Tuesday, 2 July 2019

HELSINKI: cool confident casual & FUN

Helsinki, as seen from the air above Eki's home (Lauttasaari suburb).

What's not to love about HELSINKI. The center is small enough to be walkable. It's chockablock with museums, restaurants (my fave - Strindberg's, with a great view of Esplanaden - the 19C boulevard that is a perfect place for a summer picnic), book stores, home-grown designer boutiques, nightspots, first-rate, music - from high-end to boom boom, boom. All that and a knock-out location by the sea. Trams, buses, the metro, and trains criss-cross the city and go to outlying towns. It’s safe and almost everyone speaks English. A good reason for Putin and Trump to chose Helsinki for their one-day love-in. That meeting cost the Finnish government a million or more. But clueless foreigners no longer ask, what country is Finland in?  Savvy tourists discovered Helsinki a long time ago. Today hordes are rolling in.  Okay, it's not perfect - the prices might give you a shock.  When I told Eki I paid 12 euros for a  medium-size glass of wine, he said  I was hanging out in the wrong places. He'll know some 'in' spots that won’t bust the budget.

The Shark says she’s become a de facto tourist guide. Every time she’s in the center tourists ask her for directions. The trams and buses keep changing their routes and sometimes she’s stumped. But if they ask her what to see she tells them the new Helsinki City Library - OODI (ALA Architects) and AMOS REX museum (JKMM Architects), the city’s two Must-Visit places. Both have got raves from the locals and internationally. OODI is the city's 'living room'. A space where you can make yourself at home:  choose a book, read a newspaper, create music, make something on a 3D printer, eat, drink, see an archive movie. And I think take a sauna. AMOS REX, is underground in the 1930s art deco Lasi Palatsi (renovated to mint-condition). It was an instant smash hit. The light shines down into the exposition spaces through giant circular skylights. Its first show was Japanese Anime.  Psychedelic art covered the walls, the floors, and the ceilings. It made some viewers dizzy. But they stood in long lines to get vertigo.

The country is known for inventing crazy, off-beat stuff:  the air guitar and wife-throwing contests were born here. But its architecture is more famous. Helsinki is full of designer buildings (see LMP’s 10 Finnish Architects), in three styles: Empire (early 19th C ), National Romantic (late 19th C – early 20th C), Modern (mid-20th C). Architects come from around the world. ALVAR AALTO  had a dream that one day Mannerheimintie would become a cultural avenue. I wish he were around today. Starting about a mile north of the center is the opera house. Heading  South, Finlandia Hall (Alvar Aalto), the National Museum, the City Museum, the new concert hall, Kiasma (modern art museum),  OODI, Amos Oz. And not far away, Atheneum, HAM, the  Design and Architecture museums. A rich dish for any city, but Helsinki is a relatively small city with a pop. of approx. 550,000.

I FORGOT! The COVERED MARKETS:  HAKANIEMI and KAUPPATORI - salmon soup, a glass of cold white wine on a jam-packed Saturday morning, are the best sites of  ALL.  You could make a salmon soup tour of the city. Almost every place that serves food has its own version. Ask the shark for directions.


Sources: the Shark, Eki, personal experience

Littlemargie blog is on vacation in July

August:  Are you masturbating your  CELLPHONE: the CURE

PS: ANDREW YANG, the US presidential candidate we wrote about last week got slammed in the first Democratic debate - he came in dead last. But he has enough donors (over 135,000) and enough money to get a slot in the next round. The Yang Gang hopes he comes out slugging, otherwise he’s toast.

Contact: maggy@magfell.pp.fi

Note: The main tourist attractions are pretty well covered here. But nevertheless, i will add to the selection.

