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Finland-USA 1-1

February 12th, 2011

It truly was what the computers had become. And the real incumbent masters of that game had it all figured out already by then. It did not take for too long before their answers came. Just few days after the black cubical Nokia tent with that provocating statement addressing the audience of CES’07 in Las Vegas, and Apple launched iPhone to claim the true invention of the device for the next era of personal computing. Simultaneously, in Mountain View the Android team at Google was already punching its way towards the industry dominance in the operating system. Something which would see the daylight later on that year. Helsinki, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Silicon Valley - it was all on the maps already then in 2007.

California IronicAds, NokiaLast ten years for Nokia have been truly an Amazing Race around the planet of computing. Put together the late 90’s smartphone inventions of Silicon Valley startups like Unwired Planet and the visions of Nokia about the Mobile Information Society. Add to that the determined, fast and immense R&D investment and the result was that Silicon Valley was left far behind. By 2005 the billions were starting to chime in. It was Finland-USA 1-0 in the next generation of personal computing.

Nokia’s Symbian smartphone business figures are truly impressive: Hundreds of millions of smartphones sold over the last ten years. This means tens of billions of profit and billions invested. Still, for some of us something seemed wrong under the hood. The productivity and creative dynamics were not quite there. This was not real computing. These were much better phones yes, but was that really the point?

Creative dynamics is about invention and productivity and these are catalyzed by openness. Computing is nothing new but there exists a wealth of methods, technologies and ecosystems out there and true progress has always been attained on the shoulders of the giants, not by do-it-yourself with stone age toolkits. These were the premises on which we started to build the renewal of Nokia smartphone R&D to turn the initial leadership of Symbian smartphones into sustainable one for Nokia. And boy, what an Amazing Race this was too: in 2005 Nokia Internet Tablet with the Maemo open source OS, “Made for Silicon Valley”, hit the Financial Times and San Jose Mercury News alike with zero marketing budget. The race had started already in 2001 with embedded Linux startups of the valley, continued with Netscape and AOL, with founding of a dozen of open source consultancies all around the world, deals with Yahoo, Google, Skype, Microsoft, GNOME, Trolltech, Facebook and so on. Yet the outcome to this date for Nokia remains only around few million Maemo handheld computers sold over the last five yeas. Profit and investment in the same ballpark of few hunderd millions. This is less than 1% compared to Nokia’s Symbian smartphone business. This is NOTHING, right?

Now what? For those of us who are quick to jump into conclusions the Nokia-Microsoft news from yesterday have been saying it all: the sturm und drang of Nokia and Finland in computing seems over, only devastation and depression remaining. I do not think so. Clearly it is time for some serious thinking now, but it is not time to panic. In a moment like this we need to think positively - of all the things achieved, of all the knowhow and technology accumulated, and be on lookout for the new opportunities now opening. From death and decay nature usually sprouts new life and this is no different in the hi-tech ecosystem. The thing now is to hold fast to our remaining assets and trust in the creative force. It is only 1-1, not game over. This game never ends.

Tile stove

June 15th, 2008

What do you do if you get offered a historical tile stove that once was erected by your grand grandfather and in the holiest of the family has witnessed the anniversaries, weddings and baptizing of half of your kin?

Preaching at the stoveTile stoves have been the equivalents of altars in the forestry and agriculture centric near history of Finland. Just think of the importance of heat and fire for our ancestors fighting the freezing hostile climate. The source of that life-giving heat built in the very heart of man’s residence out of everlasting stone. I have just realized the fortunes and the respect these people invested in their most prestigous stoves. Just look at the picture and people there. Think about it. What is the role of the stove in hallowing the scene?

So, off we went. My father and I loaded my pick-up truck with a bit over 100 tiles from that very old stove and transported them to my home where I already since January had been renovating “the white bedroom”. That gorgeous glossy monument would fit perfectly there with the white interior and could now continue radiating its heat to our family also in the future.

Tile and crackAnother interesting finding was that as recently as spring last year an old-fashioned tile factory had been established just 15 minutes drive frome my home. Hattulan Kaakelitehdas is a dream realized by two young ladies who had recently had graduated from a handcraft school and researched the traditional art of tile making. They helped by offering service to repair some broken tiles and otherwise provided valuable advice in building the stove.

Inside the stoveMy final lucky strike was finding the mason. Building a traditional monolithic counter-flow low-temperature stove that can support those hundred hand-cut tiles is not a job for your average brick and mortar guy. Pete proved to be a real master. He conducted a meticulous labor in finding a new shape for the stove, fitting and shaping the stones and tiles and fixing the century-old smoke pipe in the attic so that we could run the final smoke test for the beauty. In addition to this he managed to teach us novice hands hundreds of principles and practicalities about stoves, models and materials, consulted on several of my other open renovation questions and provided us with some excellent old books about traditional construction work and masonry.

