May 312006

Football pool initiated at work. For the first round games and nine bonus questions as tiebreakers (though the 48 games ought to scatter the scores quite well). Using the same system as last time (Euro 2004), and definitely aiming for more participants (had 30 two years ago).

May 302006

Saw Ron Howard’s Da Vinci Code, and wasn’t thrilled that much. It’s a decent movie, but not an entertaining summer blockbuster by any margin.

It’s obviously based on Dan Brown’s biggest hit, the book that’s sold absolute bazillions all across the world. And selling still, since it finally came out in paperback in the US.

And it’s a very booky movie – dialogue filled with lessons about symbols and conspiracies. Bearable in small doses, but lethargy-inducing when the individual soliloques can take minutes to deliver. And it’s bad dialogue indeed, lost in exposition as opposed to credible discussion.

The actors, apart from a surprisningly dull and lost-looking Tom Hanks put on credible performances. Ian McKellen reigns as the more than a little eccentric rich benefactor, and Audrey Tatou isn’t bad either.

The actors are not able to save the movie from dreariness. It’s a boring movie – occasionally fast-paced like a thriller, but often slowing down to a crawl. The book wasn’t this bad, so the blame lies at least partially on the screenwriter – clearly not Akiva Goldsmith’s finest hour. The exciting bits, even nuances, have been carefully excised, and that’s what dooms the film into the annals of mediocrity.

This is not a glowing recommendation, but neither an utter damnation. It’s just a missed opportunity, a cinematic dud.

May 292006

A formal categorization for enterprise bloggers has been proposed.

I consider myself firmly in the second category – after all this is hardly pseudonymous, and not really about work. And I’m not keeping the name of my employer hidden, nor broadcast it daily.

May 292006

Jakob Nielsen’s second web usability book, Prioritizing Web Usability is out. Or has been for a month or so. I’d have expected a bigger brouhaha about the release, so either this has been low key or I’ve been my reliably oblivious self.

Second season of Lost won’t be released until early October, which is quite a shock treatment for us hopelessly addicted. That’s the R1-edition, the expectedly extras-free R2 may be out sooner. Just as it happened with Deadwood.

May 282006

Finally the date of the last update of the blog corresponds with reality. Not writing the entries on the trip directly does not rank among the finest ideas recently.

On a lighter note, here’s a perfect example why “when ripping off people, it’s important to eliminate all evidence” (and do take time to read the comments as well – the scammer gets involved, and torn apart verbally).

May 272006

Lordi celebration crowds in KauppatoriAttended the official celebratory reception for the Eurovision winners on Kauppatori.

An occasion that probably overshot any estimates of attendees – the few video screens were inadequate as was the PA.

Missed the beginning, spent the first two bands in good company and took off when it was an hour till the main event.

Managed to catch a couple of songs by PMMP and Egotrippi on the very crowded square. Probably the biggest finnish gathering I’ve ever been to (surpassing the ’93 Leningrad Cowboys neatly). The attached picture doesn’t really show the masses, arrived late and was thus near the edges of the area.

Listened to a couple of songs – usually taking a very long time to identify them (bad PA, remember). The president of the country put in a brief appearance (unlike the prime minister who’s been absolutely gushing about the band), and the band launched into their biggest hits.

Which was our cue, started walking away before the masses had the same idea. And heard the winning song while walking and got to Base well ahead of the crowds – a definite win-win situation.

Some Lordi-imitators were present in the audience, but all in all the mood was more expectant than participatory. By far the coolest attendee was a guy dressed up as a construction worker and carrying a poster of Vesa-Matti Loiri.

May 252006

Long time, no link. So here goes.

May 232006

Cut-up art in Kumu

On a “team building day” in Tallinn.

Took a surprising turn after making landfall, accompanied the more cultural attendees to Kumu, the brand-new museum of modern art.

And spent two hours browsing the collection. Which isn’t bad at all. Varies from classic art to rather funky pieces of modern art – of some specific genre, I’m sure, but not willing to speculate further.

All art is domestic – so the mandatory Mondrians, Dalis and Miros are entirely absent. A nice change of pace from traditional equivalent establishments.

The museum is still getting some work done, and the external areas (a sculpture courtyard and the like) were unfinished.

Had dinner in Balthazar in the Old Town. Good, garlicky food, but I was expecting bigger dishes.

Random corner in Kumu Wet stepping stones

May 212006

No-one stole the trophy during the night. We’re still the winners.

After the disappointment in hockey, this is indeed sweet. And I don’t have too high hopes against Canada in the bronze game today.

And I think I’m scarred for life by the spanish “song”, it’ll take a while before bloody mary means just the drink and not gibberish by the team that gave us asereje in 2002.

May 202006

Thank you, Lordi.

So, after a 40-year drought, finns finally bring home the prize from the eurovision song contest.

By breaking the previous points-record.

By fielding a quintet of escapees from the set of a low-budget slasher flick.

Never under-estimate the power of pent-up demand for decent music.

