Thursday, November 29, 2007

Ravintola Nokka and water

Last night Yvette and I went to Ravintola Nokka for dinner. This is a very nice restaurant with a great atmosphere (old red brick building near the waterfront on Katajanokka, near where I used to live). Although a bit expensive, the food was excellent. We will likely go there again.

I was annoyed, however, that asking for water resulted in the waiter cracking open a bottle of water and charging us 9.90 euro (almost US$15). I have noticed this at a few other restaurants in Europe.

Reorganization of the organizations

My salary is paid for by three organizations, all of which are undergoing reorganization right now. Something must be in the air.

In particular, the one I know most about (which isn't saying much since nearly everything is written about or spoken in the Finnish language) is at FMI. Except for the Director General, the organization is being reconstructed from the top downward. Each position (whether new or old) is being re-competed for. This is quite an interesting approach, given many other organizations where bureaucratic inertia is a big part of government organizations.

A clear benefit of such an upheaval is that new people with new ideas get into leadership positions. A potential disadvantage of such an approach is that new people with new ideas get into leadership positions. ;-) An additional disadvantage is the loss of knowledge in how the system worked under the old administration.

The new organization will take effect starting 1 January 2008. It remains to be seen whether the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. I remain optimistic that some important changes, especially in the way research and operations interact, will take place to make FMI a better organization.

Little bit of new snow...

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

More about holidays

An anonymous reader sent this link about days the Finnish flag is flown. Walking down the narrow street canyons of Helsinki with flags on nearly every building is quite the sight on these days.

P.S. This is my 200th post to this blog!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Finnish Holidays

Colleague Bill Hooke asked me about what holidays we have in Finland that aren't celebrated in the US.

The list of Finnish National Public Holidays can be found here.

Most are religious holidays (Epiphany, the Easter holiday season, Ascension, All Saints, and Christmas and the day after, Boxing Day).

They also celebrate May Day on May 1, essentially the same as Labor Day in the US (the first Monday on September).

But, there are two that are uniquely Finnish.

Finnish Independence Day on December 6. This year, Finland will have been autonomous for 90 years from Russia (1917). Unlike the US where we celebrate July 4 as Independence Day with parties and fireworks, December 6 in Finland tends to be a somber event, a time to remember the war dead. The Unknown Solider, a Finnish movie about the Continuation War between Finland and the Soviet Union, is shown on TV on this day, and people go to cemetaries with candles.

The other: Midsummer Eve and Midsummer Day: the Friday and Saturday closest to the solstice. This is the time to celebrate the sun being out, after the long winter. It is a time to go away to your summer cottage and is the unofficial start of the summer holiday season. (Remember that Finns take 4-6 weeks of vacation a year. Compare that to usually 2 weeks a year in the US.)

In the US, we have Martin Luther King Day in January, President's Day in mid February, honoring Lincoln and Washington, whose birthdays were both in that month, Memorial Day in late May, Independence Day in July, Labor Day in September, Columbus Day in October, Veteran's Day in early November, and Thanksgiving in late November. Christmas is an official holiday. Easter Sunday is not.

No turkeys in Finland

Yesterday was the US holiday Thanksgiving. Wikipedia has more on the history of Thanksgiving, which is an interesting read, especially if you like discovering hidden history.

Thanksgiving is the last Thursday in November, and starts the Christmas shopping season. (Friday is usually crazy in the department stores and shopping malls.) In the US, we celebrate by spending time with our families, eating turkey with stuffing (or dressing, as they say in the southern US), mashed potatoes, cranberries (jellied, in the shape of the can it comes in, or berries, and pumpkin or pecan pie (a southern favorite). Thanksgiving dinner has always been one of my favorite meals. So much so, that I have been known to make a Thanksgiving dinner at weird times of the year, just so I can enjoy the food.

Unfortunately, they don't celebrate Thanksgiving in Finland. And, the last three years I have been in Finland on Thanksgiving: 2005 for my interview, 2006 and 2007 having moved here.

It gets worse. Finding a whole turkey ready for cooking in Helsinki has been quite the challenge. You can find turkey in the lunchmeat section of the grocery stores, and, occasionally find a turkey breast in the frozen or fresh meat section. We found a meat market in Hakaniemi that will place a special order for you, but when we ordered it last weekeend, they said the earliest they could get us the bird would be in early December. So, it looks like I will finally celebrate Thanksgiving in early December.

