Sunday, 27-Sep-15 10:57
Biking in electric mode

One of the great things about living in Helsinki is that we have a really nice public transportation system, which basically means that many people do not need to own cars. Some do, because of hobbies or kids hobbies or badly chosen workplaces, but most people in Helsinki choose to live without a car.

So obviously I live in neighbouring Espoo, where car ownership is the norm. This makes life without a car a bit more complicated.

I’ve so far been fine with bicycling and the use of public transportation, but I’ve recently gotten a bit weary of the fact that the bike travel is a bit of a hassle always. With a car, you open the lock, step in, and drive. With a bike, you first dress up in clothes that you think make you look sexy in a middle-aged kind of way, but which mostly result in spontaneous deaths by laughter by any seagulls you pass. Then you pack half of your stuff in a pannier (forgetting the stuff you’re actually going to need in your other bag that you use with public transport, ‘cos panniers are just impossible to carry and backpacks just make you sweat like the proverbial pig), pull on a helmet and goggles and open enough locks to keep anyone from stealing the building the bike is attached to. Only then can you drive to the office, where you arrive looking like you just went through a car wash that ran on sweat instead of water. Though obviously you’re totally high with endorphins, so you don’t really care about the disgusted looks of you coworkers and just bask on your own righteousness for living maybe two minutes longer again than anyone else.

And the same thing going back in the afternoon, but this time without a breakfast in your belly.

So I started figuring out if there would be an easier way to get my endorphins without being stinky all the time (and streamlining the travel hassle). I figured I would give e-bikes a try.

E-bikes aka pedelecs be cool

For those who do not know, e-bikes (or to be precise, pedelecs) are electrically assisted bicycles. When you peddle, an electric motor kicks in, and boosts the power of your legs. They do not work without peddling (‘cos that would make them electric vehicles, kinda like mopeds, and most of the EU law takes a very dim view on people rolling around with electric unlicensed vehicles), and the max assist speed is limited to 25 km/h, after which all speed increase comes from your own barley engine. But basically they’re the closest thing for an exoskeleton you can buy off-the-shelf these days.

I bought a Staiger Sinus BT-20 from the very friendly folks at Elektrobike (I highly recommend them!) about a week ago, and have been driving now about a 100 km with it during the week.

Roll your mouse over the image for a quick tour of the bike.

It’s, simply put, marvellous.

It turns what was a sweaty run into a brisk stroll. You still have to pump those legs, but it smoothens the uphills and accelerations into what feels like a strong backwind helping you on a gentle upward slope. And you get really, really surprised looks from twentysomethings on their superlightweight fixed gear bikes when you catch up on them on uphills.

Another bonus that I suspected might happen is that it turns out that driving an e-bike cuts about 5 mins on my 30 minute commute. So that’s 10 minutes per day of time not spent commuting. Assume conservatively three times per week, 30 weeks/year turns out to be about 15 hours/year of more free time. Might not seem much, but if I value my free time at say €35/hour, it’s certainly a way to justify myself the higher cost of the e-bike.

What I did not expect was the effect it has on my driving style: when I no longer need to worry about conserving momentum (that is, slowing down because of people congregating on the driveway), I can afford to be a lot nicer to anyone else sharing the road. No need to do human pole slalom, just stop and let the engine worry about bringing you back to speed. Lower the gear, peddle nicely, no sweat broken.

While I do adore the MAMIL -look (Middle-Aged Man In Lycra) as much as everyone, there’s something to be said about the ability to drive in your street clothes. Obviously, wet weather will be a problem, but I got myself a rain poncho from Rose which should solve most of the issues. We’ll see - the Finnish weather will be showing its worst in the next few weeks. But most of the time I can save yet another few minutes by not having to change clothes back and forth.

And yeah, I don’t need to use the pannier anymore for commute: because it’s just a brisk stroll instead of a sweaty run, I can use my regular backpack. So no more of "prkl, left my wallet in my other bag".

Spoiler: it's a bit on the heavy side

What’s not to like? The obvious - the e-bike is bloody heavy. It’s like 25 kg, 10 kg more than my normal bike, and it does show. My e-bike has front suspension, which has come in really handy: the curbs are murder, even though the tyres are a bit thicker than usual for a trekking bike (47/622). If I had to carry it up and down stairs a lot, it would definitely not be my first choice for a bike.

Also, turns out it’s really hard to figure out a place to attach an U-lock on it, since the battery (which is fairly large and heavy) occupies a big chunk of the body triangle.

The range? The range isn’t actually that much of an issue. So far I’ve only charged the battery once, so it’s way better than your average smartphone, but since you can choose the assist power (from “Eco” to “Turbo”) you can pretty much forget about the range. The bike will let you know the distance you can still drive in the given mode, and you can optimise your power use accordingly. The bike comes with a humongous charger you probably wouldn’t like to carry with you (so whether this bike is useful for longer trips is a bit of a question still), but home charging for a few hours is not a problem. And even if the power runs out, it just becomes a regular - albeit a bit heavy - bike.