Especially for families with kids, LINNANMĂ„KI amusement park and KORKEASAARI zoo could be worth a visit. Oh, as well as the SUOMENLINNA sea fortress, a beautiful place where one can easily spend the whole day strolling the islands, visiting the ancient fortress walls, cafes and restaurants. The ferry leaves from the Market Square (KAUPPATORI). As Helsinki is often called the white daughter of the Baltic sea, seeing it from a boat is a nice bonus to a trip. In addition to the ferries to Suomenlinna and other visit-worthy islands, there are also round-trip sight-seeing boats that leave from the Market Square.

As far as prices go, everything is expensive in the city downtown, especially in the tourist areas. But just walk a few hundred meters to pretty much any direction, and you will find places with much more sensible pricing. For those who feel adventurous, the public transport is pretty excellent, and you can travel a rather large area in Helsinki and Espoo with the same AB region ticket, which is valid in buses, trams and the subway (metro). More than half of the households in Helsinki get by without a car, mine included.

PS: By the way, all of the above applies to Helsinki in the summer. It's lovely. The light nights are wonderful - even though we do not get midnight sun here, it's pretty close. But in the winter, Helsinki is a dark, cold, wet and miserable place without too many signs of life. Sure, the museums etc. are open, but a day out downtown still definitely isn't my idea of winter fun. Rather, we Finns tend to just hibernate over the dark season and wait for the light and warmth to return ;-)


CU
--
Eki

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Who the hell is ANDREW YANG? And why a pal and I joined the YAN GANG?

The rebel with a cause.
Never heard of ANDREW YANG, one of the 23 (and counting)   Democratic candidates who want to run for President of the US.  An article in the Washington Post woke me up.  I watched Yang's interview on a FREAKONOMICS podcast. He was smart, down-to-earth funny. focused and had style, (which even Eki says is important when almost everything is visual).  He was different than the rest of the pack. I called a pal in the US and told her to check Yang out.  Sharon said, let's each send $50 to his campaign. We were in the game.

Instead of a big splash on TV and cable, Yang has used the net to spread his message. But his small net-savvy team gets big crowds to show up at his rallies across the US. His campaign has got enough donors and money to secure a slot in the Democratic party debates. The message:  AUTOMATION is chewing up working class and white collar jobs. He started VENTURE for AMERICA  Foundation to fund start-ups in once-booming cities (St. Louis, Youngstown, Detroit for ex.) that have gone down-hill because the old jobs are gone (remember typists, elevator operators, sales clerks, et al.  Robots deliver pizzas. They can make them too.

Yang solutions include a Freedom Dividend (universal basic income - Finland is already testing UBI in a two-year experiment).  He plans to slap a 10% value-added tax on BIG TECH COMPANIES to help foot the bill.  The Yang campaign has the feel and look of a smart, young start-up company. They've turned campaign funding into a  video-game.  Yang sends info and updates on how much they need to make the next leap. I'm hooked. And sent in a second 50 dollars. Sharon and I got YANG GANG 2020 tee shirts.  His cap’s logo is MATH – MAKE AMERICA THINK HARDER.  Yang says his chances of winning are 200 to 1. Hey, against steep odds, he got a certified to be in the DEM debate. And lucked out in the draw: Yang will appear with all, but one, of the TOP DOG,  June 27, NBC, MSNBC, 9:00 PM.  Watch YANG make his case.  My pal in the US and I'll be barking for him. ARF! ARF!

Sources: Washington Post, Sharon Pettus, the net, personal experience

Photo: Annie Lavigne

Next week: HELSINKI: cool, confident, casual & FUN


Note: I haven't really done my homework, so I only have very superficial observations on Yang. Listening to the podcast as I type. To me, he feels like a smart guy, who has interesting ideas and uses the presidential campaign to get publicity for those. He seems business and marketing oriented, which is not necessarily the makings of a good politician. Countries are not companies, and running society like a business is a deeply horrible idea.

