Thoughts and Ramblings (mostly ramblings)

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Funny email

Just got a funny email from some website called "USA Reunited" - they want to tell me my friends have already signed up for their service, and I should hop on board.  Oh wait... I think I already have:


Not that I think the company I work for (in which I'm in charge of the email blasting software) would have caught that either - oh well, funny to see anyway.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

What's happening in Facebook and Flickr's darkroom?

I originally started out this post with a more jarring title, something like "Facebook Destroys Pictures," but I decided to calm down a bit before I started bashing a free service that lets you post all the pictures you want and doesn't even make that much money doing it. I started digging into things after I viewed some of my friend Simon's wedding pictures in a Facebook photo album the other day. They appeared to be the same picture that I had posted on Flickr the previous day - at full quality - but something seemed a little different. (To get them on Facebook, Claire saved them in the "original format" - really big - from Flickr, then posted them to Facebook. It's a bit of a round about way of doing things, but there were only a few pictures she wanted to post). I took some screenshots, so this is the way it was displayed on my monitor, and I've hosted them on my domain, so I know they're the original screenshots I took, composed together, and exported at the highest quality from Photoshop (pardon the wide image):

So, as you can see, the bottom left and right are the most "original" pictures I have, unless you want to see the "original original" after I touched it up (ha, of which I also have here ;) 2.54MB). Those original pictures look pretty good, and that's the way I wanted them to look. But if you take a look at the Facebook copy (scaled down with Photoshop from 604px wide to 500px wide to match Flickr's) in the upper left, things are a little strange. Simon (the studly character on the left) has his face darkened a bit, as if time were flipped a little bit - taking his honeymoon first, then having the wedding afterwards. Tim (the studly-as-well guy next to him) looks like he was Simon's travel buddy instead of Rachel, given the burnt look of Tim's face. Also, the seemingly unimportant but surprisingly annoying to me background window is almost gone, and the viewer is left with only their imagination to wonder what those floating yellow lights are.

(Edit: On my work monitor, Simon and Tim don't actually look quite as burnt as they do on my mac monitor at home, just darker in the wrong places.)

Also, the column's a little dark looking too, but that begins to nit-pick a little bit too much. Anyway... what the heck is going on here? Well, my guess is that Facebook is trying to make things a little bit easier to transfer (as I mentioned, they don't make that much money, why waste money serving up high quality pictures to people who don't click on any ads/pay for any subscription) and so they're picking and choosing which colors make it into their new "optimized" image for your viewing pleasure. This way the jpeg compression has more to compress because the pixels have more chances to be similar than in the original shot. And darn it if they didn't do a bang up job. You can still see that there are two people in the picture, they are both human, and they both are jovial. I'm not giving them enough credit - the picture looks pretty good - pretty good for being a good bit over half the original size (compared by using Aperture to size down the original to the Facebook dimensions: 604x405). In fact, the picture I would have liked Facebook to display is 2.33 times the size of the one they chose to display, which theoretically saves them 2.33 times the money. Actually, I'd say it's a pretty good compression method.

Well good job Facebook - You don't make any money directly from me, especially since I don't click on your ads or buy your fake digital "gifts" to send people. But I do pay another company around 2 dollars a month to host my pictures in a (in my opinion) nice way for others to see in their original glory - Flickr. Let's look at that composition one more time - there's a reason I included the Flickr picture - compare it (original, screenshot from Flickr's standard view) to either of the two on the bottom, and you'll see that Simon and Tim don't look burnt anymore, but perhaps a bit older. Their sleek boyish features have been turned into sharp glares, cutting into my soul by Tim's wrinkley "enraged" forehead, and Simon's cheek border which make him look like a "seething monster":

(Aperture 500px wide):

(Flickr 500px wide):

Ok, I overutilized the thesaurus on this one, and I went over the top with criticizing Flickr too, because all they did was add some more definition to the image. I suppose I can live with that because I can still make out the window behind them and if I wasn't sure what tire company's blimp logo was on Simon's name tag, I can certainly read it now. But still, I want to know why they did that. Same reason as Facebook? I'm actually not sure because when I downloaded the picture from Flickr, it clocks in at 82.79 KB, and when I sized it to 500px wide using Aperture, I got 60KB, so the dead original, looking good, is actually smaller than the one Flickr serves. This is most likely because my software knows I'll wait for it to do the proper calculation, while Flickr probably does some sort of time/cost analysis to figure out that it's worth it to serve ~20KB more for my photo than to do precise image scaling and retain it's original look.