We have a can of cranberry sauce in the closet from when Stockmann's department and grocery store was having its fall sales period "New York state of mind", where they sold all kinds of stuff from the US. Potatoes are easy to come by in Finland, and we have made some very good stuffing in the past for roast chickens. So, we should be all set to go when Timo the Turkey arrives.

Anyway, my loving fiancee Yvette, recognizing that I missed out on my favorite meal of the year, took me out to a movie and then for Italian dinner at Don Corleone's in Kamppi. We both ordered the italian sausage, another specialty food that is next to impossible to find in Finland. So, although we didn't sacrifice a bird last night, we celebrated Thanksgiving in a unique way.

Image from

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Mammatus in contrails

I had heard of mammatus being formed in contrails, but the first definitive evidence I have seen of this phenomena I observed yesterday in Helsinki.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The solar constant isn't a constant

In a seminar at the university today, the speaker presented this figure, a graph of the solar constant (the amount of solar radiation reaching the top of the atmosphere) as a function of time from different instruments in space designed to measure it. From the web page where this figure originates: "The TSI Climate Data Record spans almost 30 years. Instrument offsets are unresolved calibration differences." I find it interesting that we don't have an exact way to measure this quantity yet.

Even accounting for instrument offsets, the solar constant isn't a constant, as it varies with the solar sunspot cycle. Furthermore, Introduction to Atmospheric Science by Wallace and Hobbs (1977) lists the solar constant at 1380 Watts per square meter, which is much higher than any of these observations.

Interesting radar imagery

The clouds were thin, with breaks in them, this morning. The sun was shining through the breaks and there was occasional light snow falling. It was an unusual-looking sky. Timo Nousiainen from the university sent an email pointing us to the radar imagery. Look at the unusual pattern. What could cause these structures? Note that the winds were light from the north and the clouds were relatively shallow with very dry air aloft.


Here is the most recent snow map (lumikartta) of Finland. Nearly the whole country is covered with at least 1 cm. Helsinki was fortunate to have several mesoscale snow bands pass over us in recent days, so we are one of the blips of color along the southern coast.

The English-language monthly newspaper 6 Degrees had an article on the the different words for snow and slush. Here are some of the words from that article.

Loska: grey liquid-like snow. Almost water.

Sohjo: snow mixed with water. Heavier than loska.

Räntä: very wet snow falling from the sky, turn into sohjo upon hitting the ground.

Riide, riitto: sohjo which has become icy after hitting the ground. Very slippery

Nuoska: snow which is made very soft due to warm weather

Puuterilumi: powdery snow. Ideal for winter sports

Tykkylumi: snow accumulated in tree branches. Often seen in postcards.

: elongated drifts of snow formed by wind. Children like to jump in them.

Lumihanki: a thick layer of clean, pretty snow. The stuff white Christmases are made of.

: a thick layer of snow with a hard crusted surface. Try walking on this.

Finland is attracting more exchange students

Monday, November 12, 2007

News you may have missed...

"Berkeley's innovative new plan for putting solar power in all of the city's homes and businesses offers a vivid illustration of progressive government in action." (From The American Prospect)

The rechargeable Energizer D battery is just an AA battery in plastic casing. (From

Four University of Oklahoma School of Meteorology professors are considered "hot". Who are they? (From


Acoustic versions of heavy metal music? This young Swedish trio called Hellsongs put on a good show, albeit too short, on Friday night at the club Belly in Helsinki. (Photo from

Thursday, November 08, 2007

A Night At The Opera

Last night, Yvette and I went to the Finnish National Opera (Suomen Kansallisooppera). The performance was Barber of Seville. We thoroughly enjoyed the performance---it was funny, and the performers looked like they enjoyed the roles. However, neither of us could get Rabbit of Seville out of our heads, especially during the overture. So, if you heard someone at last night's performance trying to muffle their laughter, it was probably us.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Looking for a job in Finland?

From the Helsinki Sanomat:

In the northern city of Rovaniemi, the capital of the Province of Lapland, one can soon become a certified elf.

Starting in April of next year, the Lapland Vocational College will offer a one-year course in "elfing" (or should that be "elving"? "gnoming"?) as a response to the growing need of the programme services enterprises in the tourism industry.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Winter meekly arrives in Helsinki

On Saturday, it snowed most of the day. Although it didn't stick, Sunday morning we awoke to frost on the shaded parts of the rooftops. Sunday's high temperatures around Helsinki were hovering just below freezing, making this the coldest day of the season so far. On a trip out and about Helsinki Sunday afternoon, Yvette needed some new leather gloves and knit cap (pipo) to keep warm. Cars were coming to Helsinki with an inch or two of snow on them (presumably from farther north). The news at night showed people skiing somewhere in Finland. Finally, this morning (Monday), you could find patches of ice on the streets and patches of light snow in the shaded grassy areas.

