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Quest for a balance between work and free time

Posted: 2007-10-31 18:38:03, Categories: General, Work, 627 words (permalink)

A corner of the CSC building with the company logo in morning light. I have a job again. My employer is CSC, the same where I worked before my year on the road. The contents of my work is also similar to what it used to be. However, there is one important difference: my contract is for 80 hours per month. In other words, roughly half the hours, half the pay compared to full-time employment.

Work is divided unevenly in the society. Some people are frustrated about being unemployed and unable to find a job, while some others are spending virtually all their time working, stressed, living on the verge of burnout. The number of working hours per week tends to increase the higher one climbs up on the hierarchy ladder, or in some cases reaches a peak on the middle management level. It has long been preached that new technology, development and prosperity would make life easier and reduce the amount of work, but it doesn't seem to generally happen that way.

If work is really a passion and one truly wants to focus on it, working long hours is fine. But how often is that really the case? I've had the privilege to have jobs I've found interesting and even enjoyable, but I couldn't really call them passions or at least not something I'd want to invest all my time on. I have many parallel interests and find it difficult to stay fully focused on any single topic for a long time. I need a balance between different activities in order to continue liking each of them.

The proper balance varies between individuals, and less work than before but still some work sounded just right for me now. Committing to 80 hours per month I will be able to alternate flexibly between days in the office and days out, in average working about 2.5 days per week. Sometimes I'll probably work for a full week and then have a full week off. I will have more time for my Chinese language studies and volunteering in clubs and societies. I have a few projects in mind in that area, but I'm not setting any exact goals. If it happens that I just end up spending more time cycling, traveling, watching movies, surfing the net, going to parties and enjoying life, let it be so.

My main reason for going back to CSC were the people. Being surrounded by intelligent colleagues I can learn things not only related to work but about the world at large. The project I'm working on, large scale data storage in a grid environment using the dCache software, is interesting but I would have been able to find other good ones too. I considered for example working as a freelance journalist like I did during my student years, learning interesting topics and then writing articles about them. In the end, CSC won because I had got on well there before and they were willing to hire me even after listening to my slightly unusual requests.

I do realize that this is not the way to go towards a shining career and promotions to higher positions. However, that doesn't feel like the most important thing now. I'm currently not willing to commit into anything for a very long time, and wanted to be open about that: I signed up only until the end of April 2008. I need to be good in what I do and at the same time be happy about the job — the contract will be extended only if both parties want it.

It'll be interesting to observe for the next six months how I'll feel about this new arrangement and what kind of comments I'll hear from others around me. At least based on the first three weeks I think I've made the right choice again.

Meet me at Facebook

Posted: 2007-10-29 01:05:09, Categories: General, 103 words (permalink)

Except for hospitality exchange, I haven't been very active in the social networking websites on the net. However, I recently decided to join Facebook. I was curious about the popularity and appreciated the fact that people join it using their own name instead of using a nick as is common in many other similar networks.

After joining, I discovered that almost everybody from my somewhat Internet addicted circle of friends are already there. Many have also joined just recently, though. I'm going to hang around at least for a while to see if several million flies are right or wrong in this case.

Living library at the Helsinki book fair

Posted: 2007-10-27 14:32:04, Categories: General, Helsinki, 275 words (permalink)

Yesterday I went to the Helsinki book fair and tried the Living library (in Finnish, info in English). It's a wonderful idea, originating from Denmark: you borrow a "book" like you would in a library, only that in the living library the "book" is a person with whom you can then chat for a while. The people are representing various groups towards which there's a lot of prejudice in the society.

At the book fair the living library was organized by Seta ry, an organization promoting sexual equality and Finnish Youth Co-Operation Allianssi. One could borrow for example a gay, lesbian or a bisexual, a father or mother living with his gay/lesbian partner and kids, a house squatter, a nerd, a witch, a laestadian, a muslim, an environmental activist or a young right-wing party member. The sheets presenting the "books" listed various common assumptions about people belonging to the groups in question, and it was up to the reader to find out whether the "book" he/she borrowed represented those assumptions or not.

I think the living library is a brilliant way to promote equality, fight racism and bring out fresh ideas. It's a much lower step to chat with a lesbian in the living library than to go in a bar frequented by lesbians and talk to someone there. Similarly, a well-doing businessman might never dare to visit a squatted house but might still want to hear what a squatter thinks.

The book fair is still going on this Saturday and Sunday, but in case you miss it I'm sure there will be more opportunities to borrow a living book in the future.

