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The half time work experiment

Posted: 2008-06-14 21:04:16, Categories: General, Work, 684 words (permalink)

A corner of the CSC building with the company logo in morning light. Eight months ago, I made a contract for working 80 hours per month at CSC. Back then, I signed up until April 2008, and it was extended by one month because the project I worked on had an important testing phase in May. Now I'm off again to enjoy the summer and it's time to review how everything worked out. In short, it has been a good experiment.

My working hours varied between 49 and 105 per month, the average being 82. There was occasionally an urgent task to finish or a problem to fix, but never too much pressure or stress. I was able to put a little bit of effort into a couple of side projects while focusing more than 80% of the hours on my main task, setting up the Finnish part of data storage for the CERN LHC particle accelerator. It has been exciting to have a tiny role in one of the largest projects ever undertaken by humans. The real test will come when the accelerator will start in August, but the data storage installation project reached its goals with positive feedback, so I'd call it a success. A big thanks for that goes of course to my colleagues who did their parts of the job competently and were great to work with.

I generally went to the workplace on Mondays and Thursdays and more randomly on other days, in particular skipping most Fridays. Whenever I had activities in the clubs I belong to or just didn't feel like working, I could cut those days short or stay out of the office. Compared to my previous full time employment, I'd say the hours I spent at work were more efficient. While working half time I probably got about 60% of the work done compared to being a full timer. On the other hand, further cutting down the number of hours per month would have probably lowered efficiency again, because there is always some overhead due to meetings, company events, emails and administrative work.

On the hobbies side, I had time for more or less what I planned to do in Finnish Linux User Group: no major new projects but at least helping to get the group back in life after a couple of problematic years. I also continued going to Chinese lessons, although I didn't progress too much. If I really want to learn to communicate in Chinese I'll have to go to China or at least put much more effort in studying it than I've done now.

In Japania ry, a Finnish-Japanese friendship society, I didn't get done nearly as much as I wanted, so most of the things which would need my computer skills are still hanging in the same state they were 8 months ago. A few more personal projects I had in mind also didn't progress at all which annoys me a bit. However, most importantly, I had time to go out with friends, enjoy concerts and parties, read a few books, relax and get enough sleep. April and May were a bit on the busy side, but overall it has certainly been more balanced than a few years ago when I tried to do all the same while being employed full time.

Compared to life before my one year on the road, surprisingly little changed. Same employer, mostly same hobbies, only taking a bit more time through a non-standard work contract. However, that was an important difference. It was like being inside the rat race but looking around and observing instead of rushing full speed to win the race. I could compare the situation before, during and after my year out. There were some interesting discussions with colleagues and friends which would have never taken place had I stayed away for good.

As I wrote in the beginning, I'm again without a job following my own decision not to extend the fixed term contract. This time the leave is less about desire to travel and see the world, although I plan to do a bit of that too. It's more like a step out of the routine leaving room for new ideas.

Small hitchhiking adventures

Posted: 2008-05-23 14:53:05, Categories: Travel, Finland, Hospitality exchange, Hitchhiking, 853 words (permalink)

Vlad playing in Hämeenlinna with his marionette. The first weekend of May I traveled to Hämeenlinna and Riihimäki — both less than 100 km away from where I live. I met a Russian marionette artist, a Peruvian musician and a group of Finnish rock fans. They all picked me up from the roadside.

Still a few years ago it didn't cross my mind to hitchhike. My traveling style was fairly modest, but I always had enough money for the bus or train ticket. So I didn't have to waste time standing by the dusty roadside and rely on luck in getting to my destinations. I hitched a couple of short rides in places where there was no public transport, but that was it.

When I joined the hospitality exchange networks, one of the side effects was that I started meeting hitchhikers. I hosted a few and listened to others in story telling circles during meetings. It was clear that there was more to them in hitchhiking than saving money. It was a way to meet interesting people and to leave room for surprises to happen. I had already decided that I'd try some day, and then one of my guests, a Russian girl called Julia, invited me to hitchhike with her to Hämeenlinna.

I live only 1 km away from where the highway starts, so it was just a short walk to the best spot. In about two minutes an old van with Russian plates stopped and the driver waved us to hop in. His name was Vlad, a musician and marionette artist who had lived for the last 20 years wandering around Europe, performing on the streets and entertaining children in kindergartens. Vlad was just on his way to Hämeenlinna to play on the main square - what a happy coincidence!

