I Swear It’s Work

At noon today I found myself in a pub in the middle of Helsinki, hanging out with about seven 50+ year old men drinking. Well, I wasn’t drinking but they sure were. Welcome to day three of the study, were we studied a retired man in his late 60s start his day in a pub hanging out with his friends. Hanging out in the pub generated many-a-hilarious stories as a bunch of his mates started to talk to us in broken and a bit intoxicated English. After the pub we went to his home to talk to his wife and see his place. Once done with the observing we went to Stockmann’s to get dinner, took it back to Minna’s apartment and worked on our report until 2300.

Luckly, last night I slept quite well, for about 9 hours. In fact, the alarm on my cell phone went off at 7:30, I snoozed it knowning I didn’t have to be up soon, and then I woke up on my own at 9:30. Groggily I remembered I had told Megan that I’d call her at 9, so I picked up my mobile and was greeted by her angrily saying she’d been up since 5 or 6 in the morning. I went over to her place at 10, checked in to our new hotel, and got brunch on the Esplanade. Megan went off and did some shoping while I hung out at the cafe and did some people watching. It was nice to get a morning to do a bit of relaxing before heading out to the aforementioned ‘work’. Pictures here.

Commentary for the day: everybody here hates America and specifically Bush. I mentioned this before, but talked to those gents in the pub makes it not one day that I haven’t heard this. The most painful comment I heard was from a man who was a pensioner in this late 60s (a friend of our subject) who said “America is a sick country.” He was telling me how the biggest crime rings in Europe are not the Scillians any more, but the Russians, but the biggest criminals in the world are the Americans. He called Bush crazy. The crazy part for me was, he wasn’t just some European America-hater, he had thought Regan was a great president! This election is not an American election, the fate of the world in many ways is resting on its outcom. It’s sad that now that the USSR is gone as a world power, we’ve become the unilateral superpower. Europe really needs to build a pan-European military force to fill the gap in firepower the USSR left behind.

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Tiistai in Helsinki

Moi! Day two of user studies in Finland took us to the suburbs of Helsinki to visit a woman who ran a government (EU) sponsored fitness and exercise program. While battling a night of nearly no sleep (I fell asleep at ~midnight and woke up at 5AM) and trying to pay attention with people talking Finnish, we managed to see the day-to-day life of a Finn. I’m sure I’ve said this earlier, but this is a really interesting and unique way to visit a country. I’m quite in-vivo, watching and recording and writing daily about the life and experience of a Finn. Although this is a Microsoft study about blah blah blah, I’ve found myself a lot more interested in country and its people rather than the technology.

It amazes me how much the Finns love their country. We talked to a couple people today if they’d ever want to visit the US and they all answered that America is too complicated, too fast, too dangerous. I keep wondering if that same attitude would have existed pre-Bush. Everybody has always commented on how safe and pleasant a country Finland is. The population density is something like 17 people/km^2, so there are no major issues of urban blight. After school, kids of any age walk to the community children’s center and hang out, without worry of notifying parents or liabilities and the like. It’s a refreshing view on life. Everybody seems to care for each other in a socially progressive, non-communistic way.

The length of these days are exhausting me. We normally meet at 8 or 9 in the morning and don’t leave each other until 11 in the evening, usually working throughout the entire day. It started raining in Helsinki this afternoon, forcing me to buy an umbrella from Sokos. I took the Metro out to the suburbs and had caught a tram to the metro station to start. Even though the tram is 1.80e, it feels like you can walk on and not pay and people wouldn’t think twice. You can also buy your tram ticket via your mobile by texting. In fact, I recharged mine today by texting the recharge code (bought at a convenience store). Tomorrow we switch to a hotel in some other part of Helsinki. That’s it for now. Today’s pictures are here.

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A Monday in Helsinki

Twelve hours of work ended up creating a twelve page report. Megan, Minna and I met up this morning en-route to meet a 2nd year student at the University of Helsinki for a day of watching his world. It’s actually quite cool that we got to see the college experience while here; most of the time I’m in a foreign land I’m never been exposed to that. We met some of his college friends and walked around as he gave a tour to new students of the university. I ended up seeing the undergrad library, the central office, a printer’s shop and their ‘club house’ (which serves the same purpose as the student organization offices at student unions in the US). We had a great lunch at a little cafe next to the esplanade in the city centre (of course I had a mozzarella and tomato sandwich). Dinner was at a traditional Finnish ravintolia (Finnish for restaurant) that’d been open since 1934 named Seahorse. I had the cabbage rolls, a mixture of cabbage, lakta style potato cakes and something else. Tomorrow we’re heading to a family’s house at 9AM, which means I’ve got to wake up at 7! Pictures of today are here.

