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The circus is in town

The Eurovision Song Contest enjoys a healthy popularity and it is more kitsch than ever. Last year there were more than eight million votes (either by phone call or SMS) and the contest is followed by large audiences, even in non-participant countries like India, Korea and New Zealand. Drag queens, monsters, boy bands and the usual melodic singers compete for being the big stars for one year (or day).This year is no exception. 
 
Verka Serdyuchka, the Ukrainian participant is a controversial drag queen who has raised a great deal of protest in her own country. Angry Ukrainian nationalists held demonstrations across the country against Verka, who was chosen as Ukraine’s entry by an overwhelming majority. The nationalists claim that Serdyuchka is a grotesque stereotype of a stupid Ukrainian villager.

No less controversial is the song by Israel’s candidate. The group is Teapacks and the song is Push the Button. It refers to “crazy rulers” and says that “he’s gonna blow us up to biddy, biddy kingdom come”. Did someone mention Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? The band denies it, but some weeks ago Eurovision spokesman Kjell Ekholm hinted that the song could be banned. Any publicity is good to pull out some votes.

{mosimage}Post-Lordi Finland
After last year's nightmare, Finland decided to choose a more conventional performer in the form of Idols-tailored singer Hanna Pakarinen. She will be the entry for the host country and her song has some strong rock guitars, but the melody is cheesy as only a Eurovision song can be. As host country, Hanna Pakarinen already qualifies to the finals and she will sing the fifth performance of the night.

But Finland does not only face the challenge of delivering a good musical performance. The Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE) is in charge of organizing the event, which will be held at Finland’s largest ice hockey hall the Hartwall Areena in Pasila, just a few kilometers from the city center – although YLE wants to name the hall the 'Helsinki Areena' for the event to avoid extra and free advertising. More than forty people in YLE have worked for months in the production of the event that has a budget of around 13 million euros. In spite of all the efforts, there have been some critiques already towards YLE’s work. The promised webcast of the contest draw failed and recently Estonia protested because of the lack of information from YLE about the technical aspects of the stage, the lighting and the sound.

Finnish polarities
The theme for this year’s contest will be “True Fantasy”, which “will embrace Finland and Finnishness in terms of the polarities associated with the country: light vs. darkness, northern fells vs. islands in the south, our strong bond to nature vs. fast technological development, taciturnity against inner strength and creative madness, as showcased by Lordi in an original way,” defines YLE’s Executive Producer Heikki Seppälä.Old national rivalries and friendships will arise again. Cyprus will give 12 points to Greece and Greece will do the same with Cyprus. One more time place your bets! And if you cannot stand the contest, put your earplugs in for the next few weeks.

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The tigress of the world

 

Prima donna of the Grand Opera in Paris

Aino Achté was born in Helsinki on the 23rd of April 1876 to Emmy and Niklas Achté. The Achtés were talented musicians, and Aino learnt to sing from her mother. The audiences loved her from her very first performance. Aged 17, Aino was a tall, slender girl with big brown eyes, an exceptional voice, and great skill. She had another important asset as well, namely her mother. Emmy Achté was an ambitious and enterprising woman who had aspired to an international career herself, and studied in the conservatories of Stockholm, Dresden and Paris. It was the Paris Conservatoire she now chose for her daughter: it represented the absolute élite of the French musical scene, and could launch a successful student into fame.

Having passed the entrance examination with flying colours Aino studied at the Conservatoire for three years (1894-7). Her diligence and ambition were soon noted, but the competition was intense, and Aino's surname made her the butt of jokes as its French pronunciation resembled that of the word "achetée" (bought). "Excusez-moi, mademoiselle Achté, mais est-que vous êtes déjà acheteé?", one of her teachers would often say, eventually leading Aino to change the "h" in Achté to a "k", Ackté.

Regardless of the name, Aino's studies were a success. At the end of her third year she won the first prize at the annual competition of the opera class. This secured her a place at the Grand Opera of Paris, or the Théâtre National de l'Opéra as it was known at the time. Her début role as Marguerite in Charles Gounod´s "Faust" was a triumph, and the Opera eventually came to sign her for six years (1897-1903), during which time she made several recordings.

 

A cultural ambassadress

Ackté and the painter Albert Edelfelt were considered unofficial cultural ambassadors of Finland. At the Paris World Exhibition of 1900 the young prima donna had an active role in organising concerts of Finnish music. Her diplomatic skills and intimate knowledge of Paris helped ensure the success of the Finnish Pavilion, and thus consolidated for their part the idea of Finland as an autonomous cultural entity.

Ackté and Edelfelt, who had observed his young compatriot's career from its start, were friends, and Edelfelt painted a number of portraits of her. Back home, the two might have been rumoured to be more than just friends, but in the eyes of the Parisians Ackté was exceptionally celibate. Her private life gave little cause for gossip. In fact Ackté had been secretly engaged to Heikki Renvall, a fennoman lawyer, since 1896. Her mother and the Opera were against the marriage, as it was thought to be an impediment to her career, but the couple eventually married in the spring of 1901. Later that year Aino gave birth to a little girl, and in 1908 the Ackté-Renvall couple had a son. The marriage ended in divorce nine years later, and in 1919 Ackté married the general, Governor Bruno Jalander.