So we got a ride to Hämeenlinna in good company, I spent a nice sunny afternoon walking around with Julia, and of course we saw Vlad's performance too. There weren't too many spectators as it was the official hangover day after Vappu (as Vlad put it), but at least he got two more by picking us up. Then we each went our own ways, me taking a bus back to Helsinki because I wanted to be here in time to welcome Tuula, a good friend of mine who was coming for a visit.

Tuula got an idea the next day that we should go and have barbeque and sauna with Jukka, a common friend of ours. Well, Jukka lives in Riihimäki about 70 km from Helsinki so we filled our backpacks with food and walked to the same spot at the beginning of the highway. Again in less than 10 minutes a van stopped. Our driver was a Peruvian musician from the Amerinca group which I had seen several times in Helsinki. I even bought their cd a few years ago. He lived just a few kilometers away from where I and Tuula were going so we got a ride almost to Jukka's doorstep, much closer than a train or bus would have taken us, and got a small insight into the life of a Peruvian-Finnish family on the way.

We spent a relaxed barbeque and sauna evening and slept at Jukka's place. It's funny how hospitality exchange changes habits: we laughed with Tuula on the way that when she called him she didn't even ask if we were welcome to stay overnight. Of course we were. :) In fact Jukka seemed to be more than happy to have us there to cook and chat with.

Next day Tuula hitched back north towards her home and I back to Helsinki. Standing by the highway is forbidden so we chose a spot near one of the exits. Fastest way to get a ride would probably have been to go to the nearby gas station and start asking who would be going to the directions we wanted. However, Tuula said she feels more comfortable not to ask but rather wait for drivers who stop and pick hitchhikers up from free will, and I fully agreed.

This time we had to wait for about half an hour, but then got rides right after each other. Tuula traveled with someone returning from an enduro race, and I got picked up by four Finnish rock fans who were cruising back from a party in Tampere previous night. They had black clothes, big tattoos, funky hairstyles and a 1960's black Chevrolet with a Kajaani Hot Rod Club sticker attached to the rear window. It was a loud ride, I can still remember the sound of the engine at 100 km/h, windows open. With my light blue jacket and hiking backpack I didn't exactly blend in the group — but hey, these people were cool with it.

I recently read an essay by Kevin Kelly titled The Universe Is Conspiring to Help Us, which I liked a lot. It's about the art of receiving, of which hitchhiking is one example. I suggest you to scroll down the page and read also the full version of the essay (direct link), which I find better than the abridged one.

Spring holiday in France

Posted: 2008-04-30 16:50:34, Categories: Travel, Hospitality exchange, France, 514 words (permalink)

Walking in a city park in Besancon, France. Kamei and Maki, two Japanese friends of mine, came for a 12 day vacation in Europe. We spent a few days in Finland, did a short trip over the bay to Tallinn and then traveled to France together. First time in years I was on a classic holiday trip, including odd things such as hotel reservations and pre-booked transport tickets.

For Kamei and Maki the trip was to experience Europe. For me, the main themes were enjoying food and meeting old friends from the time I spent an exchange year in Lyon. With Kamei I had tried the best food I ever had in Japan, and relaxed meals in atmospheric small bistros are one the best things France has to offer. During the slow dinners I also had the best discussions and felt being on the same frequency with my friends. Perhaps a couple of glasses of wine helped, too.

Sightseeing was naturally part of the trip. I did enjoy it, but it wasn't very important, pretty much as I expected. The best parts were views from hills in the countryside of Eastern France, where one of my friends now lives and hosted us for a couple of days. He and his wife are also building a very interesting ecological house. In Paris, I visited first time the Centre Pompidou and was impressed by some of the modern art pieces there. Still more than that, I liked wandering in the streets of Montmartre and riding around on a city bike (Paris has a city bike network nowadays!) which I did while my friends went shopping.

After Kamei and Maki left, I CouchSurfed for one night in the eastern parts of the 18th district of Paris. I immediately liked the area: a lively mix of different ethnic groups, old buildings which were not too classy but still in good condition, and friendly small bars. As my hosts explained, it remained one of the neighbourhoods where people continue to go out in local hangouts and get to know each other. We even got invited to a flat party after simply chatting for a while with other customers in the table beside us.

