Friday, December 28, 2007

The Hudson

The bed arrived yesterday to complete our bedroom ensemble. It's a king-sized Hudson bed in dark mahogany. Corey ordered it on-line from the Pottery Barn a couple of weeks ago. We finally have a headboard so that I no longer have to stuff a pillow between the mattress and wall to prevent the pillow I sleep on from falling into that gap. The night tables arrived a few weeks earlier, which is why we went shopping a couple of days ago for the lamps (and clock radio).

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Beaver Dam

This afternoon after some yardwork (I fixed the leaf vacuum and then vacuumed up leaves that Corey raked up) we dragged the canoe out across the beaver dam into what we call the tree channel. One end of the tree channel goes under Davis Creek Road while the other normally empties out into the lake. When there's water, that is. The pic above is a view from the canoe in the tree channel towards the lake.

When the lake's full we could canoe from our dock, into the tree channel, and then out onto the lake. Right now, however, the only reason there's water in the tree channel is because of our resident beaver. Previously when we took our cats out on a forest walk over the beaver dam we could see and hear the top of the dam, but we could never really gauge its height. So today, we canoed over to the top of the dam, beached the canoe, and then walked past the dam to get a shot of what it looked like from the other side. In this video clip we're canoeing at the top of the dam. The pic above is a shot from the other side.

Above is a shot looking out towards the lake on the other side of the beaver dam. You can see boat docks stranded on dry land and a meadow growing where the lake usually is. At full pond we can usually canoe out here and beyond. Meanwhile, it was back through the fallen trees back to the canoe and then back up the tree channel, heading back past the beaver lodge.

And after all that hard paddling, it was time to break out the lawn chairs on our dock and watch the sunset. We saw a family of deer playing out in the spit between the tree and boat channels—they made their way there jumping over the beaver dam, the same way we go when we take the cats out for a long forest walk.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Christmas Haul

Yesterday we went shopping. Not really Christmas shopping per se, I think we just needed to get some stuff. Mainly lamps for our new night tables. I also took the opportunity to upgrade my alarm clock as well. I can now wake up to a CD instead of static. My first selection is Pink Floyd's Time although that may be a touch corny. We also bought a new torche lamp, some DVDs, clothes, and a laptop fan. The fan is like a little table that sits under the laptop and plugs in to the laptop's USB port to drive the fan. This is just to cool the laptop as it tends to heat up. We also bought a new phone since our old one isn't working very well. Later today we're off to continue our shopping spree. Corey wants her own laptop fan—she says she's going to be using her laptop a bit more frequently in the evenings as she's doing more in her new job. So we're both going to be couch computing. What a couple of geeks!

Friday, December 21, 2007

A Nice Finnish

Overcoat, that is! I've been wanting a nice 3/4 coat (a.k.a. stadium coat, car coat) for some time now. I had been thinking about purchasing a leather jacket like this for several months (or most of 2007 maybe). I even had one picked out from Remy Leather (model #8057 for spring/fall and #8257 with the fleece lining for the winter), but it costs $1,000 so I've been humming and hawing about it, without ever ordering the thing. I'm a little reluctant to order something like this over the net just in case it didn't fit quite right. And they're a little hard to find locally; not every store carries Remy leathers. I came close in San Jose earlier in April this year when I did find a store that had them. I even tried on a similar waistcoat, but they didn't have the black 3/4 coat in stock. The salesman was kind enough to inquire with the company and phoned me the next day but he said they wouldn't be able to get the coat shipped in overnight. I would have bought it if they could have. So for the time being I've been wearing that cheapo leather thing that I had on in New York. It only cost me $80 and it was ok to wear for a while, but I always considered it a temporary stop-gap measure. My brother suggested that if I wanted a nice jacket I should look for one in Europe since they have a better sense of style. I have to agree; I like the look of the clothes I see when I visit European cities. (Mind you, my basis for comparison is severly limited as I don't live in a big city, so it may be the case that New Yorkers are equally well dressed but it seems like I've been touring European cities more often than American ones lately.)