He's right about automation though. The societies will change, a lot. But even though a huge number of jobs will disappear, it is not necessarily as bad as it sounds. The same has happened over and over in history. The blacksmiths, seamsters, brickmakers, bookbinders, candle makers and wheelwrights of yesteryear are all but completely gone. But there were no video editors in 1800's, no computer wizards, and no truck drivers or telemarketers either for that matter. The lesson is: the nature of work changes. We have no idea what will be the jobs of the 2050's, let alone 2100's. But there will still be jobs.

But perhaps not for everyone. And perhaps we're lucky enough to realize as a society that letting our day jobs define us is not necessarily wise in the long run. Perhaps many people will just do whatever they wish - the aspiring artist truckdrivers will be able to channel their inner Picasso every day.

I'm not a fan of rebranding things. Please just call UBI UBI, not "freedom dividend". That's just stupid, regardless of what the focus groups say. The Finnish UBI experiment is over now. It really wasn't that good a test - first of all, they only selected unemployed people on that, and the main parameter they were interested in was will UBI reduce or increase their chances to get work. It didn't do much of either, as unemployment is pretty rarely something caused by the unemployed themselves, it's something caused by an actual lack of decent jobs. The people on the experiment did report UBI being good for their wellbeing, stress levels etc., even though they probably would have gotten the same amount of money through social security system anyway - what UBI did for them, was essentially to remove some of the feelings of guilt associated with being on case-by-case judged welfare.


In general, I think UBI is probably a good idea, but the implementation has to be very carefully planned. Essentially, it should replace some forms of welfare, extend benefits to those who have low paying work to reduce barriers of getting a job - as such, it would not necessarily add to the social security costs *that* much. We need to be careful though to make sure UBI won't create a new class of ultra-low paying jobs, where the UBI is actually going to the pockets of the predatory businesses due to lower salary costs. It's complicated.

I'm also not a fan of flat rate taxes like VAT (Here in Finland, it's 24% for most products), they actually tend to hit the poor disproportionately. The wealthy will not spend nearly as high a percentage of their money on this kind of goods. The wealthy won't be buying that many more phones, coffee cups or plastic buckets when they get the next extra million. I prefer progressive taxation. And that's what the Finnish proponents of UBI are suggesting - the extra costs of UBI would be collected by strengthening the tax progression slightly so that the poor would get a bit more money, the middle class would stay as is overall, and the rich would pay a little more.


Okay, apparently i had more to say on this than i thought i would. Time to stop.

CU

--
Eki

Thursday, 13 June 2019

EDIT: the DARK SIDE

Anybody seen Nikolai?

Two videos went viral last week. Both were crudely altered to make NANCY PELOSI, Trump's new worst enemy look (1) drunk, (2) disoriented.  After the videos were trashed as low-level fakes, Trump Trump tweeted the second to his 60+ million twitterites.  FACEBOOK refused to remove the faked videos saying, 'let users decide for themselves'.  Today Googles's logo 'Do No Evil'  sounds like a sinister joke. 

Info on the INTERNET: TRUE or FALSE?  Would you take a bet on which gets the most hits.  Eki says anyone with off-the-counter equipment can make videos. There's an army of crap-content providers, who use the black-magic of editing to create their own version of the truth. Even if countries like Finland and France teach their citizens how to tell the difference between FAKE and REAL, do people care,  if the message is what they want to hear.

Eki edits according to laws and copyrights. He will never let me get away with a BIG LIE. But I've learned, after watching him all these years, how he can change scenes and the message. There are tons of pros and amateurs making videos.  Crazy and outrageous seem to have the best chance of going viral. Misinformation can spread in seconds. Most IT users don't cross-check content. And providers (Google, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, etc.) don’t. can’t, or won’t,  always edit bogus information.  Is Orwell sending us a message from the grave: READ '1984'?

