Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Welcome Finns!

Originally, I had started this blog to communicate to friends and family back home in the USA. I purposefully did not tell anyone in Finland about the site so that I could blog more freely.

Within a month(!), the Ex-ExPats, a group of Finns who "have left Helsinki for studies, work or love, and have returned," appeared and started providing feedback to my questions. The web page was eerily similar in design to mine. I even asked two ex-exPats (notice lower case) at work whether they might be the Ex-ExPats. They were not. To the Ex-ExPats: Your page and comments are very helpful to me. I don't know who you are, but thank you.

Slowly, more Finns have found my page, including my friends and coworkers. My thoughts are no longer as private as I wanted them to be. So, I cannot live this secret life anymore. Welcome Finns!

Climate Change: Finnish Perspective

Two articles in today's issue of the Helsinki Sanomat, the area's biggest paper, about climate change:

Jorma Ollila surprised Finns when he stepped down as President and CEO of Nokia. Even more unexpected was the announcement that he would take up the post of Chairman of the Board of Shell Oil. It is in his capacity as board chairman of two major international corporations, Shell and Nokia, that Ollila makes yet another astounding move, by passionately taking up the fight against global warming.

Warm winters could push Baltic seals further [sic, should be "farther"] to north

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Being an Immigrant

Being a legal immigrant here in Finland has given me new perspective about what being an immigrant to America must be like. Consider this.

  • I am a well-educated, well-paid, well-meaning single person who wants to learn the language and become assimilated into Finnish culture. I speak English nearly everywhere I go. If someone comes up to me on the street asking me questions in Finnish, all I can do is reply in English. Furthermore, I can't find the time to take the classes to learn the language between working/playing hard, teaching class, and business travel. How do American immigrants do it when they work long hours for low pay,and spend time with their families?

  • I want to use my skills to earn some money and contribute to the betterment of Finnish meteorology. Mesoscale meteorologist---the job that Finns don't want to do!

  • I pay taxes to the Finnish government. If I made more money, I apparently have have to pay U.S. taxes, too!

Misc Thoughts

  • I attended my first faculty meeting today. You think American university faculty meetings are boring? It's a universal truth.

  • I noticed that almost all the great white males at this faculty meeting had hat head. The obvious exceptions were the bald ones. It's a natural affliction during this time of the year in Finland. I am unaware of any cure, although Halifax Chick has some tips.

  • People ask me all the time about my name Schultz here, assuming I'm German. Not so much in the US, where we are all pretty much mutts.

  • People in Europe seem to celebrate their name day, as much as they celebrate their birthday, if not more. Turns out my name day is Dec. 30. Thanks a lot, Name-Day God. Someone is trying to get the Name Day thing started in North America, if you care.

More on Ph.D. defenses

This Friday I got to attend my third Ph.D. defense. Sami Niemela was presenting his thesis work on parameterization schemes in numerical models, including some of his work on verifying these parameterizations and improving them. Here you can download his thesis. This time I had a role in the defense. Not in the defense itself, but in the grading that will take place this week (after the defense). Apparently, you need at least two faculty members in attendance (the thesis advisor and someone else), and the person who was supposed to be there couldn't attend, so I am filling in. (More about what this might entail after I go through the process later. Watch this blog for updates.)

We arrived at the auditorium at noon sharp. This was 15 minutes before the defense started. So, we chatted and sat for 15 minutes. This, apparently, is standard, and is proper form.

At 12:15, the opponent, thesis advisor, and Sami all came into the room wearing tuxes with long tails and white bow ties. This is the first time I've seen this. Sami gave his presentation in Finnish (an overview of how computer forecast models work and why parameterization schemes are needed). After about 20 minutes, the opponent (a professor from Oslo) and addressed the audience in English with his introduction to the significance of Sami's work, which involved much of the same arguments as Sami just made.

By now about 45 minutes had gone by, and the defense started. The opponent went through Sami's thesis and asked pointed questions about his published papers. The questions were usually specific to the paper and was quite boring for the audience. If I am ever asked to be an opponent, this process should be much more interesting and educational for the audience. By the time this questioning ended, the audience had been sitting (or sleeping for over two hours).