 

{mosimage}Disappointment and success

The Metropolitan Opera had been courting Ackté for some time when in 1903 she finally had the chance to disengage herself from the Grand Opera. The Americans signed her for two seasons, but the experience proved to be a disappointment. The competition was even fiercer than in Paris, the audience favoured the Italian style of opera, and Ackté could not reconcile herself with the language, the magazines' practice of reviewing performances (in exchange for bribes), or the American lifestyle in general. She missed Europe, Paris, and the civilisation she was accustomed to.

Ackté returned to Europe, and started increasingly to tour the great stages of England and Germany, singing parts from Wagner's "Mastersingers", "Lohengrin", "Tannhäuser", "Flying Dutchman", and "Siegfrid" as well as Puccini's "Tosca" and Massenet's "Thaïs". Her greatest success, however, was in the role of "Salome". Ackté had heard of this new, challenging opera by Richard Strauss already in 1906. Strangely transfixed, she studied the part zealously under the composer himself. Not only did she study the music, but she also secured a famous orientally styled dress (designed to give an illusion of near-nakedness) from the foremost fashion house in Paris, and worked out a choreography for the "Dance of the Seven Veils" with an expert of ancient on Greek dances. It was all for one goal: Ackté considered Salome the role of her life, one that could make her the No. One opera singer of the world.

The 1910 performance of Salome in Covent Garden finally obtained Ackté the climax she had longed for. The opening night was a high society event, and Ackté delivered on all the expectations. The audience was absolutely entranced by her dramatic, passionate Salome; the clamour of the crowd forced the curtain up sixteen times, and the stage overflowed with flowers. The reviews called her a cat, a tigress, an enchantress, a Woman, a pure sensation, and reportedly Strauss himself told Ackté that she was the best Salome in the world. 

Pioneer of the Finnish opera

Ackté's international career came slowly to an end at the eve of the First World War. She continued to give occasional concerts abroad, but on the whole the war made it easier for her to gradually retire from the stage. She now turned her attention fully to the needs of the Finnish opera. 

Finnish opera had experienced a golden age in the 1870s, but since then there had been only a few irregular groups performing at their own expense. There was, and had been for years, talk of a national opera, and Aino Ackté decided to turn the idea into reality. In 1911 Ackté, together with Edward Fazer, Oskar Merikanto and others, established the Kotimainen ooppera – Inhemska operan, renamed in 1914 the Finnish Opera, and today known as the Finnish National Opera. Ackté brought her artistic abilities, international style and glamour to the new house while her mother acted as singer, teacher, and artistic director. The first performances were a success, but the artists perceived Ackté to be rude and arrogant. She became entangled in bitter disagreements with the other founders, and was forced to quit the enterprise.

After leaving the Kotimainen ooppera Ackté began to organise international opera festivals in the historic castle of Olavinlinna, Savonlinna. The setting was perfectly beautiful, St. Petersburg only short distance away, and the town teemed with summer guests seeking amusement. "I wish to offer artistic experiences also for those people who have never in been to opera", Ackté explained to the press. She organised the festival successfully during the years 1912-1914, again after the war in 1916, and finally in 1930, when she also gave her last public performance. In 1938 Ackté was invited to become the director of the Finnish Opera, but after one glorious season, and renewed quarrels about budget, she resigned the post.

Aino Ackté died of pancreatic cancer on the 8th of August 1944. Savonlinna and Helsinki have streets named after her, and the City of Helsinki owns her summerhouse of 40 years, Villa Aino Ackté, which has been restored to its original appearance.

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Play your part!

Making films inside videogames has been a growing trend since the advent of 3D games in the '90s. Quake was the first videogame to give freedom and powerful resources to creators bringing hour long movies with custom built sets, special effects, graphics, real voices, sound effects and music could be created.

As the game engines, tools and 3D hardware improved and better and more diverse games were released, the popularity of making movies with games increased. Today, this trend is known as machinima, a term that defines both a production technique and a film genre. Machinima (pronounced: muh-sheen-eh-mah) is a combination of filmmaking, animation and game development. It is movies made within a real-time, 3D virtual environment, often using 3D video-game technologies.

Machinima takes the basics of real world filmmaking into the virtual world of the game. Pre-production is needed to prepare the screenplay, the storyboard, the sets, the characters and camera positions. Once everything is ready, filming can start.

Ready! Action! Go! The game starts when the players with the game controllers, instead of playing it, perform their role in the movie, as any other actor. The shooting of the movie can be through network playing. Machinima makers can also produce the movie on their own by using automated script and other tools, usually provided by the developers of the game. After the shooting, a period of post-production is needed for editing, adding special effects, music and sound.

This technique is much faster and cheaper to produce than traditional CGI animation. Sets and characters can easily be changed and there is no need for expensive hardware and software tools. The films are quickly spread over the Internet and community forums. Machinima fans created the Academy of Machinima Arts and Sciences, where one can watch, create and share a variety of films.

