Thursday, November 30, 2006

Frostbite Paddle

This past weekend I had the pleasure of going on the Frostbite Paddle to Äskörn Island, about 70 km west of Helsinki, in the Gulf of Finland. The trip was organized by the Sipoon Kanoottiklubi (Sipoo Canoe Club) (SKK). (Click on the British flag for English translations for some pages.) On Saturday morning, we picked out our sea kayaks at the clubhouse, and then began the drive westward.

One of the areas we drove through was Porkkala, which was the peninsula with the closest distance between Estonia and Finland. After WWII, the Russians "rented" this area from the Finns to protect the narrow passageway up the Gulf to St. Petersburg. The train that headed westward from Helsinki featured "the longest tunnel in Finland" because Russians would board the train and make the passengers draw the blinds on the windows so that they couldn't see out.

Once arriving at Orslandet, we 8 paddlers changed clothes and loaded up the boats. It was overcast and about mid 40s. We wore dry suits and pogies (covers acting like gloves that attach to the paddles to protect your hands from wind and water). We paddled 4 km to the island of Äskörn, which was owned by Clas's son and had several cabins on it, an outhouse, and a woodfired sauna. After unpacking and relaxing for a bit, once it got dark, the women went to the sauna. When they returned, it was the men's turn. (More on the sauna experience in the next post.)

The island was forested with pine trees with rich underbrush and moss, all clinging to the granite bedrock.

Afterward, it was dinnertime. Clas's wife's pork curry recipe is a club favorite and continues to be passed down. Let me say that was a wonderful meal, followed by general merriment and drinking.

We woke up casually the next morning, cleaned up the cabins, then headed around in a loop around a larger island, briefly stopping at Lindstrom's Wolf to hear the story of its name by Clas (the "wolf" was a rock in the water confused by an old woman in the fog to be a wolf). Later that day, the wind calmed down and the sky cleared up, making for a real special treat. Swans were floating around (although beautiful, they are kind of the Canada geese of Finland--all over the place). We had paddled almost 13 km on Sunday, before packing up the cars and heading home.

Thanks for a great trip, Clas and SKK!

Update (8 December 2006): Here are pictures and the story told by Clas from the SKK web site.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Tallinn, Estonia

The research branch of FMI (about 200 people) have a retreat every year. This year, the retreat was held on a ferry to Estonia. Tallinn is 50 miles (80 km) across the Gulf of Finland from Helsinki. There are several ferry companies in existence. Our ferry, the Galaxy, was huge and had sleeping rooms. The boat departed about 6:30 p.m. on Monday, ending up at Tallinn about 10 p.m. People sleep on the boat, then are allowed to depart in the morning to go to the city. The boat leaves Tallinn at 1:30 p.m., returning to Helsinki at 4:45 p.m.

Because alcohol prices are so much lower in Estonia, people stock up. Even little old ladies have dollies with them, lugging several cases of booze back to Helsinki. Our boat was relatively empty, but it can turn into a real party boat when full. The ship has a disco, karaoke bar, saunas, pool, children's playroom, and restaurants on board.

Of course, the FMI researchers were all about business. There were also conference rooms where we met on the way to Estonia and on the way back. The four new professors (including me) introduced ourselves to the FMI research employees (about half of the 200 were able to make it).

Part of the attraction for Estonia is that the Finns and Estonians share a common heritage, speaking similar languages.
When Estonia was behind the Iron Curtain, families could not see each other. Tallinn is a very old city, unlike Helsinki, which is relatively recent (a blog entry about that in the future). The oldest part of the city was built behind walls (see below).


For the last two weekends, I have visited a museum each. The previous one, which I neglected to blog about was the Athos exhibit, an exhibition of religous art and icons from Greek monasteries from the island of Athos.