So while in Helsinki, on my only day off for sightseeing/shopping, I went around to different men's shops in three malls. Eventually I found a coat I liked at Stockmann's, the one you see me wearing. It looks and feels a bit like suede, but it isn't. I thought it was some magical new fabric, but the label says it's plain old polyester. Yet it feels like suede, go figure. It's also fairly warm, kept me warm in Helsinki, so should certainly be good here over the winter months. It's long such that I can wear my blazers underneath (which was the whole point), as you see in the pic—I've just returned from graduation where I hooded my PhD student. It has a double collar that I've always liked, and best of all, it has seven pockets. Six seems to be a minimum for me: I need four outside pockets and at least two inside. The coat is from Oratop, a Finnish company, which makes this coat something of a nice and hopefully long-lasting souvenir of my trip to Finland. Kiitos! (Thank you in Finnish.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The other side of Schiphol

The flight from Helsinki to Amsterdam arrived at gate C18, which is on the other side of passport control, where I've never been before this trip (but it seems I must have walked the rest of Schiphol several times already now). This is where the Starbucks is. It's all decked out for Christmas as well—see the biplane in Christmas lights in the pic? I bypassed Starbucks (long queue) to get to the more familiar side of Schiphol.

So what do I find when I get past passport control? That my flight's been delayed. So far by only 25 minutes, but who knows if that gets extended. It wouldn't surprise me. Look, it's the only delayed flight on this departure board! I hope I don't miss my connection home in Detroit. I think I might have to run the length of that tunnel at DTW...we'll see...right now I have about three more hours to wait before heading to the gate. Then the silly interviews. I think those are really pointless and just serve to delay the boarding process. I wonder what they'll ask this time...

Monday, December 17, 2007

Helsinki jazz

On a tip I went out looking for Storyville last night—a blues/jazz/live music joint. I thought maybe they'd have food as well. No luck there, but they told me to go down the block to a restaurant. Luckily before I reached the restaurant I found St. Urho's Pub. I've been looking for pub grub all week long but to no avail. Even Molly Malone's Irish pub lacked a kitchen. How strange. St. Urho's was a treat, however.

I had St. Urho's plate. Sausages, steak, chips, and egg. Marvelous! I've been looking for something like this all week (I've mainly been eating fish; the PhD candidate in Joensuu treated us to a smoked salmon breakfast that was simply outstanding—best smoked salmon I think I've ever eaten). I polished this plate off in no time and washed it down with a couple of Hoegardens (my latest favorite wheat beer from Belgium).

After St. Urho's I made my way down to the Storyville basement to hear some live tunes. Rockabilly was on the bill and these boys were smokin'! That guy was slappin' the bass until his fingers bled (I saw two bandaids on his fingers at the start of the second set). The front man sang in Finnish-English but spoke in Finnish. It was a little strange to hear him sing in his Finnish accent, but the driving beat more or less drowned him out anyway (then they switched mics and he sounded better :) They didn't start playing till 10pm, but I think they might have kept going all the way till 4am. And I probably would have stayed too if it weren't for the 6:15am flight that I'm waiting for now. I left the bar around midnight, packed up my stuff, and got in a few winks before rousing out of bed at 3am. The taxi driver was already waiting for me by the time I reached the front desk at 10 to 4am. Checked in, went through security, and am now sitting at the gate waiting to board. The wifi connection is currently "under maintenance" and so is temporarily free. Bonus! (And blazingly fast for wifi, double bonus!)

Helsinki at night

Walked a bit more around Helsinki tonight. Found this rather impressive building just a block up from the waterfront. I don't know what it is but it has the presence of some kind of royal court. As I walk around European cities I sometimes imagine what it may have been like circa the 1800s when one might visit cities such as Helsinki on one of the larger British frigates (I sometimes think back to Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series where in his 20 canons he describes life aboard such ships as they visit various places; the closest to Helsinki that I recall was Riga, which is relatively close to here—I think Aubrey may have also landed in one of the Scandinavian courts to see some king but I don't recall which one now, maybe the Swedish one, but then again at that time Finland may have been part of Sweden anyway).

And here is just something like a ship that the old sailors may have arrived in. This one happens to be the Kathrina, a relatively recently built replica I believe. It's a three-master, making her a schooner perhaps? Or a brig? I'm not sure. It's a 43 footer (I think, they didn't list the units) and serves as a floating restaurant today.

Helsinki walking tour

I thought I'd go out and walk around Helsinki city center today, maybe take in some art and do some shopping. The National Art Gallery was a bust, however. Is it some kind of universal art gallery convention that they're closed on Mondays? And free on Tuesdays? Well, that sucks, I was looking forward to spending a couple of hours inside. It's a little too cold (for me) to be bumming around outdoors, so I'm reading my tourist guide to see which building to scurry into next :)

Maybe check out the central train station? Those figures holding the globes at the entrance seem familiar for some reason. (The globes light up at night, btw.) I can't place however whether it's just that I've seen them in some brochure or if there's another European train station with the same or similar statues guarding its etrance. Maybe there was a famous train station designer that went around Europe installing these figures? Anyway, I didn't go in there. Instead I headed for some of the larger shopping center buildings I saw earlier.

