Arnt Richard Johansen's home page

Dynamic Nigerian spam collection

Political map of Africa with countries from which I have received scam e-mails marked Thanks to the many people who have responded to an earlier post by sending in 419 scam e-mails from their inboxes, I am now more than halfway on my goal of collecting one spam from each African country. This is mostly due to Vegard Engen, but the most recent additions, Tunisia and Libya were forwarded to me by Scott Worley. A big thanks to all of you.

And, of course, if you are from Algeria, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, the Central African Republic, Chad, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Mozambique, Niger, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, the Seychelles, Somalia, or Tanzania, please send me your urgent business proposal.

[Friday, Dec 16, 2005 @ 16:10] | [miscellaneous] | # | G

Lorsta Bø lives on!

This just in:

The Norwegian Loran C stations will not be shut down on January 1st after all, as I said they would be in my previous post.

The Norwegian government announced today that they are going to propose to the Parliament that the Loran C stations at Jan Mayen, Berlevåg, Bø and Værlandet are to be kept operative throughout 2006. By doing this, they are bowing to pressure from several European countries who want to have Loran C remain as a backup system in case GPS fails.

Links to news stories (in Norwegian): NRK Nordland, Vesterålen Online

[Friday, Dec 09, 2005 @ 18:48] | [tech] | # | G

Technological nostalgia

One of the things I have come to enjoy in Pirbadet (Trondheim's newest and largest swimming pool) is the fountains or showers that spray warm water in the small north-eastern pool. Whenever I stand under them with my head touching the surface of the water, I get a soothing sense of 里心[?]. This is because the splashing of the shower when it hits the surface of the water sounds almost exactly the same as the clattering noise of Loran-C.

Due to the proximity to the Loran-C station at Bø, this is a ubiquitous sound back home. It can be received on long-wave radios on frequencies far above its nominal 100 kHz. In the days of analogue telephone, RFI was a constant annoyance to those who lived within a 10 km radius of the antenna. Even when not audible, it affected modem users.

I miss it. And it is going to be a sad day when Lorsta Bø is shut down on January 1, 2006. But technology must progress, I suppose. This is the age of the GPS, and Loran is no longer a necessary navigation aid.

[Friday, Nov 25, 2005 @ 11:33] | [tech] | # | G

The man who sued God

The man who sued God in 25 words or less:

Good plot idea ruined by bad screenwriting. Expected courtroom drama, got sitcom, slapstick and love story instead. Normally eloquent lead character sometimes inexplicably tongue-tied.

[Monday, Oct 31, 2005 @ 12:08] | [art] | # | G


I recently tried drinking mate. To my surprise, it tasted somewhat like grass...

[Monday, Oct 31, 2005 @ 12:08] | [miscellaneous] | # | G


I just realised that procrastinate is a monosyllabic word in my native language.

Well, it appears as sæme in this dictionary, but my dialect has apocope, so it reduces to /²sæ:m/.

Sæm ivei!

[Saturday, Sep 10, 2005 @ 23:33] | [miscellaneous] | # | G

Gell-Mann proposes experiment to determine that there is only one fundamental particle

I had a dream last night that for a long time, there had been plans afoot to test the hypothesis that there is only one fundamental particle in the universe. If I recall correctly, the Standard Model of particle physics actually predicts that all electrons are really one and the same, but that it just appears everywhere at the same time. In my dream, this applied to all particles, and it was actually testable.

I was watching a documentary about this on Discovery Channel, where they said that the traditionally proposed way of determining this was to use sensors on the moon under very specific astronomical conditions. Particle physicists had tried to persuade the Apollo program to deploy these sensors during their missions in the early 70s, but to no avail — the theory was simply too avant-garde back then, and it was pushed back in favour of more immediately useful experiments. Subsequent cuts in the space program had caused there to be no new missions to the moon, which was a pity, since the necessary constellation of the planets was just now about to repeat itself.

Now Murray Gell-Mann came on the screen, and he proposed a completely new experimental setup that didn't need any equipment on the moon. Everything that was needed, he said, was for a few hundred thousands of people to drink a glass of water simultaneously, and perform a simple measurement. Presumably they would time how long it took to do this, but details were vague. Statistical analysis of the data would be sufficient to confirm or reject a key part of the theoretical machinery that predicted all fundamental particles to be identical.

Then I woke up, and felt very thirsty. I staggered out into the kitchen, and — you guessed it — guzzled a large glass of water.

[Friday, Aug 26, 2005 @ 11:47] | [science] | # | G

Does green tea taste like grass?

Those of us who like green tea are often told that it tastes like grass. I always though that that was nonsense. But in the back of my mind, I thought to myself maybe they actually know what they are talking about? Maybe it really does taste like grass? I decided to find out.

First, some operational assumptions of my experiment:

  1. Similarity of taste is a symmetric relationship. Hence, if green tea tastes like grass, grass must also taste like green tea.
  2. When people compare green tea to grass, they mean fresh grass.

It can be very dangerous to ingest plants if you don't know if they are poisonous or not. Luckily, I know a botany PhD, and he told me that all grasses in Norway are safe to brew tea on.

