Category Archives: Travel

Business As Usual in Ukraine

We have left Ukraine.  I did not want to write this while living in Ukraine because, frankly, I did not know what implications might attach to such an article.  So I waited unitl we left.

There is much good to be said about Ukraine.  The people that we met are friendly and genuinely interested in foreigners.  They think well of the United States and the European Union.  Having lived in Ukraine for almost three months, I can also say that there is a sort of sad side to the Ukraine.  They are trapped in a society where corruption abounds.

Now, from what our friends tell us, it is much better than in the past. We were told that in the past the police would pull anyone over at will with or without cause.  One could either accept the ticket and go through the regular system or “we can just take care of it right here and now and it will be cheaper.”  Essentially, the police used to run an extortion racket of petty payments from innocent people. But that, we are told, is no more; the police are properly paid and it would be a bad idea to offer a policeman a bribe.

At the same time, we were told many stories of how governmental officials leveraged their posts for personal benefit; pay them, and you will get your permit.  Or the university system that is rife with bribery.  Don’t want to study?  Then just pay a bribe to the professor.  Professor has integrity and won’t take the bribe?  Then pay the Dean, and the Dean will enforce the bribery scheme.  This is considered common behavior.

Part of the issue arises from antiquated laws where businesses are trying to make their way in the new globalized economy with old laws not designed for the new market-driven system.  The employment laws protect employees like industrial workers of the 30s, and it’s difficult to fire someone.  And, the taxes are high.  As I was told by someone, instead of paying the full salary, the salary on the books was marked at 20% of the full salary.  Then, at the end of the month, everyone got a little white envelope which had the rest of their pay.  This is commonplace and expected.

Of course, rule of law is an important institution, and once you start having people break laws a little and it gets normalized, then people tend to break laws a lot.  The research on lying shows the same thing.  And so I found myself wondering at any encounter whether things were as I saw them or whether there was something that was just hidden from sight.  For example, I went to a meetup.  The people were all nice and it was a great little event.  I got there 15 minutes early and the three organizers were there already having their food.  And so I wondered, “Do they pre-organize these meetings so that they get a free meal for bringing 10 other guests to the restaurant and come early to avoid detection by the other participants?”  Maybe so, maybe not.  The point is that it would not surprise me if they do because I got the general feeling that this is how Ukrainian culture works.

So why did I wait to publish this piece?  Frankly, I did not want to say anything while in the country that could be construed as negative.  Who knows?  Maybe I would get a knock at the door that some complaint about xyz had been made, and now I needed to appear in court or some such nonsense.  Keep you head down and certainly don’t say anything.  There may be free speech, ostensibly, but I wasn’t willing to push my luck.

Old Photos – Revisited

Well, my scanning is now complete of the old photos, and I have turned to editing them.  The original is fading, but the edited photo of my great grandmother Alma and her kids (Linda, Matt), was restored to how it looked in circa 1910 when it was taken.


Look at those details that I was able to bring out.  you can see the strands of hair and the detail on the dress.  I also did an edit of the marriage photo that was previously posted.










To do this sort of work, I recommend scanning in the photos in RAW mode at very high resolution (4800 dpi).  I did detail enhancement with some HDR tools, but the majority of the retouching was done in Photoshop.

Coffee Time in Helsinki

In deference to the culture which I am now in, I went out for afternoon coffee at the neighborhood coffee shop.  (Usually I only have coffee in the morning.)  In further deference, I selected a piece of pulla to have with my coffee.

The taste of the finely-textured, semi-sweet dessert bread with the distinct taste of cardamom brought back memories of mummo Anna (i.e., Grandmother Anna)  that would make it at my house several times a week when I was growing up.  This was some sort of specialty pulla given related to the upcoming Easter season, and this had both berries and a glaze and a splash of powdered sugar.  I had never eaten a pulla like this, but it was quite a treat with the coffee–which, in deference to my origin, was an Americano!  Note to dad: I did not, however, dunk the pulla in the coffee.


