Thursday, November 29, 2007

Just the two of us

Annual appraisal
Originally uploaded by MEBDT
I had my annual appraisal today at work. It is always a bit nerve-wrecking when you prepare for it. I mean this year at work has been quite challenging so of course there have been some difficult situations. I planned to prepare myself well for the discussion but did not honestly really manage to do it and I think we both went into the discussion quite in a haste.

I must say it was a tremendously good experience. Both my boss and I had a very constructive tone and tried to both be honest and concentrate on solutions and recommendations. I feel both of us had a chance to say things directly and our assessment was quite a lot on the same lines. These weeks are quite horrible at work with all the end-of-the-year stuff so actually the appraisal turned out to be a moment to breathe.

I know a lot of people make fun of the annual evaluation talks with the forms and such but after today I am firmly supporting the obligatory nature of this procedure. It lets both the superior and the employee to get things off their chest and at least in my case it came exactly at the right time. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

StrangerFestival Video Competition

This is the promo video of my project.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Business first

Originally uploaded by amsterboy
It’s around eight on Friday evening. I can feel the sun of Lisbon on my face. I feel a bit like a Finnish friend of mine once described Finns travelling South: due to the lack of light we spend the first day lurking and squinting like prairie dogs.

Lisbon is amazing. We spent five hours walking up and down the hills, photographing the bright houses and the street art and stopping for an espresso (0,60 euros) and cake (0,80 euros) in small cafes. Now it is time for some rest before heading out for dinner.

For yesterday’s flight I bought the Guardian which is always a highly pleasurable experience. One thing that I truly miss in the Netherlands is the routine of reading daily the paper. The best quote in yesterday’s edition was in an interview with Deborah Meaden, an investor taking part in BBC’s entrepeneurship programme Dragon’s Den. The idea of the programme is a simple one: 5 investors listen to pitches of starting entrepeneurs and then decide whether they will invest their own time and money into the proposal. The dragons (the investors) are harsh, smart to a scary extent and extremely success-driven multimillionaires. Meaden is the only woman amongst them. Meaden rocks:

Hannah Pool: Are you as mean in real life as you are on Dragon’s Den?

Deborah Meaden: Stand in front of me and ask me for a quarter of a million pounds when you can’t be bothered to tell me what your turnover numbers are and I am that person. People try to let me off the hook and say I’m much nicer in real life – but if somebody is asking me for my money, my job at that moment is to establish whether or not this is a good investment, not to win friends and influence people.

H.P.: It mush bother you when the reviewers describe you as charmless.

D.M.: (Laughs) Well, I hope I’m not. My friends don’t call me charmless, people who meet me don’t say I’m humourless. People can call me what they like – fat, ugly, sour – but tell me I’m not fair, tell me I’m not ethical, those are the things that bother me.

H.P.: You are much softer in real life.

D.M.: It’s a different environment. Nobody is like the person I am on TV, surely, only Cruella de Vil, or the wicked witch from Snow White. It’s me, but it’s me in that environment. I’ve got that job to do. It would be worse if I tried to be different, if I tried to be soft. I’m a business person first and I happen to be doing television.

I really admire her. This is true equality. Her attitude reminds me of Hillary Clinton’s comment after last week’s attacks towards her by all the other candidates. She said that people are not attacking her because she is a woman, they are attacking her because she is winning.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

You have no new email

Check the inbox
Originally uploaded by
It happened once yesterday. I was adding colleagues to a new online tool we are starting to use for project management and was wondering why none of them had picked up things on the to-do list.

And it happened once last week. I was wondering why a friend had not answered a long email I sent. He usually answers quickly.

And it happened today. I finished a long email and pushed the 'Send' button. The programme said: 'the session has expired'. My two-page email and 30 minutes of work disappeared somewhere.

In the first case our company firewall had blocked all the messages as spam. Same happened in the second case. And in the last case the normally reliable programme failed me. All and all: email let me down.

A few years ago I read a fantastic essay from the American writer Jonathan Franzen on the impact of postal service in the way we trust things (essay published in the collection How To Be Alone). Franzen pointed out how blindly we trust that an important document finds its way to the recipient. Just think of it: how often do you make copies of something you ship? Franzen continued on elaborating how an unreliable postal system would deteriorate easily our entire trust on the system as a whole.

I come from a country where the system is designed based on those who do right and where people trust their civil servants. I admit being foolishly naïve and idealistic in many ways. Even with the excessive services that the Nordic states provide, the system - due to its trust-based form - actually remains quite cheap.

Until now I have trusted email blindly. I have felt confident that the messages go through and strangers are not reading them. Of course I have read articles about the dangers of sharing information or writing private matters through company email but they have not really had any influence on my actions. I hate the fact that I need to reposition myself in this respect.

Friday, November 16, 2007

And what are you trying to say?

Magyar Televizio
Originally uploaded by amsterboy
Last year the Finnish Business and Policy Council EVA published a fascinating report on the changes of corporate architecture. The pamphlet (in English) compared the messages companies are sending with their headquarters built in the beginning of the 20th century and now.