"According to tradition, the Virgin Mary with John
the Evangelist, or their way to visit Lazarus in Cyprus,
encountered a stormy sea that forced them to temporarily
seek refuge in the port which is now the Holy Monastery
of Ivira. The Virgin Mary, admiring the wild beauty of
the place, asked God to give her the mountain as a present.
Then the voice of our Lord was heard saying: "Let this place
be your lot, your garden and your paradise, as well as a
salvation, a haven for those who seek salvation". Since then,
Mount Athos is considered as "The Garden of the Virgin Mary.
In the 5th century AD, the first monks came to Mount Athos,
who disappointed from the boredom of everyday communal life,
found this beautiful and uninhabited place ideal for
worship their God."

What Mary thought of a bunch of men living on her island remains unanswered.

This weekend's museum trip was to the Sederholm House, which is the oldest house in Helsinki's city center, built in 1757. (I ride/walk by this house every day to work.) The exhibit was a history of Nordic maps, although the collection included more than just Nordic maps, but worldwide maps going back to the days of Ptolemy. The collection had maps by Mercator, Ziegler, and other famous map makers. Hurry to see this exhibit---it closes on 25 Feburary 2007.

For the kayakers out there, there was even something for us.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Update on Weather Discussion

As Greg C. noted, I posted a link that doesn't work. Actually, it links to an internal page at FMI. I've attached a snapshot of that page so that you can see the upcoming schedule through the end of the year.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

What's Up With Those Finns?

Welcome to the debut of what I hope becomes a recurring feature of my blog: "What's Up With Those Finns?" This is where I comment on some interesting aspects of Finnish culture, from my own weird perspective.

  • How do elderly Finns and women in high-heeled boots comfortably walk around on sheets of ice that are causing me problems?
  • Why don't Finns wear ear protection more often in the cold winter air? Many people walk around with red ears.
  • Why do Finns drink sour milk, and why is their first justification for it always, "It's good for your digestion"? [The first carton of milk I bought my first night in Finland was this sour milk. Needless to say I was a little surprised at its thickness and taste--think drinkable yogurt without the nice taste.]
  • Finnish pizza will beat most pizzas in the U.S., except frozen pizza. I haven't found good frozen Finnish pizza as good as several brands in the U.S.

Shadowshifting Forecasters and Weather Briefing

One of the things I've been doing at work is having a lot of meetings with people and seeing how the research and forecasting enterprise works in Finland. Jenni Teittinen works at FMI as a forecaster and researcher. She has arranged for me to sit in with four forecasters over the next few weeks to see how the different shifts work. The first shift was from 7:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Friday, and Jenni was the forecaster. You can see her above analyzing one of the surface maps. Her work area is shown below, with radar and satellite on big screens on the wall, as well as hand-analyzed surface and upper-air maps. Most of her time was spent entering and updating marine and public forecasts, including products that will be used on the radio and TV. On future shifts, I'll see the work of the medium-range forecaster, the warnings forecaster, and the commercial-sector forecasters.

Also on Friday, I got to see my first weather briefing. The briefing consists of two components. The first part is a weather briefing given by a forecaster, talking about the recent and forecasted weather. The second part is a short presentation by a researcher on something that people ought to know relevant to both researchers and forecasters. I have been told that this was something that I was responsible for motivating during my interview last November, but the rumblings were already there previously.

One interesting thing about the weather briefing was the attendance. It was standing room only in a room holding about 30 people. The Director of Research and most managers were there, as were the forecasters who could spare the time from their shifts. I was VERY impressed by this. When I commented on this, I was told that the Director General of FMI (he would be Dracula in the earlier picture from Halloween) and his Deputy occasionally come also. So, big kudos to management participation in FMI!

First Finnish Concert

One of my office neighbors is Pertti Nurmi, a verification expert, and colleague of Harold Brooks (one of my office neighbors in Norman at the National Weather Center). Pertti is a long-time blues fan and excellent photographer. His work can be seen on the covers of Blues News, the magazine of the Finnish Blues Society. I told him to keep me posted about shows coming to the area that I should check out.

