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Wedding with a sauna

Posted: 2014-09-19 23:50:00, Categories: Travel, General, 509 words (permalink)

Wedding portrait sitting on the fence. Photo by Panu Hällfors. Sandra and I are married now. Our wedding took place at a red wooden house by a lake with a sauna for relaxing after the main party. We had beautiful weather, excellent food, great music, and around 50 friends and relatives celebrating with us on our special day.

We wanted a leisurely atmosphere where nobody would feel being in a hurry. So we chose a location surrounded by nature and rented the place for the whole weekend. Preparations were done on Friday evening and guests were invited to come around midday on Saturday. There was no deadline at what time the party should end, and everybody who wanted could stay overnight until Sunday without any extra cost. Also our bed for the wedding night was prepared at the attic of the main house — we didn't see any reason to leave our own party and go to sleep in a hotel.

Just married. Didgeridoo and soap bubbles. Photo by Panu Hällfors. The wedding ceremony was outside at the lakeshore, accompanied with didgeridoo tunes which many guests found quite exciting. After the formalities we received congratulations and raised a toast with everybody, followed by a buffet style meal. My father gave a speech, my brother sang and our friends entertained the guests by inviting us in the traditional shoe game. Then four ex-colleagues of mine from CSC took the stage with their guitars and drums: it was time for the wedding waltz. After an hour of dancing, cake was served and music turned towards rock. During the following two hours about half of the guests said their goodbyes, heading back home. But the party was still far from over.

Night view from the sauna pier. Photo by Panu Hällfors. The sauna was hot starting from 8 pm. Sandra and I originally met at a sauna evening in Helsinki so it was natural to have sauna in our wedding too. The first hour was reserved for women, after that all were welcome to join. The cook, the waiters and the band members came as well. Fancy clothes were changed into towels, people went swimming in the lake, came back for another round in the sauna, chatted with each other on the terrace. After the sunset the band brought their acoustic instruments and played for several hours into the warm summer night: a perfect ending to the long day.

On Sunday morning we had breakfast together with everybody who had stayed overnight. There was still plenty of food left so all who wanted could take some and skip cooking for the next couple of days. With the help of guests we cleaned up the place and headed back home, exhausted but happy.

Our honeymoon trip will be to South America and Antarctica during the summer months of the Southern Hemisphere — which means during the winter in Europe. Details are still open, but because we like slow travel, the trip will certainly be longer than just one month. Before leaving, we'll spend the autumn at home in Southern Germany.

The photos on this page were taken by Panu Hällfors, all rights reserved. Please take a look at the larger selection on his home page.

Introducing Germaine

Posted: 2013-12-20 21:55:00, Categories: Travel, General, Germany, 398 words (permalink)

Germaine sitting and looking around on top of a cupboard. Let us introduce Germaine, our new furry companion. She likes to lie down and relax, not worrying too much about what's happening in the world. She follows us around in the flat and knows how to get food and attention. She miaows or squeeks in a special way, lifts her tail up and vibrates it. She has hurt her tail at some earlier time in life and cannot move the last part, so it forms a funny looking arc. When not eating, Germaine's favourite place is on the bed. Sounds like a comfortable and easy life, doesn't it?

Germaine standing on Sandra's back. Germaine spent her first 15 years with an elderly lady, who passed away a few months ago. She needed a new home and we decided to offer ours. It took her a while to get used to us and the new environment, but now it feels like she had always been here. For her age, equivalent to around 75 human years, she's quite fit. She suffers from digestion problems, needs special food and medicine, but otherwise she seems to be a happy cat.

We don't have a garden where Germaine could go out, but she is anyway not used to it after spending all her life indoors. When we open the balcony door, she may shortly step outside to smell fresh air, but comes soon back in. First we were careful as we thought she might jump down on the neighbour's balcony, but she doesn't seem to even consider that. An even if she would, it wouldn't be too bad as the neighbour below us likes cats too.

The new oven in our kitchen. After returning from Thailand and Laos in May, Sandra has been working again, this time in a laboratory together with her best friend. I spent a couple of months in Finland during the summer and after that I've had various small projects like renovating our balcony. We also bought a wood oven so we can enjoy watching flames and keep our flat warm without being dependent on oil.