 

{mosimage}Popular series

The most popular 3D games provide the scenarios for machinima works. Rooster Teeth is one of the most popular machinima community websites. They are the creators of The Strangerhood, a sit-com based on The Sims 2, where a bunch a Sims is gathered in an apartment for unknown reasons. Based in the game Halo, Burns has created Red vs. Blue. In this series nine intergalactic soldiers are stuck in a non-descript landscape. They are supposed to fight each other, but they wonder why they are there in the first place and joke about profound matters.

Grand Theft Auto, Second Life, Unreal Tournament and almost any 3D game can be the environment for a machinima work. As computers get more powerful, more people join the community and this goes mainstream. Several producers are already selling DVD of their films and series. If you play it, film it!

Machinima films can be watch at www.machinima.com

 

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Am I just a CC for you?

Is always sending e-mails an innocent action aimed at providing and exchanging information among co-workers? Answers to that question have recently been published in interesting study by Karianne Skovholt, who is a PhD scholarship holder at BI Norwegian School of Management. She affirms in her conclusions that under cover of simply wishing to provide information, employees can obtain support and exert pressure on the primary recipient.

 

“Employees can use an email’s cc function to position themselves in the organizational hierarchy under cover of simply wanting to provide information.”

Karianne performed her research by gathering more than 700 mails collected from an international company based in Norway. What was discovered is that the workers “rank” recipients, depending on how positively they think about them before sending the message. If they considered them as 'less relevance', they are copied as CC instead of in the “To” main field. This would follow the basic rules of a normal conversation in real life, where you have the speaker, the person who is addressed to participate directly, the participants and the listeners who do not take direct part in the discussion. People follow the same patterns when communicating in the cyberspace.

 

Next time you receive a general copied mail at your office, pay attention if you appear as CC or not. It can give a good idea about how the sender takes you into consideration.

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Knut, the cute Polar Bear

Everybody seems to be delighted by the appearance of such a lovely creature that will be contemplated in future time in the German zoo. For me, I just can feel pity. Knut is not the first animal who becomes a symbol of a zoo, or even of a nation. To my mind come the names of the Panda bear Chu-Lin in Madrid zoo, or the exceptionally white gorilla Copito de Nieve (Snowflake) in Barcelona zoo. In these three cases, the species belong to the black list of animals under the risk of extinction.

As far as I understand, the justification of the existence of zoological parks, those should serve for having a glimpse of what you can find in the real nature, more than as last hope of survival for species that are annihilated in their natural habitats. Knut, Chu-Lin or Copito did not have any other choice than living inside a cage, because most probably they will be dead if belonging to their natural habitats.

Days ago a new report by the UN was published where it is affirmed that the change of climate can lead to the disappearance of 30% of the present existing species if things continue the way they are. My god! Almost one-third of all the species existing on our planet are at serious risk of perishing forever, which has huge negative consequences for humankind. And what is humankind doing meanwhile? Watching Idols on TV!

Would you allow somebody to attack your children while playing in a park? So at what point do the human race became so passive when facing the imminent tragedy that will devastate our future generations? How much do we have to wait before asking for real measures to save the world? Until it is too late? This same discourse has been told by the ecologists for decades, but now the scientists are undoubtedly telling us that the time is running out, and we still prefer to look the other way.

What amazes me is our capacity to continue drinking our coffee and turning the page to the following piece of news, instead of instantly breaking into tears contemplating the tragedy of our mother Gaia, provoked by none other than ourselves. Saramago, the Literature Nobel Prize winner, in his recent visit to Finland, said that he could not understand how we were so worried to send spacecrafts to Mars when at the same time millions of people were dying of starvation on Earth. But Saramago, at his age, seems to still have faith about humankind. I am starting to lose mine.

Knut, my cute polar bear, I just hope a long life for you in Berlin zoo, and I just also hope that the day when the flame of your existence disappears – and let’s expect a long healthy life for you, my dear teddy bear – you will not be remembered as the last one of your kind.

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Dark people make dark films

My next film is about the civil war. It will not be exactly hilarious.

A darkish undertone exists in a large number of Finnish films, although lighter subject matters are made into film too, there is often something very artificial about them, like a forced smile. After all these years of Americanisation, genuinely positive films are few in Finland – you might point out that ”genuine” positivity is rare in the US too.

Are we a dark people? To some extent the answer is yes. Slavic, Finnish and Icelandic people very often find each other due to the same dark sense of humour. An Icelandic colleague once asked an international crowd what does a used condom and the M/S Estonia (a ship that sunk with 800 passengers about 10 years ago) have in common? They are both full of dead se(a)men. I laughed as well as the Russian guy, but the others stared at the Icelandic lady in anger.

A dark sense of humour means laughing at death, at the fragile and temporary nature of human existence, but I think it is vital to distinguish that from cynicism. Acceptance of irreversible death does not mean that there would not be hope in the world. There is.

Paha Maa (Frozen land) was a very unlikely box office hit, proving once again that depiction of sorrow can be appealing to audiences. This year’s best film so far, Miehen työ (A Man's Job), is also very dark, but not at all without hope.

