Sunday, September 07, 2008

Eee vs. Ferrari

IMG_0275, originally uploaded by Xenoc.

Ferrari: 6.6 lbs, $3000 in 2004
Eee: 2.5 lbs, $600 in 2008

Less than half the weight, a fifth of the price, and it's nearly as powerful. That's what 4 years does for technology.

Trip to Finland: Part 3

I'm enjoying my new Netbook, and the fact that I can sit in a coffee shop and write my blog posts on a keyboard that's big enough to type properly on, not like on my Treo. I'm also enjoying the 3g wireless broadband. £15 (around $30) for 3GB of data. That's a far cry from the $5 I was paying to Rogers for a ridiculous 5MB or some such.

Anyway, back to Finland.

Sunday again started late, though not as late as the previous day. I think we got moving around 11am or so, but my memory is understandably foggy. Oliver had a few errands to run, getting some cheeses and plastic cups for the wine and cheese, though we met up near his place for a bite to eat, and coffee, first. I had some very odd, but tasty, sandwich. It had a strawberry some slices of melon, and, I think, some cream cheese, along with lettuce and more that I can't remember. It was an explosion of different tastes, that I would never ever have thought of combining, but it was very good. We didn't have time to relax over breakfast as long as we would have liked though because we had to get those errands finished and be on a train by around 3pm, in order to get to Oitti in time for the wine and cheese. The student society (the direct translation of it is student nation, which I thought was kind of cool) owns some property with a summer cabin on a lake, just outside the town of Oitti, which is just over an hour's train ride from Helsinki.

After a bit of running around, we made it to the train station, bought our tickets, and had about 20 minutes to sit down over a cup of coffee. We had been carrying three plastic bags full of bottles of wine, eight bottles in total, with us all day, so it was definitely nice to put those down and sit down for a while. The train journey was quite uneventful, until we arrived in Oitti. Upon leaving the train, and just beginning to walk down the platform, I realized I had left my backpack in the overhead on the train! I carefully put down the bottles of wine I was carrying, and as the train started to beep, indicating that the doors were about to close, I sprinted for the doors, shouting to Oliver that I had forgotten my bag. Oliver ran and held the doors open while I raced across the carriage, snatched up my bag, and quickly limped back to the door. I say limped, because it was a wet day, and when I had leaped onto the train I landed on a wet patch, my legs nearly going entirely out from under my, and my shin banging rather hard against the steps. It left a rather nasty looking bruise. After recovering my bag, we started walking towards the cabin, a few kilometres from the train station. Oliver tried hitching a ride for us a couple times, but the only person that stopped took one look at the bags of wine bottles we were carrying, shook his head, and carried on. In the end, it only took half an hour to walk there, and despite how my shin looked, walking on it wasn't too bad.

Looking back now, I'm disappointed in myself for not taking any photos of this summer cabin. It was quite a fair size, with around 5 bedrooms upstairs, with bunk beds in them, probably able to sleep 12 or so people on beds, not counting floor space, or the couches in the living room. There's also a dining room on the ground floor, with bench seats along the table, and a medium sized bedroom with a single bed for the caretaker. People from the student society take turns being the caretaker, living at the cabin for a month at a time. That sounds positively idyllic, considering the place even has running water and internet access.

While waiting for people to arrive for the wine tasting, Oliver showed me around the property, down to the sauna by the lake and the dock. Just outside the house, I saw a bunch of round wooden pegs with numbers on them, that looked to be part of some kind of game, so I asked about it. Oliver gave me a quick rundown of how the game works, and I thought it sounded quite interesting. Nice and simple rules, but a bit of strategy involved in making the rules work to your advantage. A couple people were out on the porch for a smoke break, and they asked if I'd like to play, so we had a game. I did quite well for a beginner, and Oliver won the game, though it was very close between him, and a fellow named Ville (though I'm sure I've spelled that wrong.)

Eventually everyone expected arrived for the tasting, and we all sat down for some wine and cheese. Thankfully, it was much more casual than their usual tastings. I may not have explained that Oliver is president of the student society's wine club, so their tastings generally involve a lot of discussion, I imagine about legs, bouquet, and plenty of other things about wine that are just beyond me. This was more my idea of a good wine tasting. "That was tasty, pass me that other bottle would you?" I had a wonderful time asking questions about Finland, and hearing all sorts of stories about university life.

One of the drinks I was introduced to while I was at the cabin was some sort of grapefruit and gin mixture, called Gin Long Drink. It's something you can buy from the Alko in bottles, not just some cocktail you mix. Apparently, it was made up for the 1953 Summer Olympics which were held in Helsinki. It was quite nice, though I don't know if it's found outside if Finland, unfortunately.

