31 December 2008

Happy New Year!

2008 has been a great and eventful year for me and my wife, and we both hope 2009 will be the same. We hope you are pleased with 2008 as well, and we both send you the best wishes for the year to come!

A wonderful summary of 2008 has been made by Eirik Solheim, in a 40 second video showing the beauty of the 4 seasons. Enjoy!

P.S. Check eirikso.com for info on how he made it, and even download it in HD if you would like that.

07 December 2008

Another geeky joke

Here comes another geeky joke, this time you won't need a computer science degree to get it. Some math knowledge will help in understanding and appreciating the joke though.

An infinite number of mathematicians walk into a bar. The first one orders a beer. The second orders half a beer. The third, a quarter of a beer. The bartender says "You're all idiots", and pours two beers.

via hot soup? anyone?

09 November 2008

The Wonderful Tuscan Countryside

Driving our rental car out of Rome, on our way to Tuscany, we both had a feeling that we had seen some amazing sites, but that we had not seen true Italy. We had rather seen a city where everything was more or less taken over by tourism.

This all changed from the moment we drove off the A1 highway, and entered the narrow winding roads in the countryside of Tuscany. Being dark already, it was a mysterious landscape we drove through. Passing old brick buildings, driving through small medieval town on the hilltops, and trying to see what was around the next corner. The most special moment was probably when we saw an old fortress/castle all lit up on a hilltop. We were both very excited and could hardly believe we were actually driving through this fantastic, wonderful area.

We finally found our way to the olive farm/resort Le Casacce, where we were going to stay. Arriving there we were greeted by Enrico Casini, the owner of the place, wearing his signature red glasses, saying, "Welcome to my house", and by Max, Enrico's dog. Since we arrived a bit late, we headed straight of for dinner.

We had learned of this place from a colleague of mine, and she had told that the food was really good. Because of that we were excited and curious about what we would be served, but at the same time didn't really know what to expect. The first dinner turned out to be one of the best meals I've ever eaten. We were the only guests there (it was low season) so a staff of three or four people was working on our dinner. We were even seated in the living room instead of the restaurant area, making it even more personal and intimate. There was also a fire in the fireplace next to our table. It all felt a bit surreal, but very cozy and romantic as well.

We were served a six (!) course dinner, with antipasti (appetizers), soup, primi (pasta dish), secondi (meat dish), cheese plate and dessert. All the courses were really good, but I especially remember the homemade pasta and the beef with mashed potatoes. And all with the house red wine, which was very easy to drink (Minnie loved that), but still an interesting wine. We both knew after that meal that we made a really good decision staying here (and this was only the first night).

The day after we were finally able to enjoy the view from our apartment, looking out on valleys covered with olive trees or vines, and old yellow brick houses spread around. The weather was grey, but the view was still wonderful. The picture below does not do it justice.

You often see postcard-pretty pictures from places, showing off the areas they are proud of. But so often, these pictures only represent a small area, and therefore giving a false impression of the place. People visiting it as tourists then often get disappointed to see that the place as a whole is far from as nice as the pictures. This is not the case with the countryside in Tuscany, not at all. It was stunning to see how valley after valley looked just like the postcard pictures.

We spent 4 days in this area, and made daytrips to Florence, Siena and Montalcino (where the great Brunello di Montalcino wine is made). Every day we came back to the amazing dinners at Le Casacce in the evening (the menus listed in the bottom). We had an amazing time, and highly recommend a trip to this area. I promise you will leave with a feeling of having experienced genuine Italy. We sure did.

PS. Here's what we were served for dinner the 4 evenings at Le Casacce
- Antipasti: Ricotta
- Soup: Beans with cabbage
- Primi: Homemade pasta, cut in triangles, with tomato-sauce with meat.
- Secondi: Beef, from a local breed, with mashed potatoes (but without any milk, butter or egg, just pure potato).
- Bonus-dish (I think this was a spontaneous thing): Cheese-plate with sliced pears and walnut-honey.
- Dessert: Homemade ice-cream with chocolate topping.

- Antipasti: Something very similar to carpaccio, but with cured meat (a sort of prosciutto I think).
- Soup: Mushroom and spinach
- Primi: A locally produced pasta, we don't remember the name of the type, with tomato sauce with meat.
- Secondi: Beef in white wine sauce with a side salad.
- Dessert: Cream puff with chocolate topping

- Antipasti: Crostini (toast with cheese) with black truffles
- Soup: Beans with ham
- Primi: Giant tortellinis (just two pieces to fill the plate) with ricotta cheese and something else we don't remember the name of.
- Secondi: Meatballs in tomato sauce with boiled potatoes with basil.
- Dessert: Butterfly, the chefs own creation. It basically is vanilla cream with super thin flakes of pasta placed in the cream to make it look like a butterfly, and then its topped with warm chocolate.

- Antipasti: 3 small crostinis with meat and 2 big ones with tomato and oil
- Pizza: Big pizza with 4 different toppings. One part tuna, one part sausage, one part vegetable and one part meat
- Secondi: Pork ribs with fried potatoes
- Dessert: Melon Sorbet

29 October 2008

The Rome Experience

Our first stop on our Italy trip was Rome. It would be a shame not to see the amazing sites in Rome, and this is also where we meet up with Minnie's old friend Karina, and her husband Raymund. Rome didn't give the best first impression though. It's not very clean, and it also looks a bit run down. And there is a lot, and by that I mean A LOT, of tourists there...

Another thing that disappointed us was the public transportation system. This big city has only two metro lines, and it's about 7 minutes between each departure. The result is that the trains are packed most of the time, and it's chaos when people get on and off. I really don't understand why they don't get more trains and run more frequently. Taking a bus is not tourist friendly at all, both because you can't buy tickets on the bus, and because there's no announcement of the stops, making it very hard to know when to get off.

The reason for going to Rome is of course the sites. And there are some truly, truly amazing sites here. The first one we did was ancient Rome (Colosseum, Forum, Palatine Hill). The size of the Colosseum made a great impression, it's hard to grasp before you're there. We took part in a guided tour, and it was great to hear the stories of the place, and trying to imagine how it was during games.

