Sunday, February 28, 2010

Helsinki, Day 3 – I have arrived :-)

So I finally got onto a plane to cross the Atlantic, this being my British Air 777. I sat in the last of four progressively worse cabin sections … with 9 seats across and only 21” of leg room. That’s 1” less than the standard and several inches less than the better cabins.

The worst aspect of this configuration is the difficulty sleeping. To stretch one’s legs, one must slide forward on the seat, removing the support form the lower back. After 3 or 4 hours of sleeping this way, the back is screaming.

Anyway … we landed about 15 minutes late because we had to go around once. This did not worry me too much as I had a 2 hour cushion. But that turned out to be barely enough.

After landing, we waited 15 minutes while the buses were brought in to get everyone off the plane. Then we had about 10-15 minutes of driving to get to the  terminal. That airport is huge …

I got into the terminal and followed everyone to the connections area, knowing that I still had to see an agent to get my seat assignment. The lack of a boarding pass was really causing me stress.

Queue up for the bus over to Terminal 3. Wait 10 minutes, then a 10 minute drive. Then, at least 20 minutes in line for security and getting my bags scanned again. Thank goodness I did not need my boarding pass, as I would have been toast.

After all that, I look at the screens. My flight is boarding and I do  not have a boarding pass. Oy … so I run. The gate is pretty far, but this is my one chance. When I finally arrive, huffing and puffing, the gate is marked “closing”, which means that the last bus is waiting for passengers. Strangely, after all my anxiety over the boarding pass, she issued me one without blinking an eye. And it was business class no less.


The view from my window seat in 01F.


I will remember this trip and (a) try to minimize connections; and (b) try to leave 3 hours instead of two to get through connections at Heathrow.

So off we went to Finland. It was raining in London, but at least there was no snow.


DSCF3567 DSCF3569

Things are pretty different once we arrive in Helsinki. Bleak might be one word.



Lots of Finnair around here :-)



I saw this advert in the luggage area and had to chuckle. Obviously, big American stars are quite willing to sell their souls in other markets …


Leaving the airport, I saw this peculiar display.


The taxi I rode in was a very nice Volvo. The driver mentioned that Volvo and Mercedes dominate the taxi population, with Toyota and Hyundai making inroads. The taxi I rode in sells new for around 55,000 Euro. <choke>

Some things I noted include: the city looks just like Ottawa in a snowy year; lots of English signs everywhere; Finnish words are the longest I have ever seen; LED traffic lights have not found their way here yet; lots of cars with unrecognizable names; they drive on the “right” side of the road :-)

The hotel turns out to be pretty nice. Very similar to the one I use in the UK, but with free Internet. The room is small, but well designed:



Real wood floors! Lots of power outlets. All better than the more expensive rooms I got in London.

The area just outside my room is pretty spacious:


And this spot in the lobby near the restaurant just screams Scandinavian furniture:


One last thing … I found the zero used for first floor in England to be peculiar. But using P just makes no sense to me at all.


Saturday, February 27, 2010

Helsinki, Day 2 – Burning time …

It’s been a rather pleasant day, I must say. Wake up at 10am, blog yesterday, nap, shower, check out, grab a nice relaxed lunch at Perkins (attached to the hotel) – including the best beef dip I may ever have had, and finally find my way to the airport and check in to British Air.


Since I don’t board until 8:30pm, every minute of today was extremely relaxed. Not a great trade for a day of acclimatization in Helsinki, but not terrible either …

Not too many people around 3 or 4 hours before a flight to London, though.


It is nice to camp out on a big table with the stuff all over it and a TV just above showing the Canadian men’s curling team playing for gold.


The TV is a POS, but so what … they have it nice and loud so there is no effort to following the game :-)

Another 90 minutes to boarding and I’ll get to see the magnificent 777 …


Or …


I wish :-)

Helsinki, Day 1 – Scheduling Disaster

I am off to visit Helsinki for a bit over a week … at least, that was my plan. I was told Wednesday that my expertise (yes, I do have some :-) was needed there immediately, so I booked a last minute flight on Air Canada through Toronto and Frankfurt. A pretty bog-standard trip.