Here are some more statues outside Stockmann, one of the larger department stores found here. Lots of nice stuff inside. Very Christmassy as well with a range of Christmas tunes pumped through the radio, and full of Christmas shoppers. The fashions here are varied and very modern-looking with a nice European flavor. More interesting than what we get in Clemson/Greenville. Could just be the novelty factor, but still, it's nice to see this kind of variety.

Finally, here's Kamppi, it's a shopping building, it's a bus/metro station, it's a district. Seems to have all of it in one large building. It seems rather tall, but I only ventured up one or two flights before heading out. I might go back there to find some small casual dining place for dinner.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Back to Helsinki

Time to head back to Helsinki. Check out the snowy/icy taxiway. Who said it wasn't cold up here in Joensuu? It's at about the same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska I found out. It must be just as cold up there I imagine. Luckily the plane didn't go careening of the tarmack and lifted off no problem. It's got to be one of those "they do it all the time so it's no big deal" things, unlike drivers in SC who freak when they see a snowflake. The flight was uneventful except for my ear block. Usually the Valsalva maneuver clears them up ok, but I got a bit of a cold up in Joensuu that must have prevented the ear from clearing properly. It finally popped in the airport. I thought I was going to go half-deaf for the rest of the day.

Finland has some nice scenery from the air. I think I was told thousands of lakes, but I forget the count, maybe 80,000? The pic at left shows Joensuu, on the left side of the image. The right image shows us a bit further and closer to Helsinki and sunset.

Once in Helsinki (50 min flight) I took the bus from the airport to the train station in the city center. It's a bit cheaper (5€ instead of the 35€ or so for a taxi). The only trouble with this savings is that I then had to hunt around on foot for the hotel. I had a small map but had actually overestimated the distance to the street I was looking for from the train station. And I'd forgotten that the street signs in European cities such as this one are on building corners intead of street sign poles. So I kept looking up for street signs and getting confused by these informative direction arrows (this far to the train station and the like). Eventually I had to double back to the train station to find that the street in the pic to the right is the one I should have stayed on in the first place instead of going beyond it.

Here's my hotel room in Helsinki. The other problem I had with finding the hotel is with their hotel names. There seem to be only two kinds of hotels: Scandic and Sokos. And then they differentiate based on street or district or something. So there's Scandic hotel something and Scandic hotel Marski (the one I'm in). There's also a bunch of Sokos hotel this and Sokos hotel that. Time to head out for some pub grub.

I got elfed!

With the defense finished, we had a couple hours respit before meeting up again at the banquet. I didn't mention before but at the defense there were about 25-30 people in attendance, ranging from academic faculty to family members and of course interested students. Most everyone reconvened at the banquet, a five course meal was served with wine and other spirits. Speeches were made, toasts, etc. A very festive occasion if not somewhat overwhelming. Still, in many ways a good tradition to uphold.

After the banquet I could finally relax and enjoy a Kilkenny, one of my favorite beers, out on the town with students and a couple of profs. Since Irish pubs seem to be everywhere, the Old Dog pub was as reasonable place to start as any. And Finland's recent no-smoking law provided a nice smoke-free atmosphere in which to enjoy said brew. Afterwards we ventured into some after-hours club that served a slightly older clientele. It was interesting. And that's it! Then I got elfed! Now it's on to Helsinki and then home!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Serving as opponent

So there you have it. Two hours worth of questions. Actually handled very well by the candidate. So in the pic you see the final stages where I'm picking up my notes and giving my closing statement. PhD defenses here I think are somewhat tougher than in the states, even though it's really just one-on-one instead of committee vs. the candidate. In the states, the committee can ask questions but it seems rare for the event to go longer than an hour or so. With much less fanfare. The tradition here is much richer. As you can see I'm in full academic regalia while the advisor and candidate are in tuxedos. Mind you, if there's a next time, I just might do this in a tux as well; it got pretty hot under that gown. All in all, this was fairly stressful requiring a lot of prep work, and so both the candidate and I are relieved that's it's over. Now it's on to the banquet. Tomorrow I fly out to Helsinki and then two days later back home.