The Palatine hill was a very scenic place, and has a lot of great history to it, but then again so little is left of the the original buildings that it is hard to imagine how it once looked. I would think Forum, and the surrounding ruins, is the most significant historical place we went to. A large part of Forum still stands, giving a good notion of how big it was. The ruins around Forum is mostly reduced to small parts of the original buildings, which means it gives little hint to how it was originally, and it tends to just become one ruin after the other. Maybe a guided tour would be the best here if you wanted to understand the history behind it all.

After lunch, we went to the Pantheon. Pantheon is known for having the largest masonry vault ever built, and it is extremely old, completed already in year 120 AD. The dome is 43,3 meters high, and has a circular opening at the top that lets light in, and, when it rains, also water. At the very centre of the floor, you find draining holes to let the water out. You do earn a lot of respect for the ancient builders when visiting the Pantheon.

We also went to the Spanish Steps. What a disappoinment, that has to be one of the most overrated tourist attractions ever. There's not even a nice view from the top... After that we walked to the Trevi Fountain, which was not disappointing at all. That was a very nice site, highly recommended.

The day after we went to the Vatican. First going through the Vatican Museum, seeing a lot of amazing paintings/frescos, tapestries and of course the Sistine Chapel with Michelangelo's amazing fresco in the ceiling. It is always a strange feeling seeing for yourself what you have seen so many times on tv or in pictures.

After the museum we went to St. Peter's Basilica. That was really the high point of the Vatican for me. That cathedral has so many amazing features, and the size of it alone is crazy. So many amazing statues, large paintings, so much gold. And the altar... We also went through the treasury, which displays various gifts the Vatican has received. The amount of gold in that treasury, along with the amazing craftsmanship, was truly impressive. However, in the back of my head, I couldn't help thinking about the motivation for giving all this money to the catholic church, maybe to buy forgiveness? I don't think that's how it's suppose to work, is it?...

Now we are off to the country side in Tuscany :)

19 October 2008

Can McCain Catch Up and Win?

I take part in the guessing game so many others in the world also take part in nowadays, "Who will win the U.S. Presidential Election?" We can tell from the media, both international and local, that Obama is ahead of McCain. The impression I get, and I would think many others get, is that McCain still have a chance.

The latest poll shown on BBC News tonight shows the Obama has 50% and McCain 43% of the votes. It's a lead, but it's only 7%, with a +/- 2% margin of error, and there's still 16 days left till the election. It seems to early to conclude, at least from what the big media tells me.

So what does these numbers really say? Well, they tell how many of the registered voters nationwide will vote for Obama, McCain or haven't decided. Here's the thing though, the nationwide numbers is not important, it's the electoral votes that matter.

As you might know, the electoral votes are handed out by the states. For most of them, the candidate that gets more than 50% of the votes from the citizens, gets all the electoral votes for that state. In theory this means that a candidate with much less than 50% of the nationwide votes can get the majority of the electoral votes (if he wins small in many states, but loses big in other states).

So who has the most electoral votes, based on the polls? Here is an electoral map from RealClearPolitics.

Obama is 131 electoral votes ahead. And this is actually quite a cautious prediction, other sites give Obama even a bigger lead.

Just to confirm that Obama really is as far ahead of McCain as the electoral vote numbers say, I checked the betting odds for the election from a U.S. betting company. Betting companies' whole business is dependent on giving precise odds, so the odds tend to be a good indicator. McCain gave an odds of +350 and Obama -600 . That means that if you bet $100 on McCain, and he wins, you get paid $350. If you bet $600 on Obama, and he wins, you get paid $100. Obviously the betting companies are certain Obama will win.

So, I think we can conclude that Obama is winning. What's going to be exciting to see is how big the win will be. Maybe we'll see a landslide? That would be the final slap in the face for George W. Bush :)

Edit: It seems like some media is acknowledging this, judging from this headline: "Obama aiming for chocking victory" (as of this writing, the top story in the biggest Norwegian newspaper).

The 10 Lives of Your Cursor

When you have played a few online games, you discover that you rarely find games that are truly original. Usually it's just a new twist to an old idea. Not so with Cursor*10.

The purpose of Cursor*10 is to finish the 16th and last level, and you have to do this within a time limit. The "character" in the game is the cursor, and your character has 10 lives. Completing a level is done by clicking (with your cursor) on switches and boxes, which will reveal the stairs to the next level. So where's the original part of this game? Well, one of the cool parts of the gameplay is actually discovering just what is so original :)

Cursor*10 is a fairly easy game, and it won't take you very long to finish when you have learned the two "tricks" needed to complete it. A great example of a small, very minimalistic, game having a truly original twist. It also shows advanced graphics really isn't needed for great gameplay :)

Enjoy here.

22 September 2008

The Miniature Earth

"If we could turn the population
 of the earth into a small community
 of 100 people, keeping the same
 proportions we have today,
 it would be something like this..."

This video really grabbed me. And left me silent when it was over. Rarely does 3,5 minutes of video make such an impression on me. You can watch the video on the site of the project (no music, but better quality) or you can watch the YouTube-copy here (with music).

26 July 2008

Role Models

If you have opened www.google.com (the english language version) today, you might have noticed this line in the bottom of the page:

"In Memoriam: Randy Pausch (1960-2008)"

I clicked on the link today, and spent more than an hour watching a university lecture unlike any lecture I've ever seen or attended. But more on that later.

I've often seen interviews where the journalist asks the person interviewed who has been his role model. For a large part of my life I wouldn't have a good answer if someone had asked me that. I felt that was a bit weird, and also worrying. What was I missing by not having a role model? I wasn't sure I really understood what a role model was even...

As I started studying for my bachelors degree this changed. A few of the students at my university college really impressed me. They were smart, they were able to achieve great things and at the same time they were really nice and friendly. This was people that made me think "I wish I was like that". And I saw what being a natural leader meant. I found my first role models.

When I moved on to university I met a lot more people like this. It was inspiring to be around these people, it made me want to work a little harder, and set my goals a little higher. I understood the value and importance of good role models.

Another quality of a role model, and a very important one, is showing strength in hard times. It's in the tough moments and times you see what people are made of. One person who has showed this strength in a wonderful way is the man Google honors on their web site today, Randy Pausch. He died from cancer yesterday, and displayed strength in hard times in a very special way at the end of his life.

