Why all American drivers are telepathic

Arriving in California this summer we noticed the strangest of phenomena: The four way all stop crossing. 

We watched in bewilderment as cars approached the crossings, stopped and then decided on who was to go first based on some type of mind reading. We were unable to detect any clear pattern on which car was to go first.

In Norway this is simple: You give way to the car from the right, unless there are traffic lights or a roundabout. Europeans love roundabouts.

Not so in America. The Avis guy told us that Americans also had to give way to cars from the right. He was at loss at explaining what do to if four cars arrived simultaneously — which happens all the time if the traffic is dense.

In the end we found that the system works because Americans drivers actually learn this kind of Jedi mind trick when getting their driving licenses. We also found that my wife and dedicated driver Susanne is a natural. Or maybe the Americans were just polite, helping her along. 

Originally published on August 24 2011

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The Icelanders are conquering Norway

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Nothing is real until you have described it with hard numbers and statistics. Anyone discussing immigration and “multiculturalism” knows this.

It turns out however, that the real threat for Norway does not come from Muslims, but from Iceland.

Sigve Indregard presents numbers documenting a growth of 60 percent in the number of Icelanders from 2009 to 2011 (from 3749 to 6022). Given that there are only 5 million people living in Norway, you may think that this does not amount to much.

Indregard, however, has made a prognosis for the next 90 years based on this rate, and proves that there will be as many as 60,000 Icelanders in 2021, 72 million in 2041 and 6000 billion in 2100!

By then, of course, Norwegian culture will be dead, replaced by Svartadaudir and Snorre.

I knew it, the recent introduction of Skyr (a kind of Icelandic yoghurt) in the Norwegian market, was just the first step in a hostile colonisation of Norway.

Originally posted on August 5 2011

The Samsonite five year warranty is worth nothing

My wife and I travel a lot, and we have learned that buying cheap suitcases can cost you. On one trip to Britain we needed to buy a badly damaged suitcase, and was forced to buy a cheap one. It lasted one trip ony and is now use to store clothes in the attic.

So we have normally bought Samsonite suitcases, as they are known to be sturdy. That being said, we have twice been forced to go back to the store because of damage, and every time we have faced the same strange Catch 22 situation:

“Yes, sir/ma’am, there is indeed a five year guarantee, but that is for production errors. This suitcase was damaged during transport.”

“So you are saying the warranty is void because we have used the Samsonite suitcase for travelling?”

“Yes, the warranty is only for manfacturing defects.”

“Ah, but we have used this suitcase only once, from London. Isn’t a Samsonite meant to be able to handle the hardship of one flight?”

“I don’t know about that, sir, but Samsonite won’t reimburse us for a new suitcase if the old one was damaged during transport.”

“Hm, but the reason we bought Samsonite is because they promote their strength and their warranty. Isn’t this close to fraud?”

“The warranty clearly states it covers only manufacturing defects and does not cover any damage caused by misuse, neglect, accidents, abrasion, exposure to extreme temperatures, solvents, acids, water, normal wear and tear or transport damage — by airlines for example.”

“I see, but you do understand that manufacturing defects are already covered by Norwegian consumer laws. You will have to replace such a suitcase for no cost, anyway, so what is the bl&%/(y point in having a Samsonite warranty?”

“That’s the way it is, sir”

Originally posted on June 12 2011

On policy learning and innovation in STI governance

Originally posted on April 12 2011.

Innovation policy is normally about innovation in industry. Lately the policy field has expanded to include the public and civil sectors. But what about the innovation policy makers themselves? Do they innovate.

In this Powerpoint presentation, which was originally prepared for the science polcy Gordon Conference in 2010, I look at how policy learning must be seen as part of a larger arena consisting of policy makers, researchers, stakeholders and politicians.

Much of this thinking is based on research done in STEP/NIFU STEP and the EU 5th Framework Programme Project PUBLIN, as well as on my own experience as a civil servant and research and innovation policy maker.

There is nothing obvious about user interfaces

There is a general agreement that the windows-based user interface that was invented by Xerox, adapted by Apple and then stolen by Microsoft was a huge improvement vis-a-vis the cursor and text-based user interfaces of earlier computers.

Nowadays most people take the use of the mouse and idea of gathering files in folders as obvious. It was not.

During my days as a young civil servant in the Norwegian Ministry of Education, Research and Church Affairs (don’t ask!) in the early 1990’s I became one of the local “PC user helpers” and was given the task of explaining the concept of files and folders to people who had no idea of how a computer worked.

I remember that i found a card box and put paper-folders and paper sheet into those folder to illustrate the concepts of the hard drive (the box), the folder (the folder) and the paper sheet (the file).

If I didn’t many of them would just hit the save button, having no idea about where the file went. They were not stupid, but no one had explained to them the basic concepts of computing.

Very few user interfaces are obvious. The uses of a water basin tap, a radio volume button, or a screw driver are all learned behavior.

Anyone who have been to one of the modern “designer hotels” know this, as they suddenly find themselves unable to turn off the lights (where is that light switch?) or get running water in the shower (what button to push or turn, and which way?)

Here is a very funny video from the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation that describes this dilemma in a wonderful way. It is taken from the show “Øystein og jeg” from 2001. Øystein Backe plays the helper from the help desk and Rune Gokstad is a desperate monk trying to understand how to use — a book! There are English subtitles.

(By the way, the book was not introduced in the Middle Ages, but in late antiquity.)