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 the Bergen University College, and it seems that funding is less problematic there. 😉

The conference was well organised and covered 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 considerably different. Spoken Danish sounds like a continuous stream of (guttural) noises 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 correctly.

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 fossilised 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. 😉

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 in Zurich, and despite the promises of the railway’s 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 well. The ETH, which hosted the conference, is located on top of a hill with a spectacular 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 in 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 hometown 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. 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.

Marburg and FASE’09

I have the feeling that my blog is slowly becoming just a collection of reports about my trips. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but a bit more of variety would be better. Anyway, here I am once more talking about research and travelling.

During March I had two trips. The first was to Marburg, a little town about one hour train north of Frankfurt, Germany. This trip was not due to a conference, but because I needed to work together with my colleague Adrian—who was spending three months as a visiting researcher at the Philipp University—on a paper which we had to submit for a journal publication. We managed to get finished with the paper and to submit it, and fortunately, we also had time to hang out.

Marburg is a lovely university town; it reminds me a bit L’Aquila, at least the L’Aquila I am familiar with. I stayed one week in a king sized room of a guest house, with furniture from the beginning of the 20th century and a bathroom that was probably bigger than the room I have in Bergen. 🙂 No, I did not have travelling budget to waste, on the contrary, I tried to spare. Nevertheless, this was the cheapest solution available since Marburg was hosting a big conference on Medicine during the same week, and all the hotels were fully booked. I learned something funny while in Marburg: many of the public toilets in Germany have a particular sink specifically designed to… puke. 🙂 A local PhD student commented about this with “We have strong drinking traditions in Germany…” Brilliant!

The second trip was to York, as always together with Adrian, to attend the FASE 2009 conference, part of ETAPS. Here I presented our last paper “A Category-Theoretical Approach to the Formalisation of Version Control in MDE.” I was confident, and I am satisfied with the presentation. Receiving compliments from colleagues and other researchers was a high reward. The same evening after the presentation we had a “gala dinner”, which was delicious, and we continued the celebrations in the pubs of the city centre. The ale beers from the local breweries helped me to forget about the research carried on in the last months. 🙂 The city of York was somehow fascinating, also because of its history. Founded by Romans in the year 71 and captured by the Vikings in 866, it shares a lot with the history of both my home country and the country where I live now.


As always with some delay, I can finally write a bit about what my experience at the NWPT’08 workshop in Tallinn, Estonia. The trip started immediately with some strong emotions: my colleague Adrian realised that he forgot the passport home just before catching the taxi to the airport, so we asked the driver to run to his place first and to the airport next. Fortunately, we made it, and late in the night, we were in the old city of Tallinn.

The workshop encompassed several theoretical presentations, and I have to admit that I did not understand many of them, but this is probably (hopefully? 🙂 ) normal when people are coming from heterogeneous fields of research. I finally had my first presentation as well. We had indeed two extended abstracts accepted at the workshop, and I presented the one titled “Version Control in MDE.” Despite the initial stage fright, I have to say that the presentation was smooth.

I had the chance to go a bit around the old town of Tallinn during the weekend, and I loved it. There is a lot of history everywhere, and sometimes it seems to be back in time. However, despite the old-fashion look, Tallinn is ahead in time for what concerns the adoption of Internet. In fact, Internet access is available for free everywhere through WiFi. Note that with “for free” I do not mean that you can steal the connection from some unwary network owner, but that the municipality provides it. Estonian people I met seemed helpful and friendly, and most of them were able to speak English fluently. In the end, it was a pleasant experience, except for the last detail…

The journey back to Bergen was a sort of odyssey. We had a connected flight to Bergen, with a stopover in Copenhagen. The day that we were supposed to leave, we woke up in the middle of an extreme snow storm. Our flight was not cancelled, so we had to reach the airport at 16:30, with expected departure at 18:00. The taxi driver had even problems to come to the airport because of loads of snow all over the streets. The situation did not look promising at all, but the Airport kept delaying our flight rather than cancelling it. After waiting many hours at the gate with no precise information, the flight was eventually declared cancelled at 00:00. The airline could not provide us with a hotel since they had to handle many cancellations during the day. After having our flight rescheduled for the day after, we had to come back to our hotel, where they, fortunately, had two rooms available for the night. But the story does not end here. We had the same schedule for the day after, but luck was not with us. The flight took off at 21:00 instead of 18:00, and we apparently missed the connection in Copenhagen. We hoped that they could reschedule us to take the last flight from Copenhagen to Bergen at 22:45, but guess what? It was cancelled due to another snow storm in Stockholm, which meant another night abroad, this time at a Radisson SAS hotel. After more than two days of journey, we finally landed in Bergen the morning after.


One month ago I attended the MoDELS’08 conference in Toulouse, France. Sounds important, isn’t it? 🙂 Well, it was to me. MoDELS’08 has been the first international conference I attended, and I am glad that I started with a relevant one. I had the chance to go there because my colleague Adrian and I had the paper “A Tentative Analysis of the Factors Affecting the Industrial Adoption of MDE“—the first paper accepted in my PhD programme—at the ChaMDE 2008 workshop, a satellite event of the conference.

The six-days conference had plenty of researchers from all over the world, including many of the “big names” in software engineering. Getting in touch with some of them was an honour. Many of the works presented at the conference were interesting. I even learned what “megamodelling” means. In my opinion, megamodelling is the most childish keyword ever appeared in computer science… However, the majority of these works were rather theoretical. The industry may never adopt model-driven engineering if the academy does not (quickly) provide anything useful to them. Of course, theory is fundamental, but sometimes I had the feeling of listening to speakers “selling thin air” rather than showing concrete results. Maybe one day I will be selling thin air as well, who knows… But for the time being it seems to me that research is software engineering is taking a dangerous path.

The city of Toulouse is gorgeous. So old and so modern at the same times, it offers a lot of sightseeing, attractions and restaurants where we had delicious meals and wines. I am waiting to upload a bunch of pictures on Flickr. Unfortunately, my Ubuntu 8.10 provides a buggy version of Digikam, and I have to wait for the developers to read my bug report and fix it.

That’s it folks at the moment. My next destination? NWPT’08 workshop in Tallin, Estonia, where I will have my first presentation. 🙂

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