Train to Joensuu

After a fun night out with the TAUCHI group in Tampere, I boarded the train out to Joensuu (via Pieksämäki). The first train had power connections so I did a bit more work on the presentation for today on the laptop. The second train was a smaller, regional train that didn't offer these amenities. I wonder if eventually the larger trains are going to offer wifi. That'd be nice. Once in Joensuu, I met up with my hosts here and yesterday did a bit of a tour of the rural area outside town. We went to the former residence of a local wood artist who, from what I understand, pretty much devoted her life to sculpting wood. Or rather trees. She would get these large trees and carve them into various "functional art pieces" is about the best way I can describe it, e.g., there were various forms of chairs, tables, benches, and pews (she and her husband built a house, atelier, and church on their property). In the pics below you can see the church with its tall roof to the left as we walk towards the property. The pic to the right is of the artist's hosue.

I didn't get a pic of the atelier, but the two pics above show a couple of her sculptures: a bear with the lucky nose (you were supposed to rub it, I did), and a pair of dancing bears). Apparently Finland is bear (and wolf) country. Beavers were also introduced and I'm told they love it here. The countryside rather reminded me of northern Alberta, and so I wasn't surprised to hear that.

At bottom is the artist's sculpture of the seven brothers. She sculpted this right into the side of one of the walls of the log home. The seven brothers I'm told is a well-known Finnish literary work that symbolizes the original seven Finnish tribes. It more or less reminded me of the Polish trilogy written by Sienkiewicz.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Hop to Tampere

Caught the turboprop puddle jumper to Tampere. Fell asleep on that flight too, right after taking that pic I think. It was just a 30 min jump but by the time we got there it was dark. I haven't flown on one of these in a while and when I do it still reminds me of skydiving. Same kind of buzz and style of taxing on the runway (a bit more jumpy than a jet). Then the same kind of fast liftoff; I think their rate of ascent may be higher than their forward movement in comparison to jets.

Tampere is a pretty small airport—one building, but nicely decorated. They're kind of big on reindeer and Santa Claus. I didn't know this, but apparently Santa is Finnish. Not sure if that's because he lives in Lapland or whether he was "invented" by a Fin (at least I think that's what I read in one of those in-flight magazines). From the airport it was a few minutes to the hotel, which I think is a few minutes away from the University of Tampere, where I'm going to visit tomorrow.

My room is a typical Scandinavian-style room. No frills, but nicely appointed with everything you need. And a normal shower (unlike that goofy half-height thing in Prague). The showers are a bit strange in that you don't get into any kind of elevated basin; instead it's just a square area of the bathroom floor in a glass enclosure. Every time I have a shower I can't help fearing that I'm flooding the bathroom floor. But it's all tiled anyway, so maybe it doesn't matter much. My view at night I think is above a shopping mall located next door.

Helsinki at dusk

Three flights later and I'm in Helsinki. It's just dusk 2:30pm. I missed the original flight from Detroit to Amsterdam, but they rerouted me on a similar flight before I even left GSP. My new flight left just 2 hrs later than the original one so I had no trouble making my connections. It worked out even better actually since I only had to spend 2 hrs in Schiphol instead of the original 4 hrs scheduled. And certainly not 8 hrs like the last time we flew through here.

I meant to take a picture of the airbus interior but I was actually a bit too busy. Dinner, movie (Stardust), work, then second movie (Ratatouille), breakfast, and touchdown. All in a pretty fast 7 hrs in the air. One minor annoyance was that that little "bong!" sound when you hear when they turn the seatbelts sign off or on kept going off for no reason every few minutes. It was like Northwest flight meets Little Miss Sunshine. If you haven't seen this movie, there's a VW bus whose horn keeps going off every few minutes. Same thing here: "bong!", then a few minutes later "bong!". I kept looking up to see what the alert was about until I finally put on my headphones and drowned out the "bong!" with "Neighborhood" by "Space". Excellent song, and on headphones I finally started making what they're singing about. It's all about these strange tennants in this neighborhood. The last one I remember is "Mr. Miller, he's a local vicker and a serial killllleerrr." Well, it sounds better when Space sings it. Anyway, so listening to that song I managed to finish off my talk that I'm supposed to deliver in Tampere tomorrow. I think I'm ready.