He was a professor at Carnegie Mellon University in computer science, recognized for his work in computing education and human computer interaction (HCI).

What made him gain world wide fame was his amazing "The Last Lecture". Full version here, and a news story about Pausch and the lecture here. This was given in September 2007, at a time he knew he was dying from cancer. The title of the lecture was "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams," and told of his childhood dreams and how he achieved most of them. Pausch was upbeat and humurous during the lecture, while not being in denial, not at all behaving like one might expect from a dying man.

The lecture is very entertaining, touching and inspiring, and shows a man with an amazing strength when facing the end of his life. He was definitively a great role model, not only by showing strength when facing death, but also in many other ways, and I think the memory of him will inspire many in the time to come.

Rest in peace.

18 July 2008

Back at Moldejazz!

Growing up close to the town Molde meant that I was able to enjoy the amazing Moldejazz festival every summer. For those of you that don't know this festival here are some quick facts:
  • - It was established in 1961, and been arranged every year since - making it one of the oldest jazz festivals in Europe.
  • - During Moldejazz, the number of people in Molde is estimated to be five times as high as the rest of the year. Molde during Moldejazz is a different town than the rest of the year.
  • - Some of the most famous jazz artists visiting the festival is: Chick Corea (3 times), Miles Davis (2 times), Pat Metheny (2 times), Herbie Hancock (5 times) and Dizzy Gillespie.
  • - The 2008 festival: 6 days, 16 different stages, 61 concerts, 54 artists/groups.
The festival is not only jazz. To secure enough income, and to make it a festival for everyone, not just the jazz-lovers, the festival always features one or more big non-jazz artists as well. These concerts are held at the wonderful out-doors stage at Romsdalsmuseet (The Romsdalen Folk Museum) with a capacity of about 8000. These concerts have always been the subject of discussion, some feeling that it's wrong that Moldejazz features non-jazz artists.

Big non-jazz artists featured on that stage have been Sting, Mary J Blige, Lauryn Hill, Stevie Wonder, B.B. King, Ray Charles, Santana, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan and Blues Brothers.

Moldejazz will always be special for me, and I think I will always enjoying going back and enjoy this wonderful festival. And it feels really good to be back again this year after a couple of years absence. I'm attending six concerts, and have very high expectations :)

06 July 2008

Roots of breakdance

One of my favorite pod-casts is "Best of YouTube". Today a video called "Roots of Breakdance" dumped into my iTunes from that podcast. I totally love it and had to share it here on the blog.

It's an old video showing how breakdance actually originated in the Soviet Union. Or does it now? ;)

29 June 2008

A Lucky Start

Sometimes when I think back on my life, I can't help feeling that I have been very lucky to end up where I am today. So many times have coincidences and things out of my control turned out in my favor and moved me towards where I am now.

However, I am convinced that the luckiest moment of my life was where it started. The fact that, in 1976, I was one of the babies born in Norway, and because of that got to grow up here. Using the UNDP Human Development Index, what probably is the best index to tell how good a country is to grow up in, we see that Norway now is the second best country. Number one is Iceland. The total population of these two countries is just above 5 million. So, if you're born in Norway or Iceland, you are one of the 5 million persons that live in the best two countries in the world to live in.

It is pretty lucky to be amongst those 5 million. To illustrate how lucky, imagine you play heads or tails with a friend. The first time the coin is flipped, it lands on the side you picked. The second time it does the same. The same for the 3rd time. You're very pleased with your luck today. And you keep playing. And it keeps landing on the side you pick. The 4th time, the 5th time and the 6th time. This is unbelievable! And there's no cheating, it really is just pure luck. Again, the same happens the 7th time, the 8th time, the 9th time and even the 10th time.

We all know this kind of luck never happens in real life, right? Well, it happened to me when I was one of the babies born in Norway... And every baby born in Iceland or Norway has the same luck. For every single person living in Norway or Iceland, there are about 1300 persons living in countries below Norway in the UNDP index.

I will forever be grateful for that stroke of luck :)

01 June 2008

Inequality of the sexes

Equality of the sexes has been an important issue in many, many countries for a long time now, and a lot of progress has been made. However, in some areas there will never be full equality, because there are, luckily, some fundamental differences between men and women. Giving birth the most obvious example maybe...

Besides differences coming from biology, a lot of the natural differences between us comes from psychology, giving results such as men's fascination for muscle cars and women's fascination for bags (I have just given up understanding the bag thing...)

I saw another example of this today, when I checked the IMDB score of this new movie. This is a movie with loads of buzz these days, premiering in the states last Friday, and on next Friday here in Norway. A lot of people have been waiting for this movie for a long time. It had a very low score in IMDB, only 3.8 when I checked, which usually means a crappy movie. I was surprised, with the size and anticipation for this movie I had a hard time believing it wasn't better than that. Then I checked the demographics for the votes and it all made sense :)

The target group of this movie is women in their 20's and 30's, and certainly not men. I think they hit the target spot on :) Clearly, this movie, and the series it comes from, appeals to the feminine mind.

Did you figure out which movie it is by now? It's Sex and the City of course. A movie my wife can't wait to see, and which she certainly will see with her girlfriends, not with me :)

18 May 2008

Subscribing to blogs

After discovering the universe of blogs, I've started following quite a few blogs. The only way to easily do this, is by subscribing to the blogs. This is done using a technique called RSS. Explaining RSS is not easy, but luckily someone is really good at explaining things in plain English, even RSS. Check out this video from Common Craft which in a very easy and understandable way explains RSS.

One addition to what was brought up in the video. Do you use iGoogle? Google Reader can be set up in your iGoogle-page. I use it, and it works perfectly, and I don't need to open the Google Reader site to check on my subscriptions.

So, do you want to try RSS? You can try by clicking the RSS-icon in the top-header of this blog, and you will be forwarded to a page where you can choose service to use for subscribing. My recommandation is Google Reader :)

Weird. Fun. Japanese.

It's always fun to experience something original, something you would never think of, something that just blow you away. Especially when it's comedy. The Japanese tend to come up with stuff that matches this description for their tv shows.

Here is a short list of my favorites:

Human Tetris

There's more from the same show here and here.

Hit in the b....