The plastic babes and by-the-numbers songs lost. Everybody won.

Exactly how many snowballs are visible rolling in Hell right now? And how many of our porcine friends have suddenly sprouted wings and ‘ cruising the starry sky?

This is a pretty decent consolation for the loss to the czechs in the hockey semifinals. And much much better than almost anybody believed we could go.

May 192006

Broken glasses
Well, the first night was easy – the second wasn’t. Finally fell asleep around six (a.m., unfortunately) and tore myself out of the bed at two.

Gave up on multiple occasions and read through the archives of newspapers that arrived during the trip.

Groggy to the extreme. So out of focus that I managed to break my glasses (for the first time ever) by dropping them into the sink. Do not try this at home. The shop is unable to give a quote for repairs (schedule, couldn’t really care less about the cost) over the phone – back to the old ones from late nineties, unfashionable enough to scare randomly encountered people.

May 182006

Watched the Eurovision song contest semifinals.

For the first time ever Finland got through, and will participate in the final round.

Lordi, the monstrous quintet representing Finland got quite a reception after the song. The qualification order is kept secret – so there’s no telling what’s going to happen in the finals.

Most of the songs were utterly forgettable. Sweden has a nice Abba-homage (it’s Winner takes it all with serial number filed off), Lithuania went for the meta-song and Iceland’s Silvia Night’s Ali G-esque antics went unrewarded. But for the most part the songs were between lame and awful indeed.

May 182006

Barcelona are now the reigning champions of european football. Watched the game live as a jetlag-killing measure. First half at Chelsea, but second at home – the former was too full and uncomfortable without a seat.

Slept well as a bonus.

Helsinki sure has changed in the two weeks I was away. The spring is slowly turning into summer, and the scenery is green. But not very warm – definitely felt the cold closing in while waiting for the cab in Seutula yesterday. And ice hockey is everywhere – was pretty much spared of the world championships but here it’s unavoidable.

May 182006

Got home intact and with all pieces of luggage. So props to the stewards in Munich who came through on a very fast transfer.

Ride got off to a good start after I landed an aisle seat following an extended bout of musical chairs. It was a full plane, with lots of groups that had gotten dispersed at check-in.

Food was just plain horrible, limp pasta on three flights out of four seems like bad luck that is measured on seismic scale.

No sleep, but that’s par for the course in planes.

Had a hair-raising experience at the security in Dulles. Bought an SR-71 bottle-opener/fridge magnet, and it’s sharp-nosed shape obviously matched that of a knife. Fortunately the supervisor called to scene (in a paniced voice) was able to set things right after noting that it’s a pretty dull-edged object. Had me worried for a moment.

Also had my first TSA-break-in into checked luggage. One lock lost, one piece of paper inserted. The new masterkeyable lock proved its worth immediately.

May 172006

Life smiles again after a good long shower and first two rounds of laundry.

Was a very good trip – and one that’ll serve as a city-vacation benchmark for the next while.

  • Saw a panda (actually two).
  • Didn’t read work-related e-mail at all.
  • Walked lots and some more (brought a borrowed pedometer and topped out on 29k steps on the longest day).
  • Didn’t drink any local beers in Philadelphia or DC.
  • Liked all cities. A lot. Enough to warrant a return in the not-too-distant future.
  • Didn’t learn to appreciate baseball.
  • Wondered at weirdly fluctuating room prices in DC (vastly different prices on week/weekend days).
  • Didn’t feel like having spent five days in the murder capital of USA (and I guess the last city indeed has gotten much cleaner).
  • Understood how small the White House is, and how immense the federal bureaucracy.
  • Didn’t read the new white paper on inform 7. Interesting subject, but obviously not enough.
  • Bought yet another season of West Wing – fifth, by far the suckiest, but completionism cannot be helped.
  • Didn’t find Clooney/Soderbergh’s K-Street in the shops.
  • Understood that distances can be long even on the more compact east coast.
  • Didn’t see any recognizable politicians.
  • Received multiple new state quarters in change.
  • Didn’t eat at Ben’s Chili Bowl.
May 172006

Castle model at the National Geographic SocietyVisited the National Geographic Society headquarters just a couple of blocks from the hotel. Walked through the three exhibits on show: Judas Gospel had something of a crowd in it and consisted mainly of newly interpreted pergament shards (facsimiles, I assume). An exhibit about the crusade-era castles had fascinating models explaining the concepts, models that spanned several square meters at best. Took me until the last one – about coral reefs – to discover that photography was not allowed…

The gift shop was well-stocked with books, but had a surprisingly small amount of the company’s magazines available (no back issues at all).

Had an excellent bagel-breakfast on the street (definitely getting warmer once again) while watching the herds of suit-clad salarimen and/or officials hurrying by. I could definitely get used to this…

Entrance to the hall of mammalsHad a late plane to catch, so left luggage at the hotel and took one more trip into the depths of Smithsonian.

