Just as in Tallinn (image), a snow storm left Helsinki covered with more snow than we have had during all of this exceptionally mild winter. There has not been a winter to talk about as the temperature has never stayed below freezing point long enough so that any snow would have stayed. And now that the spring is supposed to be around the corner we get the lot of it during 24 hours.
In early February, which normally would have been the peak of the winter, the ground was bare, the temperature went up to + 10 °C and some early flowers made a premature attempt to blossom. As everybody thought that this would be one of those rare winters that never came, spring season preparations were being made as can be seen in the picture above. This late winter is particularly bad for the business of bars and pubs, thanks to anti smoking laws both in Estonia and Finland. Who would want to have a pint and a fag at an outdoor table under such weather conditions?
While kids and cross country skiing enthusiasts certainly say better late than not at all, I hope this misplaced winter would go away rather soon than late. Be it cold or warm, some sort of stability and predictability in weather conditions would be appreciated.
Unusual subzero temperatures and snow cause chaos and even death in southern and eastern China.
Meanwhile here in Helsinki, we should be approaching the peak of winter but this was the view outside my window a moment ago. The temperature is + 3.3 °C with light rain. There are just remains of the snow which landed last week.
As I told in this declaration of economic interest, my bad finances forced me to enter into an eight month contract of employment in a suburban unit of the Culture Department here in town. They needed somebody who would agree to work mostly evenings and weekends. I was supposed to see that the visitors behave themselves and also take care of the practical side of a project involving a couple of computers installed for the general public to surf with. The house was also to get a wireless network.
When I started for almost two months ago, I soon detected that maintaining public order was not a big issue. Most of the visitors are friendly and have been regulars for ages. There was not very much to do but I enjoyed reading what the book shelve had to provide.
Having read the best books in a few weeks, though, I was becoming somewhat bored. I am used to having a 24 hour access to the Internet at my home office and I certainly could have used that. The funny thing is that there was a computer connected to the Internet on my desk but I was not allowed to use it. The computer is hooked to the internal network of the city and I have not been given a user ID there although my employment is for eight months.
Even the regular staff have silly restrictions imposed on them. They are strictly forbidden to visit their personal e-mail accounts through the city network. On the other hand they can not access their office mail from anywhere else. So I was a bit worried when the book shelve was about to be exhausted and there was no word of my project being kicked off. I had talked with the IT manager of the administration by phone for several times but delays and obstacles seemed to be rather a rule than an exception.
As I came to my post last Thursday, I detected a brand new ADSL router on my desk. I called the IT manager and learned that the web connection was indeed up and running but the WLAN box and WLAN adapters for the two computers would not come so soon. I did, however, connect one of the old computers to the web using the existing ethernet card and installed Ubuntu in it. I also installed and configured some software and intended to do the same with the other computer the day after.
As i came in the following day, I detected that I was unable to proceed with the project. The WLAN box had arrived and the ADSL router was well hidden somewhere under the surface of the wall. Alas, the house had a wireless network but no hardware to connect to it. There was also a reprimanding message for me saying that connecting to the Internet direct through the ADSL router was inappropriate.
At that point I was less than amused. I decided that whatever is going to happen with the bureaucracy, I for one was going to ensure that I have access to the web at work. I started browsing laptop ads and found somewhat of a bargain yesterday as I was in what my friend Peter would call a Männerladen.
Open source is not particularly popular around here. Many people who would not know what to do with Windows Vista must absolutely have it. It is as important as having a cooler car than their neighbour. Which is why it is by now almost impossible to find laptops in stores here with a pre installed XP. The dealers just want to get rid of them.
So I bought a basic laptop yesterday for 450 €. It is a HP Compaq nx6310 notebook with 512 Mb of RAM and 60 GB hard drive. And a preinstalled Windows XP.
So this afternoon before and during my working hours, I was pretty much occupied with adjusting the laptop. I even posted a short note into my Estonian blog. The WLAN connection seemed to be almost as fast as mine at home. That will no doubt change if several people are going to be on line simultaneously but for now I am happy with it.