I think a lot depends on skills and the quality of thinking. Telling true stories where good prevails is not easy. Just like simplicity is one of the most difficult things to achieve in storytelling.

So, if too many Finnish films are depressing, it needn’t mean that we all are – maybe we just need to learn about filmmaking. Keep in mind the golden rule: 95% of the films in the world are crap. Look at the 5%.

I am a keen Marxist in two senses of the word, the other being an admirer of the late comedian Groucho Marx. In his autobiography he wrote about a deeply depressed man who went to see a doctor. The doctor tried various things but nothing seemed to help this poor man. Finally the doctor suggested that the man would go see the circus, he had heard that there is a clown called Delaney who is absolutely outrageously funny. I am Delaney the clown, replied the patient.

Yes, we are dark people and there is no need to change that. Let’s make dark films then. But they can still be enlightening, optimistic and amusing, only if we become good enough storytellers.

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Miniature cups of coffee

My first social visit in Finland was becoming a success, although I really was bemused by the miniature cups. I actually started to become excited over the brewing coffee because in my worldly experience the best things always came in small packages. Take caviar, take diamonds, take DNA, this Finnish coffee must be potent stuff if it demands tiny servings to avoid any caffeine overdoses. In an act of bravado and also wanting to show off my Englishness, I requested a larger cup, "Darling, forget these cups. I feel as though I have Mickey Mouse hands. Bring me a mug!"

Cupboards were searched frantically in order to oblige the foreign guest, eventually one was found out on the balcony – it was being used as a vase. After a rinse and a scrub, it was set before me and filled with Finland's liquid black gold, a splash of milk and two heaps of sugar. My lips quivered in anticipation of my first taste of home-brewed coffee, the saliva sloshed over my tongue and the pupils dilated to the size and shape of sugar cubes. My excitement calmed and, with shaking hands, I picked up the mug and took a sip, wash it around my mouth and swallowed.

"Darling, did you clean the vase properly?" She began to laugh, but then noticed I was serious so she reassured me every effort was made to clean it thoroughly. I nodded thoughtfully, "That's a shame because it may have improved the taste." I stared down at the swimming pool of Finland's liquid brown mud sitting in my mug and suddenly realised the real reason for the small cups, although if I had my way they would have been even smaller…say, the size of thimble.

Thanks to the presence of fresh pulla to disguise the bland taste assaulting my sobbing taste buds I was able to reach the bottom of the well. I excused myself and used the bathroom, but upon my return I suddenly felt my eyes fill with tears because somebody had refilled the damn thing to the very top. The famous English stiff upper-lip began to quiver and shake, probably due to the side-effects of the so-called coffee now stagnating in my stomach.

As a bead of sweat began to form upon my forehead, I recalled the often-repeated statistic that Finns drink the most coffee in the world, which is an average of 450 millilitres per day, and assumed that, like the gradual intake of some poison, you slowly become immune to its deadly effects. I could only think that Finland has gone for quantity over quality, but before I could ask if this was true or start drinking the second bucket of coffee, we were leaving. After we bid her aunt goodbye and had left the building, my future wife turned to me and said, "God, I hate my aunt's coffee!"

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One big family!

But we are animals after all and have a strong need to belong to a group. Luckily there’s a solution to this. The communities and families have been replaced by the celebrities! They make us feel the safe sense of belonging! They are all ours to share!

In the good old days we used to peek from behind the net curtains to see what the neighbours were up to. Nowadays we peek into the media. Oh, how we yearn to know what the prime minister likes to cook for his beauty or with whom a TV-presenter went on holiday. The celebrities have become the family we all share. We love to hate them and simply can’t live without them. But unlike with family we can choose them. We can elect whom we want and whom we don’t want as our nearest and dearest. Ah – such freedom!

Kimi Räikkönen is the village boy done well. We are all happy for his successes as long as he doesn’t forget his humble roots. Susan Kuronen (does anybody remember her?) has become the equivalent to the outrageous aunt who dances on the tables at the family weddings and snogs anyone she can lay her hands on. The Idols contestants are those cute kids who perform at the county hall and we admire in them the innocence and courage we once all had. We also have Britney, the wild girl of the town. She was such a nice girl but don’t know what’s happened to her lately. And hasn’t Victoria lost an awful lot of weight? I don’t think all is well between her and David, oh no…

A couple of summers ago I decided not to read any yellow press ever again. All went really well at first. I felt pure and elevated above all things common and base. But soon I was to notice that I could not take part in an idle chit chat as I was not up to scratch with my media gossip. So I’ve resorted to taking an occasional look at the mags when at the hairdressers and I read the headlines spread out in the windows of every shop.

But now I’ve taken a step even further though. I’m entertaining the idea of moving to the country and returning back to the small community of my childhood. As I gaze into the eyes of my beloved underneath an apple tree outside of the farmhouse we could one day live in, I’m quite sure I could be happy to view the world through my net curtains and gossiping and being gossiped about in the market square. I’d happily leave the Britneys and Susans to the city dwellers with freedom and individuality. I’d be content at being blissfully ignorant. Or would I?

