Tuesday, 27 November 2007


We are used to ads showing DHL vans, airplanes, motorbikes, etc. but this picture shows they REALLY deliver everywhere. So, if you are in Venice, how do you think they deliver? Some other company has made a whole movie about how great they are, that they deliver a parcel even several years after, but this is really amazing (mind you, I liked Castaway) but the blatant advertising took all the magic out of it)

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Monday, 26 November 2007

Another reader for my Blackberry comment

It seems my original post about the Blackberry is quite popular. Besides the post I have already mentioned, I have found another post about it. If you can't read German, the brief translation is "the deep and insightful blogger delights us with some wonderful perspectives about technology" (hey, don't blame me if you can't understand German, it is not that difficult :-) )

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Mirror, Mirror in Dublin Airport

Usually arriving in the Dublin Airport is a bit chaotic. It goes as follows:
-You arrive to the gates in the A14 area, where Ryanair passengers are crowding so the can run to get a good seat.
-You go through passport control in a breeze. Irish citizens just show their passports from 1 meter away; any other EU citizens have to wait for a full 5 seconds while the guard controls that the passport is not a blatant forgery.
-You wait for ten hours until they start dispatching the luggage.
-You go outside and you wait for 20 minutes for a taxi.

Today, after some well-deserved holidays -hey, it is tiresome to eat all that food and to walk your dog- the airport was just the opposite (except for the taxi part): the terminal was absolutely empty; the guards, feeling very bored checked every single passport for 10 seconds, and then, when I went to pick my luggage, it was already there!

PS: Bonus Geek points if you knew what the title meant without checking the wikipedia
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Thursday, 15 November 2007

Some assorted news and reflections

Today I am again on the healthy side of 90. So cheers for that (without food, otherwise I'll cross that threshold again).
By the way, have you realized that in my previous articles I have become a bit fond of the number 90? However, my favorite is still 42 for well known reasons. One interesting fact about Google is that everybody knows arcane references to H2G2. Nobody will feel insulted if I call them smarter than mice, and I will start a Krikkit War by saying "your code is worse than Vogon poetry!"
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Thursday, 8 November 2007

My own three words

Since today I helped my friend writing her three English words, I think it is a great opportunity for a shameless act of self-promotion. So, you can check what I've written here.

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Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Javascript Constructors are factories

No reader told me that Javascript Constructors are actually factories; shame on you! In Javascript constructors can actually return an object of a different type. They are closer to factories than to traditional Java constructors.
While researching this post I came across a very interesting article that considers constructors harmful. I agree about the troubling concept of constructor, one of most basic parts of an Object, not being object oriented. I really recommend to read the article, since it explains the problem much better than me.

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Monday, 5 November 2007

I will not confirm or deny these perks

There are some secret perks stated here. Per policy, I cannot confirm or deny them. In particular, this non-acknowledgment shouldn't be perceived as a confirmation of perk #25.
By the way, the picture in perk #1 looks very similar to a Dalek. And in perk #18, goto statements are grounds for immediate dismissal (this is not an official statement from Google or me confirming such perk). Finally, some statisticians in Google (we have a few of them here... Google Field's medalists are counted with exponential numbers) show a high correlation between people about to leave the company and people who "disappear" in the next months; amazingly, this correlation approaches 1.0 since perk #4 was (or was not) instituted.

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Sunday, 4 November 2007

I am hooked on English TV and movies

I have to say that these days I am completely hooked on English TV and movies. Besides Dr. Who, which is one of the most amazing "recent" (or old, since the first version is from 1963) Sci-Fi shows, along with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, I have recently seen Hot Fuzz, an amazing mix between a customary movie AND a police action film. Of course, you have other wonderful classic pieces like the Fawlty Towers, Black Adder, The Benny Hill Show and Monthy Python. So, for make benefits Glorious Broadcasters of Amerikaskhstan, write one hundred times in the blackboard: I will not make clones of every single successful show. To be fair, BBC also copies some awful stuff, but I'd say a bit less than other broadcasters.

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Counting in Spanish

In my entry "Counting in French" I have explained the strange way of saying 90 in French. In this video you can see some strange way of saying 55 in Spanish.

