Monday, 26 April 2021

Helsinki's UGLY BUILDING COMPETITION - by invitation only

"Makkaratalo":  not art-deco. Image: Wikipedia
(The Central Railway Station is in the background)

The city planners have published their five choices for a building next to Eliel Saarinen's famous Railway Station. And its neighbours:  the 1938 art-deco Central Post Office, Lasipalatsi. One of the contenders looks like a giant pagoda plucked out of Peking. Helsinki, a gem of great architecture has fans all over the world.  The city planners seem clueless.

"Klyyga", one of the entries for the new building. Image from the competition site.
(Also starring, from top left: Kiasma, Sanomatalo, Oodi, Sokos building, Central Railway Station, and a tiny bit of "Makkaratalo" in the bottom.)

When Eki and I made the series, TEN FINNISH ARCHITECTS, we were lucky to see, and learn, close-up why Finland is so famous for its architecture and design*.  Poor, mostly agricultural,  until after the second world war,  I was knocked out by how Finland's bold and unpretentious architecture developed and flourished. At least one reason was Open Competitions.

Without Open Competitions, the city planners have given permits for duds. Hotel Clarion is a perfect example. It wrecked the entrance to the center.  When the taxi from the airport takes the route by the sea, or a ship comes into port, there it is – a high-rise exclamation point with one of the best views of the Baltic. In June the citizens of Helsinki will have a chance to voice their opinion about the project by the RR station. Let's hope the majority put a big, Black X  on NO.

* Long before I moved to Finland, I was a big fan of Marimekko. It was my first introduction to the country. Eki and I made a documentary about the company.

Source: the Shark

Next Week: A POX on ANTI-VAXERS 

Note: Well, where should I start. There are two main issues I rather strongly disagree with.

1) The first is that you're sort of lying by omission. Sure, there's the Central Railway Station and Post Office and Lasipalatsi, which are early 1900's art-deco.

"Oodi": not art-deco. Image: The City of Helsinki

But there's also the "Makkaratalo" which is a rather ugly shopping center from the late 1960s that got its nickname from the sausage-like concrete bulge that surrounded its 2nd-floor parking lot (now renovated to hold more shops), the 1990 Kiasma modern art museum which is almost Gehryesque, Sanomatalo from 1999 which is an all-glass office building, the Helsinki Music House concert hall from 2011 which is a tilted glass and marble box, and the 2018 Oodi library
, which is a beautiful piece of abstract modern wood-glass architecture.

All these are within about the same distance from the new building as the art-deco buildings you list.

2) Second: I think what makes cities appealing is the layering of different styles and bold architecture that looks the period. I'm actually pretty sure that the art-deco buildings that are now praised were seen as "too modern" and "not fitting" in their own time.

And that appeal, to me, includes even the ugly 1960's shopping centers, "a little too high" hotels and whatever buildings there are - they are children of their time, and they all have a place in a city that wants to have a history and character that is there for the future generations to discover. Today's abomination can be a future jewel.

PS: I'm actually not sure whether the other buildings mentioned here were a result of an open or a closed competition. Likely both. 

PS2: I actually like some of the new competition entries.


Wednesday, 31 March 2021

FINNAIR Falls Flat On Its FACE

    Airplane trailer (Paramount,1980)

It was a long, meandering message. The gist: a company that  Finnair is associated with was breached. Some Finnair Plus members' info might be involved. Nothing serious, but they advised US to change our passwords. There was tel. no. to call. I called. A recoding said they would get back to me. Decided to call Finnair Plus and talk to someone.

Talked to an agent, in English.  I asked him about the breach. He knew nothing about it, said he would check and come back to me. I waited. Several minutes later he came back and confirmed there was a breach. I was surprised that he hadn't been informed.  And called customer service in Helsinki. He said that all I had to do was change my Password.

I went back to the original message and put in my email address and a new password. It didn't work. Thought I had made a mistake and tried three more times. Called Customer Service in Helsinki again. Another agent.  When I told her the problem, she explained that Finnair was still investigating the problem and I wouldn't be able to change the password until it was resolved. She wasn't sure when that would be – maybe tomorrow. I haven't received any updates from Finnair.  So am out to sea about what to do.

Finnair is three years short of its 100th anniversary. State-owned, it has iconic status in Finland. The blue and white carrier gives us confidence. We feel safe when we fly on one of its planes But the way the company handled this small glitch in the system was a red flag. Do they take US loyal passengers as a given? Especially now when airlines are reeling from the pandemic losses. After the virus is subdued and we get on the move again, the competition will be ferocious. Finnair WAKE UP.

cc: Topi Manner CEO Finnair

PS: After a week I received a message from Finnair Plus: there will be a five-day break in the Finnair Plus service while they fix the system.

