Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Reindeer Carneval in the winter

Nowadays Finns are mostly Protestants, but the old traditions are still alive. Around year 1000AD (plus or minus a few hundred years) the evil Swedes came over the sea and started spreading the word of god. By sword point, I guess.

40 days before Easter is the Lent, and before lent is some kind of carneval where people have fun and eat a lot of food (meat). In Finland it's called Laskiainen. As always, the church had replaced the local celebrations with it's own. In Finland it used to be a feast for celebrating the end of spinning, when women had turned all the wool, hemp and flax from the previous summer into thread, and the rise of the sun. All kinds of magic had to be performed to get good crops the next year.

Then the killjoy Luther decided the catholics had it all wrong and started the reformation. And as we were no more catholics, we had no Lent. But Laskiainen stayed, with a mixture of pagan and christian superstitions. Nowadays it's a feast of pea-soup, pan cakes and skiing and sledding.

The city organized an event in the market square to celebrate Laskiainen. They had spent a week building a small skating rink, a weird snow castle, and a few hills of snow for kids to slide down.

Toddlers liked climbing the wall of the castle.

Kids liked sliding down the slope between the walls.

Adults liked looking at the naked woman inside the castle.

"King Of The Hill" can be played on any pile of snow.
Another big draw to the event was the reindeers. The kids had the chance to practice roping them by throwing "suopunki" (lasso) at reindeer antlers on the ground. Kids were also given rides in the sledges pulled by tamed reindeer:

You don't see reindeer around Oulu, but go 100 kilometers northeast and you'll find them walking on the roads. The big herds are further north in the Lapland, where reindeer herding in the wilderness is a traditional source of livelihood of the Same. In southern Finland the lack of free range (due to urbanization, farming and logging in the last few hundred years) has forced the reindeer out.

Main reason for the reindeers being in the town was "reindeer sprint", in which the reindeer runs 1/8th mile (a bit over 200 meters) towing a guy or a girl on skis. Those reindeers are half-tame.

This lone reindeer was tied to a tree about 25 meters from the others, and you can see it fighting to get loose so it could get closer to the others. Or maybe he was just planning to leave the town all together.  

The lone reindeer kept fighting the rope so the handlers decided to move it to a tree closer to the others. They told the parents to get their kids away before they untied the reindeer and that's when it "attacked" me. Not very scary for a country boy who has lead cattle by rope, but getting trampled or kicked in the shins would hurt anyway. I guess the feisty ones make good racing reindeers?
One street has been closed for traffic and turned into a race track. There wasn't many people by the fence when I took the photo, about one hour before the race.
 But as the race was not about to begin, the fence could be opened so people could get through:
 Here's the start area. The reindeers get in the box, and once the doors open the race is on. Maybe I should tell you one of those ads on the box is for reindeer meat.
So if you don't want to be sold as pelt and sausages...
Furs, reindeer meat, wool clothes etc was sold at the market.
... you better run, Rudolf!
Here's a short clip showing two first pairs of the reindeer sprint. I'm not quite sure what the rules are, but the skier must not fall before the finish line. That I know for sure.

And as usual, the annotations button is grayed out and I can't add any. Blah!

Construction for "The Big Dig" starting in June

The local newspaper says the construction of the underground parking garage will start this summer, unless complaints cause delays. The last price I've heard is 73 million euros, more than double from the original 30 million estimate and a bit more than the 60 million quoted last year.

Today's paper had an opinion piece complaining how the Administrative Court dismissed the case (complaint) against the decision to build The Dig. The court found that the city council followed the laws and procedures of making a decision. But the court said preparing and informing the public about the decision to be made were not their problem, the complainant should go to the Parliamentary Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman exercises oversight to ensure that public authorities and officials observe the law and fulfill their du­ties. The scope of oversight includes also other parties performing public functions. The aim is to ensure good administration and the observance of constitutional and human rights.

The writer of the opinion piece claims the Ombudsman can not do anything about the case. He claims the public was not told what the city council decided in an unofficial meeting in 2002. No records were kept, but it is known three alternate plans for underground car parking in the downtown area was discussed.