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Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Everything about Google

Today I have found out this Google Blog with plenty of Google information, amazing style and great pictures. It seems they have liked my post about the Blackberry... I guess the gTent (not an official product) might be of interest too.

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Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Finally, the last step for complete Google immersion

As I have commented in many previous posts, Google provides us with food, clothing, transportation, treats, gym, entretainment, parties and phones. The only thing missing was a roof. Well, actually, now they do. We have been given tents, so I can now officially spend 24 hours a day in the office (I have a huge bean bag next to me to sleep). And if you are wondering about hygiene:
1. I am a Software Engineer, we don't need no stinkin' showers! (ok, it is just the opposite of stinkin' but you get the idea)
2. There already are showers (you don't want 100 people out of a gym without showers).
By the way, I have seen The Terminal yesterday, and it looks too familiar. Unfortunately, I haven't met Catherine Zeta-Jones yet. Mmhh, this comment may not make me popular among female Googlers. In my defense, I can say I am no Tom Hanks myself either.

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Sunday, 28 October 2007

Write it, and readers will read it

I was analysing my reports in Google Analytics and it is quite obvious. If you have a blog readers are interested in new content; since I've been pretty busy during the last maonth, I couldn't write regularly. However, on Oct. 15-16, There is a peak of 50-56 readers, just after I have written some new posts.
So this is another trick in the blogger's bag. Write, and be linked. Only 1.000.000 bloggers already know this.
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The invisible hand working at airports

I don't mean security guards with superpowers. I mean market forces dealing with bad service. Accoding to this article in The Economist, airlines state that BAA is trying to use market forces to move people to its other airports. It certainly works for short haul flights (as you have read in my recent post I've travelled to London City), but not in the way they intend, since London City belongs to a different company!. And it is working for international flights in that weird way too: In my trip to San Francisco I used a different airpot, but it belonged to a different company. It simply will not work if you want to use London as a hub; I will never change planes by travelling from Heathrow to Gatwick or viceversa. If service doesn't improve, less passengers will fly to Heathrow, it will collect less money, and the managing company will go broke (or it will sell the rights to administer Heathrow to a different company).
It is quite funny that London City's corporate page states that London City is the only airport in London (which, according to the ASA, is true).

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No free stuff received

There is an interesting post in DailyTech about reviewers receiving schwag; Joel Spolsky wrote an article about bloggers being bribed. I just wanted to state I have received no free stuff from any company mentioned in my blog (with the obvious exception of my employer). In this case I have not been instructed to write those posts, have not received any compensation for writing them (they were written in my own private time), and, as usually stated, are my opinion and not endorsed by my employer.
By the way, the term schwag is quite funny. It originally was coined as swag (stuff we all get), but it seems schwag sounds better (not for me). Anyway, it can be used to describe another product that is not extremely valuable.

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Monday, 22 October 2007

Learning English the Irish Way... or is it Irish the English Way?

A friend of mine is writing a new blog, with three English words a day... quite an appropriate number for an Irish/English Blog, considering the Holy Trinity. We'll see how pious are the words :-)

PS: I'll never learn to stay away from religion

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Sunday, 21 October 2007

A win-win proposition

Win-win is a nice term from the biz lingo. Nobody dislikes it; since you win for certain, how can you dislike it. However, companies don't seem to apply this to employees (and to be honest, unions don't seem to embrace it either). However, I think Google has hit the sweet spot. Today, Saturday, I came to the Gym, and later, I watched a movie in the games room, with a projector I'd never have in my house. It was certainly a win for me. And for Google? Since I was here, I answered mails, performed a bit of work, for the exact cost of 0 for Google, and to my full satisfaction. Philip Greenspun wrote
"Your business success will depend on the extent to which programmers essentially live at your office. For this to be a common choice, your office had better be nicer than the average programmer's home. There are two ways to achieve this result. One is to hire programmers who live in extremely shabby apartments. The other is to create a nice office."
Google has managed to do exactly that.

