The media is the mushroom: Finnish artist reveals hidden forest colours

They don’t last long in the wild. Within hours of their creation, the materials dry and fade, or forest critters may eat them, but the world can view the art online.

“As a former diving instructor, I’ve always been passionate about nature,” says Alhopuro. “I used to think that our forests offered no comparison to the colours found on coral reefs.” [Full disclosure: When not busy with her photographic career, Alhopuro works as a diplomat at Finland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs, which also produces ThisisFINLAND.]

A tradition called Everyman’s Right means that anyone can enjoy hiking in the forest – and picking berries and mushrooms there. Alhopuro started investigating whether she could use mushrooms in her art and discovered that the undersides – especially of toxic mushrooms – offered “a whole new, exciting colour palette.”

She arranges them to form patterns or images, then takes a picture “before it gets dark and before snails and birds attack it.” She assembles the artworks near forest paths “for random passers-by to enjoy,” and believes it may add “a bit of mystery and wonder to their day.” Her steadily growing following on Instagram and Facebook seems to agree.

Alhopuro has found inspiration in the work of environmental artists such as Andy Goldsworthy. She also mentions Bernadette Bohan, who recycles toys into artworks, whom she met at Burning Man in 2017.

A skeleton motif is present in some of Alhopuro’s photos – she says that this “imagery of death” is not related to the toxicity of the mushrooms, but rather tells of her “fears about declining diversity in nature.”

Official disclaimer: If you go mushroom picking, remember that many mushrooms are poisonous. Exercise caution: Use a good, modern guidebook and consult with the locals. Or just stick to our slideshow.

By ThisisFINLAND staff, October 2018

Finnish AI image analysis supports better healthcare

Fast, accurate tissue sample analysis speeds up the work of pathologists and researchers and ensures better patient care.

Analysing tissue samples the traditional way – slowly and strenuously, while hunched over a microscope – may now be a thing of the past. Pathologists and researchers can accelerate and automate the analysis process using tools developed by Fimmic, a Finnish startup founded in 2013: Aiforia is a virtual microscope and a cloud platform in the same software. Fimmic is a spin-off of the Finnish Institute for Molecular Medicine at the University of Helsinki.

“Our deep-learning AI image analysis technology enables fast and accurate automation of complex image analysis tasks not previously possible,” says CEO Kaisa Helminen.

“Our AI software is trained to detect and quantify objects, categorise cancer tumours based on progression, and identify rare targets such as malaria parasites,” she Helminen. “For the first time, we’re able to mimic a human observer in understanding the context in tissue.

“The solution acts as a tireless analysis support tool, or like a second opinion, for pathologists and researchers, speeding up the workflow and preventing human errors in interpretation. This way, it ensures better patient care.”

Results in minutes

“For the first time, we’re able to mimic a human observer in understanding the context in tissue,” says Kaisa Helminen of Fimmic.Photo: Sebastian Mardones/Health Capital Helsinki

The on-demand process runs in a cloud computing environment. The platform operates on a software-as-a-service basis, meaning customers do not need to buy local hardware or install any local software. All they have to do is upload their scanned tissue sample images to the service, and the results will arrive in minutes.

“In 2018, Aiforia will be used for analysing clinical patient samples for the first time,” Helminen says. “There is also a big need for this type of software in the early preclinical phase of new drug development.”

Investors agree; the company closed a five-million-euro funding round in November 2017.

By Leena Koskenlaakso, ThisisFINLAND Magazine 2018

Finnish baking tradition combines cinnamon, cardamom, sugar and love

We’re going to throw three big words at you, one of them in Finnish: ubiquitous, quintessential and korvapuusti. The latter is the Finns’ term for their own special cinnamon bun, flavoured with a dash of cardamom.

“Ubiquitous” and “quintessential” are labels that travel bloggers love to use when describing the korvapuusti (known as an örfil in Swedish, also an official language in Finland). The choice of adjectives indicates that the tasty pastry is, like coffee, ever-present and vital in Finland.

It’s so popular that pretty much every bag of flour in the supermarket has a korvapuusti recipe printed on it. Finnish households often make them from scratch as a sweet bite for the weekend. (We list one of our favourite recipe links at the end of this article.) For those unexpected guests, stores also sell frozen versions that can be popped in the oven, filling the house with the same divine fresh-baked scent.