Or another theory (probably the more likely of the two) is they feel that on a smaller scale, more definition is usually better because it's harder to see what's going on in the picture without it. I don't feel Simon and Tim have quite so much definition in their faces in the larger versions of the picture than they do in the smaller version. The engineers at Yahoo and Flickr tend to know what they're doing, so they probably did this on purpose. They obviously have a keener eye for pictures than Facebook does, as they're a picture sharing site, whereas Facebook isn't a site explicitly designed for sharing pictures. Maybe the information about Flickr's practices is posted somewhere and I don't know where to find it, if it's out there, leave me a comment showing me where it is :)

Now that I'm thinking about it, I should probably see what Google and Picasaweb (free to an extent, just like Flickr, but less free than Facebook, with no option to pay anything) are doing to your pictures. Are they pure and natural, just as you intended, or has definition and evil background removal been placed on top of them for the sake of saving a few dollars? Find out when I put it to the test, sometime soon.

Thanks for reading


Thursday, November 08, 2007

I would totally pay for that

"Hey that website is really cool!"
"Yeah, but how do they make any money?"

That is the number one question on everyone's mind who is paying attention to the web and technology these days.   Check out that new video on youtube, oh wait, how do they make money?   There are no ads on the site, so I don't know how they do it, except for the fact that they're owned by Google, so they can suck on the teet of the "Big G."   In fact, most of the new and cool sites out there don't make money by any other means, than advertising.   So everyone wants to find out how to target the advertising to the audience so people will actually click on these links, instead of doing google searches for firefox extensions to hide advertising on websites.

Fact: In all my years of using the Internet (12 years), I have clicked on an estimated 10 advertising links.   Is this number, multiplied by the number of people who use the internet, divided by 12 equal to the amount of money the internet has raised in the past 12 years?   That might not make logical sense, because ads must work for someone - just not for me, any of my friends, or any of my friends' friends.   But perhaps my parents - maybe.

Regardless, there are just some things on the internet that are just not useful to be supported by ads.   Even the mediums that are easy to be advertised on, such as video, are annoying.   We all fast-forward through the ads on television when we record something - some people even start watching a show 10 minutes later than it starts, just so they can watch the whole thing without ads.   Some people stop fast-forwarding when they see a new "Get a Mac" ad with the Mac and the PC guy, but that's definitely the exception, not the rule.   Nobody stops fast-forwarding through the latest Oppenheimer Funds ad, no matter how cool Gene Hackman's voice is.

Here's what I think the problem with ads are - their topic matter is too far removed from the original reason you sat down to consume the media in the first place.   If you're watching a baseball game, and you see an ad for a car, you're not making the connection.   Even if there is a sponsor for the game ("the post-game show, presented by whoever") - like pontiac in college football, you're still not thinking cars when you watch football.

The fix: Overt product placement.   Sure you watch movies, and you see the company logos show up on computers on certain people's desks (the bad guys have Dells, and the good guys always have Apple iPhones by the way - it's just the natural order of things), but they don't actually mention them.   It would be ridiculous to watch a movie and hear them talking about how much they "Love the new operating system from Apple - Leopard!   It's so cool because of these cool new features!   Now where did the bad guys hide that nuclear bomb?"   But that's alright because you paid an exorbitant fee to see the movie in the first place.   But in something like a round table discussion podcast like This Week in Tech ( - Leo Laporte's podcast group), or MacBreak Weekly (again,, they are sponsored frequently by   Every week, they mention that they are sponsored by, and all of the people who are on the podcast, go around and say their favorite books to listen to, and why.   It makes it personal, and the people who are saying why they like the books are people who I know and respect in the first place, since I'm listening to the podcast.   Weave the advertising  (but not underhandedly) into the media, and there will definitely be a return on that investment.

Another solution for the problem of making money on something that's not good for advertising, is actually a very old solution - pay for it.

