Wednesday, March 28, 2007

US 'no longer technology king'

A link from the BBC web page: The US has lost its position as the world's primary engine of technology innovation, according to a report by the World Economic Forum. A deterioration of the political and regulatory environment in the US prompted the fall, the report said.

Finland is fourth, rising up from fifth. The U.S. fell from the top to number seven.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Spring has Sprung

This weekend Finland switched to daylight savings time. Now the sunrise occurs at 7:06 a.m. and sets at 7:48 p.m., making the day 12:42 long.

Temperatures reached 15 deg C (59 deg F), the warmest day of the year. Also, record temperatures for this time, according to Jari Tuovinen, a forecaster at FMI. See this diurnal cycle, which we started the day nearly at freezing. Also, see this map of the observed temperatures at 6 p.m. Nice and warm across the country.

At the Hyytiälä Forestry Field Station last week, we learned that photosynthesis started a month early this year, likely a record start time for the beginning of spring, as determined by the bud burst time for the pine trees. Another sign consistent with the global warming signal. Recall this post from earlier this year about the delayed onset of winter across the Northern Hemisphere.

Misc Items of Note

  • Previously I wondered what the best frozen pizzas in Finland were. I am now proud to report on two of my favorites: Pirkka and Rainbow. With prices around 2-3 euro each, they are a quick way to grab an inexpensive, tasty, and healthy dinner.
  • The Eurovision Song contest finals are May 12 in Helsinki. This is kind of like American Idols, except it has been going on since the 1950s. Helsinki will be going crazy, as last years' winners are the Finnish rock band Lordi, who are clearly influenced by Kiss. The success of Lordi can best be demonstrated in that they have their own brand of cola in the grocery stores. Remember that Lordi cola comes in Light and Vanilla-Light flavors for those of you watching your weight. (Lordi Cola photo from You can even get Lordi DVDs at the post office.
  • The different groups I affiliate with in Helsinki seem to have a preponderance of meetings. Meetings dominate my schedule each week. What's up with this? How people get any work done with all these meetings is a mystery to me. Any solutions to this problem of too many meetings are welcome!

I'm back!

Hi Readers,

I apologize for the long absence. For the last two weeks I was a student and a lecturer in a course offered by Prof. Markku Kulmala and Prof. Pepe Hari of the University of Helsinki (both pictured here) at the Hyytiälä (pronounced "hew-tee-uh-luh") Forestry Field Station in Finland. The course was some lecture-based material and mostly research by the students using data collected at the station on the topic of atmospheric aerosols (small particles just a few nanometers in diameter floating around in the atmosphere and partly responsible for the formation of clouds).

I provided a lecture, in collaboration with Dr. Sabine Goeke who recently came to the University of Helsinki, on how precipitation, clouds, and storms form, tying the lecture to the atmospheric aerosols.

The course took me away from work for a while, but also allowed me to catch up on some work in the morning before class started. I also was able to get in some cross-country skiing on frozen peat bog at Siikaneva with the above-mentioned professors before class started. The sunrise picture above happened on a beautiful morning on the bog.

The class consisted of 30 students, mostly from the Nordic countries, but also some from South America, Ireland, and South Africa.

This week I return to FMI for two very important tasks. Tuesday will be the final presentations from the students in my own intensive course on the Helsinki Testbed. On Thursday, we will be having a discussion on the FMI Evaluation, a report that FMI is preparing for an external review board. I am one of the several people helping provide comments on the production of that report. Helping out with this document has provided me an overview of all aspects of FMI Research. Despite poring through hundreds of pages, such an overview has been quite helpful.

Next week, I will be visiting Vaisala to give a presentation on my ideas for research and business collaborations. The title of the talk is "Mesoscale Research Opportunities Through Collaborations Among the Helsinki Weather Partners." The visit will also give me an opportunity to introduce myself to Vaisala employees, many of whom I have not met yet, although the company funds a third of my position. I am looking forward to seeing how we can develop greater collaborations on the dual-polarimetric radar, Helsinki Testbed, and other activities.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Being an alien resident in Finland

Dave arrives in Finland back in November

I am one of two Americans at FMI. Gil Leppelmeier has been in Finland about 20 years and is well assimilated. Other countries represented include Joana from Portugal, Lorenzo from Italy, Sylvain from France, and several Russians (including my landlord Sergej). We have a short-term visitor from Romania. I don't really know if any Asians or Africans are around (if they are, FMI keeps them well-hid).

New professor Sabine Goeke arrives with her remote-sensing instrumentation.

At the Division of Atmospheric Sciences at the university, there are seven professors, four Finns, and three new recent implants: me, Sabine Goeke a Swiss-schooled German who had postdocs in the USA, and Gerrit de Leeuw from The Netherlands. There is also a distinguished professor from the USA: Doug Worsnop. So, the demographics of the university division are changing. It makes for an interesting time.

Plans for the research-forecasting "collaboratory" at FMI include experiments on how forecasters deal with stress of the high-pressure working environment

Age distributions at FMI and the private sector

I've noticed that FMI, unlike a lot of US counterpart research laboratories, is dominated by younger scientists. Some of these people are even in charge of some pretty big projects. These may be people who only have a M.S. degree, which tends to be the default degree at Finnish universities (unlike the US where it is the bachelor's degree). There are few white-haired old guys running the place. This makes FMI a fresh working environment.

In Finland, there is a lot of pressure to create PhDs and build the private sector. The success of Nokia (a Finnish company accounting for 4% of the GDP and 25% of exports) seems to have fostered the concept that the continued success of the private sector will bring Finland incredible wealth.

