New madness is sweeping Finland....

Curling! I kid you not. Finland's curling-team has managed to make their ways to the Olympic-finals, and the captain of the team, Markku Uusipaavalniemi (M-15 for short) has become an instant celebrity.

Hockey is still propably still the #1 sport, but everyone is talking about curling. The semifinal match between Finland and UK was watched by over 1 million people! Jesus! And I must admit: I have been watching as well. I actually got interested in the early games when I just happened to glance at TV, and I found myself half an hour later still watching the game.

If Finland only gets one gold-medal from the games, and they get it from curling, then it really means that hell has frozen over. And it's frozen so that Uusipaavalniemi can do some curling.

The darkest hour of free speech....

First things first: Link

Anyone whot claims that Holocaust did not happen, is a f*cking moron, period. And David Irving is an grade-A asshat. That said, throwing people in jail because they dispute the Holocaust is STUPID. I really fail to see how Europe can claim to support free speech (the Muhammad-drawings), and then say nothing when someone is thrown in to jail (in Europe even!) for holding an opinion that is not kosher.

Like I said before: free speech means that you have to accept comments and viewpoints that you might not agree with and that are downright stupid. If such comments are not allowed, then we do not have free speech. Here we have a textbook example of this "pseudo-free speech", where "you are free to talk about anything you wish. But not about this. Or this. Or this. Or this". Either we have free speech, and tolerate viewpoints that differ from ours, or we don't have free speech, in which case we should just stop pretending that we do. They should just come out and say "you are free to discuss anything you like as long as it's acceptable to the powers-at-be. Don't confuse this system with free speech, however".

What next? they start throwing people to prison because they believe in Santa Claus? or that Earth is flat? Hell, most people believe in God, a being that can't be proven and that relies on blind faith. Should those people be thrown to jail, because believing in such a creature is dumb?

Maybe Irving has some "evidence" to back up his claims. To be honest, I have no idea. But either he has some evidence, or he relies on blind faith. Why is he being sent to jail, but the millions of people who rely on blind faith in their belief of God (or Santa) are not in jail? because God is a "Good Thing" (tm), whereas Holocaust was a very, very bad thing? Hell, maybe they start carting atheists in to prison in the future. I mean: what is the difference, really? David Irving doesn't believe that something happened. Atheists don't believe in God. Is the difference that David Irving is disputing the existence of a terrible period in human history, whereas atheists are disputing the existence of a "Good Thing"?

Holding a viewpoint that differs from the mainstream is not something that should be punished. The viewpoint might be stupid and wrong, but they have the right to their viewpoint. Who decides what viewpoints are acceptable and what are not? The politicians? Corporations? The teeming horde of ignorant masses?


Mr. Birch: if you ever decide to come to Helsinki, drop me a line and I'll buy you a pizza.

Bill Gates has a trampoline...

... And he apparently likes to bounce on it. I have no idea why, but after I heard that "interesting" piece of information, I immediately thought "does he bounce on it naked?".

I swear to god, if I had a bottle of arsenic laying around, I would drink it in a heartbeat.

It will all end in tears

So, my sister-in-law mentioned that she really enjoyed seeing Moving Castle and The Cat Returns. I then happened to mention that I have a quality piece of animation in my collection: Grave of the Fireflies. Of course my sister-in-law wants to see it as well.

But then I started to think... While it too is an animation, it's very different from the "Moving Castle" and "The Cat Returns". The story, is very, very sad. I warned my sister-in-law that she can expect a very beautiful, yet very sad story. If she expects a cheerful story, she's in for a disappointment. But she wants so see it anyway. Well, I warned her, so it's not my fault. But I will be having crying girls to take care of this weekend.

Bird Flu

Everybody talks about bird flu in Finland these days. People are watching with keen eye as the flu inches closer and closer to Finland. Finland is the end of the road for the birds. They spend the winter in the south, and as spring gets closer, they start migrating back north. And that's exactly what has been happening. First they discovered bird-flu in Italy and other countries in southern Europe. Then a bit up north in Austria, then in Germany. And then in north-Germany. They are now suspecting that there are cases in Denmark as well. It doesn't take a rocket-scientist so see what's happening.

The flu is moving from south to north, like it was predicted. Next and last step? Scandinavia. First Sweden, then Norway and Finland. And as it happens, I happen to live right next to a major destination of migrating birds. Bummer. Am I worried? No, not really. But this could make some everyday things a bit more inconvenient. For starters, domestic birds are not allowed outdoors. And that means that Soili's (my wife) family's pet-bird has to spend his summer indoors. Which is a sad thing, since he enjoys the outdoors, and this might be his last summer (he's quite old already) :(.