Silent in the library

Special effects

10 May 2008

Baby with an attitude!

Minnie and I visited our friends Odd Geir and Monica last weekend, seeing their new big house and, of course, playing with their baby, Nicolai. When looking through the pictures we took over that weekend, almost all of them were of Nicolai, hehe.. We couldn't help being soo charmed by him :)

Maybe the most charming part of Nicolai was his facial expressions, ranging from what seemed as total despair if he was crying, to endless joy when Odd Geir or Monica were playing with him. The most interesting though was what I was able to capture in the pictures below during feeding time. Nicolai sure is a baby with attitude! :)

07 May 2008

Chuck is da man!

Browsing through blogs of friends of Minnie, I stumbled upon a post with Chuck Norris facts on Dep's blog. There's so many of these on the net, not all them that good really. However, a few of the ones on Dep's post were very funny and also a bit different than the typical Chuck fact. I picked 5:

- Chuck Norris can kill two stones with one bird
- Outer space exists because it's afraid to be on the same planet with Chuck Norris
- Chuck Norris can sneeze with his eyes open
- Chuck Norris can slam a revolving door
- Chuck Norris’ hand is the only hand that can beat a Royal Flush

Chuck rocks! :)

06 May 2008

My new favorite album

My music taste really goes through cycles. For a period I listen to main stream music, such as Coldplay, John Legend or Norah Jones, but after a while get bored with it. Then I have a period with alternativ music, such as Vampire Weekend, Atomic or Dungen. Then I get bored with that after a while and go back to listening to main stream music, and the cycle continues. I almost feel a bit schizophrenic, moving between commercial taste to almost snobbish, anti-commercial, taste of music. At least I am able to enjoy lots of kinds of music :)

Currently I'm in a period listening to mainly alternative music, and my current favorite album is M83's "Saturdays=Youth". I think of M83's music as similar to bands such as "My Bloody Valentine" and "Serena Maneesh" (shoegaze), but with a melancholic touch, a bit like Type O Negative's "October Rust". My favorite traks are track 2, "Kim & Jessie", and track 3, "Skin Of The Night". Sadly, none of those are included in their mySpace-page, but that page still is good to get an idea of their style of music.

I have been listening a lot to this album lately, it still grows on me. If you are open to a bit of alternative music I really recommend that you check it out :)

01 May 2008

The best historical tour guide ever!

I hope you have read my post "The best historical tour ever!", describing my experience on the walking tour of Intramuros, Manila, with Carlos Celdra. I googled Celdra after finishing writing that post, and found that there are a lot of online resources on this amazing tour guide.

Celdra has a blog mainly focusing on his tours: Walk This Way.

There's a video about Celdra and his Intramuros tour (found on this page). I love this video, it really gives a good impression of Celdra and the tour.

A nice story about him here.

A flickr page with photos of from one tour.

And lots of other google hits...

The best historical tour ever!

Minnie and I enjoy going to historical sites when we're in the Philippines. Minnie had heard about these walking tours in the old Spanish part of Manila, Intramuros, and booked us for doing such a tour. These tours are guided by a man called Carlos Celdran. I didn't really know what to expect, but were intrigued to see some of the old historical Manila.

Arriving a bit late because of traffic, we parked by this old cathedral and went quickly through the corridors to catch up with the tour, which had already started. The first impression of the tour guide was, this guy talks fast and uses his hands a lot. The three pictures below were all taken in the span of 5 seconds…

The tour goes through the sites chronologically, starting with the Spanish era (Philippines was a Spanish colony between 1565 and 1898). The guide explained how the Spanish king was not very fond of the Phils, since there was no gold there. Ironically the Phils had lots of gold, it just wasn't discovered until after the Spanish era :) However, this led to the king not spending the money and people needed to teach Spanish to the Filipinos, or establish a strong Spanish rule.

Instead a lot of catholic priests went to the Philippines, converting the Filipinos to Christianity and making the Catholic Church the de facto ruler of the Phils. Because of this the Phils are one of the few former Spanish colonies not speaking Spanish, and also the only Asian country where Christianity is the main religion. This was something I didn't know, and the guide explained this, and many other sides of Filipinos and the Phils, in a very understandable, and humorous, way.

He used a lot of comedy during his tour, which made the tour really fun. At a time he was talking about how short the Filipinos were in the Spanish era, due to their diet. He compared them to Gloria M Arroyo, the current president in the Phils, which is 150cm/4'11" tall. He made a great joke on her expense: "Have you seen Gloria step out of her presidential Ford Exhibition? She looks like she is going skydiving!". There were lots of jokes throughout the tour, and many of them on the cost of various Filipino celebrities.

The guide also used a lot of props, carried in a bag. The most important was a folder with pictures he used to illustrate his stories. And he really flipped to those pictures at an amazing speed! One example of use of props where when he finished speaking about the Spanish era, and went over to the American era (the Philippines were an American colony/commonwealth from 1901 to the WW2). He then pulled out an American cap (with stars and stripes), American flags and played American music (possible the Star-Spangled Banned, not sure), and led us from one part of the museum to the other, all walking like in a parade.

It was very interesting hearing the story of the American era, how the U.S. shipped teachers to form public schools (the reason why the Filipinos talk English so well), how the society, especially in Manila, grew and became very modern and developed under American rule. Until World War 2…

Before telling about the war, the guide led us into something similar to a tomb, where the walls were covered with small rooms for urns. While doing this, the guide were wearing a set of ”Douglas MacArthur-props”, including a cap, sun-glasses and the signature pipe. In the middle was a monument, and we were all told to sit down. This part would prove to be the most intense and emotional part of the tour.

Manila was invaded by the Japanese the day after Pearl Harbor, and the fight against the Japanese was lead by Douglas MacArthur, which then was the allied commander in the Philippines. After a short period, MacArthur fled the Phils with his troops, stating the famous words ”I shall return”.