Unfortunately, there is the feeling of many in the government that trimming down the size of the government and dumping people on the private sector is a good thing. Lesson from the US: We tried that...all it does is put more pressure on the government budgets. It is frustrating to see our laboratory in Oklahoma have to hire computer support people from a private sector company with all its overhead when these people already worked for the laboratory in the first place. Time will tell if Finland goes the same way as the US with the pressure on the budgets.

But, they will get to say that the number of people in government is smaller, even if the work of the government is done mostly by private-sector employees at twice the cost.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Great music online

George W. Told the Nation by Tom Paxton

A Few Words in Defense of Our Country by Randy Newman

various songs by James McMurtry, including "God Bless America" and "We Can't Make It Here"

Hots for the Smarts by Richard Thompson

Happy, healthy Finns

Mobile phones boost brain tumor risk by up to 270 percent on side of brain where phone is held

Auvinen A, Salonen L, Pekkanen J, Pukkala E, Ilus T, Kurttio P. Radon and other natural radionuclides in drinking water and risk of stomach cancer: a case-cohort study in Finland. International Journal of Cancer 2005; 114 (1):109–113.

Eronen, M. & Hakola, P. & Tiihonen, J. 1996. Mental Disorders and Homicidal Behaviour in Finland. Archives of General Psychiatry 53: 497−501.

Karonen, Petri. 1998. A Life for a Life versus Christian Reconciliation. Violence and the Process of Civilization in the Towns of the Kingdom of Sweden during the Years 1540–1700. Teoksessa: Five Centuries of Violence in Finland and the Baltic Area. Publications of the History of Criminality Research Project 1. Helsinki.

MIKAEL NYSTRÖM (1992), Positive and negative consequences of alcohol drinking among young university students in Finland. Addiction 87 (5), –. doi:10.1111/j.1360-0443.1992.tb02717.x

Coping with winter

Finns have an interesting way of dealing with winter that differs from how we deal with it in the US.

Studded snow tires are required during the winter months.

Rather than liberal use of salt, the Finns use crushed granite and gneiss from local quarries. The deep reds (due to the feldspar) of the rock makes the gravel quite apparent on the snow and ice. When the snow melts and refreezes, the gravel gets caught in the ice, making for good traction.

The worst slipping condition for pedestrians I've noticed is when rain falls on snow, even if it doesn't refreeze.

The government and private-sector organizations responsible for plowing and snow removal generally do excellent jobs clearing sidewalks and roads, even on less well-traveled areas. It's really pretty remarkable. Once again, most US cities should hang their heads in shame.

Finnish elections

Parliamentary elections are 18 March. Unlike in the US where campaigns seem to go on forever, it's only within the last week or two that I've seen campaign signs. But, they are everywhere.

The Green Party had a glass booth downtown highlighting climate change in the arctic as their principal issue (see picture).

Unlike our dominant two parties in the US, there are a number of parties in Finland: Social Democrats, Communist, Senior Citizen, Swedish, Green, etc. I am told that even the two most extreme parties are pretty similar. No one wants to eliminate taxes to the point of spoiling the social services that the government offers, unlike the USA where some conservatives would likely rejoice the death of the Great Society. So, even with a larger number of parties, the divisiveness seen in the US isn't present. To maintain a majority, parties must work together in Parliament. What a concept!

The most attractive candidates (male and female) are the Green Party candidates, in general. Campaign photos are generally relaxed---ties for men are not common. And, candidates are not all old white men. It's a much more diverse look to the candidates as a whole.

Real-life photo opportunity I wish I had my camera ready for: A dog peeing on a campaign sign.


Wikipedia: Finnish political parties

Virtual Finland: Structure and development of political parties

Links to the web sites of Finnish political parties

What do Finland and Boston have in common?

Fenns, or swampy land. Fenway Park is located near the Fenns, a swampy area in Boston.

The word Finland is derived from the same word for swamp: Fennland. The Finnish word for Finland is Suomi, and the Finnish word for swamp is suo.

See here for more discussion.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Snowbird, Vail, Chamonix, Peuramaa

On Sunday I went downhill skiing at Peuramaa, just a bit west of Helsinki and Espoo. This picture proves that there are hills in southern Finland. The recent warm weather and rain created quite a bit of "packed granular" (the US ski industry word for ice), but there was still fun to be had.

With only a few tens of meters in elevation, the method for getting to the top was a T-bar. There was a gaggle of young American girls there for some unknown reason, many of whom were trying snowboarding for the first time, and clogging up the main lift line. There were four trails open, each with its own lift. The expert slope was about the equivalent of an advanced intermediate (blue square) trail in the USA, wide open with lots of space for turning.

You pay by the hour, so two hours of ski rental was 17.50 euro and two hours of lift ticket was 14 euro.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Profiles of Blog Readers-1

I am always amazed at who is reading my blog. Today at work I was visited by Juhani Rinne to welcome me to Finland and talk about my experiences so far in this foreign country. Although not working anymore for FMI, he wrote the first numerical weather forecasting model in Finland, a barotropic model. He taught classes at the Department of Meteorology (now defunct) at the University of Helsinki and worked for the weather service here. It's always nice to meet someone who can provide historical context for the way things evolved at FMI. He told me that the concept that FMI would have the money to hire an American professor in the old days was unheard of. So, times have changed. And, hopefully, for the better in this regard!

A search of the American Meteorological Society journals shows that he published 10 papers in Monthly Weather Review from 1982's "Empirical Orthogonal Functions of the 500 mb Height Weighted with Respect to the Analysis Error" to 1993's "Estimation of the Cressman Term for a Barotropic Model through Optimization with Use of the Adjoint Model." It seems he was using techniques well ahead of the time they became popular.