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A postindustrial fairytale

By the end of the eighties the industrial production had moved out of the area. Ruoholahti was rebuilt into a residential area and City of Helsinki planned to demolish the charismatic building. Artists and architects, who had rented the space there in search of a quiet working place and cheap rents, persuaded the City of Helsinki to keep the building in its original form. Nowadays it is a distinguished cultural centre that hosts around 800 events annually and is the working place of 100 artist and 70 bands.

 

Since last summer, the Cable Factory has a new landlord. Born in 1972, Tuomas “Stuba” Nikula is the new Managing Director of Kiinteistö Oy Kaapelitalo, the company behind the Cable Factory building whose turnover in 2005 was 3.5 million euros. As any other landlord in the world, the current duties concerning Kaapeli are to “fix the building and rent the space”, as Stuba himself explains. Kaapeli itself is not devoted to cultural production, “That is left to our tenants,” continues the director.

{mosimage}From his position Stuba Nikula gets a good overview of today's Finnish culture. "It seems that for anything to be good it has to be exported, but to achieve that goal more work is needed and more spaces for the youngsters and newcomers.” In a world where influences travel within one second, for Scuba a challenge for the future is “to keep the Finnish touch in our cultural production and, for that, public money is needed.”Meanwhile, the Cable Factory is “fully booked” for long time agreements. “Contracts are permanent and only two or three tenants out of 100 moved out every year. The population here is getting as old as the building,” Stuba jokes. For the short term rentals the calendar is already opened for 2009. If you plan an exhibition or a fair, hurry up. The space and dates are booked on a first come, first served basis.

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Sonic vs Mario

The Atari 2600 was forgotten and a new era started with… the incredible 16 Mega video console Sega Mega drive (…Applauses…).

And Sega’s new baby was really a beautifully designed console. Nothing to do with the grey Nintendo 8 bites, that was the most popular video console at that time.

The Sega Mega drive was the closest step to the promise land of reaching the technology and graphics that could only be enjoyed in the arcades (where I and my friends were burning our free time and weekly pay, since we were not old enough to go to clubs or pubs).

And together with the video console, I discovered the sensation of the videogame world: his name was Sonic, Sonic the Hedgehog.

This blue creature was the fastest thing you had ever seen moving on screen in the videogame world. One of the funniest challenges when playing was to advance to the next stage in the shortest period of time. And even girls loved to play it!

Sonic was promoted as a sensation by the Sega marketing people: blue coloured (the same as the logo of the Japanese company) and a direct attack on their main competitors: the legendary Super Mario Bros.

It was no longer a battle between Sega and Nintendo, it was a battle between Sonic and Mario. And yeah man, I was on Sonic´s side. I mean, how could you compare a fat Italian plumber with a moustache, whose best feature was having a hot blonde girlfriend (remember my friends, that I was a kid – nowadays I would pay more attention to the blonde girlfriend’s part of the story), and who shared the company of his twin, Luigi, to a sharp and fresh animal: fast as a flash and full of new tricks!? Nobody had seen a damned hedgehog moving like that before; and nobody had experienced a platform game as cool and addictive before Sonic burst onto the market. It was the year 1991 and Sonic was the new Lord of the Rings.

Later on, Nintendo counter-attacked with the new video console Super NES. Now, looking back, I must admit that Nintendo’s one was probably technically much better, and had a much wider catalogue of games. But well, when you are a kid, defending the honour of your favourite videogame’s developing company is like defending the honour of your mother. And everybody has only one mother – no space for secondary love: if you were pro-Sega, you were against Nintendo.

Other sequels of the games came, other amazing advances had to be played; but in my heart the first Sonic videogame remains the one that changed the conception of home entertainment.

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The new Noah’s ark is in Norway

The vault will consist mainly of a chamber excavated 120 meters
inside a rock. The location has been carefully chosen in a mountain
130 metres above sea level, so the risk of global warming has been
also taken into account here.

The
project became possible after the International Treaty of Plant
Genetic Resources came into force. The construction of the vault is
funded by the Norwegian government, which is pretty much involved in
the project. The construction is carried on by The Global Crop
Diversity Trust, and
they plan to finish the work fast. The construction is due to be
completed by September, and the vault will be functional by winter.

So,
how is this seed bank different from the other 1.400, which exist
around the planet? Well, for one thing, the massive collection of
samples that it will store: over 3 million. Svalbard will become with
much difference the largest collection in the world. The system will
operate like this: samples are sent in “black boxes” that are
stored in the vault. The boxes are not opened there and no other
breeder can use them, unless all other seed sources are destroyed. If
that happens, then the samples in Svalbard can be released.
Permafrost and thick rock will ensure that, even without electricity,
the samples will remain frozen.

 

{mosimage} 

 

Hope in the middle of nowhere

 

Although, collecting the samples will not be a problem for those
hypothetical survivors (in a hopefully faraway future apocalyptical
time), reaching the vault might be quite a difficult task. The
construction is located in quite a remote area: Svalbard is a group
of islands nearly a thousand kilometres north of mainland Norway. For
nearly four months a year the islands are enveloped in total
darkness. And if you wonder about security measures, nature and the
Norwegian authorities are making the “Doomsday vault” like a
fortress: access to Longyearbyen is effectively limited to one plane
flight a day and the occasional boat during summer. Freezing
temperatures, ice flow (and waters), polar bears, camera
surveillance, and the inherent security of a reinforced underground
location with locked vault-like doors combine to present a formidable
obstacle to any kind of attack or mischief. Unfortunately, the
designers cannot guarantee the vault withstanding the direct impact
of a nuclear bomb.