Thursday was my lucky day. There was a mini festival occurring in a suburb of Helsinki called Fillmore Northeast and he invited me to go along. There were three acts. The first was a drums and guitar experimental jazz duo. They were enjoyable. The next act is pictured here. Yes, this guy is for real. His name is Viktor Kalborrek
. He had a novelty hit in the 70s. He spoke in Finnish, but he kept referring to himself in the third person. One song he performed that I recognized was "I'm Just a Gigolo." He was entertaining, although kind of pathetic.

The highlight (and headliner) of the show was the Jim Campilongo Trio. This guy started out slow, but gained my respect as the show progressed. He played instrumental guitar backed by a stand-up bass and drummer. He played a unique blend of country, surf, rock, and blues guitar. Very, very enjoyable. You can hear him on iTunes. My favorite song was "American Hips." All in all, a great start to music listening in Finland! Thanks, Pertti.

Java Dave

People who know me know that I don't drink coffee. The only times I drink coffee regularly is when I've been to Europe for conferences. Because of the time shift, I have needed the coffee to stay awake during the meeting. Here at FMI, there are two coffee machines on each floor (four floors) in the kitchen/break area. The coffee is free and is pretty good.

You have eight different choices. You can probably figure out your choices from the photo on the right. "Kahvi"="coffee", "kaakao"="chocolate", "Maito"="milk". My favorite is the kaakaokahvi or maitokaakao. You push the button, then wait about 20-30 seconds of whirring before the liquid caffeine pours into your mug.

It seems several of the research groups have set times for coffee in the morning and afternoon. They take their coffee together and sit around the break area chatting for 30 minutes or so. The groups also meet once a week in a roundtable to say what they've been working on the last week. I haven't decided whether all these meetings are beneficial to the groups or not. Seems like a time sink in some ways, but group unity and knowledge within the groups is pretty well disseminated. In any case, it's clear the free-coffee machines are a big hit.


On Tuesday afternoon, I was invited to join a regular group of people from FMI that play floorball. There is actually an international federation for play. Essentially, it is indoor field hockey played with a whiffle ball. It seems a pretty big deal here, as the sporting goods stores carry the sticks and you can see people on the tram carrying their sticks to the game. There are about five people on a team played on a court about the size of a small basketball court. There is no offsides, so it's a high-scoring game.

There are other indoor sports that you see people play here: badminton and soccer. The gymnasium on campus here, also has an indoor rock-climbing wall that's about 40 feet high.

FMI has a all-female floorball game on Mondays, coed floorball on Monday and Tuesdays, and soccer on Wednesday mornings.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Weekend #2

This weekend I hooked up with Clas, a retired gentleman, who picked me up and took me to the Sipoon Kannoottiklubi, a kayak club about 20 km east of Helsinki in Sipoo. What a great little place they have! Below are pictures of one of their cabins where they store boats, both members' kayaks and those owned by the club. This day we spent preparing the cabins for winter, pulling items out of the frozen water, and then enjoying weinerschnitzel at the restaurant next door.

One unique thing about this club is that they have facilities for people in wheelchairs to prepare and launch their own kayaks by themselves. Attached is a picture of a robot tractor that runs via remote control, helping the paddler get in the water. This was built by one of the club members, and has become quite the attraction.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Life in Finland, from the Finnish perspective

A colleague at work forwarded this link. How To Speak Finnish in Three Minutes.

It comes from the English language version of one of the Helsinki newspapers,
Helsingin Sanomat. If you want to see what's going on in the Helsinki world, see this link.

They also have a FAQ about Helsinki and a Q&A about life in Finland called "You Know You Have Been In Finland Too Long, When..."

PhD Defenses in Finland

I had an opportunity to see a PhD defense last Friday. The candidate was Mia Pohjola, who had studied observations and modeling of particulates in urban areas. A PhD dissertation in Finland is a collection of 5 or 6 papers that the student has coauthored on a common theme. The dissertation is then bound together with about 40 pages of new introductory material explaining the relationships between the papers. She did this work while working at FMI.

