Petri Wessman's weblog

Back in from the cold

We’re back, more or less in one piece. Was a great trip; even though I was initially a bit sceptical of the idea of camping in subzero temperatures for a week, it turned out to be very cool (pun intended). Nice physical workout too – even though our daily distances weren’t much worth mentioning, the act of skiing with a backpack on your back is work in of itself. It was a strange and somewhat alien feeling to find out that you can both survive and be quite comfortable while camping out on an icy plain, in temperatures that would kill an unprotected person fast. As long as you have proper equipement and know what to do, you don’t have a problem.

In total, we slept 4 nights out in the wilderness in a tent and 2 in wilderness huts. The first “hut stop” wasn’t an intended one; we originally intended just to stop there for lunch and then soldier on, but then Janka’s ski binding suddenly broke (in a non-fixable fashion) and our stay became an overnighter. The hut (which thankfully was close by at that point) was out of GSM range, so we sent a written note back to Kilpisjärvi via some snowmobile-equipped visitors and hoped for the best. Lo and behold, the next morning the Border Guard guys came along and dropped off a pair of skis plus ski boots, obtained from the Kilpisjärvi Travel Center (Retkeilykeskus). Wow, that’s both “my tax dollars at work” and damn good service. A huge thanks to both parties, and also to the couple who carried our note back.

Things I learned:

  • winter/arctic camping is actually quite fun, assuming you have good gear and good company
  • despite what some claim, for a beginner it’s not easier to ski with a backpack as compared to a pull-along sled (“ahkio”, in Finnish). The weight of the backpack made ski control a lot more tricky than it needed to be, and during difficult descents my legs tired very fast – and the backpack wasn’t even that heavy, 18kg or so.
  • always remember to check camera lens for dirt after each day of shooting. Didn’t do it this time, and as a result I have a lot of nasty splotches in the raw “footage” that ends up consuming a lot of post-processing time.
  • even though it’s not a pro body, our trusty Canon 20d performs well in subzero extended stays, too. A week in arctic temperatures and 300+ pictures: no problems, and no need to swap batteries. Impressive.
  • next time I’ll take along an extra pair of “technical” long underwear. Even though I did ok with just one, baing able to switch to a clean set halfway through would have increased my comfort level.
  • wool-padded winter (rubber) boots plus thick wool socks rock for camp footwear.
  • next time I’ll probably want to have my own set of skis, preferably with some (small) telemark-suitable site cuts. The borrowed set I had along now performed fine, so this is more of a “tweak” than anything else.
  • The Kilpisjärvi area of Lapland has pretty awesome scenery.

All things considered, a huge success (cue “Portal song” here). Even though I guess it goes into the “extreme camping” category, the trip felt like a wonderful vacation and I feel mucho relaxed now. Seeing how we were all already talking about “next time” after the trip, I think everyone felt pretty much the same way.

The weather was (mostly) fantastic. Almost too hot in the beginning, it dropped to a wonderful “few degrees below zero” for the rest of the week. The coldest temperature we recorded was -16C one night just before crawling into the tent to sleep. That started to be a bit on the chilly side, but not too bad. The final day was very windy, and our last few kilometers of travel were done in the middle of a honest snow storm; visibility in the 20m department and wind howling. Fun at that point, but would have been a lot less fun further out in the field.

Huge thanks to Timo for both the initial idea and for being the “winter camping expert” of the expedition – and for being a great field chef, as always. Our pizza and lasagne (made in a camp cooker oven thingy) in the middle of the wilderness raised more than a few eyebrows and got us some envy points.

I’m still working of doing post-processing for the pictures, but a small selection from the first 3 days is available now. I took a lot of handheld HDR pictures, using the 20d’s auto-bracket feature (+/-2 EV). Some pretty nice results, though the dirt on the lens I mentioned forced me to do a lot of post-proc work – and some of those still need more tweaking later on, you can still see artifacts here and there that I want to clean away at some point. Still, for handheld HDRs I though some of the results were quite acceptable.

