Category Archives: Notes from a small country

The nastiness of immigrant fear

This piece (http://crookedtimber.org/2017/10/23/working-to-rule/) by Maria (Farrell?) is a long and very insightful read about the emotional impact on immigrants from the Brexit debacle – and more generally, about the nastiness of reducing immigrants (or, for that matter, any foreigner) to a number and a category.

Anyone who thinks being an immigrant, even a deluxe EU three million-type immigrant, is easy, should try it. We compete on equal terms with all comers, but with no social or economic safety net and, for many, hustling like mad in second and third languages. No dole, no network of couches to sleep on, no contacts and no introductions; qualifications from institutions you’ve never heard of, references from employers you aren’t sure are real but can’t be bothered to check, acting as daily fodder for stereotypical jokes we laugh off to show we’re one of you. You don’t hear us complaining about it because it’s just part of the deal. But when the terms of the deal change, and you tell us we’re social welfare parasites who are also, somehow, taking all the jobs and are the reason the country is failing, then the deal is probably dead.

How anyone can think shutting yourself off from the world and fantasise about going back to a nonexistent 1960s idyll is in any way beneficial is beyond me. And this nastiness is not limited to Britain or Trump’s USA, far from it, Norway has its share of little people with big fears as well.

To get new ideas, increase the variety of sources, expose yourself to new experiences, and embrace that which you cannot understand.

Assuming you want new ideas, of course.

Made my day!

digøkskjermI just got the message that the new bachelor program Informatikk: Digital Økonomi og Ledelse (Informatics: Digital Economics and Management) is now the most sought-after study program in Norway, with 19 applicants per available place (514 first-priority applicants for 27 available places).

Since I have taken the initiative to this program and developed it with colleagues at the University of Oslo (where I have an adjunct position, this definitely made my day. Week, actually.

Just sayin’…

What to do in Oslo (and Norway) in summer

Yesterday I got an email from an old friend and former colleague who is visiting Norway and wondering what to see and do. His is not the first email of that kind – and it dawned on me that the rational and productive thing to do (well, it is early Sunday morning and I am still undercaffeinated) is to write this up as a blog post. (Did the same thing for my Norwegian friends asking me about what to do in Boston.) So – what would I recommend if you should find yourself in Oslo during the summer, with some time to look around?

First of all, you need to understand a few basic things about Norway. Norway has lots to recommend it, but we are mainly about nature – while Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim and some of the other cities are nice, they are a bit like a one-star Michelin restaurant – worthy of a stop, but not destinations in themselves. To appreciate Norway, you need to appreciate nature and natural beauty – and be willing to put in some effort to see it. On that note:

So: If you are going to Norway, pack good shoes, rain gear, basically the light hiking setup. You may not need it, but you certainly won’t regret packing it. As the saying goes here, there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. And we mean it.

Oslo

Caveat: I like to list things that are (arguably, somewhat) unique to Oslo. We have nice cafes and tolerably good museums (such as the National Gallery), but those you will find in any capital in Europe. Most people who come here do it for a short visit – and you want to stay away from that which is mostly for the tourists and not different from anywhere else in Europe. So, here is where I take my (mostly) American friends:

  • norway-vigeland-sculpture-park-8The Vigeland park (or Frogner park). This is the world’s largest sculpture park dedicated to one artist, Gustav Vigeland. And, as every American says who has been there – they are all naked! Vigeland was a pupil of Rodin and the sheer size and rather playful humor of the place is enjoyable and a sure hit with the kids. (My favorite: The little girl who, unseen by her parents, is picking up a snake. See if you can find it.) One of Oslo’s city symbols is “Sinnataggen”, a little boy having a tantrum. This is also where people in Oslo go to relax and hang out if the weather is good, so you might see some locals.
  • 10414The Holmenkollen ski jump, especially if we can throw in a little walk in the woods. The ski jump is impressive in itself (though ski jumping is no longer the enormous draw it used to be for Norwegians) and you get an excellent view of Oslo. There is a zip line if you feel adventurous. But, to really have a Norwegian experience in the sense of doing something the locals like, walk from Frognerseteren to Tryvannsstua (pictured, about 3 km) or Skjennungstua (5 km, view, delightful pastries) to get a sense of Oslomarka. Oslo is 63% protected forest, with gravel roads, paths and (in winter) hundreds of kilometers of prepared ski tracks. Heavily used by the citizens of Oslo and surrounding municipalities.
  • The Munch museum, a bit run down, will probably move to a new building in 2018/19 [closed for moving to new location 2019] but the paintings are, of course, worth seeing.
  • Exhibition_in_Viking_Ship_Museum,_Oslo_01The Viking Ship museum. The museum itself is crowded and due for an update, but it is the only place in the world, as far as I know, where you can see a complete, real Viking ship. Worth the trip. If you are feeling energetic, there are lots of other museums (at the Bygdøy peninsula, take a boat there from the City Hall). I have taken people to the Folk Museum a lot – mainly because two of my daughters have had summer jobs there and can provide an inside perspective – but it requires a deeper interest in folklore and rural history than most people have (but if you go there, make sure to sample the Hardangerlefse, cooked over open fire. Carbs galore.) There is the Fram and Kon-Tiki museum, as well, though I haven’t been for many years. Plus Huk, a nice beach, if you feel like a dip.
  • The Ekebergparken sculpture park, a relatively new sculpture park donated by property investor and man-about-town Christian Ringnes. The park itself is more of a lightly edited forest than an art installation, but it works well, and the collection (themed as an homage to women) is very good. And the view of the city is excellent – this is, quite literally, where The Scream was painted. (There is a metal frame at one point where you can take photos recreating the painting yourself. Including screaming.)
  • 1920px-full_opera_by_nightExplore the fjord – Oslo is built around the fjord, and if you can get on a boat – even just taking a summer ferry out to some of the islands – by all means do it. (I live on an island, perhaps I am a bit partial here.) In later years, the city has tried to make the shoreline available for walking (a project called Fjordbyen) and it works rather well. The high point, of course, is walking on the roof of the Oslo Opera House, but the Akershus Fort and just hanging out slowly sipping a cold (and expensive) drink while ogling the historical boats you find here and there is nice, too.
  • Møllerfossene i AkerselvaExplore Oslo by bike or foot. The urban bike project is pretty good, you download an app to your smartphone and check out and in bikes from many places. Best path: Along Akerselva. Grünerløkka (partially along the river) is the “bohemian” (well, gentrified) district, Frogner is more upscale, Grønland for immigrant food and culture, and Gamlebyen for history.
  • Eat at a restaurant. Food is somewhat expensive, drinks horribly expensive, but the quality is very high. My personal favorite is Kampen Bistro, a semi-hidden neighborhood restaurant/community house with a semi-fixed menu and the world’s best cheese platter. But you will find lots of good food and a constantly changing set of restaurants – Google for a list. (Alternatively: My friend Bill Schiano once spent most of a day walking from bakery to bakery all over town, a very happy man.)
  • If you want to say you have seen something not many Norwegians have seen: The Emanuel Vigeland mausoleum, created by Gustav Vigeland’s, well, rather eccentric brother. Opening hours are complicated, but if you have been there, you have definitely seen more of Oslo than most people.