According to professional bakers, the secret to the perfect korvapuusti is using enough sugar and butter. Sprinkling large crystals of nib sugar (also called pearl sugar) on top puts the finishing touches on the pastry.

In love with a pastry

This batch of korvapuusti at Helsinki Homemade is rolled into a rather unconventional shape.Photo: Mari Storpellinen

Funnily enough, both “korvapuusti” and “örfil” literally mean a slap or cuff on the ear. Why does a beloved bun have such a seemingly negative name?

“The name comes from the usual form of the pastry, which resembles two diametrically placed ears,” says Arja Hopsu-Neuvonen, development manager at Martat, a Finnish home economics organisation founded in 1899.

There are other variations of korvapuusti, though, where the ear shape has been abandoned but the ingredients and the craftsmanship remain the same.

“Korvapuusti can be enjoyed also in the form of cake,” says Thomas Backman, owner of Café Succès in the central Helsinki neighbourhood of Ullanlinna. He says they also sell a korvapuusti rusk, which is a hardened, cookie-like snack. “We are looking into growing our selection of korvapuusti byproducts, since korvapuusti is our bestseller.” Their korvapuusti is a favourite among Helsinkians, and is renowned for being larger than the average.

Another popular spot for korvapuusti fans is Helsinki Homemade, an artisan bakery in the Töölö neighbourhood. It relies on the old Finnish tradition of serving freshly ground filter coffee out of coffee cups with saucers. The lucky locals tell of how luxurious it is to wake up to the smell of freshly baked korvapuusti.

“The special ingredient of the korvapuusti is love,” says Klaus Ittonen, pulling no punches to play on our heartstrings. He’s Helsinki Homemade’s cofounder and baker. He started off selling korvapuusti and Karelian pies to tourists off his bike before founding the bakery together with Kátia Corrêa.

“The korvapuusti needs to be made with love in order to get it right,” says Ittonen. “It sounds a bit silly but that’s the way it is.”

Long-term favourite

The origins of the korvapuusti can be traced to at least the 1800s.Photo: Taru Rantala/Vastavalo/Visit Finland

Versions of the korvapuusti have been delighting Finnish taste buds since the 18th century.

“Wheat pastries arrived in Finland from Germany via Sweden in the 18th century, but were available only to the upper class at first,” says Hopsu-Neuvonen. “By the end of the 19th century, the korvapuusti had reached the kitchens of the common people, too.”

Still, the process was gradual: “It became really popular only after the Second World War, when the ingredients became more readily available.”

Once the korvapuusti had made its way into the mouths of all Finns, there was no stopping it from becoming a firm national favourite. Since the mid-2000s, the pastry has had its own official Korvapuusti Day (Cinnamon Bun Day), celebrated on October 4.

Making the world a better place

The Finnish language has a special term for coffee and bun: “pullakahvit” (literally “bun coffee”); Klaus Ittonen of Helsinki Homemade loves the word.Photo: Mari Storpellinen

For those interested in learning the art of making the korvapuusti, Helsinki Homemade organises baking workshops. Ittonen is keen on spreading the word about this Finnish delicacy. Get ready for another Finnish vocabulary word.

Pullakahvit is the most beautiful word in the world,” says Ittonen, using the Finnish term that means coffee enjoyed with a sweet bun (literally “bun coffee”). In many instances, that bun is a korvapuusti.

That’s right: the Finns love their coffee and korvapuusti so much that there is actually a special word for it.

Being truly passionate about what he does, Ittonen holds a rather philosophical view of pullakahvit:

“It’s the highlight of the day, an enjoyment that brings back memories from people’s childhoods. It is not a time for counting calories. Good coffee paired with a homemade korvapuusti makes the world a better place.”

Vegan views

Several places in Helsinki offer vegan variants of the korvapuusti, too. One of them is Bergga, a café located at the top of a hill in the Kallio neighbourhood.

“The milk can be replaced with oat milk, or just plain water, and the butter with vegetable margarine,” says Arja Hopsu-Neuvonen of the Finnish home economics organisation Martat. Instead of brushing the top of the korvapuusti with egg mixture before baking, you can use a finish of melted margarine.