I know, I know, "The User is NOT Me, the User is NOT Me" blah blah blah, but this is how I actually think this could work.   A user sets up an account at a website kind of like pay pal, where they can control how much money goes into it (not a direct draw from a credit card or bank account or something - something they have to re-up themselves), and then websites who choose to use this sort of internet currency can have an option to "View this site without advertising, for $0.05 a session."   I would totally go for that.   If I could view Mac Daily News without ads and popup crap all the time, I would definitely give them 5 cents every time I went there (well, ok, 5 cents for like 10 minutes or something, or however long it takes me to read the news).   I have no doubt that someone has thought of this before, and shot it down because they thought nobody would go for it, but I'm telling you, so many people would go for it - not all, but soooo many, just to not have to deal with ads ever again.   I already pay for premium services that charge a small amount a year (flickr for example) that for 12 dollars a year, I can access an amazing amount of features and storage, and community.   Amortize that over 365 days, and that's awesome - a dollar a month, 0.03 cents a day.

I mean, if Google decided to say "you can do unlimited searches for 12 dollars a year," I would totally pay for that.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Snow Plows...

I have a few thoughts at the moment:

I am glad I started drinking two beverages: beer, and coffee, for the following reasons:

Beer: There are so many different varieties that can constantly be tasted and sampled, and liked and disliked and compared and critiqued - it's sort of like wine, except for the fact that they taste completely different, in case you didn't already know that.
(Additionally: There is a really great place for beer near my apt - how I did not know about this place with roughly 1 billion beers on tap and in bottles (Sharp Edge Beer List) )

Coffee: I like it strong, and I like it black. And while I used to only be able to drink coffee with cream and sugar, my trip to Europe (see the past like, um, 100,000 posts) got me drinking black espresso, and so the logical extension of drinking that hot heroin-like substance, is black coffee.
Reasons I like black coffee:
  • It is soooo much easier just to pour a cup of coffee and begin drinking it without finding the cream and the sugar, and getting the right mix just the way you like it. In addition, if someone gets you a cup of coffee, you don't have to hope they get your proper proportion of coffee:sugar:cream right. (not to mention the fact that some people might mistake milk for cream - um, wrongo, bubba)
  • It is one of the best... Snow Plows..... out there.... :-D
    • (where snow = precipitation of the colon)
Alright, well, back to the grind at my internship - one of the interns just completed doing what I had been trying to do for dayyys and could not figure out. And she claims not to be a techy! Sheesh - one upped again.

From my cubicle at Level(3) Communications, on my 3rd cup of coffee of the day (haven't been eating well lately, obviously)
- Matt

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

London - Wet and Wild... ok, just Wet

(written 12:30 6-26-07, Astor Victoria Hostel)

Well hello there - I'm writing the entry from our hostel this time - we have a little bit of time to kill before we have to head to Gatwick to grab our plane to Dublin, so I figured I'd update a bit on London.

We got to the train station, took a bit of an unneeded walk too far past the train station to get to our hostel, but when we got here, we found we had made a good decision - it was nice, it was clean, it was fairly convenient (close to an underground station) - we were all set. We hung out here for a bit, then two of our roommates at the hostel decided they were going to hang out with us - we had decided to go to the Hard Rock Cafe for dinner - you know, "THE" hard rock cafe - the "one that started it all." (In case you don't know how it got started, eric clapton liked to go to the hard rock a lot, and decided that he would leave a guitar there to save a table for him whenever he came by. So he left that there, and Pete Townshend saw that and said "mine's as good as his" so he left his.... and so on and so forth). So we waited for an hour and a half for a table at the pub next door, had dinner, and went back to bed. The next day, we took the Sandeman's new europe free tour which we had taken in Berlin and Munich - very good tour by the way. The guy was a good tour guide who braved the nasty rain all day with us and showed us the top attractions of london, which I of course took pictures of. Later that night, after getting our fish and chips for dinner at a local pub down the street with a glass of "warm" beer (it's not that warm, just kinda like basement temperature), we hung out for a bit, recovering from all our walking, then checked out Piccadilly circus - ahh, the times square of london. After that, we checked out Oxford Circus where the infamous apple store was located - it was closed, but cool to check it out - it's reallyyyy big. This morning, we woke up, checked out of the hostel, and headed out to Buckingham palace to see the changing of the guard - pretty neat, but we should have just stuck to one place along the wall instead of trying to see it all and jumping back and forth from the outside yard to the inside gated areas - oh well, we saw enough red coats with the giant fluffy black hats, so we had had enough. Now we're back at the hostel chilling for a bit, and in a bit, we'll head out to victoria station, take a train to Gatwick and hop on a plane for the Guinness capital of the world- Dublin! So, until then, enjoy your 90 degree weather (assuming you're in rochester - gheesh, we're freezing our tails off here in wet london), and I'll see all of you in a few days - we have 3 nights in Dublin, we fly home the 29th and get into toronto at 11:00 local time, so we'll crash there, and head back in the morning of the 30th. Check out the pictures, and I'll catch ya all later. Here's the address if you like:

