Thursday, January 31, 2008

First evening

Here's a view of our living room/kitchen.

After snacks and naps, we went exploring in the other direction. We are one block away from a cathedral, which is being restored. They hung a big sheet in front of the cathedral which shows what it's supposed to look like... and has a big ad for the company that's helping pay. I thought this sign at the entrance was funny. Can you decipher the pictogram?

Inside the church was fabulous! The kids bought candles to light.

And on the way home we stopped for gelato.

Naylors in Barcelona

SAS offers an airfare "Advent calendar" in December, where for one day only they post special deals on trips. Pam picked up airfare to Spain for about $100/ticket for us. Early early Thursday morning we drove to the airport and were off to Barcelona.

Here's the kids in the Oslo airport... an authentic Norwegian scene:

We took an expensive taxi from the airport to downtown Barcelona (63 euros = $100), to meet our apartment manager Roberto. We were dropped in the middle of the Gothic quarter, the oldest part of Barcelona. Pam couldn't have found a better location for us -- wow!

We walked down narrow streets that felt more like alleys... cobblestone streets, 60 foot high buildings towering either side, it felt like being a mouse in a maze. The building are very old and the walls bulge and seem to sway. Not many straight lines in these parts! The entrance to our apartment is tucked between two stores, we walk up a narrow staircase to an elevator and go to the 4th floor.

Our apartment is Catalonia-style, if there is such a thing. Tiled floors and walls, antique furniture, a large balcony. Just great! Roberto draws a map showing where a couple markets are, and we immediately head out to get some food.

On our way to the market:

We are close to Las Ramblas, the main boulevard in old Barcelona. It has a wide median crowded with kiosks, flower stands, beer gardens, and street performers. We stroll a few blocks and find the expansive outdoor market. It is an explosion of colors and smells!

We buy fruits and vegetables, juice and candy. Mango, papaya, some other fruits we've never seen before. There are strange meats at some stalls. Stomach? I'm not sure. We found one shop selling brains. The kids were horrified. Here's the picture if you'd like to see (I made it small because it's kind of gross. Click on it for full effect). Beware: heads with eyeballs, too!

On our way home, we stop to buy flowers for our apartment.

Some street performers are dressed as statues. I give Peter a coin to put in this pirate's box. Peter approaches nervously... and the pirate lunges! Peter just about jumped out of his shoes! (We saw this guy out here every day, even the day it rained. He was extremely nice.)

Finally, back for snacks and relaxing before heading out for the evening's adventure...

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Hell: Gods Expedition

Here's the famous sign at the train station in Hell. This is a popular photo spot for tourists:

"Gods - Expedition" actually means "Goods - Cargo".


Here's the blob suits Pam got us for Christmas. They're stretchy fabric rectangles like giant pillowcases. The kids just love climbing up in them and being weird blobs. They fill them with blankets and sleep inside them sometimes, like Luke Skywalker inside a tauntaun. We sometimes have to stop them from hopping down the stairs in them!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Snow Day

We borrowed Allan's sparker this weekend -- sparker is the Norwegian word for "kicks". These are a type of snow scooter with long runners. There's a place for someone to sit in front as well. We took them out today but the snow was wrong. We need hard-packed snow or ice, and the snow is very fluffy.

So we pulled out the sleds instead and had a great afternoon sliding down the hills next to our apartment and building a snow fort. It reminds me of Michigan winters -- we just don't get this kind of snow in Washington and I'm glad the kids are having these snowy experiences.

Here's the best wipeout of the day: Peter lost his boots on this one!

Australia Day

Last night we went to an Australia Day party at Matt's apartment. Matt is one of the several Australians working at ThIS. This was a typical college party, most people were in their early 20s and it was fun socializing and meeting a lot of new young people.

At midnight we decided to join them on a walk downtown to find a pub. It was snowing, big fluffy flakes, and it felt like we were walking in a snow globe. Downtown was alive, the streets filled with late night partiers. I saw my second police car, and several police officers chasing after someone who had thrown a bottle. I'm told this was a typical weekend downtown scene -- throngs of drunk people, the police waiting to catch people who smash bottles.

There were lots of taxis downtown as well. No one in Norway drives drunk. In fact, there was a nationwide sweep a few months ago where over a weekend the police pulled over 5000 cars to check for drunks. They found exactly 0 drunk drivers. Pretty remarkable.

We visited a bar briefly, left to find another, and got separated from our group, so Pam and I went to Burger King and got some french fries instead. The sidewalks and roads were quite slick on our walk back to our car -- I fell once (graceful landing), and we had to choose a different road on the way home because we started sliding backwards even with our studded tires.