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Monday, 15 October 2007

Scientific Hebrew term

Some Hebrew and Yiddish words have been incorporated into English; words such as schmuck, bagel and Chutzpah come from Yiddish, and some words like Armageddon, Satan and amen are so well integrated that you'd have never guessed they came from Hebrew. However, no word is less likely to have become a scientific term than Glitch (quite an appropriate term too); since a glitch is a slippery surface, what better term to describe a slip in the frequency of a pulsar (a rotating neutron star [the leftovers of large collapsed star, but not so massive as the ones that give origin to a black hole]).
Note: Unfortunately, my research in the Internet couldn't confirm if the origin of the term for pulsars comes from this slip in frequency, or because a spurious or defective signal in an electric device is also a glitch, and it could have been the first explanation for the change of frequency in a pulsar.

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Sunday, 14 October 2007

The complete opposite of 100 words for ice

As I wrote in my previous post, it is a myth that Inuit have 100 words for ice. But according to a Hungarian friend of mine, there is only one food for seafood in Hungarian!

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Saturday, 13 October 2007

Are there more forms for ice than eskimo words for snow?

It is an urban myth (debunked here) that Inuit people (formerly known as Eskimos) have more than 100 words for snow. However it is not a well known fact that there are 14 different ice phases. Only 3 of them are occur naturally in Earth, but many more exist and can be obtained in laboratories. A fact that I found amazing is that Ice XI is ferroelectric. I would also like to know whether it is true that the Hungarian parliament was refrigerated until recently with ice from Lake Balaton. Unfortunately, all the information I've found in English doesn't state a precise date, so I am a bit suspicious about the authenticity. If some kind Hungarian speaker could point me to a source in Hungarian I'd be extremely thankful. In addition, he/she will get the dedication of my next post.

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Friday, 12 October 2007

Oyster Card: privacy nightmare, UI design disaster or both?

I have recently been to London and used the Oyster Card to pay my Tube journeys. At first glance, the Oyster Card seems to be a great concept: an electronic purse used to pay small amounts. When you get in the Tube you put the card near the sensor and when you get out you put the card near another sensor, and the correct amount is deducted.

However, it has two huge drawbacks:
Privacy concerns:
you fill a form to get a card (even though you can avoid that), and then there is a complete record of every single trip you make, including origin and destination. If you combine that with the fact that there are cameras all around London, Big Brother (the one from the book, not the TV show) comes too close to reality for comfort (no way the TV show will ever be within an AU from reality).
UI Design:
Matt Stephens points an extremely good issue. If you forget to get your card to the exit sensor you get charged the maximum amount. It is understandable that they don't want people to avoid paying by tailgating (or should it be back-gating), but during the rush our you don't have much time to check if the correct amount was deduced. I don't think it would have been to problematic, as Matt Stephens suggests, to install sensors in the exits (damn, the sensors work in toll stations!), or using all the spoofing^H^H^H data collection for something useful. Nope, big fine for you Mr. Cheater!

PS: It is a sad state of affairs that if you look for Big Brother in Google, the book is only the tenth result.

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Thursday, 11 October 2007

Some good videos about Google

The first one is about interviewing in Google. The best part: is it mainly in Dublin! Actually the first revolving door you see, and all the flags, that's here!

If you have been too lazy (or in your right mind) and didn't read why working at Google is great, you have a bite-sized, easy to watch Oprah (yes, that Oprah) video at:

not everything in that video is true: there are 17 canteens, not 11.

Finally, one about Virgin Galactic... not much to do with Google, except that it happened here

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Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Google is evil: they've reduced my lifespan

Asbestos? No.
Smoke filled rooms? No.
A possible heart attack due to a high stress environment? Certainly not (however, it might be partially true, if you consider how much weight I may gain from eating the amazing food).

I've been given a Blackberry, so I may now read my mails while walking. The problem is that I may get distracted while crossing a street, forgetting to look up. So my lifespan has been reduced by 2.4 years now, due to the risk of a car accident.

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Monday, 8 October 2007

Worst flier ever?

It seems I am trying to qualify to the worst flier ever. In my last 6 flights, only 2 were incident free (and all of them were in full service airlines). This time, I was about to seat and there was another passenger in the same seat AGAIN (seems to be becoming a habit). Fortunately, this time I was in the right flight. Here are the events that happened in my last flights:
Dublin to Buenos Aires: Late departure, missed connection in London, stayed 1 day in London, bags misplaced and only arrived 2 days later
Buenos Aires to Dublin: No incident
Dublin to San Francisco: Bag lost, arrived the following day
San Francisco to Dublin: No incident
Dublin to London: Boarded the wrong plane:
London to Dublin: Seat changed, complained, good seat assigned, seat double-assigned.
PS: it was pretty impressive to see in the London Science Museum that the buildings I flew over and even the airport were I landed last time were just docks 25 years ago.