However … connections through Pearson or O’Hare are anything but standard when weather hits, as it did last night. So I was delayed in Ottawa for 2 hours plus … as I watched my 2 hour window close, I visited agents 3 times and was assured that every flight at Pearson had been delayed by a minimum of 90 minutes, so my interval was supposedly maintained. Note: This turned out to be true, the Frankfurt connection left about 90 minutes late … read on.

We finally left about two hours late, so my interval was down to less than 90 minutes now … when we arrived in Toronto, we taxied for the usual eternity and then just stopped. The Captain came on and said that we would get a gate in about 8 minutes or so, that we were first in line.

Nyuk nyuk nyuk …

In fact, we got our gate almost an hour later … interval gone, and so was my connection. Now, I really hate inconvenience, but this was only the beginning of the nightmare.

Once inside the terminal, an agent is waiting for us to direct the hoards to the customer service area to rebook. Like lemmings we flowed through the terminal and eventually found the customer service area, which was the place where the lineup with 300 people was situated.

I got in line and stood for 10 minutes, during which time the line stood still. It was as many as 10 people wide and went around a corner, so I had no idea what was really happening. I then had a serious brain fart and thought I might do better by sitting in a corner (there was an unused gate area nearby) and so I sat down and opened the laptop. It of course needed a full reboot, which took 5 minutes (long story and I have a new one on order) … so my blood pressure is rising while I am conflicted about leaving the lineup. This is not at all helped by watching dozens of people arrive in the line.

Once the laptop is up, I have to purchase a day of Boingo Hotspot (Internet in Ottawa airport is free now) which I do. This takes time and the pressure is building. To make a long story short, this is entirely unfruitful, so I go back to the lineup, which is about 6 to 10 feet shorter than before. I meet and chat with a very interesting Brazilian gentleman, who is waiting for new tickets to Sao Paulo for 7:45am. I scan the departures and wonder if the early morning flights might offer a chance to get to London and the Helsinki.

Nyuk nyuk nyuk … this is Olympic weekend … the end of the 16 days when half the planet is leaving Canada.

Anyway, after 30 minutes or so, the gate agent calls the Sao Paulo people to move down the hall to the next gate and the line shrinks dramatically. Only a few hundred left. Looking good.

I finally turn the corner and realize that there are actually two lines and there are two humans with dot matrix printers screaming constantly behind them … printing new boarding passes of course.

I zone out for a while, listening to couple of people chatting and pondering how much i hate my life right this minute :-) and I suddenly realize that the agent for my line has come around to the front and is sending each person away very unhappy now. By the time I get to the front of the line, I have heard the drill 6 times … “I apologize, but I have no more agents and you now have to phone Air Canada to rebook yourself, as well as finding your own hotel and claiming the cost back from Air Canada later.”

Holy sh*t … talk about abdication. Apparently, she never entertained actually calling in an agent or two to clean up this mess. So perhaps a hundred people were left hanging … the right hand line kept going for a while, and a few brave souls went to the back of that line (after standing in our line for more than an hour, this was too galling for me to entertain.)

So I went to Tm Horton’s to ponder the evolving disaster and about 10 minutes later I noticed the gate agent leading a gaggle of 39 or 40 people off to the Soylent Green factory or something.

Anyway, once I have eaten my delicious muffin (so old that the top is rock hard) and my coffee (which was pretty good actually) I call in to our travel agency and begin the process of finding flights.

My overriding concern was arrival in Helsinki by Sunday. Absolutely mandatory, since the customer was expecting me and three people were joining me from Sweden. To make this part of the story shorter, we went round the pole on a lot of options over 90 minutes (ran my battery to nothing, so had to hook the iPhone up to my laptop’s USB port to maintain power.) The Star Alliance flights out of Toronto are all sold out, including business class. In fact, almost every flight is sold out.

There was a business class seat on Lufthansa through Frankfurt today at 6, arriving tomorrow at noon. Not bad, but 4 grand for the outbound leg only. That’s a little rich. But if that was the only option, I was taking it. When I asked if that was the only option, she decided to check something else and found a British Airways flight through London that left at 9pm today and arrived at 4pm tomorrow. 2600 instead of 4300 and coach … a no-brainer, if painful loss of first class seats and all my outbound status miles. Sheesh … can this suck any worse?