Get one

Overall, my verdict is: E-bikes are ready for primetime use. Their price will need to drop a bit (don’t buy one with a cheap Chinese battery; you may see very fast degradation) before they become a choice for everyone, but the range is sufficient, the technology is fairly mature, and the weight isn’t a problem for most use. They’ll also be getting progressively better every single year, so the more you wait the better bang for the buck you’ll get, but jumping onto the bandwagon today is already totally fine.

Saturday, 12-Sep-15 13:54
The Great Silence

The more we learn about the universe, the more pressing becomes the question - where is everyone else? Why is this Great Silence out there? Are we truly alone?

One of the possible explanations is the Great Filter, the idea that basically life is abundant in the universe, but at some point some calamity inevitably reaps the budding civilization before it can go multi-planetary and multi-solar. And, based on the imminent climate disaster that we have brought upon ourselves, and the generic amount of nuclear weapons in the world, this could very well be the moment where the Great Filter reaps humanity.

But I started wondering - wouldn’t a culture that would know of its impeding doom at least try to warn others of the same path? Wouldn’t they spend an effort spending their last resources screaming at other nearby planets with high-powered radios, or sending slow spacecraft to other solar systems, just so that others would know they existed and that they would not do the same mistakes?

Wouldn’t we?

So, even with the Great Filter, it’s mysterious that nothing can be heard. A few possibilities come to mind:

  • We could be one of the first civilizations (within our local neighbourhood). So we should go a spread out now before the others catch up.
  • We’ve already passed most of the Great Filters, and we now have the technology to cope with the new ones (Yay!)
  • The typical Great Filter comes so abruptly that there’s little time to react. Like a stray asteroid. But in that case, the climate change wouldn’t be It.

I don’t know. Much smarter people than me have spent a lot of time thinking about this topic. But somehow this thought makes me feel better about everything - it suggests that as long as there’s time, we can cope with the issues at hand. If we were to die out, it would happen so fast that we wouldn’t really know about it.

But let’s still be on the lookout for those warning signals.

Monday, 10-Aug-15 21:53
Kultainen Kuukkeli 2004, final notes


As the husband told the wife: "Yes, I will fix the roof. You don't have to keep reminding me every six months."

So, I delivered the final award of the Kultainen Kuukkeli 2004 blog award contest today to Tomi. He won it for "best hacking", for having a really cool-looking blog already ten years ago.

Phew. It always feels good to check the final box of the todo-list. Even if it takes ten years.

Sunday, 12-Oct-14 00:49
Whisky galore!

My Facebook stream has been full of whisky - pictures, links, prices - all evening. The internet tends to react like that to news like this. For the Finnish-challenged the gist of the story is about as follows:

A Helsinki-based Beer and Whisky Expo got a stern note from the "Aluehallintovirasto", a regional government official, that any mentions of the word "whisky" are absolutely banned, because of the Finnish alcohol laws. So they had to change the name to "Beer Expo". And not only that, no private blog may talk about whisky in connection to this event, or the event would get its license revoked and could no longer serve alcohol. So the expo had contacted a couple of bloggers who had already written about this, who were nice people and removed the blog posts, since as fans, they didn't want to ruin the show. The officials allegedly said that "no google search for 'viski' (Finnish for whisky) must end up on their page".

OK. First of all, multiple other officials had already okayed all this - their company is even registered under this name. Second, they are threatening that if private people write about the show, the show gets the punishment. So basically me mentioning that you might get some nice Islay whiskies (for example, the Caol Ila I am just enjoying, which should cost you 5-7€ per 2cl in the expo to taste) in the show, the show might just suddenly cease to exist. The thought does make me giddy with power - HA, I CAN RUIN LIVES AND ENTIRE EVENTS WITH THE MIGHTY POWER OF MY KEYBOARD - but the sad fact is that I am in no way connected to the show.

So the Finnish alcohol law is a bit of a fuckup. I get the point though - alcohol abuse does kill/maim/injure a shitload of people every year, either directly or indirectly, and it is arguably the most dangerous legal drug out there. So yeah, reducing overall consumption is an admirable goal, one which I support. And, at the turn of the year, it's going to get even more strict when it comes to alcohol advertisements: Practically every place where a minor could possibly see even a beer logo will have to be cleared out, which is already annoying people.

Unfortunately the law reads like it was designed in the 1980s, where you still had a clear separation of businesses and individuals. These days, the internet has turned almost any profession from a binary yes/no thing to a continuum of newbies,enthusiasts,amateurs,hobbyists,hard-core hobbyists,pro-amateurs,experts and professionals. Bloggers get free goodies from companies so that they would write about them, just like critics get free books from authors so that they could review them. "Buzz marketing" and "virals" are standard tools for any marketer, and they're as meticulously planned out as any TV campaign of old.