Love and miss all of you!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

All about Paris

(Written at 9:35, 6-24-07, Train to London)

Hey there everybody - Here's another blog entry! So we did paris in about a day - what a rush - we saw like 7 major things in a day and a quarter, and we were pretty psyched about that. We get to do the same thing in a couple of hours when we get to London, so we're jazzed to get going.

We started out by visiting the Louvre Museum with La Pyramide lighting up the entrance of course. We got in at around 3, and before that, simon had read that the louvre is free after 6 to people under 26 - so that worked out really well - we got to go to the louvre for free, and we didn't have to waste any time waiting around for it. We checked into our room for the first night (we had two different hotels for the two nights in paris), and so we headed out to go do our thing. We got a little something to eat first, then went to the Louvre. We saw, of course, the Mona Lisa, which had changed a bit since the last time I saw it - they colored in her face a little bit, made her smile a bit more natural and dyed her hair blond. Hahah, oh I'm such a funny guy - no no, it was the same, but they did change the presentation a bit - before it was behind a giant cube of glass that prevented you from getting close to it because of the glass, but now it's behind a piece of glass 2 inches from it, on it's own separate wall in the museum, and they have 2 levels of viewing. One, if you just want to walk up and see it, you fight your way through the mass of people trying to get a glimpse, and two, you can wait in line for a private 30 seconds 3 feet closer to the painting than everyone else behind you. We decided that it was probably going to look the same whether we got the "ultra special closeup view" so we decided not to wait in the 15 min line for that, but we still got to see her, with her crazy smile. We tried to act a bit like geeky art students - "So, how does this painting make you feel when you look at it? What is the meaning of the coloration on her left nostril? Why do you think he chose to paint her eyes open instead of closed?" Silly stuff like that. (By the way, sorry, no pictures of the painting - the museum staff were on people like white on rice if they even brought their cameras out - i figure you can do a google search and that'll probbaly work out better than some sort of bootleg, "i'll look one way while I take a picture the other way" mona lisa shot.)

After the louvre, we walked through the big park in front of the museum, which we thought was close to the arc de triumph - It looked close enough to walk to, but apparently we were wrong - it was an optical illusion. It was so big, it looked close, but in the time it took us to walk 20 min, we still had another 2 of those lengths to walk until we got to the arc. Better see that the next day. Our hotel was near Montmatre so later that night, we walked up to the top to see Sacre Coeur - fantastic view, with a fantastic church at the top - we couldn't get in because it was later, but it was still beautiful from the outside.

The next day, we started out on our power tour of paris - We first went to Notre Dame Cathedral - well, kinda - they were holding a large service for what we could only assume from what we saw on the big tv screen outside was the ordaining of many new priests. It was kind of an invitation only type thing, where even people that wanted to attend had to sit outside and watch the big tv monitor. But, obviously the outside of the church is nice, although seeing the inside is obviously cool as well.

Then we hit the catacombs - woah - crazyness -they used it as a quarry and then later when the cemeteries got full, they exhumed people and threw their bones in the underground tunnels - a TON of bones, as you'll see from the pictures when I get those up. 1.7 Kilometers of it to be exact - wow.

Then we went to the Eiffel Tower which was fantastic as always. We decided to save a few euro and walk up (which ended up being 700 steps to the second floor, by the way) but I'll tell you - that was a bit scary because it's completely open (well ok, there's a cage around the staircase, but it's still open to the wind) - but once we got up there it was a bit easier on my stomach. We took some great pictures of the surrounding area, and so that was that. Then we headed to the arc de triumph, which is much easier to get to by metro instead of by walking. It was pretty cool, but we didn't go up to the top, seeing as how we had just been on the eiffel tower - didn't need more "views from above."

After that we headed back to our new hotel (we had gotten up that morning and moved our stuff to the new place - if you're wondering why we did that, it was because no hotel nor hostel had availability for more than one day without getting ridiculous on price, so we switched - it wasn't a big deal to do, just letting you know), we found a place to use the internet and sent some emails and such, and went to do laundry, our final (or so we hope) laundry run of the trip. We have done laundry 4 times including yesterday, which makes sense given the amount of time we were gone. It wasn't a big deal having to do it, except for yesterday the machine only took coins and we were both fresh out - so we went scouting for places that would give us change back in coinage instead of bigger bills.