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Summer scheduling

Looks like I need to start scheduling my summer right about now, a lot of things need decisions round this time. For example, I just heard that The National are coming to Ankkarock… and of course Ropecon is on the same weekend. Gah. I really want to see The National, they were one of the best “new finds” of last year for me. Good news is that they are performing on Sunday. I’ll probably be able to combo the con Sunday with a rock festival. Somehow. It might involve beer.

In addition, a friend’s paintball weekend thingy lands on top of Provinssirock. Probably choosing the paintball there… sure, it would be nice to see Placebo (again) and Nick Cave, but now that (another) friend no longer lives nearby that would be a pretty expensive trip – I think I’ll opt for the cheaper “run in the woods and get shot” option. Oh, and of course there’s a KMFDM club gig on that same weekend. Already have tickets for that, but not yet sure how I’ll combo everything.

Oh, and we’re planning of maybe visiting Iceland in August, and continuing from there to Burning Man (once again!). Still in the planning stages, but that one will eat up both our vacation time and a chunk of cash. Why Iceland? Because we can. And because it should be less horribly expensive now, due to their financial crash. Sucks for them, good for us.

Having fun takes work, I tell you.

Off to the frozen wastes, ho!

A hiking & wilderness -expert friend made a suggestion somewhat along the lines of “let’s take a week off over Easter and go ski-hiking in Lapland in the snow! It’ll be fun!”, and Janka & I replied with “sure, why not” (in the grip of some dementia, no doubt). I have some amount of hiking and outdoors experience (and gear), but the last time I tried skis was… 20 years ago or so, and I’ve never been on an extended winter outdoors trip. Janka has, but said she’s never liked it before. So why go? Who knows. It might be fun, this time. We’ll see.

So anyway, in a few weeks time we’ll be packing a ton of winter gear on the train and heading towards Kilpisjärvi (almost as far North as you can get in Finland). The plan is to spend about 6 days out in the snow, sleeping in a tent (or an igloo if the snow is suitable and we feel like it). It might be really cool. It might be miserable. At least it shouldn’t be boring.

I still need to locate some warm mittens for myself, and some extra warm footgear for the non-ski times. The good point here is that due to the time of year, we’ve been able to get lots of good gear really cheap from all the “X% off!” sales. I found a brand-new ski coverall (also suitable for snowboard use) for 20e. Not complaining.

If we don’t come back, send out the huskies. We’ll try to survive by eating lichen and the occasional stray raindeer.

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Minireview: Sons of the Profits, by William Speidel

While touring the Pacific Northwest during our honeymoon some years back, we stopped by Seattle. Now, I have no idea why some people tend to diss the place, I kind of like Seattle myself. Sure, the weather is… temperamental and it does rain a lot – but so what. Anyway, we went to check out the Seattle Underground Tour, which proved to be a lot of fun. Due to the way the place was built (and due to various natural disasters), the old sections of the town have multiple layers, with the current buildings having been built on top of older ones – and the tour goes in and out of old cellars, some of which used to be streets. I found it very interesting – though, as some drunk has commented, “I have no idea why these folks come here to root through our dirty cellars”. Like most tours, it ended up at a gift shop, where among other things they had a book on sale on the history of the city, written by the founder of the “underground tour” thing. Bought a copy.

Sons of the Profits (subtitled “There’s No Business Like Grow Business – the Seattle Story 1851-1901”) does what it says on the tin. Focused mainly on economics and business ventures (some more sane than others), it outlines how greed and the race after the allmighty “profit” created the city and made it one of the bigger cities in the Northwest. Here “greed” isn’t seen as a bad thing as such, more as a defining characteristic of the “founding fathers” of the city. It’s an entertaining tale, especially the beginning parts, and told in a folksy tone as if everyone were sitting in the living room after a good meal, and some old guy was telling stories from his younger days. It works pretty well, most of the time. Towards the end the book gets bogged down in a lot of (to me) less interesting moneytary details, but parts of all that (especially the fights with and amongst the “railroad barons”) is interesting.

