Friday, 30 September 2011

Guess Who's in Oulu?

Market Square
Police, Oulu
I spent two days this week just south of the Arctic Circle in Oulu visiting my colleagues Hannu Rintamaki, Juha Oksa, and Sirkka Rissanen at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health. We're all regulars on the ICEE circuity, and I've known Juha since ICEE 1996 in Jerusalem. It was a great couple of days getting to see their facilities first-hand, and of course getting to bond a bit better outside of conferences and email.

If there's one thing we've learned, Finns are fanatical about security. Keys are needed multiple times to get anywhere in our apartment and at the lab, and the same here at FIOH. But what I loved the most was the doorbell system at FIOH. Outside everyone's office, there's a buzzer to push. The occupant can then push different buttons inside that flash red (busy - go away!), yellow (wait and hold your horses - I'll get to you sometime), or green (The Doctor will deign to see you now!). I can just imagine students and me being in a constant battle of their buzzing me and my keeping punching the red button!

Bonding in Finland is done best in a sauna. And just to prove how tough Finns are, Aada, Juha's Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, insists on joining in on the fun! Apparently she whines like crazy if she's not allowed in, and unlike me, she's smart enough to get out once the heat starts soaking in through the fur. Juha is a keen hunter and Aara's a keen duck tolling retriever!

And being an "exercise" physiologist, another keen aspect of bonding is doing sports together. So far on this sabbatical I've gone rock-climbing with Phil Ainslie in BC, beach racquets with Andreas Flouris on Crete, running and frisbee golf with Juha Peltonen in Hameenlinna. Here Juha Oksa introduced me to the Finnish passion for floorball, essentially floor hockey with a big wiffle ball and plastic-bladed sticks. We played at the institute's regular Thursday pm game right before some rally-car driving to get to the airport for my flight home. Despite never playing any organized hockey of any kind, I managed to avoid completely embarrassing Canadian pride and even scored two goals in a team victory!

The urge for humans to "mark their territory" is apparently eternal. We went to the National Museum this week and saw an exhibition on Stone Age cave/rock drawings in red ochre around northern Finland, from 4500 years ago or so. And here by Juha's house in Oulu, German soldiers during WWII carved "3rd Company" into a rock to prove their existence. Given the workmanship, these soldiers were here for the duration, and not just strolling through.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Rock Church Concert

This is a Picture of the orchestra
Yesterday we went to the Rock Church, for a concert with Japanese music. It was called "Pray For Japan." The acoustics there were very good. The conductor was from Japan and came just for this concert. There was also a guest from Japan and she played the tuba.

The Rock Church in Finnish is called Temppeliaukio Kirkko. It is carved out of solid granite rock and has a large copper domed roof. It was designed by Finnish architects named Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen. There are actually services there but of course they are in Finnish.
I got a nice Finland hat near the Rock Church.

This is a video of the Rock Church, you can see the orchestra, and some big organs.

The copper dome has a diameter of 22m and is lined with copper stripping that would measure 22 km (13 miles) if stretched out. It is supported by reinforced concrete pillars and light enters through 180 skylights. The church can seat 940 people and has excellent acoustics.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Frisbee Golf!

We spent the weekend in Hameenlinna at Juha and Leena Peltonen's house, 100 km north of Helsinki, eating way too many chocolate chip cookies and playing with their son Pyry. I won a bet with Daddy over where we bought my running shoes and won an extra cookie! This part is done by Zachary! The holes were really cool! the first one was really straight then the the second one we throwing of a cliff but then if you went of to the side (there was a strong wind on all of them) there were trees all around. number four was only 40 meters but it was straight up a hill and the frisbee kept rolling down. the frisbees looked a lot different they didn't have the curve on the side of them in the picture above you can see the frisbees (and the basket with the cains to stop the frisbees). There were different frisbees for where you are like we each had a mid range frisbee and a putt and approach frisbee for the 9 holes but we saw a guy with a whole bag full of frisbees all for himself. He was super serious and stompedd of to the next hole because he "didn't do to well" with about 4 shots on the second hole.

Here I am with Pyry looking at the map at the start of the frisbee golf!

Here is a video of one of the courses it was hole 2 and I took 6 shots to get the frisbee into the basket. This one we had to throw the frisbee off a cliff to start.

In Canada the table hockey is Canada vs Russia, here it's Finland vs Sweden and just as fierce!
Here is the slack line that Juha set up beside the lake at their house we spent a lot of time on it with Pyry and at the end of the day it started to get a bit dangerous.
Here we are at a castle doing handstands in front of the drawbridge
Here on the left we are with the bears at the bottom of 321 stairs (not including the tower) at a park near Juha's house.
Here is a picture of mommy showing how huge this mushroom is.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

To the Zoo with You!

