We can put an end to month-day-year dates

What is today’s date? If you answered this question with November 27, 2014 (read November the twenty-seventh, two thousand and fourteen), you should go on reading.

The day-month-year date format (e.g., 27 November 2014) is officially adopted by the vast majority of the world’s countries.

The year-month-date date format (e.g., 2014-11-27) is officially adopted by China, Japan, Korea, and Iran, and is also the date format of the ISO 8601 standard.

The month-day-year date format (e.g., November 27, 2014) is officially adopted by the USA only (although contamination of this format can be found in a few other countries). Like most standards adopted in the USA, the month-day-year date format is bizarre at best, as shown in the following illustration:

Visual comparison of date formats

Now, if you live outside the USA, but use the month-day-year format when writing or speaking in English, you are doing it wrong: You do not suddenly use miles, pounds, and Fahrenheit when writing or speaking in English, right? Then please, in the interest of logic, do not use the month-day-year date format either. :) Keep using the day-month-year or year-month-date date formats, like you learned in school. If you want to avoid any misunderstanding, just use the variants d MMMM yyyy or d MMM yyyy of the day-month-year date format (e.g., 27 November 2014 or 27 Nov 2014), which are the most readable ones.

So, once again, what is today’s date? It is 27 November 2014 (read the twenty-seventh of November two thousand and fourteen).

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Six months in Oslo — Life of a researcher in the capital of Norway

The 26 November 2012 at 3:00 o’clock in the morning I was sitting on the bed of my bare room in Bergen, overwhelmed with fear and excitement, looking at my life packed into suitcases, backpacks, and boxes, and staring at my one-way ticket for the earliest morning flight to Oslo: “Will I like Oslo?”, “Will I enjoy my new life?”, “Will I miss Bergen?”… Now, after six months in Oslo, I can finally answer these questions.

The city of Oslo may not have the charm of other western European capitals. It was built when Norway was among the poorest countries in Europe, and it is not difficult to notice. It has very little classical architecture, and the one it has is not exactly impressive: even the neoclassical Royal Palace is way too simple to my taste. But Norway is among the richest countries in the world now, and the municipality is finally investing resources to give the city a new touch of contemporary architecture. The Fjord City project aims at opening the city towards the fjord by building housing and recreation on the waterfront part of the city centre. The Opera House in Bjørvika together with the Astrup Fearnley Museum in Tjuvholmen are notable examples of this development. Although controversial, I find these buildings amazing, and I believe that, together with the upcoming buildings such as the new Munch Museum in Bjørvika, they are going to give a unique character to the city.

Another distinctive feature of Oslo is that its people can be very diverse. The various areas of Oslo have all different atmosphere, with Grünerløkka (Oslo east) featuring rather casual people — but unfortunately hipster too — and Frogner (Oslo west) featuring rather posh people — to the point that “vestkantgutt”, literally west side boys, is a common Norwegian expression to denote daddy’s boys. This heterogeneity is very unique in Norway, where otherwise the law of Jante preserves uniformity across the society. Now there is good and bad with the law of Jante, and I must confess that I have incorporated some of these values into myself after many years in Norway, but one of its bad sides is that is tends to deprive people of significance. I find it interesting that this phenomenon is less evident in Oslo, where people are less afraid to show that they are successful.

I bought a new flat in Rodeløkka, north of Grünerløkka. It cost me a fortune, but it increased my quality of life dramatically :) I have met plenty of charming and interesting people so far, both international and Norwegians, which made my social life really enjoyable. I am also very satisfied with my new job at SINTEF, where I am currently working on some challenging but stimulating EU projects — namely PaaSage, MODAClouds, and Broker@Cloud, for those interested. All in all, life has never been so good, and, to be very honest, I have never really missed Bergen.

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La gente fa schifo. Vaffanculo alla speranza.