So we got up early and went to the train station that the Eurostar train leaves out of, went through customs for the first time since entering into the european union (crazy brits, checking passports and asking us where we're going), and we are now London-bound. I hope things are going well back at home - I'm pretty excited about the upcoming Independence Day celebration with everyone in town and such. It's been on fantastic trip so far, with a bit more to go, but I am looking forward to going home and seeing everyone.

Thanks for reading - what I set out to write was a quick entry, and it turned into a novel, so forgive me, but thanks for reading this far. See you all soon!


Friday, June 22, 2007

bonjour a nice

(6/22/07 - 11:00 - Train to Paris)

Well, it's sufficient to say that Nice, was nice. Let's start from the beginning. While we were on a train to Nice, or so we thought, from Genova, the conductor came by to check tickets and said "oh, by the way, this train is not going to Nice - there is a french rail strike going on now. You have to get off and go to another train to get to Nice." umm.... ok? Sure - so we did that, and finally got there. Simple enough? I'll skip to the end, where we had to buy 1st class tickets on the TGV to Paris, in which we don't have seats, so at the moment, we're sitting in the car, hoping that nobody comes to sit down in our seats. Oh well - it's part of the adventure!

When we got to Nice, it was late, so we grabbed some dinner - chinese food from the place next door. We used an internet cafe for a bit, then headed back to the hostel. We met the aussie (we never did remember his name - we simply referred to him as "our aussie friend") who was our roommate then, and got some sleep. The next morning, we decided to go to the beach, and he followed us there - for the entire time we were in Nice, we were with this aussie guy, who was really cool, but it was a bit strange that he just kinda decided to tag along. It worked out really well though cause he was a nice guy, and gosh darnit, people liked him. So, to the beach, simon got burned, I listened to a lot of podcasts, and we just enjoyed the sun and the water. The blue water was beautiful, that's for sure. We headed back after the sun to grab a little nap, and I went to go upload some pictures to the internet of Florence (they're up now if you didn't notice before). We decided to check out if there were some bars around, and we did find a cool english pub in Old Nice where there was a cover band from Norway called "The Nobodies" who played some classic rock - you know, AC/DC and Kiss - that kind of stuff. They were a little on the strange side, but that's ok, their music was good.

The next day (yesterday), we decided to check out Monte Carlo - We showed up at the train station (across the street from our hostel), at 11:30 or so, expecting to hop right on a local train. Simon and I filled out our eurail passes, and our aussie friend bought a ticket from the machine. We went to hop on, and they said "oh, I'm sorry, but there's only one train going there, and that's at 2:30, there's a strike going on you know." So the strike, um, struck again. We got some lunch and headed back around 2 or so and got on the very crowded train (the only one running) to Monacco and Monte Carlo. We saw the sights there - the Prince's palace and the old prince's car collection and the giant yachts all in a line for some sort of "really big, expensive boat convention." Unfortunately, because of the strike, simon and I were not able to go have dinner at the restaurant my Mom wanted us to - there just simply wasn't a way for us to get there and have dinner, and be able to get home. I did see a sign for the hotel, so I took a picture of that though - Someday I'll get there, someday :-\. Sorry mom! We did however see the extravagant casino, although we didn't go inside as A) we weren't dressed properly, and B) there was a cover of 15 Euros just to get in! So, instead, we decided to stay out and bet that we wouldn't be making our 15 euro back at the tables.

That afternoon, we finally got a train back to Nice, grabbed some beers and sat on the beach and watch silly high school band kids fall into the water with their street clothes on (did I mention that the beach is made out of stones? I'll tell you, if there wasn't such a reputation for the stoney beaches, and I was in charge of Nice, I'd grind those suckers up - it's uncomfortable!)

Yesterday was, and pardon my french, the Fete de la Musique - Basically a music festival all over france - so Nice was no exception. We walked around Old Nice which was a happening place, with people everywhere listening to bands of every variety - jazz, hard rock, reggae - you name it, it was there. We listened for a bit, but then realizing we had to get up early, walked back home and went to bed.

