Monday, April 30, 2012

True democracy – do we have the stomach for it?

22. July 2011 is a date that we Norwegians will never forget. Yet many of us would like to say that it hasn’t changed us. But come on, let’s be honest with ourselves and each other here: No one can go through something like this and not change in any way. No one. Nor, in my opinion, should we want to, because that would be a quite spectacular display of inability to learn from even the most dramatic of events. I say, in this case - as so often in real life - the question is not if we change, but how we change. As individuals. As a society. As a nation. As a democracy. And as members of the human race and citizens of the planet Earth, both of which I personally hold above any and all national, ethnical, religious or political boundaries.

If we keep our minds open to it, there is always something new to learn and there is always something that can be changed to the better. Even after a tragedy like this. And that’s one of the major strengths of an open democracy where people can and do speak their minds: Somebody will always have learned something and if we listen to what they have to say and discuss it with them, we can all learn even more and our entire society can benefit from it in some way none of us have even imagined yet.

One interesting point I have seen raised in the wake of the 22. July attacks is that we should allow the people we consider “extremists” more room in our public debates. Yes, it may seem problematic to some, but consider this for a moment: If democracy is really such a great system, then shouldn’t we trust it? And if we actually trust our democracy, then why would we need laws against certain types of “unwanted” expressions and opinions? Isn’t democracy all about letting everybody speak their mind?

It seems to me like we do have a problem as a democracy when certain thoughts and opinions are considered “unwanted” and a person is practically excluded from participation in an open and public debate once he or she becomes known to have “unwanted” thoughts and opinions on things. First of all, it’s hardly a true democracy when it works like that for some people and second, I believe excluding people in such a way can actually do more harm than good.

For starters, if a person is practically excluded from public debate on the grounds that we don’t like what he or she has to say, then that fact alone goes a long way towards breaking down that person’s respect for our democratic system as a whole. Such people can very easily end up spending countless hours hiding in a room all by themselves, with nothing but their own dark thoughts to keep them company, and/or they get in touch with other “misfits” and join some shady group or another, seeking a sense of community and belonging that the regular society hasn’t given them. Typically, people within such groups will also have some sort of internal democracy and open debate within the group, but that’s just the thing – it’s all within the group, and only the “right” type of opinions are expressed there. So, while the rest of us gradually grow more “rounded” and “colorful” from participation in an open debate involving many different points of view, the “extremists” will only grow more and more “extreme” from participating in their own closed internal debates. Obviously, this is not a good thing and it’s not something we should want to make any kind of contribution to bringing about. In a society - any society – it is practically never a good idea to exclude anyone.

So, next time you hear somebody saying something you don’t like - whether it seems selfish, hateful or just plain stupid – don’t get angry and resort to name calling, but listen to what they have to say – and then tell them what you think about that. No, it’s not easy and it will not always be pleasant. But if you consider yourself a true democrat, I think you should at least give it your best shot.

Or, as a respected Norwegian politician once told a political opponent, "I don't agree with anything you just said, but I'd still die to defend your right to say it."

Monday, April 16, 2012

In search of a justice lost

Today starts the trial of the terrorist who attacked Norway on 22. July 2011. He says he did it to draw attention to his “cause”, thus proving once again the basic point that violence is the last refuge of the incompetent. As for attention, in my honest opinion he has already gotten far too much of that. Yes, even from me. I am writing this, after all. But I still refuse to even mention his name. When I mention him, I will name him only as “the terrorist”.

So, what can we hope for this trial to bring us?

Obviously, it can’t bring justice, because that would require 77 people returned from the dead and countless others relieved of a pain that no one can take away from them. What is done is done and no trial can change that. I think the best we can hope for is some answers to those who still have questions about what really happened that day, some closure in the sense that the case went to trial and reached a verdict and some comfort in the knowledge that even a terrorist like this received a fair trial in this country that he hated so much.