Smoke test

Right now I watch the stove as it is standing up in the white midsummer night, dry, ready to take the heat, waiting for the yet distant but inevitably approaching winter. Renovation of the white bedroom is almost complete. The room is as beautiful as I ever imagined with its old wooden floors and traditional Swedish paper tapestry my wife carefully selected. But the stove I still like the most. The funny thing is that many people who used to visit the house and that room for decades now come and just disregard the stove - like it had always stood there! First I felt this quite insulting indeed. But the more I think of it, this just confirms that things are exactly as they should. And it makes me smile.

ready

Possessed!

December 13th, 2007

2 years ago Tarja Turunen was kicked out from Nightwish. I had not really followed the band nor the genre for many many years but old instincts still immediately told me that this was a major catastrophe - not just for Finnish metal and music industry but internationally as well. I felt something big move then but could not really tell what that was - other than the obvious grief of loss caused by the end of something great. But it wasn’t really just that. The whole setup was so weird. All those bizarre public letters by Tuomas and Tarja, such an outburst of emotion! The sheer energy and apparent authenticity of the events was quite unique. I have watched break-ups of crazy artists also earlier but this seemed out of all proportions.

This explosive separation remained a deep and complete Nightwishian mystery until this autumn when both Tarja and Nightwish published their new albums following the break-up. The meaning of those events two years ago are now unfolding: For both artists these events gave rise to remarkable creations of deep and beautiful metal art which I try to shortly cover in this post. And me … I was brought back to metal after many years, a truly enriching experience of recall. And for many of us … the riddles of the Nightwish drama are getting decoded at last - but luckily not demystified ;-)

MWSDark passion play of one brought the winter storm on another. Both robbed of their innocence. Tuomas’ songs: Beauty and the beast, Wishmaster, Dead boy’s poem, Ever dream, Bye bye beautiful, Eva, Poet and the pendulum. These very old and new songs and lyrics now open and lay plain his prophetic vision, his dark passion play, his kingdom, his twisted solitude, his willing pain. Tarja’s My Winter Storm is a touching yet overly anxious response to Tuomas’ wicked play and mind scenery which has come to possess her. Her songs: (The dead) Boy and the ghost and Ciaran’s well clearly manifest this hook. Sing for me, Poison, Damned and Divine, and Our great divide are pure love-hate. I walk alone, Lost Northern Star, Little phoenix, Oasis, and Calling grace reach for atonement. At first they rang very phony to me. Shriek of phoenix sounded rather like proud swan song. Over some listenings and getting a feel of the album as a whole the hollow prima donna feeling of these songs, however, vanished and was replaced by authenticity through incompleteness of a kind. I guess this is the winter storm. It is never gone.

Amaranth album coverTarja’s Die alive and Tuomas’ Amaranth are most intensive and unyielding sources of positiveness and hope. Overwhelming love in living to die alive and never-fading Amaranth flower. These songs are the keys that finally turn the otherwise very heavy, even gloomy albums into balanced works of art and probably also reflect the human growth of their creators. So depressing were the propositions of the rest of the songs alone that without these two I would not dare to wish for another production from these people. But these two songs easily purify the rest. And Anette’s voice gets shivers on my back :-).

MWSThere is one more anecdote worth writing here: I never buy new records when they are published, nevertheless I went and bought My Winter Storm on an impulse. I guess exception makes the rule? This is how it happened: I had heard the ‘I walk alone’ track played and for some reason it just stuck. The song and its lyrics resonated strongly on me. Also, I could not get this 2 year old incident and these people out of my mind. And there I was accidentally after work on the date of MWS publication at Stockmann in Helsinki killing time and waiting my train home. There was an interview with Tarja Turunen taking place just right there. I went and bought the album and followed the interview, remotely interesting. Afterwards I went to pick up her autograph for my album and actually told her that this is the first ever new album I bought. She was amazed and immediately asked why did I buy it then. I was not able to tell. Now I know.

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October 29th, 2007

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Auction day

October 27th, 2007

What kind of a man owns forty drilling machines, twenty chainsaws, twelve lawnmovers, twenty-six cars, nine welding machines and three bulidings full of boxes of any kinds of things you ever can imagine? Well, we have one chance less to find out as a guy like this passed away some time ago in Hauho.

AuctionToday I went to a three-day auction the Finnish state is organising to liquidate the earthly leftovers of this collector in the absence of any heirs. The show had lasted only 10 minutes when I had already spent all my cash! My despair for having to pass all those wonderful would-be-bargains was compensated by the great findings I managed to do during those ten frantic minutes. After a hefty loading struggle with the heavy gear I left for home with a huge welding machine, a crane and some other treasures on the back bed of my truck.

