Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Cathedrals

Like many others, I've been shocked and upset by yesterday's fire in Notre Dame cathedral. I visit Paris often, really like both Paris and Notre Dame, and have been inside the cathedral many times, and climbed the towers a few times, but I still regretted every time I was there and didn't go inside. Last night in my FB feed, groups and real life there were many people who regretted that they visited Paris but haven't been inside even once, or were just planning to visit Paris for the first time this year.

Here is for them, and for the rest of us who are sorely missing the cathedral now:

During the WWI Reims Cathedral was bombed and then burned down, and look at it now! Yes, it took about 20 years to restore, but it is there again, and it's awesome. Notre Dame will get there. I'll miss it until then, but it'll get there.

In the meanwhile, while you are visiting Paris:

Look at it now! Reims Cathedral, I mean. It's beautiful, and it's within a day trip from Paris. Chartres Cathedral is also within a day trip, and even better (matter of taste, of course). Amiens. Beauvais, weird and badly built, but still beautiful and awesome. Saint-Denis, within the Paris public transportation and the oldest Gothic church in France. Bourges, if you have time for more than a day trip. Go see Sainte Chapelle, if you are not into day trips. Saint Eustache. Saint Germain De Pres.

They won't replace Notre Dame, but please remember that Notre Dame, even if restored to a great condition in reasonable time, won't replace them either. They are worth a visit in their own right.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

We don't know of any damn foreign countries, we are just the State Department!

Found this gem on the webpage of the US embassy in Finland. Not their fault, it's the whole State-Department-wide:

"Importance notice (February 6, 2019):
Please note: You cannot currently list a “Country” when completing the “Emergency Contact” section on our form filler applications available through Travel.State.Gov (DS-11 and DS-82). Please list an emergency contact in the United States."

For those who don't know, DS-11 and DS-82 are US passport application forms. And they include information on an emergency contact. Without a country, because the damn forms don't have a field for a country.

For fuck's sake! This is our State motherfucking Department. They should fucking know that there are such things as foreign countries, and that addresses should include a fucking field for a fucking country. This is our foreign ministry, meant to conduct our international relations (the ones that don't involve drones, anyway), to run embassies, to provide services to Americans travelling or living abroad and they are either a) not capable of adding a field to a form, or b) not capable of sending an international snail mail if there is a field for the country.

Incidentally, there is no field for email there, either. The form does not predate email, though, because there is an email field for the applicant, just not for the emergency contact. Because snail mail is just what you want to use when you want to contact someone in an emergency. There is a field for a phone number, thank God for small favors. With luck you should be able to fit the country code in there.

The embassy encourages (but does not require anymore, luckily) everyone who can apply for a passport by mail (that's everyone over 16 whose previous passport still exists and is less than 15 years old) to do so.  There is only one unfortunate detail: you have to pay for it in person. Dollars, euros or a major credit card. Well, since I live in Helsinki that beats pankkivekseli that I had to procure the last time around (don't ask me what it is - some Finnish version of a money order - I've never heard of them before, or since.)

Well, it's still a couple of years before I need to renew my passport, so there is some hope that the embassy might get themselves a bank account or something, or figure out the local banking system. They already have an online banking transfer set up for visa applicants, so maybe, just maybe, in a couple of years they'll figure out how to do it for the citizens. OTOH, I was asking the same questions the last time, so probably not.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Britain, WTF?

To be quite sure, this is not just the UK, and this is not the first time. But this case is very public, and very blatant. The UK is trying to strip Shamima Begum of her UK citizenship.

Shamima Begum is a teenager who was born and raised in Britain, and left for Syria in 2015 at the age of 15, probably in order to enjoy her 72 virgins. Now she is 19, has had enough of war and virgins, and wishes to return to the UK with her baby.

Truth be told, I have very little sympathy for her, and if it turned out that she had been blown to bits during that war I would have muttered something like "natural death" and "Darwin award". She hasn't, though, she is alive and wishes to return to her home country, as she should have the right to, under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 13 (2) ("Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.") The UK is trying to deny her this right, on account that they think she is also eligible for citizenship of Bangladesh.

