Research Blog Antarctica #135 – Russian State Museum of Arctic and Antarctic

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Museum: Russian State Museum of Artic and Antarctic (St. Petersburg)

Russia and the Soviet Union have a long history of exploration in the Arctic and Antarctic. I visited the Russian State Museum of Arctic and Antarctic in St. Petersburg, and while the Artic section is bigger and better, there’s some cool Antarctic stuff as well. The above photo is from the Antarctic section, on an upper floor below the museum’s impressive cupola.

Underneath the cupola, they had this:

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The museum dates back to Soviet times, and features some things that you probably won’t find in an average polar exhibition. One is the series of oil paintings depicting Antarctic and Arctic scenes. Another is this mural showing Lenin discussing the Arctic with scientists:

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As to the Antarctic, the absolute highlight is the series of surgical tools used by the Soviet doctor Leonid Rogozov to perform an appendectomy on himself at the Vostok base in 1961. It’s an extremely famous piece of Antarctic lore.

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Non-Digital: Interaction Design Love From Denmark

This weekend, I was at the larp and roleplaying conference Knudepunkt in Denmark. The conference has a heavy focus on larp design, which often boils down to interaction design.

It was interesting to see how the tools we have developed to make larp could also be used to design conference spaces and programming.

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(View from a table at the Bazar social space.)

One of the simple yet clever design choices was made in the way the social spaces were organized. At night, there were two main social spaces, the bar and dancefloor, and the Bazar, a big space with a stage, tents with board games and roleplaying books and tables and chairs scattared around in groups. It acted as the setting for a diverse set of events, from an open mike to a Norwegian ritual.

Both the Bazar and the disco had bars. Non-alcoholic options were available at both. The disco served beer, and the bar at the Bazar served drinks. This created an unobtrusive motivation for people to keep moving around from place to place, and not get stuck in one spot. It was one choice, but there were many like it.

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(Mike Pohjola at the Baltic Warriors presentation.)

My perhaps favorite was in the Saturday party, with a theme of sins and virtues. One of those virtues was Temperance, and there was a special, dark and empty room dedicated to it, with a sign saying you couldn’t drink beer there. The only thing I ever saw anyone use the room for was to drink beer with the added thrill of breaking a rule.

The program included keynote talks that collected everyone together before we scattered into our various workshops and discussions. Big parts of the Sunday morning clean-up operation were turned into games.

In short, larp design FTW.

If you want to read more about the ideas presented at the conference, check out the two books, Nordic Larp yeabook 2014 and The Knudepunkt 2015 Companion Book.

Turkmen Sci-Fi

Turkmenistan looks like  something from another planet. Or more precisely, from a science fiction movie.

Here’s a few buildings in Ashgabat. Note the consistent architectural style, common to many fictional space civilizations:

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A view from the spaceport parking area.

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The “Golden Eye” defense system is ready to blast hostile spacecraft.

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The dimensional portal is operational.

(The buildings are actually a circus, a wedding palace and a Ferris wheel.)

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The weird surface formations of an alien planet.

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The fire planet. A visiting alien shown in the upper right for scale.

(All photos by me.)

An Israeli airline borrowed my cell phone

(Copyright: an unknown El Al security person)

I was traveling from Helsinki, Finland to Tel Aviv, Israel in August 2012. I was going to participate in a Palestinian larp, the first of its kind. Prior to this, I had no involvement with anything related to Palestine or Israel. The possibility of playing in a unique game while also seeing Israel and Palestine motivated me to go.

I flew from Helsinki to Warsaw in Poland, and was going to continue from there on an El Al plane to Tel Aviv.

At the Warsaw airport, I was met by an official from El Al. She took me and some other people who had the same travel plan to the El Al transfer desk. She gave us over to a bald small guy who looked like a court wizard in the costume of a security clerk. I’ll call him the Wizard.

The Wizard set us in a queue and started questioning us one by one. This was the first time I’d been subjected to this, but it’s apparently a routine procedure when flying to Israel. The questions concerned my travel plan, reasons for going to Israel, and my luggage. My impression was that their purpose was to ascertain the level of security scrutiny I merited.

Before me, the Wizard questioned an old Finnish man. He was confused, and confusing. His story was that he’d decided to fly to Israel spontaneously last night, and bought tickets immediately. He didn’t have almost any luggage at all, only a small bag.

The Wizard pegged me and the old man as the most suspicious of the bunch. After interviewing me, the Wizard asked for my hand luggage, and I gave him my laptop bag. He started to lead me through the airport towards the El Al security office. After walking hurriedly for a while, he gave me back my laptop bag, I assume because it was quite heavy.

The El Al security office was a small, cramped area on a lower level of the Warsaw airport terminal building. It consisted of two rooms, each the size of my bathroom, and a small hallway connecting the rooms to each other and the outside world.

The security space was clogged with luggage, security officials and passengers trying to squeeze past each other. The Wizard took upon himself the task of organizing the human chaos: you sit down, you stand up, you move to the hallway, you stand here, you go there.

One of the two rooms was a small interrogation space, and the other resembled the crappiest CSI lab one could imagine. I caught a glimpse of the old man before the Wizard told me to sit on a chair in the interrogation room.

I waited and watched the chaos around me for 20 minutes. A young, good-looking security man (I’ll call him the Model) was going through someone’s underwear. A middle-aged, authoritative woman stormed in to give conflicting orders (I’ll call her the Balkan Queen) and tried to locate my big suitcase. Trying to be helpful, I told her it was right in front of us.