I installed Ubuntu 7.04 onto the laptop and have quite a bit of configuring to do. It is early to say anything about whether or not 7-04 is better or worse than 6.06 which is running in my desktop. I am going to let the XP partition stay as well, at least for some time. It is probably going to take a while before I am going to be able to put my webcam to work under Ubuntu 7.04. And the latest Windows version of Skype has lots of bells and whisles that we Linux people still dream about. Stuff like video calls and Skypecasts.
The funny thing with bureaucracy is that it is mostly slow and sleepish but it may once in a while surprise you with unforeseen velocity. The computer project at my job has been planned for nearly two years after the decision was formally made. As I went to my post yesterday, for the first time with my own laptop, two WLAN adapters were waiting for me on the table.
The customer computers are supposed to be available for the general public some time in the autumn. Since I am going to work all weekend with no bureaucrats present, I thought I could just as well get over with the installation and configuring by Monday morning. There will be nobody to stop me or interfere with directives. And then we are going to have two computers ready for customers who will probably be allowed to use them three months later.
Today I worked for the first day for the City of Helsinki Culture Department. So if I write something during the next eight months about the Department and this unit in particular, it might be advisable to bare in mind that they pretend to pay me some sallary and I pretend to be working for them. Alas, there may be economic interests connected to those posts. I would naturally reserve myself the right of expressing my opinion as a citizen of Helsinki.
The sad reality is that journalistic engagements on a free lance basis do not pay as much as they used to. They especially do not pay enough to meet my regular expenses although I have managed to purge everything unessential from my personal budget. The step taken today was somewhat overdue and more than necessary.
I have no reason to complain, on the contrary. The pay is not quite what it could be but at least it helps to add up some stability to my personal economy. And the work does not restrain me too much in my other activities.
Also, working odd hours is fine with me. I especially like working long hours on Sundays because it brings me double as many free hours during weekdays. There is not so much to do in this town on Sundays anyway.
I intend to keep blogging more or less as hitherto. I would not mind adding up some commercial forms to spread my texts but the idea is to have them in addtition to what appears in my different blogs, not replacing it .
Tags: rostock, ships, travelling
As I wrote on Friday morning, I needed to travel to Tallinn over the day to renew my press credentials. There are some issues about that particular journey that I have written about in my other blogs but not as yet in English. It was a particulary exhausting journey so I needed a few days to recover.
Obtaining tickets was the first thing to do. I started to sort out the schedules the first thing last Wednesday as soon as I received a mail from the Estonian Journalist Union that the appointment needed to take place on Friday rather than this Monday or Tuesday. I concluded that Tallink’s Superfast with departure at 8.30 a.m. and arrival in Tallinn at 11 a.m. would allow me to take care of my banking, shopping and most importantly the press cards. I would have to be back in Tallinn harbor at 4 p.m. for a departure at 4.30.
Tallink’s web site offered a day cruise for 30 € which I regarded as acceptable. Much to my astonishment, though, that particular ticket was not purchaseable through the web. I could have been able to buy a regular return ticket for 53 €. I thought that was a bit too much even for a boat promising to cross the gulf in two hours and a half so I went to Tallink’s ticket office in central Helsinki on Thursday.
The sales lady explained to me that the day ticket can not be bought through the web because it is a campaign product. I did not care to ask back how come something could be a campaign product which is being sold on a regular basis. Instead, it crossed my mind to ask if Tallink had any sort of press discount.
As it turned out, holders of a valid press card were allowed 50 % of a regular ticket which sounded fine for me. My press cards were still valid for a few days, so I did not have to pay 53 € nor even 30 € but 26,50 €. At that point I was pretty happy.
The journey itself proofed out to be less than satisfactory although Tallink personnel on board and on both shores of the gulf were no doubt doing the best they could under the circumstances. Superfast is basically a car ferry and its basic purpose is to serve travellers with cars between Helsinki and Rostock. The departure to Tallinn has been added for cost reasons: it is better that the ferry brings in some revenue to the owner instead of just lying in the harbor of Helsinki.