She is a British citizen, born and raised. If she has been involved in terrorist acts in Syria, she belongs in a British prison, or a Syrian prison if they want to keep her there. AFAIK (the situation has been changing all the time) she has not been charged with anything, which probably means that the UK authorities don't even know whether she was really involved in terrorist activities, or whether she was just going through her 72 living virgins of some Fucking Moron Martyrs Brigade.

Yeah, I get it that if you have a case of a probable terrorist whose terrorist activities you cannot prove in a court of law, it's very-very convenient to try to dump her on another country if you can find some suckers: you get rid of her, you don't have to meet the proof standards of a criminal trial, and in case you can prove she is a terrorist your taxpayers don't have to pay for her imprisonment. The thing is, convenience isn't everything, or at least shouldn't be in a civilized country. If it were, there would be an even more convenient way to get rid of her: a nice bullet in the head, without a trial. There is a reason we don't usually do this kind of thing.

What they are doing is both an obviously racist treatment of a citizen, and very unfair to people of Bangladesh, who have so far had nothing to do with Shamima Begum, and would undoubtedly like to keep it that way. The whole idea that "it's not so bad to deprive dual citizens of their citizenship, because they have another one" can only result in countries competing with who will get to dump the undesirable dual citizen first, and indeed while I was writing this  Bangladesh has issued a statement that can be summarized as "up yours, Britain", and I gotta say that in this case I am cheering for Bangladesh.

It's doesn't take a crystal ball to see how this will go: the kind of people who have a western and a third-world citizenship will make sure to get rid of the third-world citizenship before joining the Fucking Moron Martyrs Brigade or Holy 72 Incels Regiment, the people who have two or more western citizenships wouldn't care as much, and the next time Britain wants to strip its citizenship from a dual citizen it might as well be from some UK-raised fucker with a Finnish parent. Do you want them here? Because I'd rather not.


Friday, December 07, 2018

Shame?

Every once in a while when women are talking about sexual harassment, especially during their teens or earlier, but often also as adults, the topic of shame comes up.

I'd never had any clue why. Anger, yes. Annoyance. Frustration. Fear, not usually my thing unless the harassment is obviously threatening, but I can totally understand. What is there to be ashamed about? In all my long history with it, from the guy in a tram who put his hand in my underwear when I was 8 or 9, to the guys who followed me in the street and begged for sex and didn't want to hear no, and the guys who demonstrated their dicks from their cars when a dick pic wasn't a thing yet, and the strangers who found it necessary to inform me that I have big tits, I have never lost the track of who should be ashamed there - and it wasn't me.

I'd wondered if I had lived a sheltered life after all, if there is some cultural difference, although I heard the shame thing from Russian women just as well, and where the hell did those other women get that message from.

Today I tried to think harder, and yes, now I realize the message was there. All those people who told me and my friends that if we just position ourselves right, or carry ourselves right, or dress right (all of the above meant different thing for different people) we would make those guys respect us and stop harassing us. I heard the message, over and over again. I even argued with them, my points being that a) while I understand and use some precautions to avoid physical assault, there is no fucking way in hell I'd change anything in my life just to prevent some asshole from embarrassing himself publicly, and b) I have absolutely no use for their respect, and the kind of people who's respect me only if I have a very high neckline and never smile can stick their respect where the sun don't shine.

I don't think the well-intentioned shamers ever understood. One of them was even my guidance counselor in school, and should have known better.

As to why I didn't get the memo at the time - I think it's just something undiagnozed on the autism spectrum. Damn inconvenient pretty often, but comes handy when you don't want some stupid social message hammered into your head.

I don't think many young girls will read this, but just in case any do:

1. It's not anything you did or failed to do. The harassers are doing it because you happen to be female, and young, and they happen to be there, and assholes, and horny. Sometimes they also do it to people who are male and young. Getting older doesn't quite get rid of them, but reduces the numbers considerably.

2. Unless you are physically threatened or think you might be, there is really no point in inconveniencing yourself just to avoid their attention. They should be ashamed of themselves, and we as a society are slowly going in that direction, but right now they are an annoying fact of life like telemarketers and banana flies.