So then coffee in Schiphol, then passport control and flight to Helsinki. I pretty much passed out on that one. They handed something out but I slept right through it. Just as well cause here I have to keep my wits about me to make sure I remember to pick up my luggage, check it in, etc. etc. It sounds simple but I'm a little hazy due to lack of sleep so have to think about these simple things to make sure I don't goof up. For example I checked in my bags with FinnAir whereas I was supposed to go to Finncom. Well, I didn't see their check-in booth down at the end of the terminal. Anyway, the FinnAir lady ticketed the bags no problem, so they let me off with that little blunder.

So, on to Tampere. Is this the kind of plane I'll be on? Probably not...just one that happened to be there. In all likelihood I'll be on a twin turbo-prop. It's just a half hour flight to Tampere so I don't imagine they'd be using a jet to get there. It's now 3pm and it's similar to what 5pm might be like at home at this time of year. Actually it's not quite as bad as I thought it might be. It's just as if they're 2 hrs ahead of us, or rather, their day is shorter by 4 hrs (less 2 hrs in the morning due to a later sunrise and less 2 hrs in the pm due to early sunset). But other than that, it seems ok. But then again I'm ready to fall asleep anyway, so it may as well be night :)

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Bistro

The holiday season turns our house into a bistro. We just put up the lights yesterday. I think it's time to update to LED lighting. Corey wants to add some color as well to make it look less like a bistro and more like holiday decorations. I don't mind the bistro look, maybe we should leave it up all year? They serve good sorbet at the bistro.

Corey found this fat-free alternative to dessert. It's not bad although the lemon-flavored variety is really tangy. Better for us probably than moose tracks, NY fudge chunk, or chubby hubby. Which reminds me: time again to start thinking about next year's resolution. Maybe after I get back from the latest trip I'm on.

I am once again at GSP, waiting on a flight out to DTW, then on to AMS, and then HEL. Helsinki, that is. And then another flight to Tampere. I'll be there a couple of days visiting eye tracking friends and giving a talk (which I need to complete once I finish updating the blog). Then it's a 5-hour train ride to Joensuu where I play opponent to a PhD candidate. I need to finish preparing for that as well. Afterwards another flight for a couple of days in Helsinki. I needed a couple nights' stay there to catch the 06:00 flight out to AMS next week. Then it's back through DTW and home again. Hopefully it won't be too dark or cold in Finland. When I left the house it was sunny and going to 76F. A bit of a warm spell we're having the last couple of days.

Yesterday I finally found some time to relax. We sat on the dock watching the sun set in the warm late evening. Corey said it felt like spring. Saturday was a nice breezy day. I wish I could have had time to go sailing, but I was too busy wrapping up the 2nd of 2 proposals. This last week was very hectic: two papers, two proposals, conference management, and all during last week of classes. Anyway, now that's all done so I can concentrate on finishing preparation for Finland.

If I get there that is...they just announced the flight to DTW will come in at 15:45. Meanwhile the flight out to AMS is supposed to leave at 16:10...they said anything after 16:15 is OK, so looks like I'm in a spot of trouble. I'll have to go queue up with the rest of the people with connections to see whether I'll get to Helsinki on time or not...stay tuned...

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Danish pancakes

I don't know where Corey gets these snack ideas, but they're usually pretty tasty! This morning it was Danish pancakes. They're more rather like donuts because they have a fruit filling and they were almost as sweet although they were pan-fried rather than deep-fried. Sprinkled with icing sugar these bite-sized morsels were a real treat.

Now of course one must pay the piper as I have to clean up the kitchen. Whenever it's a new item she makes, it's like Hurricane Corey has swept through the kitchen. This time there's even a new, specialized pan used to make these mini-donuts. Oh well, the mess was worth the delicacy that it produced.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Turkey Day

It was a lazy afternoon. Did some yardwork earlier, managed to break two power tools in the process. The lawn vacuum's (yes, lawn vacuum) pull chord snapped. I guess I'll have to dig up the manual and figure out how to fix it. Meanwhile I wasn't paying attention and filled up the 2-stroke leaf blower with regular fuel instead of the oil/fuel mixture that it's supposed to take. I couldn't get the thing started afterwards and I'm not sure what's wrong—did the engine seize? Is it old gasoline? Ugghhh...

Anyway, afterwards it was the annual Lone Star Showdown. Time to plunk down on the couch, eat some turkey, and watch the game. This year the Ags sawed Varsity's horns off just like it says on ESPN. Beat the hell outa tu! Whoop!