She tried the local hotels and found a Holiday Inn that could take me in immediately and allow me a late checkout of 1pm. No later since they were fully sold for Saturday check in.

On my way out of the building, I stopped to speak to the luggage people to see if I could get my bag. Not a chance. However, he was very good at his job and explained that we should route the luggage on Air Canada regardless of my change of carriers for the outbound leg. That would guarantee its arrival at my hotel, whereas rerouting it to take my flight would go through Heathrow and he chuckled at my odds.

I finally grabbed the shuttle, which ended up filling with people and luggage spilling over everywhere and eventually arrived at my hotel. The clerk did not believe me at first that I had a reservation for 3am, since there are in fact two Holiday Inns on Dixon. I was worried that my travel agent had got the wrong address, but in the end he found my reservation. Whew …

So I got some decent sleep. And woke up to this crappy weather …


All images in the Helsinki series will be from the F70EXR and are straight from the camera. I am not editing anything until I get home, when I will edit a series of images from this cam and from the D300 with 18-200VR, which I brought with me in anticipation of my acclimatization day in Helsinki on Sunday.

Nyuk nyuk nyuk …

My room on this night did not suck at all, that was something.


I’m not exhausted (yet) …


And my laptop still sucks … I hit some or key or other a moment ago and got this …


How wude … once I found the settings for this, I switched off the hot keys (and rotated my screen back of course :-)

So I will be checking out in 90 minutes or so and will print off my new itineraries and will then enjoy a leisurely day at Pearson airport while I fuss over whether plan B will be screwed by the almighty weather gods …

Friday, February 26, 2010

Tigerdirect.COM … not the brightest bulbs …

I get a regular mailing from Tigerdirect because I have purchased form them in the past (the .ca variant) … but the emails I get are from the .com variant and the specials they give me are often offset completely by shipping costs.

Well, they are now offering Dragon Naturally Speaking 10, which they swear has a very high accuracy and speed.


I have wanted this type of application for a very long time … I even tried an early version of Dragon (before Nuance bought them out) and found it pretty weak.

So I was tempted by this $29.99 offer … especially after seeing it at the local WalMart for $99cad … this is a legitimate deal!


Well, first off, $25 of the savings comes in the form of a mail-in rebate. These are tricky across border, and sure enough it says in the fine print that the rebate is only valid in the US.

Still, $55 is not a bad price, so I go to the check out screen to check out shipping charges, and of course I am stunned.


$69.50 to ship a basically-empty box to me. Wow … that makes the total almost $125. After conversion, this is about $30 more than I would pay at the local WalMart.

Better luck next time I suppose …


As beautiful as falling snow can be, it’s a little depressing to watch a blizzard in progress, as you know how much work it will be to clean up. And since I am off to Helsinki tomorrow, I had to do that this evening. Else the boys would have to do it … and heaven forbid they do some yard work :-)

Before I actually blew out the driveway, I grabbed the D700 and shot some images. First with the 70-300VR and then with the Tamron 28-75 to get the wider view.

I shot at extremely high ISO, 6400 and 12800, but that does not phase the D700 as much as it would the D300. In fact, with clever processing, it’s pretty hard to tell that these were extreme ISO images at all.

The snow was still coming down when I shot these, so there is a nice background effect of flying snow to some of the shots. As I stepped out of the house, I framed the tree first and then the yard in general. Both were shot with the 70-300VR at 6400 ISO. The first was shot at 1/15s and the second at 1/30s.



I kept that lens on and shot this image down the street at 12800 ISO and 1/25s. No light to speak of.


Then I shot my neighbour’s son blowing out his driveway, also at 12800 ISO. The shutter is at 1/20s here.


Note that these are only lit by one overhead lamp on the corner and the small bulbs on the houses. The light was rather warm, so I am pushing the blue channel hard on these.

I popped back into the house for a moment and grabbed the Tamron 28-75 2.8 for a few more shots. No VR but a faster lens. The front yard image as I stepped out is nice for 12800 ISO.


I dropped back to 6400 ISO for a shot of my house and car. The Lumina is with Nick at work and is on its way home as I shoot these.


