Your leaking thatched hut during the restoration of a pre-Enlightenment state.


Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


decay & ruin
Biosphere II
dead malls
Irving housing

got that wrong

appropriate tech
Arduino μcontrollers
Backwoods Home
Fractal antenna

fun social media stuff

(nobody does!)

Like my brownhouse:
Monday, July 29 2019

location: Room 5115, cruise ship Vasco da Gama in the port of Helsinki, Finland

This morning our ship was in the harbor of Helsinki, and I was trying to make a limerick using the name of this seemingly limerick-friendly capital of Finland. But there aren't that many English words that rhyme with Helsinki. I started off strong: There once was a man from Helsinki/Whose ass was really quite stinky." The next two lines kind of worked, but I couldn't think of any way to land it. Gretchen came up with a line that used "dinky" or "pinky," but I didn't think it worked.
After breakfast, Gretchen and I joined her parents for the disembarkation into Helsinki. The best plan seemed to be to catch a cab into the city center, and soon we were zipping in that direction in a Mercedes, the driver accelerating in the gratuitous herky-jerky way that may only be possible in a luxury car. But then Gretchen's father realized he hadn't brought his money, so we had to bust a youee and head back to the harbor. Once we'd finally made it into downtown Helsinki, we immediately walked through an indoor market, where Gretchen's mother needed a restroom. Across the intersection at the other side of the building, Gretchen and her father were rapidly receding into the distance, not really taking into account the fact that their entourage was more than just them. I had to clap my hands (painfully, as it happened) and shout to get them to stop and turn around. Soon thereafter, it was the consensus of the group that Gretchen and I should explore Helsinki on our own. Part of the problem was that Gretchen's mother wasn't feeling well.
Minutes later, we were looking at jewelry in a stall in an outdoor market. The artist/seller was a Mexican who had married a Finn, and Gretchen was interested in some sort of coppery stone from Russia set in a silver necklace (available for 40 euro). Though the seller spoke good English, Gretchen (of course) took the opportunity to practice her Spanish. Once she'd decided to buy the necklace, a surprising amount of time was spent reducing the length of the chain that goes around the neck.
After considering some beautiful stainless-steel spatulas and forks, we purchased a small painting from a woman who combined whimsical, abstract animals with compositions reminiscent of Paul Klee and Marc Chagall.
From the market, we wandered past the steps of the Helsingin Tuomiokirkko, a large church in the neoclassical style, and at he bottom of its stack of steps, Gretchen bought a cup of pomegranate juice from a Turkish seller. Some blocks later, we found an amazing statue depicting three nude blacksmiths. At the end of a short (though broad) pedestrian mall, Gretchen led us into a featureless round wooden building. This was the Kamppi Chapel, the sort of church only a modern Nordic European would devise. It's a chapel stripped down to its barest essentials: a silent, distraction-free place to sit. Since any spirituality was happening silently in the respective minds of the visitors, the chapel could be completely ecumenical. Light enters the chapel indirectly either from the sky or lights hidden behind a baffle that forms much of the ceiling. While we were there, there were maybe a dozen others present, and they did a fairly good job of being silent.
By this point, what we needed was cappuccinos and WiFi, but our undirected wandering was taking us into an unattractive neighborhood devoid of those essentials. When we saw a plump gothy-looking woman who was covered with tattoos walking a dog, Gretchen figured she would know where to go. She suggested a place nearly called Marocco, where I ordered us oat milk cappuccinos. Gretchen thought her cappuccino was among the very best she had ever had, but (somewhat amusingly) there was no WiFi available. There was, however, some delightful Art Nouveau details on the building across the street.
Eventually Gretchen managed to orient us and get us back to near that ecumenical chapel. Nearby was a museum of modern art called Amos Rex. Amos Rex appears to be mostly underground, with portals letting us look into it from the top from structures in the pedestrian mall above that resemble skateboarding ramps built around large circular windows. Inside, one of the exhibits in the museum was of a café purportedly run by miserly trolls, who had "built" the furniture from rough four by fours and offered coffee for one euro per cup on the honor system. We didn't have any one-euro coins, so our coffee was free. It was too strong for Gretchen, and I couldn't drink it all before leaving the exhibit (coffee wasn't allowed outside of it).
In the Amos Rex, a number of tempting Nordic trinkets were for sale, including spherical dice that somehow worked, a foldable ruler, and a ten-inch (not twelve-inch) multi-rule ruler with a triangular cross-section. There was also free WiFi coming from an adjacent store.
By then it was time to start heading back to the ship. We wandered down to the waterfront and eventually flagged down a taxi. It was another Mercedes, and again the driver drove it in the douchey manner that such cars apparently inspire in drivers. He drove a little less that way once we assured him that we weren't in a hurry. We learned that the driver was from Turkey and that he had moved to Helsinki because Istanbul is "not safe," and neither is eastern Turkey where, he claimed, ISIS is still active.

I'd begun this vacation with such an intense obsession with multi-level marketing that Gretchen wanted to make my mentions of it into a drinking game (not that she actually drinks). Today, though, I had a new obsession (fueled partly by a recreational dose of pseudoephedrine): technical and intellectual debt. This interest had grown out of something I'd seen on, which sent me off to read the source material, such as an article on that was later republished in the New Yorker. I should mention that the ship's terrible internet has broken my habit of watching (or just listening to) YouTube videos. Instead, I need engrossing written material, preferably in the longest form typically available on the web. (Certain endless-scroll threads at on the topic of multilevel marketing have been perfect.)
But back, for a moment, to the idea of intellectual debt, which is defined (more or less) as making use of something useful whose function is a mystery. Individuals do this every day when they turn on a television or even a light, but in those cases there is someone (or some group of people) who, in aggregate, know how these things work. But apparently some pharmaceuticals and some of the tools created by neural networks are useful while being understood by nobody. They're like alien technology introduced into our society without explanation. It's a fascinating phenomenon, and one we're likely to see more of as computers do more of our thinking for us.