On the other hand, people could die from the flu, and I worry about a single pet-bird. I guess that tells something about people in general. We pay more attention to things close to us, no matter how small or trivial, as opposed to bigger things that do not take place right next to us.

The son-in-law strikes back!

We bought sliding mirror-doors for our hallway, to cover the coats and other miscellianeous stuff hanging from the hangers. Besides hiding the coats from prying eyes, it also serves double function of making the hallway better illuminated and increasing the area covered by mirrors in our household by about an order of magnitude.

As usual, my father-in-law was supposed to come install them, and I was supposed to help him out. Reason being that while I might know technical stuff, I'm not that good when it comes to doing these household things, like dismantling the kitchen and stuff (don't ask). So usually my father-in-law handles those, while I help him out. And this wasn't an exception.

So, we installed the doors, with me helping out. But after we tried them out, they just wouldn't work as advertised. They scraped the rail they were supposed to glide on, and they wouldn't work smoothly. I thought that we had installed them wrong, while my father-in-law (who has installed such doors in the past) claimed that "It's installed like it's supposed to be, I have no idea why they do this!". He then stormed to the living-room and started watching TV.

So I was left there with a screwdriver in one hand, and the instructions on the other. I looked at the instructions, and I looked at how the doors had been assembled. It took me about 20 seconds to notice the problem, and another 2 minutes to fix it. End-result: doors that glide smoothly. When I mentioned that "Hey, I managed to find and fix the problem, and the doors are working now", all I got was "Fine!" from the living-room. I think he was a bit embarrassed or something. Am I gloating? You bet!

Hey, I never claimed that this would be an interesting or somehow inspirational piece of blogging! If you REALLY want to draw some ancient wisdom from this, it would be "the fact that someone has age, wisdom and experience, does not guarantee that he knows what he's doing. That whippersnapper son-in-law might actually have the answers you are seeking.".

Star Wreck

So, I finally saw Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning. I know, it has been out for a while. And even though I liked their previous "movies", it took me a while to watch their latest creation. And the fact that the screenwriter is a co-worker of mine (hi Rudi!) makes this crime all the worse.

To those uninitiated: Star Wreck is a parody of Star Trek. Early episodes were CGI "animations", while later episodes contained live acting. All the actors, animator(s), filmcrew, editors, screenwriters etc. etc. are amateurs and/or volunteers. So what about this latest movie then? Well, it's a full-length feature-film made with a budget of around 10.000e (IIRC). It took the crew about 7 years to finish the movie, so it has really been a labour of love.

So, is it good? Yes, yes it is. Of course if you compare it to some Hollywood blockbuster, their non-existant budget shows at some places. But big bucks don't make movie good. This movie is very, very good. And it's very funny as well. Well, the humor is quite Finnish, so I'm not sure what people abroad might think of it. It's extra funny if you are a Star Trek/Babylon 5-fan, then you can actually understand the inside-jokes.

And I must say that the CGI in this movie is absolutely top-notch. I mean, where do those Hollywood-studios spend those millions when creating those computer graphics, when one guy can create something that rivals their work, using nothing but his home-computer (well, they did have a render-farm...)?

If you want to watch it yourself, head to their website and download it. In fact, this movie is unofficially the most popular Finnish movie ever made with over 2 million downloads (propably more, since those downloads can be distributed further).

To Rudi, Samuli and rest of the gang: Well done! You guys really pulled it through! It took you 7 years, but the end-result absolutely kicks ass! this one is definitely going to my DVD-collection!

Pillars of Light

yesterday-evening as I was on my way home from work, I saw the Pillars of Light. No, I'm not a crackpot or something. There's this optical-illusion that is visible when the temperature gets cold enough. And yesterday it was something like -20 degrees celcius. I don't know what exactly happens, but as the temperature drops, you can see these pillars of lights around bright lights (streetlights and brighter in reality). The brighter the light, the more visible the pillar is. It looks like there's a beam of light that shoots straight up from the light-source. It looks pretty cool. Unfortunately I don't have any pictures to show :(.

Oh, and in case you have been wondering....

From Wikipedia:

"Earth was probably believed to be flat. At the edges of Earth was Lintukoto, "the home of the birds", a warm region in which birds lived during the winter. The Milky way was called Linnunrata, "the path of the birds", because the birds were believed to move along it to Lintukoto and back. The Milky Way is still today referred to as Linnunrata in Finland.