Friday, November 02, 2007

PhD Defense and Party in Finland

I had the pleasure of seeing FMI's Laura Rontu defend her PhD last week, then attend her post-PhD party in the evening. I had not been to one of the parties (called karonkkaani) before, so this was a new experience. As I have reported on previously, the Finns have a different PhD defense system than in the U.S. Elena gave me a couple of links on the examination (defense) and the party.

For the Finns, in the US, most atmospheric science programs I am familiar with have the following structure. The defense is given as a public scientific seminar usually lasting about 45-60 minutes. After the seminar, the public asks questions. Then, the audience is excused and the candidate is left alone with this committee (advisor and 3-5 committee members). They ask further questions of the candidate. After this round of questioning, the candidate is excused from the room and the committee members discuss the performance of the candidate. Except for unusual circumstances, nearly everyone who reaches this stage passes. There may be minor modifications required of the thesis before the committee signs off, but this usually doesn't stop anyone from graduating.

Winter coming to Helsinki

Sunrise happens today at 7:46 a.m. and sunset at 4:22 p.m. This weekend may be the first time we have high temperatures below freezing.

Misc links and ramblings

It's been a while since posting, and I have seen some pretty interesting links I've wanted to share with you all.

1) "The number of foreign visitors to the United States has plummeted since the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington because foreigners don't feel welcome, tourism professionals said Thursday." (

Having flown back to the US several times over the last year, I can see why. Visitors are not made to feel welcome at all. Traveling through Europe is much easier.

2) In late 2002, the euro and the US dollar traded at 1 to 1. Now, a euro is worth over $1.40. Since I arrived in November 2006, the value of the dollar dropped more than 10 cents. (See graph to the right, courtesy of I am thankful that my salary is paid in euros instead of dollars. (For a more thoughtful analysis of this situation, see here.)

3) Last weekend, Yvette and I went to several of the shows of the Finnish Animation Festival Animatricks. The best was a Paul Driessen retrospective. Also good was the animated music videos. I was surprised that the animations in the New Finnish Animation category were all about death in one form or another. I know Finland has a relatively high suicide rate, but the darkness in the animations was a little disturbing. All in all, I enjoyed the shows. Each show was only 5 euro a ticket, and I look forward to next years' festival.

One Year

Yesterday was my one-year anniversary of landing in Helsinki. I have been reflecting on this anniversary a lot lately---how my perceptions have changed about the US and Finland and how my own life has changed.

1) I haven't taken any Finnish language classes, so given that, I am surprised that I do as well as I do, but that is still much less than I need to be if I wanted to be more fully functional. The Finns make it easy on us non-natives, though. Nearly everyone can speak some English, so getting by is relatively easy and it doesn't motivate me well to take a Finnish class.

2) When I first got here, I would find myself fascinated by every little thing I would see. My head would be turning, just looking at words on signs, trying to understand them, or seeing new things that I never saw before. I am less like that, but I still find a lot of little joys in each day from looking around and noticing the environment I am in.

3) I never had a cell phone in the US, and didn't see a need for one. Now, I have a Nokia phone that I can read my email and surf the web on. It is a pretty amazing device. Nokia is a Finnish company, and I read that 97% of Finnish households had at least one cell phone. When I told that to someone they replied, "Oh, is it that low?" So, yes, cell phones (called mobile phones in Europe) are quite prevalent.

4) Movie theatres sell assigned seats to see the movies here in Finland, and the movies run for months. For example, Casino Royale ran for 6-8 months in Finnish theatres, and theatres would still be crowded months after its premiere. You can still see the Simpsons movie in the theatre, four months after it premiered. In contrast, movie tickets are general admission (open seating) in the US, and movies tend to be shown for not much more than a few weeks before being replaced by other movies.

5) No car and loving it! Public transportation is so good here, there's no need to have a car. Furthermore, bicyclists have their own trails, some of which are even marked on the sidewalk. (This can be particularly confusing for new visitors to Helsinki---watch for the bicycle lanes on the sidewalks.)

6) I had to move to Finland to meet the Australian woman of my dreams.