Friday, April 13, 2012


Today is Friday. Yes, I know the date and no, it doesn’t bother me at all. It’s just as dangerous as any other day, but there are actually fewer accidents on this date because people are more careful - or perhaps some of us just don’t do stuff on this date. Whichever is the case, I hope you have a nice day and a good weekend. And that’s all for now.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Ever heard of privacy settings??!?

I’ll make it short and concise this time:

I just overheard some kid talking about how bad it was if someone you really hated kept spamming your wall on Facebook. I just want to say that if there is such a person – as in someone you really hate – and that person has permission to post stuff on your wall or timeline on Facebook, that that is your wrongdoing even more than the other person’s.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

On “smart” computers

Computers are everywhere in our modern society. And they keep getting better, faster and smarter with each new model to hit the market. Or at least so we’re told. But two simple facts don’t change:

  1. A computer – any computer – is only as smart as the software it’s running.
  2. Unless the software corrects for known errors, the quality of the data coming out is only as good as the quality of the data going in.

A few weeks ago, my esteemed employer went and bought me a new phone – and a “smart” one at that - a brand new HTC Desire S. I got to pick it out myself and it was actually the cheapest HTC on the list I got to choose from. I like to keep it within reason, regardless of who’s paying, and my research says this phone is plenty good enough for my purposes. So, here I am with my new HTC and those who have been around me or followed me on Facebook or Twitter will have already seen it in action or heard / read comments about it – one of the first and most often repeated being that it really is a smart phone, but it also eats battery like pop corn.

When I first got this phone and turned it on for the first time, one of the first things it did was to figure out where I was and tell me what the weather was like there at the time – just in case I hadn’t already noticed these things myself. It also provided a detailed and - subsequently proven - pretty accurate forecast for the next several days, which of course could be more interesting and useful in most situations. Better yet, the phone can keep track of several different e-mail accounts, contact lists and calendars so I can have “everything” accessible in one place and that place is right there in my pocket and always with me. And yes, this can be very convenient and very smart, but also potentially a major security hazard – my colleague Per Thorsheim can tell you more about that side of the story. His blog can be found at    I will not go into more detail here except to say that I put “everything” in quotes because I myself don’t put everything on my smart phone – and neither should you. When deciding what to put on your phone, you should always keep in mind that what’s convenient for you could also be very convenient for the totally wrong kind of person if he or she ever gets hold of your phone. Therefore, as a rule of thumb, if it’s secret and sensitive, it shouldn’t be on your smart phone. Period. And enough of that (for now anyway).

Back to my basic point about computers only being as smart as they’re programmed to be. As I have already mentioned, my new phone has the capability to determine my location. It has a GPS function, but it’s also possible to use information from the mobile network itself and/or any wireless networks in the area to determine my whereabouts with a variable but usually pretty good degree of accuracy. Also, the phone can sense movement: it knows when I’m moving around and when I’m staying put – or at least it has the ability to. When I’m not actively using it to navigate, I leave the GPS off to conserve some battery. As a result, my phone often doesn’t know my exact location, but then again, I don’t need it to. Besides, like I said, it’s usually got a pretty good fix on my whereabouts anyhow.

However, yesterday I had my first experience of the phone totally misplacing me on the map, when I drove in to my childhood home in Andvik, Masfjorden and my phone claimed I was near Hosteland – on the other side of the fjord. It said “+/- 4 673 meters” and drew a big circle around my plotted position on the map to show the area of uncertainty, but even so, it missed me by about 300 meters – I wasn’t even inside the circle at the time.

So, evidently, the local mobile network alone does not provide solid ground for accurate navigation, which is why we have a GPS function for that purpose. I stepped outside and turned it on for a bit - and sure enough: the thing took about 5 seconds to figure out exactly where I was. But, since I already knew my location, I turned GPS back off to conserve some battery.

About an hour later and less than 20 meters from my last known GPS plotted position, I discovered that the phone had attempted to update my location – using data from the mobile network - and reverted back to saying I was about 5 km away and on the other side of the fjord…