The journey between Finland and Germany takes 25 hours which is why practically all the passengers have a cabin or at least a chair on the sleeping deck. In such case it is not very important to have room on board just for hanging around and spending time. The situation is of course the reverse between Helsinki and Tallinn.
On the morning departure I had some trouble finding a place just to sit down for a while. Many passengers are in the bad habbit of occupying seats in bars and cafeterias from harbor to harbor although the usage of common room is obviously designed upon rotation of seats between passengers. The return departure was less crowded so at least I was able to sit most of the time.
The prospect of a cross over in two hours and a half during the winter period sounds very tempting. Unfortunately, though, this does not apply for passengers without cars. There is no landing ramp for foot passengers in neither Tallinn nor Helsinki. Those are expected to be ready by end of March but as long as they are still being built, the foot passengers enter and depart the ferry through the car deck and are transported to the harbor terminal on a bus.
For safety reasons, the cars must be let out before the foot passengers can be allowed on the car deck. There is just one bus in each end serving the foot passengers so the bus has to take several turns to transport the passengers. As a result, you can not really plan the actual time you arrive at either end of the journey. Even those with the sharpest elbows have to count on at least half an hour at each end.
As I returned to Tallinn harbor in the afternoon I had just ten minutes left before the passport control. I would not have made it, had not the General Secretary of the Estonian Journalist Union, Mrs. Ebba Rääts, been kind enough to process my press cards while I was doing my shopping in town. There is a World of difference being left with three hours to do one’s business in town as opposed to five hours as planned.
The whole concept of having a Tallinn extension to this ship which may or may not be a good choice between Helsinki and Rostock looks quite a lot like cashing in. I do know a number of pubs and bars in Helsinki that serve 0,5 litres of beer for a lesser price than 4,20 € although quite many also ask more than that. Judging from the selection of beer in the Superfast bars, the expensive stuff is bought from either Germany or Estonia, both of which are cheaper countries than Finland.
My ISP Maxinetti does not seem to learn from earlier mistakes. Last Wednesday I received a notice from them. It was printed on paper and delivered by snail mail which is somewhat goofey as our customer relationship has everything to do with use of the Internet. By the way, they also stubbornly insist on delivering the monthly bill on paper with a different reference code each month so I am unable to place a transaction order to my bank before I have received the printed bill.
They wrote that they would update the network which might cause some “temporary” down time. The updating was supposed to happen last week, “tentatively” either on Wednesday or Thursday. Alas, I could already have had a broken connection before the letter even arrived.
I have hard time believing that this update came as a surprise for them and they were thus unable to give notice early enough to allow me some arrangements to secure access to the web elsewhere. There was also not a word about this update on their web site. Their so called news page is dedicated to promoting their commercial services.
As there was no down time on either of the two days, nor any other day last week, I thought I would have escaped the annoyance. Not a chance! Yesterday afternoon at 5 p.m. as I was writing a lengthy blog post the connection suddenly went down and did not return before 9.30 a.m. this morning. After the line returned to life again, I could establish that there was still not a word about it in their web site.
Being cut off the web for more than 16 hours without a proper and accurate notice is unconvenient, to say the least, even if you do not use the connection for work, phone calls (I have no phone other than my Skype account), for getting news and entertainment. For me it was obviously a disaster. But Maxinetti is probably happy with their performance. And who knows, I may be receiving another letter from them in the snail mail tomorrow telling about the down time that happened.
I suppose everybody knows how to complain. Quite a few people even make art of it but not as many manage to make quality art of complaining. That is exactly what these two choirs, one in Helsinki and another in Birmingham have succesfully done. The Britons do not want their contribution to be streamed from Youtube which I naturally respect. Alas, you can only watch the Helsinki video here and need to click the link to see the Birmingham version.
While the concept of complaint is the same in both contributions, there are local differencies to be noted in each of them. I am not familiar with the current price of beer in Birmingham but it is obviously high enough to have made it to the refrain. My ear did not catch that topic in the Helsinki version which is odd enough. They had otherwise almost every imaginable complaint covered so why forget one of the most important annoyancies?
