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Happy Holidays

Posted: 2018-12-24 00:18:00, Categories: Travel, General, Work, Austria, Slovenia, Germany, Hiking, 757 words (permalink)

Sandra and I would like to wish you all a happy holiday season during the end of the year and all the best for the New Year 2019! Here's our traditional Season's greetings card. This year I've been lazy to write in the blog, so I'll use this opportunity to briefly look back on what we've been up to in 2018.

Making a hole in the ice at the Saimaa lake.
Making a hole in the ice at the Saimaa lake.
I spent a good part of the winter and spring in Helsinki, enjoying the city life as well as combining it with some IT work and other projects. Sandra stayed mostly at home in Germany but came to Finland for a couple of weeks in February and March. Together we spent a few winter days at my father's cottage by the lake Saimaa, cross-country skiing, having sauna and testing the new fireplace which was installed during the previous summer.

View over the roofs of the town Füssen.
View over the roofs of the town Füssen.
We both work part-time, which gives us quite a bit of flexibility in planning our schedules. Sandra is employed as a laboratory technician and I started in 2017 a new activity as a city guide in Füssen, the nearest town. That's a great opportunity to use my language skills and do a variety of different tours which I've enjoyed quite a lot. This year I wasn't employed at the Neuschwanstein Castle any more. It was a good experience and I could consider working there again in the future but two seasons was a good amount for now.

Classic mountain view on the Sadnig Höhenweg, Austrian Alps.
Classic mountain view on the Sadnig Höhenweg, Austrian Alps.
Our main holiday tour in the summer was a three and a half week hike over the Alps in July-August, starting from Lake Königssee in Germany and ending with a crossing of the Triglav National Park in Slovenia. We crossed the Alps on foot once before in 2010, but this was a quite different route. It was based on the route described in the hiking book Salzburg - Trieste by Christof Herrmann, but we adapted it according to weather and our preferences along the way.

One of the cute marmots we saw on the way.
One of the cute marmots we saw on the way.
The first part of our hike took us through the Berchtesgaden National Park, which is well known for its limestone rock formations. Then we continued over several mountain ranges in Austria, including parts of the Hohe Tauern National Park and the Kreuzeck Group. The Kreuzeck mountains turned out to be one of our favourite sections of the trip, with classic alpine views of rocky peaks, grassy fields, pittoresque lakes, small mountain huts and quite a few animals including marmots.

A capricorn in the Julian Alps.
A capricorn in the Julian Alps.
After Austria we walked shortly on Italian soil before entering Slovenia and the Julian Alps. There we had plenty of more limestone rock and the most demanding sections of our trip, not only because of the rough terrain but also because of the heat. The whole central Europe was experiencing a heat wave and although the temperatures up in 2000 meters of altitude were a bit cooler than in the valleys, it still got pretty hot both during the days and in the fully packed dormitories of the mountain huts at night.

Our highlights in the Julian Alps included sightings of majestic capricorns at close range and admiring the Edelweiss flowers blooming in large numbers. In most other parts of the Alps they've almost disappeared and we hadn't seen one for many years.

In addition to the walk over the Alps, we were quite a bit on the trails this year, including two nice hikes near Innsbruck. Our good friend Peter lives there, is often willing to join us in our outdoor activities and it's always a pleasure to visit him. On our last visit we also went together to a concert by Eivør, which we can definitely recommend!

Sandra showing some of the mushrooms we picked in Finland in September.
Sandra showing some of the mushrooms we picked in Finland in September.
Fireworks in Füssen on the New Years day, 2017.
Fireworks in Füssen on the New Years day, 2017.
In September we visited Finland again, which was a perfect timing for the mushroom season. We have never picked so many chantarelles, boletes and black trumpet mushrooms in two weeks. It was a challenge to conserve and bring even about half of the catch with us to Germany. One of our favourite dishes is potato dumplings with mushroom sauce, which we've been preparing quite often during the last few months.

This year we'll spend the Christmas Eve with the family of Sandra's old friends who live in a village about 30 km from us. They have two children and the grandparents will be joining as well, so it'll probably be the most traditional Christmas we'd had for years. For the New Year my parents and both of my brothers will come for a visit. We're looking forward to that, mostly we meet in Helsinki and my youngest brother Lari who lives in Canada we're anyway not seeing very often.

