quality camera
  • large color screen
  • mystifying rotary button layout

I actually played around with a 3650 at NAB, when I was looking into video on cell phones.

I'm under no illusion that 90% of the features will be useful on this phone -- certainly a RealVideo player on a cell phone, at today's GPRS data rates, is a ticket to nothing other than penury -- but a bigger screen is nice for reading CNN's and the BBC's WAP sites. Now to rig up a perl script to automatically post pictures taken with the built-in camera to this blog...

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Flowers on Broadway

Just a quick update as an excuse to upload a picture taken at a flower stand on Broadway and 103rd. Today is the beginning of commencement exercises on campus; the video feed we're providing will be available in both Real and Multicast MPEG-1 here.

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Took a walk through Central Park yesterday with the new camera and managed to take a few snapshots of various avian and terrapin wildlife. We're finally getting some nice sunny days in New York. Thanks to Alicia for help identifying the birds.

The Canon 28-135mm lens is working out great -- it's a good range for both a far-off shot of an egret as well as when the turtles want their close-up. Think the next lens on my list might be a wide-angle. Due to the 10D's 1.6x focal-length multiplier, you have to get a pretty extreme lens to get much of an effect at all, which is a shame -- it's the downside to the same optical principle that renders telephoto lenses that much more powerful when attached to this body. Having said that, the Tokina 17mm looks like it does a good job in this situation. Here's a review of the lens by a guy who shoots with a 10D himself.

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Currency Pictures

One of my co-workers has put up a terrific gallery of exotic currency from countries all over the world. Check it out here.

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Dez Reais

While in Brazil in 2000, I got this bill in change at a store. It's a 20 Reais note, produced especially for the 500th anniversary of the country (counting from Pedro Álvares Cabral's discovery on April 22nd, 1500.)

What's interesting about it is something that's difficult to sense without running your finger over the surface -- it's printed on polymer plastic instead of cloth paper. The red circle on the left-hand side is actually transparent plastic. When you fold the bill over on itself, the numerals "10" appear when viewed through the red filter.

Here is an image of the back of the bill. Note the multi-racial faces on it -- everything from white to black to indigenous. For more detailed info, see this page on the website of the Banco Central do Brasil, or this page in English.

Although 10 Reais is about $3.70 at today's exchange rate, the bill itself is allegedly worth $12-$15 as a souvenir. That trip to Rio is paying for itself already.

{Side note: the currency is Brazil is one real, plural reais. Initial 'r' goes to an h sound in most Brazilian dialects of Portuguese, and terminal 'l' causes the lips to be rounded into almost a w sound.}

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Frälsnings Armén

Here is an oddity: The Central Citadel of the Salvation Army inhabits a building on 52nd Street bearing a distinctively Swedish inscription. Tillbedjen Herren i helig skrud translates as "Worship the Lord in holy garb" and is a verse from the 29th Psalm. (Note the use of the archaic -en imperative.) Frälsnings Armén is, of course, the Salvation Army -- att frälsa is "to save."

How this building -- which looks to have been built in the 1940's -- came to have a Swedish name and motto is an interesting question. I suppose that this book would have some answers.

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10D First Pictures

I took the Canon 10D out for a walk today on my way to lunch. The results -- pretty much the first shots I've taken on the camera -- are here.

Since I haven't gotten around to choosing a lens of my own yet, I borrowed a Sigma 28-135mm zoom from my friend زرينة (Zarina). The range of the lens was terrific, allowing me to capture everything from curbside flowers to distant buildings. I'm looking at getting a Canon lens with roughly the same focal length range, but with Image Stabilization to counteract my lack of ability to hold a camera steady.

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Mayonnaise Oasis

I think this is the most disturbing visual image a condiment has ever inspired in me.

In the middle of the desert, surrounded by gently swaying palm trees, bubbling pools of creamy white greet the weary traveler as he dismounts from his camel. Wiping the desert sand from his brow, he removes the dry turkey and toasted bread he has carried with him for so many miles -- for finally, he has reached the fabled Mayonnaise Oasis.

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My dad informs me this is where we'll be staying in early August, when we arrive in Amsterdam for our European vacation. We don't have very many firm plans yet, but I hope to visit some small towns in both Prussia and Alsace-Lorraine where have records of relatives going back to 1435.

