Monthly Archives: January 2006

No museums in Helsinki

I had set my alarm for 7am, so I wouldn’t sleep away the day, but I wound up waking up on my own a few minutes before the alarm was ready to go off.  The hotel’s breakfast was very good; I had smoked salmon, smoked trout, good bread, a good orange, and even some cereal.  No bagels or cream cheese, though.

I left the hotel about 9am, after checking out and storing my luggage; I wandered over to the Esplanade, and then to the Helsinki Tourist Office, where I discovered that most of the museums were closed because it was Monday.  But I bought a tram pass anyway, and then went to Stockmann, a large department store, where I hoped to find a hat and better gloves than I’d brought with me.  Unsurprisingly, I was successful — and the hat was even 40% off because of the big January sale. 

Properly attired, I went out into the cold again and walked to the railway station, because I had two reasons to go there.  One was to buy tickets for my trip to Tampere this evening; the other, of course, was to do a cache.  I accomplished both missions in short order, then walked back to the harbor to take a few pictures and contemplate taking the ferry to Suomenlinna.

(Don’t let the colors fool you — I had Photoshop brighten everything and increase contrast.  It was a very grey day, so grey that I didn’t put on sunglasses even though the jet lag plan calls for them after noon.)

But I decided to stay on the mainland and save Suomenlinna for another day.  So I went into The Old Market Hall for lunch.  It reminded me very much of Faneuil Hall in Boston — two hallways of shops (mostly food stalls).  I fought off the temptation to have sushi or falafel and went with a kebab instead.  Then it was back into the cool weather and a stroll over to Uspenski Cathedral, which was closed (it was, after all, Monday). 

But the trip wasn’t wasted; as I was leaving, I checked my GPS and discovered that there was a cache right at the Cathedral.  It was easy to find, but when I was ready to put the cache back, a workman had just gotten into his van right by the location.  So I took the cache for a little walk, and when I returned, the coast was clear.

I then took the tram over to Senate Square, only to discover that I’d been there before — it’s the site of the big Lutheran Cathedral where the cache I found last night is hidden.  So I got back on the tram and went to Töölö to do yet another cache.  And to go visit the Sibelius Monument, which was a few minutes’ walk away.

Getting there was more interesting than I’d expected — I left the beaten and plowed path, and found myself on a layer of ice.  And then I found much more of myself on the ice; no harm done, though, and I picked myself up and started walking more carefully.  I got to the monument at the same time as a busload of tourists — I’m not sure where they were from, but they were speaking a Slavic language.  I was comforted when I saw them slipping and sliding around, too!

By this time, it was getting late (or at least it felt that way — it was only 2:30pm, but it was pretty dim), so I took a tram back to my hotel, picked up my luggage, and trammed to the railway station, where I took the train to Tampere and then walked the half-block to my hotel,  the Scandic Tampere City Center.  My room is smaller than the one I had last night, and doesn’t have much in the way of storage space, which will be a little bit inconvenient.  But it’s warm and has heated floors, which are both nice attributes in this climate.  It also has a nice, if over-heated, fitness center, which I suspect I’m going to need to use a lot on this trip.

I had dinner in the hotel restaurant with one of my colleagues on the project and should meet the others tomorrow (they’re staying at a different hotel).  Tomorrow is going to start early, so I think I had best stop now!

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I guess this is a warm evening

I’m in Helsinki tonight, at the Scandic Grand Marina.  While I guess I could have booked an onward flight to Tampere, my actual destination for this trip, I didn’t think it was a good idea; instead, I’m spending the night here, and will take the train to Tampere tomorrow.

The flight from Frankfurt was fine — in some ways, nicer than the transAtlantic trip, since I didn’t have anyone directly in front of me leaning his seat almost into my knees.  And I wasn’t frustrated by the lack of Internet connectivity because I knew there wasn’t going to be any.  I was impressed that Lufthansa fed me a full meal on a two-hour flight — I almost regretted having had a snack at Frankfurt Airport (which doesn’t seem to be overly endowed with good places to eat, at least not behind security in Terminal A).  They also had wine — I was surprised that it was a California wine, 2002 Blackstone Cabernet Sauvignon, which I’m pretty sure I’ve seen in Trader Joe’s.  I guess it’s more exotic on a flight from Frankfurt to Helsinki than it is at home!

I was in the hotel by 7, and was able to use the WiFi to call home.  Then I went out for a little walk — the temperature is about 1 degree Celsius, which I guess is quite warm for Finland in January.  I didn’t know where I was going to go, other than “downtown”, but I took my GPS (well, Diane’s) with me, and eventually found myself at a cache.  Unlike the one at Frankfurt Airport, this was a real cache, so I had to find the hidden object and log my find — this was tricky while wearing gloves, and I eventually had to take them off to deal with the pen. 

