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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.

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

The big 3-0

Yesterday the universe had plenty of happenings: a winter solstice, a total lunar eclipse, the darkest night in 400 years, and, last but not least, the last day of my twenties… Yes, it had to happen: I turned 30 today. “What is important is to be young at heart”, some might say… Bullshit! I honestly hate this big 3-0 and all the social expectations that it implies. Anyway, entering a new decade always triggers some self-reflection. I have looked back at the last decade of my life, and, inspired by the novel Caos calmo, I have written down some of the things I have done during these years:

Countries visited

United Kingdom

Mountains climbed

Fløyen (400m)
Ulriken (640m)
Rundemanen (560m)
Sandviksfjellet (417m)
Lyderhorn (396m)
Damsgårdsfjellet (350m)
Løvstakken (477m)
Corno grande (2912m)
Preikestolen (604m)
Kjerag (1110m)

Airlines taken

Estonian Air

Laptops owned

Sony Vaio PCG-FX801
Toshiba Satellite A100-703
ASUS Eee PC 1101HA
Dell Latitude E6500

Mobiles owned

Nokia 5110
Nokia 6110
Nokia 7110
SonyEriccsson Z1010
Siemens MT50
Siemens C55
SonyEricsson K610i
Nokia 5800 XpressMusic

Camera owned

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P72
Canon EOS 350D
Olympus μ 1030 SW

Cars owned

Škoda Fabia 1.9TDI (2001 ed.)

Motorcycles owned

Yamaha FZR600 (1994 ed.)

There are actually many other things I could write down, but all in all I have been lucky to have had so many opportunities. I am curious to see how these lists will look like in ten years time…

An empirical evidence of Murphy’s law

How a journey from Florence to Bergen can prove the Murphy’s law.

First schedule:

flight LH 4065 from Florence (18:50) to Frankfurt (20:30), connected with
flight LH 3128 from Frankfurt (21:25) to Bergen (23:20)

The first flight was cancelled. I was rescheduled for the next day and sent to a Hilton hotel.

Second schedule:

flight LH 4067 from Florence (06:35) to Frankfurt (08:15), connected with
flight LH 3126 from Frankfurt (09:05) to Bergen (11:00)

The first flight was delayed 45 minutes. I missed the connection and was rescheduled for some hours later.

Third schedule:

flight LH 3132 from Frankfurt (11:30) to Oslo (13:20), connected with
flight SK 269 from Oslo (14:25) to Bergen (15:15)

The first flight was delayed 45 minutes. I missed the connection and was rescheduled for some hours later.

Fourth and last schedule:

flight SK 273 from Oslo (15:50) to Bergen (16:40)

In the end, I came back to Bergen 17 hours and 20 minutes later than originally planned, with the burden of three check-ins (two in Florence, one in Oslo) and four security checks (two in Florence, one in Frankfurt, one in Oslo).

Lufthansa, “There’s no better way to fly”… Are we really sure?

7-fjellsturen 2010

For the third time, I took the so called “7-fjellsturen“, the hike of the 7 mountains of Bergen in one day. I am very proud to say that I made in 10 hours and 40 minutes, 2 hours and 28 minutes less than my previous result.

Checkpoint 2008 2009 2010
Start 7-fjell (Gravdal ved Nutec) 8:47 00:00 8:28 00:00 8:55 00:00
Lyderhorn 10:14 01:27 10:06 01:38 9:45 00:50
Damsgårdsfjell 11:51 03:04 11:52 03:24 11:10 02:15
Løvstakken 13:40 04:53 13:37 05:09 12:41 03:46
Start 4-fjell (Årstad) 15:00 06:13 14:36 06:08 13:37 04:42
Ulriken 16:43 07:56 16:39 08:11 15:23 06:28
Fløyen 19:05 10:18 19:21 10:53 17:21 08:26
Rundemanen 20:27 11:40 20:07 11:39 18:24 09:29
Sandviksfjellet 20:56 12:09 20:48 12:20 18:51 09:56
Mål (Marken) 22:27 13:40 21:36 13:08 19:35 10:40