The most powerful comparison in the document was the comparison between the old headquarters of the Helsinki telephone company HPY (now Elisa) and the headquarters of Nokia (new). When HPY’s headquarter was a big, slightly gothic granite monolith communicating ”we are here to stay”, Nokia’s glass complex communicates ”we are dynamic, open and transparent”. The irony of this all was that in the midst of its economic problems Elisa sold its headquarters to a new media company.

Why am I ranting about this? Because I am currently in Budapest – a mixture of romantic old sights and gigantic Tesco hypermarkets. At the same time Budapest is perfect for that getaway weekend of the good old times and for full-blown ”you can buy a washing machine at 3 a.m. if you want” capitalism.

Today I had a meeting at MTV, the Hungarian national television. The organisers of my previous meeting at British Council drew me a map. They said:”It is a massive building, you cannot miss it.”

Well, I could. The building in the picture is MTV headquarters. It is a colossal castle that in my mind looks more like a presidential palace or a parliament than a place where you make TV programmes. I was going around and around the square searching for a media house, passing the castle a few times. Finally asking a local helped. She looked me like I was retarded. I could see what she was thinking:”Are you stupid or what? It is the biggest building on this square right behind you.”

Diversity is not only a question of understanding, colourful hand dolls and living together. It is also realising that something natural to us can be perfectly alien to someone else.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

On Violence

Handgun Class
Originally uploaded by Chase Allgood
I am writing this post at Brussels airport. It’s 10.30 on Friday morning and I have been awake already for six hours. These are situations where one realises the difference in being thirty and twenty. I must say that I have never been as happy for seeing the Starbucks sign as 5.30 this morning at Vienna airport.

I attended yesterday in Vienna a meeting for European online media initiatives such as Eurozine, OpenDemocracy, and Transitions Online. The discussion during the day was on what counts as a European issue. However, during the evening we found ourselves discussing once again in the national roles – as a German, as a Finn, as an Austrian, as a Swede.

Yesterday morning I had once again a realisation that I do live outside my own country. As I was brushing my teeth I had BBC World on which covered extensively the riots in Georgia. In the ticker running on the bottom of the screen I noticed one headline saying:”Teenager shoots seven others and a teacher in Finland”. I stopped brushing and just waited to see it again. ”But something like that cannot happen in Finland. I must have seen wrong”, was my immediate reaction. I texted a friend of mine and my sister and in a minute, my sister called me back.

My first reaction was anger. Why the hell things like this happen? How can someone at that age hate the world so much that he sees killing other people as a resolution? In the discussions during the day I got the full picture. I still could not get over the anger but it was coupled with immense sadness. This morning I checked the website of Helsingin Sanomat again. My anger grew when reading news about fansites for the killers. What the hell is wrong with the way we perceive humanity and violence? I could not help thinking about the speech Robert Kennedy gave over violence.

I am at the airport waiting for teenagers flying over from countries ranging from Turkmenistan to Denmark for the annual The One Minutes Festival. These are people of the same age as the perpetrator and the victims – filled with optimism and talent. What went wrong in Jokela?

When these school shootings have happened in the US, the reaction in the European media has often been that this could never happen in Europe. Europe still has a tendency for a rather arrogant way of defining its values and traditions with a cherry-picking method. Even taking into consideration the role of the European Union as a successful peace project, we are a violent continent. In that sense the tragic incident which happened in Jokela is a European experience which needs joint discussion on how we perceive violence and guns.


Addition on Sunday evening: do get a good picture of what the winning oneminutesjr videos were like, check these:
Joseph Fadel: Flow (Lebanon)
Palvan Geldinysh: Rakyp (Turkmenistan)
Jakunze Fiston: Je m’exprime (Burundi)

Sunday, November 04, 2007

It is art, not a reality show

First Entrance
Originally uploaded by Erci
Fantastic ending for a weekend. A friend of mine had bought ages ago tickets for Lucia di Lammermoor, Donizetti's dramatic and stunningly beautiful opera. And as his date cancelled or so, I was the eager replacement. What the opera was about? Well, this may not come as a major newsflash but about love, betrayal, death and blood. So the basics.

I cannot call myself a regular opera attendant by any standards. This year I think I have seen three productions of which today's performance was the most moving. One could say that it is not a very challenging opera for the audience as it has a relatively simple plot, some famous arias and so forth. My friend educated me that Lucia di Lammermoor is used for testing sopranos as it goes really to the extremes in testing the whole scale. But it worked for me as it went right into your bones and your heart.

A lot of people dislike opera with the argument that it is so artificial. I think there is something twisted in that statement. I feel that maybe theatre is not always the best comparison for opera. It should be more seen as an interpretation of certain, quite universal emotions. In that sense maybe music or visual arts helps us forward. I mean it is not very helpful to judge Mark Rothko's art based on its accuracy. We should look more into the impact on the viewer, cleverness of the interpretation and the level of originality in the creation.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Reflections from Prix Europa

Two weeks back I spent a week in Berlin seeing and judging the best of the best when it comes to European television. I wrote a piece for the website of the European Cultural Foundation on the subject.