We're on the train to Paris now - I apologize for such long entries, but sometimes I just get carried away with the details. Hopefully this one was a bit more manageable and won't take you 20 minutes to read. Thanks for reading, by the way, I hope you've enjoyed them so far. We have roughly 7 days in europe left - Some parts flew by, some parts dragged, but so far, we have had one excellent trip - I'm very happy that I came, it's been a very fun and exciting few weeks, although I am homesick and do want to see everyone again very badly.

Well, strike be damned, we're going to get to Paris sometime today - I think we're going to hit up the Louvre for starters - See you all soon!

From a TGV (not going very GV at the moment - GV = High Speed) to Paris,


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Florence, Firenze, whatever you want to call it

(train from pisa to genova, enroute to Nice, 3:30, tuesday 19th)

Hey everyone,

Hopefully if i'm sending this out, i also had a chance to send out the pictures we took from florence - wow, what a beautiful city and area in general. We did however run into a bit of a road block with stuff to do that was going to interest us, but that's ok, we just kinda relaxed and took advantage of our incredibly cool, air conditioned room as well as our view from said room.

We arrived at like 12:30 two days ago, so we really got a chance to see a lot of Florence or Firenze or however you want to call it, on the first day. Our hotel, not a hostel, was literally 3 minutes away from the station which was nice, and we got right in, dropped our stuff off, and headed out. We first just walked around down some streets to the Duomo - what a beautiful church. In fact, I would say that it is more beautiful on the outside than on the inside - it's (by others we have seen's standards) very plain inside actually with a few interesting notable items: 1) the big clock on the back wall, 2) the sundial, which you can't see, because it only lights up one little area on the 20th of june or something like that?, 3) the neat "shadowed" tilework on the floor. I think I took a picture of all that. Oh hey, in case you've forgotten, the link for the pictures is Just thought I'd let you know again. After seeing the Duomo, and seeing the really long line to get into said duomo, we decided to come back the next day, a plan, which unlike the vatican museums's, actually worked. But on to the rest of the first day: We walked around until we found the Uffizi, an art museum so huge it would have taken years to see everything in it - so actually, in an effort to get our buck's worth, we're still there, and have been there for a past couple of days, and I've only recently found some wireless to send this to you. Ha ha... just kidding - we saw the "highlights" that our guidebooks told us to check out, and we were pretty satisfied. I can't remember exactly what we saw, but everything was really old, really cool looking and just in general, um, cool, for lack of a better working dictionary in my head. Some of the statues and paintings there had been there since 1200! Anyway, after that, we went to this really old bridge, the name of which escapes me, but it is lined by gold and jewelry stores the entire way. Ladies, have no fear, I picked up a couple gold necklaces and earrings for all of you, just remind me next time I see you. That night, we decided that it was time for a real, authentic, italian dinner, which was fantastic, which simon treated me to for my birthday, which made it extra nice. We sat outside on the street underneath big umbrellas, and it was just really nice. Simon had stewed wild boar, while I had swordfish - both were really good. That night, we wanted to take a walk, which turned into us getting a bit lost, but we found some cool little digital map outside some hotel which guided us back to our hotel in no time flat. We also saw a really neat mcdonalds - in the pictures you will see that it's the one with the black walls, cool colored lights, and the golden arches on a sign on the left - most chic mcdonalds I've ever seen. The next day, we got up at 8, had some breakfast at a little cafe - an espresso and a breakfast item of some sort... kinda like a danish I guess, and headed out to the duomo. On our way there, we stopped in a book store which happened to have an international section, where simon picked up 2 more english books to read on the trip. Great find, because he was really dying to get into some more books, as he had polished off 4 already. The duomo, which I already mentioned, was pretty plain inside, but great to see, and was massive. The outside pictures are a bit more stunning so you should check them out (assuming they're posted when you're reading this). Our next and final official stop in florence was "the big giant hill at the south east corner of florence across the river" - obviously I have no idea what it was actually called, but I think it was near Michelangelo piazza or something like that. One of the copies of Michaelangelo's (sp?) David is up there - it's the copper one, the stone one is somewhere else - we saw that too. Up there, we took some of the most amazing photos yet - stunning shots of the city, and the surrounding mountains. We also got some gelato, which was very good - but be forewarned - should you arrive a place of gelato sales where the tiramisu gelato is fresh and has it's chocolate powder exposed, do not, I repeat, DO NOT attempt to inhale the powder - it makes you cough like you're dying. Simon was just about ready to hit me with the heimlach maneuver when I told him I was ok, and had just gotten a little chocolate powder in my lungs. I'm fine now, if you were wondering, it just took me a couple of minutes to stop coughing and drink a lot of water. So, that pretty much ends our formal trip to florence - later that night we went to a grocery, got some loafs of hard crusty bread (fantastic) and some fresh made pesto and some chocolate, and went to town on that for dinner - we had been eating a lot here and there for lunch, so that was enough to satiate our hunger. We used the internet and such from one of the dozens of internet points, and headed back for a good night's sleep before our trek to Nice today - 8 hours I might add. We're about halfway through, maybe a little more, and the air conditioning seems to be working a bit better than it was before - really stuffy in this car! Anyway, we're staying 3 nights in Nice and 2 in Paris before we take the Chunnel to London for another 2 nights, then fly to Dublin for another 3 nights. Then we're back in the states (er, canada). Quickly on the topic of canada, we ran into some germans on some sort of class trip on a bus to rome from our campsite. One of them looked at the canadian tags on our packs and said to simon "ahh, I love your country!" - we're like, um... "Ohhh, right, you love canada" to ourselves. We didn't have the guts to tell them we were american and have them tell us they didn't like our country so much anymore. Anyway, I think most people like the united states and its citizens, but just aren't pleased with the united states government and such. Anyway, on that note I'm going to go see if they have any Labatt Blue on this train... Arrivedeci Italy, Bonjour France!