Then it was back to the hotel for a snack (I guess that’s my sixth meal of the day!).  I’m trying to decide if I should take a sauna or just call it a night — or go back out and take some pictures of Helsinki by night.  My mind would like to go do something active, but I think I’ll listen to my body’s call for sleep instead!

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A long way to walk for a virtual cache

The rest of my flight was uneventful, if cramped.  I read all of Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders, along with a bunch of magazines — my jet lag routine calls for me to stay awake until bedtime in Helsinki, hours from now.  I’m not sure I brought enough reading material.

When I arrived here at Frankfurt, it took me almost 30 seconds to clear immigration (I’m sure it won’t be that fast when I return home).  Then I had to reclear security to enter the domestic/European gate area, where I am right now.

I took a hike before settling in to the Lufthansa lounge, though — all the way to Gate 42 to pick up my first German geocache (and the only one I’m likely to get for a long time).  Going there and back was nearly a 20 minute walk; that’s probably the only exercise I’m going to get today.

The Internet connectivity here is fairly expensive; 6 Euros for 30 minutes or 13 Euros for 2 hours.  I chose the shortest option, and have already checked my email (nothing exciting, which isn’t surprising since it’s a weekend).  My next posting should come from Helsinki.

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In-flight wine review

I’m typing this aboard Lufthansa flight 455 from San Francisco to Frankfurt; I’m actually on my way to Finland for a week’s worth of meetings.  I had hoped to try out the “FlyNet” service and blog this live from the air, but they are using an old plane for this flight, so there’s no FlyNet, and when the guy in front of me reclines, I only have a couple of inches of legroom (it could be far worse — I could be in coach!).

Fortunately, the food and wine didn’t suffer from using an old plane; the meal was nothing special, but it was pleasant.  I tried all of the wines on offer (the glasses are small, and what the hell, I’m not driving anywhere for a week!), and thought I’d write up my thoughts while they’re fresh.

The first wine I tried (before any food arrived) was the 2004 Sonnenwind Riesling Spätlese trocken from Weingut Motzenbäcker in Germany.  I liked it; it was sweet, but not too sweet, with a definite flinty character. 

I had an Austrian wine with my salad, a 2004 Grüner Veltliner Spiegel, from Weingut Sonnhof Jurstchitsch.  The first taste was sweet, but it had a very strong mineral aftertaste.  I liked it less with every sip, and didn’t finish it.

They had two red wines available, and I tried a little bit of both with my main course (even though it was chicken).  The first was French, a 2001 Château Castéra Cru Bourgeoise Médoc.  It was fruity and pleasant, but very simple.  One sip was all I took; instead, I tried the German red, a 2003 Dornfelder Classic, from Wingut Anselmann.  This was a winner — complex, fruity, with quite a bit of tannin.  Very drinkable, so I had a full glass, and would happily buy a bottle to drink at home.

I was shocked when I saw the desserts — there was no chocolate.  Fortunately, they remedied the situation by passing out little boxes of Peters pralines, which I’d never had before.  I would have preferred dark chocolate (these had mixed dark, milk, and white chocolate coatings, and the dark chocolate is only 59% cacao), but it’s a long way to the nearest See’s.

I should arrive in Frankfurt about 10am German time; my flight to Helsinki leaves about 2, so I hope to have time to do a geocache at the airport (there’s only one that I could find in the terminal).

Now it’s time for me to sit back, relax, and read something.  More later.

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Yak shaving for fun and profit

Today started with an experiment; since I didn’t have any meetings in the morning, I decided to work out immediately after taking Jeff to the JCC instead of trying to squeeze it in between work and dinner.  So I spent the 90 minutes between 6 and 7:30am “at work”.  And that led to the first bout of yak shaving for the day.

One of the tasks I had to accomplish during that time was to talk with a colleague in Belgium.  I had hoped to find him on Sametime, but he wasn’t logged on.  And I didn’t really want to call him on my home phone and have to deal with filing an expense claim for a few dollars (nor was I willing to subsidize IBM by not filing a claim if I did make the call).  Instead, I wanted to use the Cisco softphone on my laptop to call Belgium; that way, the call would originate from my desk, and the billing would be handled properly.

But if I was going to use the softphone, I was going to be stuck with using the Thinkpad’s built-in speakers and microphone, which doesn’t lead to great sound quality.  Instead, I wanted to use my Bluetooth headset.  But I’d just reinstalled Windows XP, and the only services that showed up when I paired the headset with the computer were virtual COM ports, not audio.  I vaguely remembered having had problems the last time around, so it was off to Google.

