Linkfeast: August 11, 2007

More recent interesting links:

...The J. R. R. Tolkien Kiss:  As there is no room in the novel, the kissing has been relegated to an appendix....

  • Bestgalway Sir James Galway played the beautiful and calm Claire de Lune at the concert we recently attended.  Just the flute and the piano filling the concert hall - oh, and someone's cell phone which they DIDN'T TURN OFF EVEN THOUGH SOMEONE CAME OUT AND MENTIONED IT RIGHT BEFORE THE CONCERT STARTED!   Which brings me to a thoughtful post at Unresolved Tensions about Cell phones and disintegration:

...I got to thinking about how handheld technology affects our sense of personal identity.

The purpose of communication technology is to aid us in connecting to others who are at a distance, with near-immediate feedback. These are absolutely incredible tools that give us access to people and information with previously unthinkable speed and low-cost. And yet I am beginning to see the danger in this technology, even if I can't fully predict the consequences. As I saw those cell phone screens open during the movie last night, I thought that the people using them were not fully committed to being anywhere during those two hours. They were physically sitting in the theater, even sitting with others that accompanied them, but their minds and hearts were scattered all over the place. They were not fully present, in terms of their attention, to the visual and auditory experience in front of them, they were not fully present to their friends and family that they were sitting next to, and they were not geographically present to the people they were text messaging. They had a hand and foot in several different places that were disconnected, leaving them as some sort of radical amputees. There were everywhere and they were nowhere...

Linkfeast: July 28, 2007

Interesting posts I've run across:

...I didn't begin the evening with the intention of turning the fourth best-selling children's book in the world from a story of a plucky little creature with a never give up attitude to a grim tale of stalking and harassment, but for some reason the conversation got away from me and was pulled inexorably to the dark, seamy underbelly of the Seuss world....

Population > 399,000

Leading indicator > 58% of residents use the Internet, with the cheapest connection rates in Europe

Fast companies > MicroLink; Skype; Delfi

The capital of Estonia, as it's known, is the most connected city in Europe. There are no Internet cafés, because wireless service is everywhere and mostly free. (Universal Net access is actually guaranteed by Parliament.) Wi-Fi is free on commuter trains, and drivers pay parking fees by text message. Cyberattacks may happen, but the place radiates a switched-on vibe--an ease with and saturation of technology, and an abundance of youth.

They also included Raleigh-Durham, NC:

Population > 1.6 million

Leading indicator > Highest percentage of college grads aged 25 to 34 in the U.S.

Fast companies > Red Hat; SAS Institute

This region wrote the original recipe for high-tech clusters: Start with careful planning, add a warm business climate, and top with a high quality of life. But don't forget the brains. Three big universities fuel innovation in biotech, pharma, and computer science.

[Hat tip to Finland for Thought.]

  • The testosterone in Rachel's Testosterhome was delightfully increased this month.  Wonderful picture here

Hill of Crosses - Siauliai, Lithuania

Hillofcrosses_2 On an Overgrown Path has an interesting post today on the Hill of Crosses in Siauliai, Lithuania:

The Hill of Crosses, Kryzių Kalnas, located seven miles north of the small industrial city of Siauliai is the Lithuanian national pilgrimage center. The small hill has thousands of crosses, and they represent both Christian devotion and a memorial to Lithuanian national identity.

Siauliai was occupied by Teutonic forces during the 14th century, and the tradition of placing crosses dates from this period, probably starting as a symbol of Lithuanian defiance of foreign invaders. Since the medieval period, the Hill of Crosses has represented the peaceful resistance of Lithuanian Catholicism to oppression. In 1795 Siauliai became part of Russia but was returned to Lithuania in 1918.

Read the rest here.

[Hill of Crosses photo from grets Lithuania Travel Page]

Scandinavian Christmas Fair - Raleigh, NC

Scf I've been surprised that the Scandinavian Christmas Fair has become one of my younger son's favorite Christmas events.  It's a fun, and relatively low-key, event - food, music, people re-enacting Viking culture (page down here for pictures), a Lucia procession, and booths full of Scandinavian things to buy people for Christmas...

This Saturday, December 2, from 10 am to 6 pm in the Holshouser Building (the small round one near the back) at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh


Loituma I first heard of Loituma when WUNC's "Back Porch Music Played" their song "Eriskummainen Kantele (My Kantele*)" a few years ago (unfortunately, BPM has played very little international music recently).  I fell in love with the song immediately, and not just because the group is Finnish (listen to "My Kantele" here).   What that musical clip doesn't show is the beautiful four-part harmonies of the group (To listen to the entire song, go to Northside artists, then page down and click on Loituma, then click on "Things of Beauty" and then page down almost to the bottom and click on the first song). 