Norway outside Oslo

Well, now it gets difficult. There are, literally, hundreds of web pages devoted to Norwegian tourist spots, from Prekestolen to Trolltunga to Hurtigruten to Flåmsbanen to whatever. They are all fantastic, but since you can read about them in lots of detail there and also plan your route via visitnorway.com and other sites, I will stay away from the obvious choices, and, again, go for something a bit more hidden and for the local (though not very hidden.)

bamsemums_smallExtremely important warning: In addition to the weather and clothing issue mentioned above, Norwegian culture is fundamentally built on the principle that you, yourself, and nobody else, is responsible for being knowledgeable and physically capable of doing whatever you set out doing. Norwegians do not believe in protecting people against their own stupidity. (And forget about suing anyone, you’ll be laughed out of court.)

Norwegians are quite cynical about this. Do not expect there to be signposts and security fences in the mountains or along the fjords – but if there are, obey them religiously, because they denote real dangers, not risks of lawsuits. Every year, some tourist will fall off Trolltunga or Vøringsfossen, step too close to a calving glacier or drown in a fjord because they did not have the wits, skills or equipment necessary. That is considered to be the tourists’ fault. At Svalbard, tourists are referred to as “Bamsemums” (a popular foam-bear-covered-in-chocolate candy) because of their propensity to end up as polar bear lunch, on account of going where they are not supposed to without a gun. Something of the same spirit prevails in most of Norway, though in some places (such as Trolltunga), the local authorities are thinking about fencing things in a bit, mostly because it is so expensive to haul the bodies out.

Yes, I am exaggerating a bit. But not much.

With that out of the way: The best way to see Norway is to amble around (preferably in an electric car), stop whenever you feel like it, and (thanks to the Viking-age freedom to roam) go for a walk in your hiking shoes. Norway is all about nature, and there is so much of it that practically anything is worth seeing. That being said: The south coast is mellow and sunny and idyllic, the west coast is spectacular with deep fjords and high mountains, the North (north from Trondheim, that is) goes from New Zealand fjords to Alaskan tundra. The Eastern forests offer opportunities for canoeing and fishing, if you are into that. The mountains in the middle have peaks and glaciers and mountain huts, managed by the truly wonderful Norwegian Tourist Association. Explore at your leisure, spend time, and above all, do not feel forced to see the famous sites, when you can find something almost as good quite close.

I have never been to Geiranger, for instance. (But I haven’t seen Star Wars either.)

As for recommendations, here is a fairly random list of things I like:

  • knutshøMountaineering is great, but where to go if you don’t have much time? Some suggestions from Jotunheimen (but there are thousands of others):
    • Knutshø (pictured, steeper than it may look) is dramatic, close to the road, has fantastic views, and there are not many people there. Perfect one-day walk: Park the car and do it, walk along the ridge, return along the lake on south side. Great view of Besseggen.
    • Bitihorn is another, less dramatic alternative.
    • If you want to get above 2000 meters, try Rasletind.
  • The Rosendal Barony is breathtakingly beautiful, as is the view. Not far away (south of Odda there is a path up to Buarbreen, a part of Folgefonna, nice walk to a glacier.)
  • If you don’t fancy walking, taking the boat from Gjendesheim to Gjendebu and back is worth it. While reading Three in Norway by two of them.
  • Solvorn is a sleepy little hamlet with a fantastic little family hotel called Walaker. From there, you can drive to Veitastrond and Tungastølen (damaged in heavy weather in 2011, will hopefully reappear with fantastic new architecture) and walk in to Austerdalsisen (fantastic glacier views, while they are still there.)
  • While I am at it – the Glacier Museum in Fjærland is worth a visit. As well as the nearby glacier (mind your step.)
  • Ålesund is a beautiful little coastal city which burned in 1904 and was rebuilt in Art Noveau style. Many Norwegian cities were architecturally brutalized in the sixties and later, but Ålesund has kept its style.
  • bakklandetTrondheim is nice – and Baklandet Skydstation has been named the best cafe in the world several times. I love it. And it is close to the only bike lift I know of. Trondheim is a university town – primarily the technical university, Norway’s MIT.
  • Bergen is nice – the whole city – perhaps with an exception for the fish market, which has transmogrified from local and lively market to a canned tourist experience the last few years. Will probably be fixed. Take a tram or cable car to the surrounding hilltops*.
  • The south coast has lots of beautiful little towns with white-painted “skipper” houses. I like them all – Lillesand, Grimstad, Arendal, Tvedestrand, Risør, Kragerø – but if you somehow can get to Lyngør, it is absolute perfection in summer.
  • Tromsø has nightlife and nature and the most active local patriots in Norway. And that is saying a lot.
  • I quite like the Henrik Sørensen museum near Holmsbu.
  • Svolvær and Lofoten and the other Hurtigruten things are fantastic, of course, don’t misunderstand me, but they tend to fill up.
  • Fishing is, apparently, fantastic. (I don’t fish myself…)

A few notes:

  • You cannot see the northern lights in the summer. Sorry.
  • Nor the midnight sun in the winter.
  • Norway is expensive and service is friendly but overstretched (we have near wage equality and employees are very expensive…). Do not expect fawning service, even at fancy hotels.
  • pictures_funny2_grandeNorwegians are rather reserved and have a fairly expansive sense of personal space. When the other people at the bus stop are keeping their distance to you, it has nothing to do with you. It’s them. (See The Social Guidebook to Norway for further information).

And that is that. Comments welcome. More to follow as I remember things.

PS: Found this video with Morten Rustad’s 10 favorite places in Norway. I spent much of my summers as a boy in Valdres and Jotunheimen and agree with him. But note also: Solitude and challenge is a plus, crowds a minus, for the quintessential Norwegian tourist/explorer:

*No, not mountains. I Norway, any mountain with trees on top is a hill, no matter how steep or tall.

The future of Norwegian education, if we only dared

If Norway marketed itself more effectively, they could suck the brightest and best students from the UK and America, improve their universities reputation and force the UK and US to rethink their education policies for the benefit of the people in all the countries concerned.

This from the excellent blog post “What caused you to move to Norway, Sir?” by Paul Beaumont.