Il risultato a dir poco tragicomico delle ultime elezioni mi ha riportato alla mente uno dei migliori pezzi di George Carlin. Mi permetto di tradurlo in italiano sostituendo l’aggettivo «americano» con «italiano»:

Tutti si lamentano dei politici. Tutti dicono che fanno schifo. Be’, ma da dove pensano che vengano questi politici? Non cadono dal cielo. Non arrivano attraverso una membrana da un’altra dimensione. Vengono da genitori italiani, da famiglie italiane, da case italiane, da scuole italiane, da chiese italiane, da imprese italiane e da università italiane… E sono eletti da cittadini italiani. Questo è il meglio che possiamo fare gente. Questo è quello che abbiamo da offrire. È ciò che produce il nostro sistema: immondizia in entrata, immondizia in uscita. Se hai cittadini egoisti ed ignoranti, avrai dirigenti egoisti ed ignoranti. E i limiti dei mandati non aiuteranno di certo: finirai semplicemente con una nuova cerchia di italiani egoisti ed ignoranti. Quindi, magari, non sono i politici che fanno schifo. Magari è qualcos’altro che fa schifo qui… Come, la gente. Sí, la gente fa schifo. Per qualcuno sarebbe un buon motto per una campagna: «La gente fa schifo. Vaffanculo alla speranza.»

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Do not let social networks destroy your social skills

You see them every day. People at restaurants, bars, pubs, clubs, or even private parties, constantly looking at their mobiles… Rather than living their lives, they are validating their lives on social networks. They share their current location, tag their friends, upload pictures of their meals (rigorously altered with some cheap filter), and, since they are already on it, answer messages and leave likes and comments here and there… You name it. All this when they could actually mingle with the people around them. :)

Seriously, folks… Social networks are are destroying your social skills. Do not let them win. Tonight, turn off your mobile. Spend a night out with the people you really love, talk to them, laugh with them, exchange positive vibes in a way that is possible in the real world only. That is socialising. The rest is just a surrogate of it.

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The sad story of the vCard format and its lack of interoperability

I have tried to reach the zen of address book synchronisation for many years. However, I have always experienced that some contact information, especially instant messaging and social networking addresses, gets lost or corrupted during the synchronisation.

The most adopted format for representing contact information is the vCard, whose last version is the 4.0 (see IETF’s RFC 6350, 2011), while the most adopted protocol for accessing contact information is the CardDAV (see in the IETF’s RFC 6352, 2011), which is based on the vCard format. Hence, I performed a little empirical study of the actual interoperability of the vCard format.

First, I defined a sample contact, where the contact information is meant to be for home:

Joe Bloggs
+44 20 1234 5678
1 Trafalgar Square, WC2N London, United Kingdom
Web: http://joebloggs.com
Skype: joe.bloggs
Twitter: @joebloggs

Second, I added this contact to four different address books:

Third, I exported each of the address books to a vCard file.

Fourth, I created a sample vCard file based on the vCard format 4.0.

Finally, I compared the exported vCard files and the sample vCard file among each other. The differences between these files blew my mind.

In the following, I show these vCard files and discuss the properties which are not interoperable. Note that I stripped the irrelevant properties and rearranged the remaining properties in order to make the comparison easier.

Sample vCard file

FN:Joe Bloggs
TEL;TYPE="cell,home";PREF=1:tel:+44 20 1234 5678
ADR;TYPE=home;PREF=1:;;1 Trafalgar Square;London;;WC2N;United Kingdom

The specification of the vCard is kind of shocking. Believe or not, it does not support social networking addresses yet. Even worse, it supports constructs which are not interoperable, namely grouped properties and non-standard properties.

Grouped properties are properties prefaced with the same group name. They should be grouped together when displayed by an application. I will show examples of grouped properties later.

Non-standard properties are properties defined unilaterally or bilaterally outside the standard. They may be ignored by an application.

Hence, I was forced to represent the Twitter address by a non-standard X-SOCIALPROFILE property:


Apple Contacts (version 7.1)

FN:Joe Bloggs
TEL;type=CELL;type=VOICE;type=pref:+44 20 1234 5678
ADR;type=HOME;type=pref:;;1 Trafalgar Square;London;;WC2N;United Kingdom

The vCard file exported by Apple Contacts is only partially based on the vCard format 3.0 (see IETF’s RFC 2425 and RFC 2426, 1998) and its extension for instant messaging (see IETF’s RFC 4770, 2007).

