Monday, February 26, 2007

Stamp collection? Ha ha.

This weekend's musuem was the Postal Museum of Finland, a museum of the history of mail delivery and stamps. For those who didn't know, I was an avid stamp collector as a child. The collection still resides in my childhood home, untouched for the last five or six years when I ran out of stamp hinges. Fortunately, the Postal Museum of Finland Gift Shop had the solution to my dilemma! So, I will regain the fun of my youth next time I'm home.

Mail has been being delivered in Finland since the 1600s. One route was carried out by Finnish peasants who would transport the mail acorss the Gulf of Bothnia to Sweden. Over 200 Finnish peasants died transporting mail across the Gulf of Bothnia in little boats during storms over time.

I was surprised by the extent to which the Russians went to supress Finnish nationalism in the late 1800s and early 1900s, even through the stamps Finns put on their letters. I was sympathetic to the story of the mourning stamp. There are nice web pages here and here of these efforts to protest Russian oppression.

In all, I was impressed at the amount of information that was present at the museum. There were touchscreens full of pages of information about the exhibits and the history. There were movies of the mail carriers during World War II and storytelling about the Finnish peasants delivering the mail in the storms. Even non stamp collectors would find it interesting, if you are interested in history.

Dave's Trivia Question of the Month: Besides Finland, which other country's postal museum have I visited?

Move to Finland, Work Less

My mentor for life as a Finn is named Elena at FMI. In response to my hours spent preparing, teaching, and recovering from teaching the week-long intensive course, she referred me to Finnish regulations that prohibit one from working overtime (as averaged over the course of the year).

"Working hours Act.
Chapter 3. Regular working hours

Section 6. General provision

Regular working hours shall not exceed eight hours a day or 40 hours a week. The regular weekly working hours can also be arranged in such a way that the average is 40 hours over a period of no more than 52 weeks."

Chapter 4 deals with overtime regulations.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Karaoke Bar and Restroom

Return of the 46 degree halo

The halo made its appearance the other day. Here is a picture this time.

Mesoscale Observing Network class: The Helsinki Testbed

One of the tasks I was given when hired here at FMI and the University of Helsinki was to teach a class about the Helsinki Testbed. One of my priorities when I first arrived was to learn more about this mesoscale observing network. Without the help of Jani Poutiainen at FMI, I would not have been able to pull this course off. He has been an incredible help in the last three-plus months I have been here, and he has been very patient with me in helping me learn the skills to use the data.

Of the lectures in the class, about 35% of them were mine, the remaining were other experts in the Helsinki area on the Testbed. A course syllabus and the lectures can be found here.

Friday night I took the students and other lecturers out to the pub. It was good attendance--I didn't realize that it would be like that. More proof (no pun intended) the Finns like to drink.

One thing I need to work on is how to get people interacting in class. Finns are quiet, and don't speak up much. People tell me that obedience is drilled into them at an early age. This isn't surprising because Finns will wait for the Don't-Walk light to change, even late at night on an empty street. Any tips from you Finns out there on how to get good conversation going in class would be welcome. Ex-ExPats?

Feedback from the class was positive. They didn't like the fact it was compressed into one week and that improper planning on behalf of the department meant that we had to keep switching lecture rooms. (I think one reason they didn't like changing rooms is that it forced them to mix up seating each time, so they couldn't necessarily sit where they were comfortable sitting.) Which is a good thing. ;-)

Everyone was satisfied or very satisfied with the course and nearly everyone said it encouraged critical thinking, so I valued their opinions in this regard. I even got some comments like the course was a "great match with our needs" and "a new fresh approach". One person even commented that "there could be more kinds of untraditional classes in the course program. It is really refreshing to make class projects, you can learn a lot about them." Some called my lectures "inspiring." :-)

The class projects will be presented at the end of March in a public seminar series. I am anxious to see what people come up with. Preliminary project presentations on Friday look great! This is going to be big fun!

Tips for speaking in a foreign country

I've given half a dozen talks since I've been here. Two have been formal scientific presentations, the others have been more-or-less introductions to me. Then, I taught part of my class last week. As someone who prides himself on ending on time, I find it difficult to meet that standard here in Finland---I end up going over time typically. To the Finns that have listened to me drone on after my time is supposedly up, I apologize profusely. The "one slide per minute" rule doesn't work here, and it is frustrating! I believe this is the case for several reasons.

  • You have to slow down when speaking in a foreign country so that the audience will understand a greater percentage of your talk.
  • Here I speak to more than just meteorologists. I speak to air-quality specialists, atmospheric chemists, aerosol physicists, and Vaisala businesspeople who may have been engineers in a former career track. Even the meteorologists don't know the same things I can assume most meteorologists in the US know. For example, you can't assume that people know the three ingredients to deep moist convection or what CAPE is. So, I end up slowing down and talking about more basics, rather than being able to jump right into the science right away.
  • In the US, I teach people to not clutter their powerpoint slides with words, be sparse. Here, it helps the audience to have more words on the slide, and for you to repeat a greater fraction of those words as you discuss the slide. If people don't hear you correctly (and it is more difficult to hear someone correctly if they talk fast or with an accent or are unclear), they will at least be able to read the most important points.

The day gets longer....