The members of Loituma met each other in the Sibelius Academy's Folk music department.  The original seven-person group was called Jäykkä Leipä (Stiff Bread).  They eventually changed the name to Loituma and now have four members.  And, it's actually difficult to find out any more information than that about them (although two members have websites:  Timo Vaananen and Hanni-Mari Autere (I think that's a beautiful name)).   

I looked up Loituma recently on, not expecting to find anything.  After all, among folk music enthusiasts, Varttina is more well-known and there are only six videos of their performances on YouTube.

I was amazed to find over 400 videos tagged with "Loituma."  It turns out that another song from their CD, Things of Beauty, "Ievan Polkka (leva's Polka)," has become an internet hit (after being a regular hit in Finland).  Ievan Polkka became popular through a video of an anime girl swinging a leek to part of the song.  No one is quite sure where the video came from, but it did wonders for Loituma's popularity! (more on the video here)

The Wikipedia says:

[Ievan Polkka] tells the story of Ieva (Eva in Savo dialect) who steals away to someone else's house where everyone is dancing to a polka, and where she meets a handsome young man. When he takes her home, her angry mother is waiting for them, but he tells her straight out to "stop that noise": No matter what she does, Ieva and he "are going to make a match".

And, here it is:

The words to both songs, and also the English translations are at the Northside website.  Here's the first verse of "Ievan Polkka":

Nuapurista kuulu se polokan tahti
jalakani pohjii kutkutti.
Ievan äiti se tyttöösä vahti
vaan kyllähän Ieva sen jutkutti,
sillä ei meitä silloin kiellot haittaa
kun myö tanssimme laiasta laitaan.
Salivili hipput tupput täppyt
äppyt tipput hilijalleen.

And the first verse of "Eriskummainen Kantele":

Ne varsin valehtelevat,
tuiki tyhjeä panevat,
jotka soittoa sanovat,
arvoavat kanteletta

*  The kantele (pictured at the bottom of the Loituma photo) is a stringed instrument used in Finland and Estonia.  It is similar to a zither.  Virtual Finland writes:

The kantele (or kannel) and rune-singing both symbolise ancient Finnish culture. In the Kalevala [Finnish national epic], Elias Lönnrot had constructed an image of a mythic kantele, made of the jawbone of a pike, as the typically Finnish musical instrument of the epic hero Väinämöinen. In the final stages of the work, the kantele is an essential part of the power of Väinämöinen's song. It was thus, through the Kalevala, that the kantele became, in the 19th century, the Finns' national instrument.

The kantele is the oldest Finnish folk instrument, and is classed as a cordophone, that is, an instrument whose sound arises from a string stretched between two fixed points. The other Finnic tribes of the Baltic used similar instruments, as did a few Finno-Ugrian peoples, in addition to the Balts and the Russians.

The history of kantele stretches back a couple of thousand years. There is no accurate information as to its age. The older type of instrument was made by hollowing out the trunk of a pine, spruce or alder. The strings, of which there were usually five, were attached at one end to tuning pegs and at the other to a metal shank. The instrument was tuned to a diatonic scale between its bass and top notes which could , depending on the tuning of the central string, be either major or minor.

... the melody and accompanying chords were constantly interleaved, and the sound of the accompaniment could appear above the melody. The player created a tonal world, moving within a narrow range but constantly varying. Playing did not result in pieces as such; instead, it produced freely flowing music that progressed through small variations and was based largely on improvisation.



"Bella Terra" - Arianna Saval/Icelandic Music

One of the things I love about the internet is the ability to wander around and find all sorts of new, interesting, and beautiful things.  One weblog which is of great use in this endeavor is On an Overgrown Path.  Two posts struck me today.

First is "The eternal feminine follows the musical path" - about Arianna Saval, a classical harpist and singer.  On "Bella Terra," her first solo CD, she performs her own (haunting) musical settings of poems of Catalan, Arabic and Spanish poems.  Click here to find a link for listening.

Second is "New music comes out of the cold in Iceland" - with a brief bit about the culture of Iceland, along with performances of classical and contemporary music in Iceland. 

"Be Still My Soul" - Jean Sibelius

I love the music of Jean Sibelius, and I don't think it's just because he's Finnish.  Part of his tone poem, "Finlandia" was made into the hymn "Be Still My Soul."  Listen to the St. Phillips Choir singing it here.  The words actually predate the tune.