I wrote yesterday about two guards who were caught red handed on a video tape posted to Youtube abusing a citizen in the shopping mall of Kontula in Helsinki. According to unconfirmed information, the municipal transport service is going to introduce a new station announcement for subway trains approaching Kontula. It would sound something like this.
Warning: this video displays a violent scene
This Youtube video was recorded by a bypasser in the local mall where I live. It shows two security guards brutally beat and kick a man who is lying on the ground in handcuffs. The bypasser posted it in Youtube and was eventually heard as a witness by the police.
According to Helsingin Sanomat, the guards are suspended pending the police inquiry. My educated guess is that both of them will be prosecuted and they can forget a career in the security business. Unfortunately, though, far from all similar incidents are uncovered.
On a few occasions I have seen guards in that mall use somewhat excessed force while removing a drunkie but I have never witnessed anything like this. Most of the guards are proffessional but there are a few who seem to be rather oriented on force than using their wits to solve conflicts.
In this case a random witness spontaneously recorded the violent incident with his camera cell phone and uploaded the video in Youtube. It was detected by the media whereby the police started a criminal investigation. The track has received hundreds of thousands of hits. A part of it was shown in the national TV news tonight.
This case shows that Google made a good decision in setting aside 200 million US dollars in a defence fund for copyright lawsuites against Youtube. While there is no doubt a whole lot of crab in Youtube, this case shows that the site is worth defending. The guy being abused in this video would not have gotten justice without Youtube.
Tags: nature, urban
Rabbits do not belong to the natural fauna in Finland but there are thousands of them in Helsinki. According to Hufvusdstadsbladet, somebody must have released their pet rabbits, several of them, a few years ago. Baring in mind rabbits’ speedy increasing rate, those wild rabbits have become something of a annoyance in the city’s parks, gardens and cemeteries.
Unlike hare, rabbit eats almost anything. The wild rabbits in Helsinki seem to be particulary fond of violets and chrysanthemums, just the sort of flowers that you would find in a cemetery. According to Ari Pipatti, the head gardener of Hietaniemi cemetery, there are hundreds of rabbits in the graveyard eating up flowers at the graves. There were none of them just a couple of years ago.
The Ministry of Agriculture does not take the problem very seriously. Rabbit has been classified as wild game which may be hunted with a bow and arrow. The ministry is not going to allow the gardeners to use more effective means to fight those rabbits.
The rabbits have been seen in the City Garden for about five years. The head gardener Pentti Anttonen fears that mild winters may contribute to an increased rabbit population which would make it practically impossible to protect the plants in the gardens. Rabbit is cleverer than hare which can be stopped by protecting plants with a net. Rabbits just dig themselves under those nets and fences or climb over them.
I have been wondering all day if I might have been a bit careless with my cigarettes because I smell some smoke. But it does not smell like tobacco. Much more like something actually burning.
Now I have evidence that I have not suddenly become grazy. It is smoke, that of some terrestrial fires in Russia. They have been going on for several days.
ETV 24 reports that altogether 12.440 hectares of wood is burning in Russia. 413 of those hectares are burning in the northwestern Russian territories close to the Finnish border.
I heard in the radio this morning that there was thick smoke in the air in central Tallinn. The city’s web site publishes fresh air quality measurement results every hour. And now Helsingin Sanomat writes that the sun was momentarily behind smoke clouds in central Helsinki this morning.
The Russian authorities are concentrating their fire fighting efforts to populated areas. Since the areas close to the border have practically no inhabitants, the only thing I can hope is that the wind would take another direction. Or massive rain to fall over northwestern Russia.
YLE 24 writes that the Russian Emergency Ministry has responded to an inquiry of the Finnish government that the fires should soon be under control. The ministry does not consider it to be likely that assistance of Finnish firefighters would be necessary. However, says the ministry, should any help be needed, the Finns will exceptionally be allowed to cross the border wiothout a visa.
This is definitely something extraordinary. Being familiar with the Russian bureaucracy, I would have imagined that the fire engines would have been forced to wait at the border untill proper visas were issued. Who could even dream of extinguishing a fire without doing the proper paper work first?