Step 1. Harvest

I was considering to collect grass from the lawn, but since it has been mowed recently, it would be difficult or impossible for me to tell whether I was harvesting actual grass, or some kind of weed that could possibly be poisonous. So for safety I opted for a place farther out in the terrain, where I could see the entire plant.

Step 2. Cut up

Coarsely cut grass on cutting board I did not bother to cut the grass very finely, as shown in the picture.

Step 3. Brew

Casserole with tea strainer immersed in a light green liquid I had no idea what a reasonable brewing time and temperature for fresh grass is, so I tried eight minutes at sub-boiling temperature (about 85°C) for starters, as is recommended for green tea. It seemed to have worked fairly well.

Step 4. Taste

The grass that I harvested tasted nothing like green tea at all. It tasted like... well, taste is mostly smell anyway, so the aroma I sensed when chewing on fresh grass was about the same that you can smell on a freshly mowed lawn or in a silo.

Glass with bright green transparent liquid The grass tea, on the other hand, tasted completely different from both green tea and fresh grass. It was quite acidic, more so than any other tea I've tasted. It reminded me most of all of black currant toddy, but that description really does not do it justice — it was a quite remarkable taste, but neither pleasant nor unpleasant.


There is no valid basis at all for saying that green tea tastes like grass.

Brewing teas on grass is not as preposterous as it sounds, and it may be reasonable to try experimenting with different types of grasses.

[Tuesday, Aug 02, 2005 @ 02:07] | [science] | # | G

The Romanticism Challenge, part 2: holism vs. reductionism

For those of you who read this through syndication (hi, #tut and Samfundet!) a short summary: slightly more than two weeks ago, I visited Anders to listen to parts of his classical music collection. The aim was to test my claim that music from the romantic period is consistently unappealing to me.

My original plan was to post my ratings and time period guesses for each and every song. As we spent five and a half hours listening to in excess of seventy tracks, I think that would bore rather than educate my readers.

My time period guesses, while better than random, were not very accurate. Some of them were probably deliberate attempts by Anders to mislead me. For instance, take a look at these examples:

  • My notes: String quartet, possibly from the Classical era. Some elements of early baroque pastiche.
  • My guess: Late Classicism, ca. 1775.
  • What it actually was: Johan Halvorsen: passacaglia for violin and viola («Fritt etter Händel»)
  • My notes: I don't really grasp this one.
  • My guess: Mid-romanticism, ca. 1850
  • What it actually was: Paul McCartney: Midwife

On the other hand, I am disappointed that I misidentified Gregorio Allegri's wonderful renaissance work Miserere. I found the harmonies much to advanced and refined to be a Renaissance work, and the usage of Gregorian plainsong wasn't consistent with the strict schemes of the Baroque era. So I guessed that it had to be a late romantic piece from ca. 1920 that was deliberately using pieces of Gregorian plainsong as a sort of period colour. Since I claim to really like renaissance music, this ought to be a piece of cake for me. Obviously, it was not.

After about four hours, Anders was busy compiling my reactions to the diverse pieces of music into hypotheses about which qualities about the music appealed to me, and which did not. I don't know what they were, but in the end they all proved wrong, and he culled massive amounts of works from the queue, because he no longer saw a point in showing them to me. He was not able to consistently anticipate my reaction to any of the tracks.

Anders' tentative explanation for this was that I perceived music in a fundamentally different way than himself and other people who like romantic music. In my reactions to the pieces he had played, he noticed that I had some kind of obsession with consonance/dissonance, harmony, chord progressions, and indeed how individual notes sounds together. I would frequently note that the composer was on to something but then squandered the chance and was derailed. It would never occur to music connoisseurs to say something like that, he said, because they perceive the entire composition as an indivisible whole.

Now, I have a suspicion that the reason you don't hear music cognoscenti say such things is that they hold the composer and the integrity of their work in a too high regard. But if we are to take the proposition that they listen to music this way at face value, what does it feel like to them? At first, I thought it must be rather like watching a film or play, or reading a book: you care about the characters and the progression of the story, rather than deriving pleasure from the vibrant colours and balanced composition of individual takes or the poetic sound of a few sentences. Likewise, to really get romantic music, it might be that the music perception has to be lifted to a whole new level of abstraction.

But on further thought, that can't be the whole story. It is quite possible to like part of a film, but hate the way it ends. For its story, not for lower-level points of esthetics. Likewise, it should be possible to focus on the whole of a long work of classical music, while still noticing weaknesses or strengths in the parts.

Anders also mentioned that my reactions to music was reminiscent of that of those with synesthesia. I do actually have some low level of synesthesia, so it's an interesting thought. But I doubt that it really has anything to do with it, since my perception of musical structures, after all, seems to be at a higher level of abstraction than those properties usually associated with synesthesia.

While I am as far as ever from grasping what is so great about those works from the romantic era that is generally considered great, I was lucky to be presented with a few nuggets of gold among Anders' collection of classics.