Geishas, manga and anime

Posted: 2007-09-28 13:59:37, Categories: General, Finland, Hospitality exchange, Japan, Helsinki, Literature, Movies, 786 words (permalink)

Manga artist Keitaro Arima drawing a picture for fans. During August and September I again noted how Helsinki is full of festivals, concerts and other cultural events. I participated in quite a few, especially in events somehow related to Japan.

First there was a performance by three geishas from Kyoto, a promotional event by Finnair and the travel agency Ebookers who are increasing their frequency of flights to various Asian destinations. The traditional dances weren't anything new for me but the geishas also performed a rock, paper and scissors style game designed to entertain sake-drinking customers in the geisha houses. And of course virtually all of my old friends from various Japanese related societies in Finland were there. I compiled a small picture gallery of the event.

My longest trip in August and September was just a cruise to Stockholm, with a Japanese theme organized by the Japania ry society. I wrote a travel story with a few pictures (in Finnish) of the cruise too.

Shortly after the cruise I was asked if I could help the yearly Helsinki Comics Festival by hosting Keitaro Arima, a Japanese manga artist who was one of the main guests of the event. I didn't have to think twice, getting a rare opportunity to spend time with a person from the center of the manga culture (which is very popular in Japan), practising my Japanese and meeting several Finnish comics artists on the way.

It was a very nicely organized festival with a huge variety of interviews, shows and comics from all over the world, naturally emphasizing the Finnish scene. I especially liked that all the evening parties were open for everybody (with the exception of one dinner on Saturday), so one didn't need to be an insider to meet the artists and organizers also outside the daytime program of the festival. Manga fans were certainly happy with Keitaro Arima's signing session — he would not only give his signature but draw an individual picture for every fan in the queue. The session which was originally planned to last for an hour eventually became 3.5 hours.

Arima was staying in a hotel, but in Hospitality Club and CouchSurfing language hosting means offering a place to stay for someone. I've been quite active recently also in that, perhaps even a bit too active. I just counted that 21 people stayed at my place during the last two months. Almost half of them were cyclists and all the continents except Antartica were represented by at least one person. I didn't have a single bad experience and many of the guests were wonderful people, but too many is still too many. I think I'll have a break from hosting now, perhaps not completely closing my door but at least having less guests. It might happen naturally by simply getting less requests, as October and November are not the most popular months to travel in Finland for quite obvious reasons.

The latest chunk of Japanese culture I got in the Love and Anarchy film festival, which faithfully to its traditions featured a good selection of anime and non-animated Japanese films among other good movies from all around the world. I didn't see many movies during my year on the road so now it was a good time to catch up. Especially as the movie theatres in Helsinki are becoming more and more controlled by one single company which shows little else than the latest Hollywood blockbusters.

The animations Paprika and Tekkonkinkreet were both beautiful, although I didn't like the character drawing style in the latter too much. I didn't see yet Tales from Earthsea, the latest offering from Studio Ghibli, but it's one of the exceptions which will come to the mainstream theaters soon. Festival veteran Takashi Miike's this year's flick Like a Dragon was only mildly entertaining, Sakebi's Retribution was better but not exceptional. Same rating for Lost in Beijing by Ping Guo, the only Chinese film I went to see. Korea is producing more and more interesting movies, this year's good picks being Kim Ki Duk's Breath and Chan-Wook Park's I'm a Cyborg but That's Okay, which was a delighfully refreshing take on a difficult topic, my favorite this year. Año Uña was an interesting Brazilian experiment to do a film based on still photos, well done but still not really to my taste. The discussion with the director after the film added a nice personal touch into the viewing experience. Eastern Europe offered some of the darkest but well-done and realistic films this year, with the Cannes Golden Palm winner 4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days directed by Christian Mungiu from Romania and and The Trap by Srdjan Golubovic from Serbia. The Georgian-French joint production 13 Tzameti had the most stylistic black and white shooting.

Route planner for cycling in the Helsinki region

Posted: 2007-09-04 15:24:46, Categories: General, Finland, Helsinki, Cycling, 159 words (permalink)

I just noticed that in addition to the public transport route planner for Helsinki metropolitan region, there's now a similar service for cyclists at http://kevytliikenne.ytv.fi/.

The system knows about cycling paths through parks and forests too, so the suggested route is often a nice one, at least based on a few quick tests. The "print route" feature is well done, showing both an overview map and detailed maps for the route. Cool. :-)

Of course all cyclists in Helsinki should also get the free Helsinki Metropolitan Area Outdoor map (Ulkoilukartta in Finnish), available e.g. from Jugendsali, Pohjoisesplanadi 19. The city has also produced some suggested loop routes in the city center and in many suburbs, describing the history, buildings and other features of each area. I'll have to check out some of those routes myself. Most of them are only available in Finnish though. The cycling route planner mentioned above works also in Swedish and English.

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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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