The web address is represented by a standard URL property grouped together with a non-standard X-ABLabel property:


This issue can be solved by changing the type of the web address from “home page” to “home”. This leads to a vCard file where the web address is represented by a standard URL property:


The Twitter address is represented by a non-standard X-SOCIALPROFILE property:


Cobook (version 1.1.6)

FN:Joe Bloggs
item2.TEL;type=VOICE:+44 20 1234 5678
item3.ADR:;;1 Trafalgar Square;London;;WC2N;United Kingdom

The vCard file exported by Cobook is only partially based on the vCard format 3.0. With the exception of the name, all the contact information is represented by either grouped properties or non-standard properties.

Google Contacts (15 November 2012)

FN:Joe Bloggs
TEL;TYPE=CELL:+44 20 1234 5678
ADR;TYPE=HOME:;;1 Trafalgar Square;London;;WC2N;United Kingdom

Google Contacts does not support social networking addresses natively, so I was forced to add them as URLs.

The vCard file exported by Google Contacts is only partially based on the vCard format 3.0 (see IETF’s RFC 2425 and RFC 2426, 1998).

The colon in all the URLs is is unnecessarily escaped.

Similar to Apple Contacts, the web address is represented by a standard URL property grouped together with a non-standard X-ABLabel property:


I guess this is because Google Contacts specifically targets Apple Contacts when exporting to a vCard file. This issue can be solved by changing the type of the web address from “Home Page” to “Home”. This leads to a vCard file where the web address is represented by a standard URL property:


The Skype address is represented by a non-standard X-SKYPE property:


The Twitter address is represented by a standard URL property grouped together with a non-standard X-ABLabel property:


Memotoo (15 November 2012)

FN:Joe Bloggs
TEL;HOME;CELL:+44 20 1234 5678
ADR;HOME:;;1 Trafalgar Square;London;;WC2N;United Kingdom

The vCard file exported by Memotoo is only partially based on the vCard format 2.0 (see Versit Consortium’s specification, 1996).

The Skype address is represented by a non-standard X-SKYPE-USERNAME property:


The Twitter address is represented by a non-standard X-TWITTER property:



Given the results of this study, it is not surprising that the import/export of vCard files as well as the synchronisation via CardDAV do not behave as expected most of the time.

Common contact information such as email addresses, telephone numbers, postal addresses, web addresses, and instant messaging addresses can be represented in two ways: by means of standard properties, or by means of standard properties grouped together with non-standard properties. The second way is currently used by Apple (and other vendors targeting Apple); it is unnecessary, prevents interoperability, and promotes vendor lock-in.

Other common contact information such as social networking addresses are not supported at all.

So what should be done? Here is my suggestion:

First, the IETF should remove grouped properties and non-standard properties from the specification, since open standards should promote interoperability and prevent vendor lock-in. Second, the IETF should add social networking properties to the specification. Third, the IETF should provide an official validator for vCard files. Finally, the vendors should implement the last version of the vCard format, and they should do it right.

Update 22 November

I have shared my concerns in IETF’s vCardDAV mailing list. You can follow the thread here.

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A new beginning

Dear friends and colleagues,

I would like to thank you for these last five years in Bergen. They made me grow personally and professionally, and I will never forget them.

Now, however, it is time for me to move on. I have accepted a position as research scientist at SINTEF ICT in Oslo, and I am looking forward to starting.

My former supervisor Uwe once wrote me “Sometimes changes open unforeseen new perspectives.” This sentence has never seemed more appropriate.

See you in one month, Oslo.

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Why I abandoned GNU/Linux on the desktop

I have experimented with GNU/Linux in dual boot with Windows from 1997 to 2000, and I have had GNU/Linux only installed on any of my computers, both at home and at work, since 2001. I have changed distribution relatively often — 3 years with Red Hat (now Fedora), 2 years with Mandrake (now Mandriva), few weeks with SuSE (now openSUSE), 1 year with Slackware (don’t ask…), 3 years with Gentoo, few weeks with Debian and 6 years with Kubuntu — but I have not changed desktop environment that much — 1 year with FVWM ’95 (those were the days…), 1 year with Enlightenment, 1 year with GNOME 1, and 12 years with KDE.