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Sunday, 7 October 2007

Generics/template: giving peace of mind to the anal-retentive

I admit it: I am obsessive. So I am a bit conflicted about Object Oriented Programming. To be true to the concept, objects themselves should define whether they accept a message or not; type checking should not be allowed, since it should be impossible to realize beforehand whether a message (a function call in other paradigms) is valid or not until it is passed to the object. However, not adhering to theory has lots of advantages. On one hand, static typing allows you to detect errors at compilation time, errors that wouldn't be detected until the function is executed; that is certainly a huge advantage, especially since not many people are comfortable with mutable code. In addition, if a call is not polymorphic, it has better performance (this advantage is quite minor, since the performance improvement is very minor).
Java and C++ were strong typed, and life was easy and nice to your average control freak. However, there was a thing in Java (up to 5.0) that bothered me a a bit. You could only add “Object”'s and get “Object”'s from Collections, so to get syntactic errors if you added the wrong type to a collection you had to either to do a very strange casting when adding to the collection (every time casting to the desired class and then letting the implicit casting to “Object” work, without forgetting once about the casting) or you had to subclass the desired Collection instance (which was safer, but you made a bigger mess by adding unnecessary classes). Fortunately, by using Generics (or templates in C++) you can don't have to do anything for type checking the input, you can specify what objects should be contained in a Collection when you must pass a parameter and you don't have to cast the get function, all through a simple syntactic trick (unfortunately, not everything is just a syntactic trick away)

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Saturday, 6 October 2007

Why I hate Java enums

Enums are nice: they are static instantiation of objects where some absolute order is introduced between the elements. However, in Java, they have made the instantiation of enums and type declaration go together. You cannot make enums of objects that you have declared previously.
From the implementation point of view the reason is obvious. If an element is a member of an enum and it has a base class, suddenly that object has multiple inheritance, a big NO-NO in Java. On the other hand, if an enum doesn't inherit from any other class the object of class T can inherit from Enum, so it is just a simple syntactical trick to make the enum. The problem is that it is worthless. If you want to create objects of that class, apart from the enumeration, you can't.
Implementing it the other way would have been harder; the element would have had to handle methods with the same name, common ancestors, etc., all the nice stuff that make C++ inheritance syntax a huge mess, and really difficult to implement. But then enums would have been useful instead of a quick gimmick for rookies; right now enums are only useful for a simple lists of Strings.
PS: I am not the only Java-enum-hater

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Friday, 5 October 2007

The self defeating prophecy

We have all heard about self-fulfilling prophecies: a rumour says a bank will go under, so everybody hurries to get their money. Since no bank has enough money to return all deposits, it effectively goes bankrupt even though it fundamentals might have been good.
The name of my blog, as I explained in my first post, is about my tendency to procrastinate. However, if you check, during the last month, I have written a daily entry (take that New York Times!), so it is a self defeating prophecy... Ahhh, if I should could do something similar with diets.
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Thursday, 4 October 2007

What Googlers do in a blackout?

Unfortunately, we don't have our own nuclear plant (if we had, it would produce electricity at ten times the normal rate, and we would have an exact replica of Homer's control room for eating donuts). So today there was a blackout in the area where our London office is located (don't panic, Google Search continued business as usual).
What do Googlers do in a blackout? Do we turn off our computers so they don't all power up at the same time? Do we try to save our latest and greatest lines of code? No, we go for our most precious resource: we try to eat the ice cream from our fridges before it melts.

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Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Localizing the Google Commute (or shall I say, the Googmute?)