3. The harassers really should be ashamed of themselves. They are embarrassing themselves in public. It might or might not be safe to laugh and point, but if you are upset and want to make yourself feel better, just imagine that guy standing on his hands naked from the waist down, ass up in the air, and a sparkler up his ass. Or imagine him as the protagonist of one of those Youtube videos where people do spectacularly stupid things.

4. Don't think how to make them respect you. They are people of no consequence, and their respect has no value at all. They are still human beings and might get better, but if you ever have to deal with them after the harassment, it's them who should be working on earning your respect, not other way around.


Thursday, December 06, 2018

Friday, August 24, 2018

The war on opiates and constipation

Every time a war against anything starts in the US, the warriors are very annoyingly efficient. Last year I just wanted a little plastic bag for my purchases in a pharmacy in Harvard Square. I asked the cashier for a plastic bag, and he looked at me with huge round eyes and open mouth, as if I had asked him for newborn baby brains sprinkled with cocaine. Then he looked around, as if trying to make sure that nobody heard us, and whispered: "Don't you know? Plastic bags are forbidden!" I told him that I live in Helsinki, Finland, and the news of the city of Cambridge forbidding the plastic bags hadn't quite made the front page there. This seemed to surprise him.

But yes, they are forbidden now. Mind you, not taxed, or sold for money (unless you want to buy a pack of 100 or so; unless they already got to those as well), or something like that. Forbidden. The paper bag was utterly unusable for my purposes so I made do sticking the stuff in various pockets of my jeans and purse, and buggered off, wondering what they are gonna ban next.

I guess we found it now: Loperamide, aka Imodium. As a part of general struggle against the opiate addiction. Because some people apparently use it as a drug, in the amounts of 100 times the recommended dose. (As an aside: I have taken the drug in question once in my life, half a pill, and didn't shit for a week after that. Do the people who take 100 pills at a time shit at all, ever again?)

Anyway, now the FDA is asking the manufacturers to discontinue selling the big packages, and the people with chronic diarrhea are screwed. Paska juttu.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Warning: men at work

Every once in a while when I am at a job or client interview I get asked the question "we have a mostly male team, is it OK with you?". I am wondering what kind of answer do they expect:

"Oh no! Men are icky and have cooties!"
"Oh no, I would be so horny that I wouldn't be able to work at all."
"Well, all my previous teams mostly consisted of women, but I guess it's 21st century now and I am sure men can be just as good."
"Oh no, men! Is nothing sacred anymore?"
"They are beastly creatures, but I'll try to grin and bear it."


Sunday, March 25, 2018

Android permissions and how to deal with the apps that misuse them

Every once in a while there has been some scandal with Google or Facebook or someone collecting a shitload of surprising data in their Android apps, so I decided to write a simple guide on what to do about it.

1.  If you have an Android phone running an Android version below 6, get a newer one, if you can. With versions 5 and below pretty much the only thing you can do is to check the app permissions on Google Play, and not install the ones that ask for too much. Fat chance.

2. Yes, do check the permissions that are listed for the app in Google Play. Yeah, I know you are gonna install that app that asks for your firstborn anyway. Or at least I totally did in the dark ages before Marshmallow.

3. After you install the app go to settings - applications - permissions. If it has already taken some permissions without asking you, it means that the app was built for Android 5 or below. The one and only reason anyone would do that anymore is that they want to use some permissions without you noticing. Do you need an app from such people at all? If the answer is yes, deny it whatever permissions you want to deny.

4. If the app has been developed by honest people, it will ask for permissions as you use it. Again, deny whatever you want to deny.

As to what you want to deny: basically, if you don't know what the app uses it for, and it fails to explain it adequately, or if you don't use that function, feel free to deny it.  Facebook Messenger, for example, asks for a shitload of permissions. If you only use it for text communication with other Facebook users, you don't need any of them. If you send pictures you might want to give it the storage permission, if you also want to take pictures, the camera permission, if you really want to share your location, the location permission, etc.