Then, the opponent said that Sami had satisfactorially addressed his comments and was recommended to the University for his degree. Just like the classic wedding scene, the question was asked of the audience whether they had any questions. After a brief silence, the thesis advisor declared a successful defense and it ended. No applause, just a few handshakes up front. There was coffee and cake afterward in the lobby.

This last step (asking the audience if they had any questions) is apparently pretty important. Although no one spoke (I thought because we were sick of sitting for 2 hours and 20 minutes), it is in bad form to even ask a simple question at this point. To do so apparently is a slur on the university. There are legendary stories of people who ask questions and threaten the candidate/university with not graduating because of some incomplete aspect of their thesis work. Like unsuccessful defenses in the U.S., this is rare, fortunately.

Skiing and Scotland

With about 8 inches of new snow this week, I finally caught the bug and wanted to go out and play in it. Friday night I stopped by one of the sport stores and bought a pair of cross-country skating skis. Unfortunately, they wouldn't be ready for a few days as they had to mount the bindings. Temperatures were in the low 20s F.

Undeterred, I went skiing with a friend at work on the trails at Paloheinä. They also have rentals there. The sun was shining brightly through about 2 p.m., when we finished skiing. By the time I got back home about 3 p.m., it was overcast and snowing again, dropping another inch or two overnight.

The City of Helsinki owns the land that these trails were on, and they maintain them during the winter, too. For track skiing, they lay down the tracks for people to follow, all over the city. It's a service that is free. (Renting the skis, of course, is not.)

Sunday was the charity walk through Helsinki for the FinnBrit Society to benefit the Finnish Red Cross. It was a bit of a scavenger hunt with different stops with questions needing to be answered. Temperatures were much lower, probably in the low to mid teens F, and it was a bit windier. Upon returning to the Society, we were treated to Scottish haggis. From the cited web page: "sheep's 'pluck' (heart, liver and lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally boiled in the animal's stomach for approximately an hour." Yum! Although it sounds bad, it was a bit like corned beef hash, with a nasty aftertaste. Never thought I'd be eating Haggis in Finland! The walk raised 400 euro for the Finnish Red Cross for disaster relief, and seems to be the start of an annual event.

Friday, January 26, 2007

The 46 degree halo

Yesterday morning was crisp and clear, the sun was bright orange and rising above the horizon. After getting off the tram and as I ascended the hill up to FMI, you could see a slight reduction in visibility as I entered a faint cloud. When I got to FMI, there was some minor excitement as people were running around looking at the 46 degree halo from our building.

Update: 26/2/07: Here is a picture that was taken of that halo on a later date.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Yet more observations of Finland. . .

For the past two days, it has been snowing on and off. So far we've got about 3-4 inches. I can see why the Finns like having the snow around. It's a very nice look on the city. I am amazed at how quickly the roads and sidewalks are cleared up. I made it the whole way into work today with walking only about 100 feet on unshoveled sidewalk. American cities I've lived in ought to be ashamed of themselves.

Dogs in Finland don't bark. Think of all the little yappers you see in the U.S. All the caged dogs in fenced-in backyards. People have dogs here all the time, and they seem much more humble. There are several enclosed dog parks on Katajanokka (the island I live on), and I see dogs play with each other all the time, never barking or getting into fights. Is it the culture that produces more mellow Finnish dogs (just like their human counterparts)?

Thanks to my complaining about missing some American (and Mexican) food, some people have begun referring me to the store in downtown Helsinki that specializes in food from English speaking countries. You would think they would have good food. Their web page lists Pop Tarts, Crush soda, Diet Coke, Captain Crunch, Chips A'hoy, and Goober Grape and Peanut Butter. Lovely. No need to wonder why Americans are so unhealthy compared to the Finns.

Work Update

Safely back in Helsinki, what am I up to now at work?

Tomorrow at the University, I give a talk entitled: "Convective Storm Research: Lessons from the USA, Opportunities for Finland." In this talk, I'll describe some of my earlier research with students, as well as my study with Paul Roebber on the 3 May 1999 tornado outbreak.

Due at the end of the month is research proposals to the Academy of Finland (the Finnish version of the US National Science Foundation). I am writing a proposal on frontal structure and evolution using the Helsinki Testbed, AROME nonhydrostatic mesoscale model, and air-quality models. I'm really excited about this proposal, as it will give me the opportunity to answer questions that I've been wanting answered for many years about the collapse of fronts at very high resolution. Specifically, how close are fronts to gravity currents?