Also to ramble on about is my experience thus far with cell phones. Cell phones are amazing here. I placed a call to California and to Paris with equal ease this evening. To get the phone, I went in to the first mobile store I saw (Sonera) in the morning and asked for the cheapest phone that would work here and in both Paris and London. I bought the phone on the spot and the store clerk referred me to the convenience store across the street to get a SIM card. So, across the street I bought a SIM package called Sonera Easy (that’s the first SIM I saw, I could have picked from any of the brands; there’s no association between retailer and service provider, at least in the method I’m using mobiles), popped the card in, typed in the PIN number, and that’s it, I’ve got a phone number in Helsinki. So easy, so straightforward and so hassle free. I can’t stop raving about European mobiles. Actually, I’m going to stop right now and pass out.

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Greetings from Helsinki

Hello all! I’m in my rented apartment now after a whirlwind day of travel and sightseeting in Helsinki, Finland. I had totally expected to use dial up to get access, but low-and-behold, there’s an unsecure wireless connection in this place. I’m uploading pictures from the day to here. To give a quick rundown of the day before I pass out, we started at 7:45 AM in SFO, got to JFK, chilled for a little bit, then were on a Finnar flight to Helsinki, toured Helsinki (much walking, many cafes), had dinner and done for the day.

Alright, I’ll write some more. Landing in Helsinki with painless, the airport is georgous and looks brand new. The view from the plane seemed largly rural, with trees and small cabins for many miles past the outskirts of Vantaa (city where the airport is). We took a cab from the airport to my co-workers (Megan’s) apartment where we set up for the morning and then head out to do some sightseeing. Helsinki is a beautfiul town. To me, it feels like a small version of Brussels: a European capital town, but not a bustling metropolis. It seems that the city is largly shut down on a Sunday, so we got to see a lot of stuff sans tourists. We didn’t have that much time to sightsee in detail since we were time pressured on our own (Megan and me) since we had to meet with the vendor (Minna) who’s doing the field study for us here. We saw the open air market (which is next to the ferry lines), the Orthodox Greek cathedral, another cathederal, the “Esplanade” (which is one of the main walkways/outdoor areas).

By about that time (~12:30PM) we rushed back to the apartment to meet our vendor, who turned out to be this awesome young woman who’s quite chill and is quad-lingual (English, French, Finnish, and Sweedish!) and knew a bunch of about the Finnish culture to get us up to speed. We checked out a couple of cafes (sampling some cinnimon buns), walked to this large flea market, saw a bunch of people sailing at some random water front (since Helsinki is build around a cluster of islands, there’s quite a large amount of shoreline), walked in to the Museum of Modern Art and generally walked through the central city to some detail. We went back to Minna’s apartment and did a write up of our observations of the day (I should call out that you can acutally buy a tram ticket by texting from your mobile — how cool is that?). After that, and feeling incredibly exhausted, we split ways to get ready for dinner. We ended up eating at this place called Elite in the outskirts of town, which offered a great fusion egg-roll made of zuccinni, potatoes and mozzarella cheese. Megan and Minna both had traditional Finnish dishes (all meaty). Tomorrow we head out to our first site visit to a student at the University of Helsinki. I’ll let you all know how that goes, but for now, it’s 23:30 CET and I’m exhausted and must pass out.

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Gallivanting Across Europe

I’m leaving for Europe on Saturday for a two week jaunt across the pond on business. The itinerary is: Helsinki, Tallinn, London, and then Paris. Not bad, eh? I head out on Saturday at 7:45 in the morning, via JFK to Helsinki. I’ll be spending a week there doing user studies to see how people use communication tools. After Helsinki, I’m heading over to Estonia (via ferry!) for a day to check to check out Tallinn, since I’ve heard so many great things about it. After Estonia, we head back to Helsinki to catch a flight to London and spend two days in London to meet with some product teams in the “Microsoft House” in Soho. After the London meetings, I’ve taken a few days off. Time permitting, I’m going to take a day trip out of London to York or Dover. After London, I’m heading off on Wednesday (via EasyJet!) to take a little vacation in Paris. I’ll be staying with Purwa in her place in Cite Universitaire for three nights, until I head back to SF on Saturday. It’ll be a whirlwind trip, but it’s shaping up to be a lot of fun and looking like a good mix of business and pleasure. I’ll be blogging and hopefully posting pictures as well during the trip.

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I Hate Fox News

When flipping through the channels, I hate coming across Fox News during the RNC. They portray it as such a party where all is happy and there are no protests outside the building.

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