When we entered the lecture hall, there were bound copies of the thesis (as FMI technical reports) for the audience to have. The student, her advisor, and the "opponent" entered the room and we all stood. The student's parents were seated in the audience in front of me. They proceeded to the front of the lecture hall where three chairs and two desks were placed. Both the advisor and opponent were carrying black top hats with frills that they placed down on the top of the desks, displaying them toward the audience. The student sat on stage left, the opponent on stage right, and the advisor on stage center. The student made some introductory remarks, the opponent made some comments about the research. Then the defense really began. The student made a brief (15-minute presentation) on very general aspects of the problem she was studying. Then the opponent, who had prepared responses to her thesis started asking her questions. This lasted for about an hour and 45 minutes. Then, the opponent made a speech about the importance of this work to the overall scientific community. There was some applause as she was congratulated on passing her defense. Then, the three people left, and the audience followed. There was cake and coffee for dessert, and a meet-and-greet line to congratulate the new PhD.

I should say that this all occurred in Finnish, although most defenses occur in English because the opponent may be a foreign scientist. In this case, the opponent was from a different univeristy in Finland, so the proceedings were held in Finnish. Mia's thesis (and published papers) were written in English.

I was impressed at the pomp associated with the defense and look forward to being able to participate in one of these in the future.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Second snowstorm of the season

Yesterday (Sunday) was gorgeous. The sun was out all day and temperatures were in the upper 20s with no wind. It was great. I went shopping downtown at the monster department store, Stockmann's. On the way back, there was a wall of clouds to the south, fortelling the incoming storm. When I woke up this morning, the snow had begun to fall and it was windy (probably 15-20 mph). Snow fell most of the day, leaving about 4 inches on the ground by evening. Perhaps I'll have more pictures tomorrow. This was the second storm. The first one happened the day before I arrived (31 October) and left an inch and a half on the ground. Much further inland, I am told, they had 30-40 cm from that storm.

Halloween party

The Finnish Meteorological Institute (FMI) had a Halloween party last Friday night. Since the invitations arrived in Finnish, I didn't know to dress up (nor would I have had the clothes). Fortunately, they had hats for the few people that didn't dress up. As you can see, some people really got into the spirit. This is a picture of me and the Director General of FMI.

My neighborhood

This is the view from the street of the entrance of my apartment. A block away is the water, and a walking path around the island. This is the view from that walking path looking back towards the red church on the island.

My apartment-2

My apartment-1

Here is the inside of my apartment. The bedroom is just big enough for the double bed. The kitchen is really that closet with the stove, fridge, sink, and shelves inside. Very clever. (A stove, but no oven.) As you can see, the Finns make use of the space well with very modern simple designs.

Another view of downtown Helsinki

Katajonokka is the island (looks like a penninsula) off to the right of the image. I live on the north side of the island, one block from the water.

Where I live and work

This is a map of Helsinki, the university where I work and where my apartment is (on the island of Katajanokka). Kumpula is the campus of the University of Helsinki where the Finnish Meteorological Institute is located.

First Day on the Job

(reposted from another blog site I didn't like;
Originally authored on Thursday November 2, 2006)

Greetings from Helsinki, Finland! This is my way of staying in touch with friends and family while I am on a one-year sabbatical at the Finnish Meteorological Institute and University of Helsinki.

Yesterday, I arrived about an hour late due to airline delays. I was taken to my apartment on the island of Katajanokka (well connected to Helsinki Centre by bridges). It's a nice little apartment on the second floor, right off the trolley line. Very convenient. I think I'm pretty lucky.

Today I went on a whirlwind tour of my new building, meeting tons of people. Then, the afternoon and evening was spent getting my new MacBook Pro organized the way I like it. It's getting late and I need to get some dinner. More later.