A Morning In Someone Else’s House

Life has evolved, we move along and we follow the highs and the lows. Sadly, a pattern from my younger days is repeated as my daughter got separated from her husband, and now another set of kids gets used to living with one parent, and visiting the other.  Into this mix the grandparents, myself and Kathryn, jump in to help out. We stay over at Kate’s house while she works all night long at the hospital, and I have to get used to sleeping in someone else’s bed and to a morning routine that’s unfamiliar.

I go to bed and carefully make sure that there’s enough milk for coffee. It’s a golden rule at my house, so I am sure not to have to sip a pure black cup.  But when the phone rings at 5:30 am, I think it’s a robocall, and then I’m up, so for Goddsake get me the coffee.  But when I open the fridge for the milk, it’s gone–a victim of the 17-year-old midnight munch, he doesn’t care if there’s milk for the coffee.  So it’s black gag me coffee as I watch the two kids I’m here to watch do their own morning thing.

They both have iPads and they both rarely stop watching them. Nathan, who knows what’s on his, Sofie, she’s watching animal videos, cute cuddly puppies and kittens. Nay won’t show me what he’s watching, I hope it’s something his mother would approve of.  He appears to be much happier and jollier in the evening than he does at this early hour. We wait for the bus, glumly, neither of these kids want anything for breakfast, which seems odd to me. It’s because the older one drained all of the milk, Sofie explains.  Here’s Mom, with some milk.  The coffee will taste much better and soon it’s time for me to pack up and leave, another good deed done.

Getting Fired and Firing People: Things You Never Forget

Last week we were in Finland, and this week has been a good one…getting back into the groove, keeping up with responsibilities, doing what needs to be done.

Last night I had to fire someone. It was surreal, because it was done over Skype. If a person you hire just can’t get the work done and is very hard to reach, you’re a fool to continue to keep them as employees.

Firing isn’t a pleasant experience, I felt guilty even though I knew it had to happen. I remember once when I ran the cafe. I had an employee who was bad–really bad.  She just wasn’t the right fit in any way to work there.  So at the end of a shift, I approached her and said we had to talk.  At that very moment she knew, just knew, what the next words were going to be. “Oh no, no , please don’t fire me!” she said.  I hesitated a minute, almost backing down, but I had to move forward. “I”m sorry, but this is just not working out.”  That’s all I said.

I have been fired too, and it wasn’t easy. I was taken up to the sixth floor of the Press Herald building in downtown Portland Maine in 1982 and given my walking papers by an executive editor.  It was the longest and worst elevator ride I had ever taken, I was in the company of a lower level editor who had of course, had cooked my goose.  She and I both stared ahead as the elevator rose.  The conversation at the conference table was brief. It was a review, and I had failed. They weren’t willing to train me any more, that was it.

Getting sacked meant that I’d be paid for another two months–we had a good union back then. But there are many parts of me that regret leaving Portland right after that. I could have stuck around and found another gig. It’s one of the most vibrant and exciting cities I’ve ever lived in.

My wife Kathryn had a good job there and we could have stayed. But we both agreed to move back to the Valley and soon found ourselves in Greenfield painting the interior of our new apartment in exchange for rent.   I remember those days as bright ones–making $130 a week on unemployment, taking my 2-year-old daughter for walks downtown, and having plenty of money, that was enough.

I don’t wish I still worked for a daily newspaper, and maybe I have that Exec editor to thank that I got out and back to our valley from Maine.

 

How Do Doctors Tell Patients the Terrible News?

Many of us have experienced that moment, that terrible moment, when we get the worst news in our lives.  We have an illlness, and it may well be incurable, or terminal.  What’s it like to be a oncology doctor and have to fill in your patients and their families about bad diagnoses every day?   There are new ways of breaking bad news, said a story in the WSJ, and it begins with SPIKES.  Below are the tenets taught to doctors about how to say the unsayable to family and patients.

* Setting.  Always deliver the bad news in a private, quiet room. No cellphones beeping, no distracting open laptops, and ask if there is anyone else the patient would like to be present when the news is delivered.