At some point later in the evening, we went down to the sauna. I had bought a bathing suit earlier in the day, during all our running around doing errands, so that I could enjoy the sauna, and a dip in the lake. This was before I discovered that the usual way of enjoying the sauna in Finland is in the buff. Once again, the differing European attitudes towards nudity. Thankfully, I've done enough skinny dipping on the camping trips that I was comfortable with it, and I quite enjoyed the sauna. The only saunas I've been in at all recently have been dry saunas at the ski trip. They're electrically heated, and have great big warning signs that you are not to put water on it. This was a proper wood-fire heated sauna, with a great mound of coal to pour water over, and a tank for heating water in. After sweating it out for a while, and jumping in the lake once or twice, you mix some cold water from the lake in a bucked with the hot water from the tank, and pour that over yourself to rinse the sweat from your body. It's incredible how clean and refreshed you end up feeling after that.

When we left Helsinki, the plan for evening was to spend some time at the cabin, and then catch the last train back to Helsinki at 10:30pm. However, once we were there, and having some fun, Oliver looked up the train schedules for the next morning, and informed me that, if we wished, we could catch the train back in the morning, around 6am, and still be able to catch the 8am ferry to Tallinn, Estonia, as planned. When 10:00pm rolled around, and neither of us showed any sign of wanting to walk the half hour back to the train station, it was pretty much decided that we would be staying the night. As with my other nights in Finland, it turned into a rather late night, and I didn't turn in until 3:30am. Oliver was still going strong, young guy such that he is, so he was going to wake me at 5am, so that we could get to the train station. In the end, he let me sleep in, which was nice, and woke me at 6am instead. Eventually, we got a ride into town with the brother of the girl that was on her caretaker month at the cabin, and we caught a train into Helsinki at around 8:30am.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Fox in my garden

Fox in my garden, originally uploaded by Xenoc.

When I got home this afternoon, I went and opened the window, to let the room air out a bit, as I had laundry hanging to dry. As soon as I opened the window, I realized there was a fox sitting curled up on the grass in my garden. I got my camera out, but as soon as I pointed it toward the fox, it got up and casually trotted away, so I only got this one photo.

New toy

I went downtown today and got myself a new toy. Naughty Derek, but it's been 4 years since I bought a laptop, which I think is showing a lot of restraint, considering my usual computer equipment buying habits. I also decided to buy a very inexpensive laptop, very much not like the crazy Ferrari of a laptop I last bought, and which is still working fine, though battery life has gone down as it's aged.
So I went out and bought myself an Acer Eee 901. It's about the size of a hardcover novel, weighs barely more than one, and has a battery life of 5-7 hours, depending what you're doing. It's small and light enough that I can toss it in my backpack and not really notice the extra weight. The battery life is enough that I can spend an afternoon out and about, at coffee shops, at the park, and not need to find a power outlet. Granted, it doesn't have a lot of oomf, it's a slow processor (but very power efficient), and only 1GB of memory, and only 12GB of disk space (it's a solid state disk, so it's more durable and uses less power than a normal one) so I'm not likely to be doing much (or more likely, any) programming on it, but for web browsing, writing blog posts, or looking up shops and phone numbers while I'm on the go, it'll do just nicely. I got a 3G wireless dongle and basic prepay plan as well, so that I can get online anywhere there's cell signal, without having to hunt down an open wifi access point.
Oh, and the white paint on it looks an aweful lot like my car's first paint job did, the one with a decent amount of pearl in the white paint. :)

While typing this post, I noticed I first went to type "rucksack", and then corrected to "backpack", and was about to type "mains outlet" before reminding myself you'll all know it as a "power outlet". I've definitely started to go native.

Trip to Finland: Part 2

I've finally felt in a writing mood, so here it is, part 2.

Halfway through our second pint at the pub, the lights all came up to full brightness, and the bar staff began to indicate that it was time for us to finish our drinks and be on our way. It was surprisingly early yet, only 1am, I think. After we finished our drinks and made our way outside, Oliver made some phone calls to see if anyone else he knew was having any sort of after party. It seemed there really wasn't much going on, but we made our way down the street to meet up with a group of his friends, most of whom had just been planning to go home. We convinced them otherwise, and proceeded to go for a wander around Helsinki.

At one point, a very drunk man wandered up to us, to Oliver's friend Evan, from San Francisco, and said to him "You look like Whitney Houston", and then proceeded to follow us around. Eventually, one of the guys in the group managed to convince the strange drunk man to talk to a couple people that we passes, sitting along the side of the path, at which point we all took off at a run, to make sure he wouldn't be able to find us. After that, we all sat on or stood around a bench that overlooked a bay, and just laughed and chatted for a good while, as other late night folk wandered by on the path just behind the bench.