Most of the time telling about the Japanese occupation was spent on what happened in the end of the occupation, during the Japanese withdrawal. The guide told very graphically about the atrocities done by the Japanese, how they went from house to house to kill everyone, always the kids first, then the adults. How they went into hospitals, took babies from the cribs, threw them up in the air and caught them with their bayonets. They always used their bayonets to kill, because they didn’t want to spend on bullets… The strongest moment still was when he told how a large number of people got killed in the cathedral we were in, and piled up at the exact spot we were sitting. That was the reason for the monument being there…

One of the pictures the guide carried was of a bomb falling down on Manila. This bomb was part of the bombing campaign that put pretty much destroyed all of Intramuros, with the exception of the cathedral we were in. That was spared because it was a red-cross head-quarter. The big surprise for me was that this bombing was done by the allies, that the Americans destroyed the town that they had spent so much time and money on building up since 1901. A really sad story, but that was how warfare was done in that era.

The last part of the tour took part in a mansion, which was built to be a classic Spanish mansion. This was actually a project of the infamous Imelda Marcos. The guide described Imelda like this: She doesn’t seem to have an evil bone in her body, but what happens in her head is a mystery, she seems to be on a different planet.

The guide had throughout the entire tour spoken about what is unique in Filipino culture, and what has shaped it, but in this last part this was the main topic. It was funny to recognize his description of the tendency of Filipinos to decorate to death (he used the acronym DTD). And it never matches! :) This was especially apparent in the mansion, nothing really did match, hehe…

After this tour I really gained a much better understanding of the Filipino history and culture, especially the culture. Filipino culture is quite hard to understand for a foreigner, but this tour made me understand it fairly good. Aspiring is an important property, and also Spanish, Chinese and American influences, with a tropical twist. Mix this, without trying to make it match, and you might have a Filipino :)

So what made this the greatest historical tour ever? The guide, without a doubt. He had an amazing ability to make history interesting and fun, putting things in context and make it easy to understand how its history has shaped the Philippines and its people into what it is today. And one more thing, the guy is hilarious :)

22 April 2008

Winnie's wedding

The main reason for us going to the Philippines at the time we did was that we wanted to attend the wedding of Winnie, an old friend of Minnie. So, on Friday the 18th, we drove to Subic, the place Winnie chose for her wedding. Subic used to be a big American naval military base, and is therefore more like an U.S. town than a Filipino town. The biggest difference is the traffic, here are lots of stop signs (like in the U.S.), and you actually have to follow the traffic rules, which certainly isn't the case most places in the Phils...

On friday evening Minnie and I went out to eat in an Italian restaurant called "A Tavola", which was recommended by Cookie. From outside the place didn't really look that nice, but inside it really had a nice feel of old rustic place. Minnie wasn't that hungry so she just ordered a bruschetta, while I ordered spaghetti bolognese. My bolognese was really good, and when Minnie tried it she got so excited about it that she ordered one for herself as well :)

The day after was the day of the wedding. Minnie and her girlfriends were off to the salon for the makeup artists, making sure their dresses were perfect and other preparations for the big event, while my preparations consisted of sleeping a bit late, eating a rich breakfast, watching tv and relaxing, and using 5 minutes to try on my barong (traditional Filipino formal outfit for men). Its easier for us guys :)

We were getting worried about the bride though. She was doing so much of the preparations on her own, and had been super busy since Thursday. From Thursday till Saturday she had only slept one hour. We were just hoping she wouldn't collapse of tiredness in the wedding. However, when i got to see Winnie, I couldn't tell that she had slept so little before the wedding, and it didn't seem to bother her during the wedding ceremony and reception either.

The wedding reception gave me two good examples of the differences between Norway and the Phils, the first being the climate. If having a party indoors in the Phils, especially during summer, air conditioning is very important. Sadly, the air con broke down in the house the reception was held. To add to the crisis, the owners of the house had no contingency plan either, not even fans... With a lot of people in not that big a room, it got very warm and stuffy, resulting in a lot of guests leaving shortly after the dinner. I know Winnie felt really bad about this, but at least her close friends (which were the group I were in that evening) and family stayed so the party didn't die all together.

The second big difference is how the filipinos party compared to Norwegians. It's amazing to see for a Norwegian how filipinos are partying hard from the first dance, while Norwegians needs to marinate in alcohol for a couple of hours first... This meant that a lot of the guests, including Minnie, had a blast from the first song the band played, while I just sat by the table drinking wine and beer. After a couple of hours I had drunk enough to dare take part in the dance floor in the same way as the other guests. Then the other big difference in partying showed itself, the party was at its end and it was only 10pm! I was just getting started... To sum up: Filipinos party intense over a short time, while Norwegians takes a long time to warm up, but the party lasts much longer.

I really liked Subic, its a good place for spending a long weekend I think, both because of the American standard on everything and the number of activities available. The plan was to leave first thing in the morning the day after the wedding, but I made a deal with the other girls riding in the same car as us that we'd stay until lunch and I'll be treating that lunch. So, the day after, I had time to go go-karting, which I love :)

What I did not predict though, was how big the lunch were going to become... I think the word "feast" is more correct than "lunch", hehe... However, with Filipino prices it's still OK to treat even a feast, and we did have fun, especially since the newly weds decided to join us. You'll see in the picture that the table is cramped with plates of various foods, but that still isn't all the food we had...

I had a good time in Subic, attending my first catholic wedding, karting and everything. I also hope that Winnie will be able to remember the good times we had with her in the reception, not only the problems caused by the air-con failing, when she in the future think back to her wedding reception.

15 April 2008

Lazy days in Boracay

After recovering from our disappointment when arriving here in Boracay, we have now been able to enjoy 5 days here in Boracay, with lots of relaxing, sunbathing, swimming, shakes and food. We have also experienced the wet and windy side of Boracay...

Our days have fallen into a routine of sorts now. It starts with us getting up at around 8.30, dressing up in swim wear and heading of for breakfast. After breakfast we look for a spot on the beach with no algae and use this for sunbathing and swimming until around 11. We avoid being in the sun at 12, as the sun is very strong here at that time. It just gets too hot...

After the morning swim and sunbathing, we go back to our room and freshen up and get in our regular beach wear, and usually rest a bit. Then we're off to lunch, and after lunch walking around the D'mall (the "mall" here in Bora), going to our favourite internet cafe, getting a massage (applies for Minnie only) or just walk around the beach a bit.

As a mid-day light meal we go to Jonah's for shakes. I call this a meal on purpose, as the shakes at Jonah's are so filling that it actually serves as a light meal. We usually end up staying at Jonah's till sunset, which always is a wonderful sight, even after seeing it how many times...