I certainly think Norwegian universities could do just that. When it doesn’t happen, it is largely because of provincial thinking and lack of marketing acumen. This needs to change.

That is all.

A trendy walk through Oslo…

This video was actually quite fun to make:


My part is done in the offices of Masterstudies Marketing Group, to illustrate my point that if a small nation like Norway (or, for that matter, Europe) wants to compete on the world market, recruiting should be based on who is the best person for the job, not who fits in with the reigning culture.

Masterstudies, incidentally, is located in Oslo, is doing very well indeed, and has about 35 employees who collectively speak more than 20 languages. Two of the employees are Norwegian….

Notes from OECD 2014 Norway report presentation

(This was presented at the Norwegian Business School following the initial presentation to the government. These are my quick notes.)

Patrick Lenain, Head of Division, OECD:

Norway is doing well!

Overview of OECD organization and general reports.

Paul O’Brien: The Norway survey

See executive summary for main points and recommendations. Main points:

  • tertiary education more subsidized in Norway more than most places – perhaps time to start charging for it. There is a resource cost of education, has to be financed, comes through tax. But most of the benefits of education accrue to the individual, hence they should pay. In Norway, the income distribution is very even, however, and hence tax may work. This depends on returns and skills, intergenerational mobility, etc.
  • Productivity growth level has slowed in Norway, as in other countries, because of the crisis. Could be a problem in the long run, especially since the productivity growth has slowed down more in Norway.
  • Wage growth a problem? Little slack, unemployment rate is low, hour worked low (this is a choice), not really a problem because it is running at full tilt. Bit of a puzzle because price signal in the labor market is subdued, not using labor market signals to tell people where to do.
  • Are you ready to pay the price for many schools, one in every village?

I had a question about Norway’s raising Gini coefficient and what the government could do to translate that into higher employment for the 20% of Norway’s workforce that is outside the job market, but did not really get an answer outside the issue of too high tax rates.

25 reasons to visit Norway

As some of our friends, who to our delight turn up almost every summer, have already found: 25 reasons Norway Is The Greatest Place On Earth.

I’ll add a 26th: The Gulf Stream, which ensures that the water in the Oslo fjord reaches 23 Celsius at least once every summer, and then I can swim (my wife will happily swim until it freezes over.)

And while we are at it, how about a 27th: Prekestolen (Pulpit Rock), not only for the view of and from it, but because it is devoid of safety fences, warning signs and concession stands. Caveat emptor…

image

Notice: Regular carping about living in a small and remote country will resume shortly.

Finding Nemo, unsurprisingly, again

(Intially posted as a comment to Dave Weinberger’s blog, but expanded/edited into a bona fide rant here. Update, Feb. 13: Dave continues the discussion in his column at CNN.com.)

New England has just had a snowstorm, predicted to be of historic proportions, but eventually ending up, as always, as nothing much, except a staggeringly incompetent number of people (400,000 or so in Massachusetts alone) losing power. As a Norwegian currently in Oslo (but with nine winters in Boston (Arlington and Brookline)): New England snowstorms, despite their ferocity, are not aberrations of nature but a failure to prepare a systemic level.

It is just snow. Not a lot (well, a lot, but for a short time, as illustrated by the photo.) It shows up fast, and leaves again equally fast. It doesn’t stay the whole winter, from November until March, as it does here in the south (get it – south!) of Norway.

The fact that New England panics every time there is a flurry is due to lack of preparedness at the infrastructure level. In most of Norway power and telephone lines are underground, it is illegal not to have snow tires on your car after December 1st or thereabouts (if you drive in the snow with regular tires and go in the ditch, you are fined quite severely) and during my own and my children’s school days we have never had a snow day or any other interruption due to the weather (and we have plenty of weather). In Norway you cannot get a driver’s license without passing a driving-on-slick-surface course. The Oslo subway (or buses – what kind of drivers to you have?) has never been closed due to snow. I have never been to the store to stock up on batteries and water. (I have been to the gas station to buy gas for the snow blower ahead of a storm, though.) Our airport does not close down for snow, though there can be delays. In New England, there are public service announcements (from Thomas Menino’s office) saying “When clearing motor vehicles, remove snow around the muffler/exhaust system before starting the car”. How stupid can you get?

I just can’t get used to the New England oh-my-God-here-it-comes-again-flip-to-channel-5 attitude. I attribute this to lack of far-sightedness in planning – rather than taking the cost of modernizing the power grid and change the telephone lines to fiber all around, incrementalism wins. (Then again, I have found myself being the only driver (in a VW Vanagon with worn tires) on the 128, and the only person coming in  to work (in a Chevy Caprice).) Instead of driving responsibly you salt the roads until they are white and dogs can’t go out due to the pain the salt inflicts on their paws. Instead of having a public works division outfitted to fix things with proper equipment you resort to an army of contractors with F-250s barging out to power-plow 2 inches of wet snow that will disappear at 9am the next day anyway, just to get paid.

imageI drove (with wife and three kids) from Florida to MA during the blizzard of 96, which closed down NY and NJ. In Georgia, we saw 200 cars in the ditch, including an 18-wheeler cab-up in a tree. It looked like an 8-year old had emptied out his toy car crate. On an Interstate in North Carolina I saw a police cruiser (who had tried to cross from one direction to the other via those little police-only paths) nosed into and completely buried a six-foot pile, the blue lights forlornly spinning through the snow. Driving around Richmond, I saw people pass me doing 75 in their Cherokees on the highway, only to see them buried in a drift two miles later. In Washington (Metro population 5.6m, number of snowplows: 1) I drove around (in a Dodge Caravan with a not very advanced AWD system) a Chevy Suburban spinning on all four wheels as the owner moronically pumped the gas pedal. (Incidentally, the only institution open was the Norwegian embassy, whose employees arrived on cross-country skis.) When we got to the NJ border, we were stopped, as the turnpike was closed. I stupidly tried to argue with the cop that I was Norwegian, had 4WD, and was a former instructor in 4WD driving in the Norwegian army, that driving in the snow was easy if you went slowly and gently. He was, needless to say, not swayed. We spent the night in a motel.

Why doesn’t New England harden the grid and communications systems, put winter tires on school buses, mandate winter tires in snowy conditions, and just get rid of this stupid idea of snow days? It is winter, it happens almost every year. It is just something to get used to, minimize the consequences of and then get on with a productive life.

On the other hand, most Americans work way too much, so perhaps it is just nature’s way of giving you a much-needed break. In the meantime, you are providing quite the entertainment at Norwegian TV, for which I suppose I should be thankful.