In 2010 the costs had doubled, and the city council decided to cancel the plans. But only a few days after the meeting a working group was set to compare the options for parking. The public was not informed about this, and opponents thought the underground garage plans were buried and thus they didn't prepare alternate plans for the city council meeting 6 months later when the parking garage resurfaced and got approved.

The complainant also claims the public was lied about the finances. Instead of being profitable, the garage will need subsidies for the whole 30 years. Or maybe it more accurate to say it is profitable as a whole, with private businesses and large chain stores reaping the profits from the customers and the tax payer subsidizing the parking.

€73 million for 900 parking places means each costs 81000 euros. Thirty years times 365 days is about 11000 days. So each parking place should earn about 7,3 euros each day just to pay the construction costs without interests and other fees. At 2€/hr the dig would need to average 4 hours of parking in every place they have. That's 4000 cars every day, and I don't believe that is realistic. Half the lot will be empty except weekends.

I have to admit as I haven't recently paid for parking, I had no clue what the prices are at the parking meters. A quick search on the city's web page says street side parking is 1,2-2€/hr in the area of The Dig, and at parking garages about the same. Monthly fees at garages are only about a third (75€/month) of what a place should cost at the the Dig (7x30=210€).

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Why are these cars driving so slowly?

They had a green light at the top of the hill and usually they'd accelerate downhill. Today they were going almost at walking speed. Why?

They were looking at these:
(image intentionally very small)
What are these creatures? Why are they in a park in the middle of the city? One of them attacked me!  (you'll see the video if the video is good, I haven't seen it myself yet). That and more in my next post. Beg for it!

Yes, a cliffhanger! :-D

Edit: the video isn't too bad. Here's a screenshot, showing the attacking reindeer about to get out of control. Good thing the handlers told people to get the kids out of the way before they untied the reindeer. There were several kids and toddlers on strollers admiring the reindeers.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

My Lucky Day

I guess I'm lucky I'm not a witness to car crashing into half dozen pedestrians, though it certainly was close.

As I got closer to the traffic lights I saw them blinking yellow. I thought "That's cool, I haven't seen that often. Now lets see what kind of mess the intersection is without traffic lights."

Blinking yellow means the lights are temporarily not working, proceed with caution. There might be an emergency vehicle coming through, so let them through, otherwise follow the traffic signs and basic yielding rules. Or it might be blinking yellow due to a burnt (red) light bulb.

Car drivers are supposed to yield to pedestrians crossing the road on the zebra lined crossing. It's also marked with traffic signs. Disturbingly many drivers pay no attention to them, or at least thinks that pedestrians should not step on the road if the car driver has to slow down or stop for them. One such driver makes his displeasure known, as he forces through the pedestrians almost hitting them.

Naughty, naughty!

Some google catch phrases in Finnish in case someone is looking for it: Tervahovintie 15.2.2012 puoli viisi auto ajoi melkein jalankulkijan päälle liikennevaloissa keltaiset vilkkuvalot

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Ice on the bikeway

A few days ago I saw Grumpy Cyclists video about ice on the cycle lane. Then the next day I saw some ice, too. So I decided to make a video response. For the price of one, I decided to lump three clips on to one upload.

First (and third) clip was shot on a warm February day. It was -5°C and it was snowing all day. The cycling conditions were pretty good, except for little snow banks left by the snow plows and the icebergs on the bikeway. And bringing a bike from a warm garage and riding it through the snow is not the best thing to do, especially if you have the rim brakes. You'll have ice on the brakes. Which I found out on the downhills to the river.

Second clip was shot the next day. The warm weather was just a warm memory. The highest temperature that day was -25°C. You'll notice how different the snow sounds under the wheels. The icebergs have been crushed/plowed away.

Unfortunately youtube blew up again. I managed to upload the video, but for some reason I haven't been able to add annotations to it. I open the video manager, click edit annotations and the annotation page loads. The pulldown menus are grayed out, so I can't edit anything. :-/ It happened to me before and I couldn't figure out what to do to fix it. I just kept trying it for a week or two before it just worked. Any clues?