The hike was too long even for Sports Tracker, which crashed after 8 hours. This means that I only have incomplete and maybe corrupted data of my hike. 🙁 The developers of this app will for sure hear from me… 🙂

Special thanks to Synnøve, who shared with me all the editions. Without her, I would have never managed this result. 😉

Update 6 June

It looks like the Sports Tracker data of my hike is not corrupted. It is only incomplete since I started the tracking again half-hour after Sports Tracker crashed. 🙂


7-fjellsturen 2010 Sports Tracker screenshot 1

7-fjellsturen 2010 Sports Tracker screenshot 2

7-fjellsturen 2010 Google Earth screenshot

Asus Eee PC 1101HA, Intel GMA500 (Poulsbo) and the shattered dream of the out-of-the-box GNU/Linux support

Do not buy a Asus Eee PC 1101HA or any netbook/laptop having an Intel GMA500 (Poulsbo) video chipset if you plan to run GNU/Linux on it.

Unlike Intel’s other video chipsets, the GMA500 is not developed in-house but it is based on Imagination Technologies’s PowerVR which is barely supported under GNU/Linux. The GMA500 drivers are so messy that it is even challenging to get the native display resolution. You can read more about how Intel is ruining its relationship with the GNU/Linux community on Linux Journal and Ars Technica.

I spent about 3800 NOK (460 EUR) to buy an Asus Eee PC 1101HA last Saturday. Now I can not return it to the reseller. In other words, I am screwed.

From the richest to the poorest European country and back

I had a short vacation in Moldova together with my friend Diego. Probably you are asking yourself “Why Moldova!?”. At least this was the reaction of all of my friends when I told them that I had planned a trip to Chişinău. To be honest, despite the fact that I am already back from the trip, I am not sure what to answer to this question. 🙂

As far as I am concerned, I just wanted to have a trip to an east European country, possibly an ex USSR country. The idea was to go to a country which was culturally and economically very different from what I am used to. After several discussions with Diego about which country to visit, Moldova caught our curiosity… And there we went.

I have to admit that I knew really little about this country before going there, and two things impressed me the most. The first is, unfortunately, the poverty. The time seems to be frozen in the Nineties there. The average monthly salary in Moldova is around 2500 MDL (150 EUR) while in Norway is 30000 NOK (3500 EUR). Of course, life is cheaper in Moldova than in Norway, but even normalising the salary to the cost of living, the difference remains huge.

The other thing that left me puzzled is the lack of linguistic and cultural identity. Native Moldovans belong to the Romanian ethnic group. The official language in Moldova is Romanian, although natives speak a Moldavian dialect which is slightly different from the original Romanian. However, Russians and Ukrainians form a large ethnic group in Moldova. Russian is then the default second language at all levels of education, and everyone in the country can speak it fluently. Oddly enough, local Russians refuse to speak Romanian and oblige native Moldovans to speak Russian. Walking around Chişinău I heard more conversations in Russian than Romanian, which is quite sad. Maybe this is a superficial analysis of the integration problems, but what kind of cultural identity is this?

I learned a lot from this “very original” trip… especially to give value to the things I am lucky to have in my life. Being at home with all the comforts seems like a luxury now… I hope I will always remember about it.

NWPT 2009 and Danish language

I have not written any post about my summer vacations in Italy, Spain and Hungary, but now they are far away and I will skip them. I just want to share my experience at the last conference I participated, namely the Nordic Workshop in Programming Theory in Lyngby, north of Copenhagen, Denmark.

As always I travelled together with Adrian and this time I had to share the hotel room with him since my travelling budget for 2009 has been in red since July… Fortunately Adrian is not employed at the University of Bergen but at the Bergen University College, and it seems that funding is less problematic there. 😉

The conference was very well organised and covered very many topics of computer science. Adrian and I spent a lot of time modifying the slides rather than listening to the talks, but the presentations of our two abstracts went fine in the end.

