Friday, November 27, 2009

Institutions of one type or another

Last night, after the office Christmas party, we ended up at a club that seems normally to be referred to as an "Helsinki institution". If a night club is known as a "city X institution" does it generally guarantee it will be shit? I wonder if I have unintentionally stumbled onto a universal rule. Doesn't matter anyway. Good mates can make shit places great. They are the real institution.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Stuff that works #1: DMM Cobras

It's a bit sad to call an inanimate object made of aluminium and nylon "sexy", but come on - to all the climbers out there: look at the curves on that - phoarrr!

I've decided that on blogs you get a lot moaning - it's the democratisation of the media, finally the little guy gets chance to yell "this is really rubbish" about a crap consumer good he or she got tricked into buying by clever advertising or whatever. I write gear reviews that, if done well, is basically institutionalised moaning. So I think I need to sometimes sit back and look at stuff that really works. This will probably be climbing gear and outdoorsy stuff, but maybe other stuff as well and might become an irregular series.

So to start with the DMM Cobras - mid-90s welsh engineering at it's absolute finest. Ridiculously strong, and with brilliant ergonomics - I still don't think there is any karabiner that is easier to clip. I think there is a probably reasonable fear that the bulbous nose makes it slightly more likely that the krab could unclip - particularly if back clipped and that is why this design has been superseded. But basically back clipping is your own dumb fault and easily avoided - whilst in its favour, that nose made even the most tenuous of clips a breeze. Cobras would be considered heavy in comparison to modern krabs, but that probably about the only thing against them for rock climbing to my mind.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Halt! Or you will be merchandised!

I was looking at toys on the Sainsbury's website today and was rather surprised to see a range called HM Armed Forces. If you don't believe me, their own website is here, they have a not very good blog here and of course, a (pretty tacky) youtube video:

Thanks to having little kids, I've started paying attention to toys again in recent years. It has struck me that when I was little there were far more realistic 'war' toys around than there are now. My Action Men of the late 70s/early 80s were dressed in the UK uniforms of the time and armed with contemporary weaponry. One was in olive drab and DPM and armed with his SLR so presumably was going to play his part in stopping the Russians getting to the Fulda Gap; another was in all white, had skis and a white SLR so seemed destined to clash with the Spetznaz in a defence of Narvik along side his fellow RM Arctic Warfare Cadre. The last one, most obviously of all, with his all black uniform, H&K MP5 and gas mask was going to go through windows to neatly double tap Libyan terrorists. This was clearly all good educational stuff for a young lad. The Action Men of now are like comic book heroes who seem to fight wars in day glo colours on jet skis of no obvious military utility.

So it's interesting that there seems to be a gap in the market now for "realistic" action figures, but with British troops dying almost daily in Afghanistan it does seem very slightly in bad taste. Is the market gap a new engagement with global reality amongst the male, 5 to 10 year old demographic? Or perhaps more like the nostalgia of thirtysomething dads remembering the SLR wielding Action Men of their childhood. The HM Forces do have an enemy character: "the Mercenary", a suitably PC solution for who it is OK to blow away (although look carefully, that's a German rifle isn't it? Hmmm....). I wonder if next up will be a Taliban insurgent figure? If so, we fortunately already have a Harrier available should your infantryman need some close air support. You can also get an HM Forces radio set, although of course to a be like a real HM Forces radio set, it would have to have taken 20 years to procure, weigh a tonne, work considerably worse than the commercially available alternatives and have costed the tax payer hundreds of millions of quid.

But leaving politics aside - what the hell are HM Forces doing franchising their name? Does Her Maj herself get any say? Or perhaps even a cut of the profits? Will the income stream generated from HM Armed Forces Toys be enough to the plug the helicopter deficit in Helmand? I was just thinking recently how smart HM Forces have been lending their assets (from a Eurofighter to a tank regiment) to the BBC in recent years for various episodes of "Top Gear"* but, in effect, merchandising the Afghan war to toy manufacturers does seem like a rather postmodern step.

*and you have to admit, this is one of the funniest and cleverest pieces of TV entertainment in recent years no matter how much I want to loath Clarkson for everything he stands for.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Jumaring experts sought

I'm semi finished with the preliminary Westcomb reviews for UKC and I've written the review of the far-better-than-expected La Sportive Cliff5s (actually, more fairly that should be the "bloody excellent La Sportiva Cliff5s"). Next review gig? UKC has sent me a pair of jumars. I promptly rigged a rope up the side of the house and gave them a go. Result? I have no idea how to jumar. Couldn't quite work out what lengths to attach them to allow that neat jugging up the rope effect. If you have any tips, please share!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

First ice...

If you are a climber in Finland, November is generally a pretty crap month. Dark, dark, dark, cold and wet. Drinking lots of beer is one option to fill the days but it's been chilly this last week and the snow hasn't melted so I thought there might be some ice at Kauhala. There was just enough. A couple of centimetres, but enough to take your weight. Don't swing your axes too hard though as they just bounce of the rock underneath.

But hey, having done the first ice of the season, you have to celebrate. So now I'm having some good beer and watching DVRed last season episodes of Flight of the Conchords on my own. Yeah, I know, wild. It's kinda sad how much fun you can have with some beers and old episodes of Flight of the Conchords. And, did you know that you can write "David Bowie nipple antennae" into Google and get exactly where you want to be?