One thing about the location permission: even if you deny it, the fuckers can sort of estimate it from your IP address. And if you hide your IP address, at least the cell towers can see your phone. Yes, even if you leave your SIM card at home. If you really, really don't want anyone to know where you are, leave the phone home.


Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A bit more about #metoo

First of all, a disclaimer. You don't owe your story to anyone. It might be too painful. Or damaging for some reason. Or you are just not in the mood for writing.

Still, I was amazed at the number of people who felt that their story is somehow not worthy because they were only harassed when other people were actually assaulted or raped, or because they were not traumatized, or because it happened  a long time ago, or less often than to someone else.

Whether or not you were traumatized is not the point. The point is that someone else did something that was wrong, and the fact that another someone else did something even worse to another person is not an excuse for them.

When a very drunk person drives his or her car into a yard of a daycare, chances are nobody will be traumatized either, at least if they didn't happen to hit anyone this time.

I don't think I was traumatized much.  Not by the adult neighbor who molested me (no violence at all, hand-to-vulva contact only) when I was about 5. Not by the teenage boy who attacked me from behind,  threw me in the snow and tried to rape me when I was 10. Not by the adult man who forced his way into my building after me, chased me into a corner, and tried to rape me when I was 15. This is not even the full list of rape attempts, not to mention harassment.

That was partly luck, partly violence, and partly me being a fairly insensitive person is some ways.  If the rape did not succeed and I have suffered no physical damage I tend to recover from the psychological damage in several weeks. Those several weeks feel like a constant adrenaline rush, which is fairly unpleasant for me, and fairly hazardous for people who piss me off during that time. But again, I got lucky, and nobody pissed me off enough during that time to cause any violence. After that, it's just another story to tell. I got better. No lasting harm done.

I am sure this makes the next victims of the same assholes feel so much better...



Sunday, August 13, 2017

Equality and facts

If somebody asked me 25 years ago what I think about Damore's manifesto's claims that women are on average somewhat less (or more) suited to software jobs than men, I would have said "bullshit". 15 years ago I might have said "I don't know". Now, surprisingly, it's more of "I don't care".

A cynic in me would also add "and if anyone knows, they are sure as hell not telling us". Because if anyone really managed to measure the "natural biological" distribution of men and women in Computer Science, and it turned out to be less than 50% women, they'd look at what happened to Damore, and think again. And if it turned out to be 50% or more women, they would expect similar harassment from the other side. The subject is just too sensitive to talk about in public, which is kind of sad.

I find it scary that this is so important to so many people, because to me this means that our whole concept of equality is too strongly based of the idea that any two groups (at least groups that we want to be equal in a situation where we want them to be equal) do in fact have equal abilities. And I think this is a perilous path. "Group A is equal to group B at task X" is a falsifiable factual statement. Giving people equal opportunities is a matter of values, morals and policy, and should not depend on falsifiable statements.


Saturday, December 31, 2016

Happy New Year!

Everyone is saying what they were doing in 2016. I wasn't doing anything, I don't admit to anything, and it was already broken when I got here. :D

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Happy Independence Day, Finland!

Good thing we got out of Russia when we did. Russia sucks. Lately more than usual.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Israel revisited

Back from the trip to Israel. Here are some observations (some of them just for myself, some could be useful for other tourists).

It was a somewhat overwhelmingly social holiday, but it was awesome to see everyone we managed to see, and in fact we didn't even manage to see everyone who was there. Next time, I guess, or maybe they'll visit me here in sunny Finland.

Not surprisingly, there were a lot of historical sites, good restaurants, and awesome beaches.

I wasn't sure if the early November was a bit too late in the year, but it wasn't. The temperature varied from 16 (Jerusalem) to 32 (Ein Bokek), and there was just one rainy day. The water was warm (25 or so) both in the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea.

November is off-season, most national parks close early, like at 3pm.

Jerusalem is full of tourists, and Tel Aviv and the Dead Sea have quite a few, but the national parks are almost empty apart from some school groups.