During my stay I had the chance to test my skills in Scandinavian languages with some locals. Just for the records, written Danish and Norwegian (in the bokmål variant) are rather similar, so similar that reading Danish is not a problem for me… But the spoken counterparts are definitely very different. Spoken Danish sounds like a continuous stream of (guttural) sounds to me, with no chances to understand when a word stops and when the next starts. 🙂 I hope that no one will take it personally if I say that it seems like Danes do not make any effort to pronounce words clearly.

But there is even more… Danish has a rather weird number system. The tens from fifty on are not based on the number ten, as is the case in most European languages (French being another outstanding exception). This strange system combines two archaic ways of counting: twenty-based instead of ten-based and fossilized expressions for two and a half, three and a half and four and a half. This is the result:

50 halv-tred-s(ind-s-tyve) half-third-t(imes-of-twenty)
60 tre-s(ind-s-tyve) three-t(imes-of-twenty)
70 halv-fjerd-s(ind-s-tyve) half-fourth-t(imes-of-twenty)
80 fir-s(ind-s-tyve) four-t(imes-of-twenty)
90 halv-fem-s(ind-s-tyve) half-fifth-t(imes-of-twenty)

After this experience, I think that these Norwegian comedians are not so far from reality. 😉

La tastiera italiana come causa di un pericoloso malcostume linguistico

Ho deciso di condividere un articolo che scrissi nel 2007 dal titolo “La tastiera italiana come causa di un pericoloso malcostume linguistico“. Nell’articolo mostro come la disposizione della tastiera italiana favorisca l’uso della combinazione lettera + apice in sostituzione della lettera accentata. Pur non avendo una preparazione universitaria in linguistica, decisi di scrivere questo articolo come reazione alla trattazione decisamente superficiale dell’argomento da parte dell’Accademia della Crusca. Ogni commento è benvenuto.

Buona lettura! 🙂

TOOLS 2009

This time it was the TOOLS 2009 conference in Zurich, Switzerland. Adrian and I arrived on a Saturday, without any particular plan for the evening. Many locals suggested us to go to Lucerne because of the first edition of the Lucerne festival. Adrian managed to convince me to go there, and I have to admit it was a good idea. Plenty of people, plenty of music, plenty of local food and drinks. And right after the sunset, the best fireworks I have ever seen: 25 minutes of pyrotechnic show with lights coming from both sky and lake… Amazing!

All the stereotypes about Swiss precision and efficiency were destroyed in one go on the way back to Zurich. We were supposed to take the train from Lucerne at 2:30, but probably too many people shared with us the same plan. 🙂 The result was kilometric queues on the ticket machines and people packed in trains like in India. The train we took did not even arrive to Zurich and despite the promises of the railways personnel there, no further train came before one hour. In the end, tired of waiting, we took a taxi back to the city.

Well, despite this “original” start, the conference went very well. The ETH, which hosted the conference, is located on top of a hill with a nice view over the city. The event was well organised and composed by several co-located conferences and workshops. Adrian made a brilliant presentation of our last work “A Diagrammatic Formalisation of MOF-Based Modelling Languages“, and many asked questions. I feel like the goals of our participation to the conference have been all fulfilled. The city was lovely and welcomed us with a great warm summer weather. The food was also great; to eat once more authentic Fondue and Rösti was a pleasure. 🙂

I left Zurich by train on Saturday, and my destination was not Bergen but Tortoreto, my home town in Italy. The trip home was a sort of odyssey. The train I took in Milan had broken air conditioning system and I had to stay inside it for five hours with no chance to open the windows… And if this was not enough, the catering services of the Italian railways had a strike the very same day, i.e., it was not even possible to buy water! Italy is somehow able to remind me every time that the choice of moving abroad was the right one.