Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Forecasters: Finland versus the US

As I learn more about forecasting and meteorological education in Finland, I am increasingly surprised at the differences between forecasters between the two countries.

If you talk to meteorology undergraduates in the US, you will run into a significant fraction of them who are dying to get jobs in the US National Weather Service (NWS). That is their career goal: they just want to forecast for the NWS.

These types of students don't seem to exist in Finland. Instead, forecasters enter the weather service in FMI mostly as student helpers during the summertime when the regular forecasters go on summer vacation. After a few years of being on the forecast shifts, Finnish forecasters tire of working shifts and get other jobs within FMI: research or administration. In fact, several of the administrative and secretarial staff were meteorological observers in college, leaving the profession later to work in administration. Some of the best and most dedicated forecasters I know have part-time research careers and/or are working towards their masters or doctorate degrees. The result is that you see few forecasters older than 40 years old on the forecast floor. This observation is particularly apparent now, during summer, when the office is mostly new, younger forecasters.

Given that much of forecasting is having experience with a wide variety of circumstances, I feel this difference in attitudes towards a life-long career in forecasting has serious ramifications for the quality of forecasts that FMI produces. The only way to build up these experiences, especially with relative uncommon and potentially hazardous weather events such as big snow storms and thunderstorms that produce severe weather (strong winds, heavy rain, hail, and tornadoes), is by having a workforce that is committed to a career in forecasting. If people view the FMI weather service as a stepping stone into a comfortable government position, then weather forecasting will never be viewed as a task to be done by talented and hardworking professionals.

Summer in Finland

I had alluded to in a previous post, summer in Finland means a lot of changes. Trains, busses, and trams go onto a different schedule meaning you generally have to wait for a little bit longer time. You see fewer people around in the city. Stores downtown are open on Sundays for shopping tourists.

Since FMI and the university is nearly empty, trying to get anything done, especially if it involves administrative staff, is fruitless. The cafeteria is still up and running, although they only give you two options now instead of three to choose from. The cafeteria seems to be staffed by temporary employees.

This summer has been slightly cooler and wetter than past summers, I think. Normal high temperatures in July are abour 20 deg C, but most days don't seem to get that warm.

Wildflowers are abundant in the wooded areas around Helsinki.

Days are getting shorter. Although it still remains light until about 10:30 at night, the sun doesn't rise until nearly 5 a.m., so it starts getting light about 4:15 or so.

This blog featured in Virtual Finland

While reading The Helsinki Blog, I noticed that I, too, was listed on the Virtual Finland article about "best English language blogs in the Finnish blogosphere." See the article (and link to other blogs here): http://virtual.finland.fi/netcomm/news/showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=63444

Give Peas a Chance

It's summertime in Finland, when a young man's mind turns to...peas! Yes, the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables in Finland this time of year is causing us to alter our meals and include more in our diet. Pea pods, strawberries, and small blueberries are sold in stands set up inside grocery stores, and even the first floor of the Stockmann department store.

Peas are such the rage that you can walk down the street and see youths eat the fresh peas from the pods and discard the pods on the street.

(Photo courtesty of Photographersdirect.com)

New database being collected on airline passengers

From RawStory.com:

US/E.U. plan to database airline passengers' personal information raises deep privacy concerns.

While Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff calls it "an essential security measure," worries arise about a looming privacy threat in the new agreement between the United States and the European Union, effective August 1, 2007, that allows the United States to keep extensive profiles of inbound airline passengers.

In addition to data such as name, address, flight itineraries, and credit card information, the United States will now database more intimate details about passengers as provided by airlines, such as race, political opinions, religious beliefs, and sexual orientation.

See the video of the story on CNN at the above link.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Opening weekend for The Simpsons Movie

Two movie theatres in Helsinki have had this lifesized advertisement for the new Simpsons movie on display for over a month. Both times we saw the movie this weekend, lines of people waited to take their picture sitting next to Homer. In one case we saw, a young woman kissed Homer on the cheek while her boyfriend took the picture. (Notice how worn the cardboard is where people had been sitting, especially where their shoes have been rubbing against the couch.)

In contrast, consider what we observed in the United States earlier this month. We went to three movie theatres: in Norman, Pittsburgh, and Milwaukee. In every city, the piece was either placed on a balcony, had security ropes around it, or otherwise was inaccessible to sit on. To be fair, in the Norman theatre, someone had stolen Homer's remote control, so perhaps there were good reasons.

Bogus cheese threat

Now we learn that these threats due to cheese were not related and easily explained: http://rawstory.com/news/2007/TSA_dry_run_terror_alerts_bogus_0727.html

"The Transportation Security Agency's national security bulletin issued was based on bogus examples that were combined to give the impression of ominous terrorist plotting, CNN reports."

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Pictures from the Wichita Mountains, Oklahoma

These pictures were taken by me and Yvette during our recent trip to Oklahoma.

Preparations for the upcoming invasion of Finland by nonnatives continues...

Two more forward agents have been stationed in Helsinki. Please meet Li Dong and her husband Kaijun Liu. Disguised as Ph.D. scientists from Cornell university, Li and Kaijun have been stationed in Helsinki since July 4.

I met Li during a visit several years ago to Cornell University. She was a Ph.D. student in meteorology with Prof. Steve Colucci where she was studying large-scale dynamics and blocking. Currently, we are trying to find a research position for her. Kaijun's expertise is in Space Physics. He is the reason the two of them are here in Finland, working as a postdoc at FMI with Esa Kallio on space plasma research.

Please welcome our new agents to Helsinki and FMI.

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Yvette's Firsts on this trip

This was Yvette's first trip to the USA. She got to see all the highlights of the USA: Norman, Oklahoma; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Other Firsts for her:
* seeing fireflies
* authentic Mexican food
* super-high security screening (damn suspicious Aussie!)
* seeing a Great Lake: Lake Michigan
* baseball game: Brewers versus Rockies
* eating a fried green tomato
* Longhorn burger from Meers
* buffalo sighting
* meeting Chuck Doswell
* Fourth of July celebration
* Hummingbird, chickadee, and cardinal
* Superduper-sized soda pop (42 oz.)
* Walmart
* Woody Guthrie Folk Festival
* Real southern fried chicken (at Eischen's in Okarche, Oklahoma)

Happy Fourth of July!

On the Fourth of July (Independence Day in the USA), I celebrated with a party at my house in Oklahoma for my friends. It was Yvette's first time in the US, so it was a special time for both of us.

This picture of forecaster Greg Carbin, showing off his American spirit with a pint of Samuel Adams, was taken with my camera by Aaron Botnick.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

In Praise of Editors

An essay from salon.com about appreciating good Editors: http://www.salon.com/opinion/kamiya/2007/07/24/editing/index1.html

Cheddar Terror

Yvette and I are back in Helsinki from several weeks in the US. Of the three bags we checked underneath the plane, two arrived in Helsinki. This was perhaps not surprising since we passed through Paris, which usually loses luggage anyway. (The two bags that made it to Helsinki were searched by the TSA.) Repeatedly, we were told that they had no information about the missing bag and that it would be arriving within a day or two. Eventually it arrived with its contents jossled, but apparently all there.

Readers of this blog know my frustrations with finding cheddar cheese here in Finland. Like the last time I was in the US in January, I brought back several bricks of cheddar with me. These were in the delayed bag. This wouldn't elicit much more thought until I read this story from the Associated Press and published on CNN's web page.

(Image from MouseHouseCheese.com)