(Images from TriStateWeather)

Update Feb. 13: Somewhat related, here is an infographic (from Curtis Whaley via Boingboing) on how to walk on ice. Put on your tailcoats and waddle away…:

The banality of an attention-seeking killer

I have been following the opening of the court case against the mass murderer from Utøya in Norway. I really should not – I have better things to do – but it is hard not to, it strikes very close to home. I don’t know anyone directly involved (though, reportedly, 25% of Norwegians do), but the dry, factual and extremely professional reading by the prosecutor of the names of the victims and the circumstances of their deaths and injuries gets to me: Norway is a very small society, I know many people with the same last names, my daughter knows people directly involved, and the whole thing becomes very real. The court has seen films of people dying and a mobile phone call from a victim, where you could hear 10 shots being fired just outside the toilet door where she was hiding, but these are not included in the broadcast.

A psychiatrist describes the defendant as a psychopath with total lack of empathy – he cries when seeing his own Youtube propaganda video but tries to hide a smile during the description of his rampage. The sheer numbers and the cold-bloodedness of the defendant both then and now is deeply offensive. There have been two psychiatric evaluations of him, the first concluding that he was not responsible for his own actions, the second that he was. I think the second evaluation – in the first, the psychiatrists had little knowledge of right-wing environments and saw all his infantile anti-islam fantasies as a sign of madness in itself – will be the one standing.

Norway does not have life sentences or the death penalty. A “life sentence” is typically 20 years, for certain crimes (this one included) a 30 year sentence can be imposed. However, after a 30 year sentence, the prisoner has to be released – in fact, given good behavior in prison, a person has to be released before time. A second possibility is to sentence him to 20 years, followed by 10 years of “forvaring”, i.e. a continued prison sentence because the person may be a danger to society. This can be extended indefinitely, but is subject to a psychiatric review every 5 years. I think that is what will happen. It is probable that the Norwegian laws will be rewritten to include a life sentence for extremely serious crimes, but laws cannot be given retroactive effect.

I am deeply impressed by the professionalism shown by everyone involved in this – prosecutors, defenders and commentators alike. The main defending attorney, Geir Lippestad, took the job very reluctantly and holds a very straight face, but you can tell that he is disgusted by his client but determined to give him a defense as good as can be done – and to reign in his political tirades as much as possible. The press has been fairly careful in not showing too many details about the victims, but the sheer volume is a problem in itself – and the fact that the defendant gets the attention he seems to crave (he seems to have done this more to get attention than for any other results, political and quasi-religious justifications aside) – is rather revolting.

Oh well. Justice will be done, but it is at a very high price for the victims and their families and friends. The court case is held in a very dignified form, with the exception of the defendant, who obviously delights in the attention and will start his explanation tomorrow.

To me, he is not worthy of this court case and this country.

Norwegian movies for American friends

Most Norwegian movies are best enjoyed in Norway by Norwegians, but every now and then something comes up that is passable outside the borders. So as a service to my American friends, here are a few recommendations, all available on Netflix over the Internet:

The Troll Hunter is a mockumentary about three film students from the Volda regional university, who tracks Hans, a mysterious figure they first think is a bear poacher. It turns out he is an official, secret, government-employed troll hunter, charged with tracking down and killing trolls that escape their reservations (fenced in by power lines, no less).

Normally, I don’t like to watch movies about monsters and supernaturals – their many blatant falsehoods and gaping plot holes irritate me. The Troll Hunter, however, I watched with pleasure after being told about it by someone in the movie/media business. He raved about the performance of Otto Jespersen, normally a comedian, as the laconic and gradually more disgruntled troll hunter, fighting bureaucracy and trying to cover up the trolls’ cattle rampages by purchasing dead bears from Polish smugglers to be left near the scene. The film students are brilliantly naïve, and some of the lines are classics:

– Is it absolutely sure that we have no Christians here [trolls can smell Christian blood.]
– I’m a Muslim, is that all right?
– Hmm..don’t know.

The movie is rather low-budget, but with surprisingly good CGA of trolls of various kinds. The best parts are the carefully worked out troll details (including a great mock-scientific explanation for why trolls either turn to stone or explode when they are exposed to sunlight), and all the various mechanisms and technologies the Troll Security Service and Hans the Troll Hunter have come up with to manage them. Like most good Norwegian movies, it subtly makes fun of its characters, from the semi-ambitious film students to the stone-faced bureaucrats trying to hide the fact that trolls exist. It carefully balances satire with a just enough of a touch of action/horror movie to stop it from being too local or too snarky. Enjoy!

Max Manus (English title Man of War) is a movie about the Norwegian war hero and saboteur Max Manus, brilliantly performed by Aksel Hennie. The movie is the most successful Norwegian movie ever in terms of viewers – most of the population has seen it, and it is one of those films where the entire audience sits through the credits, in silence. The movie gives an (almost) historically accurate rendering of the life and times of Manus and his contemporaries, running sabotage in and around Oslo. (The main historical inaccuracies lie mostly in removing material as well as having to use different buildings than the originals, Oslo having changed quite a lot since 1945.)

Max Manus was the action-oriented, slightly irresponsible leader of the Oslo Group, one of the foremost resistance groups in Norway. He sees his friends gradually being killed by the Germans towards the end of the war, but manages to effect significant damage (blowing up troop transport ships, destroying the national labor archive) in return. The movie is action-filled and exciting, yet rather low-key: Some of the most exciting episodes, which would have made for excellent material, is deliberately left out. (One example is Kolbein Lauring (one of Manus’ close collaborators) escaping by gunfire and hand grenades from a patrol trying to arrest him in his home.) Excellent performances by Agnes Kittelsen as “Tikken”, Manus’ later wife; Nicolai Cleve Broch as Gregers Gram, Manus charismatic best friend; the German actor Ken Duken as Gestapo chief Siegfried Fehmer; and perhaps best of all, Knut Joner as Gunnar Sønsteby, the 26-year old (at wars end) brain behind most of the resistance in Oslo, who thanks to his anonymous appearance and brilliant memory could move all over Oslo and southern Norway managing hundreds of resistance fighters and more than two score false identities.

The movie draws very believable portraits of the various characters, showing their heroism and the toll the actions take on them, both in terms of comrades lost and nightmares endured. Most Norwegians have some memories from grandparents and parents telling about the war. Much of the movie is shot on location – the entire main street of Oslo was changed into its 1940 appearance for one scene, including flying a Nazi flag from the Parliament building. This makes it very real for most of us, including me (my grandfather was in the resistance and was tortured by the Gestapo, an experience which left its tracks, and was in a concentration camp from 1943 to the war’s end). Norway is a small country: I have met Gunnar Sønsteby on a few occasions, have walked the streets and been in some of the buildings where the actions took place, and when the saboteurs paddle in canoes to blow up ships, the go right by the house I live in. The movie is accurate, exciting, sad, and makes an impact. Highly recommended!