In particular, a serendipitous moment was when I was presented with a piece by Shostakovitch, which I've now forgotten the title of. The point is that I almost immediately identified it as something by some Brazilian composer that I'd heard on a concert by The Student Society Orchestra maybe two years ago. It turned out that Anders knew which one I was talking about — it was Aria (Cantilena) from Bachianas Brasileiras no. 5 by Heitor Villa-Lobos. I'd totally forgotten what the name of that composer was.

After having bought a few more works by Villa-Lobos, I now have come to the conclusion that I seem to like more than half of the music written by him. This is unique among non-Baroque composers of Western classical music.

Other highlights include:

  • Dmitri Shostakovitch has written music in the style of earlier eras, including a wonderful, wonderful Baroque fugue which I (again) forgot to write down the name of.
  • Ippolitov-Ivanov

[Sunday, Jul 17, 2005 @ 00:00] | [miscellaneous] | # | G

Yes, yes. It's coming.

Some of you are probably eagerly awaiting the followup to the previous entry. All I have to say is that it comes when it comes. We discovered a lot of interesting things on Saturday, I just have to finish typing it up. As I seem to have developed a case of RSI, that might however take a while. Sorry.

[Monday, Jul 04, 2005 @ 17:09] | [meta] | # | G

The Romanticism Challenge, part 1

So, for the past six months or so I have been trying to like classical music from the romantic era (ca. 1815 - 1900). This probably requires some explanation. After all, most people regard their musical taste as just that: a matter of taste, which is, for the most part if not entirely, impossible to influence by conscious choice.

On the contrary, my ideas about esthetics in music is mostly influenced by Robert Jourdain's book Music, the Brain, and Ecstacy. Jourdain argues that what we perceive as beauty in music are based on small breaks with expectation (deviations from a convention), which set up a tension, which is subsequently released through the return to that convention. This is the reason that musical styles we are overly familiar with starts to sound trite, because what previously was a break with the convention now has become part of the convention itself. It also provides a plausible explanation for why I don't appreciate romantic music: since I am not familiar with the underlying musical idiom, I cannot notice the breaks from that idiom that creates all the magic.

If this is true, all I need to do should then be to listen to as much romantic music as I can, so that my experiences when listening to this kind of music should be mostly equivalent to that of those who are familiar with the period.

I told Anders on IRC yesterday that Western classical music composed after the Classical era sounded dull and uninspiring, and that I much prefer baroque music. I have told the same thing to classical music lovers several times, and they are invariably perplexed by the idea. So was Anders. And he was incredulous.

So he proposed to do some empirical research. The idea is to have a blind test: today, he will play compositions from his record collection, without telling which authors and from what period they are. Then, I will rate them on a scale of good vs. bad, and guess which period they belong to.

This is really a win-win situation for me: either I will be able to do this consistently, and hence conclude that romanticism really isn't anything for me (and get an ego boost on top of it), or I will get to know some good romantic music, and be introduced to a much larger musical terrain than I thought was possible.

When I told Anders after geek pizza that my classical music taste was mainly limited to Bach, Händel, Buxtehude, Telemann and Haydn, he got an expression of dread on his face. I'm not sure I can do this, he said. But I'll try. Many people have attempted to get me to like romantic music, but failed. Hopefully, this time it will be more successful. Or at least, that I will be able to learn something from it.

Watch this space, and Anders' blog, for updates.

[Saturday, Jul 02, 2005 @ 14:01] | [miscellaneous] | # | G

Sugar Power

I stole this sugar cube at the restaurant Rosso in Joensuu:
This is going to be my new motto.

[Tuesday, May 24, 2005 @ 18:53] | [miscellaneous] | # | G

Back from Joensuu

I love Finnish edamer.


[Tuesday, May 24, 2005 @ 13:56] | [miscellaneous] | # | G

Stagnant Nigerian spam collection

My Nigerian spam collection seems to be growing a bit slowly at the moment, so I decided to advertise it a bit by writing up a small page explaining my goals. If you have any of these lying in your inbox, I'd be very happy to have it forwarded!

[Wednesday, May 04, 2005 @ 20:11] | [miscellaneous] | # | G


It made me sad to hear that Bosnia and Hercegovina's national anthem from 1995, Jedna i Jedina, had been retired only a few years after its adoption. I realize that the lyrics may have been too Bosnian-oriented to use in a multiethnic state, but that melody was sooo beautiful. I have a CD with 60 or so national anthems, played by the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra. I always thought that the Bosnian hymn was the best of the lot.

Yesterday, John Cowan sent me a pointer to National Anthems Reference Page, which has MIDI files, lyrics and sheet music for most national anthems, and some other hymns. This site rekindled my fascination with national anthems, and I decided to do some research to find out which anthem, since the old Bosnian anthem was replaced, is the world's nicest.

So now I've heard through maybe three quarters of the songs on the site, including those I've already heard elsewhere. Guess which non-fictional, current national anthem is at the top of my list?

Yes, indeed. The new Bosnian national anthem, made official in 1998, by the title of Intermeco. These people really know how to make patriotic music!

[Thursday, Mar 31, 2005 @ 14:58] | [reviews] | # | G