In Mountain View, CA, you get bicycles. In Dublin and London, you get umbrellas.
PS: Obvious joke: In Switzerland, do you get skis?
PS2: In the Googlunaplex, do you get space suits (you REALLY need them)

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Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Landing in London City (Blitz style)

My previous post was about boarding the wrong plane; now I'll write a bit about landing in London City. If you recall another post, you will realize how much I hate Heathrow. So I decided to go to a different airport. There was a cheap flight to London City, so it was pretty convenient.
As you might know, London City is on the east side of the city (you can see it in the introduction to Eastenders). If you come from Dublin, (that's from the northwest) and landing on Runway 10, you have to go around London (quite sensible, I hasten to add). You reach the south of the city (I could see the the Big Ben, the Parliament and the London Eye from the right side of the plane). Then it turns north and as your get next to the 100 radial, it makes a sharp turn east to start the final approach; that happens almost over the Tower Bridge, so you get a wonderful view of the towers. Then, you fly over Canary Wharf (really low by now), clearing the buildings by not so much and finally over some old mills. At that time, you are almost over the runway, so the plane must go down. Fast. I have never seen such a high vertical speed ever or at least, since I was flying single engine planes. At the last second the pilot stopped the descent, and we had a soft touchdown. Even though I enjoyed the view, I can't say it was an uneventful flight.
As the record goes, this airport features a 5.5 degrees glidslope descent (normal is 3); here are some nice flight simulator images, even though they don't give a fair impression to the steep descent.

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Sunday, 30 September 2007

Today I boarded the wrong flight

Yes, I mean what you understood. I walked through the gate and got into the plane, but it wasn't the right one. Fortunately, another passenger had the same seat; otherwise, I would have flown in blissful ignorance, while my baggage was being unloaded from the right flight, searched and probably destroyed.
It was a short hop, Dublin to London City, traveling by Air France. I went to the gate and found an Air France flight leaving at the same hour and same plane model. I gave my boarding pass to the stewardess at the gate, and went through. I realized that it was a different gate, but heck, same company, same destination, same plane; gates change, shit happens.
I was about to sit down, and I found this other guy at my seat. We checked both our stubs, and both had the same seat. The plane was empty, so I asked the stewardess if I could change my seat (come on, seats might get double assigned too). At first, the stewardess looked baffled at the other guy's stub, since she was not used to see that kind of stub, but after a brief check, she started looking at what codes that flight had (at least two codes). Suddenly they realize I was in the wrong plane. I disembarked and everything went well; I just wonder what might have happened if the seat was empty (and if the destination weren't the same)
PS: part of this post was written on board the right plane

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Saturday, 29 September 2007

I've been positevely commented in Google

I wrote in a public mail thread in Google, suggesting some ideas, and someone actually wrote mentioning that my ideas were good; not only that, he even used my name. It inflates your ego quite a bit when one of the best people in the market makes a positive comment on your ideas.
So, I hope somebody bursts my ego, otherwise, I'll be a pain in the neck.

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Friday, 28 September 2007

Living in Google

I wrote a few articles about working in Google, but there is a fact I have not mentioned: you not only work at Google but you also live in Google.
So, let's take this weekend as an example: on Thursday I went to the gym (in Google), worked, had lunch at Google, got together with a colleague for dinner. On Friday, we had our TGIF, then went for Dinner with some nooglers, and finally, a housewarming party from another noogler; amazingly, in this party, there were a few (like almost 5!) non googlers, so it was a chance to get in contact with the outside world. Today, Saturday, I got together with our board-games group, and spent the full day playing games in the office (we didn't have time for XBox or stuff like that, though). However, I guess it can always get more immersive, especially if I apply for a position in this office.

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Thursday, 27 September 2007

I will not write anymore about the French

My page visits were rising until the last two articles; suddenly, they bombed, and dropped to half the number of visits. I used to have visits from India, Indonesia and Canada, and now they are gone. I will not write anything else about the French.

Update: Great, now the French, embraved by their new president, are coming to lynch me. YAIC (I don't mean Yet Another Interpreter Compiler, I mean Yet Another International Conflict)

By the way, when I was researching this post, I discovered that Sarkozy's father was Hungarian, and his mother was of French and Jewish Ottoman descent, quite weird for a French president, isn't it?