I have been a loyal KDE user, contributor and advocate since the release of KDE 2.0. I have donated 100€ to the KDE e.V. organisation each year since the announcement of the “Join the Game” campaign. Last but not least, I acknowledged the KDE community in my PhD thesis (at the end of the Preface, page xi). This was just in case anybody wonders about my credentials as a GNU/Linux and KDE user…

Unfortunately, KDE does not satisfy my needs any more, and I was forced to look into other solutions. This post attempts to explain why I came to this decision, and I hope that the GNU/Linux and KDE communities will perceive this as a constructive critic.

KDE 4.0 was released before it had reached feature parity with KDE 3.5. This is because KDE developers intended KDE 4.0 as a technological preview aimed at developers, testers and early adopters only. However, the majority of KDE users did not really understand that, which is legitimate considering that .0 means at least feature complete in any other project. As a consequence, many KDE users (including Linus Torvalds) found themselves with a desktop environment which was just half baked, and eventually ditched KDE.

I expected KDE developers to adopt a more conservative release strategy in future major (point) upgrades, but apparently they did not learn any lesson. In fact, KDE 4.4 was released together with a new version of KAddressBook which was rewritten from scratch and based on the Akonadi storage service. The new version introduced several regressions compared to the previous version shipped with KDE 4.3. As a consequence, once again, many KDE users found themselves with a half baked KDE PIM suite, and eventually ditched KDE.

Actually, this time also my frustration started to mount. I wrote two verbose posts on the KDE forum to question this release management and propose a system of bounties for bug fixing. These two initiatives triggered a lively discussion in the community, but in the end nothing really happened.

KDE 4.9 was released one month ago. There are still many small nuisances with it, especially with the KDE PIM suite. And do not blame me or the packagers, please. Try to access an IMAP e-mail account with an unstable Internet connection: in the best case, Akonadi will spam the KDE notification system with connection error messages, which will eventually crash KNotify; in the worst case, Akonadi itself will crash. Try also to synchronise contacts and calendars with Google or any other well known social network: if you manage to make it work, consider yourself lucky if you do not have any loss of information.

Despite these years-old bugs, KDE developers keep spending resources on applications the world could probably do without, like the Rekonq browser and the Calligra office suite. Sometimes I ask myself if KDE developers use these applications for real, and apparently the answer is that some do not: as you can notice in the official screenshot for the KDE 4.9 release, some prefer Chrome and LibreOffice over Rekonq and Calligra, which is not surprising at all. I often read complaints about the lack of resources to maintain the KDE project. Why not focusing on less applications of higher quality rather than more applications of questionable quality then?

I tried to look into other distributions and desktop environments, but the situation seems to be even more tragic. Let us have a look at the top ten distributions on Distrowatch:

And these are just ten distributions out of hundreds, as well as just seven desktop environments out of tens — among which I can not resist to mention Trinity, which is a fork of KDE 3…

Am I the only one thinking that this fragmentation is beyond ridiculous? The developers of these distributions and desktop environments are spending massive amounts of resources to develop redundant software and compete on a mere 2% of market share. Why not focusing on less distributions and desktop environments of higher quality rather than more distributions and desktop environments of questionable quality then?

Maybe there is a question of ego, or maybe there is a problem with the bazaar itself. But the fact remains: GNU/Linux has missed all the chances to become a mainstream desktop operating system, and I do not want to use a niche operating system any more. This was a very difficult decision, and I am really sorry for that, but I need something that just works, and I need it now.

So long GNU/Linux, so long KDE, you served me well.

My new desktop operating system? Mac OS X. Do I love it? No, I actually hate it at times, but I will come back to that another day.

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The last four years of my life

From the PhD thesis Diagram Predicate Framework meets Model Versioning and Deep Metamodelling, defended on the 7th December 2011:


The last four years of my life have been dedicated to writing this thesis and to making it as perfect as possible. These years have witnessed days and nights of hard work, discussion, stress, frustration, anguish, insomnia, as well as praise, relief, travelling and fun.

If you are going to read this thesis, I hope that you will find it interesting. If you are just going to browse through it quickly, I hope that you will find the models as beautiful as I do. If you are only interested in this preface, I hope it will leave you with a nice memory.

Bergen, 3rd October 2011


This thesis would not have been possible without the contribution of the outstanding individuals I have met during these four years.