After the sunset, we typically go back to our room for a rest again, before going out for dinner later in the evening (typically around 8). After dinner we find a place to sit down for a couple of beers, or in Minnie's case a mango margarita, and enjoying the cool evening breeze.

Does it sound boring? Well, I guess you can tell we really have been relaxing while being here :) And it hasn't been boring either, mostly because I'm sharing the time here with my best friend and wife, Minnie.

We have done a couple of activities that breaks from the routine though. Before we went here we had decided that we were going to rent a jet ski, like we did last time we were in Boracay. This time we rented a more powerful jet ski than we've tried before, an 1100cc Yamaha Waverunner. This thing was fast! When I was able to do full speed, I felt the wind push the skin of my cheeks backwards, the feel of power and speed was great. Minnie told me after she really loved that feeling of power and speed as well, she's such a power freak :)

On sunday evening we went on a long walk along the beach towards the north end. We decided to follow the small path that leads from the north tip of the main beach until a small secluded beach. On the way we passed by Sea Wind, the resort where we got married, saw all the new and large resorts built at this end of the beach, including Discovery Shores, the new resort for the very rich here in Bora and we passed by a water snake (no idea if it was dangerous...). Since this being quite far from our resort, and we are here to relax after all :), we took a tricycle back to our resort.

Yesterday was quite a big break from our routine though, as strong winds and very heavy rain made us stay a lot of the day in our room. It's always special for a Norwegian like me to experience heavy tropical rainfall, the intensity and volume of rain is way beyond the weather at home. However, today, the weather was all back to normal, with sun and breeze only. The only signs of yesterday's violent rainfall were that a river had dug out a lot of sand at the beach close to our resort, and that the seawater was colder today.

Today is our last full day here at Boracay for now, and we will treat ourself witht the buffet at Sea Wind for dinner tonight, just as we did on our last evening on our previous stay...

13 April 2008

Mixed emotions on our first day in Boracay

Friday Minnie and I arrived at Boracay, the part of our vacation I think have been looking the most forward to. I've been here three times before, which all were amazing. Of course, our last visit will always be the most special, that being our wedding and all :)

After a one hour boat ride from Bacolod to Ilo Ilo, and a four hour drive from Ilo Ilo (we rented our own car with driver this time, soo much better than a regular minibus-ride), we arrived at Caticlan. This is from where the boats take you over to Boracay. A woman from the resort we're staying at met us there and helped us through all the tickets other practicalities with great efficiency :). As I were to change from my regular shoes to my flip-flops (because of the wading a shore from the boat), I was told this wasn't necessary as we weren't gonna get wet. We weren't going to do the wonderful entrance to Boracay by wading from the boat onto the beach...

After the boat ride to the island, a short drive and the last walk to our resort (through a thick crowd of people), we finally were at our room. I was a bit put off by all the people, way more than I have experienced before at Boracay. I did know that there were going to be more people this time, since it is summer in the Philippines now, and thereby peak season, but it still was a bit of a shock.

Our room is quite small, and very narrow, but has all the facilities we need, including a fridge. We weren't really expected a grand room anyhow, since we got it quite cheap. After settling down in the room we went for a walk on the beach, and discovering that the water at the beach was full of green algae :( I was starting to feel a bit down, so far I hadn't felt any of the Bora magic I always experienced on my previous visits. I was even thinking that it might not have been a good idea to book for a stay as long as five nights. Minnie was also disappointed I think, saying that we just have to make the best of it...

The picture below was taken the day after our arrival, and show all the algae, but not how crowded it was.

After that disappointment, we decided to head over to Jonah's for a shake. Anyone who know a bit about Boracay, know that there is no shakes like Jonah's shakes. From this point on things starting to pick up :) Arriving at Jonah's, while looking for a table, we hear someone screaming out "Minnie!". Some of Minnie's Manila friends, also guests at our wedding, was there :) Check this picture from the wedding to see why it was so nice to see them again ;)

After a good time at Jonah's, where the shakes were as amazing as they always have been, we were feeling a bit happier about our Boracay trip. We also got to experience the amazing sunset!

After the sun had set, Minnie and I went on a nice walk along the beach towards the north tip, towards the Sea Wind Resort where we had our wedding. We were starting to feel that Bora magic now, enjoying the cooling breeze and the calming sound of the waves splashing on the beach. As we came close to Sea Wind I couldn't help to start feeling a bit emotional, thinking about the amazing time I had here on our previous visit. Not only the wedding itself, even though that was the best time of my life, but also the days after with my family and friends from Norway.

Minnie and I even went up to the bar in Sea Wind to see if Melchior, our favorite waiter from last time, was working there. Sadly we didn't see him, but Sea Wind looked just the same as when we left it in November 2006, they were even having the same evening buffet we enjoyed back then. It was really special for us to revisit this place again, together. Sea Wind will always have a special place in our hearts...

PS: The next day we found that not all parts of the beach was full of algae, and we have been able to swim in wonderful, algae free, waters. We are now really enjoying our stay in Boracay, all disappointments from the first day forgotten :)

12 April 2008

Tour of Negros Occidental

Minnie grew up in Bacolod city, the capitol of Negros Occidental, and we flew there from Manila Wednesday (April 2) to visit Minnie's parents and meet up with her old friends. I was joking with Minnie on the way there that I should use a stop-watch to check how long it takes from we arrive at her parents place to her mom offers me mango. Guess what? They were ready on the table when we arrived, offered right away :) My mom-in-law is very proud of the mangoes in Bacolod. This is with a good reason, they are sooo sweet :)

We had planned to visit some sites around Bacolod while there, so on Thursday we left for a trip to a town not far from Bacolod called Silay. This city once were the capitol of Negros Occidental, and has a rich history. At the street called Cinco de Noviembre (spanish for 5th of November, after the uprising against the Spanish on this date in 1898) there are a lot of Spanish-style houses. Most of the are in very poor condition because of lack of maintenance, but there are two exceptions, which both are museums.

We visited Balay Negrense first, a big old mansion. Our guide was an old lady, which knew so much and also were really nice. It was a very interesting visit, learning and understanding more of Filipino history. Afterwards we went to home of Ramon Hofileña, a retired swimming trunks model and manic collector of all sorts :) He is a very colorful character, but also a very nice and interesting person.

