Friday, October 31, 2008

There's a great web site that shows the most recent polls across the United States:

One interesting aspect of this is that it shows that Oklahoma (my former home state before moving to Helsinki) is the state with the second least support for Obama: 34%. The only state lower? Utah with 32%.

(All values were from today.)

Great Compliment

Teaching started for me at the University of Helsinki. I am teaching two courses: Applications of Numerical Weather Prediction and Communication Skills for Scientists.

In the Applications course, as we were going around the class having the students introduce themselves, one student who had been in one of my classes before told me one of the reasons that he was in my class:

"You helped me find the joy of studying again."

What a great compliment! Thank you.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Obama would be a better Bond; McCain would make a better Judi Dench

From Parade Magazine:

I finally ask this British actor a deeply American question: “Who do you think would be the better James Bond—Barack Obama or John McCain?”

Craig doesn’t hesitate. “Obama would be the better Bond because—if he’s true to his word—he’d be willing to quite literally look the enemy in the eye and go toe-to-toe with them. McCain, because of his long service and experience, would probably be a better M,” he adds, mentioning Bond’s boss, played by Dame Judi Dench. “There is, come to think of it, a kind of Judi Dench quality to McCain.”

(Photo from

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

I get to pick my own breakfast!

Conservatives in the USA are wondering if the public will ever be interested in the size of government again as a political rallying cry. After the biggest increase in the amount of government spending during a supposed conservative administration, I can imagine that these hard-core conservatives are pretty blue right now. This article in the conservative Washington Times lays out the discussion.

The article quotes David Frum, a former Bush speechwriter:
"America is a highly non-ideological country. And while there are some who care about government as a percentage of [the total economy], most Americans don't care very much. If it gets to the European model and they tell you what to eat for breakfast, then they care," Mr. Frum said. "But there's a lot of leeway until Americans' libertarian instincts kick in."

For the record, no one has once told me what to eat for breakfast.

(Image from

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Struggles of a Songwriter

Still high from the Leonard Cohen concert ten days ago, I read this interview with him about his songwriting. I had heard that he struggled with perfectionism in songwriting, sometimes taking years to fully birth a song, but this interview really captures how it is for him.

One of his songs is called "Tower of Song," describing his experiences in songwriting.

Q: Writing in that way could be either more freeing or more restrictive. You have a rhythm that is set but you are free from playing the guitar.

LC: Well, freedom and restriction are just luxurious terms to one who is locked in a dungeon in the tower of song. These are just... ideas. I don’t have the sense of restriction or freedom. I just have the sense of work. I have the sense of hard labor.

Q: Is this hard labor ever enjoyable for you?

LC: It has a certain nourishment. The mental physique is muscular. That gives you a certain stride as you walk along the dismal landscape of your inner thoughts. You have a certain kind of tone to your activity. But most of the time it doesn’t help. It’s just hard work.

Things related to the economy, and statistics

The New York Times has this article about the things that are believed to be correlated to economic trends. Surely some statistician must be having a field day with this.

Wait. There is one. William M. Briggs, one of the associate editors at Monthly Weather Review offers his opinions on all things statistical.

Dr. Briggs has a book coming out soon called: Breaking the Law of Averages: Real-Life Probability & Statistics in Plain English.

He also performed an analysis of countries and who the best country was in the Olympics this summer? His conclusion: The Bahamas and Jamaica, who won the most medals per capita.

more mammatus in contrails (over London)

Seen on the side of a house in London

London Bridge and the London Tower from the air

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Corn chips in chocolate?

Meet Smash! These snacks, which you can find in the candy shops around Helsinki, are corn cones covered in chocolate. Americans may recognize Bugles salty corn chips? That's what these are. Covered in chocolate.

They're like little chocolate-covered tornadoes.

Leonard Cohen: 10 October 2008: Helsinki

It's been 15 years since his last tour. One of the best concerts I have ever seen happened in the Hartwall Arena to 11,000 Cohen fans. Incredible pictures and the set list are posted here and here.