Right now, it's -15 deg C (5 deg F) outside. But, the season is changing quickly. We're up to 9 hours and 46 minutes of daytime, or six minutes more than yesterday. In a week and half, we'll have added a whole hour to the day. The effect of this daytime heating is apparent in the time series of temperature for the last 24 hours (see graph to the right, labeled in local time, where 00=midnight). We had a 6 degree C (about 10 deg F) change in temperature under full sunlight all day. Compare that to the time series from a cloud-free day back in December, when the temperature rise was barely 2 deg C under four hours less sunlight and a lower sun angle.

The Myth of High Taxes

Living in the USA, we hear frequently about is the exorbitant taxes that European countries levy on their residents to pay for their high spending on social services and socialized medicine. Perhaps it is still a leftover of the reason why we started our own country in separating from England in the 1770s. I can't claim to be an expert on all European countries or even the Finnish system as I've not even been here four months. But, from what I've seen, I think Americans are not being told the truth.

If you google "high european taxes myth", you will get a variety of different opinions about the topic. It's not the purpose of this post to go into a detailed analysis of these arguments pro and con.

At the beginning of the year, I filled out a form to the government of my expected yearly income. Shortly in the mail, I was returned a statement saying what my tax rate would be. The higher your salary, the greater the rate. I pay 38%, which is deducted from my monthly pay. Supposedly, there are no accountants or 1040 forms to fill out. At the end of the year, the government bills me or refunds me the difference between the estimated tax and the actual tax they should have collected.

Compare to the USA, where I pay 28%, I think, in federal taxes. State taxes to Oklahoma are about 6%, for a total of 34%, or not substantially different than in Finland.

What do you get for that extra 4%? One thing you can collect if you are a parent is paternity/maternity leave pay. One of my PhD students, Erik, is home with his son for two months now. Apparently, you are entitled to paternity/maternity leave for a period of time, and can collect a substantial fraction of your salary while on paternity/maternity leave from the government. Another thing is the health care system you've heard about. I haven't needed it, so I don't know how good it is.

You rarely see homeless people. The social support system tends not to allow it to happen, from what I am told. (I did have a man ask for me for money in Finnish while I waited for the train one morning. When I told him I spoke English, he said, "Can you give me 50 cents to buy a wine bottle, I mean food." Oops, sorry buddy. Better practice your translation for the summer travel season!)

One big difference is the sales tax or VAT, 22% in Finland, compared to sales tax in most states which is 5-8%. In Finland, the VAT is included in the price of things, so you don't even notice that it's there. So, prices are a bit higher, but the standard of living is higher in general for most people and the difference between the rich and poor seems to be less.

So, if you hear about high taxes in Europe compared to the US, there is another side to the story.

Research Update

Hi Friends, Colleagues, and Readers,

Sorry I've been absent so long. It's been a busy four weeks. After preparing my proposal to the Finnish Academy to study cold fronts using observations from the Helsinki Testbed, real-data 3D simulations, and idealized 2D simulations, it was time to prepare for the week-long intensive course on the Helsinki Testbed. (More on that in a future post.) Then, it was catching up from all the work I let pile up. That work included four reviews for friends and colleagues, double-checking a set of page proofs, and writing/editing two papers I am coauthor on.

These last two papers have been interesting. The first paper is one that I have been waiting for a year or so to see the first draft. This paper is the modeling work on the mammatus clouds with Jerry Straka and Kathy Kanak, and, once published, will be a rather important contribution to the formation of mammatus clouds. Here is a snapshot of what you will see in that paper. It shows the snow-aggregate diameter in colored contours showing the mammatus lobes hanging down on the underside of the cloud, and the white arrows are the circulation vectors in the cross section.

The second paper will be my first with my University of Helsinki/FMI affiliation. Shortly after arriving, I started attending one of the student group meetings at the University on aerosols. One of the students, Leena Jarvi, had written a paper on a microburst that had passed close to one of the high-frequency turbulence and trace-gas observing stations in Finland, blowing down a swath of trees. The instruments measured a 15 m/s downdraft just a few tens of meters above the surface. She gave me a copy of her paper to read, and I made some suggestions to improve the discussion of the convection, as well as the recommendation to calculate the turbulent parameters. We are now working on a revised version of the paper that should be resubmitted to the journal next week. I am proud of my contributions to both of these papers, and I thank Leena for allowing me to participate. She has worked really hard with me and the other coauthors to make sure the details are accurate.

Friday, February 09, 2007


Just a quick post to let everyone know what's going on. I'm teaching my course on the Helsinki Testbed next week, so that's been occupying much of my time. Also, I've had quite a few meetings, especially helping students out, so there has been little time to blog.

We had about 3 inches of snow last night and the temperature has warmed up to -13 deg C, so it's been much more comfortable. (That new down jacket I bought on Monday has come in really handy when it's been -20 deg C!!)

I'll try to report more in the next week.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Change in the Weather

These graphics tell the whole story. The forecast for Tuesday through Saturday of this week (in degrees C), the current surface map, and the temperature trend at Helsinki over the last 24 hours. We've dropped 9 deg C in 24 hours as the easterly wind brings colder air over the area. Parts of Sweden and northern Finland are already 30 below (-22 deg F), although we're not expected to get that cold in Helsinki (we're the -9 on the map).

To see the latest Helsinki observations and forecast from FMI, click here.