Ran into the first, and thus far only, finns on the metro station. The National Museum of Natural History was impressive and big. Big enough to allow a partial visit only (wanted to catch up on art as well). The animal bits were interesting, especially the ones on fossils and approximations what the bygone creatures looked like in the flesh. But the geological gallery was time-consuming as well, and not only because they had the largest collection of precious rocks I’ve ever seen. Rather because the relevant processes were nicely visualized and complemented with attention-grabbing details. One of which was a label on a chunk of gneiss – where the swedish heritage puts in an appearance (as shown on the right, and nope – no clue what “ptygmatic” means or how it can fold things).

Did an extremely quick lap (or actually four, one per floor) in the Hirshhorn Museum, dedicated to modern art. By far the most interesting thing on display was a lengthy video of a complicated rubegoldbergian device put together by two swiss guys. Not as shiny and exact as the Honda commercial, but this one had fire as a component, on several occasions. Just had to purchase it from the museum shop. Which had neat-o DIY-mobiles available as well – they consisted of triangular patches and bendable rods, and allowed the creation of an uncountable number of varieties. Forgot the product name almost immediately (it’s a compound word, and the first part is “space”, second a plural noun) – anyone who can supply the name earns an appropriate prize…

Gneiss with a swedish-finn originThe misgivings about the rushed schedule to get to Dulles got even worse when the shuttle failed to materialize in time. And in a reasonable slack given for delays in the traffic. Had to grab a cab instead. And that ran my walled dry – they don’t accept cards in taxis here.

Late arrival to check-in meant a lousy seat – but a 45K in a 46-row plane sure adds a lot of insult to injury.

May 162006

Walked around on the George Washington University campus. Which, like its compatriot in Georgetown, was surprisingly empty. School’s not out yet.

Had to see the place, because I almost had a school-year’s worth of education here. GWU was my #2 choice in the ISEP ranking, and I quite anticipated spending a year in DC in the mid-nineties on an exchange-program. However, the first choice on the list went through, and I ended up in Utah instead.

Which was probably fortunate, I’d gone broke on taxi bills alone here – DC was not exactly the safest city back then. These days it seems to be quite close to the tops on the mellowness-index, aided by the vast number of cops all around the city.
Watergate complexSaw the Watergate-complex (depicted), from which the scandal erupted that almost got Richard Nixon impeached. Wasn’t in very good shape (at least when looked at from a distance of a couple of blocks).

Walked back to the hotel – had a delicious mexican salad along the way in a no-name restaurant and wondered about the goings on in the building next door to the hotel. The office complex was surrounded by fire trucks and worried officials of all possible uniforms – but obviously nothing was amiss any longer as I passed them by without any comment.

Watched almost the whole length of George Bush addressing the nation on new immigration initiative. Missed the very first minute – so still haven’t heard Hail to the Chief in its natural environment. The media coverage of the event started a couple of hours before the speech, and continued well into the night. I tuned to basketball early – and seem to have picked new heroes along the way. Steve Nash and Devon Harris, of Suns and Mavs, respectively admirably fulfill the role of a playmaker not afraid to take shots when necessary.

May 152006

Busy afternoon.

Bought a new suitcase. A Delsey carryon from a decently cheap shop in the Union Station (have to check back home how badly ripped off I got). Not because of excess retail therapy, travelled with just one bag packed to the brim, so the need was well-anticipated.

Had forgotten how good Ben&Jerry’s ice cream was. A cone of chunky monky (banana with big lumps of dark chocolate) set things right. Some of their stuff was supposedly available at Stockmann’s – seriously have to look into it…

Visited the National Postal Museum, and seem to be suffering from overload. Or perhaps the subject just wasn’t thrilling enough. Managed to buy two sheets of Muppet Stamps at the co-located shop.

Walked through the rather small Chinatown (or just wrong streets therein). Just a couple of blocks in size, and rapidly being westernized by the influx of commerce from the nearby sports arena.

Seems that there’s no diners club lounge at Dulles, and that I have a late plane out. Upon consulting with the people at reception, booked a ride on a shuttle at an uncomfortably late hour (considering that security measures are being beefed up all the while).

May 152006

Slept long – it apparently takes five or so days to acclimatise to a drastically different time zone. Which means that it’ll be as hard to shift back after heading home.

The hotel provided a copy of USA Today, which was nice – something to read over breakfast / lunch.

Walked to a different part of town today, towards the International Spy Museum. It turns out to have an admission fee, took free entry for granted after the Smithsonians. There’s also a strict “no photography”-clause in the galleries.

The spy museum is a worthwhile place to visit – and the suggested two hours is pretty much the duration I spent inside. The contents range from interactive things for kids (assume a cover identity and be interrogated a couple of times along the way) to seriously historical details through the depcitions of espionage in the show business. The artifacts are described well, and on several occasions I caught myself reading deep into the long explanations.

Had lunch at the museum cafeteria. The food was OK, but the highlight of the visit was the rediscovery of twist-off caps. Had forgotten how cool it actually was to be able to open metal caps without any tools (and of course asked for one, when confronted with such a cap…)