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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.

Read more…

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.»

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.

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
me@joebloggs.com
+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

BEGIN:VCARD
VERSION:4.0
N:Bloggs;Joe;;;
FN:Joe Bloggs
EMAIL;TYPE=home;PREF=1:me@joebloggs.com
TEL;TYPE="cell,home";PREF=1:tel:+44 20 1234 5678
ADR;TYPE=home;PREF=1:;;1 Trafalgar Square;London;;WC2N;United Kingdom
URL;TYPE=home;PREF=1:http://joebloggs.com
IMPP;TYPE=home;PREF=1:skype:joe.bloggs
X-SOCIALPROFILE;TYPE=home;PREF=1:twitter:https://twitter.com/joebloggs
END:VCARD

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:

X-SOCIALPROFILE;TYPE=home;PREF=1:twitter:https://twitter.com/joebloggs

Apple Contacts (version 7.1)

BEGIN:VCARD
VERSION:3.0
N:Bloggs;Joe;;;
FN:Joe Bloggs
EMAIL;type=INTERNET;type=HOME;type=pref:me@joebloggs.com
TEL;type=CELL;type=VOICE;type=pref:+44 20 1234 5678
ADR;type=HOME;type=pref:;;1 Trafalgar Square;London;;WC2N;United Kingdom
item1.URL;type=pref:http://joebloggs.com
item1.X-ABLabel:_$!<HomePage>!$_
IMPP;X-SERVICE-TYPE=Skype;type=HOME;type=pref:skype:joe.bloggs
X-SOCIALPROFILE;type=twitter:https://twitter.com/joebloggs
END:VCARD

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:

item1.URL;type=pref:http://joebloggs.com
item1.X-ABLabel:_$!<HomePage>!$_

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:

URL;type=HOME;type=pref:http://joebloggs.com

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

X-SOCIALPROFILE;type=twitter:https://twitter.com/joebloggs

Cobook (version 1.1.6)

BEGIN:VCARD
VERSION:3.0
N:Bloggs;Joe;;;
FN:Joe Bloggs
item1.EMAIL;type=INTERNET:me@joebloggs.com
item1.X-ABLabel:_$!<Home>!$_
item2.TEL;type=VOICE:+44 20 1234 5678
item2.X-ABLabel:_$!<Mobile>!$_
item3.ADR:;;1 Trafalgar Square;London;;WC2N;United Kingdom
item3.X-ABLabel:_$!<Home>!$_
item4.URL:http://joebloggs.com
item4.X-ABLabel:_$!<Home>!$_
item5.IMPP;X-SERVICE-TYPE=Skype:x-apple:joe.bloggs
item5.X-ABLabel:_$!<Home>!$_
X-SOCIALPROFILE;type=Twitter;x-user=joebloggs:https://twitter.com/joebloggs
END:VCARD

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)

BEGIN:VCARD
VERSION:3.0
N:Bloggs;Joe;;;
FN:Joe Bloggs
EMAIL;TYPE=INTERNET;TYPE=HOME:me@joebloggs.com
TEL;TYPE=CELL:+44 20 1234 5678
ADR;TYPE=HOME:;;1 Trafalgar Square;London;;WC2N;United Kingdom
item1.URL:http\://joebloggs.com
item1.X-ABLabel:_$!<HomePage>!$_
X-SKYPE:joe.bloggs
item2.URL:http\://twitter.com/test
item2.X-ABLabel:Twitter
END:VCARD

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:

item1.URL:http\://joebloggs.com
item1.X-ABLabel:_$!<HomePage>!$_

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:

URL;TYPE=HOME:http\://joebloggs.com

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

X-SKYPE:joe.bloggs

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

item2.URL:http\://twitter.com/joebloggs
item2.X-ABLabel:Twitter

Memotoo (15 November 2012)

BEGIN:VCARD
VERSION:2.1
N:Bloggs;Joe;;;
FN:Joe Bloggs
EMAIL;INTERNET;HOME:me@joebloggs.com
TEL;HOME;CELL:+44 20 1234 5678
ADR;HOME:;;1 Trafalgar Square;London;;WC2N;United Kingdom
URL;HOME:http://joebloggs.com
X-SKYPE-USERNAME:joe.bloggs
X-TWITTER:https://twitter.com/joebloggs
END:VCARD

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:

X-SKYPE-USERNAME:joe.bloggs

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

X-TWITTER:https://twitter.com/joebloggs

Conclusion

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.

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.