It was a grand adventure, very fun to hang out with a young crowd and experience downtown nightlife. And it only cost the price of a large fries -- $5.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Jeg gå til skolen

The past two days I went to visit Eberg skole very near where we live. Ingvill is working with 1st and 2nd grade teachers there, doing what they call "demonstration teaching," and what we call "lesson studies" in the U.S. It was delightful to talk to the children, some of whom where incredulous that I couldn't speak much Norwegian.

I have created some new images for my geometry book and am a breath away from uploading it to the publisher. Ingvill wants to translate it to Norwegian and make it available through the center's online store. Excellent!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Tors hammer

I needed a good phrase to be able to explain to others that I don't know much Norwegian. I had a friend help me cook this one up:

Jeg kan ikke mye norsk, men det lille jeg kan, bruker jeg slik som Tor svinger sin mektige hammer over himmelvelvingen og sprer frykt i sine fienders hjerter.

Translated: "I don't know much Norwegian, but the little I do know I use like Thor swinging his mighty hammer across the vaulted heavens spreading fear in the hearts of his enemies." I'm practicing saying it with a halting introduction building to a powerful and exciting climax.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Language Challenge

Okay, I've found my word list. My friend Janet lived in Norway for a few years and she loaned me some books to bring with me. My favorite: Richard Scarry's "Året Rundt I Travelby" ("Year-Round in Busytown").

It's full of drawings of all kinds of everyday things and activities, each labeled. Here's a typical page, this one is about colors:

(Yes, I can now say in Norwegian "a yellow bananamobile" and "a rainbow-colored pencil-car"!)

This book has 700-800 vocabulary words, which is a good amount and good scope of words for everyday use. This will be a good test. I'm giving myself exactly one week to learn them all perfectly... that's 7 pages per day. The key will be to create a bizarre image for each word to effectively store it in memory. For example, on the first page I learned "headlight" and "windshield" like this: someone is kneeling in front of a car licking the headlights clean, headlight = frontlykt; a windstorm has blown over a tree and its roots have crashed through the front of a car, windshield = frontrute. If the image is strong enough, then I need only learn it once. It takes some effort to come up with the image, but it should be worth it. We'll see!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Party! Gym. Language.

Pam and I went to a party last night at Megan and Marius' place, an apartment right next to the international school. We had a great time dancing to 70's disco and later the guitars came out and we had a sing-a-long. I met several new friends, folks I'm excited to see again.

This morning we went to work out, and Pam made a startling observation – she and I were the only two people in the fitness center wearing white socks. Everyone else was wearing black socks. Funny! Something else I noticed was how well-adjusted each weight machine was when I got on. Usually in the States I have to spend a minute getting each machine right, but in Norway the settings are perfect. Today it hit me – most people in Norway are tall, the same height as me! A small bonus...

I'm starting to understand snippets of Norwegian conversation now. Just a bit. I did order pizza last night entirely in Norsk, and that felt good. My office is filled with books about memory, courtesy of Allan, and I found a section in one book about memorizing languages. I'm going to try the techniques and report back soon. First I must find a suitable vocabulary list to memorize...

Friday, January 18, 2008


Two short flights, Trondheim to Oslo to Haugesund. Ingvill and I swapped math problems on the way. Here's one I quite like:

Candle Two-Distance Puzzle: Arrange 4 candles on a table (2D arrangement) so that the distances between any two candles are only one of two lengths. For example, arrange 3 in an equilateral triangle and place one in the center. Measuring from one candle to another, there are only two different lengths: the edge length of the equilateral triangle, and the length from a point of the triangle to the center. How many arrangements can you find that satisfy this two-length requirement?

I've found 5 so far, I'm told there's another.

We stayed at a nice hotel on the water, and in the morning the rektor of Skudeneshavn Skole picked us up and we drove to the island of Karmøy. Off the southwest coast of Norway, this is quite a beautiful place. Rolling rocky hills covered with mossy grass and sheep, old houses and picturesque old farms, the road winding along the coast. I forgot to bring my camera (curses!) so I stole this picture from Wikipedia:

Finally we reached the school. And wow! What a school! The playground on this school won an award as the best in Norway. There are play areas surrounding the school, each quite different. The crown jewel is a huge area known as "The Jungle," made primarily from tires. Ropes and rope ladders hang all around, and kids swing and climb in all directions. Here's a picture that doesn't do the area justice at all:

I've been invited back in April so I'll be sure to have a camera then and show many of the wonders of the school, both inside and out.