Elling, nominated to an Oscar for best foreign language film in 2002, is something different altogether. It tells the story of Elling (brilliantly performed by Per Christian Ellefsen) and Kjell Bjarne (equally brilliantly portrayed by Sven Nordin), two nervous middle-aged boys released from a psychiatric hospital to make their way in the world with the assistance of social worker Frank and eventually their neighbor Reidun and former poet Alfons. It is based on a novel by Ingvar Ambjørnsen, on of Norway’s foremost authors.

Elling is one of those movies that create language – you can refer to someone as an “Elling” or “Kjell Bjarne” in Norway and people will understand what you mean. Both men suffer from anxiety attacks and various phobias, and create little stratagems to manage their tentative entry into society. Elling is an overintellectualized shut-in with a mother complex and a cleaning mania, secretly dreaming about becoming an undercover poet. Kjell Bjarne is a shy giant, traumatized by abusive parents, who admires Elling and wants to listen to his fantasies, but also represents the voice of reason, entering into a relationship with the neighbor upstairs and helping Elling gradually explore the world outside their apartment.

The movie is howlingly funny in a very low-key fashion, making each of Elling’s small victories (managing to go to the store, having dinner in a restaurant, going to a poetry recital) feel as real to the audience as it does to the character. The characters are frequently humiliated, but manage to maintain a shaky dignity through it all, to a satisfyingly happy conclusion – helped by a seemingly aloof social worker who for once is not portrayed as a monster. If you feel down in the dumps, this is a terrific pick-me-up movie, enjoyable from start to finish.

File:Lilyhammer1.jpgHawaii, Oslo; Buddy and Lilyhammer I recommend with some reservations. The first is an intense magic reality movie about a character who feverishly tries to stop a bad event from happening. I remember it as great – but I don’t remember much about the plot. Buddy is a story about a group of friends who has to deal with sudden fame, again an enjoyable movie about which I have forgotten the plot – though I liked it. Lilyhammer is downright weird – a TV series about a New Jersey gangster (Steven van Zandt) who moves to rural Lillehammer, Norway, (chosen because he liked the scenery from the 1994 Winter Olympics) as part of a witness protection program. The concept is great, but I am not sure how well the jokes would play outside Norway – and I thought Little Steven’s performance a bit wooden and the jokes rather lame even in Norwegian. Norwegian rurals can be easy to make fun of, but they are not as inbred as comes over in this series. But it is is available – in fact, coproduced with – Netflix and, well, chacon ca gout, I presume.

And that is it – there are quite a few more (Flåklypa Grand Prix, Secondløitnanten, 37 1/2, Detektor) I have enjoyed, but I am not a film buff and this post sticks to what is on Netflix and I am reasonably sure you would like. So, go forth and explore…

Norwegian Data Inspectorate outlaws Google App use

In a letter (reported at digi.no) to the Narvik Municipality (which has started to use Google Mail and other cloud-based applications, effectively putting much of its infrastructure in the Cloud) the Norwegian Data Inspectorate (http://www.datatilsynet.no/English/), a government watchdog for privacy issues, effectively prohibits use of Google Apps, at least for communication of personal information. A key point in this decision seems to be that Google will not tell where in the world the data is stored, and, under the Patriot Act, the US government can access the data without a court order.

Companies and government organizations in Norway are required to follow the Norwegian privacy laws, which, amongst other things, requires that “personal information” (of which much can be communicated between a citizen and municipal tax, health and social service authorities) should be secured, and that personal information collected for one purpose may not be used for other purposes without the owner’s expressed permission.

This has interesting implications for cloud computing – many European countries have similar watchdogs as Norway, and many public and private organizations are interested in using Google’s services for their communication needs. My guess is that Google will need to offer some sort of reassurance that the data is outside of US jurisdiction, or effectively forgo this market to other competitors, such as Microsoft of some of the local consulting companies, which are busy building their own private clouds. Should be an interesting discussion at Google – the Data Inspectorate is a quite popular watchdog, Norway has some of the strongest privacy protection laws in the world (though, for some reason, it publishes people’s income and tax details), and Google’s motto of “Don’t be evil” might be put to the test here – national laws limiting global infrastructures.

A lament for nickfromfulham

(or, why BBC should put their material on Youtube).

The future of TV is on the net. Too bad the leading TV producers don’t understand it.

imageThis year I am living in the US, without a TV. So far I have not missed it – we have Netflix for movies and Youtube for music and clips. Having to chose your programming yourself means zero hours channelsurfing on the sofa, and a delightful lack of background noise from breakfast TV shows and similar junk.

But – what to watch when you want a little fun? For my youngest daughter (she is here in Boston to take a year of US high school) and I Friday nights have been spent in front of our nice 23 inch monitor, wathing Never Mind the Buzzcocks, a great, wild, satirical quiz show about pop music. And when I want to relax by myself, there is the unsurpassable QI, a [deeply intelligent/self-indulgingly moronic] quiz show with a pop science bent. Or I can watch some of BBCs great series, such as Stephen Fry’s programs about the English language.

Through Youtube, I have come to know and appreciate comedians and actors such as Bill Bailey, Phill Jupitus, Jo Brand, Noel Fielding, Alan Davies, Jimmy Carr, Sean Lock, Rich Hall, John Sessions, Rob Brydon, David Mitchell and Dara Ó Briain, just to name a few. I have learned a lot and laughed even more. The episode where Emma Thompson describes how she used her body to terrify Stephen Fry to complete breakdown or where Jack Dee serves the mother of all putdowns to Sandy Toksvig and Ronni Ancona are complete jewels.

Which brings me to a sad point: The channel NickFromFulham, who (assuming there is a Nick and he is from Fulham) has put up all these videos, was recently shut down from Youtube. Where should we go now for our witty and intelligent entertainment? You see, almost none of the stuff that BBC produces is viewable outside the UK, except in short snippets, on DVDs, or on the anemic BBC America channel, for which we would have to get a TV, and then put up with programs that are both delayed and also watered down in terms of swearwords, sexual and scatological references and much of the Britishness that makes Britain both British and bearable.

The funny thing is, of course, that if it wasn’t for Youtube’s technical capability and NickfromFulham’s diligent uploading and characterization, I wouldn’t know much about QI and nothing about Buzzcocks. Which makes me wonder a) what else is out there, not just in BBCland but in many TV stations around the world, and b) why the heck doesn’t BBC (and NRK, its Norwegian state-funded equivalent and all others) put their stuff out in digital format?