Source: personal experience

Next week: TRUE FINNs 2.0

Note: I have only had good experiences with Finnair. Despite this hiccup, I like their track record. Also from a safety standpoint - they are the 6th oldest still working airline company, with no significant accidents since 1963. That's longer than I have lived.

Also, when we shot Chasing Esa-Pekka, they let us shoot an interview on a plane, on the ground. Gotta give kudos to the company for doing that.


Monday, 8 March 2021

CON-spiracy CULT


Blue Marble (The Earth as seen from Apollo 17), flattened.

2015:  Donal Trump rolled down  the escalator at Trump Tower to announce he was running for president  - like GOD descending to earth in a Sat. Night Live skit.  He paid a small crowd to cheer. His cartoony looks and rage-rant were comedic. The media zoomed in, so did we. Love him or hate him, he was not boring. By a fluke, he won.

Oath Keepers ad Proud Boys were waiting for a leader like Trump... Ok, ex-military and retired cops, are trained, armed and organized. PBs, white males with a mission to take back America, designated a terrorist org. in Canada. The two groups ignited the mob that stormed the capitol. Five people were killed. By comparison, Qanon is a quirky-jerky cult that touts Democrats are pedophiles, with headquarters in the basement of a pizzeria in Wash. D.C. A Qcon member was arrested after  he shot up the joint.

Trump also has built a rock-solid, adoring  Base. Terrified of being primaried by a T chosen candidate, most Republican senators and reps have bowed down and kissed his ring. After four years of a crack-pot president, in exile now plotting revenge, there are red alerts. The Economist picked How Democracies DIE* as the most important book  of the Trump era. A noted historian** urged the US to read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.*** Corrupt politicians and conspiracies have been around since God. But Trump's Black-Magic is tapping Social Media on speed – that evil Genie can't be put back in the bottle.

PS: The Twitter ban has muted Trump, it's also victimized him.

PS2: A gold, six-foot statue of Trump dressed in shorts and clogs, is front and center at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Made in Mexico.

PS3:  Authorities warn that extreme right-wing groups have hatched a plan to bomb the Capitol when President Biden gives his first speech to a joint session of congress. The date has not been announced.

*Steven Levitsky & Daniel Ziblatt

**John Meacham

**William Shirer

Sources: The Economist, New York Times, Washington Post,  The Guardian, MSNBC, CNN, FOX News, the Shark

Next Week: FINNAIR Falls Flat On Its FACE


Note: I dunno.

I'm kindasorta bored of the Trumpist insanity. There are more relevant conspiracy theories out there - anti-vaxxers come to mind (though sure, there's overlap). I hope the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys and the rest of MAGA conspiracists will soon flush down to their proper place in history: to the sewer of irrelevance along with the flat earthers, Area 51 nuts, evolution denialists, 911 was a hoax crowd, climate change denialists, chemtrail wackos and the already mentioned anti-vaxxers. 

I don't think they deserve the attention anymore, really. Or, more accurately, hope.


Tuesday, 16 February 2021

FINLAND for FOREIGNERS: outsider's view

Air guitar. Image by Hans Braxmeier / Pixabay


SWAMP FOOTBALL  (Suopotkupallo): if you like mucking around in  knee-deep in mud, getting down and dirty, this is the game for you.  Soldiers and athletes – mostly cross-country skiers – dreamed up this muscle-building sport to train in the summer.  It caught on and went global. Around 300 teams compete around the world. The next championship is in Turkey.

AIR GUITAR FESTIVAL (Ilmakitarafestivaali) Oulu, August 2021:  Dead-serious contenders play guitar with no instrument. To the non-woke, it looks wacky. In the mid-1800s it was considered a form of mental illness. But contestants, and fans, are dedicated. Some copy styles of famous guitarists. A contender played the AG behind his back and won the championship. The festival is so popular it pulls in around 300000 fans.

TANGO FESTIVAL (Tangomarkkinat) Seinäjoki, July 2021: A friend and I went to the festival. What it wasn't, was anything like the sexy Latin-American tango. What it  is, is hugely popular with around 100,000 dancers and on-lookers. 1.50 m follow it on TV and radio.  People dance, eat, drink and play all over the town center. Music air all day into the long, light Finnish summer night. A tango-song-wring contest provides new tunes every year.  Lively and fun but don't expect the sex-charged traditional tango.

