Dear Norwegian, our thing is over

Dear Norwegian,

I am a frequent traveller, and I have been one of your loyal customers for about ten years. I have always experienced excellent service from you, and I have always recommended you to all my friends and family. I used to be one of your greatest fans. At least this was the case until I came to the gate of flight DY1550 from Oslo to Budapest on 25 September:

Ground personnel one: “Sir, you have two pieces of hand luggage, so we need to check them.”

My luggage consisted of a Rimowa Salasa Ultralight Cabin Multiwheel (dimensions 55 x 40 x 20 cm) and a Dicota Notebook Backpack Light (dimensions 47 x 33 x 20 cm). The size of the luggage was fine, but the Rimowa weighed 7.4 Kg and the Dicota 5.4 Kg, for a grand total of 12.8 Kg.

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My infamous hand luggage

Ground personnel one: “I am sorry, but your luggage weighs 12.8 Kg and the maximum allowed is 10 Kg. We have to check your luggage, and you have to pay 400 NOK.”

Me: “Madam, I am on a business trip. Once I arrive at Budapest airport, I will only have one hour and 20 minutes to get to Budapest Keleti train station, buy a train ticket to Bratislava at the international ticket office1, and board the train. I have two pieces of checked luggage included in the ticket, but in order to minimise the risk of missing the train, I have decided to take hand luggage only. If I miss the train, I will be in serious trouble. Is an excess weight of 2.8 Kg that much of a problem?”

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My ticket including two pieces of checked luggage

Ground personnel one: “Sir, too many passengers have broken the rules and brought excessive weight on board lately. We have to ensure that passengers obey the rules.”

Me: “Well, as we speak, other passengers are bringing hand luggage that looks much bigger and heavier than mine…”

Another ground personnel—who had probably started the day off on the wrong foot—jumped into the conversation:

Ground personnel two: “Don’t you understand that it doesn’t help to quarrel!? Don’t you understand that it doesn’t help to point at other passengers!? You have been caught with excessive weight. We will check your luggage and you will pay 400 NOK. Period.”

He used the term “caught,” seriously… Like I was committing a misdemeanour.

At this point, I avoided answering to be polite. I gave them the Rimowa and paid the 400 NOK fine fee. Yes, according to the rules, I was wrong and they were right. Yet, given my risk of missing the train to Bratislava, they should have shown some consideration. Eventually, I lost 20 minutes to collect my Rimowa at Budapest airport. Fortunately, I managed to catch the train at the last minute, but I arrived at my destination with a lot of unnecessary frustration and stress.

I have never experienced anything like this in my ten years as a frequent traveller. Not even Ryanair has fallen so low. One thing is certain: from now on I will give priority to SAS and other airlines over yours.

I have some friendly advice: stop this excessive strictness right now. Your hard-line policy seems to aim at exploiting customers rather than offering them a better service, which may give you the reputation of being cheap—as in “of little worth because achieved in a discreditable way”—rather than just low-cost. Getting rid of this reputation is extremely difficult, especially among business passengers, and you do not want to be placed into the same basket as Ryanair.

All my very best,
Alessandro Rossini, Ph.D.

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 October 1, 2016 (read October the first, two thousand and sixteen), you should go on reading.

The day-month-year date format (e.g., 1 October 2016) is officially adopted by the vast majority of the world’s countries.

The year-month-date date format (e.g., 2016-10-01) 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., October 1, 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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