Finally, 12-16 February is my intensive week-long course on mesoscale observing networks, specifically the Helsinki Testbed. The Testbed is the primary reason I am here in Helsinki. So, I am busy preparing lectures for the course and asking the experts here in Helsinki to contribute to the course.

So, if my posts are few and far between, you can see why. Lots of things going on here.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Winter in Helsinki (and the world)

As previously discussed on this blog, the first half of November 2006 was colder than normal and the second half was warmer than normal. This warmth continued through December and through half of January. Upon returning to Helsinki this weekend, it's been below freezing and snowing. We're expecting temperatures between -10 and -20 deg C in Helsinki later this week, before a possible warm up at the end of the week. It turns out that other parts of the Northern Hemisphere have been complaining about the unusual warmth, too. The rest of Europe has had ski races cancelled. The eastern US has been unusually warm, too. What's going on?

The picture is the temperature anomalies across the world for December 2006 in degrees Celsius. [For nonmeteorologists reading this post, approximately double degrees C to see the anomalies in degrees Fahrenheit. Precisely, 9 degrees F equals 5 degrees C.] Nearly all of the northern mid and high latitudes were unusually warm. As Kerry Emanuel (atmospheric science professor at MIT) said in response to me posting this map on a weather discussion list, the anomaly just north of Europe is associated closely with the loss of sea ice in this region.

A late start to the winter is consistent with the signs of climate change due to global warming. The ring of warmer temperatures in the mid and upper latitudes is consistent with the signs of global warming. Of course, identifying any particular temperature anomaly with global climate change is to be avoided, but more and more evidence is accumulating that the climate is changing in an abrupt manner. A nonscientist I talked to claims that this is the year that Finland really recognized the significance of climate change. (They had an unusually warm summer, too.) If this winter is an indication of things to come under a warmed Earth, I'm very scared.

Conference in the USA, Back in Helsinki

Hi Friends,

It was a whirlwind trip---the ten days seemed to go by so quick. I flew back to the USA for the American Meteorological Society (AMS) Annual Meeting in San Antonio, Texas. I had two talks and several meetings to attend. The first talk was based on a paper that I cowrote with others about the high, and increasing, costs of AMS meetings. The presentation was made for the committee that regulates the meetings. I'm not sure that I had an impact in changing any policy that wasn't already decided upon. It is unfortunate.

The second presentation (and the real reason I went) was to give a short talk on my career at the AMS Student Conference being held that same weekend. This was the third biggest audience I have ever spoke to: about 350 students. Originally, I was scheduled to give an 8-minute-long presentation as part of a panel discussion on "Weather Outside the Lines." I guess being a professor in Finland is a career path that is sufficiently far enough outside the lines to count.

Because of the big ice storms across the southern and central USA prior to and during the meeting, many people couldn't get to the meeting. The luncheon speaker was one of those people. When I arrived at the meeting in the morning, the organizers asked me to substitute for the luncheon speaker. What an honor that was! Fortunately, I was carrying my laptop and could redesign my talk during the morning session for a more appropriate topic. About a third of my talk was about my career path, but the rest was about advice for students. I was very pleased that the conference organizers felt that I did a good job.

I was worried about the drive from Oklahoma to Texas and the return trip. Fortunately, the caravan we formed left before the wet roads started freezing in Oklahoma. On the way back, the interstate was dry, but people had not been traveling due to the ice on the side streets and the impending weather. In fact, the return trip only took about 7 hours, which has to be a record from San Antonio to Norman. So, I was quite lucky on all accounts.

The return trip was interesting. When I checked in at the gate in Paris to obtain my boarding pass to Helsinki, there was some unknown confusion about whether I would get on the plane. Eventually, they gave me a boarding pass for business class, seat 3C. I got on the plane and took my seat. Some other guy came up to me and said I was sitting in his seat--indeed, he had a boarding ticket for seat 3C, too. The flight attendant said the flight wasn't full, so to just take a seat anywhere, which he did. Before takeoff, people came on the plane asking for our boarding passes, somewhat confused because the number of people on the plane didn't match their records. It turns out that this guy was named David Schulte (not Schultz) and some poor check-in person checked him in as me, which may be why I was not given a boarding pass right away. So, we had a chuckle about that.