Sources: Washington Post, personal experience

Next week: Who the hell is ANDREW YANG? And why a pal and I joined the YANG Gang

Note: Okay, there's a lot i could say about this. In fact, i could go on for hours ;-)

First of all, i make my living creating fake videos - in other words, visual effects are bread and butter work for me. We run a green screen studio, and if you want to put the actor on a surfboard catching a big Hawaiian wave - and it is winter, in Finland - we can do that (and have). Space? Jungle? News studio? No problem. The thing is, all this cheating is acceptable, as the viewers know they are watching a work of fiction.


But the same techniques can be used for much more sinister purposes than selling candy bars. And they are, always have been. Staged scenes or outright tricks have been used to push the desired narrative for ages. Both in still images (retouching did not start with Photoshop, just ask Nikolai Yezhow, who used to stand next to Stalin in this blog entry's headline picture, before being retouched out of life and imagery).

What is completely new, is the ease at which these tricks can be done, also on live video, by anyone. And the fact that anyone can publish them to a worldwide audience - instantly.

Currently, one still needs skills to pull off more sophisticated effects than the Pelosi video Maggy writes about, but that is rapidly changing. Recent developments in artificial intelligence (A.I.) are very promising for someone like me who craves for every possible tool to pull off ever better visual effects wizardry, but also extremely frightening.

Essentially, soon anyone can make a video, where a convincing virtual version of any public figure says and does whatever the video maker wants. These techniques are still in their infancy, but the progress is extremely rapid, and the skill level to pull the effect off will decline from current "one needs to be a computer enthusiast" to "Maggy could do it on her iPhone" in just a few years.




There are multiple techniques involved, but perhaps the scariest so far is so-called "deep fakes". With this technique, all you need is a lot of video footage of the person you want to puppet (which is readily available for e.g. politicians), and the A.I. will learn how they look and act. You then make a recording of an actor (or yourself) doing and saying whatever you wish to make your puppet do. And the puppet faithfully repeats your moves and words. The quality is already frighteningly convincing and will get better.

Imagine a video like this of, say, a presidential candidate emerged just a day before the elections - there would be enough time for it to go viral and hit the front pages, not enough time to prove that it was in fact a fake. That would be a case where visual effects change the course of history.

And on the other hand, even if someone was caught red-handed by a camera they could always semi-plausibly claim that the video evidence was faked.

CU
--
Eki

  

Monday, 20 May 2019

DICTATATORS gotta have STYLE

Trumptler.
True. TRUMP is a wannabe dictator, but he's nailed the universally recognized style. Think: HITLER with his slicked-down hair and weird little moustache which CHARLIE CHAPLIN lampooned to a T in ‘The Great Dictator’’. Trump, with his peroxided floor-mop. orange tan, pig-eyes, big suits, extra long ties to cover his paunch, jacket always unbuttoned except when he met a real dictator, KIM JUNG UN.  Trump is a perfect METOO.

His fans crowd stadiums and auditoriums to hear his rambling rants.  He promises stuff that's never going to happen. Never mind. It's entertainment. For Trump to be out with his base is an escape from the White House prison where people are watching, listening and writing stuff down for the record.  His fan cheer when he gets down-and-dirty.  And we might have this bum for a second term.

Eki says  STORY trumps STYLE.  The Mueller Report is probably the best and most documented book written about Trump and his gang of mini-mobsters (full disclosure: I haven't read the report).  It’s chockablock with info taken 'under oath': for instance, White House aides and his first campaign manager ignored T's orders to get rid of the Special Council. His former Secretary of the Treasury swiped a letter off T's desk that would have ditched an important trade agreement. If he didn’t conspire with the Russians, he and his gang had a lot of contacts with them. And got useful information. He comes across as so half-assed you want to laugh - a fake president governing the US. One Washington Post article about the Mueller’s investigation ends with 'too stupid to conspire, too incompetent to obstruct, too dumb to govern'. FORREST GRUMP in the White House? Or a dictator-in-waiting?