It looks like we'll spend at least the winter and early spring mostly here in Germany. A hint to our friends: if you've been thinking of visiting us, now would be a good time! Sooner or later we'll probably go travelling again and will also need to find someone to take care of Germaine. However, for now she's living here with us and bringing us joy.

Blog software upgrade helped with comment spam

Posted: 2013-09-30 18:41:00, Categories: General, Free software, 487 words (permalink)

I recently upgraded the software of my blog to the most recent version of b2evolution. The main reason was simply to stay current with security and bug fixes. Another reason was the new "mass delete" option to get quickly rid of comment spam. As a nice surprise, most of the daily load of spam disappeared without even needing to go through and remove it.

My blog doesn't have a large number of followers, who would regularly comment on the articles. Over 90% of the comments have already for a long time been spam, senseless junk messages trying to advertise some product. I haven't really understood why the spammers have been so persistent: the comments are moderated which means that their message never gets out to the public anyway. Besides, a Captcha plugin at the bottom of the comment form is at least attempting to make sure that commenters are humans and not spam generating robots. I'm not using the centralized blacklist of b2evolution, because I don't want to block domains or content based on keywords, at least if I haven't selected the blocking criteria myself.

In any case, by summer 2013 the situation had gotten pretty bad. The blog was collecting more than a thousand spam comments per month, the traffic of my website exceeded 10GB/month, and over 70% of hits were coming from China. That sounded strange: my site has no content about China or in Chinese language. A couple of Chinese sites link to a few of my photos, but that didn't explain the big mass of visits. Logs showed that most of the traffic was requesting articles from the blog and posting comments on them.

After the upgrade, the number of spam comments dropped immediately to about one per day. The share of hits coming from China dropped to less than half of the total, although it's still surprisingly high at 40%. When looking at the amount of transferred data, connections from United States are leading with about 30% of total, Chinese traffic is less than 10%. Before the upgrade, the amount of traffic from China was equal to that from the U.S.. Finland comes as number three, but far behind the top two. That sounds reasonable — as I write in English it's not a big surprise to have more visitors from U.S. than from Finland.

The most likely conclusion coming to my mind is that the old version of the software had a bug, allowing comments to be posted by automated scripts without going through the Captcha. Although I didn't change the Captcha plugin itself, now it seems again to keep most of the spam out. Or the scripts used by spammers simply aren't upgraded yet to match the new b2evo. Whatever the reason, let's hope it stays like this at least for a while.

Non-spam comments are welcome. :-) Particularly, if you notice something has been broken due to the upgrade, I'd be happy to hear about it.

Every day a little bit more light again

Posted: 2011-12-23 16:50:48, Categories: Travel, General, Germany, 200 words (permalink)

Christmas bells in Memmingen, Germany. Two days ago was the shortest day and longest night of the year on the northern hemisphere of our planet. Now the light has won again, every day is a little bit longer than the previous one.

The autumn here in Southern Germany has been mostly sunny and beautiful. In November my mother Helena and brother Erkki came for a visit. They had a chance to see how Sandra and I are living nowadays, and we got to hear how things are going in Finland. We had a nice tour to the Alps and a couple of nearby towns, including Oberstdorf and Füssen.

The last couple of weeks have been busy especially for Sandra. She organized a series of small product tasting events in her shop. I helped a little bit at home by packaging small presents for her best customers, but mostly it was her and her employees who were taking care of all the Christmas preparations.

I will spend the Christmas and New Year in Germany together with Sandra, visiting and hosting friends. We both wish you all peaceful holiday times and lots of happiness for year 2012! Our card is available in English, in Finnish and in German.

Life in Germany

Posted: 2011-02-04 23:55:31, Categories: Travel, General, Work, Germany, 1028 words (permalink)

Posing for the camera in the bedroom. Since August 2010 I'm living in Germany together with my girlfriend Sandra. I've learned a new language and gotten used to not having to buy food in a supermarket any more. I continue to work part-time, but now from home instead of going to an office.