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Zelina Sannum

As noted here, the Norwegian pianist Zelina Sannum performed an evening of works by Mozard, Chopin, Bach and Busoni last Thursday at Den Norske Sjømansskirke. I stopped by to drop off some things for my friend Eirik, but got shanghied into manning the ticket window and staying for the event.

I'm glad I did -- the pieces were spectacularly performed and I'm not sure I've ever seen such virtuosity up close. She'll be performing again at the Manhattan School of Music, Thursday May 15th at 9pm.

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CardBus CF

An interesting development: the first Compact Flash CardBus adaptor I've seen. Everything I've seen so far uses the older PCMCIA bus. PCMCIA (later renamed PC Card after too many jokes about People Can't Memorize Computer Industry Acronyms) is an implementation of the 16-bit ISA expansion bus in a small form factor. CardBus is more akin to the 32-bit PCI expansion bus, so it should be significantly faster.

Of course, the limiting factor with most CF cards is probably the slow speed of the Flash RAM, but with newer 32x/40x cards, as well as IBM MicroDrives, this could well speed the transmission of the 6- and 11-megapixel images generated from newer digital cameras.

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10D ships

The new Canon digital camera shipped today, so I should hopefully have it by Tuesday. Turns out a bunch of my co-workers shoot with SLR's which use Canon lens mounts, so I may try out a few of their lenses before I pull the trigger one a new one myself.

The leading contender right now is a 28-135mm IS USM lens from Canon. (Due to the 1.6 focal length multiplier in the 10D, this ends up being something more like a 45-216mm). Although a fixed, prime lens would be a lot cheaper, I see a lots of folks raving about the Image Stabilization feature helping them catch shots they'd otherwise miss in the field when they're without a tripod.

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Attended the 93rd annual meeting of the Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Study last weekend. This year the convention was in scenic Minneapolis. How àpropos.
Before the convention itself began, we had an opening reception in the St. Paul Science Museum, home to the traveling Vikings exhibition which has toured through New York and Washington, D.C. As well as a nice view of the Mississippi.

Had a chance to catch up with friends from previous conferences: here, on the bus back from the museum, is Chip waving a friendly hello, while Morgan and Jakob debate Deep Eco interpretations of nature poetry. Probably.

Chip gave a paper on The Nature of Silent Swedish Cinema and Terje Vigen, while Morgan talked about Deconstruction in Egalia's Daughters: A Satire of the Sexes. Jakob pontificated about The Liar's Island: Choreography in Martin A. Hansen and Harald Kidde.

The hotel bar at the Hyatt turned into the social center for this convention - free popcorn will do that. Here Andrey is trying to teach us Russian whistling technique while Morgan pretends not to notice.

Of course, Minneapolis offers lots to entertain visiting academics besides anonymous conference hotels. This statue, for example, while appearing as a wraith-like apparition in this shot, is actually a life-size statue of Mary Tyler Moore, captured at the exact moment she tossed her hat into the air and frozen in a lifeless scream for all eternity. Chip and Brigid join the fun. (Brigid presented on The I’s Eye: Hans Christian Andersen’s Travel Narratives.)

No conference would be complete without a farewell banquet. This one was marked by an unforgettable speech by Anatoly Lieberman on Who Goes Beserk and Why?. For those of us concerned that Scandinavian Studies has for too long neglected the influence of psychotropic mushrooms on Viking behavior, this talk was a welcome antidote.

After the talk came dancing, with the obligatory ABBA cover band. Here Chip, myself and an anonymous Solaris kernel engineer (who wandered into the wrong conference) enjoy the ambiance.

Listening to: Bendik og Årolilja from the album "Jygri" by Gåte

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Going through an old backpack, I found the following business card for a restaurant thaï in Paris:

My dad and I ate here, in the 7ème arrondissement, in January 2001. Zagat claims:

Hipsters and fashionistas seeking something "spicy" and "exotic" sashay over to chef Thiou's eponymous Thai near Les Invalides.

I remember it as Thai gracefully softened by French influences - exactly what you would hope for, and the best meal on the trip.

[Listening to: Albin Och Pia - Owe Thörnqvist - Owe Thörnqvists Bästa]
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