Source: Washington Post

Next week: #DerangedDonald goes VIRAL

Note: Oh, don't even get me started ;-) Pretty soon after the elections, I made bets with Maggy that T will A) be out of the White House before the end of his first term and B) face criminal charges. The jury is still out (or, not YET out?), and we will see who wins. Meanwhile here in Finland, our own lite version of Trumpian administration got voted out, and it looks like we will have a Social Democratic Party -led government, with minister seats from the Green Party and the Left Alliance. To get a majority of parliament seats behind the new government they, unfortunately, had to include the last PM party, the centrists. Fingers crossed for successful negotiations, and for the less business-mad factors of the centrist party getting the seats in the new government. There's a lot of damage that needs to be undone.

PS: Maggy told me CNN had a piece about the Finnish schools teaching fake news awareness - found it. So, everyone, be like the Finnish kids - and remember to fact check your sources!!

https://edition.cnn.com/interactive/2019/05/europe/finland-fake-news-intl/

CU
--
Eki

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

FAKE NEWS ain't NEW


TRUMP is brilliant at buzz words that stick.  Think: FAKE NEWS.  He made it famous. But FN has been around forever. And the movies have made fun of it. In the movie Too Hot to Handle (1934 Clark Gable, Myrna Loy) Gable plays a news photographer. His editor sends him to China to get a fighter plane in action and other boom-boom footage. When there isn't any Gable tries to stage a bombing. He uses a model airplane and a kid who is supposed to be in the attack. The kid won't cooperate and the toy plane fizzles out. Wag the Dog (1999  Dustin Hoffman and Al Pacino) is a black comedy on the same subject.

But Trump is in a league of his own, with help from FOX NEWS (2,800,000  viewers – October 2018). FN is  T's propaganda machine. And some people say the network runs the White House.  A bunch of right-wing sites like BREITBART are also on board. They tout that that legitimate newspapers (i.e. the Washington Post, the New York Times)  are publishing Fake News. Mistakes happen, but fact-checkers and readers usually call them out.  On the net, it's a free-for-all.

Trump spouts fake info ad infinitum. His BASE couldn't care less. The Post has a staff of fact-checkers who check everything he says. In a little over two years, he's up to over 7,000 lies. Like a rock star. his fans eat it up. I just read in the Post that his lies are so transparent his lawyers use it as part of his defense (some of Trump's legal documents come with a disclaimer in case he's sued). At rallies, after he whips up the crowd, he points to the journalists and yells look at them, 'enemies of the people'. Like lions attacking Christians in the Roman Colosseum, trumpsters have attacked reporters. But hell, why be civilized when it's so much fun to punch someone.   Trump said he'll pay the legal fees. Bullshit.

Sources: Financial Times Weekend, the net

Next week: DICTATORS got STYLE

Note to EKI re FACEBOOK: you said that posting on FB was like chatting over a coffee table. But when you blah-blah in person it disappears into the...... Posting on FB (unless you're a diligent editor)  stays there. I read in FT that today by the time most young people are18 they will have  had 70,000 photos taken of them. A lot of the pics are posted on FB. This group grew up on social media, but they're choosing sites that are more private (WhatsApp, Instagram).   

Note: Not much to add to this. Well, perhaps the far-reaching damage of this "fake news culture" should be pointed out: the overall erosion of understanding expertise, the proliferation of Dunning-Kruger infested idiots who think they know better. This can be seen in the denial of science concerning climate change, evolution, vaccination etc. The players spewing disinformation are largely the same, Trump and the GOP included.

CU
--
Eki

Sunday, 3 March 2019

FACEBOOK censors

Bookface. (From a Fortum safety video animation by NitroFX / Eki Halkka)
FACEBOOK  has a problem. With 2 billion users, billions of posts every day in more than 100 languages, its founder, Mark Zuckerberg has promised to censor HATE posts. The company has organized a group of staff members (lots of lawyers and engineers). Who meet every other Tuesday at the company's main headquarters to hash out rules. The New York Times decided to run a piece on the subject. Facebook gave the reporter a 1500 page rules guideline. 