To the first point: I gave a talk to NRK in June, about disruption in the media industries and so on. As part of the discussion of how to strategize for the future, I urged them to fill up available spots in their many channels with stuff like QI – quality shows that have a very local appeal, but in an increasingly global world will have global appeal without sacrificing quality. When you treat your viewers as intelligent, they will act intelligently. To quote David Foster Wallace, in his his brilliant essay E Unibus Pluram:

TV is not vulgar and prurient and dumb because the people who compose the audience are vulgar and dumb. Television is the way it is simply because people tend to be extremely similar in their vulgar and prurient and dumb interests and wildly different in their refined and aesthetic and noble interests.

The point being – with infinite channel capacity, you can attract a large audience, in many countries, by not pandering to the lowest common denominator. (The fact that QI is one of BBC’s most watched programs shows that the common denominator may, in fact, not be so low after all.)

The future of TV is on the net – but in order to attract people to the net, you have to release your best stuff, and gradually become the source and context of quality entertainment rather than a prison of old business models. And incidentally, slamming the door in the face of your biggest fans is not the way to go about it.

As for us? Well, my daughter is 17 and an accomplished net surfer. She can easily find and download the next episode of Buzzcocks from one of many pirate sites. Not that I like it, but what can I do? (Well, IP spoofing and going to BBC’s web site in the UK itself would be another option.) Or I can watch something else, which, of course, lowers the commercial value of all those actors and comedians participating in the things I would like to see.

Incidentally, here is one of the most watched Norwegian skits on Youtube. Let’s see if you understand it, even if it is in Norwegian (with subtitles):

The Digital Economist Index

The Economist has long had the Big Mac index, a surprisingly useful index for all kinds of things (though the magazine use it primarily to track over/undervaluation of a local currency. The Big Mac is a useful indicator because it is locally produced with local labor, but subject to stringent standards in terms of production and provisioning.

The digital version of the Economist, on the other hand, should be the diametrical opposite of the Big Mac – it is the same all over the world (the Economist does relatively little tailoring of its product, seeing its customers are globalists) and the price for delivering it is, of course, the same in all countries (with some provision for sales taxes.) Consequently, you would expect the product to have one price, all over the world.

Alas, that is not the case.

Continue reading

IT in Norway: Industry and impact

As part of the Knowledge-based Norway project, I have been writing a report on the Norwegian IT industry, examining the industry as industry, but also its effect on business and government in Norway. You can find it here – and comments are more than welcome. Here is the executive summary:

Executive summary, with policy implications

This report describes and analyzes the Norwegian IT industry, focusing on two categories of companies: Those that provide information technology as a product largely developed by themselves, and those that provide information technology services – mostly by taking foreign technology and making it available to Norwegian companies and organizations.

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Contrary to Norway’s classic knowledge hubs – petroleum, maritime, seafood – the Norwegian IT industry, though large, profitable, and knowledge-based, does not see itself as a hub and does not act like one. With a few exceptions (Horten, Trondheim) the Norwegian IT industry is overwhelmingly located in the Oslo area: Along Akerselven, in the City centre, at Skøyen, Lysaker and Fornebu. Few Norwegian IT companies paint on a global canvas, and those that do tend to be acquired by large international companies when they reach a certain size or maturity – growing out of Norway, as it were. In some cases, the companies continue and thrive in place, usually when they address a very specific global (GE Vingmed) or local (Visma) need, in others, they gradually disappear, subsumed into the acquiring organization (FAST into Microsoft development center Norway, Tandberg becoming a unit of Cisco, Trolltech becoming a part of Nokia and then sold to a Finnish software company).

The IT industry’s main contribution to Norwegian society comes in two flavors: Firstly, it provides a group of companies (the large IT service providers and consultancies) with a body of knowledge on how to develop and implement information technology in Norway, increasing the country’s productivity through smart use of administrative and customer-facing systems. The relatively large size of the consulting industry and the extensive use of consultants both by the public sector and the larger companies ensures that the scarce knowledge of IT development and implementation both can be nurtured and rewarded as a core activity inside specialized organizations, and also makes sure that this knowledge is available in a more flexible form than the rather rigid hiring and firing practices of Norwegian working life.

imageSecondly, the technology provided by the large, international technology providers, by the open source movement, and by administrative software providers ensures an available infrastructure for entrepreneurs in almost any industry: Few, if any, new startups today do not spend time on systems development as a major activity. Furthermore, extensive use of IT lowers the bar for starting new companies, both in terms of their relationship to the public sector, in their mobilization of resources, and in their access to markets. Thus, IT is, at the same time, a competitive arena and a coordination facilitator – an industry as well as an enzyme – in terms of increasing Norwegian innovative performance, productivity and competitiveness.

Knowledge creation and dissemination

Knowledge comes into the IT industry from three main sources: From foreign technology providers, from companies’ own development work, and from academic research in Norway. The latter transfer mechanism happens largely through the production of graduates from computer science and engineering programs – the single-most scarce factor in the industry, underscored by practically anyone interviewed. Academic research in itself, with a few, celebrated examples such as Simula (University of Oslo) and search technology (from NTNU), is not tightly integrated with the industry. Companies are often started by students from the engineering schools and computer science departments, but faculty involvement is largely missing – with a few important exceptions – after the companies are formed. This is partially because contributing to industry goes against the culture of many academics – the universities and colleges do not recruit faculty with entrepreneurship in mind – and partly because company-specific knowledge quickly outruns the more general academic knowledge as soon as development speeds up.

Industry challenges

The IT industry provides a general purpose technology (Basu and Fernald 2008), where value creation is more visible in the industries that use it than in the technology industry itself. The industry is largely located in Oslo, finances its R&D out of own funds or general tax refund programs, and does not to a large degree partake in more long-term research funding. It is an industry where everyone competes and collaborates – there are few, if any, long-term collaborative patters. The IT industry scores relatively low on several cluster dimensions, in particular knowledge dynamics.

The industry needs to raise its profile in order to do better recruitment and increase its chances to enhance value creation, by jointly documenting and exemplifying how it creates value in the Norwegian society. In order to attract talent outside the traditional male, engineering-oriented candidate pool, the industry would benefit from trying to portray itself as urban, cool and interesting – a career choice not just for the technically inclined but for the ambitious and culturally dexterous candidate. Lastly, the industry needs to address the thorny problem of improving productivity – in particular, decision making productivity – in the public sector, by collectively taking a more proactive stance not just on technology direction, but also recommend actions to increase organizational efficiency and goal effectiveness.

Public policy implications

Public IT policy can be divided into policies directed towards the industry, and policies directed towards the use of information technology in public administration and public service companies.

Policies towards the IT industry have been characterized by a quite fruitful neglect: The industry has not (despite entreaties from its interest organizations) been offered much help, nor had many restrictions from the government. This is not necessarily a problem – the industry does not need much public help, since it is used to continual technology-driven change and regularly transforms itself.