The last day and night I spent at another friend's place in Noisy-le-Grand, an Eastern suburb of Paris. That had a quite different feel from the more central areas. Buildings were architecturally interesting and looked quite nice from the distance, but they were too big and rather poorly maintained. There were no small shops in the bottom floors which would contribute to the atmosphere: smell of fresh croissants, fruit salesmen, couples discussing over a cup of coffee, perhaps artists showing their works. No, a hike or drive to the nearby mall was the only option. Curiously, even very few kids were playing outside. Overall, a completely different way of planning the area, which felt kind of distant and somehow alien to the French way of life. Naturally, that didn't prevent me from having wonderful time with my friend and his kind and hospitable family — after all, to meet them was what I traveled there for.

Ice sauna and snow meeting

Posted: 2008-03-25 01:31:35, Categories: Travel, Finland, Hospitality exchange, 538 words (permalink)

The ice sauna at night. A message was out, inviting people to play with snow and to build an ice sauna. The people behind the invitation were Philippe, a Canadian mathematician who had settled down in Finnish Lapland some years ago, and his Finnish girlfriend Kirsi. Wow, that was something not to miss. :) Read on, or go directly to the photo gallery on Phil's site.

The meeting was held at Phil's home in Torvinen, a village about 80 km north of the Arctic Circle and about 30 km south of Sodankylä. Three French and a Belgian guy had already arrived a couple of days earlier and helped to cut some seven tons of ice from a nearby lake, using a chainsaw and Phil's Land Cruiser. The ice was chopped to about 50 kg (35x35x40cm) blocks which could be lifted without a winch or other heavy tools.

The ice blocks were then used to build a round shaped small room, leaving a small entrance on one side. Between the blocks we put snow sprinkled with water which worked as glue in the -15°C temperature. Two seats inside and the roof were made out of wood. A sauna stove was installed in the middle.

We were 16 people in total so not everybody could be building the sauna at the same time. In the kitchen Kirsi together with guests baked and cooked Lappish bread, Carelian pies, salmon soup, apple pie with vanilla sauce and other tasty food with enough butter and fat to maintain human energy and good mood.

On Saturday sun shined beautifully and most people went out skiing, snowshoeing or ice fishing. I climbed on top of the Luosto fell with two friends. The small trees carrying a thick snow cover were simply beautiful. This year we've had very little snow in Helsinki, but even during a normal winter there's rarely anything similar in Southern Finland. Only in Lapland and other arctic areas, where the wind blows hard across vast open spaces, does the snow get packed in fascinating shapes like that. See page 5 and page 6 of the photo gallery.

How about the sauna, did it work? Well, not perfectly but at least the temperature was above zero. :) The stove was a bit too small and the wood we used for heating were waste pieces with low energy content. When the stones on the stove were finally hot, it was 2:30 am and most people were already sleeping. I had decided to test my sleeping bag outside and didn't want to get wet just before going to sleep under the stars. So only two people got naked, went in the sauna, poured a lot of water on the stones to get as much steam as possible, and had fun.

The following day some improvements were made and more people tried the special sauna experience. I was already on the way back towards the south with a few fellow travelers by then, but we had a nice sauna evening in Riihimäki. Now I also know that if I put my two sleeping bags inside each other and wear some woollen underwear, a fleece and a face mask I can sleep outside in about -30°C — there's no need to buy a separate winter sleeping bag.

Public demonstration against Internet censorship

Posted: 2008-03-06 17:48:05, Categories: General, Finland, Helsinki, Politics, 153 words (permalink)

People demonstrating against Finnish Internet censorship in Helsinki. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Internet censorship in Finland. On Tuesday March 4th there was a public demonstration against the censorship law. I was there in front of the parliament house with about 500 other demonstrators.

Lack of interest from the parliament members was rather disappointing. Out of the three big political parties only one (Kokoomus) was represented, with SDP and Keskusta not having sent any representative to hear what we had to say. A few representatives from smaller parties were there, but most of them still didn't seem to understand what the whole thing is about.

Luckily, the journalist who wrote the article about the demonstration in Helsingin Sanomat, the biggest daily newspaper, did get the point. The article is not available online free of charge, but if you can read Finnish and have access to the March 5, 2008 issue of Helsingin Sanomat, check out page A-5. That gives some hope.

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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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