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Wednesday, 26 September 2007

If a tree fallls in a French forest, does it make any sound (or does it say "Oui")

Being ready is always good (always ready, boyscouts, forest, ok, stop the free association). And it is specially good when you are in a foreign country and you are the only one who speaks the language.
Once I was working for a project, and we visited the factory in French. It was a Japanese company, and people stayed late. However, our French colleagues left at 20:00 so the only remaining people where my Japanese bosses, an Englishman, me and 200 factory workers. As you can imagine, the factory workers didn't speak English. Suddenly, with my rudimentary French, I was everyone's translator. That single day proved how right I was trying to learn all the variants of each verb.
Even though I am not very good at languages (unlike a friend of mine whose name I won't mention who speaks perfect Hungarian, English, German and Spanish, or this other woman who Speaks also Spanish, Catalan, German, English and French), I enjoy learning French and Italian, quite easy for me, and German, which is almost beyond my possibilities. I want to learn a few more languages (you never know when they might become useful), and I was thinking about Portuguese to relax, or a tough one, like an Eastern European language, or Hebrew. Anyone who wants to comment (or cheer for their favorite language), be my guest.

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Monday, 24 September 2007

The mistery of number 42

OK, I have to apply for a job writing misleading titles; I just wanted to get numerologists to read this article.
I have finally found one advantage of having multiple measurement systems: you can break arbitrary barriers twice as easily if you have two systems. For instance, i am trying to lose weight. Today, I've broken the 200-pounds barrier, so I am elated. In a few days I'll probably break the 90 kg. barrier, so I'll be happy again (of course, I'd be happier if I weren't dieting).
In related news, the EU has dropped it's plan to force UK to use the metric system. On the practical side, it is quite a loss (I don't think anyone can say the imperial units are better). In the legal side, even for a staunch unionist like me, it was crossing the line a bit too much, especially since there are laws already in effect for that in the UK. Finally, from a traditionalist point of view, it is a pity to see these quaint measures disappearing (good luck trying to change the pint for beer).

Oh, about the number 42, it is the point where Celsius and Fahrenheit degrees are the same (to be exact, is minus 42, but it makes a less striking point). In addition, it is the Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything (check with Google if you don't believe me), and is the result of 6 times 9

PS: I am a pretty sorry case

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Esperanto as a victim of network effects

Esperanto was a good idea. A really good idea, as the Euro was a good idea. However, while the Euro is thriving, Esperanto is spoken by very few people (I wouldn't dare to compare the number of Esperanto speakers to the number of Klingon speakers). One big problem with Esperanto is that it suffers from large negative network effects; if many people speak Esperanto, it becomes useful, and so, more people learn it. However, if very few people speak it, it is not useful, and therefore, very few people (just curious ones) will make that big effort.
In addition, Esperanto suffers from a lock-in problem: people have spent a lot of time learning English and maybe some other language; they've become proficient in them. So, the utility of learning Esperanto should be larger than the effort they must make in order to reach the same level of proficiency than the other languages.
This is another example of systems theory: those two effects are trivial to prove in systems theory, but quite hard using any other model.

PS: I have found a similar article from Semisane

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Sunday, 23 September 2007

Management in Google

Frederick P. Brooks wrote in The Mythical Man-Month that managing engineers is like herding cats. However, if you take that to Google, you have to think in a different scale. You are not herding cats; you are herding hyper-developed mutant felines who are more knowledgeable than the herder. However, managers in Google are extremely effective; they simply trust their people and let them loose, they just get rid of the stones in the way. Of course, this takes a lot of courage; Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister described this as an Open Kimono policy in Peopleware . I didn't believe this could happen, but it does. It certainly shows that Google not only hires class A engineers, but also, class A managers.

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Saturday, 22 September 2007

Counting in French

Opinions about the French are quite divided: some people hate them, others, like me, love them. They are different; they know that and are proud of it. It begins at the very basics. When you learn to count in different languages, you usually start with small numbers, and then go up to the tens. Usually, there are some special cases in the 11-20 area, but then it becomes quite regular, each group of ten starting with some variation of the first number and then, the second number is regular.
So, you are quite jolie learning numbers in French, you reach soixante-neuf (69) and you go to septante.
Arretez! All your instincts are wrong: It is soixant-dix. Yes, sixty-ten. And as if this weren't fou enough, how do you say eighty? Quatre-vingt; exactly, four times twenty (and don't get me started on ninety three)
This post was inspired by a colleague who explained me that accountants actually use the other form, more traditional in other languages in order not to mix numbers, but you would never use them in the street. After some research, I have realized that these numbers might be used in Belgium and Switzerland, but I didn't experience that first-hand. If you click in the links (come on, do that, I spend a lot of time linking), you can see that other European languages use these vigesimal numeration; really mainstream languages like Basque and Gaelic . Just opposite of what Asterix said, Ils sont fous ces gaulois! (and I love them for that!)