Birds had also other significance. Birds brought a human's soul to him at the moment of birth, and took it away at the moment of death. To secure the soul during the sleep, it was necessary to have a wooden bird-figure nearby. This Sielulintu, the soul-bird, protected the soul from being lost in the paths of dreams."

I liked the name and the idea. Hence the name of this blog.

The finest hour of free speech. Or the darkest.

As you propably heard, Denmark is facing some protests over the pictures of Prophet Mohammed that were published in the biggest newspaper in Denmark. Everyone seems to have an opinion over the matter, and so do I.

Disclaimer: I'm 100% non-religious western non-believer.

I think the Danes (and Norwegians and others who published the pictures) were well within their rights to publish the pictures. I have seen the pictures, and they weren't that bad. They were mostly funny, that's all. Ironically, the rioting in the mid-east make the pictures seem more realistic and relevant. Some of the pictures showed the cartoonists fearing for their lives and others showed sword-wielding fanatics on their way to kill infidels. After few months, those images seem eerily true.

Yes, I'm well aware that such images were propably against Islamic laws. But last time I checked, Denmark does not have Islamic laws. Essentially, a Danish newspaper published some pictures in Denmark, and Mid-East got angry because it offended their beliefs and religious laws. There are plenty of things in the Mid-East that I would find offensive. Yet I don't start torching embassies and issuing death-threats because they do things that go against my personal beliefs and values.

In short: should rest of the world follow Islamic laws? No. If I drive 250km/h on a motorway in Finland, the police would take a dim view on my arguments that "this is perfectly legal in Germany!". And I would say that Denmark would take a dim view on arguments that say "publishing these pictures is wrong because they are illegal under Islamic laws!". Denmark is not a Islamic state, so I fail to see the relevancy.

Free speech revisited

I have read comments by some Muslims regarding this issue. And one recurring comment is that "We do not want to remove or limit free-speech. We just want to make sure that pictures like these are not published in the future". In other words: "you are free to talk about anything you wish. Unless it's something we find offensive" (note: I'm not trying to make this in to a "us vs. them"-issue. Although at some level, it is exactly that). Now, is that free speech?

The idea of free speech is not that you are only allowed to talk about nice things. The true measure of free speech is that you are allowed to talk about things that others might not agree with. I know that it is very tempting for many to impose limits on free speech, because that would be a convenient way to make ones opponents shut up. But those people fail to realize that if we start to limit free speech, those who support such limitations shouldn't be surprised if they (the government, religious leaders etc.) decide to limit things the supporters can say as well.

An example: every now and then I read of cases where some religious organisations in USA demands that some books should be banned from schools and libraries. And it might be easy for them to support such removal of books, if the books in questions oppose their ideology and viewpoint. But if we start banning books, what's there to prevent the government to ban the Bible while they are at it? Would those religious groups support banning the Bible? I doubt it. yet, by demanding that some books should be banned, they shouldn't be surprised if some of the books THEY want to read are banned as well in the future.

The test of free speech

Like I said before, the test of free speech is not that will we allow other to say nice things, but that will we allow others to say things that we disagree with. If we start to limit things what people can say based on what others might find offensive, we couldn't really say anything. Some people migt find this blog-entry offensive, should I therefore censor myself?

Does the Prophet need protecting?

So, Islamic laws forbids anyone of drawing a picture of Muhammad. And now that someone did just that, all hell breaks loose. But does Muhammad need protection? One could guess that the Muslims in Mid-East would take a look at the pictures, and laugh at us in the west, because we are just bunch of infidels and we are going straight to hell. Why do religious people (Muslims, Christians and others) need to get offended if someone insults their god? I mean, since the god is apparently omnipotent, surely he will deal out judgement to those who have offended him? Why do mere mortals think that they need to protect their god from other mere mortals? It seems to me that they are raising themselves on some kind of pedestal.

Suppose that Mohammad has been insulted by those pictures, and Allah is pissed off because his Prophet has been insulted by a bunch of infidels. I would guess that Allah is more than capable to handling this situation, I fail to see why mere mortals need to involve themselves in to this.

If the shoe fits....

I Don't really understand why the Muslims feel the need to get upset by this issue. Of course, being a western non-religious person, this kind of religious frenzy seems completely alien to me. But in the end, do the countries in Mid-East have a ground to stand when it comes to this "houlier than thou"-attitude? I have seen cartoons in local newspapers in Mid-East where they make fun of Holocaust and where they compare Israelis to Nazis (note: actions of Israel leave a lot to be desired, but that's not the point of this blog-entry). I would guess that many Israelites find those images deeply offensive and hurtful. And now that some Danish newspaper publishes some rather mild pictures, we have flag-burning, embassy-burning, consulate-burning, boycotts and death-threats. Pot, meet kettle. Kettle, this is pot.