Welcome to Finland!

I am one who appreciates irony more than most.  And to an already richly ironic life, I added yet another one of those vignettes in life that seem to define it…..

I spent a healthy effort in moving to Finland.  As one may have seen in previous posts, I had to research my genealogy to get my grandparents’ birth certificates, obtain my parents’ birth certificates with Apostilles, fly to Finland and tender my application to remigrate (as they call it) for permanent residency.  Later last year the Finnish Immigration Service sent the card to me in Bulgaria, and finally I made my flight reservation to Finland a week ago.  These efforts spanned over a year and thus were spread out before, during, and after the election and its profound polarization.  My observation that America was undergoing a hellish period of history was a central reason for my obtaining a remigration permit!

And so I landed a few days ago and immediately called the Population Registrar (known as the Maistraatti) to activate my residence.  The person who answered the phone could not have been more welcoming or pleasant.  She asked who I was and what kind of a card I had, and when I told her, she mysteriously sounded more happy than many Finns and told me to just come down to the office any time I wanted to check in.  And so I rode the bus into downtown Helsinki, and went up to the second floor and into the office.  This was GLORIOUS!  Over a year’s effort had come to fruition!  I looked around and saw that they called numbers, and with the excitement of a ten year old, I went over to the ticket machine, pushed the button and grabbed my ticket!

I was already feeling somewhat of a flood of emotion (for me anyway), and my ticket did nothing to stem it, and indeed, it sort of made things go sideways for a few seconds.  I am not someone to interpret the world in metaphorical or supernatural terms, but if there is a deity who intervenes in peoples’ lives, he definitely has an ironic sense of humor!!

Hanging Out at the House of the Dancing Parrot, Estepona, Spain

My good friend Boris offered to let us stay at his “House of the Dancing Parrot” on the Costa del Sol in Estepona, Spain. What an great location! Here’s the view off the back terrace where we had our first cup of coffee in Estepona.


San Diego looks a lot like the Costa del Sol, and I even saw names like “La Costa” (name of a Carlsbad, CA subdivision) on the drive from Barcelona. Basically, always sunny and almost no rain. January usually has about 10 cloudy/rainy days. It’s about 65 degrees outside right now and penetrating sunlight everywhere. If you are in the sun, it’s warm even with the constant ocean breeze. I can’t imagine a more perfect place to work on statistical analytics for the winter! Without any clouds, the evenings get cool.

Kate is planning activities for the next month. We have friends from Denver who came and visited us at our Diamond Head home in Hawaii, and they are planning to visit us in January here.


Christmas in Barcelona

Barcelona is a spectacular way to spend the Christmas holidays. It’s not the kind of over-the-top Christmas that one sees in American cities where the holiday season begins before Thanksgiving. In Barcelona, the decoration is contained, more or less, to the street banner lights that create a festive scene as one walks around. The Christmas festivities include all sorts of performances. For example, we went and saw the music and water performance at the big fountains one evening.


On Christmas eve, we went to two events. First we saw a flamenco performance at a marvelous performing arts center that was impressive and a UNESCO world heritage site in its own right. Then we went to the late mass at the large city cathedral where the choir performed a piece of midieval music that has been performed every Christmas eve for hundreds of years. That was truly a show. In between we had tapas and cocktails at one of the many tapas bars that was open that evening.


I can’t really say enough about how grand this city is. It has a feeling like Paris in that it has grand boulevards, parks, sculptures and interesting archictecture at every turn. Take a walk of a few kilometers and you will see things that are just awe inspiring. Their Arc de Triomph is such an example. At least for me, that’s the same sense that I get when I walk around Paris. The Catalan food is also fabulous and appeals to the same elements as Italian food with tomatoes, olive oil, bread, and meats taking center stage. I did not have a bad meal here. A wonderful holiday, and a city deserving of a stay of a month or two. Tomorrow we head towards Estepona, Spain.