Sept 20 we went to the Helsinki Zoo, located on an island just across the water from Helsinki (Like "The Island of Dr. Moreau!" - Daddy). From the Island you can see the cathedral. There were about 150 different species on the left is a picture of different types of eagles and their wingspans compared to us. Some of the animals were Bison, brown bears, leopards, (and other predators) bactrian camels, otters, mink, lots of owls, axiotol, caiman, huge spiders,scorpion, amazon animals, and lots more.
On the left is a picture of a Sengi when he runs his little nose wobbles in ever direction. On the right is a picture of the Dwarf Mongoose near feeding time.

 Here is a hunt by a "Palla's Cat." Who is just about to strike but what it is attacking is almost at the surface but not quite it must not have good claws for digging or else it would just jump right in. It completely focused on the hunt and was still except for its tail twitching in excitement.
Here is a picture of a lizard and his friend having a sun bath right before their feeding time the lizard was a lot faster to get to the food (as you can expect!). However, the tortoise just fell on top of the lizard and started gobbling up everything in sight. Some friend!
Here when we were on the stairs to the left of the picture we saw this guy walking like he is now but we had an optical illusion and thought that he  was on the side walk not in the cage and we almost had a heart attack. Daddy didn't need to go to the bathroom anymore after that!
Here is a picture of a reindeer losing its antlers . There were also Visents, which looked like big bison and were likely the subject of the oldest known prehistoric cave art.
Here is a snowy owl, it is amazing how they can turn their heads almost totally around! He was actually chewing on a rat or something when we got there.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

The Black Licorice Missive

Jacob's just started cursive writing since we've been in Helsinki, and it's looking terrific!

Monday, 19 September 2011

Standing Tall in Tallinn!

Jacob's reaction to the 5am
wakeup to catch the ferry!
Sept 7 we took the ferry for a day trip to Tallinn, Estonia. In Tallinn we went to the town square where there were lots of stalls there were even some strawberry hats. There were lots of seuveneirs like an Estonian oven mit and some Estonian and Finnish scarfs. We took the fast ferry (which takes 2 hours) but there are also 2 other ferries one doesn't even stop in Tallinn because it is just used for buying alcohol  (and toblerone!). The third ferry is the slow one.
Captions and history by Daddy

There's very few cooler activities, in my mind, than hanging out in the old town square of a European city. This is the "Old Town Square" in the lower town, and the big building is the town hall. Tallinn has been in recorded history since 1154 (in a map by an Arab cartographer). In the opposite side of the square sits what is purported to be the oldest pharmacy in Europe, dating from the 1400s. That's about the age of most of the heritage buildings up the main part of the old town, with many buildings still remaining from their origins in the 1350s. Also from that period is the "Great Guild," of tradesmen and important townsfolk, where you had to be married to be a part of. That's because single men were viewed as having no "attachment" to the town, and they belonged to the "Black Heads" society instead.
The "Handstands Around the World" theme is getting so popular that even the Estonian painters are getting in on the act! Here the boys are hand standing on the steep cobbled path up to Toompea, the old city overlooking Tallinn. The two used to be competing and separate medieval cities separated by a wall. Just a bit further up the street than where the boys are hand standing, we ended up having a very nice supper in a restaurant, where Debbie and Jacob both had crepes filled with mushrooms and blue cheese. Keeping up the Cheung family tradition, I went for the seafood (salmon) pasta!
Estonia, like many former Warsaw Pact countries, is an interesting mix of three themes: its own ancient history, struggling to be a "modern" European country, and its Soviet-dominated recent history. Since its Soviet occupation, Russian immigration and Estonian deportation has resulted in native Russians being about 1/3 of the population. The grand "Alexander Nevsky" church in the upper town is very Russian, and is not embraced to the same extent by ethnic Estonians as the St. Olav's church (tall tower below right) in the lower city. St. Olav's was also an interrogation and holding centre for the KGB, yet another example of the town's conflicted history.
The upper town is packed with important buildings and narrow cobbled streets. Many of the embassies (Canada, Netherlands, Finland, Ireland) are in the upper town - not a bad spot at all! The parliament building is right across from the Nevsky, and the prime minister's residence has a plaque to the members of government who were exiled or killed by the Soviets during WW2.
The old town is typical of many Euro cities - full of narrow and beautiful cobbled streets, but also rather blighted by the preponderance of tacky tourist shops. Really, how many shops and stalls do you need selling the exact same mass-produced souvenirs? It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say we passed >50 such shops during our walking tour. Walking over to Kadriorg Park and the Kumu art museum (see future post), you're immediately struck by how far Tallinn and Estonia have to go to "modernize." The buildings immediately have that ramshackle look of needing a lot of maintenance and paint, and the trams definitely fit the mental stereotype of utilitarian, and just a bit scary, Soviet technology.
One really nice surprise in the old town, right next to the "Fat Margaret" tower and the start of the old town, was a children's library and art gallery. It was also used as a KGB post before then.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Zach Busts a New Move

Zachary's cool new move on the parallel bars...