Eventually, some people decided to call it a night. Those of us that remained wandered back into the downtown, and some of them had Kebabs from a little late night shop. (Earlier in the night, though I'm not sure if it was before or after the pub, I had been hungry, so Oliver took me to a little stand that served burgers, and translated the Finnish sign for me. I was very pleased to learn that one of the options was a burger with fried egg, so that's what I had. It was quite tasty indeed, and really hit the spot after having had only airline food for dinner.) In the end, by the time I made my way back to the hotel, it was 5:30am.

The following day started rather late, as may be expected. Oliver and I touched base via text messages at around 1pm, and arranged to meet up at a fountain a couple blocks down from my hotel. This gave me an excuse to get out and wander around that corner of Helsinki on my own for a bit, to find the fountain. I found it no problem, having walked past it the day before. There was no doubt at all it was the fountain Oliver mentioned, being described as something along the lines of "A naked woman on a pedestal, with seals around her spraying her with water." That about sums it up. The European attitudes towards nudity are so much different than North America, where any statue must either be neutered or covered. God forbid someone see brass nipples on a statue of a women! Or a poster advertising an art gallery, with a painting of a nude woman on it. There's a big difference between nudity and pornography, and in North America, in public places at least, there seems to be no difference in how the two are treated. Here, I've seen countless posters and statues as just described, and most people don't give them a second thought.

Anyway, after finding the fountain, I wandered around nearby a bit, keeping an eye out for Oliver, and watching some of the things going on in the park. I found an ice cream stand and had some pear ice cream. It was absolutely delicious. Nearby was a van, parked in a sort of square, beside which stood a man dressed a bit like a pirate. Children (and adults) were taking turns throwing a water balloon at him, as he dodged out of the way, and tried to hit each water balloon with a plastic sabre. It was quite entertaining to watch, and standing in the splash zone provided some refreshment on the warm day. Oliver arrived around 2pm, and went for a cup of coffee and a pastry at a restaurant close by, situated in a wide strip of park between two one way streets.

After that, we spent most of the day just walking around Helsinki, enjoying the weather, with Oliver pointing out landmark buildings and such. We went shopping for wine and cheese, for his wine tasking party on Sunday, and dropped them off at his apartment, where I briefly met Laura, his girlfriend. In Finland, alcohol is sold in government run stores, with only beer sold in some other shops. It's similar to how B.C. was run a few years back, before they started allowing cold beer & wine shops to sell other alcohol. The government run chain in Finland is called Alko. I had brought my camera bag with me from the hotel that morning, but was tired of carrying it around and not using it (I had my small camera that I was using instead) so we walked back across town to my hotel, and dropped of my camera bag. At the hotel, we looked up the number for the Ravintola Salve (Salve Restaurant) and made a reservation for dinner in a couple hours. Oliver then took me to one of the tallest buildings in Helsinki, which has a rooftop bar, and I spent a moment enjoying the view across the city. Unfortunately, there was no free seating, so we instead went back down to, of all things, an Irish Pub on the ground floor, and had a beer, and some pickled herring. I'd never had it before, but it came with herring in about 6 different sauces, and most of them were quite tasty.

Eventually we made it to Salve, which turned out to have a pleasant nautical decor. I had a very tasty creamy salmon soup to start, with potatoes and a slight hint of dill in it. The main course was steak stuffed with a sort of cheese and reindeer mix, with mashed potatoes. I had Koff, a Finnish beer, with my meal. Everything was absolutely delicious, though our main course took a good long time arriving, as I think the kitchen actually forgot about it. It suited me fine though, because after the pickled herring, and salmon soup, I actually needed a while to work up an appetite.

After dinner, Oliver phoned Laura to find out which club she and her friends were at, and we went to join them. They were not far away, at a club called Havana, a Spanish club. Oliver and I joined them, but I didn't dance much, as everyone on the dance floor seemed to be doing Salsa or something, and looked to know what they were doing, which was rather intimidating. I just stayed near the bar and drank Strongbow all evening. When we left the club, we were all quite hungry, so we went to a kebab shop just down the street. Inside the shop, with everyone around speaking Finnish, I had my first real "Wow, I'm in a foreign country" moment, because up until that point, the people around me had stuck mostly to English, even when speaking to each other. I can certainly say that I found the Finnish folk to be incredibly polite and accommodating in that respect. It does help that they learn English in school there, and speak it much better than half the Subway employees in Vancouver. We took the kebabs back to Oliver's flat, and sat down to eat. When it came time to go back to my hotel to sleep, Oliver gave me nice simple directions on how to get back, and I made it back to my Hotel fine, and feeling rather proud of myself for having navigated the route across an unfamiliar town after so many ciders. By the time I lay down, it was 4am, Sunday morning.

Part 3 whenever I get in a writing mood again. (or enough people ask for it that I feel guilty about it)