A fun look at Seattle local history, and gets bonus points for not painting the “city fathers” in an undeservedly favorable light. Some are called “bastards”, quite unashamedly, while some others are praised while not forgetting their less glorious moments. It seems quite even-handed, though of course it’s impossible to know for sure.

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Back from the EC

We’re back. Not much luck gamewise and caught a nasty flu on the road, but otherwise a great trip. Prague was nice but very touristy and starting to be pretty expensive.

Thursday: we fly in around noon, and manage to get to the hotel eventually. The hotel (Hotel Dum) proves to be a soviet-style 19-floor concrete monster of a building way in the outskirts of town. Not a dump, though, and well suited to running the EC. Us Finns quickly christened the place “Khobar Towers” after a VTES card (which was in turn named after a Saudi apartment block which got hit by a bomb in the 1980s). Some of our hosts (Karel, Martin & Martina, thanks once again guys!) have organized a city tour for us, so off we go. Prague proves to be a very pretty city absolutely crawling with tourists; we wend our way through the crowds and see the sights. The tour ends at a cellar pub where the EC welcome party is held, and the rest of the evening is spent in the company of lots of people, beer and some pickup games. Back to the hotel via metro + bus sometime before midnight.

Friday: up sometime before 9am, and then off to see if breakfast will help fight hangover. It helps, but not totally. EC registration is next. I decide to play with my Settite + Baali Mute voter – it’s not my strongest deck, but I’m already qualified so I decide to give it a try. Tuukka decides to go hardcore and shaves off most of his hair and gets into costume as a Nosferatu, eliciting lots of “wow!” comments. The rest of the day goes to playing in the Last Chance qualifiers, and my deck nets a round zero VPs – it’s not that it’s a bad deck, but it’s just too unreliable and slow in its current form. In one game I get back-ousted by Robyn, because she (quite correctly) sees me as a danger for her. All three(!) games feature Alamut on the table, a card that my current deck can’t easily handle. After the games someone (don’t remember who, sorry) suggested looking into New Management, which I thought was a great idea; lots of cards that are a danger to that deck (Ventrue HQ, Alamut, etc) can be stolen with that. Fun games, in any case, and I got some good ideas for improving my deck. I think the basic idea is sound, but making it flow properly and be dependable is a challenge. The rest of the evening goes in pickup games, with lots of usage of the friendly hotel beer tap (pint of beer for about one euro). Got to bed at around 2.30am or so.

Saturday: up again at around 9am, feeling both sleep-deprived and a bit fluish. Breakfast helps a bit, and then there’s time to rest for a while in the hotel room before the EC Day 1 tournament begins. This time I’m playing my best deck, a Toreador-antitribu + Daughters tap & bleed thing which uses Art’s Traumatic Essence a lot. Things go a bit better this time around, but only a bit – the day nets me a total of 1.5 VPs. Both of the first games were pretty tight, but in the last one I’m ousted in half an hour by a fast !Malk Kindred Spirits bleeder, did not draw into much bounce at all and that was that. The deck still needs some tweaking, maybe a bit more bleed power and definitely some more defense (bounce). Teemu also (later) suggested looking into using Blind Spot instead of Misdirection, which sounds like a good idea (though the requirement for the target to be younger or an ally may be a problem). This is one more deck that I’ll continue to try to tweak, the basic form is quite sound but it needs tweaking to make it more robust. Again some pickup games, but by evening I feel a bit too much flu coming on and I retire to sleep sometime around 1am.

Sunday: last day of the EC, and this time I wake to a full fever plus the flu. Fun fun. I borrow some tabs from Antti, and after that “better life through chemistry” operation I stagger downstairs for breakfast. The chemicals plus food helps a bit, and I decide I’m not too sick to play. The side tournament has been switched from the initially-planned team format to a normal constructed, which is declared to be the first qualifier for 2009 (lots of cheers when that was announced). I decide to use my Osebo intercept toolbox – it’s not my strongest deck, but at least it has combat and intercept, and I figure it can’t suck any worse than my other decks. Well, that proves to be correct – despite a first game in which things looked very bright for a while (and which featured four Laibon decks!) I net a grand total of one VP for the whole day. Oh well. Kudos to the Hungarian player who gave me a chance to grab a second VP just because I had helper him earlier; the attempt failed because I didn’t draw into either my Dragonbound or more bleed, but the gesture was appreciated. After the games I went to watch Taija play in the finals (of the First Chance), and then talked to various people (Robyn, LSJ, etc) before they retired to prep for their morning departure. All in all, a fun EC and I didn’t encounter any unpleasant tables or players. Maybe next year I’ll actually score better. Maybe not. We’ll see. Before we retired we grabbed some extra beer from some friendly Icelanders (thanks!) and went to play some more casual games. Sometime in the morning hours it was sleepy time once again.