By Mari Storpellinen, September 2018

Combining Finnish educational expertise and artificial intelligence

“Personalised learning is the next level of learning globally,” says Claned Group founder Vesa Perälä.

“Students have different ways to learn, and varying preferences,” Perälä says. “Online learning platforms based on a one-size-fits-all approach usually have a high drop-out rate, but we have included individual learning paths and social interaction with other students. It keeps the students motivated, which makes all the difference.”

The name Claned comes from the way the company clusters students to different clans based on their learning orientation, skills and preferences.

Understanding students’ choices

“A learning tracker shows how much studying is still left, and can suggest next steps,” says Vesa Perälä of Claned.Photo: Ville Rinne

“Bit by bit, the machine learning system learns to understand each student’s learning behaviour and the choices they make,” Perälä says. “Based on the accrued data, it gives the students recommendations for suitable study material and alternative learning paths. A learning tracker shows how much studying is still left, and can suggest next steps.”

The system measures and analyses learning results, allowing the teacher to follow each student’s progress and intervene if necessary.

The global education market is growing rapidly. Claned Group, founded in 2013, sells its licence-based learning platform to universities, organisations and corporations worldwide. Its spearhead project consists of delivering continuing education in 21st-century skills for all Finnish teachers and headmasters, in cooperation with the Finnish National Agency for Education (EDUFI).

By Leena Koskenlaakso, ThisisFINLAND Magazine 2018

Finland is reinventing lifelong learning

Dare to Learn offers a carefully designed learning path. Two days full of inspiring keynotes, workshops and talks, not forgetting the enlightening discussions in the corridors and cafés with friends old and new.

The organisers believe solutions for tomorrow’s learning challenges can best be solved by bridging gaps between different learning professionals. Effective collaboration can address the challenges more successfully. Dare to Learn is a community of hundreds of volunteers and partners and thousands of individuals, our learners, eager to achieve better learning solutions and quality learning for everyone.

Finland is famous for its educational expertise and its students’ high ranking in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests. Two years ago, a nonprofit association called Sivistyskiihdyttämö was established behind Dare to Learn, which was created to facilitate border-crossing collaboration between organisations and between people who were seeking continuous development and change in their daily environments.

The themes for 2018 are: Curriculum 2026 – What Should We Learn Next?; Learning for Sustainability; Developmental Organisational Culture; Self-directed Learning; and Emotions and Learning. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a teacher, student, HRD professional, manager or other learning enthusiast – learning belongs to everybody.

Versatile Finnish accordionist Maria Kalaniemi puts her soul into her music

“Gifted” is a word that truly applies to Maria Kalaniemi. Her professional career started in 1983, when she won the first-ever Golden Accordion competition and began studying folk music at the renowned Sibelius Academy in Helsinki.

Kalaniemi has become a revered musician not only because of her versatility, but because of her original playing style. Her playing is highly distinctive, flowing like a gentle creek or a breeze in the trees. It has been compared to the passionate Portuguese vocal style called fado.

Kalaniemi herself calls her compositions “bellow songs” that she creates by “painting landscapes of feeling.”

“It’s something I understood as a child,” she says. “I saw the emotional reaction my family had when listening to Finnish schlager [a type of pop music] and accordion tunes, and that made a magical impression. That’s when I realised that this was my soul music, the kind of tradition I would carry in my heart for the rest of my life.”

The accordion has a peculiar history in Finland. The instrument arrived in Finland in the mid-1800s, and in the beginning of the 1900s, the common people embraced it as a primary accompaniment instrument for different festivities. On the other hand, the accordion’s sound was considered too rough for highbrow society, and it was even banned from churches for a while.

Despite this reputation, you can almost consider the accordion the founding instrument of Finnish popular culture. It was featured in countless popular recordings and films up until the 1960s, when its position was challenged by rock and roll.

Delivering Finnish design on demand

Helsinki Design Week, which was first held in 2001, now comprises more than 200 events, exhibitions, workshops and open studios, all helping show what’s new in the design world. The 2018 edition lasts from September 6 to 16, and revolves around the theme Trust.