Matt, from a slightly cooler than it was earlier train from Pisa to Genova, enroute to Nice.

Edit: oops, no internet connection to my machine yet, so no pictures from florence, but soon

Sunday, June 17, 2007

All roads lead to Rome

(written at 12:00 on 6-17 on train to florence)

Well, we did as the romans do.... we um, saw rome. What a city though! I had been there before, but it was just as fun to get lost again in the ancient city once again. The first day we got there, we made it to our hostel, or campsite as it turned out to be, and just kinda hung out there for the night. In retrospect, we probably wouldn't stay there again just because it was far out from the heart of rome, and it was only supposed to take like 15 or 20 min to get to rome, but with traffic and about a billion people on the metro, it usually took a little longer. But the next day, we got into rome, and started to see the sites. We checked out the vatican first, and saw the awesome st. peter's basilica, and just marveled at the size and awesomeness of the square out front. after that, we went to the pantheon to see that gigantic building - what a site - what really makes me wonder, is how they got that solid piece of poured concrete all the way up on top of that building - absolutely amazing. the preservedness (not a word but you get the idea) of many of the ancient roman buildings and structures was truly amazing. After the pantheon, we checked out the world famous gelato place next door - we had been told by some lady on the water bus in venice that the place next to the pantheon, on the right hand side of the entrance, was the best in the world - we tried it, and by gosh, she was right. If you're ever there, you gotta get it - it's the one with all the newspaper articles plastered on the wall telling you (in italian of course) how good it is. We looked at the map, and saw, "oh hey, the trevi fountain is close to here, let's check it out!" about an hour and a half later, and nearly completely lost, we hopped on a bus to the main train station and decided that we should probably start over from a place we know, and find the fountain later. we were so lost, it was nuts. so after that, we went to the coliseum which was clearly marked on the map, not to mention 30 meters or so from the metro station (impossible to mess this one up) - so we went there, and that was once again, fantastic and breathtaking. After the coliseum, we headed back to the main train station, where stopped for a slice of fine, italian pizza at this place next to it, and rested our feet for a bit. After going to see the spanish steps and being nearly assaulted with fake purses, watches, and dolci and gabana belts on the international steps, we headed back to the campsite and hung out with the guys across the walk from our cabin. One was from australia and one was from california, there with his "girlfriend," although the way they were fighting (we could hear them loud and clear) it didn't sound like they would be together much longer... but maybe they'll surprise us! not that we'll be around to find out. The next day, we decided we were going to wake up "early" and go to the vatican museum to get there early to beat the lines, and make our way into the sistine chapel, and then meander our way back into the rest of the museum. This, all in an effort to beat the crowds. Um, so we got to the museum, and almost got into the line that was only for private tours.... which was about 25 people long. He told us that we had to go into the main line. I swear, the line for the museum was 5 people wide, and went on, around the outside wall of the vatican for around 3/4 of a mile. At the end, we heard people talking about 3 hours wait from that point. We figured that since we're only 21 (today i'm 22!) years old, we have a good number of years to come back and see it. I've seen it once, and it would have been good to see more of it, but, um, it's not worth the 3 hours wait. Oh, of course, there were some tour sharks walking around the line asking people if they wanted to join their private tour for 60 bucks which would include the ticket and jump you right inside the museum in 15 minutes. What a plan! So, if you're willing to spend the money, it's not too bad, but if not, be prepared to get there at say.... 4AM and wait until it opens - it's like waiting in line for concert tickets or to try out for american idol - nuts. So instead we went to check out the trevi fountain, which we had figured out the location of. Very cool - it would have been even neater to see at night, because I have seen pictures of that, but it was pretty nice during the day too. We continued from there to see the roman ruins, which were pretty spectacular - we walked through many an archeological dig site where they were still uncovering more ancient ruins. We went to the top of this big hill, which our previous day's ticket the coliseum had somehow included, and we got some more pictures of the city from atop the hill. Then we went to circus maximus, which is a little bit of a let down, as it's just a big dirt track now, with some old buildings on one side, but still cool to see where they did some chariot races, back in the day. Which was a wednesday, by the way. We went back to the campsite after that, and had decided that we wanted to stay another day there, and just chill for a bit, by the pool, and rest up for the weeks to come. We did that yesterday - just read our books for a while (I've finished two now, and i think simon just finished his 4th), and soaked up the sun. I've got a nice farmer's tan working, but it's getting better because i took my shirt off for a bit by the pool. Now we're heading to florence, which we have planned to stay 2 days at, just like venice. We figure, that if there's more to see, and more to do, we'll just stay another day, no big deal, but we're betting it's goign to be able to be done in a day and an afternoon. After florence, we head to nice, and check out there and the surrounding areas like Cannes and Monte Carlo. Should be a good time!