Friday, 16 September 2011

Sucking Fumes

OK, just to prove that my sabbatical has not been non-stop fun and games, here's a new technique I'm learning for measuring total hemoglobin (the molecule in your blood that actually carries oxygen) mass here in Finland. The principle is to use carbon monoxide (CO) rebreathing, where you use CO as a "tracer" in your body. A tracer is a substance that normally is not in the body, so that it can be easily detected and distinguished from what is normally already in your body.

CO works well as a tracer because it has a really high affinity for binding to hemoglobin (the same site where oxygen normally binds, which is why CO poisoning can be lethal), and it normally is at (hopefully) a pretty minimal level in your body. Lots of baseline testing has also given a time course for the rate at which CO is taken up by the body and the rate at which it binds to hemoglobin. Therefore, if you breathe in a known volume of the gas and let it settle in your body, and take blood samples before and after at a set time, then the amount of CO in the blood sample is a good estimation of the total hemoglobin in your body. The amount of CO is based on your sex, size, and fitness, but is usually at a level less than 1 cigarette (66 mL in my case).

You also need to measure how much CO is in your expired breath too at these time points, so that you can subtract the amount of CO that hasn't gotten into your bloodstream. The "rebreathing" comes from the fact that you breathe in and out of a small 3 L bag of pure oxygen for the 2 min, which the CO is mixed into. The rebreathing is needed to make sure you breathe in the CO without it escaping.

The most important thing with this test is that it clearly demonstrated my absolute lack of athletic potential, as getting any performance is like squeezing blood from the proverbial stone given my ridiculously low hemoglobin results!

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Natural History Museum

No need for an introduction about what today's blog is about, since the intro video said it all! But here's the photo album!

Here were two of the guards outside the museum...
There were three floors so we didn't get to see it all but we saw the bottom floor, the top floor, and part of the second floor. On the top floor there were two exhibits on Dinosaurs and Finnish animals. On the first floor there was a small exhibit on African animals. The second floor was of more animal. There were even some things from Canada like beavers and there was a setup with salmon and Grizzly Bears who really need to trim their toe nails. We took the 3T tram close to the Museum and coming back we took the 18 bus to get back. In the part about Finnish animals, there were a few sections. There was a section on fish, birds, and land animals. All the animals were real animals but they were stuffed. There was a huge mosquito but it wasn't life sized.
The museum was good because there were displays everywhere, even ovethead
This is a fossil of a giant shell fish it is called a nautilus
This is a picture of two dinosaurs one of  them is called a gigantasourus how do you like that  for a name?
I was very tempted to cuddle with this seal but he  was behind glass so I didn't get to cuddle
blog helped by Zachary!

Monday, 12 September 2011

Jean Sibelius

Johan Julius Christian Sibelius was born on December 8, 1865. He was born into a Swedish speaking family when Finland was a Grand Duchy of Russia. His parents sent him to a Finnish language school. From age 15, he wanted to be a violin virtuoso.
He was a Finnish composer in the Romantic period. He composed 7 symphonies; each symphony was built on what he learned in the last. Some of his best known compositions were Finlandia, the Karelia Suite, Valse Trieste, the Violin Concerto in D minor, and the Swan of Tuonela. He also wrote music based on the Kalevala. The Kalevala is a poem based on Finnish legends, history, and mythology (with hundreds of pages).
Jean Sibelius married Aino Järnefeldt and had 6 daughters. He was on the Finnish 100 Mark bill until 2002 when Finland changed from the Mark to the Euro. He died on the 20th of September 1957.
The Sibelius monument was opened on September 7, 1967. It was made from 600 hollow steel pipes welded together. It weighs 26 tonnes. It was designed by Eila Huiltunen and is located in Sibelius Park in the Töölö district of Helsinki. We can walk there in 5 minutes from where we are staying.
These links are both to performances of Finlandia. The first has nice scenery of Finland as well.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

The Big Finland-Sweden Rivalry!