I can't help but feel that Muslims take their religion way too seriously. IMO, the border between "a believer" and "a fanatic" is that does the religion serve life, or does life serve the religion. A fanatic is someone who's life serves religion. And it seems to me that such behavior is a lot more common in Islam than it is in Christianity (for example). Maybe Islam doesn't have as much room for mere "believers"?

I had a discussion about this with one muslim on the web. I said that in christianity, the ratio between "believers" and fanatics seem to be about 1%/99%, whereas in Islam it's closer to 50/50. He disputed my guesstimate, but he then proceeded to tell me how the religion is "a very serious matter to Muslims" and how they "are supposed to be very passionate about it". Well, that kinda gives some credibility to my observation. Of course, my guesstimate is propably ways off, but even Muslims themselves seem to agree that Islam has more problems with extremeism that Christanity does. Now, is that due to the religion itself, or due to the societies where it was born, I have no idea. But there was a time when Western Christians were savage barbarians, while Muslims in mid-east were sophisticated and civilized. I don't understand what went wrong here. it could be that when religion has just been born, it keeps rather low profile. When it gains more power, it becomes more extreme (same thing happened in Christianity as well). And as time progresses, the fanatism becomes milder (as has happened with christianity). It could just be that since Christianity is older and more widespread, it has already reached that "moderate" era, whereas Islam will reach it in about 100-200 years. Who knows.

Two screens at the same time man!

So my workstation at work got hosed on thursday (second time this has happened! And both were identical errors, and both happened when I rebooted the machine). First I started to re-image the machine (I can't ask the IT-department to do it because I AM the the IT-department!), but then I just thought "fu*k it. I DO have this other computer at my disposal, why not just use that one instead?". The other machine being my corporate laptop. So I chugged the desktop to the storeroom, and took out my laptop. I did keep one thing from my desktop: the screen.

I'm telling you, having two screens at your disposal (the laptops screen, and the external screen) is a real eye-opener! I re-arranged my desk for maybe two hours to make this an optimal dual-screen experience. I had to move my phone from the left side to the right side of my workspace, otherwise it would have been behind the laptop. Originally I had the laptop on the right side of my desk, but then my mouse-hand bumbed against it all the time, and it was not nice. So I had to move the laptop, and because of that I had to move the phone. I also had to replace my mouse with a regural mouse, since the original mouse didn't work properly with dual-screens.

All in all, the migration took few hours, but it was worth it! I now have my email running on the laptops screen, with the external screen (which has higher resolution) running web-browser and other assorted tools.

I heard that adding another screen/increasing screen real-estate is the best way to increase productivity. And I have to agree. I do miss my ergonomic mouse though...

EDIT: Well, the mouse I'm using right now could be a wireless while we are at it. I hate it when I release the mouse, the twisted cable moves the mouse by few millimeters... Geeks do it wirelessly ;)

The curse of ones and zeros

Analog books

I love books. I often have several books next to my bed that I'm reading through (to great annoyance of my wife, who hates the clutter). Currently I'm reading Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson, Eric and Equal Rites, both by Terry Pratchett. I love to go to book-stores and browse their collections. I like to go to those tiny shops that sell used books. And if I wnted to, I could loan someone my books, and I could swap books with someone, and maybe even sell my used books. But what it that wasn't possible?

What would you do if the next time you bought a book and started to read it, you would get a announcement in thick German accent saying "Achtung! You vill zit on ze chair when reading this book, not no ze couch!". Selling, swapping and borrowing the book would be prohibited.

People would not stand for it.

Books contain data. That data might be fiction or non-fiction, but it's still data. In case of books, the data is in analog form (text and images on the pages). But if we transform that data in to digital, in to ones and zeros, the rules change entirely. When it comes to digital data, the usage-limitations I mentioned above are the norm (without the German accent, though). For some reason, with digital data, we have to accept litany of rules and limitations. And, for some strange reason, people accept them.

There is one area where these limitations are facing opposition: music. That's because music, even in digital form, started out in similar way as books are today. There was no artificial limitations to your rights. If you wanted to copy the music (which in itself is perfectly legal) you could do so. In recent years those rights have been eroded. And many people are opposing this change.