It took a little digging, but eventually I discovered that the problem was that the Windows XP SP2 Bluetooth stack is crippled; it only supports mice, keyboards, and COM ports.  I had to uninstall its driver, which let the Widcom driver supplied by <strike>IBM</strike> Lenovo take over (once I told Windows that I really wanted to use an evil unsigned driver).  And then I was able to properly use the headset and even do file transfer to and from my phone, which had failed earlier.

With that accomplished, I phoned my colleague, who was busy.  But he phoned me back a bit later, and we had our conversation; then I rushed out the door, took Jeff to the JCC, did my workout, and finally drove to the office, where the hallways were mostly deserted.  I’ll give this schedule another try on Thursday and see if it’s really viable — it sure felt good!

There were other yaks to shave later in the day and after I got home; perhaps tomorrow, I can stay on track a bit better.  I can only hope.

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A day of enormous wonderfulness

Well, not really.  I spent too much of the day doing yet more of the migration to my new system image; I think I’ve got all of the critical stuff done, though.

I did have a chance to talk with the Executive Director of the JCC about the music in the exercise room there; all too often, it’s been far too loud — at times, loud enough to penetrate my headphones.  And they’ve also put it on rap channels more than once, which I think is unsuitable for the JCC (even though they have avoided the “xl” channels on XM).  I’ll see what happens as a result of this conversation.

I’m glad it’s been quiet at work, but the pace is starting to pick up.  It’s a good thing I’ve gotten the housecleaning done!

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Kushi Tsuru for lunch and a 61st birthday party for dinner

Diane had to pick up a “Book Club in a Box” this afternoon from the Jewish Community Library in San Francisco, so we all drove up together, planning to have lunch somewhere nearby.  The people in the library recommended a place called King of Falafel on Divisadero, but they didn’t answer the phone, so we went with our original plan: go to Japantown and look around for a place.

We found parking easily enough at Japan Center’s garage.  Diane and I had stayed at the Hotel Mikayo there once, before we moved to California, but we didn’t remember any restaurants, so we just went into the Center itself and looked around.  We saw one sushi bar which looked quite appealing, but they didn’t have anything Jeff would eat.  We saw a Behihana (it didn’t say “Benihana of Tokyo”), but moved on.  Eventually, we chose Kushi Tsuru — it looked busy, though there wasn’t a line, and their menu had something for all of us.

Jeff, as usual, got the chicken teriyaki, and he was pleased.  Diane and I got bento boxes with salmon teriyaki and maguro sashimi.  The salmon teriyaki was good; the sashimi was blah, and there didn’t seem to be any wasabi available.  I’d try somewhere else next time.

After lunch, we drove home and got ready for a friend’s triple-threat party:  her 61st birthday, her near-retirement, and the burning of her mortgage (and she had a separate cake for each of the three events).  Besides friends, family, and food, she also supplied a balloon-maker and a magician, Tye the Magic Guy.  I’m not much of a balloon guy, but I enjoyed Tye’s show, despite (or maybe because of) the groaners in his patter.  All in all, a good evening.

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They’re not all gems

We continued our exploration of Costco’s wines tonight, with the Kirkland Signature Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2004.  It was perfectly drinkable and innocuous, if a little sweet, but I’d rather have the slightly less expensive Cloud Piercer from Trader Joe’s.

And “less expensive” may be a more important consideration soon than it has been lately; we had a second roofer look at our roof, and he agreed that it’s not worth repairing.  He also gave us an estimate; inflation has hit roofing over the last 18 years! 

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There’s another afternoon I’ll never get back

My ThinkPad has been somewhat slow and flaky lately, and it’s clearly software.  The installation of Windows on it is over a year old, and so it (and I) are suffering from Windows rot.  Since it was a slow week at work, I decided to take advantage of the quiet and install a fresh image on a new disk, and then copy and reinstall what I needed.

Good plan, but it’s one which is very tedious to execute.  I have a list of about 70 apps to reinstall; I’m less than halfway through it (and let’s not even think about the long list of Firefox extensions that I haven’t installed yet….).  And, in at least one case, even though everything is installed, something isn’t working right, so I’ll have to swap the disks, boot to the old system, and look at the registry and the environment to see what’s up (it’s Emacs, so I suspect it’s an environment variable, not a registry item).

But I will say this — the new installation boots much faster than the old one!

Shabbat Shalom!

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+1 for Performancing

Scoble mentioned Performancing today.  I’d never heard of it, but it looked interesting, so I installed it.  It’s quite nice, and makes me even happier to be using Firefox instead of IE.  :-)

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