In addition to it being his residence, his house also serves as a museum. He actually shows you around his private residence, even showing his bedroom. Quite an odd feeling, but this guy has collected so many things over the years, and this is really what visiting his house is all about. The most important part of his collection is paintings. He has a very strong interest and passion for Filipino art, and most of the rooms in his house are full of art pieces. He even had a piece of Lloyd's dad, Larry Tronco, which amazed Minnie. Other things found in his house are copies of the worlds first pocket books (issued to U.S. soldiers in WW2), meteorite stones, the worlds smallest dolls, Ming dynasty jars and much more. A visit to "Mon", as he insisted we call him, is highly recommended :)

On saturday we went to a beach in a town called Sipalay, with a stop on the way in the house of some of Minnie's relatives. The stop was nice for me, making me able to have a very non-touristy experience of a typical Filipino rural household. I even got to pump water from the well :) Arriving at the beach we (finally) got to enjoy the lazy beach life, eating and drinking and watching the sunset. In the morning after we went swimming and sunbathing, the first time this vacation :)

On Wednesday the 9th, we went on another tour. This time my parents-in-law had picked the sites. First we visited Victorias Milling Company, said to be the worlds largest integrated sugar mill and refinery. We were taken on tour through one of the mills, seeing how sugar was made from the sugar canes arriving on trucks (no pictures allowed though). We saw the extracting of juice from the sugar canes, how the juice was purified and crystallized into brown sugar. We got to taste the sugar on the conveyor belt, which tastes just like brown sugar, not surprising :), but still hot from the processing. After the tour we went to see the church on the factory area, famous for it's mural depicting an angry Christ.

Leaving Victorias, we headed to a resort/butterfly house for lunch. This place were really pretty and relaxing, reminding me of the spirit of the Negros people :). After lunch we drove to a site called "The ruins", which is the ruins of an old mansion built in the 1930's. The mansion was burned by the resistance movement in WW2, to prevent it from being used as headquarters by the Japanese. Still, the concrete skeleton of this mansion, which must've been really wonderful in its time, still stands in amazingly good condition. Work is now being done to preserve the ruins, and it has already become a stunning site. Surrounded by a beautiful garden, it's very pretty and romantic. The owner of the place was there and gave us a nice and interesting tour. We all had a great time and were very pleased with the day when we went back :)

02 April 2008

Cheap labor

One of the biggest difference between Norway and the Philippines is the cost of labor. My first days in Manila have given a couple of good examples at that. At one of the restaurants we went to, there were two waiters involved in taking an order. One, first, to receive the order, and then another a minute after to go through and confirm the order. In Norway the waiters are so busy it sometimes can be hard to just get the attention from one so you can place the order.

When you shop in a mall here, there are typically two or three person at each register. The first one enters all the items to the register and receives your card. The second one goes through the receipt and controls the sums, and then processes your card. There might also be a third one for putting your items in a bag. In Norway there's only one person at the register, and at the grocery store you must be quick to put your items in your bags to avoid delaying the next customer.

However, what I think is the clearest example of the cost of labor in the Philippines was at the driving range I went too. When I was there I had a dedicated golf teacher training me. This would be very pricey in Norway. In addition there was a separate person to place a new golf ball ready for me after each shot. So I had two people working for me for one hour. The cost? 700 pesos, just below 100 Norwegian kroner, total. I think I would have to multiply the cost by ten and then some for the same lesson in Norway.


On Sunday we finally arrived in Manila, after a lengthy and tiring trip. After dropping off our suitcases, taking a shower and changing clothes (those long trips really makes you feel dirty…) we were off to lunch with Valerie, Minnie’s sister, and Tin Tin, a close friend of Minnie. We ate at Italiannis at the mall called "The Fort", where we took the picture below.

Tin Tin said she was going to treat us to this lunch since it just recently was her birthday. For me it’s still a bit strange that the one who is celebrated is treating, shouldn’t it be all the others treating the one who is celebrated? Anyhow, this is the custom in the Philippines, meaning that Minnie and I got a free lunch.

In the evening the same day we met up with Cookie, one of Minnie’s bosses in her last job in the Philippines, at a restaurant serving Filipino-style food. The food was really good and interesting. I’m always eager to learn about Filipino food and culture, which I certainly did at this meal. Cookie had decided she was going to treat us this meal, so again we got a free meal. 2 out of 2 so far…

The day after we went to the office where Minnie used to work before, meeting up with lots of her old colleagues. It was touching to see how they were so happy to see her, and I know Minnie was so happy to see them as well. After some time in the office, we went off to lunch with Danna and Andrea, two of her colleagues and friends. Again we had a nice lunch, this time at a Greek restaurant, and again we were treated. This time by Andrea, which wouldn’t hear anything of us paying for the lunch, paid it. 3 out of 3 so far…

Minnie and I did some shopping after lunch, and then went back to the office for the five thirsty (which of course happens at 5.30pm). The five thirsty is the time when some of Minnie’s old colleagues goes down to the food court in the 12th floor to drink a bit. We went with them and had some beer and a drink. The first round was paid by a colleague, I suggested to pay for the second round, but was denied this. So again we ended up paying nothing. 4 out of 4 so far…

Later that evening we met up with the most of the Minnie’s old gang from the office for dinner. We had a really good time, lots of laughs (which always is the case around Filipinos), and ate good food. This time Minnie had decided to pay for the dinner, but knew she had to be a bit cunning about it. She therefore quietly went up to the desk to pay, without letting anyone else know. Sadly she had a problem with her card and therefore came back to the table. Andrea now realized what we were trying and pretty much ran after a waiter demanding to pay the bill. This was getting a bit funny, but the result was once again that we got a free meal. 5 out of 5 so far…

On Tuesday we met up with Olive, the sister of Cecilia, one of Minnie’s Filipino friends in Norway. Again we had a good lunch, giving Olive gifts from Cecilia, talking about how it is Norway and so on. Olive is a manager at her office, something she sort of brought with her to the lunch, suggesting what we should order, taking care of the ordering, making sure we had everything we wanted and so on. Naturally, she also wanted to pay for the lunch. Another free meal, 6 out of 6 so far…

Tuesday evening we again met up with former colleagues of Minnie for dinner, this time at “The Old Spaghetti House”. This place is owned by Cookie, which we met up with at Monday. She sadly couldn’t be with us because of a strong allergic reaction to the crabs she had for dinner the evening before. However, we again had a really nice time, with good food and lots of laughs. There was one main big difference though, we finally got to treat!