PS: cheap Google ad, it is really fun when your colleagues explain these strange things!
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Friday, 21 September 2007

Using genetics for diagnosing diseases (and insurance purposes)

The Economist had an amazing note about genetics for diagnosing illnesses, and the privacy concerns (mainly, how it could be used by insurers to raise rates).
However, there is a systemic consequence if insurers use that information. Let's make a Gedankenexperiment (oh boy, how I love that word). If an insurer could know exactly what genetic diseases a person will get there will be three kinds of costs an insurer will have to cover:
1.an amount every person spends in health every year
2.an amount that some people might spend and others not
3.an amount for genetic diseases

The first amount is a small amount, but since every person uses that amount, it doesn't make sense to have insurance for that (since every person spends that amount, rates should include that amount and a small extra for administrative costs, so it is not convenient for the client to be insured for that, and in a competitive environment, it is not convenient for the insurer, since higher rates means clients going to other companies). I.E. large loss insurance condition is not satisfied in these costs, and that's why health insurance policies usually have deducible clauses.
The second amount is a variable amount that insurers will always cover, where there is variability among individuals. This is why insurance exist: due to the law of large numbers, risks will average among these individuals, so what could be ruinous to one person is distributed in time and among different people, making it affordable to the group.
The third amount is currently inside the second, but insurers would like to split it, so "genetically healthy" people pay less than "genetically unhealthy", giving better rates to a group and attracting more clients. However, this could be ruinous to insurers. They will insure only the small costs, not the large ones, where profits are, turning health insurance into a cheap commodity. If a disease is certain, you'd be better off saving money for the covering the costs yourself rather than giving it to insurers, since you will be saving the administrative costs. In addition, not only it would be bad for particular insurers, but for the industry. You'll have low cost insures, with thin margins, who only take "genetically healthy" clients, and all-inclusive, who theoretically will take all kinds of people, but since it is more expensive, only genetically unhealthy people will go there.

Don't you love systems theory?

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Thursday, 20 September 2007

Living in a Campus (or a ghetto, as you prefer)

As some of you may know, I have a new apartment, quite close to the Google office. I went there for a visit when I received my keys, and I crossed 3 different Googlers. When you consider that I am not a very sociable person, that I have been in the city for 3 weeks and that I am an engineer, so I don't meet every single person in the company, you can guess a certain amount of Googlers live in the area. It is almost like living in a campus, great social life, lots of activities and, this being Ireland, lots of drinks.
If you have a pessimistic outlook, you can also say that it is living in a Ghetto, where Googlers gather and defend themselves from the worst elements of society: drug dealers, rapists, and, God save us, Microsofties

PS: some readers told me there are worse things than Microsofties: Microsoft lawyers, RIAA lawyers and the Nazgul
PS2: If you know BOTH main meanings of the Nazgul without checking the Wikipedia and not including rock bands, you certainly are a geek (link here for your convenience)

Update (22/09/2007): I have met two more colleagues living near my building: one is living next to my apartment block and the other is living in it!

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Wednesday, 19 September 2007

The power of linking

I didn't believe it; I really didn't believe it. If you check my previous post, I described that my blog was included in the list of Blogs by Googlers on September 14th. How much did my visits increase? Almost nothing, 100%. According to Google Analytics (did I say it was fantastic?), this jump is just the visits coming from Google's Official Blog. My second referer is Mariana Riva's blog (another link).
So, if you have a blog, and you want to make it popular, you must certainly have lots of links to it. No other options are available.
Update: Yesterday (Sept. 17th 2007) my visit count went through the roof (ok, only 28, but it was almost twice as much as the day before), reaching the highest ever.

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Tuesday, 18 September 2007

I officially have a "Blog by Googlers"

Google official blog has links to blogs written by the smartest people in the business. And, for some reason, it also has a blog written by me!