I hope everyone is enjoying the fantastic weather that you have been having, as we have, and that all is well!

Love and miss all of you,

Matt, on a train from Roma to Firenze (how the hell did they get "Florence" from "Firenze?")

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


Train to Roma
2:55 PM

Well, Venice was certainly interesting - so weird to see a city completely intertwined with such water. I think I'll just start right into it, there's not a whole heck of a lot to tell, but enough for a post. We got to the station, and after figuring out which boat to take, and which one was actually showing up at the time we were there, we got to our island - we weren't staying on venice proper, but we stayed on an island called Lido. We got to the island, and the directions that the website had given us on how to get to the hotel (not hostel - it was a real hotel this time - no hostels available anymore when we booked), really were horrible - it said to "take the bus" so we got on a bus, but it was the wrong one. After aimlessly walking in "the directions we thought it was," it turned out we were right, and we kinda sorta just stumbled onto the place. Really lucky. We had a shower, cause we were really sweaty, and headed out to check out venice. We meandered around, got lost, found a place to eat, continued to get lost, got lost some more, and then finally later that night, found the grand canal and found our way out - being lost is indeed more fun than being found, according to the guidebook, because it was just neat to explore. Check out the pictures for what all the exploring showed us. We went back to the hotel later that night, posted an email and a blog entry and headed to bed. We woke up late the next day and walked out into the drizzling venice air. It wasn't a fantastic day because of the on again off again rain, but it was ok - and we did the same thing as the previous day - got lost, got something to eat, and then got more lost. San Marco square was indeed spectacular, which is where we always started our trips to get lost. We didn't see it really flood till the last night, where there was quite a bit of water in there - see the pictures for a bit more of an illustration. We spent just enough time in venice to see what it was all about, but I think that if I was going to come back, it would be with Claire, as it is obviously a very romantic city, and even then, only for a few days to see the sights, as it's very likely that we could see entirely different things on two occasions because of all the randomness in the walking. Anyway - venice was cool, and now on to Rome. We're on the train now - our hostel is actually a hostel and a campsite outside rome a bit with a regular shuttle into the vatican, which should be very convenient. we're staying there at least 3 days, maybe 4 if we feel there is too much to see and not enough time. I'll post this when we get there, and hopefully I'll have another one when we're there to tell you all about the hostel and how we're making out in Rome. I hope everything is going well - If you're in rochester, check out the jazz festival for me and tell me how it is! Catch ya later

Train to Roma,

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