Thursday, November 30, 2006

The presidential visit

I think it was in the afternoon, sunday last week, when I was doing something at home and suddenly heard what sounded like a whole bunch of sirens. A sucker for accidents or any sort of morbid excitement as I am, I lept up to the window and looked down. Just as I looked down, something like five shiny police cars and a black Cadillac flew by at high speed. Gziiz, I just then realized I probably could have spat down on the car of George W. Bush, but didn't have enough time to open the window. A pretty amazing thing to happen on a lazy sunday evening...

Though, as a swedish friend commented later, as they were probably just practicing the driving and he would actually show up at first monday evening... there was still plenty of time to get a rifle. Anyway, on the monday evening me and baby went out for a little walk to get groceries, but the pull from the lemonade mixers (saftblandare) in the distance as well as the trailer-load of black Ford vans passing us on the way to the airport from the harbour was too strong. We just had to go look. It's not my picture, but look what drove by in quiet and solemn haste:

Fig 1: The head honcho

It was a pretty amazing display, more police than I knew even existed in Estonia, at least one limousine, Secret Service vans, an armored truck, a couple of buses, both civilian and painted versions of the new fancy Subaru police car.

Fig 2: Viru Keskus, where police cars go to mate?

Anyway, Bush had breakfast in the pink presidential palace (the estonian president is so funny in that he always wears a bow tie, not a normal tie. Supposedly so does his fourteen-year-old son), held a press conference mostly concerning empty promises for a visa waiver (?) program, shook a few hands and was gone in his Air Force One before anyone could say "cultural insensitivity". A lot of schrieking for little wool, said the girl who sheered the pig.

In other news, I have a new work laptop! Or well, it's brand new, but it's not like I had a work laptop before. As I've said before, everything is still extremely ad hoc, I've worked on my mac before and this one our computer dude dropped off out of the trunk of his rally car in the parking slot at Estonia street with the comment "paper work will be done later". Anyway, it's an adorable little 12" 1.6 GHz Celeron, 500 MB RAM, 70 GB disc thing in pure white with a web cam in the screen frame and a tiny keyboard. Actually, I'm pretty sure it's the same kind of chassi use, and we'll see about the quality of it.

I'm definitely gonna have to install software (if our computer guy will let me) to compensate for the discrepancy in usability I'm used to from MacOS X, just look at this little thing:

Fig 3: My latest little nerdy achievement

What it is is a special Quicksilver URL, which can perform simple substitution. The URL is for the Eesti Keele Instituut (Estniska akademien), for the two forms which provide estonian-english translation. So, with it I can now touch a quick Ctrl+Space, type in just a few letters in the bookmark and then write the word in either estonian or english I'd like to translate, hit enter and it will be looked up in my web browser. Insanely nifty. I've seen a similar application exists for Windows, it's called Colibri there. Will try it out.

Next time: What I have learnt from Estonia

PS. The president-spotting continued in Tartu, this time it was the car of the bow-tie man parked in the street in front of Hotel London, just across from the georgian restaurant where I sat and worked.

Fig 4: Estonian presidents have very simple numberplates

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Getting warm in the clothes?

Now my second week in Estonia has even become my third before I could sit down and write this, but anyhow. I'm just barely starting to get rid of the frustration of not knowing where my stuff is in the morning, feeling handicapped in so many things... but it's cool. It's been messy, but cool.

Like the other week. I think it was tuesday... first I could shower but not shave because our upstairs bathroom drain suffers from creative post-soviet renovation clogging, the cable guy is showing up (seriously, 4 Mbps, 70 TV channels and "free" IP phone for 230 SEK a month), my tempered boss calls me in the morning when I'm too far away to hear the phone, my prepaid card is empty so I can't call back and my girlfriend is somewhat edgy because she was not allowed to eat that morning... yeah, messy.

Actually that wasn't all, last wednesday was two days before a minor but first delivery, I thought I was on track but obviously my boss disagreed with me on where the track lay and... I have never, ever, EVER suffered such a verbal beating before. I think it is an understatement to call it "unswedish" to hold the poor guy who's been employed one and a half week responsible for anything your chaotic business, especially if he's obviously breaking his back for you while he's trying to adjust to a new place. You do not, in my opinion, threaten to fire him. It was terrible, yeah, I cried, and I shook, and then I went to the gym with baby who wasn't very happy about her day either, and a friend who was even worse off.