First of all, I would like to thank my supervisor Uwe Wolter, for teaching me a lot of interesting knowledge which spans from mathematics to philosophy and history, as well as for giving me invaluable feedback about my research. He deserves much of the credit for this thesis and I am indebted to him for all his help and inspiration, scientifically and otherwise. I would also like to thank my co-supervisor Khalid A. Mughal, for suggesting that I enrol in a PhD programme and for supporting all my choices when I finally followed his suggestion. With time I realised that his initiative saved me from becoming a frustrated software engineer.

A special thanks goes to Adrian Rutle, for helping me to get started with my research and for sharing many good times with me, both in Bergen and while travelling. He has been a brilliant colleague and a good friend, and I have many good memories from these years.

I am grateful to my parents Pompilio and Loretta, for all they have done for me, especially for setting my life on what I believe is the right path. I hope that this thesis will make them as proud of me as I am of them.

“Tusen takk” to Synnøve Solberg Tokerud, for her love and friendship, for teaching me about Norwegian and Norway, as well as for her beautiful smile which always helped me to stay positive.

The Department of Informatics at the University of Bergen has given me a private office, a good salary and great financial support, and I am thankful for that. I would like to thank the Programming Theory group, especially Marc Bezem, Torill Hamre, Anya Helene Bagge, Valentin David, Dag Hovland and Federico Mancini, for creating a stimulating environment to work in, for all the chats about informatics and teaching, for all the empirical studies on espresso and on chocolate spreads, as well as for all the feedback they gave me about my work. I am also grateful to the administration of the Department of Informatics, especially Ida Holen, for patiently listening to my rants every time I needed to vent my frustration, Petter Bjørstad and Torleiv Kløve, for supporting my stays abroad, and Steinar Heldal, for guiding me through the bureaucracy of the University.

My research was carried out in cooperation with fellow researchers from the Department of Computer Engineering at the Bergen University College. Thanks to Yngve Lamo, for his suggestions about how to deal with the Norwegian system, and Florian Mantz, for being an excellent flatmate and for preparing pancakes every Sunday.

Part of this thesis was written during my 4-month stay at the Department of Computer Engineering at the Autonomous University of Madrid. “Muchas gracias” to Juan de Lara and Esther Guerra, for taking care of me during my stay and for giving me plenty of insights which ended up being almost half of this thesis.

I would like to thank my opponents Reiko Heckel and Einar Broch Johnsen, for all the time they have spent reviewing this work, and Michal Walicki, for coordinating the committee. I am also grateful to all my fellow researchers and anonymous reviewers who pointed out flaws and suggested possible improvements in my research.

Despite all the time spent preparing this thesis rather than hanging out, I still have many friends left and they should all be awarded for their patience. In Bergen, Mikal Carlsen Østensen helped me with practically everything before and after my move to Norway. Diego Fiore has been one of my closest friends, who shared countless discussions about the grotesque society we live in with me and was a perfect companion on many suffocating trips around the world. Paolo Angelelli has also been a very good friend, who contributed a lot to the discussion about how to develop an ideal society. My stay in Madrid would not have been the same without Lucia Cammalleri, Teresa Terrana and Daniele Sidoti, who treated me like a close friend since the first day we met. In Italy, my good, old friends Maura Brandimarte, Albert Marsili, Marino Di Carlo, Graziano Liberati and Angelo Di Saverio have been there every time I was back home, and I really appreciate it.

Finally, this thesis would have not reached this level of art without the free and open source software I use and enjoy. A special thanks goes to the communities behind GNU, Linux, KDE, Firefox, Kile, Inkscape, Subversion and Git.

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Four months in Madrid

Shipol Airport, Asterdam. Two hours left before my connection to Bergen. I am not coming back home from a business or leisure trip this time, but from a four-month exchange stay in Madrid.

Research fellows at the University of Bergen are encouraged to spend from three to six months abroad to get in touch with another research group and work in a different environment. During the MoDELS 2010 conference in Oslo, me and my supervisor discussed the possibility of my exchange stay with Juan de Lara and Eshter Guerra from the Autonomous University of Madrid. The idea of staying some months in the south of Europe after three years in the North was very appealing to me, and Juan and Esther seemed very positive as well. Eventually the idea became a plan and I came to Madrid in February.