A productive public policy of IT in Norway would need to recognize that value creation from IT happens outside the IT industry; that Norway is a very small country which does not necessarily need big systems (but can benefit from simplification of procedures and structures) The IT industry is best supported by addressing the problems felt by the industry (in particular, the talent shortage) rather than forcing it to
respond to relatively short-term political interests such as focus on particular technologies or geographical distribution.

The biggest opportunity for value creation with IT in Norway lies in increasing the productivity in public administration and service provisioning. Procedures and structures are still modeled on paper as a medium and geographical distance as a hindrance. While strides have been made in improving the interface between the public and the government, much remains to be done in the back office.

Norway’s challenge is to convert the enthusiasm with which the population adopts new technologies into an equally strong enthusiasm for government and business to adopt their processes and services to the new technology. Let the final recommendation for the government then be that a post of Minister of IT is created, empowered to reorganize, automate and digitize all aspects of public service provisioning, with a goal of making life better for every citizen and with the added benefit of enabling Norwegian IT companies to export the resulting knowledge and technology to countries less blessed with a strong economy and a technologically enthusiastic population.

How to respond to terrorism

Today I participated in a memorial and response to the terrorist attacks in Oslo, a semi-spontaneous gathering of people organized within 24 hours via Facebook and TV. Around 200000 people – a third of the city’s population, the largest gathering in Oslo since the second world war, and that in the middle of the holiday season – met at City Hall Square. the large square between the City Hall and the harbor. I have never seen so many people in the streets of Oslo – and yet, the city was eerily quiet.

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Most, including us, carried roses or other flowers. The intention was to have a “March of Roses“, but the number of people made this impossible – instead, it became a silent and stationary memorial, especially moving when everyone held their flowers high and spontaneously and very mutedly sang Nordahl Grieg’s “Til ungdommen.”

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There were speeches by many, among them the Crown Prince (“today the streets of Oslo are filled with love. We have chosen to meet cruelty with closeness.”) and the Prime Minister (“evil may kill a person, but will never defeat a people”) but I actually thought the Mayor of Oslo, Fabian Stang, expressed it most cogently:  “Together, we will punish the murderer. The punishment will be more openness, more tolerance, and more democracy.”

Before going down to the City Hall Square arrangement, we visited the Oslo Cathedral, which has become a focal point where people have left flowers, candles and letters:

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We also went closer to the bomb site to see the damages. This is the building where Julie, our oldest daughter, works:

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And here is a view into a coffee shop on the first floor, two blocks away from the blast:

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There were lines outside every flower shop:

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After the ceremony, people where told to leave their flowers somewhere in the city. Here is one solution to this challenge:

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Like one of the speakers, Dilek Ayhan, said: “Today, I am very proud to be Norwegian.”

PS: Many more, and better, images here.

The Oslo attacks

20110723-halvstangMy family and I have received many emails from friends in the USA and other places, offering their condolences and wondering if we are OK. (We live in Oslo, on an island, and from a distance it is natural to worry.) This post is to address those issues and reflect a little on what this means in Norway.

Our youngest daughter was alone at home (about 5 kilometers from the site) when the initial explosion (video here)occurred, and felt the impact in the house. Julie (oldest daughter, interviewed here by Boston Globe) was waiting for a bus in town about 800 m from the bomb site and both heard the explosion and felt the impact quite forcefully. She works in one of the buildings very close to the site, but was on sick leave at the time. Many of the windows in this building were blown out. Our middle daughter was away in the South of Norway. Lena and I were in Germany visiting friends, we returned early this morning.

As far as we know (and the names of the dead and wounded will not be made public until later this week) nobody we know directly has been directly harmed. Our youngest daughter knows, indirectly, five of the youths listed as missing. As I am writing this, 7 people are confirmed dead in the explosion, 86 (later revised down to 68) in the subsequent shootings on the island. About 73 are listed as seriously or critically wounded, 4-5 missing.

Lena and I drove through the Oslo City center on our way home at 2am this morning. The main government buildings and the bombing site are cordoned off and guarded by soldiers, and there are policemen on many street corners.

As unlikely as it may seem, the attacks are probably the work of one man, a fairly well-to-do islamophobe who has planned this for nine years. The intent seems to be to gather attention for a self-published manifesto, a feverish 1500-page PDF screed detailing his inflated self-picture, confused world views and preparations for the attack. The bomb attack was similar in technique and effect to the Oklahoma bombing, but with relatively few casualties due to it being vacation time and relatively late in the afternoon. The ensuing attack on the island (which is very small, about 200 x 500 meters) with the summer camp left such a devastating result because there are few places to hide and nowhere to run. Also, the gunman was dressed as a police officer and fooled many into getting close enough to him that they could be slaughtered.

The whole country is in mourning – at noon a silent minute was observed here and in the other Nordic countries. The Prime Minister and other public figures have shown remarkable dignity and restraint in a situation that must be inhumanely hard, especially since many of the killed and wounded were personal friends.

Norway is very small – as the poet Nordahl Grieg wrote during the second world war: “We are so few in this country, every fallen is a brother or friend.” In proportion to the population size, this attack has claimed roughly twice as many victims as 9/11. The 500 youths at the summer camp came from all over the country. In such a small society, everyone knows or knows of someone who has been harmed.

Norway has always been a very open society – the police is largely unarmed, you can run into public figures with few or no security guards (in fact, we met the Prime Minister on a bike tour in the city forest in April this year,) political meetings and demonstrations take place with a minimum of security presence. This openness and trust is highly valued by all. It is my hope and expectation that the actions of a deranged loner will not succeed in destroying one of the most cherished attributes of this small and close-knit society.

Norwegian Air Shuttle: Using IT to lower costs, increase revenue, and start new businesses

(This case was written for an BSG Concours/nGenera report in March 2008, but never used. I found it while writing a report on the Norwegian IT industry, and publish it here because, well, I need a place to put it. And it is interesting – it succinctly exemplifies a company that uses IT for lowering cost (increasing the bottom line), for expanding in its current market (expanding the top line), and for creating new businesses.)

Norwegian Air Shuttle is the fastest growing low-cost airline in Europe. Its growth is built on smart market moves – supported by even smarter IT applications and use.

A Norwegian plane - white paint is cheap

Norwegian Air Shuttle was originally a small airline company leasing planes and crew – called a "wet lease" in the business – to Braathen’s, Norway’s second largest airline. When Braathen’s was acquired by industry leader SAS in 2001, it looked like the game was over for Norwegian – it had funding for less than three months’ operations.

clip_image005Bjrn Kjos, lawyer and former fighter pilot, had agreed to help the company through what everyone thought was going to be a managed bankruptcy. Instead, Kjos sought out new investors – Norwegian fishing fleet owners, accustomed to high risk and equally high rewards. With his background as a pilot and sanguine, jovial personality, Kjos personified opposition to the somewhat bureaucratic and monopolistic SAS and became popular both with his employees, the public and the regulating politicians.