My front entrance is lit by one small bulb and these LED Christmas lights … the holiday comes but once a year, but lasts a very long time at my house.


And that’s all I shot with the D700. I put the cam back inside and pulled out the snow blower. The process took close to an hour after I dropped off my car. Nick returned while I was blowing the driveway and came out later at my request to help clean things up with a shovel while I finished.

I then took out the Fuji F70EXR and shot a few images at 1600 ISO. Bracing the camera allowed me to get some decent images, despite wicked low shutter speeds.

My front yard one more time at 1600 ISO and 1/8s.


The H.M.S. Lumina across the street, where I had asked Nick to park while I finished the driveway. Nick is just coming around after brushing snow off the windows.


And finally, a view of my neighbour’s front yard and a beautifully shaped apple tree. I pushed the snow to white, which turned everything else a nice blue.


Some pretty nice images when you consider that they were shot by the light of a single street lamp and the lanterns on houses.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Vancouver Olympics – What a Day!


We won a pile of medals today … but the medals that really stick out for me are the gold and silver in women’s two man bobsleigh …

This is a traditional sport from a long way back, so no leg up for us by “inventing” a sport. And it is not a judged sport … it is based solely on the fitness of the pushers and skill of the driver. And, of course, the quality of the sled itself.

image image

And our drivers are obviously brilliant. Yes, this is their home track. Yes, they’ve been down it many times. But so what? Watching them drive the sleds in perfectly smooth lines through every turn was like watching a virtuoso performance. And they did it four times in two days.



Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Mind Blowing Beatbox Kid from Japan

I have never seen anything like this. His name is Daichi and he is 18 years old. This kind of skill implies that he came out of the womb beatboxing …

Japanese Cars – Crappy?

Nick expressed the thought last night that the next generation of kids could grow up thinking that Japanese cars are crappy. This, of course, based on Toyota’s seeming insistence on self-destruction through irresponsibility and deception.

In case that last part gives you pause, I’m referring to the fact that Toyota has known forever about their cars’ sticking throttles and failing breaks and chose to apply fixes like floor mats to save a few bucks :-/  This was documented in a memo that was released to the US lawmakers who are investigating Toyota, no doubt for terminal stupidity.

And I quote:

A 2009 internal document turned over to lawmakers and made available on Sunday shows Toyota’s Washington D.C. staff trumpeting savings of more than US$100-million by convincing regulators to end a 2007 investigation of sudden acceleration complaints with a relatively cheap floormat recall.

Back to my story … that comment from Nick reminded me that kids growing up in the 60s and early 70s had a fairly low opinion of Japanese cars like the Corona and various Datsun models. They seemed kind of junky next to the great chunks of steel we were used to from Plymouth and Chevy.

As we all know, the Japanese manufacturers ended up eating our carmakers’ collective lunches, almost ending them as a force in the industry.

And yet, Toyota’s idiocy could be the dawn of a new era … the Japanese may actually have grown a little too complacent and be heading down that hill themselves.

But then … I’m a Honda fan, and they just got named best car manufacturer for the fourth year in a row with Subaru right behind … so I think we can safely say it’s just Toyota who’s gone loony …

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Et tu, Walmart?

Joining the ranks of disappointing corporations, Walmart raised prices on all of their meal replacement bars yesterday. My brother sent me a text with a few choice words for the fact that their prices on the bar that he prefers went up 50%.

The bar that I prefer went up 100%!!! That’s just insane … since he is in Winnipeg and I am in Ottawa, this is obviously a Canada-wide attack on healthy structured meals.

I would not have cared less if they’d raised the price on candy … but to raise the prices so dramatically on meal replacements?

Shame on you Walmart …

Saturday, February 20, 2010

D700 – Hand Held Moon

Every once in a while, I get the urge to shoot an image of the moon. However, since reshaping my camera equipment more towards high end equipment, I no longer have the ideal equipment for shooting the moon. The 300mm F4 AFS and TC17e teleconverter are gone, so I am now left with just the 70-300VR consumer grade zoom.

Now, that’s a very nice zoom and is often used when shooting with the full frame D700 because it is extremely sharp within the 70-200 range, and acceptably sharp at 300.