* Patient Perspective:  The doctor inquires about how much the patient knows about the illness, and to talk about who they were before it happened, and how it has affected them.

*Knowledge  One tip is to prepare the patient with a ‘warning shot,’ such as “I”m afraid I have some bad news,” and then continue. And don’t walk too much, use as few words and as little jargon as possible to explain the situation.

Empathy  Docs are encouraged to ask how the patient feels , and even to shed tears for the shared emotion of that terrible moment. Be human.

Strategize.  Tell the patient about the next steps, and ask them how they will communicate what is going on with their family and friends.

Restaurant Day in Helsinki: Haven’t You Always Dreamed of Doing This?

Beef Liver pies

Beef liver pies, just one of more than 2700 pop-ups in Helsinki and around the country on Restaurant Day.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA These young ladies said they are looking for a space to sell their beautiful cakes.We had lunch with Antti Tuomola on an island in the Baltic sea, in a yacht club restaurant called Paven.  In 2011, Antti got together with his friends and they formed a Facebook group to create Restaurant Day, when anyone in the country could open their own pop-up restaurant, without permits of any kind–but just for that day.   Tuomola said that more than 20 brick and mortar restaurants have been opened as a result of inspiration the founders got after they had a pop-up on Restaurant Day.

Since then when a few hundred Finns joined the movement, Restaurant Day has become a four times a year phenomenon. Yesterday in Helsinki, more than 2755 pop-up restaurants served citizens their own creations, while the sun shined down. Thousands of people crowded city parks and streets to savor the wares, which cover the gamut.  This is one of the many things I’d love to import from Finland, could we do this in Massachusetts?  Please?

Aalto University: Solving Problems with Brains and Hugs

Petri Saarinen is heading up Terraloop, a revolutionary energy storage start-up using electromagnetic technologies. It could everything about renewable energy .

Petri Saarinen is heading up Terraloop, a revolutionary energy storage start-up using electromagnetic technologies. It could change everything about renewable energy .

At the Design Factory, these students are designing a new way to put on a shoe.

At the Design Factory, these students are designing a new way to put on a shoe.

After just an hour of visiting with the dynamic people at the Innovation Alley and the Startup Sauna in the city of Espoo, Finland, we were both exhilarated and slightly overwhelmed. There are so many impressive young entrepreneurs and agile thinkers packed into these Aalto university buildings, it felt like we were popping in on brilliant breakthroughs and meetings of great minds every time we turned a corner.  In three co-working and co-creation platforms called Aalto Design Factory, Startup Sauna and the Urban Mill, real world problems are given to engineering, design and computer science students to tackle.

A circle on the floor marks the spot where people give and get hugs at the Design Factory.

A circle on the floor marks the spot where people give and get hugs at the Design Factory.

At the Urban Mill,  mobility challenges for disabled people and seniors are explored and solutions are found.

At the Urban Mill, mobility challenges for disabled people and seniors are explored and solutions are found.

With the requisite high ceilings, airy space and laptops everywhere, there are charming reminders of the words of the founders, ‘no strangers, just friends, and let serendipity happen.’  There’s even a hugging point where, like a Christmas mistletoe, hugs are exchanged and closeness is encouraged to further the ambitious goals like improving sanitation in the third world, helping elderly people live better lives at home, and figuring out how to make a shoe that a disabled person can easily put on.  How about opening it up from the heel instead of the front?  Or how about a ‘catch ball’ which is a soft 6″ x 6″ cube with a wireless microphone inside that you can toss around for people to use as a mic when commenting from the audience at seminars?  They’ve already invented that one, and the shoe is not far behind. 

At the Startup Sauna, companies meet and brainstorm about how to best move their ideas to the marketplace.

At the Startup Sauna, companies meet and brainstorm about how to best move their ideas to the marketplace.

Major corporations toss $10,000 at these young bucks and then get out of the way. There are projects tackling hard to solve problems for Airbus, Bosch, Microsoft/Nokia, Audi and many others. One instructor, Kari Kaainnen, showed us his pet project, the elephant faucet, which fits on any water spigot and doles out the same amount of fresh water every time, and is being tested millions of times to assure it won’t break down like so many water pumps do, rendering the good deed of digging the water well moot.  Another very promising and game changing project is being spearheaded by Petri Saarinen. Terraloop is developing electromagnetic methods to build massive batteries that will store renewable energy and extend the use of their power to 24 hours a day, since today all solar and wind energy can’t be stored for later use. He is seeking $45 million in a third round of funding, and if successful this will mean creation of an energy bank, pretty much the ‘holy grail’ and key to making renewables replace current oil, gas and coal. 

We moved to the Urban mill and met a circle of techies from Finland, Latvia and Russia, who told us about their app, which lets people buy things by creating buy-now links in Instagram photos, called Inselly.com.  She was there to get fine tuning and marketing strategy, since every project in this mill aims to become a global brand–no small potatoes or small plans here. 

This collaborative and results-driven college work is a far cry from what’s going on in many universities, where students are still writing papers about English literature and leaving with mountains of debt. Maybe that’s why Google Launch pad is coming to Aalto, and why so many high tech companies have been visiting, and hiring these bright graduates. It’s real world thinking, pursuit of real world problems, and the muscle and vigor of youth, combined with steady hands from experienced engineers and instructors who challenge every assumption. 

All I can say is, wow, THIS is how you solve problems, create jobs and make a space that anyone would be eager to work in all day long. Many lives will be affected in a positive way when these ideas get to market, and many careers have already been launched.

Sauna: The True Finnish Experience

These men gather every week for sauna, sausages and beer, plus the comradery and tradition..

These men gather every week for sauna, sausages and beer, plus the comradery and tradition..

Teema's tractor towed portable sauna in Hanko.

Teema’s tractor towed portable sauna in Hanko.

The temp may only be 38F but after the 149 degree sauna it's the perfect amount of cold for these Finns.

The temp may only be 38F but after the 149 degree sauna it’s the perfect amount of cold for these Finns.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is one word in the Finnish language that’s known throughout the world–sauna. It’s the word that’s associated the closest with this northern nation, and an experience that is shared by all Finnish people.

No apartment is complete without a common sauna, nor is any house complete without the built in sauna, though most of the Finns we met said they partake weekly, or monthly, and not every day.

While we were in Hanko, of course we had to partake in the traditional sauna experience, and for that we called up upon a man named Teemu Sandin, who owns a sauna on wheels that he rents out to and uses every week for a gathering of his sauna buddies.  We joined group of five men as they  sat on deck chairs outside the little trailer next to the harbor in Hanko.  A tiny barbecue grill was fired up and sausages were about to be grilled. They sat drinking beer wearing towels, waiting to return to the cozy hot confines of the wood-paneled sauna, heated by a wood-stove burning birch logs.

Everything was as it should be—the sausages are eaten without rolls, but with a squiggle of hot local mustard.  The sauna is heated with birch wood, surrounded by bubbling water, and inside the sauna, birch branches are soaked in water and used to clean oneself.  There were six men,  a few of the younger ones in bathing suits but most naked, letting the temperature rise as water was ladled on the stove, bringing the waft of hot air around us.  The temperature said 65c (149 fahrenheit) but it felt much hotter than that and we watched the sand flow out of a wall-mounted hourglass.

A proper Finnish sauna experience: grilled sausages, no buns, beer, and a birch log fire heated wood sauna.

A proper Finnish sauna experience: grilled sausages, no buns, beer, and a birch log fire heated wood sauna.

It was a wonderfully assortment of local Hanko men–Markku, a painter with long hair and glasses, and Stig, a heavily tattooed postman, and Ove, a very tall and big sailor on tugboats and Jari, who works in a factory that makes enzymes for animal feed. Teemu said that this group of regulars meets weekly for these sauna and beer sessions, and that he takes the mobile sauna around the area and rents it out.

After the men were glistening with sweat and they had to get out, they headed down to the waters edge. The Baltic sea in May is about 38 degrees, but that didn’t stop any of them from plunging in to cool off.  And despite the trailer’s location out in the open next to the harbor, nobody noticed or cared that naked men were taking dips and lounging around in their towels.  Ahh, male bonding at its finest!  Contact Teemu Sandin by email.