 

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The Church of Chocolate

This
year Eastern and Western Christianity are united with the occurrence of Easter
on April 8th allowing a joint observation of the festival by both camps. As
many of you are surely aware, Easter signifies the day that Jesus Christ died
for man’s sins, but as a non-Christian and lacking the skills of a theologian I
don’t understand why I am still paying for the sin of stealing my wife’s last
chocolate egg last year – she has already mentioned it twice this week. 

Unfortunately
for her, my dad (more guilt), my brother (even more guilt) and others (combined
guilt), my religion is chocolate. I have less self-control than a baby’s
bladder, with my conscience drastically weakening in the presence of the cocoa
god and his sweet minions. As a child, my dad would joke that I would eat dog
poo if it had a chocolate coating, but I could never defend myself against this
allegation because I was salivating too much at the very thought. 

My
chocoholic disease is particularly worse at Easter when the glorious
commercialization of another religious holiday means more chocolate than a
Willy Wonka wet dream could ever fantasize. In the UK there are supermarket
aisles stacked to the ceiling with chocolate Easter eggs from all the
individual brands and others featuring characters from children’s television
shows, such as Bob the Builder. The usual selection includes two bars of
chocolate and a chocolate egg about 10cms in diameter and 20cms in height.

{mosimage}However,
the true chocolate connoisseur does not care for these eggs at Easter because
there are two truly desirables. The first is a Cadbury’s Crème Egg, which is a
thick chocolate shell filled with a gooey centre and the second is already
making my mouth water. Cadbury Mini Eggs are, are, how can I do them justice
with mere adjectives? Simply, they are small chocolate eggs covered in a crispy
shell, but they are the most deliciously addictive sweets in the world. No
argument. 

Easter
is not all fun and games. My nemesis is the so-called Easter Bunny, who,
inexplicably, hides decorated chocolate eggs around the house and garden for
children to try and find. I personally believe this to be a waste of energy and
time, not because my brother would always find far more than me, but because it
is inexcusable torture to a young chocoholic. I did once try to convince my
brother that the rabbit droppings in our garden were from the Easter Bunny and
would taste like raisins – he didn’t believe me for some reason. 

Finland
has been a new experience for me at Easter with its delightful Fazer Mignon
eggs presented in real eggshells and the tradition of children dressing as
witches on Palm Sunday going door-to-door basically trick or treating. The
first time I experienced this tradition it was a little girl ready to say her
‘virvon varvon’, but was terrified by the sight of a confused hungover
Englishmen wearing a dressing gown in the afternoon. Sorry again, little girl! 

This
year I shall be joining her in my hope of claiming some free sweets, so if a
grown man dressed as a witch knocks at your front door then throw him a bar of
chocolate and he will leave quietly after drooling a grateful thank you.

Categories
Cover story Misc

The man who conquered the land of fire

In 1953,
geologist Väinö Auer returned to Finland from Argentina, the land where he made
most of his expeditions and discoveries. At that time, he was already very
pessimistic about how technological progress and modern life were affecting
nature and climate. It was 25 years since his first trip to Tierra del Fuego.

Väinö Auer
was born in 1895 in
Helsinki, at that time still a part of the Russian Empire. Although his first
steps in the University were in botany, he ended up focusing on geology and
geography. 

In swamp
research, Auer was the first to use pollen analysis in Finland as a relative
timing method, and also started to investigate the geohistorical periods of
Vanajavesi, a lake/river near Hämeenlinna, regarding the layout order of beach
swamps. This classic study from 1924 built the basics for Finland’s limn geologic
lake researches.

However, it
was very far from Finnish soil where Auer made his finest researches and
expeditions. On the 15th of August of 1928, he started his first trip to the
very remote places of South America: Tierra del Fuego (Tulimaa) and Patagonia.
Other members in the trips were
Ernst Håkan Kranck, Heikki Roivanen and Esa Hyyppä. They arrived to
Punta Arenas, Chile, on the 16th of November.

The main
purpose of the trip was to practice studies of
stratigraphy (the study of rock layers and layering) in the swamps and the connections between this and the climate changes
of the Holocene period. To its surprise the group discovered in the swamps of
Tulimaa three layers with sediments of ashes, results of volcanic action. This
finding helped to define the development of the swamp surface. It was possible,
then, to show the changes in vegetation over 9,000 years.

As Väinö
Auer advanced into Tierra del Fuego, the expedition got adventurous. On
February of 1929 he left from Punta Arenas to unknown waters. Sailing with a
small boat in troubled waters near the glaciers, the expedition managed to find
a couple of new fiords in the area of the Darwin Mountains. They were named
after famous Finnish people, such as former president Lauri Kristian Relander
or J.V. Snellman.