Click on Ice on the bikeway to see it on youtube.

Monday, February 06, 2012

What on earth are they doing?

Today, a cloudy day with snowfall. Temperature was -5°C in the afternoon, which felt balmy after the last week. :-) Very easy to pedal when the bike is not frozen. And wind from south gave me a nice boost coming back from downtown, my bike felt like it was flying. :-D

Spot the ice fisher?
At the market square the fat cop statue was getting snowed on...

... while it was looking at something very weird going on. An excavator at the market square?

On top of several meters of snow, piling it higher and higher? There are signs saying "No winter maintenance" on some of the lamp posts on the square, but usually that means no snow removal or gritting. I and several other passers by asked each other what on earth was going on. Nobody knew.

A snow castle? A hill for the kids for sledding? Snow sculptures? A new ski resort with 5 meter high hill? Storage for the snow?

A quick look on the newspaper didn't solve the puzzle. Some other interesting news:

Although there were reports on a few car crashes due to the flying snow and icy conditions. A timber truck was turning right. A van was following it and slowed down. A lorry was following the van, couldn't stop in time and crashed into the van and the timber truck. At the same site, an hour later, a rear end collision. So it's just not the southeners who crash when tailgating.

The police rescued a group of Dutch tourists (my guess?), whose car got stuck in snow drifts in Lapland. In -35°C weather. Somewhere in the middle of the forest, as they only saw trees. They had been driving on a forest service road, and they're not always on a map as you're not supposed to drive there. Luckily, they were found before the car ran out of fuel.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Holy Smoke!

Really cold weather is sometimes called "tulipalopakkanen", "House Burning Cold." When it's cold you try to heat the house, for example by burning wood in a fireplace. A  spark might fall on the floor, a crack in the chimney might lead to hot gases leaking in the attic, or maybe the chimney itself got so hot it caused surrounding structures to catch fire.

A cold day leads to an increase in the use of all energy sources used to heat homes and other buildings. This week's cold spell led to highest levels in electricity use for this winter. And many people who have a chance to heat their houses by wood will do it, to save some money on the energy bill. The bad side of it is the smoke and particles burning creates.  See the smoke coming from the chimney of the house?
Most of the smoke is coming from the power plant, providing us electricity and heat. It might be interesting to go and stand by the gate of the power plant facility if there are more HGVs bringing peat and other stuff to the plant, or are they just running with whatever they have stored at the plant. But that would mean standing outside in -25°C for an hour waiting for HGVs... I don't think it's quite that interesting.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Pileups in southern Finland

Based on the news, there were hundreds of fenderbenders and crashes today. On "Lahdenväylä", a motorway, about 200 cars had been in crashes and pileups. Driving conditions have been horrible. As far as I've heard, nobody has died.

Was I amazed when I heard of huge pileups in Helsinki. Not because of the numerous crashes (they happen when you got lots of idiots driving too fast on slippery roads/bad visibility), but because the weather has been fine all week. At least here it has, but I haven't been paying very much attention in the weather forecast once I've saw -25°C to -30°C until Monday when it warms up to -15°C.

It seems that wind brought moist sea air over Helsinki, where it cooled and started snowing. When it's cold enough (around -15°C in Helsinki today) the snow is very fluffy and fast moving vehicles with cause a "dust cloud" of snow.

Also when it's cold enough salting the road does not help, the ice will not melt. I think that in such circumstances the salt actually might make the roads more slippery. On cold days the ice on the road is pretty hard and gritting sand doesn't stick on it as well as it would on warmer days.

Combine bad visibility, slippery roads, lots of cars, and the bad habits of tailgating and driving like it was summer (=too fast) and you'll get lots of insurance paperwork to fill out. ABS and ESP and whatever can only do so much, driver must be aware of the road conditions too.

See what I mean near the end of the video of the crashes as they're happening

Afterwards, lots of wrecks and a queue of cars .

It wasn't just private cars that were in trouble. Buses crashed too. Trams had trouble getting up hills and snow was clogging the rail and tram switches causing further delays. The police suggested taking public transport, and HSL, the public transport authority suggested walking. :-)