WIFE-CARRYING CONTEST (Eukokanto) Sonkajarvi. July 2021: The idea goes back to the 1800 village tales – thieves carrying off the women. Today couples come from all over to compete in this crazy contest. The world champions – for two years  - are a man and wife from Lithuania.  The wife clings to her husband's back as he runs through the hurdles. To the fans in the stands, it looks dangerous for both. And you wonder if WC wannabes should choose skinny partners...

Sources: the Shark, internet.

Next week: CON-spiracy CULTS

Note: What can i say? Not much. So i won't.


Tuesday, 26 January 2021


A composite of images from Pixabay

TRUMP got run out of Wash DC by 81,293,098 voters.  He's back up in his Florida digs plotting revenge. The law is on his tail. Criminal evidence piles up. Big-business cash, banks, Twitter and Facebook have dumped him. Old-Money, Palm Beach neighbors want to kick him out of Mar-a-Lago.  But his MAGA  gang is hanging in. 

Showdown 2020 by Little Margie Productions

What a movie – horrible and hilarious. A second impeachment will try to nail him for stoking up up the rally crowd to storm the capital. And for two months he tried to annul the election. We wait for the scene when the sheriff opens his toxic tax returns. The reveal? Money laundering for the Russians? Over-evaluating properties to get loans?  Under-valuing them to taxes? Secret payoffs to women he sexually harassed? A shocking surprise? All of the above, or worse?

Trump has 70 million in campaign-cash to make trouble. We've gotta hope that the cray chaos of the last four years is a wake-up call for US. We thought he was a joke.  Ha. Ha. TRUMP turned out to be THE JOKER.

“What fools these mortals be” --  Shakespeare

Sources: Washington Post, New York Times, Economist, MSNBC, CNN, FOX News, the Shark

Next week:  FINLAND for FOREIGNERS: an outsider's view - ODDBALL  EVENTS

Note: On this blog, Maggy writes, and I find and/or make the images (and fix the typos, ha!). This week, we discussed a cartoon with Trump writing "AIR FORSE 1 TOO" (sic.) to the side of his private jet with a sharpie. It was a funny idea, but A) i do not think it would have worked too well in practice B) it would have been quite a lot of work to make well and C) I like to surprise Maggy with my choices of imagery. So Trump the joker it is ;-)


Monday, 18 January 2021

CHECKMATE!: "Everybody's doin' it, doin' it' NOW" *

Image by Kejamy / Pixabay

Chess is hot. And why not. A game that's been played, more or less for 1500 years has legs.  Blame the latest surge on the the 'Quern's Gambit'  - a Must Watch during Social Isolation.  Or credit Magnus Carlsen, the hunky, young, Hollywood-handsome Norwegian, who is the highest-rated player since ratings began. 

Google must have picked up that I was checking chess sites.  Magnus showed up. I could follow his moves and learn how to WIN.  Gave up after the second move – lost. Checked out Bobby Fischer, who got wiped out by comedian, Bob Hope, who played checkers with the pieces. Chess clubs are all over the place. Finland is into it. A perfect game for Finns – it takes strategy and there's not a lot of blah-blah. Oodi, Helsinki's central library, where you can do almost anything, has a club. Beginners welcomed.  The oldest chess club in the world – Part I (1800  - 1914) – has the longest name:  Schachgesllschaft.

I've learned the rules for beginners: for ex., how to set up the board, the best openings, to castle early -  preferably on the king's side, en passant, move knights before bishops,  control the center, the points for each piece, the queen is the most powerful, but the king is the most important. According to the Washington Post, chess is sexy.  Maybe that's why the majority of players are young. And you don't have to be a genius to be a good player  - it takes hard work. Mangus Carlsen said the first line in his memoir will be: "I am not genius".  Whew. Whatta relief.  CHECKMATE!

*Irving Berlin 1911

Sources: Washington Post, Google, Fred Haeger

Next week: SHOWDOWN 2021


I've played chess a bit but was never very good at it. And to add insult to the injury, some of my friends are. So, while playing chess at a bar was all fun and games when we were hanging out when young, it was also a somewhat constant stream of losses for me - also financial ones due to the many, many beers I had to buy for the winners ;-)


Monday, 28 December 2020


works in his home studio. His work-life hasn't changed that much, But he grew up with scientists – so he's careful. Meetings are on the phone, or by message. He avoids people and wears a mask when he goes out. If there's a reason, he goes to Spacewhale – the studio he, Era and Teemu renovated this year.  He still pulls all-nighters when there's a work crush. So it's pretty much business as usual. 