There are a lot of public toilets, almost all of them free. The ones in the restaurants are often unisex. Although pretty much anywhere I've been in Asia, from Turkey to Japan, they had more public toilets than pretty much anywhere in Europe.

The public transportation doesn't work from Friday sunset till Saturday sunset. If you are not in a religious area, some restaurants and convenience stores will be open.

The stores appear to stop selling beer by 11pm. Not sure if it's a law, company policy, or Tel Aviv city ordinance.

They are building and renovating a lot.

Almost everyone speaks very good English, and a lot of people speak very good Russian as well, but most of the written stuff is written only in Hebrew, so unless you read Hebrew you will feel a bit lost while shopping for groceries. I generally asked some friendly local people for help, and they always helped.

The places we stayed at were Tel Aviv - Jerusalem - Ein Bokek - Haifa - Tel Aviv. Did day trips to Herodion, Sorek cave, Masada, Ein Gedi, Mamshit, Ein Avdat, Avdat, Beit Guvrin, Akko, Tel Megiddo, Beit She'an and Tsippori.

Here's place by place, with links to the pictures:

Tel Aviv: a big city with a lot of restaurants and the greatest beach ever. Lots of Bauhaus buildings but they didn't impress me. Some nice markets. Yafo old city. A very nice area in the old port.

Jerusalem: I am sure even a bad tourist guide will have more details than I can describe here. One thing that a bad tourist book might not mention: the Western Wall tunnels.

Herodion: Herod's palace. You can go up the mountain, and then down inside the mountain.

Haifa: many residential neighborhoods are on the mountain, which makes for pretty cool views on the city. The main tourist attraction is the Bahai shrine gardens. The area around Sderot Ben Gurion has a lot of nice cafes.

Akko: a very pretty Arab town reminiscent of a few medieval places in Southern Europe. An undeground tunnel, a pretty mosque, and the underground crusader city in the citadel. Don't miss the genuine crusader toilet seat.

Ein Bokek: a touristy place on the Dead Sea shore. There is nothing there, really, except some Russian tourists (not many, because it's out of season) and one decent restaurant, but the sea looks lovely at sunrise, and it's a good base for visiting a lot of sites. The biggest minus: the pool and the beach closed at 5pm. WTF is that?

Sorek (Soreq, Avshalom, whatever) cave: a little but beautiful cave with stalactites, beautifully lit. In a way you've seen one of them, you've seen all, but I still enjoyed it. Quite a way down from the parking lot. The tour was supposed to be guided and photography forbidden, but the guide didn't mind us wandering around and taking pictures without flash.

Masada: the famous fortress on a high hill. If your map app is showing you two entrances you really want to use the one from direction of the Dead Sea. This one has a cable car, the other ones doesn't.

Ein Gedi: we came there late and didn't see much besides the rock hyraxes. Loved watching the rock hyraxes though.

Mamshit and Avdat: old Nabatean towns. Very interesting. There are two more, but we didn't have time for that. If you have even less time, Avdat is the biggest of the four.

Ein Avdat, aka Avdat canyon, not to be confused with Avdat. A canyon right next to Avdat. Also a national park, with a separate ticket. The entrance about 4 kilometers north from Avdat (the only one Google Maps currently show) is the top entrance, from where you can look at the canyon from above, and are not allowed to go down (falling in is also forbidden). If you want to come in from below (that's where all the really nice pictures are taken) and climb up, use the entrance near Ben Gurion university (may the road signs be with you).

Beit Guvrin: that's a really big and great park, and when the park rangers tell you what to see in what order they really know what they are talking about. Bell caves (beautiful, unusual and easily accessible), Sidonian burial caves with paintings, the ruins of Maresha and much more.

Tel Megiddo: not really that much to see, except that you get to tell your friends that you've seen the real Armageddon site. If you do get up there, don't miss the Hellmouth, aka the water system. you can go down there. It's right on the way from Haifa to Beit She'an, so if you are going there you might as well.

Beit She'an: a huge and awesome Roman ruin. Don't miss.

Tsippori/Zippori: beautiful mosaics and lots of cactuses.