Later that
year, Auer returned to Finland where he started a career as professor at the
University of Helsinki. However, the call of fieldwork was strong and in 1937
he decided to get back in action. From Kotka he left for Buenos Aires and the
unexplored territories of Patagonia.

 

Wartime

During the Winter War (1939-40), Väinö Auer served as volunteer in the battlefield
against Russia. However, his major contribution to this period was in literature.
Along with Eino
Jutikkala, Auer received instructions to write a book about the historical and
geographical reasons why Eastern Karelia belonged to Finland. The result,
published in 1941, is Finnlands Lebensraum
(Finland’s living space). It was
written directly in German with the intention of convincing the Nazi German war
ministry of the necessity of returning Eastern Karelia to Finland once Germany
had invaded the Soviet Union.

The provocative
name of the book, though, was an invention of the German publisher. Auer and
Jutikkala’s original was
Das Geographische und Geschichtliche Finnland (The
Historical and Geographical Finland).

 

Side by side with Perón

After the
war, Väinö Auer received the call of Argentina’s President Juan Domingo Perón.
He was called to resolve the problems of erosion and dryness in the farming
fields of Argentina. He referred to this problem as the “Desert devil” (
Aavikkopaholainen). At that time his
whole family moved to Argentina.

In
Argentina, the Finnish geographer became a significant influence in the
community, which helping to breed a new generation of scientist, as well as
completing his official tasks in the Ministry of Agriculture. However, homesick
and disappointed with the scientific community and current technological
progress, which was harming the environment, Auer returned to Finland 1953.
There he took again his position as professor at the University of Helsinki. He
died in this city on the 20th of March,1981.

 

Documentaries, books and a street name

In spite of
his great achievements, Väinö Auer remained one of the less well-known
scientists in Finland, although a street in Kumpula is named after him (Väinö
Auerin katu). The main source of information about his thoughts is his diaries;
but, in the last years, two important works have brought a new perspective of
Auer’s life and work.

Pentti Alhonen and Antero Alhonen have recently published the book Vaakavarren ratsastaja, a comprehensive
study and biography of Väinö Auer. In 2001, film director Mikko Piela started
following the steps of Auer from Finland to Tierra del Fuego y Patagonia. The
result is a documentary based on the geologist’s diaries: Väinö Auer (1895-1981). “For filming the documentary”, recalls
Piela, “we did a couple of expeditions to Tierra del Fuego with our cameras. It
was a great adventure to sail on small boats and film in those remotes places”.
For the director, Auer was an ambiguous person. “He drifted from strong
nationalism to a major concern about global problems, which made him very pessimistic
in his latter days," Piela says.

Categories
Cover story Misc

Porn is in the air

Maybe names such as Laura, Mr Lothar, Eve
X, Rakel Leikki, Mariah
or Henry Saari do not ring a bell to you… or maybe
they do. Undoubtedly, porn and sex industry are not a marginal side of society
anymore. As an example, there are 3 big sex festivals, called Sexhibition, all
around Finland:
In Oulu, Turku
and Helsinki,
being the latest the most important one, with a number of visitors that oscillates
between 25,000 and 35,000. We are talking about the same number of visitors
that could go to the biggest Book Fair of the country, so … do you still
believe that sex business is not mainstream here?

An industry not
much openly discussed, but massively used

Go to any of the most popular chat rooms in Finland, such
as Suomi 24 website. Sex rooms are overwhelmed by visitors; meanwhile the others
are almost empty. Not exactly that people overcrowd the gardening chat rooms…
Young people want it fast and want it wild, so why to waste time and money
going to a club, when you can hit on somebody from your computer? Or take a
walk around Kallio neighborhood, and you will see the huge amount of sex shops
every few meters offering all kind of films and products. It could be that sex
industry is not still a subject of massive study at serious academicals circles
but… maybe the trend should start to change soon.

Vesa Riihinen,
who is the responsible for the biggest porn magazines publishing company in Finland, Press
Masters, with approximately. 40 % of market share, explains to us “There are
approximately 20 000 different readers/month on our for magazines Kalle,
Jallu, Lollo a
nd Ratto, and in our on line service there are about
2000 visitors per day”.

{mosimage}Different ways
of making porn.

As most of the people involved in Finnish
porn film industry assures, this is a small country with a small market, so
everybody knows everybody at the end. There is not much space for launching
dozens of films a year as in USA market, so apart from the mainstream and more
classic porn movies, where the biggest and most demanded names by the audience belong
to Rakel Liekki and Henry Saari (better known as “Henry the
King”), there is a big trend towards the home-made and amateur porn.

Basically, the new genre consists on
recording sexual encounters with an amateur video camera, and with no other
effects or crew collaborating during the shooting. As Mr Lothar,
stripper and porn actor, who has filmed dozens of encounters during his
wanderings all over Finland,
explains to us, “It is a fast way for many girls to get some extra money. Some
of them appear only once, and some others become part of the business. With
some of them I just spend few minutes and some others have fun and stay with me
for the whole week”.