Monday: most of the other Finns, and most of the other EC players in general, left in the morning. After saying our goodbyes to them, we headed towards the city, on a mission: to find ourselves a hotel room for the last night. The EC hotel was booked full, and despite our trying they had not been able (or willing) to pre-book us a room for an extra night. So off we went. Our first try at a hostel used by some other Finns got us a “ask us tomorrow” answer, so aided by advice from Lonely Planet we headed to the train station to talk to a tourist agency. That proved to be a good plan, the very friendly lady there got us a really nice hotel room in Mala Strana, within walking distance of Prague Castle. After this was done, it was time for some tourist stuff: a visit to the Mucha museum, and then some general shopping and walking about. I was feeling pretty crappy, to be honest: a combination of fever (kept sort-of in check with chemicals), sleep deprivation and beer kept me in a weird, muzzy floating state of mind. An ok day, but I was pretty wiped out when we got back to the hotel. That evening we managed to play one more pickup game with a Spanish player who (like us) was still staying at the hotel.

Tuesday: a great day, especially since my fever was gone (though I was still a bit down with the flu) and the sun was shining. We check out of Khobar Towers and make our way to Mala Strana and our new hotel. When we get there we hear that we’ll have to wait till 2pm to get our room, so we leave our bags at the hotel and head for the castle. We arrive eventually, after taking a “short-cut” that was anything but. The castle was pretty cool, though I wouldn’t rate it a must-see. The church glass paintings were quite impressive, and the whole place was worth seeing – especially since the weather was nice, and the view across the city was appropriately scenic. Back to the hotel and check in, our room proves to be really nice – the difference between this and hotel Dum, both “three star” hotels, is pretty extreme. We take in lunch at a nearby pub/restaurant which provides me with the best food I’ve had so far in Prague, a truly excellent stroganof with a side dish of green beans, bacon and garlic. Yum. With that and some good dark beer under our belts, be stagger towards the center. Janne wants to visit the Mucha museum gift shop again for a poster, and then we go see a Jan Saudek gallery – I had almost forgotten that Saudek is Czech, suddenly seeing his name on a sign made me go “hey, I must go see that!”. The show is nice, and I manage to buy two high-quality poster prints from the gift shop, yay! Saudek is a long-time favorite of mine, I really like his work. Back to the hotel, stopping for some dessert and some more beer on the way, and then it’s time to get a proper night’s sleep for once.

Wednesday: after a very classy hotel breakfast (borsch soup! different types of coffee! stuff! more stuff!) it time to catch the morning flight back home. We get to the airport via public transport without problems and the flight is one time. Pretty exhausted by the time I actually get home; it’s a hot day, I’m carrying a ton of stuff, and the flu is still wearing me down. Good to be home. The cats and wife muchly agree.

Some pics from the EC (by Petr Tarcinec) can be found here.

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Computer kablooey, flee to Prague!

Fortunately I’ve done PC upgrades often enough to expect trouble automatically, so when I upgraded my home computer with a new motherboard, new memory and a new graphics card I wasn’t expecting a smooth ride. The cause for the upgrade was my desire for more gaming graphics power, and since my old mobo had AGP/DDR connections this seemed like a good time to also upgrade to a modern PCIe/DDR2 motherboard. So I did.