In the morning we met with a team of 7 math specialists, working on advanced math topics. This was all in Norwegian, and I was delighted to be able to follow most of the discussion. Math is easy to understand. After lunch we met with 20 local teachers and had an afternoon of math activities which I helped facilitate.

Afterwards, Einar (the rektor, or principal) took us to the old town, which is the best preserved in all of Europe. It is a harbor town with 225 buildings which date to the 1700s. It felt like a trip back in time.

Here's a few pics Ingvill took:

[insert ingvill pics here]

Finally, back home again, arriving 27 hours after departure.. More puzzles on the plane trips... my brain is very full and happy.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Slice of Math Paradise

I met with Ingvill again yesterday to discuss our upcoming trip to Karmøy. Tomorrow we leave for a two-day trip to the southwest coast of Norway to meet with math specialists and teachers in the region. We met to plan our activities ... nearly every idea I had Ingvill could one-up. Her knowledge of exciting and rich math activities is wide and deep. Our meeting quickly "deteriorated" into playing with math, which has happened in all of our meetings thus far.

Here's an interesting question: Arrange 6 counters in a triangle (rows of 1, 2, and 3) pointing away from you. How many counters must you move to reverse the direction of the triangle? Okay, that wasn't so hard. Now generalize: for a triangle of n rows, how many counters must you move to reverse its direction?

I took that problem home last night and worked it in bed. Nice patterns, nice visualization, tricky formula!

I'm in a little slice of math paradise -- everyone is doing interesting math things. Nils works with the Science Center (Vitensenteret) designing and building exhibits, Tor is working on using technology to motivate exciting explorations, Gerd is creating math curriculum for outdoor activities, Oliv is working with PhD students studying mathematics with blind students, Anne-Gunn explores mathematical art, and on and on.

And to top it off, we have as many tokens as we want for the Wittenborg fresh-ground coffee machine... my favorite is the Wiener (Vienna) Melange coffee with espresso, milk and chocolate.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Gratulerer med dagen!

It's my birthday. I am no longer young. 17 minutes ago I turned 40. Well, adjusting for time zones I think I really need to wait about 20 hours until it's 1 pm in Indiana, but legally I'm now 40 years old. It didn't seem old until I wrote it just now. Huh.

This morning there was fresh snow on the ground and it finally looks like winter again! I got picked up at 8:15 and went to Nardo school with Gerd who was completing a unit on airplane wing design with 7th graders. They had a competition today, and I got to supervise a team of students who were the jury for the competition. Gerd's son had built a huge catapult to lauch the airplanes, and it was a wonderful event.

We had to hustle back to make it for lunch -- I didn't understand what the big rush was, we could be late for lunch. But the Matematikksenteret had a surprise party for me! There was a beautiful cake, everyone sang the Norwegian birthday song for me, and they gave me a present... a very nice Dale of Norway sweater. I was extremely touched and feel very very welcomed with this group.

Pam went out with her friends tonight and I stayed in watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with the kids. In the morning I suppose I'll be mobbed by children wanting me to be all energetic for my birthday. I'm getting too old for this... ;-)

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Matematikksenteret Matematikkopplevelser

It's great to be at the Matematikksenteret. Pam drops me off on the way into school so I arrive early, before 8. I get lots of quiet concentrated work time in the morning. This week I've been editing Allan's text on Sound numbers, and it's been great fun! He really has done a superb job with the research and this is the definitive text on the history of numeric mnemonic systems.

We have several projects lined up. First has been planning for a high school math club. I'll be working with Ingvill, May, and Tor, and we've planned 7 dates this spring to bring in 20 high school kids for 2.5 hour meetings. It will be fun! The planning meeting a good lark -- we shared all kinds of math ideas and it was more like playing than planning. Here's the logo:

I based the design on Gray Code, a way of ordering the integers in binary so that each number differs from the next by one bit. It starts: 000, 001, 011, 010, 110, 111, 101, 100, ... or 0, 1, 3, 2, 6, 7, 5, 4, 12, 13, .... There's all kinds of neat patterns in it. We'll have T-Shirts made with the design.

I've got some trips coming up and some other neat projects I'll be doing with the senteret, more on those later.

At 11:30 we break for lunch. Everyone eats together in the lunch room -- a wonderful idea! I speak with colleagues in English, but part of the time I sit and listen to the conversations in Norwegian, trying to pick out words I know. I think it will take some time, but I am certain before I leave here I will participating in these conversations.