This evening for the first time on this cruise, Gretchen and I had dinner just as a couple, with nobody else at our table. I'm not a big fan of the non-buffet restaurants, but Gretchen wanted to eat in the Waterfront. I went for some sort of Indian dish, and it wasn't bad. We've decided that the food has been improving over the course of the week. Perhaps the cooks are gaining experience with making vegan food.

I (and even Gretchen) have been avoiding most of the activities on the ship. These have included lots of events related to animal rights and veganism, topics that resonate with my morality but do not particularly interest me. Tonight, though, there would be a talent show (called "Vegans Got Talent") in the Hollywood Bowl, and Gretchen was certain it would be one of the highlights of the cruise. So we showed up early (while that weird troop of young singers was performing Queen songs) to get front-row seats. We were joined by Kelly and Brian and, later, Gretchen's father (Gretchen's mother still wasn't feeling well). As has been the pattern lately, Kelly and Brian ordered me a glass of red wine which was paid for by their limitless drinks package.
A dozen or so contestants had signed up to perform, and the MC was Vegan Travel's own Dirk (who has been a low-key presence on this cruise, having turned over most of his announcement duties to a young woman who sounds like she's from Nebraska, particularly when reading the German translation of the announcement). The first performance was by Jeffrey, an older middle-aged man with a minimalist electric travel guitar, who wanted to do an Ed Sheeran number. Not being Ed Sheeran fans, Gretchen and I didn't have much hope. But then Jeffrey's guitar kept crapping out, somehow both overdriving the amp while sputtering out with every pluck of a string. His performance had to be post-poned to later in the show. We were then treated to a couple not-very good performances by children who'd evidently been misled into thinking they had talent. One was a little white girl who did some sort of Little Miss Sunshinesque dance followed by a tweenage boy who gave a tuneless performance Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." The performances generally improved over the course of the show. Somehow there were two different people doing Hawaiian dances and one woman even showed us a black and white "painting" she'd supposedly done hours before. There was also a performance by Manuela, the older sister of Joseph, the guy Kelly and Brian's daughter Nancy is "seeing" on this boat.
When Jeffrey returned, he'd replaced his faulty electric guitar with an acoustic and also prepared to perform a different song, the far more universally-adored "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen. He ended up doing did a fairly good job, though it hardly warranted the effusive adulation from the crowd (which included waving their phones in flashlight mode). Brian later said he thought the whole thing with the Ed Sheeran song and the technical difficulties had been a ruse.
Dirk had selected three judges to provide a critique of every performance, with one of them being Kelly (who is, as it happens, a professional dance critic). But these judges didn't really serve any function because after each performance all they all uniformed gushed about how great it had been. Kelly has considerably more bile than her "critiques" suggested, but this was what the judges had been told to do. Without a Simon Cowell, the judges sounded like a North Korean jury convicting Kim Jong Un of being awesome. There was one moral silver lining to this cloud of forced positivity: since the judges had similar praise for all the performances, it hardly mattered that Kelly didn't recuse herself from analyzing Manuela's performance.
After the show, we in the audience were all given pieces of paper and pencils and asked to vote for the number of the performance we'd thought was best, with the winner getting a free cabin on Vegan Travel's Christmas cruise. For this reason, Gretchen wanted Manuela to win. Manuela's family isn't vegan and were on this cruise mostly for health reasons. But Gretchen was convinced that with one more cruise both Manuela and Joseph could be won over to veganism. Their being on another cruise would also make it more likely that Nancy and Joseph could continue their nascent romance. This was why both Gretchen and I voted for Manuela, even though I thought a performance by one of the white guys with a guitar had been better.
While waiting for the votes to be tallied, Dirk had another Brian, a young man who has been performing in one of the 9th floor bars, come out and entertain us. He did a really good version of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'." But his performance wasn't long enough to fill the tallying time, so Dirk asked if anyone else wanted to perform. Nobody did except for that kid who had done "Bohemian Rhapsody." He took the stage and gave a particularly awful rendition of Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now," until the was (ironically) stopped by Dirk. The votes were in and Jeffery had won. Manuela got the silver and the white guy I'd liked had won the bronze.
While milling around in the aftermath of the show, Joseph tried to get us to all go up to the dome on the top deck, where dancing would be happening. Our response to the fifteen-year-old was, "We're too oooooowwld!" But what Joseph was really trying to do was to keep Nancy socializing, as it seemed like she might go off to bed and cut short one of the few remaining date nights of their doomed teenage romance. What Joseph didn't know (but what Gretchen did) was that Nancy doesn't particularly like dancing. So Gretchen whispered in Joseph's ear that maybe he should think of something other than dancing to do tonight. This idea ended up salvaging the evening.

Though it was now late, possibly even after midnight, there was still a lingering magical glow in the north. We were at a latitude of about 60 degrees, which meant that at this time of year the sun wasn't far below the northern horizon. This phenomenon has a name: the "white nights," and it has connotations of romance in places like St. Petersburg.

Helsingin Tuomiokirkko. Note the lack of gold and the live seagull on top of the Russian czar's (Alexander II's) head. Click for a wider view.

Nude blacksmiths at the corner of Mannerheimintie and Aleksanterinkatu. Note the lack of gold.

Art Nouveau architectural details across from the Marocco Café.

A tiny diorama in Amos Rex.

The talent show tonight on the ship. That's Dirk on the far left.

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