No big surprise they lost my luggage on the return trip to Helsinki, passing through Paris. This is the third time this has happened to me passing through Paris this past year. Incredible! Fortunately, I could weather the delay in the receipt of my luggage, and I did not have to cart 100 pounds of my crap back from the airport by taxi (I took the bus instead).

Lessons learned:

  • At a conference or meeting, it's always a good thing to carry your laptop, fully laden with your papers, talks, research, photos, and music. You never know when you might need this kind of information.
  • Buying comfortable black shoes is only marginally easier in the USA than in Europe. (I brought back five pair of shoes, three of which are brand new.)
  • There is never enough time to do everything you want to do and see everyone you want to when home. (I apologize if you were one of the ones I never made contact with!)
  • There are things I miss about Oklahoma from time to time, especially the space and comfort of my house and watching the birds in the backyard feeders.
  • It was nice to be back in Helsinki again, although all the restaurant eating has got me lazy to cook again.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Upcoming hiatus

Dear Readers,

Thanks for making this blog a success and letting me know that you're reading. It keeps me motivated to keep writing it. I'll be out of Finland until 19 January, so I will likely not post (unless jet lag keeps me awake at night with a head full of thoughts). Take care, and happy new year!


Two books about Finland

Shortly after I moved here, I wanted a book about the history of Finland, to give me some perspective about my new home. Although finding an English language history book was a bit of a challenge, I settled on this book Helsinki: A Cultural and Literary History by Neil Kent in the series Cities of the Imagination. I was a bit disappointed in the writing style, although there were some good nuggets of information, and the book was generally helpful.

For Christmas, my student Jenni Teittinen gave me Roman Schatz's book From Finland With Love. This is a humor book written by a German TV producer and director who fell in love with a beautiful Finn woman, moved to Finland, and got divorced. I laughed out loud several times reading it, as I have noticed many of the same aspects of Finnish life as an outsider. The book was way too short, ending after only about two hours of reading it. Some highlights:
  • "When I emigrated from West Germany, I left a lot of problems behind. Soon after I came here I realized that some of those problems had followed me. Thus for the first time in my life I could actually tell which of my problems were due to my surroundings and which of them were intrinsic."
  • Finnish saying: "Take a man by his word, take a bull by its horn!"
  • "Let's be brutally honest, fellow immigrants: Why did we really come to Finland? . . . One reason why we like it so much here is because it boosts our little egos, doesn't it? We all know that for reasons unbeknownst to anybody the Finns have a collective inferiority complex and enjoy feeling inadequate. We did not invent this weakness. We found it when we arrived here, and we didn't even know of it before we came to Finland. But we'd be very stupid not to exploit it..."
  • "Alcohol also helps regulate the population and create fluctuation. Midsummer [summer solstice festival] is a good example: Hundreds of men fall into a lake or the sea while pissing and drown with open zippers. This loss is compensated for by the fact that on the very same night hundreds of Finnish women get pregnant without ever really recalling the event..."
  • Martin Luther: "No joyful fart shall come from a disheartened arse."

Monday, January 01, 2007

Pictures from Stockholm

Happy New Year!

Originally, I wanted to go to Lapland (northern Finland) for Christmas, but with little snow there for skiing and other winter activities, I decided to do something different. One thing that is relatively commonplace in this part of the world is to take ferries to different locations and have a floating party along the way. Silja Line departs 5 p.m. from Helsinki each day, arriving 9 a.m. the next morning. The ferry then departs at 5 p.m. from Stockholm, arriving 11 a.m. the next morning in Helsinki (the two-hour difference being time-zone changes). You can see the ferry in this picture from earlier in this blog. I booked one of the last available rooms on the ferry, and the boat holds about 1500 people when full.

Nearly everyone I met was Russian. At dinner one night, I sat across from another single male, who was a Finn and an accountant. Russians celebrate the new year to a much bigger deal than the Finns do. They believe that wherever you are on New Years Eve and what you are doing is a symbol for how your year will go. Many of the Russians take the train to Helsinki as part of a tour group, then ferry to Stockholm, and then go skiing in northern Sweden or just return.