On the 9th and 10th we went to the big Finland vs Sweden track meet (mentioned in the Paavo Nurmi post) at the Helsinki Olympic stadium. On the first day the Finns got off to a really good lead. but in the second day the Swedes got back and won for the women but not quite the men because the Finnish men had a good end and won 3 things. On the first day they were handing out thunder sticks and tattoos so we used the thunder sticks and saved the tattoos. There was lots of cheering and the Finnish competitors even had the tattoos! Thanks to our friend Heikki for getting us tickets undercover to save us from the traditional "sunny yet raining" Finnish weather! In three out of four relay races, the Finns dropped their batons - must be because of their slippery "Finns!"

Jacob's take:

This weekend Heikki got us some tickets to the Finland vs Sweden track meet, because he had some friends that he had worked with on the Finland track team. it sounds easy but I don't think it was - kiitos! Both on Friday and Saturday we had VERY good seats. In the stands it was about 70% blue and 30%yellow. Talking about yellow sometimes at the track meet where the louder you shout the farther the virtual Javelin goes our record was 95m, there were also one were you do the wave, and another were it was just like a chant. For the Hammer throw and the javelin there were little remote control retriever machines they were in other words just a labor saving device. That would be a fun job!

Here we are in front of the Olympic stadium and we aren't exactly sure why we are wearing our Norwegian shirts we even got some crazy looks from other people. the Norwegians did great they got 0 points!
These are amazing sunsets don't you think with the sun disappearing and on the right the wet track shining?
Don't you all think that race walking is the silliest sport? the funny part is that They
are going faster than dad when he is running. the men did 10km in about 39min 52sec and the women did it in about 44 minutes

Here is a Finnish pole vaulter about to jump 5.35 metres

Here Jacob is having a bit of a meltdown. No it's not because the Norwegians were getting creamed, but because he wasn't grasping the concept of why the runners start from staggered positions in the 200m, and thought it was unfair that the inside lane runner had to run the farthest!

Here on the right I think is the best droid (or from veggie tales as mr. Lunt would say "it's not a toy, its a labour saving device!"). It is for getting the hammers, javelins (you can just see this flying around with the end of the javelin sticking out at you), and the discus back to the competitors.
On the left is the teams mascots at the end of the meet the Finns pushed their mascot (the dog with the blue jersey) into the water-pit along with 2 teammates. we don't know who the white one is for but the cat is for the Swedes.

Friday, 9 September 2011

The Fire(work)s of Hel(sinki)!

Thursday night Helsinki held their big fireworks championships at the beach just next to our apartment in Toolo. It ended up being PERFECT for us. Not only are we on the highest (11th) floor of the building, our side window was just at the exact and only location of all the apartments in the building to have an unobstructed view of the fireworks! The big viewing area on our floor, and also the lounges on each floor, are all facing the wrong way and also blocked by the twin apartment tower being constructed next door! The streets and area are completely jam-packed with cars and people, helped along by the fact that it's currently Frosh Week for all the universities. Are we lucky or what?

Thursday, 8 September 2011

PiiP ja TuuT!

On Wednesday we went to Tallinn, Estonia by ferry for the day we went to find the Canadian embassy and we actually ran into a clown house called PiiP ja TuuT. Piip means a female clown and Tuut means a male clown (in Estonian). Piip said that the Canadian ambasador is proud to have the only embassy that is beside a clown house (supposedly) and when his friends visit him he shows all of them the clown house. We were thinking of banging on the embassy door and asking for some maple syrup! We stopped by the clown house and mom and dad had some coffee while me and Jacob had tomato and cheese soup on the stage. that night (when we were not there) they had a play about Piip and Tuut go to Mars there is also a little play place upstairs with a bunch of tunnels. In the future they want to make a tunnel going all across the stage and back again and make little windows so people can watch the play from above. here is their website!

Here we are at the Canadian embassy that is beside the clown house. No maple syrup dispenser at the front!
Daddy's Note. We're not kidding that the clown theatre is right next to the Canadian embassy. It turned into the most unexpected and pleasant surprise of our trip to Tallinn. We were wandering around the embassy and aiming for the viewpoint next to the Toompea city walls when Haide (Piip) saw us as she was clearing the patio tables and invited the boys to come in and look around. Haide and her partner Toomas (Tuut) have been performing and touring together since 1999, and just set this cafe/theatre up last October. On the walls are vintage portraits of clowns from the 1920s and 1930s, and there was a kid's play area up on a loft with a sliding wall down to the main floor. The coffee and soup were excellent too, and it's so much fun when you find a surprise like this and also see somebody living their dream to the fullest like they obviously are.

Here we are acting on the stage with mom and Piip.