Friday, January 22, 2010

January Mailbag of Awesomeness

A few things have piled up, none of them deserving a whole blog post, but it's been quiet around here.

1) It appears that Estonia will be joining the Euro in 2011. There could still be a political decision to keep us out, but the numbers are seemingly in order. I won't dwell on this; I've already written at length why accession is good and why the common arguments against it are stupid. The Euro is not a cure-all, but Estonia is at its best when it has a goal to strive for, and the Euro was enough to justify the government's austerity measures - which are a Good Thing(tm) in themselves. The question is, what will our next grand target be?

2) In an unusual development, an MP has actually come up with a good idea: switch Estonia's smaller islands to electric cars. Nowhere on these islands (up to and including Vormsi) will anyone be driving more than 100km a day, so range is not an issue. At the same time, hauling petrol and diesel to these islands is a significant cost, whereas an electrical grid is something they'll have anyway. There are issues related to battery performance in cold temperatures, but as Norway is one of the world's biggest markets for electric cars, I'll assume there are solutions.

3) In the spirit of promoting Estonian businesses and services that I find genuinely useful and well-executed, have a look at It's a discount database, linking directly to purchase pages. There are still some bugs to iron out (such as listed prices from sites like Pixmania, which tack on some fairly hefty shipping charges), but overall it's a great, free service.

4) For all the technology and the Web-based nature of our lives, there is still no replacement for a person being really, really good at their job. To that end, I have been extremely impressed with the work of travel agents. Estravel had a good offer on Turkish Airlines flights to Australia , which I grabbed (fortunately I can plan my vacation quite far in advance). The Estravel agent was immensely helpful. I rerouted one leg of the trip after paying for the tickets, and it only cost me something like 250EEK; then, the agent helped me find connecting flights from Tallinn to Istanbul. Initially I booked flights with a stopover in Prague, paying 6700 EEK for them - a good 500EEK less than the airline's website quoted. Then Czech Arlines suddenly decided they weren't interested in flying the Prague-Istanbul route any more, so I got direct flights out of Helsinki - for a mere 2700EEK!

Two conclusions: 1) Discount airlines are essentially worthless, their only use is to force the mainstreamers to drive down their prices - this is not the first time I've found that a major airline will be both cheaper and a better experience. 2) Having a really competent person help you with your travel arrangements is excellent. I worked with Estravel's senior travel consultant Mare Must, but after the initial trip down to their central Tartu office, all of our communication was by email. If you're planning a trip, send an email to - not only will you be giving her the commission (thereby positively reinforcing professionalism and excellence among customer service in Estonia), but you will most likely end up paying less than you would on your own.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Otepää Winter
Originally uploaded by Flasher T
Here's a nice photo for you. Also: account numbers for the Estonian Red Cross for donations to the victims of the Haiti earthquake. I gave a bit, you should too.

Philosophically, I'm against humanitarian aid as a matter of course and policy, but this is an emergency relief operation. I donate to the Red Cross for the same broad reason that I pay healthcare taxes: I hope I never need that sort of help myself, but if I ever do, I will be glad there's someone else on the other side donating.

Also, it makes me feel good about myself.


| More