Installation went fine mechanically, though my microATX case is a bit cramped. Still, everything fit after some tweaking. When I booted up to Win XP I got what I was halfway expecting: a boot failure, due to the changed chipset etc (boot gets going, then stops and the thing reboots). So I’ll need to try and repair the rig with a Windows XP install disk in repair mode, fair enough – and if all else fails I have backups of the important stuff and can always do a clean reinstall.

Next up, boot to Linux. That failed too, complaining about failure to detect (SATA) disk. After some cursing (I was sure I had remembered to compile in the needed drivers), I discovered that the BIOS defaults to non-native SATA mode for backwards compatibility reasons. Duh. After fixing that, Linux booted fine to text mode. Hooray! X11 didn’t start up, but that was to be expected.

The next day I tried to get X to work, and finally had to revert to the base “vesa” driver – the current incarnation of the Gentoo “ati” and/or “radeonhd” drivers don’t support the 4850HD yet, and the ATI binary drivers aren’t compatible with the recently-released xorg 1.5.0 I’m running. Oh well, at least I get X/KDE via the vesa driver, it’s not like I need accelerated graphics in Linux much anyway right now.

Whle I was doing this the machine froze up a few times, which started to worry me. So I did the first thing I always do when random freezes happen: I fired up memtest86+. Lo and behold, it started showing red “memory fail” results almost at once. I tried with the memory in different slots, and with different memory timings. No go. In the end I had to concude that the memory was just plain bad. That, or there’s some wierd incompatibility with my new motherboard which should support DDR2 800 dual channel according to specs.

…so today it was back to Verkkokauppa. After explaining the situation I got a refund on the memory and grabbed a replacement 2GB from the store – this time “plain basic” DD2 667, in case it’s some motherboard bug with the 800’s or something. Tonight, if I have time, I’ll try things out again.

“If I have time” because my flight to Prague for the VTES EC tournament leaves pretty early tomorrow morning and I still have a ton of prep plus packing to do for that. Looking forward to the trip; I have three more or less tournament-ready decks with me and intend to quickly put together a few more decks for casual play. Never been to Prague before, I’m told it’s a great city though I hear varying opinions about how expensive it is nowadays. I guess it can’t be too bad since I’m coming from Helsinki, one of the most expensive cities in the world at the moment. Hell, even Paris didn’t seem bad in comparison.

Back from Paris

Ok, that was a nice trip. Paris was very pleasant, and (unlike the stereotype) the locals were nice and friendly. Our hotel was well-situated near Bastille, and there were tons of nice small restaurants within walking distance. We did most of the “must see/do” stuff; went to Notre Dame and climbed into the belltower, clambered through the Catacombs, wandered in the Louvre, visited Versailles, checked out the Père Lachaise Cemetery and the tombs of Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison… stuff like that. The weather was mostly fine; it rained on Friday but we spent most of that day in the Louvre anyway.

Things have changed, languagewise. When I was there last, as a small kid traveling with my family some 30 years ago, I don’t remember all that many people speaking English. Now, even though I got by surprisingly often on my extremely basic-level French without having to revert to English, every time I did ask “do you speak English?” (in French, of course), the answer was “yes”. I suppose this only holds true in the Paris region, and mostly for the younger folk, but still… the city is nowhere near as hostile to non-French-speaking visitors as I was afraid it would be. Most everyone was very nice to us. I’m not sure if the fact that I at least tried to use French as much as possible had anything to do with that, but anyway…

The city remains beautiful, as much as a big city can be that. Lots of old buildings, small crooked streets, etc.

I’m glad we went. Even though it was just a short trip, I felt like I had been away for a much longer time and it felt like a real vacation. In addition, it was also our wedding anniversary, so Paris was quite suitably romantic. :)

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Back in the default world

Boys, now the times are changing
The going could get rough
Boys, would that ever cross your mind?
Boys, are you contemplating moving out somewhere?
Boys, will you ever find the time?

Here we are stranded
Somehow it seems the same
Beware, here comes the quiet life again

– Japan, “Quiet Life”

We’re back. Actually, we landed on Saturday evening, with myself feeling like a stranger in a strange land. I guess it’s a sign that the trip was a good one, I feel like I’ve been gone much longer than the 2,5 weeks. Playa time.