I lived in the very centre of Madrid, which happens to be the very centre of Spain as well. My flat was located 200 meters away from the so-called Kilometre zero, the ancient starting point of all the measurements in Spain. I loved the atmosphere of the city centre, incredibly lively and dynamic… I even loved the noise that you hear in the bars… Yes, the noise of people speaking and toasting and laughing and enjoying life, something that reminded me a bit of Italy and that I missed so much in Norway, where people are usually scared of speaking too loud or too much.

Juan and Esther have been very kind with with me. They helped me with the accommodation and the transportation, provided me an office and a workstation, introduced me to the campus and the city. It has been a rewarding experience to work with them, both scientifically and personally, and I sincerely hope that we will continue the cooperation in the future.

But my stay in Madrid would have not been the same without the people I met there. Thanks to Serena, I got in touch with a group of people from Italy, France and Spain. It was a pleasure to meet Federica, Antonino, Mathilde, Vani, Ysa, Clara and Jose. But above all, it was fantastic to meet Lucia, Teresa and Daniele; lovely people, who treated me like a close friend since the first day we met. I wish most of Italians were people like them, I would consider moving back to Italy.

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How to blow 1.6 million EUR

The University of Smallville needs to build a new student centre. The centre will offer services to students such as programme enrolment and exam registration, and will provide a new auditorium, library, swimming pool, gym, etc.

On the 14th of September 2006 the University Board decides to initiate a project called MegaCentre for the new student centre, to which it allocates half a million EUR. The University has, among others, a Department of Architecture, a Department of Engineering and a Department of Facility Management. One might expect that the University Board would assign the management of MegaCentre to one of these Departments. On the contrary, however, the University Board assigns the management of MegaCentre to the Student Affairs Centre. The Student Affairs Centre forms a working group composed of a project leader, a project co-leader, a technical leader and two co-workers. Again, one might expect that someone from the Department of Architecture, Engineering or Facility Management would cover one of these roles. On the contrary, however, all members of the working group, except for the technical leader, belong to the Student Affairs Centre. The project leader and co-leader do not have specialist educations in architecture or engineering. The technical leader of the working group has an education in engineering but does not belong to the University. The working group spends more than one year and half a million EUR planning MegaCentre.

On the 13th of September 2007 the working group presents the plans for MegaCentre to the University Board. According to these plans, the construction of the building will be assigned to the external construction company Nonchalant, which guarantees the use of state-of-the-art construction techniques. Moreover, once the building comes into service, the maintenance will be assigned to the Department of Facility Management. The University Board accepts the plans and allocates an additional 0.9 million EUR to the project. Nonchalant spends more than one year on construction of the building, on completion of which it presents a bill of 1.1 million EUR.

On the 4th of February 2009 the building is inaugurated with due ceremony, after which it enters into service. Unfortunately, faults in the building’s design immediately become evident, with problems such as poor insulation, a leaky roof, an unreliable alarm system and poor handicap access, to name but a few. Both employees and students soon become frustrated. Again, one might expect that the working group of MegaCentre would demand Nonchalant to honour its contractual agreement, repair all faults and pay any necessary fines for damage caused. On the contrary, however, the working group simply allows the Department of Facility Management to deal with the faults as they see fit. The Department of Facility Management hires construction workers and assigns them to the repairs and alterations. The construction workers do what they can, but after one year many design issues remain unresolved. The head of the Department of Facility Management, who has an education in engineering, decides to perform a thorough evaluation of the building. On doing so, he discovers that the building is constructed with obsolete, rather than state-of-the-art techniques, and that these would not guarantee minimal safety in the event of a natural disaster. Finally, he concludes that it will in fact be necessary to reconstruct the building from scratch using appropriate techniques.

On the 29th of April 2010 the head of the Department of Facility Management presents the evaluation to the University Board. At this point the University Board finally acknowledges that severe action must be taken and sues Nonchalant for damages, excludes the Student Affairs Centre from the project, hands the management of MegaCentre to the Department of Facility Management and fires the employees responsible for public money wasted hitherto.

Do you find this story unbelievable? Well, now replace the name Smallville with Bergen, MegaCentre with EksternWeb and Nonchalant with Bouvet, and read it again here

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