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.