Arnt Richard Johansen's home page

The sun is that far away?

UltraSun: VÃ¥r eneste konkurrent er 93 millioner mil unna... The slogan for this tanning studio says Our only competitor is 930 million kilometers away.

Yes indeed. The Norwegian mil is equal to ten kilometers. Presumably, the competitor to which they refer is probably the Sun — which is roughly 150 million kilometers away, or about 93 million imperial miles.

The UltraSun chain doesn't appear to be active in any English-speaking country, which makes the use of imperial units in Norwegian all the more odd, since it can't be attributed simply to a careless translation of some English slogan.

[Tuesday, Jul 04, 2006 @ 10:02] | [] | # | G

Kakebaking som straff

Da jeg lette gjennom bokhylla for å finne noe å lese på før jeg gikk og la meg i går kveld, fant jeg noen sammenstiftede A4-ark klemt inn mellom to tidsskriftkassetter. Den tynne blekka viste seg å være utkast til samarbeidsavtale for EiT-gruppa vår fra 2004.

Den såkalte samarbeidsavtalen brukes visst fremdeles i Eksperter i Team. EiT er jo et temmelig spesielt fag i universitetssammenheng, siden alle på hver gruppe får samme karakter. Det er derfor viktig å sørge for at arbeidet blir rettferdig fordelt, og at eventuelle konflikter blir løst før de fører til at grunnlaget for karaktersetting faller bort. Hensikten med samarbeidsavtalen er å regulere dette, men forslaget til standard avtale beskrev et rigid kontrollregime av en annen verden (dette ser ut til å være den nåværende versjonen, men slik jeg husker det fra 2004 var det enda verre). Gruppa vår bestod av veldig flinke og fornuftige mennesker, så vi radbrakk standardavtalen til den ble akseptabel for oss – og altså helt forskjellig fra den opprinnelige. Jeg skal ikke gå særskilt inn på detaljene, men ville bare dele med dere en paragraf jeg likte spesielt, fordi den var skrevet så bra:

5.1. Tiltak ved mislighold
Kommer man 20 minutter eller mer for sent, skal man servere kake på neste ordinære møte. Kaken skal ikke inneholde marsipan eller nøtter, skal inneholde høyst moderate mengder fløtekrem, og det skal være nok til alle. Kaken skal være hjemmebakt. Subsidiært kan en kake kjøpt på bakeri eller konditori godtas, såfremt den er av tilsvarende eller høyere kvalitet enn en hjemmebakt kake.

Det var ingen som kom for sent i løpet av hele semesteret, så den kom aldri til anvendelse. Dessverre.

[Thursday, May 25, 2006 @ 19:25] | [] | # | G

Ego satisfaction

Yesterday evening I was listening to the podcast of the Norwegian radio programme Språkteigen, which is about the Norwegian language, and language in general. The last topic in the programme from April 6th (mp3, this direct link will probably disappear soon) was creaky voice. After a barrage of examples of creaky voices, a normal voice started reading the following passage:

Knirkestemme eller laryngalisering er en form for fonasjon der arytenoidbruskene i strupehodet dras tettere sammen enn normalt og stemmeleppene strammes ekstra opp. Det gjør at luftgjennomstrømmingen blir lavere og vibrasjonsfrekvensen går ned til omkring 20–50 pulser per sekund.

After the first ten words or so, this started to sound eerily familiar. Hadn't I read that before somewhere? Maybe it was from one of my old phonetics textbooks, but I had doubts that any textbook in Norwegian had this much physiological detail. Then it hit me. The reason it sounded familiar was that I had written it! It was a quote from the article on creaky voice on the Bokmål Wikipedia.

Of course my name wasn't mentioned (Wikipedia articles are written collaboratively, after all), but it sure was fun to hear my own text on national radio!

[Monday, Apr 10, 2006 @ 15:54] | [] | # | G

New game invented

So. You've visited every geocache in the area that is available in winter. There are no interesting waymarks nearby, and you lack the determination to go to a degree confluence. What other ways are there to have fun with a GPS receiver?