Be still, my soul, the Lord is on your side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to your God to order and provide;
In every change He, faithful, will remain.
Be still, my soul, your best, your heavenly friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

The Finlandia hymn has different words:

Oi, Suomi, katso, sinun päiväs' koittaa,
Yön uhka karkoitettu on jo pois,
Ja aamun kiuru kirkkaudessa soittaa,
Kuin itse taivahan kansi sois'.
Yön vallat aamun valkeus jo voittaa,
Sun päiväs' koittaa, oi synnyinmaa.
Oi, nouse, Suomi, nosta korkealle,
Pääs' seppelöimä suurten muistojen.
Oi, nouse, Suomi, näytit maailmalle,
Sä että karkoitit orjuuden,
Ja ettet taipunut sä sorron alle,
On aamus' alkanut, oi synnyinmaa.

A literal translation of the words would be:

O, Finland, behold, thy day is dawning,
The threat of the night has been banished already,
And the lark of morning sings in the brightness,
as though the very firmament would sing.
The powers of the night are already being vanquished by the whiteness of morning,
Thy day is dawning, o land of birth.
O, rise, Finland, rise up high
Thy head, wreathed with great memories.
O, rise, Finland, thou showedst to the world
That thou drovest away the slavery,
And that thou didst not bend under oppression,
Thy day is dawning, land of birth.

[Information from the Wikipedia]

Estonia: "Getting it Right" (from Time Europe)

The Oct 9, 2006 issue of Time, Europe has an interesting article about Estonia - showing both the good and the bad.

Getting It Right: By taking risks on everything from economic management to technology, Estonia has become the little country that can

By Peter Gumbel
Estonia itself: freed from the confines of a half-century of totalitarian rule, it's having a blast experimenting with unorthodox ideas as it races to make up for lost time. Estonia has been a frontier state throughout its history, bumping up against Russia to the east and facing Finland across a narrow gulf. Since the three Baltic republics regained their independence in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the tiny nation (pop. 1.35 million) has managed to put itself on the edge of far more than just geography. It was the first former Soviet republic to introduce its own currency, and the first European country to adopt a flat tax system, now widely copied in the rest of Eastern Europe. It has also become one of the most technologically advanced places on the planet. You can use your mobile phone to pay for parking your car, buy bus tickets and check your children's school grades. More than 80% of taxpayers file their declarations online, wi-fi hot spots are ubiquitous — and free — and the nation's most famous start-up is Skype, the Internet phone titan, which was acquired last year by eBay for $2.6 billion. That amount is slightly more than the annual output of the entire Estonian economy 15 years ago.

The economy, once a basket case, is now one of Europe's most dynamic, racing along at a 12% growth clip — faster than China. Estonia is one of only two new European Union members to have a budget surplus, and its national debt will have all but disappeared by the end of the decade. Naturally, there are growing pains: the unemployment rate has fallen so sharply, from 14% in 2000 to about 4% today, that businesses are scrambling to find workers. But even if growth slows a little to a more sustainable rate, Estonia could catch up with Portugal and Greece on a per-capita basis in about a decade. "This is the best time in our history," says Sten Tamkivi, Skype's Estonian head of operations.

So much so that the country's tech employers are hugely grateful for the workers they have. "Every evening I'm almost standing at the door and asking everyone as they leave: Did you enjoy yourself and can I expect to see you tomorrow?" says Teet Jagomägi, not entirely joking. He runs a mapping software company in Tartu, the second largest city. It's doing good business in partnership with Swedish telecommunications giant Ericsson, and has 70 employees. Jagomägi says he would like it to grow to about 150, but he's already lost a few of his people to the two other big technology firms in the country, Skype and Playtech, which develops the software for online casinos. Skype has 250 people in Estonia and reckons it will have exhausted the local job market once it gets up to 350. Thanks to its hip reputation — and the package of eBay options offered to staff — it has managed to lure about 50 people from abroad. But other firms have a tougher time following suit. ...
But a bigger challenge for Estonia's future may be the past. The nation still nurses deep wounds. Ethnic Russians comprise about one-quarter of Estonia's population, many of them the families of people shipped in during the Soviet period as part of a program to tame the country's irredentism. Since Estonian independence, thousands of these Russians have passed an exam to become naturalized Estonians. But some 130,000, almost 10% of the population, haven't, and officials reckon that about half of them don't want to.

Open interethnic conflict is rare, but relations with Russia itself are uneasy; a border treaty that both sides signed last year after long negotiations remains open because Moscow now says it wants new terms. In this charged atmosphere, even small disputes sometimes assume oversized importance.

Read the rest here.