Fig 1: An excellent illustration

It wore of gradually though, I guess it was an unfortunate leakage of pressure from above, we did manage reasonably in the delivery and I worked until after midnight on thursday... the guy did came up to me, thanked me, shook my hand and for all that I know, seemed sincere. Cool. Insane. Insecure? Anyway, it did shake me up enough to remind me to take things very seriously, that we do not have much margins to play around with, and can't afford the luxury of lazy months for anyone. At all.

After a week like that it's justified to sit at home alone in the sofa, watch Kaurismäki's "The man without a past" in the dark, drink perhaps one or two beers more than what would be considered healthy... and re-see "Torsk på Tallinn" as well (check out my picture of Paldiski Palace taken one year later!). It's likely that we will hold weekly movie evenings at home now, people want to see that, "Ben & Gunnar", "Four Shades of Brown" and "Oldboy", etc. etc. ad nauseum.

Next time: The visit from Mr. Bush, and some more stuff.

PS. We went bowling tonight, I made three strikes in a row! (Though landed at a bottom line of 148... I think I can do better)

Friday, November 17, 2006

Estonia has welcomed me!

Today I was at the inlaws' local municipal office to register my place of residence. For your information, Estonia in august passed new regulations that EU citizens need only register their right of residence, not any more actually apply for a residence permit. Residence needs to be registered in the office somewhere you can prove you have a place to live (well...), you then get your ID number and need to apply for an ID card with the migration authorities within maximum a month.

The meeting was a somewhat lengthy but cheerful one. To my disappointment I'm only the second non-estonian european citizen to register within that municipality, some british guy came before me. Anyhow, hands were shaken and I got an adorable frosted blue glass cup with the village shield on, a definite personal office item from now on.

Fig 1: Complimentary municipal cup

If it's hard to see in the picture, the village shield is a green and a blue field with a plant of bulrush (kaveldun) and two shuriken. I guess the bulrush is very local and characteristic, but the shuriken crack me up.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Cutting the long tail when moving

If you've kept your eyes and ears open to the IT business lately (read: if you're an engineer who haven't lived in a box the last couple of years), you might have noticed some talk about the business model/statistical distribution property coined the The Long Tail. It's a very cool mechanism, essentially analog to a Salami Fraud, just backward... kindof. Essentially a business benefitting from The Long Tail makes sure it is not dependent on single large sales, but extremely many small sales. I've just experienced The Long Tail as well, but in a much more tiring way.

Fig 1: Illustration of The Long Tail concept

When you're moving, how do you estimate how much time and effort it will take? I had been extremely busy just before moving last weekend and barely managed to make sure I had the absolute basics done, like large furniture moved, old scrap paper thrown away... but in no way did I anticipate what an exhausting exercise it would be before I would actually get to drop my key down my old mail slot and get going toward Kapellskär.

It was absolutely insane, the morning became afternoon and afternoon even became evening before we had cleaned out every single little last space. Very tired, full packed and a bit frustrated, we got going. Perhaps it's only me who become that emotionally attached, but I had lived some five-six years in the same apartment and was now leaving it and the town I've come to love... it was an extremely strange feeling to close the door, leave the key, walk across the yard a final time while holding my by then strangely keyless keyring. Strange, but grand. The keyring has had plenty opportunity to refill again, now I have RFID card to office, key to office and three apartment keys...

Fig 2: A very keyless keyring

So, it was a bit messy and I probably lost a bunch of things, but in the end I put an upper limit to the integral, I cut the long tail, got my thumb out off my ass, got a new start and moved. I'm so impressed by myself.

On the way to Estonia, me and my baby visited senior members of both our families, a Gränna candy cane factory, Vadstena monastery and deserted industrial areas in Uppsala. Poor baby was sea-sick on the tiny boat which took us Kapellskär-Paldiski but had regained her posture when we drove ashore in the gloomy, snowy ex-soviet union marine base town.

Essentially, here in Estonia is great. It's a cool new country to get to know. Work mates and friends are perhaps a bit different from home, but very nice. I have absolutely no set work hours, people really do sit down to work on laptops from any café they happen to like that moment and business is very exciting. Not to mention, it's the first time I'm moving in with anyone and the first time in six years I don't live in the same room I make my food. Already I have both reasonable TV sound, PS2, server and WiFi for all guests available in the entire apartment. It's getting extremely homie. I expect to publish notices of plane discounts and stuff, and I am not kidding when I invite you to come visit us.