On a typical day the alarm clock wakes us up at 7:30, early enough for Sandra to get dressed, drive 40 km to her shop and open the doors for customers an hour later. I either get up at the same time or continue sleeping for an hour or two, depending on how tired I'm feeling. Then I do my morning yoga, have a breakfast while reading the daily newspaper and go upstairs in my home office. I'm still working for CSC on cultural data and digital preservation projects, although technically I'm a freelancer instead of a CSC employee now.

Working from home has the advantage of almost complete freedom in choosing the working hours. Nobody will knock on the door when I'm writing a document and I can listen to music without fear of disturbing colleagues. On the other hand it requires self-discipline to actually focus on work projects in a home environment. On some days I don't really get started and end up spending most of the day on personal emails or reading articles online. I'm also missing a bit all the short discussions with colleagues which happen naturally in the office during lunch and shorter breaks.

I have lunch around three in the afternoon, typically a salad and a warm dish consisting of food left from previous days. After that I continue with some more work on the computer, language studies, a walk or a bike ride outside, housework or hobbies before Sandra comes home around 19:30. Then we have dinner which we usually also prepare together, unless I've been a good man and cooked something already in advance.

Food is always around at the house. Every day Sandra brings home a box loaded with vegetables and fruit which have brown spots or other defects causing the customers to avoid them. In between are jars of yoghurt, pieces of tofu and other packaged products whose best before date has just gone by. We stock the boxes on top of each other in the cellar and do our best to cook and eat everything as long as it's still good.

I had never studied German at school and even after meeting Sandra didn't attend a language course in Finland. In Memmingen I started by walking to the library, borrowed a couple of books for self-study and a month later enrolled on a German course in the community college (Volkshochschule). I skipped the beginners level starting on a B1 level course, which ran from September until the end of the year two 90 minute lessons a week. The course was slightly difficult at first but not too hard when spending a bit of extra time on homework. I also took the habit of reading the daily newspaper Memminger Zeitung every morning and trying to make sense of the news stories on the front page, looking up words in a dictionary when necessary.

A few months was enough to reach a reasonable conversational level. Jokes, proverbs and strong dialects are still hard, but otherwise I can mostly follow and participate in discussions as long as rather simple words are used. I continue to make loads of mistakes in grammar, in particular with prepositions, gender (der/die/das) and various conjugations, but can usually make myself understood. Many of Sandra's friends don't speak English even nearly as well as she does, so I have plenty of opportunities to practise my new skill and knowing German makes it also more fun to spend time with them.

Memmingen is a town of about 40 000 inhabitants, situated 100 km west from Munich. It has a beautiful and pleasant old center with many pedestrian streets and is relatively cyclist friendly. I also found a nice yoga studio where I attend classes once or twice a week. It has not been difficult to get used to living here. One thing I miss a bit is the cultural life in Helsinki. There are of course concerts and events in Memmingen and nearby, but for a comparable variety of music and small alternative cultural happenings one would have to go until Munich. That's a bit too far for a spontaneous evening out, seeing a band for an hour or two.

Sandra and I are sharing a half of a two-family house 2 km away from center with her brother Thomas. The bottom floor consists of the kitchen and a common living room, Thomas has the first floor for him and we have two rooms just under the roof. One of them is the bedroom, the other being used as our private living room, home office and guest room. Occasionally we have a dinner at home or go out all three together, but mostly Sandra and I have our own life and Thomas has his. We get along but simply have different thinking and interests.

When Sandra has free days from the shop, I'm usually also taking those days off so that we can do something together. Most often we go for walks in the mountains or visit friends. Occasionally we relax in one of the big public baths with several saunas, where Saunameisters throw water on the stones, twirl a towel in the middle of the sauna and entertain people sitting on the benches. A few times we've traveled to neighbouring countries but not as often as we would like — with one less employee since October Sandra hasn't been able to arrange as much free time as before.

Music is also important for Sandra, probably more than for me. Whenever there is a cool band playing in Kaminwerk, the only regular live concert venue in Memmingen, we're usually there. Often we've also driven 35 km south to Kempten or some other nearby city for concerts. Through Sandra and her friends I've discovered a few artists which I hadn't even heard of before but liked immediately. Three I can recommend and have also seen live are Anyone's Daughter, Jamaram and Unheilig.

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