Now, what's not surprising is the fact that people are opposing these limitations. It's how FEW people are opposing. Most people seem to accept the limitations of user-rights just fine, which is very sad. And quite often those that oppose, are labeled as "weirdoes", "pirates" or something else. As we started the new year, Finland got a new copyright-legislation. And many citizens have opposed the legislation. Thousands of people wrote to their MP's to tell them that they oppose the law. The government dismissed these complaints as "machination". And as the new year progressed, people continued to oppose. There was an act of civil-disobedience, where people willfully broke the new law (by discussing methods of bypassing copy-protection. Discussiong those methods is illegal. We can discuss details of blowing up the parliament-building, but discussing circumventing copy-control is verboten) and then turned themselves in. Many mainstream-journalists labeled these people as "thieves" and "pirates". I think they would have called Rosa Parks and Gandhi "criminals" as well. After all, Rosa Parks sat on a bench she wasn't supposed to sat on, and Gandhi made salt.

People have the moral obligation to resist and break laws that are wrong. Rosa Parks did it. Gandhi did it. And today we praise them both.

It seems to me that the Finns obedience to authority is biting us in the ass here. Mainstream journalists think that the government knows best. None of them seem to remember that these activists are not demandind more rights, they are holding on to the rights they already have (or rather, had).

We must destroy the data, in order to save it

The moment when data moves from the world of the analog, to the world of the digital, it crosses some kind of threshold. The actual data might be exactly the same, but the moment it's represented in ones and zeros, people start to think that we need to strip law-abiding people from their rights, in order to protect those ones and zeros. Analog data is something we can understand, deep down. The things we see with our eyes is analog data. Things that we hear with our ears is analog data. But digital data seems to go beyond the comprehension of people. And when some politician or "expert" tells them that those ones and zeros are endangered, people believe them. And when they build walls around the data, they are making it harder and harder for people to access that data. Is data that can't be accessed still data?

We (Finland, and other countries as well) already have legislation that deals with copyrights. We have law that deal punishments to those who break other people's copyrights. I'm a strong believer in copyrights. But I believe that removing the rights of law-abiding citizens is utterly and completely wrong way to handle this "problem"! It just boggles the mind that some people actually present that as a solution to this problem, and I'm dismayed that politicians actually believe them, and make legislation that removes rights from the citizens! And what's the saddest part of this? In the next elections, 95% of people are going to vote the exact same people, the exact same parties. They directly harmed the voters, and voters thank them by voting them back in.

Sure, some might say that this legislation is peanuts in the grand scheme of things. Maybe. But once rights are taken away, it's very difficult to get them back. And this isn't just about music, this is about accessing data. And data could be anything.

Invisible shackles of software

This brings me to another area of data: software. In a way, the situation in software is a lot better and alot worse, than it is with music. It's better because we have a thriving community of free software. In free software the creators of the software go out of their way to give the users of the software as much rights as possible. But most people don't care about software. And that's why it's worse than it is with music. There are people who feel strongly about users rights when it comes to software. And in case of music many people feel that user-right advocated are "weirdoes", it's even worse with software. Music is part of the "bread and circuses", and if someone tampers with the circus, people will notice and complain. Software isn't really part of that equation, so most people don't care.

But they should care. Software is everywhere. We create our data with computers and software, we access data created by others with computers and software. And most people just want to "use" computers and software, and they don't care about the rights they have (or lack of thereof). To them, it's just not important. many people are voluntarily giving up their rights. And they do so because they never even knew that they had them, and they see no reason to hold on to them. I don't know which is sadder.

Next time you install a piece of software, you will come across an EULA (End-User License Agreement). Have you ever read what it says? Most of us just click "Accept" without bothering to read what they are accepting. And I can't really blame them, those EULA's are full of legalese and they are LONG. I know I never bother to read them, but I do know what they contain. For those interested, here is the EULA for Windows XP. It contains stuff like "Microsoft reserves the right to discontinue any Internet-based services provided to you or made available to you through the use of the Product.". Uh, OK.

Many people use Microsoft Word to create text (data). And in a way, I can't blame them. MS Word is a fine tool to write text. And when they do so, they are in a way giving Microsoft control on how and with what they can access that data. Could you access that data 15 years from now? Odds are that you could not. Something like that could not happen with free software, where the USER has the rights, not the corporation. I could access data created 20 years ago if I wanted to. If I created some data today with those free tools, I would still be able to access them 20 years from now.

I'm free of those digital shackles. I choose to maximise my liberties and freedoms as an user. And because of that, many people will think that I'm a "weirdo", "zealot" or something else not so nice. But, we live our values through the choices we make. And I admit: sometimes buying that shrink-wrapped box of software with all that sugar-coating would be the easy way. But just because it's the easy way, it doesn't mean that it's the right way.

When I get back home today, I'm going to keep on reading my book.