My new friends are wonderful at teaching me things in Norwegian. They send me emails to decipher, in meetings someone translates papers to me and I make notes on the words I don't know, several people have decided to teach me one sentence a day, and the secretary is tutoring me on swearing in Norwegian. (I've been practicing saying "inn i svartesvidde granskaven!" which sounds very foul if said venomously, but in fact means "in the black burnt fir forest!" ). Now and then I surprise myself by being able to write or say complete thoughts in Norwegian.

I usually walk about 1/2 hour every day, either to or from work, or today I walked from ThIS to downtown to pick up my visa and then to NTNU, and these walks are a great opportunity to listen to Norwegian lessons on my iPod. I'm on unit 7 of the Pimsleur Norwegian series, and I've learned to say and understand some moderately complex sentences like "I don't want to eat, but I would like something to drink."

I was enrolled in a Norwegian as a second language course, but I am number 77 on the waiting list unfortunately. I'm impatient to learn to speak Norwegian, but I am moving along quickly. The true test will be in the lunchroom.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Getting with the Style

I turned a little bit more Norwegian today. Everyone at the gym wears black socks. I used to secretly make fun of them. Then one day, I realized that they are probably making fun of us, too: "Look at those dorks in the white gym socks."

So today I wore my black socks to the gym. Perhaps all the cool people will want to hang around me now, I thought. But they didn't.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Dear Santa

This is worth sharing: here's Maggie's note she left for Santa on Christmas Eve.

It begins: Dear Santa, the bathroom is the first door to your right.

It got cold

I spoke too soon, the jet stream shifted and we had the Nor'easter come in. Just like in Bellingham, sometimes the jet stream doubles back on itself and the air comes from the frozen east instead of from the warm ocean. Howling freezing cold wind! Pam dropped me and Maggie off at the office on Saturday but my key card didn't work on the final security door so we had to walk home. We pretended we were Ice Age pilgrims on a Nordic survival trek.

It's good to be at the office! I've been working on a chapter for a math education research book, an article I'm coauthoring with the math chair from West Point, and a book of Sound Numbers with Allan, who's dropped by the office every day for lively discussions. I'm having so much fun! Allan also brought me a bunch of books to fill the empty shelves in my office so I would feel more academic.

Along with those projects, I've been putting together ideas for a high school math club and writing up my abacaba stuff to be published in conference procedings from the November conference. Less than one week into my sabbatical and I'm running full steam ahead!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Warm First Day

The kids are back in school today, and I've started at the Matikmatikksenteret today also. There are many fun projects I'll get to participate in, their model for disseminating ideas is excellent, one I may investigating replicating at home.

It has been warm... quite warm! Nearly all of the ice has vanished, which makes it nice for walking to campus. A bit disturbing, though, and strangest when you look at where in Norway it was the warmest. Svalbard is an arctic archipelago way way up north. Look on the globe for the largest landmass near the north pole and you'll spot it.

Check out this article from the Aftenposten (

Svalbard Warmest in Norway

It was finally snowing in southern Norway on Thursday, after a mostly green Christmas, but the weather remained unseasonably warm up north.

Svalbard, photographed here on a winter day in 2004, is exhibiting signs of global warming.


December was the warmest on record in northern Norway since 1900, and the relatively balmy temperatures continued into the New Year.

Thermometers hit a startling 6C (43F) on Wednesday on the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, ranking it as the warmest spot in the country. State meteorologists said the "normal" temperature for Svalbard in early January -- calculated over a 30-year period -- is minus-14.6C.

Last year was, in fact, the warmest ever registered on Svalbard.

Average December temperatures for the entire country were 2.8 degrees higher than normal. The highest average temperatures were recorded along the coast from the counties of Nordland to Sogn og Fjordane.

Weather stations in the northern county of Troms and also in the southeastern county of Østlandet logged record precipitation as well. Some areas reported rainfall and snow 50 percent above normal in December.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

God dag, 2008!

What a night! We went to some of Allan's friends for New Year's. Many of them were artists or other creative types, and we got along famously. We ate amazing food, had a juggling show, and then the fireworks. I have never seen so many fireworks at one time... the show went on and on and on. At 11:45 things really started cooking outside, so we got our shoes and coats on and headed out into the yard. We had a view across the river of all of Trondheim, and the fireworks were exploding all over, continuously, for about 45 minutes. In every direction and directly overhead, all manner of multicolored explosions... I had seen nothing like it in my life. It got to the point that it seemed like fireworks gluttony. Holy cow!

Finally, it petered out about 12:30 and we went back inside. The kids were crashing so we reluctantly left our new friends and headed back home.

Godt Nyttår, everyone!