The answer lies in a pair of dice. Or, as we shall soon discover, about 3 to 5 of them. The idea is to pick out a random set of coordinates, and see where they will take you. You could just do it the old-fashioned way by throwing a dart at a map, but who has a map that size, and a dart-proof wall on which to hang it? Besides, part of the fun lies in not knowing where you end up until you get there. Or at least, as close to the spot as possible. The second time I did this, the exact point turned out to be in the middle of a heavily trafficked road. Obviously going all the way to the spot could have some, ahem, adverse health effects.

There are a couple of challenges involved in rolling geographical coordinates with dice. First, obviously you can't roll the DGS coordinate set in its entirety, unless you are prepared to go on a circumnavigation. (Well, maybe you do want to find out where in the world you are going to spend the next holiday. But for me, who just wants to go for a walk for a few kilometers, it's absurd to include the whole world in the probability space.) So you have to limit the set of possible locations somehow.

My first approach involved keeping degrees and minutes the same, and rolling seconds and tenths of seconds, 3 x 2 digits in all. Use a d6 for the first digit (interpreting 6 as 0), and a d10 for the two last one. It is also possible to use a d10 for all digits, but then you have to re-roll if you get a value above 6 for the first digit. That gets tedious after a while.

The problem with the above is that if you don't find yourself smack in the middle of the degree-minute square, you're more likely to walk in one direction than in another. The walking distance will also be skewed. The solution to this is to not roll actual coordinates, but the distance and direction from your current position — sort of a polar coordinate system with you in the origo. The distance part of this is the easiest part. It depends on how long you are willing to put up with walking. I used a d10 to roll the number of tenths of kilometers (the lowest resolution my GPS receiver accepts for making one waypoint the offset of another), and the value of a d4 modulo 2 for deciding whether or not to add an extra kilometer, making the maximal distance 1.9 km. You can also add several dice with the same number of sides to get a binomial distribution centered on half the maximal value.

Now here comes the tricky part: direction. (The denizens of #tut will now understand why I have been pestering them about how to ensure linear distibution while rolling the values from 1 to 360.) You can't roll it digit by digit, because if you roll 0 to 3 with, say, a d4 (subtracting one from the value), each of the digits will be equally likely, when in fact 3 has only a 61 in 360 chance of occurring, while 0 has 99 in 360, and 1 and 2 both have 100 in 360.

What I did was to use two d6 and one d10. First, take the value of the first d6, counting 6 as 0, and multiply it by 60. Then, take the value of the second d6, again counting 6 as 0, and multiply it by ten. Finally, take the value of the d10, counting 0 as 10, and sum the final values of all the dice. This gives a result from 1 to 360 that is linearly distributed.

[Saturday, Mar 25, 2006 @ 18:14] | [] | # | G

Sometimes you can't write a melody...

...that is both good, short, and does not accidentally quote something.

I have noticed that when a plane has parked, they almost always sound a signal like this on the speakers:

[picture of music]

I am strongly tempted to whistle the completion, so that the full melody would go like this:

[picture of music]

This far I've never done that.

[Monday, Jan 09, 2006 @ 23:31] | [] | # | G

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] | [] | # | G


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

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

Back from Joensuu

I love Finnish edamer.


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


Woke up before the alarm clock rang this morning. I turned my head, hoping beyond hope that it was still in the middle of the night, so I could get a few more hours of sleep.


Geez, how typical. Four minutes early. And this is not the first time. Sometimes my biological clock is tormenting me with its precision.

[Thursday, Mar 10, 2005 @ 14:56] | [] | # | G favourites

A while ago, I discovered the free movie archives at There are lots of fun videos there. One of the most downloaded videos is Perversion for Profit (downloadable in two parts), a 1964 propaganda movie in which George Putnam spends half an hour continuosly ranting against pornography. Personally, I find Come Join the Fun even more amusing, as it is an edited version of the above, in which George Putnam appears to have the totally oppsite opinion. I think people who form their opinions mostly out of what they see and hear on TV and the radio should watch this movie and compare it to the original, since it demonstrates, in a striking manner, how much you can distort what a person says, simply by splicing and pasting together the video.

Other highlights include Pipe Dream, a computer animation of a collection of music instruments played solely by steel balls shot out of PVC tubing, and The Turing Test, a computer-rendered game show in which three (partly fictionalized) AIs compete against each other about who can provide the most human-sounding answers.

[Thursday, Nov 25, 2004 @ 18:06] | [] | # | G