So, if a blogger writes about your expo, and happens to know some of the products present, and talks about them, is it marketing or not? There's no way to tell. It could be just an enthusiast, it could be the well-intentioned target of a viral, or it could be a paid advertisement. But in every case, it is a private individual, not a company. And that's where the laws start to fail - it is very difficult to make a law where you would still claim to have the basic freedom of speech, but at the same time say that marketing a particular product is forbidden.

The Finnish government does not seem to have a good solution to this either. They have actually even asked Facebook to remove the "Share" button on any Finnish brewery pages, so that no-one could accidentally share the knowledge about beer (good luck there). However, at the same time it's totally ok for e.g. Fosters to have a Share button on their pages, because obviously the Finnish government can't do shit about breweries in foreign countries. So they choose to try to cripple the locals instead. Now they're suspecting that the Beer and Whisky Expo is using private individuals to do marketing for them, and hence have entered a very slippery slope which can only either end up with them either banning talking about liquor in Finnish blogs completely, denying alcohol licenses for any current and future expo in Finland, or just letting the thing continue in a very weird state of non-legalness-that's-actually-not-enforced.

What kinda saddens me in advance is that even if this thing was brilliantly leaked to a major newspaper on a Saturday (and no government official works on the weekends, so the whole thing can gather internet rage for two full days), the officials have a perfect defense: this is how the law was written, so complain to the Parliament. And the Parliament members will use the whole thing to gather politicopoints by issuing stern comments about how the officials are interpreting the law wrong, and how stupid the whole thing is, etc. Unfortunately, we have elections coming up very soon, and politicopoints are right now more valued than actually doing something. So I'm not expecting much to happen to this, even though a lot of people will be writing about this in their blogs and Facebook timelines and heck, #viski is even trending on Twitter right now. I'm pretty sure a lot of people are instagramming their whisky bottles right now too, as a not-so-subtle comment about what they think of this too.

I'm fairly sure I wouldn't even have remembered the Beer and Whisky Expo, if it wasn't for this noise. So good going, "aluehallintovirasto". Best possible advertisement there. Well done indeed. Does that count as alcohol advertisement and can you give yourself a fine now? Tip: Look up "Streisand effect".

Our government and officials still don't understand the change that the internet has brought to the world. You can no longer put things in neat boxes, because all the boxes are broken and everybody's playing on the floor now. It's not even clear anymore if and when money changes hands, thanks to stuff like product placements, free and plentiful samples, viral marketing and Bitcoin. And I get it. I know it's really hard. I don't have answers myself either. But what I do know is that you can no longer do the laws the same way you have always done by people who don't understand the networked nature of our current existence.

The internet isn't about putting PDFs online so that you can email opinions during a comment period. The internet isn't about the unwashed masses of comment troll hordes. The internet is an amplifier, an equalizer, and a transformation of almost every single aspect of our lives. And the laws of the future must, absolutely must, take that into account in all aspects.

Update: The official is saying that the expo organizer overreacted. Regardless, the situation is complicated, and it looks to me like the expo organizer understands the internet a lot better than the official - if the instructions are that the site must not be found on Google, then they really have no choice but to request everyone to stop blogging about it.

Update2: The boss of the said gov official agrees that this all may have been an overreaction, and would appear to basically have her head screwed on straight on this topic. Unfortunately, the officials only interpret the law, don't make it.

Friday, 12-Sep-14 10:01
Insane password policies

A service that I very rarely use just approached me with their new "security rules":

We are pleased to inform you that we have improved the security of XXX website. Because your idea matters, we want to keep them secure and confidential. As per the new policies you will be required to change your passwords on monthly basis. Also the passwords have to be at least 8 characters in length, having at least one letter, one number, and one special character (such as !#$&?.()@^” etc.)

Guys, not like this.

  1. Rolling passwords on a very short basis just makes them insecure.
  2. I don't use your site on a monthly basis anyway, so that means that every single log-in I have the extra burden of inventing a new password that I will never use but which still must be work within your arbitrary rules
  3. Ever heard of two-factor authentication? You know, like if you're really serious about protecting people's ideas? (Of course, this is not without its problems.)
  4. You need me more than I need you. So making the process harder is not actually in your best interest, and telling me that you "require" that I comply with your rules is even less in your best interests.

So basically I'm just shaking my head and putting this thing in my mental "nice idea, but too much trouble" -bucket.

(Yeah, I am aware of 1password and all these tools, but a) they're basically a security single-point-of-failure, and I dislike single points of failure, and 2) I use multiple devices all the time, and the thought of all of my passwords syncing to a single cloud service makes me queasy - and not having the sync makes them kinda pointless.)

Private comments? Drop me an email. Or complain in a nearby pub - that'll help.

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"Main" last changed on 10-Aug-2015 21:44:03 EEST by JanneJalkanen.

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