How great is modern technology?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Suuri Leikkaus

In a continuing effort to maintain some semi-regular blogging with out actually doing any work, here's a good video I found last night of someone else climbing what I think was the best climb that I did this season: Suuri Leikkaus at Olhava.

Anu liidaa Suurta Leikkausta from PitoniFi on Vimeo.

The climber in the video, Anu, seems to layback the whole way up the crack. This is good if you are strong and skilful. The alternative ugly method - which I adopted - is to jam it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Winter tyre time is here again

Sunday night I admitted meteorological defeat and put the winter tyres on my bike - hopefully I won't fall off any more! The Schwalbe Marathon Winter tyres do work well on ice and hard packed snow but despite still being relatively narrow and not particularly knobbly, the studs do make them tediously slow. Cycling in to work yesterday it felt like I was pushing hard and I took the absolute shortest route, and it still took just over an hour - about 10 minutes more that my PB on summer tyres. I average around 25 kmph with the summer tyres on my commuting bike - Schwalbe Marathon Plus (superb tyres by the way, about 4000 kms ridden on them with no punctures and little wear) - but with the Marathon Winters on, my average speed is more like only 21 kmph.

I cycled home again late in the evening and was pretty knackered when I got back at a little before midnight. I reckon I'll try through the winter to keep cycling regularly but to do more just one-way trips and use the bus in the other direction.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Loads of Helsinki bloggage

I'm in sight of finishing my PhD thesis and submitting. That doesn't actually mean it will pass of course, but even submitting will be a huge release. It's boring, boring, boring, but there you go - someone told me a long time ago if you're not totally bored with your PhD subject by the end it suggest you don't know enough about it.

Anyways... pretty poor blogging performance has resulted. But whilst skiving from making yet more changes to chp. 3 today, I found three really interesting new blogs about Helsinki in English. So it doesn't matter if I don't write much, because -at least on Helsinki- these folks are more interesting. Check 'em out.

Jees Helsinki Jees - architecture and urban design, but not in a boring way. Everybody lives somewhere and when you start thinking about whether where you live works or not, it's really interesting.

Instant Kaamos - Seems to be another English bloke who has been here for sometime. He's totally right about the stupid give way to the right sometimes thing.

Helsinki According to PPUsa - a Helsinki photo blog. Loads of great photos.

They're all a bit downtown-hipster feeling, which is absolutely fine, but remember there is more to Helsinki that the inner suburbs (although most of my hipster colleagues wouldn't agree). Downtown is the interesting bit of Helsinki, but somehow it is quite different to the suburban reality of many Helsinkians. Maybe I should try and blog about that myself sometime.

Thanks to Jonas at the ever interesting Svenskfinland in English blog for pointing the way.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

First Snow in Helsinki

A few shots taken about midnight last night. Still snowing now, and windy.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Welcome to Westcomb

It's been a long, tiring and slightly shitty day trying to make final changes to my PhD thesis. Not only can I no longer see the wood for the trees, I've lost sight that any carbon-based botanical life forms were involved to begin with. I'm going dizzy staring at words I once wrote, not really sure whether they make sense on either a micro or macro level anymore. Oh well. If it's OK - it passes, and if the worst comes to worst, I fail. No one dies. I don't get blown up. Could be worse. So chin up and all that. Crack on.

Anyway, mid-afternoon the postman came and I got a parcel, and these things can cheer you up. It was some Westcomb kit for me to test for UKC, from the chaps at Beyond Hope, Westcomb's UK distributors. Westcomb are a young, small Canadian firm made up as I understand it of some folk who used to work as designers at Arc'teryx. They are new to the UK market this winter, so obviously are looking for some reviews in the outdoor media as part of becoming a better known brand.

I'm trying out a Spectre LT Hoody - a lightweight eVent shell jacket, and a pair of Recon Pants (I really have to try and get over my childish delight at North American trousers being called pants - for Brits, doing some 'recon' in your pants is an image with huge comic potential). The Recon Pants are softshell trousers made out of fancy Schoeller Dynamic material. Indeed it's so fancy it has "Nanosphere technology" - which just sounds da' bomb and I'm sure will fascinate and impress all my friends.

My first impression: are these Canadian dudes goths? I got a black jacket, where even the logo is black. Black on black - all very "tactical". The trousers are also dark grey that at a distance looks, well, black. This isn't fair, because looking on the Westcomb website, other colours including bright ones are available, but Beyond Hope sent me what is the most popular in the UK market. So, it must be that my fellow Brit climbers are goths. Or perhaps it's just this season that the ninja-look is going to be in.

On a more serious note, the Arc'teryx heritage is clearly visible: great silhouettes, great cutting creating a sculptured fit, very careful and close stitching, clever bonding technology, no loose threads, no raggedy edges. Real attention to detail stuff. I'm excited to try an eVent jacket and see if it lives up to its rep for great breathability. I've never been a huge fan of Goretex due to my well proven capacity to sweat at a considerably higher volume than the transmission capability of Goretex, even though it has improved over the years.

Note the "made in Canada" label - not something you see too often in apparel these days. As a subscriber to the Economist, I swallow my weekly neo-liberal-hegemony pill regularly enough to really believe that "Made in Canada/Wales/Finland" doesn't necessarily guarantee anything is better than something with a "Made in Vietnam/China/Bangladesh" in it. But clearly for Westcomb living next to their production line is a big part of the growing reputation for quality. We shall see. The forecast for the end of week is for sleet and wind. Just the ticket.