Most of the actors contacted in Finland are
quite proud and happy of what they do, out of the image one could have of
“sexual and manipulated objects”. But hey, being in the business can have also
many others unexpected risks. As Mika Erkillä, organizer of Helsinki
Sexhibition, remembers: “Once a Czech stripper fell from the stage during a
performance. It was a 2 meters fall and we were quite worried he could have got
inured. Fortunately, no serious damage happened”

And well, if you feel like testing your wild
side, and are not shy of performing some hot games in front of the crowd, in
next Sexhibition they prepare a lot of interactive games with the visitors in
their “Corridor of Activities”, such as “New Twister” and “New Poker”…

Radical Production, settled in Tampere, is another
company that has gained reputation very fast for their amateur videos, even
exporting outside Finland.
As lead actor, they feature Jeppe, a guy who looks more like the fellow
sitting close to you at University classrooms than a “sex machine”.

For many of you, these names were already
well known, and for many others who will go directly after reading this article
to Google and Internet pages, we can just say: Enjoy yourselves with the
national product!

Categories
Interviews Misc

Like Alice in Wonderland wearing a new pair of shoes

Is success coming
too fast, Minna?

All kind of
attention is good and it is nice. I enjoy it and it is good for my business,
but my goal has been to move forward very quickly. It is exactly what I wanted.
I did not want to start with a small thing, I wanted to start with a big thing
and move fast because also financially, it is my company and I founded it
myself

Is it hard to
take full responsibility of the company?

Yeah, because I
studied design, and I suddenly had to be “business woman”. I learnt a lot in
1.5 years. I am kind of very proud myself that I have managed to do as well as
I have, without any kind of selling or business experience before, so it’s just
matter of finding out, and asking questions, and learning through mistakes.
Luckily there have not been huge mistakes so far…

You have said
that you wanted to be a designer since you were 15. Were you the typical
teenager burning time and money at the clothing shops?

Yeah, I have
been traveling with my family on holidays since I was tiny, all over Europe, Japan,
Australia,
all kind of places, and I got used to be in all kind of shops and seeing all
kind of designs, things that we did not have in Finland. In the 90´s we still did
not have so many great shops here.
 

 

Getting experience in England

When you were 19
you moved to Leicester, England, to study Footwear Design
in Demontfort University. Why?

I wanted to go
somewhere else than staying in Finland,
I wanted to go and try out a new place and experience a new culture, and learn
the language perfectly. There were only 2 design schools in England, the other
one in London and the other one in Leicester, and when I was 19, London sounded
quite of quite scary…too big… and I just decided to go to Leicester, even when
I had never visited the place.

Tell me a bit
more about this prize you got: Young British Glove Designer?

Well, it is given
by the British Glove Association , the main glove thing in the U.K. there were
400 people taking part in that competition, so in that way it was quite a big
thing to win it.  I got the title of  Young British Glove Designer, even if
I am not British, which it was quite funny, and they had this way of doing it
in the center of London, in this mansion house , so they were quite “proper
English”, old men and old women with their hats and their gloves exclaiming “oh
yeah marvelous!”, “well done!”

After 6 years
abroad, why to settle again in Helsinki
and not somewhere else?

Well, it had been
easier to have started abroad, like in England, Italy or Spain, it is much bigger, you get
the producers there, and in England
you get the British Footwear Association that does support the designers. They
apply for big fairs where I cannot get in because I have a small company and I
am from Finland.
But I miss home. I miss my friends, after being out for such a long time it is
good to return. It is peaceful and calm here and there is a lot of space to do
new things. The environment allows new things and people here are very excited
about new things as well, so I thought that this would be a very good base to
create my own things in peace, and then travel a lot around the world.

 

{mosimage}{mosimage}

 
 

Girlie designs
and summer fantasies

What makes Minna
Parikka´s designs different from others?

They are very
girlie, girlie shoes with girlie details, very feminine, like high curvy heels,
lots of inspiration from the 30s, 40s, 50s, when the woman was true woman and
they dressed up head to toe perfectly, with fun and quality. I always try to
offer something that is amusing, wearable and still doesn’t go over the top.
The shoes have a lot of details but people can still imagine that they can wear
them. Color is very important, colors suitable for the season, I m not a big
fan of browns and blacks. The buyers always say like “Hum, lovely colors, but I
will take the browns and the blacks instead”

Do people take
care of their style in Finland?

In general people
still do not spend much money on clothes. But I think that Helsinki is great, you get all kind of styles
here, people like to be quite individual, and not everybody is from “the same
mall”.

Can you explain a
bit more about your new Spring/Summer collection?

It is a very candy
collection. It has candy colors, pastels, bright reds and it has very cake
shapes, hearts…very romantic. The collection is called holiday romance, so it s
everything that you could expect from a holiday romance to be like:
lighthearted and  fun and playful.

How many pairs of
shoes have u bought lately?

Nowadays I do not
have to buy shoes since I get them for myself. I got 50 pairs of shoes just for
this summer just for myself. For Finnish summer, 50 days, one for every day…
Maybe I have 150 pairs in total, I always go to fly market to sell my stuff
later, I don’t keep things, I do not have the space to keep things.

What are the
future plans for Minna Parikka?

Sell a lot and
design a new collection!!!