To sum up, since when I posted the last time, about the party, I have managed to get, among other things, the following stuff done:

- Write some 10-15 pages more, scrutinize, correct and hand in my thesis report
- Sum up, pack up and drink up my work in Gothenburg. I got the book Gökmannen with the greeting "May your seed flourish in the East". Those guys are seriously adorable
- Pack up and send home all my larger furniture, like the bed, couch and the huge cockpit-like desk (which I miss so much!)
- Finalize and apply for my MSc. degree
- Try out and order my white-gold Chalmers engineering ring
- Agree and print a contract with the next tenant so she could have my apartment early
- Sort through all, and throw out roughly two moving boxes of old paper and crap
- Pack roughly six moving boxes with stuff...
- ... of which only one, plus quite some bags, a microwave, a server, dance mat etc., got to follow me to Estonia
- Hold a little private moving away party for the three closest mourning to get rid of groceries and booze
- Drive across Sweden in a fully packed car with my baby
- Send a long email update to all of the friends and family I remembered should have it
- Started my new job with CoolSecurity in Tallinn, gotten to know some of the routines, got an Estonian prepaid phone card, got all my clothes into wardrobes and drawers, set up server, router and PS2 in apartment and and... plenty more.

Frankly, for me it wasn't much Monkey Island at all. Though, and excuse me if I am repeating myself, I can barely believe myself that I managed to finally get rid of that apartment, all the crap in it and de-root my life in Gothenburg. I am so happy and see amazing horizons ahead.

PS. You know that super-cool new Bond movie which is to premiere in Sweden next friday? Yeah, that's right "Casino Royale", I saw it on the Coca Cola Plaza in Tallinn thursday and it was pretty amazing.

PPS. The thesis report is available online, in the tmp-directory under my dtek-web account, drop me a line if you're interested but can't find that.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

On a dark October night

Happy cries are heard at 3 am in the morning as I am walking through the Tenderloin, (one of the worst neighborhoods in SF) dressed up as a superhero, with a mask and a cape.
I had lost my wallet, id and credit cards, and the group had split up. So there I was. A masked, mysterious figure.. in a bright yellow and red colored costume. Moving along, with the cape waving on my back, puzzled by how warm the tights actually are.
All I have with me is $15 bucks in cash, my cell phone, and a key to the hostel that we checked in to several hours earlier.
By then I had fought villains, crooks, and pirates with only one eye, managed to escape from a pack of wild tigers and single-handedly defeated the swamp monster of Pier 39. Yes it's true! Or maybe my recollection is a little off since it was o so many days ago already.
One thing is certain though: I had lots of fun, and I walk as graciously as you would imagine, after a good party, through the city, finding my way back, avoiding to glance at the pushers and addicts in the streets, dodging some homeless guy in every other corner.
But hey, I mean, sure they could mug me, but there isn't much to take anyways, and the hostel is only a couple of miles away.

It all started some days earlier with the idea of everyone dressing up as superheroes. Tights, t-shirts, fabric, dye and paint was bought and suits were made. The colors had barely dried as we, all dressed in our new uniforms, left to take the train to San Francisco.

It's interesting how social rules can be totally ignored as soon as people are dressed in costumes. We entered a carriage with 20 people that were dressed up to their teeth.
The decision was made to follow them to a local pub, were we gained gin and tonic and lost the Pope (one of the Bergmans). Leaving the train in San Francisco we enjoyed walking around looking like superheroes for a while, and the reactions provoked by this odd behavior. (The Pope also had lots of fun, but we wouldn't learn about that until the next day).

The plan was to head for the YSC party at the wax museum in Fisherman’s Warf, and after checking in at the hostel and going through the ever-so-tedious process of getting a cab (calling for one is no use), eventually we all got there…

Many hours, new faces, and some number of beers later, we found our way back. The next day we spent a slow Sunday afternoon eating pizza in a local park near California Ave train station back in Palo Alto.

Thats all kids. The story ends as happily like most. The world is rid of the swamp monster, the sun has come out, and I have canceled my old credit cards. Don't leave lit candles unattended and see you next time.