My crane Here is my crane. It really is quite cool. I can’t believe that it cost me only €40! I put it to a test to lift 100kg:s of concrete and it it took it up to 2 meters from ground just like that. Tomorrow I am going to try with my car. What am I going to do with it? Beats me. But I am sure the need comes up. Everybody needs help in lifting things. At least now I have a hand for lifting real stuff :)

Another treasure was this mysterious little gas welding machine. It takes no electricity. You just tank it with something and it does its chemical miracles and produces oxygen to be combined with liquid gas and there you go. I suppose you need to put in hydrogen peroxide but I am not sure yet … it came with no manual. Anyway, I have been surfing for oxygen related information and found a wealth of interesting things. I have a feeling that there is a lot to blog about these things here later on.

All in all, it was a wonderful day! The thrill of auctions, this marvelous forgone guy with his unbelieveable possessions and home, the bargains, the new toys, the exitment of discovery chemistry again … :)

Sketch editing of 3D is cool

October 23rd, 2007

Wow!

I just made a 3D model in few minutes. Never thought it would be so easy! Here is my Lama :-)

My 3D lamaI used Teddy which is a little Java application made by Takeo Igarashi. Check it out yourself. Just watch the 5min video and try it out. In 10 mins you have a funny model of yours!

Teddy is a nice piece of software. You can draw a model and export it. There is also SmoothTeddy which is a bit more advanced software adding painting features. It is not as stable is Teddy, though. Teddy is still more a demo than serious application. As soon as I stared experimenting with it I already started to yearn for more capabilities. Like zooming, (stable) painting, textures, animation, ready-made templates etc. I wonder if there are some more developed alternatives available?

Another interesting bit was the little girl in the video who was using Teddy to make her teddybear or something. I tried that at home but at least our 5 years old was not too impressed. She drew a rock and rotated it around dismissing it as yet another of daddy’s toys …

Rajaton

October 21st, 2007

Rajaton Hämeenlinnassa A cappella ensemble Rajaton visited Hämenlinna today. I am spellbound by their visions of Finnish nature and traditional lyrics and melodies. Sold to a capella music once again. Any one else close to Hämeenlinna with an urge to set up a quartet?

Joined Facebook

September 29th, 2007

I finally joined facebook (here: Valtteri@facebook). Started to receive invitations each day. I guess this will stop them coming?

I must say that Facebook was really easy service to set up all my webfeeds. Let’s see if it will in the end bring some useful info also for me and not just about me . . .

Modern smartphone software

September 28th, 2007

It's what computers have become

“It is what computers have become”. This was our proud slogan at CES 2007 fair in Las Vegas this January when we launched N800 and other Nokia products. But why is it that most serious large-scale smartphone software development today still is very labor intensive? Why do we still lack the wealth of sophisticated development productivity tools and methods that are commonplace in desktop and server system development? Why do we consider C++ a top notch programming language technology? Why don’t we have a prosperous value ecosystem of ISV:s, VAR:s and professional services? Why do I believe that we soon do not need ask these questions any more?

But wait. Don’t we have lot of evidence about ultra-modern smartphone software? We have the Symbian C++ programming model, Microsoft smartphone, QT Phone edition and their developer communities. We have Flash Lite, MIDP Java, and even AJAX making inroads in the mobile web browsers. But seriously, when you look at it these are all mere shadows of their original ancestors. We still lag tremendously in productivity and richness compared to software industry average.

For the last ten years I have personally had a big problem with this “smartphone software stone age”. I started my career as a software professional in a typical way toiling in UNIX C environment and soon learning my way through higher level languages, frameworks and IDE:s in desktop and server environments. Being a finnish computer science graduate in the late 90’s I could not resist the flow and found myself working in the R&D of Nokia Mobile Phones growth tornado. But boy, was I horrified when I realized the state of software engineering in this industry! I simply refused to go along with it. Instead of turning myself into a software caveman I’d rather choose the desperate mission to first help bringing smartphone software to the modern days. And ever since this choise I’ve been busy with work … but that is another story :-).

There are good historical reasons for the backwardness of smartphone software:
- The device industry has been concentrated to few giant players and also the name of the R&D game has been huge scale economies. It has traditionally been possible to choose quantity over quality and productivity in R&D.
- In the early 90’s the cell phone software was developed by just a handful of engineers. Software has only recently emerged on the side of hardware in R&D intensity. Product design cycles adapt and competence accumulates with lag of some years
- Smartphone hardware performance is about 10 years behind desktop PC:s. Modern operating systems, interpreted languages, virtual memory, scalable graphics and fonts etc. etc. have only recently become technically feasible.

All this being said I can’t help feeling little tickles in my back. More and more these reasons seem to step deeper into history which covers them in the darkness of mobile software middle ages. New era is slowly dawning for smartphone software - or should we rather call it pocket-size computing?