The new company’s strategy was simple: To offer direct flights between city-pairs not served by SAS, and keep costs low through efficient processes and a flexible organization. Kjos was not a proponent of information technology, but knew he needed a CIO, and in 2002 hired Hans Petter Aanby, an experienced IT manager from SAS.

Hans Petter AanbyAanby needed to establish IT as a contributor to the business, and so set out to first harvest the low-hanging fruit. First of all, the company’s distribution costs were too high: Most sales came over the telephone or through travel agents, with average transaction cost of more than $35 per ticket. Aanby moved the whole process online in April 2003, removing anything confusing from the web site. The company was one of the first in the business to have customers print out their own (bar-coded) boarding passes, which simplified check-in and saved boarding time. Eventually, 85% of orders would come over the web, and only 1% through the call center. This was achieved with a small IT department and smart use of small consulting companies.

image Having demonstrated an ability to lower costs, Aanby now, with the title of CIO and EVP of Business Development, set out to increase sales. A new architecture that would allow growth in complexity without growth in costs was proposed to the board in late 2003. Airline prices vary, but it can be very hard for customers to see when it is cheap to fly. Many airlines make it hard for customers to find the cheap flights, but Aanby went the other way, giving the customers a calendar-based view of flights with prices shown. Since flight reservation systems are not set up for this kind of information extraction – each query is treated as a potential booking, thus influencing demand figures – Norwegian had to build their own database of flights and prices extracted from the transaction-oriented Amadeus reservation system. The customers responded enthusiastically, since it made it easy to change travel plans to take advantage of lower prices. The application was sold to Amadeus, and the competition eventually had to follow Norwegian’s lead and provide their own low-price calendars.

As Norwegian expanded (eventually flying more passengers outside Norway than inside,) the next step was to establish a new business out of their customer base and transaction platform: Bank Norwegian, an Internet bank that went into operation in the Fall of 2007. Drawing on a satisfied customer set, an experienced IT capability and a sophisticated, yet lean architecture, Norwegian figures it can take the transaction growth and reliability demands a banking application requires.

Kjos, now a converted IT buff, constantly talks about how Norwegian’s IT infrastructure allows the company to expand without growing costs. In August 2007, with a fleet of 22 airplanes, the company placed an order for 42 new Boeing 737 airplanes, for delivery over a five year period.

Norwegian continues to look for areas where IT can make a difference. The airline industry is extremely competitive, and the game is all about being low-cost, yet effective in how talent is employed. Norwegian consciously trains its employees to be capable of performing many tasks – any flight attendant can also do check-in or reservations, for instance, thus enabling the company to use the labor outside the 600-700 hours in the air regular flight personnel can work.

For Norwegian, the trick has to flood the company with IT support before anyone has had time to hire people. And as Aanby has put it: In Norwegian, there are really only two employee categories that are paid above market average: Pilots – and IT people.

In 2007, Hans-Petter Aanby was rewarded for his efforts by being awarded the title CIO of the Year by the Norwegian IT Magazine Computerworld.no – and Norwegian has continued to grow since, now profitably expanding its business while most of its competitors, particularly the traditional airlines, are struggling.

Record companies lose, artists gain

In early September, two of my M.Sc. students handed in their thesis, which has created quite a stir in the Norwegian music industry. I think this has applicability outside Norway, so here is a translation (and light edit) of the Norwegian-language press release and a link to the full report (PDF, 3,4Mb):

After 10 years of digitalization of music, the average (Norwegian) musician’s income has increased by 66%. As a group, the only losers in digital music seems to be the record companies. This is the conclusion of a M.Sc. study done by students Richard Bjerkøe and Anders Sørbo at the Norwegian School of Management BI in Oslo.

The thesis “The Norwegian Music Industry in the Age of Digitalization” shows that the musicians’ income increase is due to increased income from concerts, various collection agencies and stipends from the government in the period from 1999 to 2009. During the same period, record sales have decreased by about 50%. The fall in income from record sales is less important for the musicians, however, since, on average, they only receive 15% of record sales, whereas they receive on average 50% from concerts and 80% from collection agencies (who collects provisions from radio play and other uses of the artists’ productions.)

– In the interviews we have done with a number of musicians and music producers, the musicians say they are losing money on digitalization, but the numers show that it is the record companies, not the artists, who are losing, says Bjerkøe og Sørbo.

– The fall in record sales also means that record companies are becoming less important as launchpads for new artists, and that records to a larger degree become “business cards” – i.e., a marketing tool – to attract audiences to concerts.

Espen Andersen, associate professor at the Norwegian School of Management, has been the faculty advisor for the thesis. He thinks the results show that artists in the future will have more of their income from concerts and by being played on the radio, TV or Internet streaming services. Musicians will also, to a larger extent, have to take responsibility for their own marketing. The future of the record companies is uncertain and they will need to redefine their role in the music industry.

Facts:

  • Income from concerts has increased, on average, 136% from 1999 to 2009
  • Income from collection organizations such as TONO, Gramo and others has increased 108% from 1999 to 2009
  • stipends and other supports from the government has increased 154% from 1999 to 2009
  • The number of registered active musicians has increased by about 28% during this period
  • All figures have been adjusted for inflation.

For questions, please contact

  • Richard Bjerkøe, +47 9181 8686, rbjerkoe@gmail.com
  • Anders Sørbo, +47 9284 0098, anders.sorbo@no.experian.com
  • Espen Andersen, +47 4641 0452, self@espen.com

May 17: An explanation for non-Norwegians

Norwegian Constitution day today, an integral part of the annual productivity-dampening festival known as May. If you want to blend in with the natives, expect to wear your suit all day (including at 0800 flag hoisting at local school), eat ice cream and hot dogs (sold by brass-band parents, see below), and display a Norwegian flag prominently somewhere on your person.

image You will see brass bands of varying quality, women (and not a few men) wearing folk costumes, even more children carrying flags (upright in the morning, dragging along the pavement after lunch), and, should you go into Oslo or any medium-sized town, an increasing number of drunks (some of them still in folkloristic garb) towards dusk. Suffice is to say that "May 18" and "hangover" are synonyms in Norwegian, whether it is for the usual reason, or for lack of sleep and overexposure to plastic trumpets and sour, underage marching bands.

One excellent aspect, though: The almost complete absence of militaristic chest-beating – partly for tradition, partly for lack of chest. May 17th is a children’s celebration, by and large.

Enough of this, I need to, quite literally, hoist the flag. Man, it is early in the morning…