No, email is not a collaborative editing solution—A comparison of the state-of-the-art

If you have co-authored at least one document in your life, you have probably experienced the pain of merging changes manually, especially when these changes are sent as email attachments.

Nowadays there are multiple collaborative editing solutions that enable merging changes automatically. Unfortunately, many professionals are not aware of the capabilities offered by these solutions, and keep sending changes as email attachments and merging them manually. Believe it or not, these professionals include software engineers and computer science researchers…

I think we can do better than that…

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The Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread Experiment

Back in 2010, I found myself explaining why the Italian chocolate-hazelnut spread Nutella1 is better than its Norwegian imitation competitor Nugatti to my colleagues at the University of Bergen. Yes, like most Italians, I often brag about Italian food.

One of my colleagues challenged me: “I bet what you want that if I give you a slice of bread with Nutella and another one with Nugatti, you will not recognise the difference.”

I answered: “I bet what you want that I will recognise the difference between Nutella and three other spreads, while blindfolded.”

A few weeks later, I ran the first chocolate-hazelnut spread test at the University of Bergen. The test aimed at verifying if it is possible to recognise chocolate-hazelnut spreads while blindfolded.

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28 Oct 2010: Me tasting one of the four chocolate-hazelnut spread samples. Photo by Federico Mancini.

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We can put an end to imperial units

“In metric, one milliliter of water occupies one cubic centimeter, weighs one gram, and requires one calorie1 of energy to heat up by one degree centigrade—which is 1 percent of the difference between its freezing point and its boiling point. An amount of hydrogen weighing the same amount has exactly one mole of atoms in it. Whereas in the American system, the answer to ‘How much energy does it take to boil a room-temperature gallon of water?’ is ‘Go fuck yourself,’ because you can’t directly relate any of those quantities.” Wild Thing by Josh Bazell.

I have not read Wild Thing and I do not have any idea about who Josh Bazell is, but I absolutely love this quote, as it brilliantly summarises how superior the International System of Units (i.e., the modern form of the metric system) is to the system of imperial units, as shown in the following illustration:

Visual comparison of metric and imperial units

Yet, nowadays…

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

What is today’s date? If you answered this question with August 27, 2016 (read August the twenty-seventh, two thousand and sixteen), you should go on reading.

The day-month-year date format (e.g., 27 August 2016) is officially adopted by the vast majority of the world’s countries.

The year-month-date date format (e.g., 2016-08-27) 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., August 27, 2016) 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

Yet, nowadays…

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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.

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