Before Belgium, there was Lahti

This will be the journal of my stay in Belgium, and mayhaps, after that is completed, it will serve as a repository for later random thoughts. The looks of the blog will get some customizing makeovering soon.

Someone might wonder why I’m writing in English instead of Swedish or Finnish. That’s just being practical, not pretentious (which naturally doesn’t decrease the risk of being pretentious for other reasons). English is after all the language of the Internets – all of my presumptive readers will understand it to some extent. Which doesn’t mean that I might not every now and then post in some other language if I feel like it.

However, back to the “story” as it could be called with modest exaggeration. It began with a two-week workshop held by Lucas, Frederik and Tom of the Nodebox team, in Lahti, Motor City, Chicago of Finland. I was told that this nickname was originally due to the extraordinary crime-rates in the seventies. These have apparently dropped, as everyone is talking about some guy who repeatedly tried to torch himself in front of the library some years ago, as the most recent memorable incident in that genre.

The comparision still holds true concerning the motorized traffic for which the city is optimized. The drivers seem to be even more aggressive than what’s normal in Finland, and the percentage of customized rides is considerable. On the whole, a beautiful and lovable place it is, and the snow that finally fell in the second week made for a considerable improvement of the scenery.

I should not forget to mention that Lahti has its very own TurboJugend and a lively reggae scene, which only serve to add to the charm of this delightful little urbanisation. Sadly I didn’t have the time to experience these exciting attractions in person.

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A hostel door; the sign reads “no drunkards, no people from Lahti.

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A gate fail.

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The Lahti workshop meant some sort of a flying start to my stay in Belgium, a  boosted ski-jump into the golden eldorado of design programming with Nodebox. It was a splendidly good time, close to the heart of finnish design – despite some immensely annoying bureaucracy concerning tapping the limited Internets reservoirs of the school.

The food was wonderful, but I appreciated the company more. Even the jokes did get immensely inane, which is a good sign as far as workshops are concerned. As the workshop blog shows, some substantial time was spent sharing unmissable Youtube clips – which among other things meant new fans for Zardoz.

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My evenings were consumed seeing friends and arranging everything before the trip, which of course impacted the course work. Arranging included the disassembly of my over ten year old aquarium, the inhabitants of which were sent in exile to my father. The tank was surprisingly easily sold to a little heavy-metal-man with a goatee, a small Nissan and a penchant for nightly emailing. And the money from this succesful interchange mystically transsubstantiated into alcohol on the same evening.

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The big catfish is probably 15 years old and the 20-cent coins are for scale.

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I was actually a bit surprised by how relatively painless it was to get accustomed to two hours of train journeying every day – normally waking up at 6.40. I was getting into a rythm, which I noticed from the tanker train that would pass Lahti – with clockworkey accuracy, every morning I arrived. Those small things that either comfort or annoy you when a routine settles into familiarity:

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On the other hand the train journeys gave me time to sleep (a precious commodity in those weeks), listen to music and read Philip Ball’s wonderful book Critical mass. The tome in question deals with the application of learnings from statistical physics to different social phenomena in a learned and pleasant fashion. He discusses things from Hobbe’s Leviathan to crowd panic, self-organizing criticality (financial crises, anyone?) to game theory, and it all hangs together in a rather beautiful fashion. The main theme is something around emergence, how complexity arises from many “agents” acting according to simple rules. Good reading for anyone dabbling in social sciences, information design, or for that matter, for anyone who generally is curious of how things hang together.

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I got the feeling that something of the Python environment has stuck in my head from the workshop. Naturally, good tools are important, as can be seen above. Now producing visual output comes easily, but more advanced coding still needs considerable study.

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I realised this while trying to make sense of the neat genetic algorithm that Tom cooked up in a few days, which I subsequently modified. I understand the concept perfectly well, but realising which parts of the actual code do what proved to be something of a hurdle. Below are some of the results of the algorithm put to work to generate patterns with symmetrical grid tiles:250109_grids_assembled

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One Comment

  1. Posted January 26, 2009 at 11:52 | Permalink

    Re: english as a writing language

    You will also soon find yourself losing the ability to speak (and especially write) finnish (or swedish?), find yourself talking english even to the other Finns because it’s just easier, perhaps because the inner monologue is switching to english. Or maybe that’s just the case in my english-dutch-german-finnish europudding ;)


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