But the company out-sources the dirty work. The first requirement for the censor job is to sign a non-disclosure agreement (many of the monitors come from random-phone-caller companies).  One censor agreed to talk to the New York Times anonymously. He said the work was nerve-wracking. There were so many rules and so little time to apply them. For instance, should 'jihad' automatically be cut from the text.  A spokeswoman for Facebook said the company would be happy with 99% accuracy.

Eki told me he was on Facebook. I think he said he liked it. Little margie has an intro page. After that we never posted anything. But I read that the company can track (and censor?) non-Facebook users. With approx. one-third of the planet posting on the site Facebook could be a positive force. But chances are it will stay mediocre with mindless blah-blah and billions of look-at-me pics. While Mark and his minions rake in the doe: 5 billion (profit) per quarter. Over to you EKI.

Source: New York Times, the net


Next week: FAKE NEWS ain’t NEW

Note

Well, i do not think you have understood what Facebook is. It's just an extension of the real world, with all the good, the bad and the ugly.

The mindless blablah online is no different from the mindless blahblah of person to person discussions over a coffee table. And the ratio between blahblah and meaningful conversations is also pretty much the same in the real world and virtual. What i'm trying to say, is that in the end the social media is not much difference from actually meeting the people in real life. But the good side is, on Facebook you can coldly ignore the twats without hurting their feelings - and in the other hand, keep up with people you would otherwise have lost in time.

CU
--
Eki


Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Have you seen RANDY RAINBOW?




When I asked Eki that question, he knew all about Randy. Including how the guy pulled off such slick music videos in his one-room studio apartment. When a friend in the US sent me the link to the Bret Kavanaugh parody, it was like a video-snort of cocaine. I binged out. My favorite: 'How do you solve a problem like KOREA', What blew my mind was the use of news video clips and new lyrics to popular music. Copyrights cost an arm and a leg. Who was backing this guy? A rich Democrat?  I wondered what company was behind it –  I thought the production values were so good.

But in an interview on National Public Radio and another on the BBC (Impact), Randy said he did everything himself.  And copyrights never came up. I called the Shark, who knows a lot about copyrights. She watched some of the videos and couldn't come up with an answer. The spliced interviews from news programs are hilarious. He impales his subjects (victims) with lines like, ‘Cut the shirt' when Betsy de Voss, Education Secretary knew zilch about public education.

The Trump administration is perfect for parody. It keeps giving him more stuff to make fun of. But where does he go from here? For starters, a personal appearance tour of 13 cities in the US and one in Canada. Stops include San Francisco, Chicago, Toronto and the belly-of-the-beast, Washington DC. I bet the DC tickets are sold out. Randy has pulled off an internet coup. He keeps coming up with new up-to-the-minute material. The last one I saw was The CELL BLOCK TANGO. Roger Stone and Trump must have loved it.

Source: the internet

Next week: The FACEBOOK censors

Note:  

The question "how does he do it" is twofold. When it comes to music, it has been possible to make high-quality music in your bedroom for decades now. All it takes is a mic, a computer with appropriate software and a lot of talent. Which Randy clearly has plenty of.

As far as the videos are concerned, it's almost the same nowadays. Great cameras are very affordable, you can get a greenscreen backdrop for next to nothing, the same computer, and some software, and from there on... you guessed it, all you need is talent.

When we make our little music videos with Maggy, we're basically doing the same thing Randy does - of course, unlike our little films, he likely does this more or less as a full-time job, and each video may be a result of weeks of full-time work


As far as copyrights are concerned, as far as i remember, unlike here in Finland, parody works are an exception in the US copyright law, so Randy probably doesn't need to pay for the music he makes his own versions of.

We've done derivate versions of existing music too, but only using copyright free songs - old enough, or otherwise license free.


CU
--
Eki