So I thought I’d see what the D700 could do with this lens and hand held. I set the exposure in manual mode to 1/250s at F11 and ISO 400. F11 is the best sharpness point of the 70-300VR lens at 300mm, and 400 ISO is as clean on the D700 as 100 ISO on the D300.

I shot in high speed mode and blasted off a dozen images or thereabouts. The results were mediocre, and pretty small since the full frame puts fewer pixels on the image than does the APS-C frame in the D300 at the same magnification.

And here is that moon at pretty much 100% magnification … lots of processing was required to pull out this much detail …


Tim Horton’s – Terminally Stupid?


Don’t get me wrong … Timmy’s makes acceptable coffee and pretty decent donuts … but their Neanderthal payment options should have put them out of business by now.

Twice in the last couple of weeks I had to leave a Timmy’s without satisfaction because I carry no cash with me and because my active credit card is a VISA. Timmy’s accepts only cash or Mastercard.


In fact, Timmy’s proudly talks about their wonderful quick pay cash card on their web site. So they’ve invested their resources to create their own cash card system with readers, presumably to keep their high speed lines running in the morning.

<peels of raucous laughter>

Ok … those who have been to a Timmy’s a few times in the morning (I used to go often but that was 10 years ago) know that the payment system is not the problem … it is the staff … they need more people who are better trained.

Anyway, people who defend them tend to focus on the speed of payment, but that does not explain why they can’t accept both VISA and Mastercard. Presumably, that is explained by some sort of back-room deal where Mastercard manages their cash card program for them in return for exclusivity.

Still … why in the world would I want yet another stupid piece of plastic that works in only one place … a place I only go into once in a while? The answer is that I would not, a feeling I suspect is shared by thousands of Starbucks customers :-).

So Timmy’s obviously lives off the proceeds of its rabid fans … those people who go there regardless of how arrogantly they treat this issue … those who carry “Tim-cash” in their ash-trays … that kind of thing.

As for the speed issue … at the local McDonald’s drive through, they take your credit card (I get Aeroplan miles so I use it religiously) and swipe it … 3 seconds later (or less) they hand you the card and wave you through. Much faster than any Timmy’s I’ve ever been in.

So … I submit that they should accept both major credit cards and they should consider squeezing the banks for someone who would give them a terrific rate on debit cards as well.

Maybe it’s just me, but Starbuck’s takes all forms of payment and I ***hate*** carrying cash. To ignore that type of person is terminally stupid in my opinion.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Shutter Island – Movie Review


Holy sh*t … now that’s some kind of a movie. Perplexing, frightening, even at times uplifting. This movie will leave many confused … me, I chose an interpretation and I’m sticking with it.

Now, I can’t tell you any plot points … that would risk giving away a wonderful plot with several twists. No point in that. But I *can* tell you that Martin Scorsese makes a heck of a movie.


And the cast in this one is first rate. The three main protagonists are played by Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo and Ben Kingsley. If any of these actors’ work is unfamiliar to you, let me suggest that you get out a little more. Ruffalo might be the least known, but his work is excellent. The other two are simply stellar. As good as it can possibly get.

Here are the three of them chatting about <spoiler deleted>


Heavy weather is used throughout the movie to maintain high tension and I have to say that it works. You never lose the feeling of foreboding while the weather is pounding the island.


There is also a very strong sense of containment, helped along by the guards being modeled after a paramilitary force. Very well done, that.


I thought this was to be mainly a horror flick … like the one Halley Barry made a while back. Karen started and grabbed my hand a dozen times, as they snap the tension on you frequently enough. But ultimately, this movie if much more complex than that, and there is no gratuitous violence to speak of.

So that’s all I’m willing to show or tell you … I think this is a real winner, and the early returns on IMDB are extremely impressive. Enjoy.


My interpretation at the end was that he really had reverted, but had a calm acceptance of his fate when he saw the ice pick in the towel held by the approaching orderly.

However, my son and his friends came up with a much better interpretation that goes a long way to explaining the entire movie and is of course much more worthy of Scorsese: He only *pretended* to revert to his old self so that he could get himself the lobotomy and lose the memories that had literally driven him crazy. He was simply unable to face a lifetime of those memories. Excellent …

Thursday, February 18, 2010