I was told to move to the second room. The Model got the task of conducting a body search on me. The old man was still sitting on a chair next to the door. This offended the sensibilities of all present. Finally a solution was found in the form of a curtain: the old man was curtained off so he couldn’t see me, while the Model told me to undress.

I took off my sweater, emptied all of my pockets, and lowered my pants to the knee. I got to keep my underpants. The space was extremely tight: me, the Model and two examination tables took up every square inch available.

After the search, I was told to put my clothes back on, take my passport and wallet, and leave everything else on the table. The curtain was removed and the Balkan Queen told me to sit down next to the old man and the door.

The atmosphere was of hurried disorganization. The Wizard was yelling into his walkie-talkie, the Balkan Queen was berating everybody, and the Model was looking apologetic. Suddenly the Balkan Queen told me that I’d have to board the plane immediately, and leave my things behind. I would only be allowed my wallet and my passport.

I went into a panic. I begged for them to let me take the items that seemed most essential at the moment: my cell phone, a book, and a paper with the address of the hotel I was going to stay in Jerusalem.

They refused the cell phone, but let me have a quick rummage through my laptop bag. In the end, I was hustled out cradling a change of underwear, two books and my traveling documentation.

The Balkan Queen half ran, half hustled me through the terminal building until we made it to the plane. I was the second to last passenger to enter, and had a seat in the last row. I did the walk of shame through the plane, and asked a stewardess for a plastic bag for my belongings.

I sat down in my seat. In front of me was a screen with the El Al slogan: “It’s not just an airline, it’s Israel”

Suddenly the Wizard appeared next to my seat and told me to get up. I’d have to go back in, but he reassured me it had nothing to do with me. I was needed to translate for the old man. He hadn’t understood why it was necessary for him to lose all of his things.

I went back to the gate to find the old man surrounded by a gaggle of security officials. I explained to him in Finnish that I had no idea what was happening, but that we were promised that we’d get our things back. The Balkan Queen told me that it was my responsibility to make sure the old man took the necessary steps in Tel Aviv.

After we sat down, the old man complained that he’d lost all he had: an USB stick and a cell phone. I wasn’t in a very receptive mood, having traveled with quite a bit more than that.

In Tel Aviv, I shepherded the old man through immigration until we got to the luggage reclaiming area. I made a complaint about my lost possessions, and helped the old man to make his. After that, we went our separate ways. I walked into Israel for the first time in my life, with almost nothing on me.

In retrospect, I made several mistakes:

1 – Flying El Al. I knew the reputation the airline had for security, but didn’t expect this.

2 – Not begging hard enough when they hustled me out of the security room. Taking my medication with me would have been a good idea.

I wrote this blog post because I’d never heard of this happening to anyone before. I’d read about all kinds of security-related perfidy especially when flying to Israel, but never about having all of your stuff confiscated. I’ve tried to form a theory about why this happened. In my questioning with the Wizard, nothing untoward came up. I told him I was a tourist, and since he didn’t ask about Palestine, I didn’t tell him about planning to go there. I think I got the special treatment because I was profiled: I was a young(ish) male traveling alone.

The old man clearly got the special treatment because he was so weird.

As to why they needed to keep my stuff, I have no idea. Perhaps they wanted to do some kind of a super special secret check up, or maybe they just fucked up. The chaos at the security office would suggest the latter.

I stayed at the Azzahra Hotel in East Jerusalem. I cannot praise this hotel and the staff high enough. They were very helpful and supportive when I walked in, and did a great job in getting all of my stuff back.

El Al kept my cell phone, laptop and other possessions for approximately 24 hours. They returned everything except two ballpoint pens.

I found the photo at the beginning of this blog post in my camera after I got it back. I recognize the surface from the security room. I’ve heard that sometimes security officials take a photo with a camera to see if it’s a real camera. Maybe that was the case here.

Research Blog Antarctica #112: Antarctica beer

(Photo: Juhana Pettersson, 2012)

Antarctica is a brand of beer available at least in Argentina and Brazil. I got a can from a small supermarket on the island of Ilha Grande, close to Rio de Janeiro. There was a tiny hole in the side of the can, spraying an almost imperceptible jet of pressurized beer. When we got to our hostel, we found the food sharing a plastic bag with the can soaked in beer, even as the can appeared unopened.

Opening the can, I discovered that one fourth of the beer inside had escaped. The rest didn’t taste particularly distinctive.

Circus near Paris in January

This is a circus in a suburb of Paris this January. It huddled in the shadow of concrete apartment blocks, a long, treacherous walk from the obscure train station. Note the caravan in the darkness on the right. I don’t envy the circus people who live there in the cold.

Inside was one of the best circus shows I’ve seen.  It was Czech, and it was called Obludarium, produced by Théâtre des frères Forman. The electricity was generated by the audience with hand cranks, it was very dark, and there was a heartbreaking, terrifying mermaid.

Pyongyang Poster Art

At the Pyongyang Film Studios in North Korea they have permanent movie sets for a South Korean town of the Korean War era, a Japanese town, etc. The buildings feature posters representing the North Korean artists’ idea of what advertisements, shop signs and movie posters look like in the South.

(All photos by Juhana Pettersson.)

Marital Bliss

I’m now a married man. The ceremony took place in Las Vegas, NE, on the 7th of July. It was witnessed by two Elvises and a pink Cadillac. The bride and now my wife is Maria Pitkänen.

Wedding Photo

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America:

America 1

America 2

America 3