Jetlag struck back on Sunday, we woke at 3.30pm thinking it was morning. Heh. I’m now more or less back in the normal Finnish sleep-wake cycle, and actually doing some of this “work” thing again. Strange stuff.

Burning Man was the same as ever, and also different. I guess that’s one of the points of the thing, and one that people complaining that “it’s not like it was in the early days!” tend to miss. Our camp was fun, and we met some new wonderful people and met up with some old friends (some in a really serendipitous manner).

I’ll write more about the trip later. I also have a ton of pictures, which I’ll publish when I process them – that’ll take a while, though.

I think it’ll be quiet life for us for some while now, if for no other reason than that our credit cards are feeling the strain of all this travel (and other things). Quiet life good, in moderation.

On the other hand…

As a quick side note: the “post-release” tournament for the new VTES expansion, “Lords of the Night”, will be held on Sunday Sept 30th (12:00, Fantsu). I’ll add info about it on the VTES page, also ,soonish.

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Leaving normal, again

Looks like the EC report and the Ropecon report will have to wait, I’m out of time and mentally already out on the Playa.

Off the grid, out of the rat race.

Plane leaves tomorrow morning, wakeup is around 5am. Tomorrow San Francisco, Monday Burning Man. Back in 2,5 weeks.

The wind in my heart
The wind in my heart
The dust in my head
The dust in my head

– Talking Heads, “Listening Wind”

Man I’m losing sound and sight
Of all those who can tell me wrong from right
When all things beautiful and bright
Sink in the night
Yet theres still something in my heart
That can find a way
To make a start
To turn up the signal
Wipe out the noise
Receive and transmit

– Peter Gabriel, “Signal To Noise”

Now I’m leaving Normal
and I’m heading for Who Knows Where

– Cowboy Junkies, “Leaving Normal”

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Playa time

Burning Man

We didn’t intend to go this year, with the house purchase killing our finances and available vacation time being uncertain. Bu then… we started looking at vacations and thinking “hmm, I guess we could sqeeze in 2 weeks in there”, and “well, it’s not that expensive, all things considered”. And “we really need a proper vacation”. And…

So now we have flights to San Francisco booked, and are heading for the playa once more, along with two other co-conspirators. No huge detours this time: we fly to SF, rent a minivan or some such, shop around (in Sacramento, probably), and head for the desert. On the way back we’ll probably drop by Hot Creek (yay!), Death Valley and (perhaps fittingly) Disneyland. We’ll see. We have a car and several days to fill, no need to make binding plans.

We might be hooking up with the Group W / Math Camp guys this year round, looking forward to that – they were good folks. Also need to email other people we’ve met the last couple of times and see if we can manage to meet up again. It’s always a bit random trying to meet specific people among 35k+, but it usually seems to work out somehow. Serendipity.

This year I think I’ll be walking around quite a bit, with camera and monopod. Methinks this is the ideal workout for our newish 70-200 L-series IS zoom lens. Also want to take some early-morning walks with camera, you get some nice shots that way. Always time to sleep a bit later when the sun is in “deep fry” mode.

Otherwise, life goes on. This weekend I think we’ll start actual work on Operation Cat Alcatraz, stay tuned.

Was out playing VTES at Valtteri again last night. First game I had a new experimental deck out: Alicia Barrows and friends recruit Escaped Mental Patients & Muddles, and Alicia Inspires them to great deeds (4 aggravated / 6 first strike, in particular). Alicia also votes, and Sennadurek uses Emergency Rations (and Consume the Dead) to chow down dead allies and bloat. I actually won the game with that, though largely it was due to fortunate table position. A bit unexpected. Second game also resulted in game win with my Sebastian deck. It works pretty well, but still has trouble reliably getting intercept on the table (and pool gain is also a problem). Will need to tweak some more. Third game had me in a worst-case position, with my Temptation deck between two rush decks. Ouch. Managed to last a while due to table politics, but it was a losing proposition from the start. Good fun, though did get home a bit late (around 1.15am). Yawn.

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