So, after eating out 7 times these 3 days, we ended up paying one time. And, for a Norwegian, the bill for that one time was very small too. Including 7 main courses, 5 beers, 2 appetizers and a big dessert, it was 1600 pesos total, or about 200 Norwegian kroner. That is what one main course at a mid-range restaurant in Norway costs…

Just add shopping, a trip to a driving range and a couple of other events, and you pretty much describe how we spent our first days in Manila. This story also show shows two of the great qualities of Filipinos: they are really fun to be with and they are extremely generous :)

28 March 2008

4 deg, sleet and commuting to work...

...is just a few of the things I won't be missing when were in the Philippines :) As I write this, I'm taking a break from picking out my shorts and other summer clothes to pack it in my suitcase. It feels a bit absurd, but also makes me excited about the trip.

This picture shows how it looks outside of our place now, a big contrast from the picture in this post. Below you see the weather report for our place and for Manila on Sunday. I know where I prefer to be :)


It will take us 24 hrs from we leave our place tomorrow morning till we arrive in Manila and meet up with Val, my sister-in-law. It will be a long and tiring trip, but totally worth it. I have traveled to the Philippines several times before, but this will actually be the first time I'll do this trip together with Minnie. That will of course make the trip a whole lot more fun :)

Stay tuned here on the blog, I will try to post from the trip as often as possible :)

Philippines here we come!

26 March 2008

Norwegian comedy on youtube

The Norwegian public broadcasting coorperation, NRK, has a very liberal policy on sharing material online. This includes their own channel on youtube, youtube.com/nrk. Most, or all, of the videos on this channel is in Norwegian, but a few includes english subtitles. From these I picked two videos I like very much to show here on my blog.

The first video I picked to include debates the question "Is buffering a problem?". This is done by a panel consisting of computer expert Rolf Tangen and the man who currently holds the patent on buffering. The video features the three Norwegian comedians Harald Eia, Bård Tufte Johansen and Atle Antonsen, the team behind several very successful comedy shows in Norway the last couple of years. I love them :)

The second video I picked is named "Medieval helpdesk". Another great example of Norwegian comedy, featuring the comedians Øystein Backe (helper) and Rune Gokstad (desperate monk). New technology always poses a challenge for the users...

24 March 2008

30 degs, perfect beaches and sweet mangos...

... is just a few of the many, many things I'm looking forward to on our vacation to the Philippines coming up very soon. With warm and sunny weather, white sandy beaches, cheap food and lodging, modern metropolitan life with great shopping, and a people that, in addition to always smiling and being friendly, speaks english, the Philippines is a great tourist destination for frost-bitten Norwegians.

Minnie has been away from her home-country, family and friends for just over one year now, and is looking a lot forward to going home, meeting the family and the friends she has missed this year. I'm looking forward to what I think will the best vacation of my life. It will be the longest time we've spent together in the Phils, making me able to enjoy the Filipino life more fully :)

Our plans for the vacation so far is:
  • - 11 days in Manila, including a golf session with Lloyd.
  • - 5 days on Boracay, including shakes at Jonah's, muffins at Real Coffee, water-jets, parasailing, snorkling and sunbathing.
  • - 9 days in Minnie's hometown Bacolod, including lots of sweet, fresh mangos, the pride of my mother-in-law.
  • - 2 days in Subic, outside of Manila, for the wedding of a friend of Minnie.
I will be sharing pictures and stories from our trip here on this blog, showing how wonderful it is in the Philippines :)

23 March 2008

My life in three's

Today I spent some time reading through various blogs, including the "Blindsided"-blog of Lloyd, a friend and ex-colleague of my wife. This post on his blog caught my interest, as it was a nice way to sum up one's interests and experiences. Ill do as he suggests in the bottom of his post, post it on my blog with my answers:

Three jobs I have had in my life
  • - Salmon slaughter - I spent a couple of months gutting salmon. Do you know how long a salmon heart beats after its removed from the salmon? Up to 20 minutes. That is one of the useful (or maybe creepy is a better word) things I learned in that job...
  • - Electronic gadgets salesperson - I had a good hang of selling digicams for some reason.
  • - IT Consultant - Building IT systems for the Norwegian state. My favourite job so far.
Three movies I would watch over and over
Three of my favorite foods
  • - Lutefisk - very traditional Norwegian fish-dish.
  • - Pinnekjøtt - sheep rips made in traditional Norwegian style.
  • - Chicken Inasal - My favorite filipino dish.
Three places I have lived
Three shows that I watch
  • - The Wire - my new favorite. Another great show from HBO.
  • - Oprah - Minnie "always" watches Oprah in the evening, meaning I watch it as well...
  • - Heroes - can't wait for new episodes...
Three places I have been
Three places I'd rather be right now
  • - Boracay.
  • - An African country, on safari.
  • - A vineyard in France
Three things I am looking forward to this year
  • - Going to the Philippines in 6 days! - going to spend 4 whole weeks there this time, can't wait :)
  • - Minnie continuing to settle down in Norway (learning the language especially)
  • - Experience Minnie on skis for the first time in her life :)

Now, here's what you're supposed to do... And please do not spoil the fun. Copy this entire post and repost on your blog or site, delete my answers and type in your answers. The theory is that you will learn a lot of little known facts about those who know you.

21 March 2008

The real reason Wii didn't go HD?

Minnie and I bought a Nintendo Wii last November. We, well honestly mostly me, enjoy that machine a lot, especially games like Super Mario Galaxy and Guitar Hero III.

Nintendo got a lot of attention for not following along with Microsoft and Sony on the tech-specs ride. Nintendo claimed that they wanted to focus on innovative games, instead of providing higher performance with HD-graphics. However, looking at the picture below, maybe the real reason was how Mario would look in HD?...

The guy who made this picture also made one with Homer Simpson. That is maybe even more spooky...