Beautiful memories of Germaine

Posted: 2017-04-04 21:36:00, Categories: General, 719 words (permalink)

Our lovely cat, Germaine.
Our lovely cat, Germaine.
Germaine in the kitchen with her funny curved tail.
Germaine in the kitchen with her funny curved tail.
Our beloved cat Germaine is not with us any more. At the age of 18,5 years, she took her last breath on our bed and passed into the world of spirits. This blog article is dedicated to her and all the joy she brought when she was living with us.

When we got Germaine in autumn 2013, she was shy at first. However, in a couple of months she got used to us and little by little also to our lifestyle of often having guests around. During the years the bond became stronger and she trusted us fully — seeking closeness and developing many funny habits.

Germaine and Arto cuddling.
Germaine and Arto cuddling.
Her favourite position to observe the kitchen.
Her favourite position to observe the kitchen.
Sleeping was one of Germaine's favourite activities and she always found new favourite spots to do that. During the day, she often lay on the cushions of our kitchen bench or higher on the countertop, where a small corner was reserved for her. In the night, she usually came and slept with us in our bed. In the beginning she stayed at the foot end, but during the last couple of years she strectched herself or formed a furry roll next to our heads, usually right in the middle between our pillows. Sometimes she even slept under Sandra's blanket, with just her head and front paws sticking out.

When awake, Germaine wanted to have the full attention. She miaowed loudly and vibrated her tail, asking either food or to be petted. Petting was rewarded by a funny "kurr" sound. She sat or lay down on top of the newspaper or on the laptop keyboard, showing who was more important. She didn't mind being touched anywhere in her body, for example scratching under the belly just resulted in more "kurrs" and her walking in a loop around our feet. We could lift her up from the floor and hold her on our arms, cuddling and looking at her directly in the eyes.

You can stop using the computer, I am here!
You can stop using the computer, I am here!
Germaine has just finished a meal.
Germaine has just finished a meal.
The eating habits of Germaine were special. She categorically refused all dry food and preferred canned products instead. If she didn't happen to like a particular one, she either started licking plastic bags or simply miaowed more, knowing that sooner or later we will open another can. When we had found the suitable flavour for her mood, she started grabbing the pieces in her mouth and chewing while simultaneously moving her head, spreading half of the food around the plate in the process. She didn't hurry, often eating just a bit, walking around and coming back several times to have a few more bites. Her absolute favourites were grilled chicken, fatty fish and a piece of butter in the morning or every time we were sitting at the table. She really loved butter.

Germaine happy in Sandra's arms.
Germaine happy in Sandra's arms.
One of the funniest habits of Germaine was to jump on the kitchen chair and stand up with her front paws on the back rest. That was one of her favourite positions to watch what was going on in the kitchen and to be petted in. She answered our gentle strokes with the usual "kurr" and scratching her head against the side. Some other Germaine's habits which we fondly remember were

  • Following Arto inside the flat when he was walking from room to room
  • Going for a small excursion in the house corridor when the door was left open. She walked until the main staircase and sniffled around, before turning and trotting back to our flat.
  • Smelling the fresh air on the balcony, before deciding it's too cold and quickly coming back inside
  • Taking a peek inside the fridge every time we opened it
  • Coming to our laps when we were eating, jumping from there to the kitchen bench and back again
  • Walking on the tile floor at night, making a small tic-tic-tic sound with her claws which were slightly too long
  • Jumping on the bed and climbing to her place over us, carefully avoiding to step on our faces.

Sandra preparing to sleep, Germaine sleeps already.
Sandra preparing to sleep, Germaine sleeps already.
Germaine sleeping next to Arto.
Germaine sleeping next to Arto.
Germaine had a few health problems, but generally she was quite fit for her age. Finding catsitters during our holidays was sometimes complicated, but eventually it worked out every time. We believe that she had a good and happy life with us. She was a one-of-a-kind cat and we loved her very much. She will always stay in our hearts and in our memories.

Germaine sleeping under Sandra's blanket.
Germaine sleeping under Sandra's blanket.

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.

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Copyright Arto Teräs <ajt@iki.fi>, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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