New services in the digital sector are based on trust between the provider and the user, say the organisers of Helsinki Design Week. For physical design items, trust exists between the designer and the customer.

Design IRL

It might look like a pizza box, but it contains a painting by Johanna Härkönen.Photo: Kimmo Metsäranta; design item: Johanna Härkönen

Physical and digital design are combined in Design Delivered, which allows customers to order art and design items from Wolt, a Finnish food order and delivery service with operations across Scandinavia, the Baltics and a number of other countries. For the duration of Design Week, Wolt offers Helsinkians a selection of design items in addition to food menus.

The pieces (600 of them, by 60 different designers and artists) are selected by a jury of two creative chefs and two creative directors, and one whole day is devoted completely to items created by students in Aalto University’s department of arts and design.

Elsewhere in Helsinki during Design Week, 13 ambassadors’ residences in the Finnish capital open their doors to the public, and 11 architectural offices and creative agencies participate in Open Studios. The Design Market at Cable Factory now includes the Vinyl Market, with music, DJs and discussion, and of course records. Families can head for Children’s Design Week, with events at Helsinki City Museum, City Hall and elsewhere.

By ThisisFINLAND staff, September 2018

Finnish author Linda Liukas teaches kids the poetry of coding

Linda Liukas is a 21st-century Ada Lovelace; she uses fairy tales to teach the poetry of coding.

With her ginger ponytail, freckles and disarming laugh, it’s easy to see why Liukas (born in 1986) has sometimes been described as a “geeky Pippi Longstocking.” Just like that feisty, red-headed heroine in the children’s books of Astrid Lindgren, Liukas is fearless, inspiring and fiercely intelligent. When it comes to empowering kids, she does the equivalent of lifting horses one-handed (one of Pippi’s trademark tricks).

Liukas breezes into Löyly, a seaside sauna bar in Helsinki. She’s excited, arriving from the launch of her latest book, Hello Ruby: Expedition to the Internet (2017), which she pulls out of her bag.

It’s the third book in her award-winning Hello Ruby series, which demystifies coding and teaches children the basics of computational thinking. Written and illustrated by Liukas, the series recently won China’s top design prize, the Design Intelligence Gold Award, worth 130,000 euros.

21st-century literacy

“We need diverse input from all sorts of people, starting with kids,” says Linda Liukas.Photo: Elina Manninen/Keksi

However, describing Liukas as a “successful children’s author” is like saying Steve Jobs “sold computers.” She is a multitalented pioneer on a mission to inspire children to express themselves through technology.

“I wish there had been a book like Hello Ruby when I was growing up,” says Liukas. “Code is 21st-century literacy, and a growing number of world problems are starting to look like software problems – but software designers alone can’t solve them. We need diverse input from all sorts of people, starting with kids.

“Back in my childhood you had to choose between arts and maths. But why not choose both? Computers are meant for solving all sorts of problems. I see myself as equipping kids with creative thinking tools, not just teaching them to code.”

A passion for teaching kids tech

“Hello Ruby” uses all kinds of methods to teach kids about coding, including old-fashioned paper-and-scissors activities.Photo: Otso Kaijaluoto

Her journey from geek to world-famous writer has been “a serendipitous adventure” fuelled by a childhood passion for reading, drawing, and computing.

“In hindsight it seems obvious how these strands came together in my current work,” she says.

While other girls were pinning up posters of rock stars, Liukas had a “safe crush” on Al Gore.

“I was a little eccentric,” she says. “I taught myself coding so that I could create Gore’s Finnish fan site when I was only 13.”

Her passion for technology became a full-blown love affair after she and her brothers took apart the family laptop in the early 1990s.

“By fiddling with computers I learned that coding can be a creative tool for building worlds. My fearless curiosity about technology came from home.”

Rails Girls go global

Excerpts from our interview with Linda Liukas, recorded on the patio of Helsinki seaside sauna bar Löyly.Video: ThisisFINLAND Magazine

With her voracious appetite for learning, Liukas pursued a diverse course of studies including philosophy, business, French and visual journalism. After studying at Stanford, she experienced a moment of revelation.

“In the United States I saw how people were truly using technology to change the world,” she says. She became inspired to launch Rails Girls, an initiative with the goal of “getting more women involved in IT.”

Rails Girls is now global, teaching women all over the world the basics of coding. A nonprofit community, it organises workshops and provides women with access to technology as a platform for unleashing their creativity.

Ruby explains all

“It’s simply about communication,” says Linda Liukas.Photo: Vesa Tyni

After Rails Girls came Hello Ruby, a concept Liukas hit upon while learning the open-source Ruby programming language. Whenever she had difficulty understanding a principle, she drew pictures of a red-haired girl called Ruby and asked herself, How would Ruby explain this?

The first book raised 380,000 dollars on Kickstarter, becoming the platform’s most highly funded children’s book. Hello Ruby: Adventures in Coding (2015) has now been published in at least 22 languages.

The third book in the series, Hello Ruby: Expedition to the Internet, is a pioneering attempt to make the web approachable to kids.

“The pessimistic way the internet is presented makes it seem like a dark, scary place,” Liukas explains. “My book shows that it’s simply about communication.

“I portray it as a snow castle – a metaphor that makes it more relatable. I never outgrew fairy tales, so I teach kids through storytelling.”

Ada Lovelace meets Little My

Ruby shows her readers a mouse.Illustration: Linda Liukas

When asked what personal qualities have made her such an inspiration to kids around the world, Liukas fires off a spirited reply.

“I’m curious,” she says with broad smile, “and when I stumble upon something interesting, I get very enthusiastic.

“My third strength is confidence. I have a strong sense of ‘Yes, I can.’ It’s the legacy of my childhood. I grew up reading books by Tove Jansson and Astrid Lindgren. Little My [one of Jansson’s plucky Moomin characters] and Pippi Longstocking are my mentors. We’ve always had a great diversity of role models in Scandinavia.”

Liukas is often described as a champion of female empowerment, but she insists that her core message is not just about feminism, but diversity.

“I love it when little boys in Japan tell me that their favourite character is Ruby, not the male character, Django,” she says. “It’s great that boys accept a girl as their hero. I want to bring girls into the world of technology, but by the same token I want to help boys accept different identities – to become nurses if they want to.”

Yoga and unicorns

Coding is like teaching computer chips how to behave, this picture seems to imply.Illustration: Linda Liukas

An incurable bookworm, Liukas reads at least one book a week, devouring everything from Harry Potter to Hemingway. Her sources of inspiration are eclectic, from yoga and Friday-night pizza to sparkling decorative unicorns.

“I spend so much time at the computer, so I like to connect with simple, earthy activities that ground me,” she says. “Otherwise my work life and personal life are very much intermixed. I try to emulate Tove Jansson, who saw art and life as one and the same thing.”

Edutech ambassador

Liukas’s TEDx talk on children and computing has received almost two million views on the TED website alone.Video: TED

Liukas played an instrumental role in making coding part of the Finnish school curriculum. She now provides consultancy services around the world, collaborating actively with US educators in a New York City education program and with teachers in Japan.

Other projects in the pipeline include the forthcoming Chinese launch of Hello Ruby. Work on the fourth instalment – which tackles the theme of artificial intelligence – is also in full swing.

One thing, at least, seems certain: nothing will keep Liukas from her quest to make the world better through technology, whether as an author, illustrator, coder or educator.

“My professional identity is very flexible,” she says. “We humans aren’t binary like computers. As Walt Whitman said, we all contain multitudes.”

Linda-spirational quotes

In the third “Hello Ruby” book by Linda Liukas, the characters take off on an expedition to the internet.Illustration: Linda Liukas

  • “Imagine a world where the Ada Lovelaces of tomorrow grow up to be optimistic and brave about technology and use it to create a new world that is wonderful, whimsical, and a tiny bit weird.”
  • “We all ought to get used to falling forward. Everyone takes a tumble – everyone trips sooner or later. Coding teaches you to tolerate mistakes.”
  • “The most scalable change happens in childhood. The world changes when children change it.”
  • “If coding is the new lingua franca, then instead of taking grammar classes, we should all be learning poetry.”

More Finnish tech superwomen

By Silja Kudel, ThisisFINLAND Magazine 2018