A knitted dinner table, Xmas edition.
, Eki's wife, has worked through it all. She's on the front line  – taking care of people, who are old, bedridden, and need constant care. For her, the vaccine can't come soon enough. During her free time, she does her art. A beautiful, crochet patchwork. Under glass decorates their dining room table.

The SHARK has worked from home since March. She misses the camaraderie of her friends at the office and the food at the canteen. When I ask her how she is, she says, 'I'm boring'. I  correct her and say 'You mean you're bored'. She says, 'Well both'. We started The Boring Club: you can tell the same story over and over and over and nobody listens. She's president, I'm v.p.

SHARON PETTUS in St. Louis, MO hurt her back and it's hard to walk. Online she found a chic-sleek yellow titanium tricycle without pedals – you walk it. Made in Canada. The Alinker is so in demand that the delivery is six to twelve weeks. She's like a kid who Scrooge left a sack of coal instead of toys. Her husband ROBERT, will be happy when that troika shows up. Sharon will be over-the-moon.

ELIZABETH NELSON,  my sister, is recovering from breast cancer. She's isolating with her husband BOB, in their snug house in  Ft. Collins, CO. They go out to get supplies and take a walk but have no visitors. She's read every book about Trump's terrible four years. And has made a quick recovery. We talk on Saturdays and dish the dirt. We never seem to run out of material.

JONI HERTELL has a house designed by his architect daughter, JULIA HERTELL. It's in Hanko, about two hours from Helsinki. From May till October, he settled in for the long Finnish summer: excursions by boat, dinners with friends, swimming, net-fishing, golf. The town was barely touched by Covid 19. Back in Helsinki, there were more restrictions. He'll spend the holidays with his family in Hanko.

SHARON HELLER and her husband, BILL, have a cabin by a river  in Clark, CO (2,231 meters). Bill hunts and fishes, their freezer is chockablock with delicious raw material. Sharon's meals are like those photos in upscale food magazines. Neighbors, beer in hand, come over for a happy hour. The Hellers are careful and entertain guests outside. They're back in Palisade. Guests sit by a blazing fire pit, drink wine, and chill out.

BETH KOLTAR has an art-deco apartment in Houston, TX. But her husband, STEVEN, longed to be out in the country. They found a place with a pretty stone house, beautiful oak trees, and acres of grass. Steven bought an industrial lawnmower and started mowing. Beth bought a bird feeder and the cardinals flocked in. In the evening, they sit on the back deck and dig nature.

RICHARD BAILY in Oxford, GB is the first person I know to get the Pfizer Covid 19 jab. WOW. They called him one night, the next morning he was at the health center. It was over in a second. Through this whole year, he's been careful but had a matter-of-fact attitude. He said he missed having a beer at the pub with his rowing pals. And dancing every week at the town hall. Now he's waiting for his second jab.

My pals and I know we are lucky to have safe bolt-holes. Now the vaccine is a reality, what comes next?  After the 1918 Spanish flu killed approx. 50 million  people, the twenties celebrated the razzle-dazzle  Jazz Age. Women threw away their corsets, bobbed their hair, wore short, sheer dresses and coupes danced the sexy tango. Wishful thinking?


Next year: 'Life is too serious to be taken seriously.' Oscar Wilde 

Note: Our studio moved to new premises. So it's not just renovated, it's brand new. We call it SW5 Studio, as it's the fifth in a row. The English translation of our site is not yet done, but you can look at pretty pictures here:

The first Spacewhale "studio" was just a small concrete closet in a basement, that could barely hold our band instruments. Now we have about 200 m² (about 2150 square feet) on the 2nd floor of a pretty nice office building. The band gear is still there, but most of the space is for video: green screen studio and offices/edits.

Unfortunately, all the music stuff has been more or less on a hiatus due to corona - but I'm sure we'll get the band(s) together when things normalize a bit.

But back to the new studio: the new hotness we're building there is real-time virtual set capability - something that used to be an investment of millions of dollars, far beyond the budgets of mere mortals. Thanks to the advancement of consumer technology, almost the same result can now be done with about a thousandth of the budget, using off-the-shelf gear, some software, and plenty of DIY spirit.

Essentially, the position and rotation of the camera used in the studio is tracked in 3D space and brought to the computer, where a virtual camera with matching properties is placed in a 3D graphics world. Think of it as having your actors in the greenscreen studio, teleported into a video game, in real-time. And this result can be streamed live, to youtube, or to a zoom meeting or whatever. It almost works already - we're very near being production-ready. A simpler version of the concept is already in use, using a stationary camera.

Which reminds me, we really should make some promo videos at our new facility - right now the only demo of the concept i have is from my early tests about a year ago, done at my corona-induced isolation studio at home: