Please let me slap you, said the right hand to the left


Silo bureaucracy is a fantastic thing, if you’re interested in the absurdities of life.

Bureaucracy is often faceless, but in reality it is often very personal. There’s often a single person behind the decisions. Park those somebodies as neighbors in government organisations which don’t communicate, and you’ll get great kafkaesque results.

Case example: employer-sponsored smart cards for exercise, for example Ticket Mind & Body which we have.

The point of that benefit is to make us exercise more. Bad physical condition is very expensive to the society, especially in an aging society like ours. Diabetes, heart disease and asthma spread at at an alarming speed. Workout is the best cure for all of these.

We tend to be lazy and come up with excuses of not to exercise. Smart cards takes on of those away by making it easy to join access the services. You can enter the gym or join the workout session just by pushing in a PIN code. You can have self-service gyms, 24 hour gyms; access could be with the exercise card. No need for separate cards or keys.

Except not. Technology does allow this, but the Finnish taxman does not. About a year ago, somebody in the taxman’s office woke up to the possibility of wrongdoing: you could give your smart card to your spouse, who could get the benefit instead of you – and that’s wrong.

So, nowadays smart cards can’t be used with a PIN (which they are made for), but with printed receipts which you need to sign. The gyms need to have service people behind the counter at all times (unless they give you a separate access card), and we can’t use the smart features of the card.

From the national health point of view, wouldn’t it be better that at least someone used the card for exercise? Wouldn’t it make sense to make that as easy as possible?

But hey, that’t not in the areas of responsibility of the taxman…

Open Living Lab Days coming up!!!


Hope you had a great summer. We Finns have our holiday one month earlier than the rest of Europe, so we are already back to work. July was nice, but it’s good to be back. There’s only so many Finnish river crabs one can catch (in this case, 120) before wanting a change.

For those seeking new ideas & connection, come to the fourth annual Living Labs Summer School, renamed to Open Living Lab Days (because the program spans beyond normal “summer school” boundaries) to Amsterdam. Fantastic program, also this year.

The venue is the beautiful De Nieuve Liefde.  Register in time to make sure there’s space for you! See you in Amsterdam. 

Cities & Big Data


John Tolva & DJ Elukka DJ’ing in Mbar, Club Chicago.

We were glad to host John Tolva in Helsinki a few weeks back. He visited us as a guest of “Welcome to Helsinki” program of the City of Helsinki. The program was PACKED, with meetings with both nerds and civil servants, a DJ gig in Club Chicago in Mbar, barbecue in our house and of course Vappu, the eve of the first of May mayhem.

One of the buzzes of the day is Big Data. John should know a thing or two about it: he is the president of Positive Energy Practice, former CEO of the City of Chicago, and one of the creators of City Forward, the city data visualisation & analysis tool by IBM.

John discusses big data & cities in the recent interview in NewCity Design (and in his blog Ascent Stage). The “rise of data” in cities  is caused by two factors; first, the fact that even though cities have always produced lots of data, only now we have the tools to collect and analyse really large datasets; and second, that cities are now opening the data for external use, creating opportunities for innovative use of data, new product, business intelligence, transparency and in general better understanding of the city.

It’s a great vision. But let’s compare cities to two other sectors benefiting from big data. The impact of data has been most staggering in the finance sector. The combination of big data, super fast data analysis and automated trading tools have created completely new business sectors worth thousands of billions (we can – and should – of course debate which real value those have brought to the society). The other sector, with much more concrete positive outcomes, is medicine, where big data is changing both diagnosis and treatment processes.

However, the worlds of finance and medicine data are (almost) globally harmonised. That is not the case with cities. One-city big data is not all that big. This is be the key challenge of cities: how & when can they jointly create the global city big data ecosystem? The cities of the world is a big Babel of incompatible processes, data and interfaces. Harmonising that will need lots of footwork, and city2city collaboration. One city for all, all for one.


Cities of Tomorrow, are they, really?

European more and less smart cities are gathered together in the commission Charlemagne building in Brussels.
Harry Van Dorenmalen of IBM wonders why we don’t proceed with making our cities smart, when we obviously know what we should do. I guess because “doing it” is still quite a distance from understanding, in such a complex field. And I most definitely would not want to see the cities adopt proprietary “smart cities in a box” from IBM or anyone else.
Next, Benjamin Barber is accusing Europe of democratic deficit. Coming from the US, I do feel that it would be good for him to buy a mirror… From the European perspective, the power position of the US president is frightening. You can ask Iraqi people to verify that.
Anyway, his view that cities should be more selfish and stand behind their position is good. Proposal for cities: establish a global mayors’ parliament.

Old Culture vs. New Culture

Finnish speed skier Häkä Häkkinen told in a recent interview, that the Finnish cross-country-ski-obsessed Olympic Committee prevented his participation in the Winter Olympic Games in Innsbruck in 1964, because “downhill is not a real sport” – even though he was then one of the fastest skiers in the world.

We’ve had the same question asked even in 2013, when the TV hosts of the Finnish Independence Day gala asked the old cross-country hero Eero Mäntyranta, “if he considers snowboarding as a real sport” (after quite a few World Championships won for Finns). Of course he did, thank god.

The same attitude seems to apply for culture – there’s the “real culture”, and then the suspicious new stuff, which probably is not real culture.

Tove Jansson, the creator of the Moomins, was born a 100 years ago, 1914, and was remembered in the Finnish MTV3 news on January 10. The newsflash told us, that Moomins are the biggest Finnish copyright-based export ever.

Well, Moomin Characters made a 6 million € turnover last year. The biggest Finnish game companies made 153 M€ (Rovio) and 78 M€ (Supercell) – and that was before Supercell went really through the roof. Currently, Supercell makes in each week the same amount in profit than the whole turnover of the Moomin Characters in a year. Rovio – the owner of the Angry Birds brand – makes half of their turnover through licensing, just like the Moomins.

But I guess games don’t count, because they are not real culture.

I'm bigger than any birds, I am!

I’m bigger than any birds, I am!

Helsinki Praised In Guardian – Twice

Our presence in the Barcelona Smart City Expo (remember – the one where you could buy lots of smart cities in a box) was noticed by the press, more precisely the Guardian. Their focus is in the Open Smart City approach of Helsinki.

The New Smart City article quotes Hanna Niemi-Hugaerts of Forum Virium Helsinki: “Open311 interface allows citizens to send photos or update reports on anything from pot holes to traffic signs, the imagination is the limit. Open311 is also an open dataset, allowing third party developers or the citizens themselves to develop apps or services”.

In the provocatively headlined Stupid Mayors Are Putting The Wrong Things At The Heart Of Smart Cities  the newspaper points out, that “truly smart cities such as Helsinki are using technology that is already out on the streets and on the web, enabling residents to input and update via smartphones, while apps help them to navigate the city more efficiently.”

Thanks for the support & keep spreading the word.

ImageThe Helsinki issue tracking API makes it possible for developers to build different solutions for citizen feedback – and the city will hear.