Here is the set list from that page:

First set
1. Dance me to the end of love
2. The Future
3. Ain't no cure for love
4. Bird on the wire
5. Everybody knows
6. In my secret life
7. Who by fire
8. Waiting for the miracle
9. Heart with no Companion
10. Hey, that's no way to say good bye
11. Anthem

Second set
12. Tower of song
13. Suzanne
14. Gypsy wife
15. The Partisan
16. Boogie Street
17. Hallelujah
18. Democracy
19. I'm your man
20. Take this waltz

21. So long, Marianne
22. First we take Manhattan
23. Famous blue raincoat
24. If it be your will
25. Closing time
26. I tried to leave you
27. Whither thou goest

It was the same day that the former Finnish prime minister Martti Ahtisaari was announced to have won the Nobel Peace Prize, and Cohen was incredibly humble in his statement: "I have dedicated this concert to Martti Ahtisaari and anyone else who looks at this vale of tears and decides to lend a helping hand. We are very grateful to him."

If you ever want to see a 73-year old with incredible passion, intimacy, and lyrical abilities, you will not want to miss seeing this man. A very special birthday present from my loving wife.

(Image by Eija, posted at the

Wonderful Opus comic

The comic strip Opus by Berkeley Breathed will be retired in a few weeks. The "increasingly nasty political climate has made it too difficult to keep his strip from drifting into darkness."

Too bad. Here's a classic that was never even distributed by the Washington Post Writer's Group.

Worst hotel in London for the price?

How about this for a hotel review?

Never stay at the Rydges Kensington Plaza, near the Gloucester Road Underground Station and Imperial College.

I'll make a very long story short. I had a reservation made by the Royal Meteorological Society for one night, but I wanted to extend that by two more days to visit London with Yvette. Before arriving, I called the hotel and gave them my credit card information to extend my reservation for two days beyond the initial reservation. I was told that this was done.

When we arrived, the hotel had no idea that we were arriving. Apparently, the person who took the reservation never registered it in the computer or it was not registered appropriately. During two of the next three mornings, cleaning staff arrived at our room at 8:30 in the morning to begin cleaning, even though the checkout time was 11 a.m. Calls and visits to the front desk did little to alleviate the problem---apparently, the hotel never got the idea that we were registered guests in the hotel for those three straight nights.

The final straw was when we were checking out, they charged the RMS for two nights, even after I explained to them that you were only to be billed for one night, as per the written reservation below. So, if you see on your credit card statement that you were billed, then credited back, please forgive me. We did the best we could under the circumstances.

It's a shame because the hotel is reasonably well kept, albeit the rooms we were in was a bit crowded for two people, let alone two people with even small luggage. (Although to be fair, the traveler photos on appear to show some spacious rooms.)

The hotel is ranked 630 of 1095 hotels in London, so in the bottom half. Given the cluelessness of the staff, their terrible service when presented with the problem, I would say that this is a generous rating.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Going down to Londontown

Yvette and I will be taking a vacation in conjunction with my invited talk at the Small-Scale Weather Extremes conference hosted by the Royal Meteorological Society.

My talk is on lake-effect snow, and I am grateful to have been invited by Tim Hewson, and have been supplied supporting documentation by Jim Steenburgh, Neil Laird, and Tom Niziol. Jim Ladue and Dave Kristovich provided some really nifty photos.

(Photo of lake-effect snow and lightning by Jim Ladue)

Friday, October 10, 2008

Absentee balloting

How to vote in the US elections from overseas. Quite easy and fast!

1) Fax absentee ballot request to Cleveland County Election Board on Sept. 30.
2) Receive first campaign literature sent to Finnish address on Oct. 7.
3) Receive absentee ballot in mail on Oct. 9.
4) Mail completed ballot on Oct. 10.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Music in Helsinki

The next few months are an amazing time for Helsinki music fans.

Tomorrow: Leonard Cohen
November 14: Randy Newman
December 1: Elton John

Others coming up: Dianne Reeves, Leningrad Cowboys, Moody Blues, Count Basie Orchestra, Jerry Lee Lewis, Todd Rundgren, Gloria Gaynor, Supergrass, and Dionne Warwick.

(Image from

Autumn is falling...

The trees are a beautiful yellow and orange in Helsinki. The skies have been mostly clear the last few days, allowing the temperature in the suburbs to approach freezing overnight. And, the days are getting shorter, with the sun rising at 7:46 and setting at 6:28.

Finns Would Vote for Obama if They Could

From the YLE web site:

If Finns could decide the next President of the United States, the job would go to Senator Barack Obama, according to a new poll. Rival Senator John McCain would only win 13 percent of the vote. According to the survey commissioned by Reader's Digest and conducted by the Gallup Organisation, Obama would run away with 71 percent of Finns' votes.

(Image by AP)