The first night on the water was, by most standards, pretty rough. Once we left the protective shelter of the Finnish archipeligo and entered the open gulf, the waves got pretty big and started rocking the ship. You would be dancing or walking down the hall and be jerked off to one side. Given the size of the boat, the waves that would suddenly rock the boat from its normal swaying must have been pretty impressive. Despite the reputation of this being a party ship, the nightlife was dead by 11 p.m., as everyone was either in their room asleep or vomiting. (I had smartly taken motion sickness pills earlier in the night, so I didn't feel close to getting sick.)

The next morning was a breakfast buffet, which everyone decided they were going to descend upon at the same time. I had to wait 20 minutes to get inside the buffet room, and there were people waiting before me. The doors finally opened. I observed that people were very rude, cutting in place, pushing, taking your seat when you got up to refill your drink. It sure took a lot of fun out of that experience. In fact, that was generally true of most of the trip. People were not patient, in general, on this ship.

In Stockholm, I visited Gamla Stan (the old town where the Royal Palace and quaint shopping district is). There was a light rain, which was bothersome because it kept getting on my camera lens. Visually overstimulated after five hours of walking, sightseeing, shopping, and taking pictures, I returned to the ship.

The second night featured smoother waters, so revelling continued well into the night. People were generally dressed quite nicely (and I had a jacket and tie on, so I fit in), with the women wearing incredibly low-cut dresses. The ferry trip included special activities for this night, including two bands and a singer-songwriter in the Irish pub. The two bands were expert at playing good cover songs. The crowd favorites included
Bon Jovi, anything by Abba, and, shortly before midnight, "The Final Countdown." I was surprised to hear this band play country songs with a natural-sounding southern accent, as well as "The River" by Bruce Springsteen---not what you would consider your typical slow dance song. The ship celebrated three New Years (Russian, Finnish, Swedish), once for each time zone, so there was a lot of alcohol flowing and many toasts. After the arrival of the Finnish new year, the band stopped playing and the dance floor was cleared for a dance performance by the ships' entertainment: Riverdance. I think I could have done without that. :-)

The breakfast buffet was noticeably less crowded this morning.

Further random thoughts about Finland

  • The picture to the right is a sign above a toilet. I guess they don't want you throwing wine bottles, medicine jars, chili peppers, or black circles in the toilet.
  • Because of all the walking I've been doing, my shoes have been taking a beating---so I've been looking into buying new black dress shoes. I am generally picky about my shoes, so this isn't easy in America, let alone in Helsinki. Every shoe store I've been in has been massively understaffed. I think I finally understood what's going on. Shoe stores in Finland (and Stockholm) put out one of each of their shoes in each of the sizes they have available on display. Thus, if shoe X is in stock, you can find half a dozen different types of the same shoe X on display. You try the one shoe on yourself, then the salesperson will go and get the matching shoe from the back. When I've been unable to find what I wanted in several shops here in Helsinki, friends suggested that I try the bigger city Stockholm (since I was going to be there anyway for New Years Eve). My shoe size is 9.5 American, which is just about average. In the first shoe store I walked into in Stockholm, they had four shoe styles I thought had potential. Unfortunately, they didn't have anything larger than 7.5 or smaller than 11 in three of them. The fourth wasn't even comfortable. How can you have a shoe store in a major city and not stock common sizes?
  • Prices for things in Helsinki is about the same in euro as it is in dollars in America. So, things cost about 20% more here. One thing that is different is cola, which is about twice as much. Another thing is underwear. If you want to buy a pair of underwear, they sell them separately, not in multipacks like in the US, and they cost 10-20 euro a piece. I don't understand such highly priced male underwear.
  • I read the Richard Thompson mailing list quasi regularly. (Richard Thompson is one of the finest musicians you've probably never heard of.) Two times this week, I have run into Finns on the list. One, who writes for Swedish music publications, invited me to his family's house for New Years, which was a very nice offer, but I already had plans (see next post!). The other Finn turned me onto the topic of the next bullet.
  • J. Karjalainen sings, "The songs of Lännen-Jukka, a unique fusion of mountain folk songs from the southern United States, Mississippi blues and old Finnish sleigh songs." Click on the link GRAMOFONI to hear this wonderful music.