PS: The reason why the blog is there is because I am a Googler. The reason why I am a Googler, well,... only the gods know (meaning Larry and Sergei)

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Monday, 17 September 2007

Tall buildings representing the city main business

Every city has tall buildings representing its main business. New York has the Empire State, that represents the trading performed in the city. San Francisco, being the Wall Street of the West, has the Transamerica Center and the Bank of America Center. Frankfurt has the Commerzbank Zentrale, a landmark in the banking center of Europe.

Dublin has the Guiness Storehouse.

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Saturday, 15 September 2007

Watching a Rugby match in Ireland

Or any sports in general, means beer. Lot's of beer. Every pub becomes crowded, and everybody watches the match. The Irish, not a people keen on violence (no matter their viking origins), don't get aggressive while drunk, so it might even be fun seeing them. And, surprise, surprise, who sponsors the national Irish Rugby Team: Guiness.

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There already are non-scarce goods

In my previous post, I wrote about a world where you don't have to work. There are already some goods that are free (as in free goods, not as in gratis).
There are three kinds of free goods:
Goods so abundant that we don't need to pay for them
Goods that are a by product of another good, and nobody really wants it (waste)
Ideas and inventions reproducible at free cost

Of these three, the first one is just that nature provides us with more than we need. However, it is not true that it will always be like this. When I was a child, water was considered a free good. Now we know that it is not, and we don't treat it like that. Air is becoming polluted, and in order to avoid pollution we have emissions trading, that literally places a price for clean air.
Waste is a by product; not really interesting, nobody wants it. The cost of using it is higher than its value.
Finally, information is the interesting free good. It wants to be free. Once information is available it is impossible to stop it from being copied (if it interesting); just check how much the RIAA and the MPAA are fighting against that, and losing. Information reproduction's costs are almost zero; producing costs are way higher. How will artists recoup their production costs? That is a subject that is interesting, since it might illustrate the future of the world economics. Most artists would need to earn their income from live shows, and distribute their music as a sample; maybe they will even collect donations. Even though this seems OK for music, what happens to movies? Since no lives performances are available, is this the end of the next "Titanic", "Terminator 2" and all high-cost blockbusters, since the investment won't be recoup?
We live in interesting times, seeing a transformation that didn't happen since Gutengberg times, and then, it happened in one century; now we'll only have 20 years.

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Friday, 14 September 2007

Fresh news about Google

As I said there is a replica of the SpaceShipOne hanging in the roof of Building 42 in the Googleplex.
Now I learn that Google will fund a moon prize with thirty million dollars. That's why I like working in this company. However, every single day Scott Adams gets closer to reality even in his craziest jokes!
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Thursday, 13 September 2007

Working at Google VI: It's the people, stupid!

It is great to work with great people; isn't it? Then it it follows that it is amazing working with amazing people...
In Google everybody is great; they are amazing and friendly. Actually, you can see that in the hiring web page: "world class programming skills", "Are passionate about their work and are great colleagues". And it is important that it is not strong programming skills: they are "world class" programming skills. "Passionate about", not "self-motivated". "Great colleagues"; maybe you have seen "team players" in other companies, but "great colleagues", who can support each other, who can undermine their management, that's outright subversive.
If you read closely the two last posts, you might always find some comment about the people. Your colleagues are another advantage of working at Google. You will always learn something AND have fun. And they are not petulant or trying to show off... they are so good that they don't need that. Actually, every single person in Google I've met is friendly, nice and very simple... So simple that they might trick you in judging the book by the cover. But inside you will always find Kafka, T.S. Elliot and Borges together, in the best ensemble you can think of.

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Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Working at Google V: Evilness is in the eye of the beholder

I guess this title could be used for some deep thoughts about serious issues like the Iraq War, terrorism or such.
Instead, I will post about how Google gains some good Karma (or loses it, from my point of view): the Gym. As you have read in my previous post, the food is great, abundant, etc. (most probably you knew about that, but I was running out of subjects). However, something has to be done in order to battle the weight gain. And the Gym is the best way to do it. I guess in the grand scheme of life, it is a good thing. However, due to my personal preferences, I'd rather consider that evil. In addition, what else could be said about a place with sweaty engineers exercising (I shriver just at the thought)? They might be computer whizzes all of them, great fun, but none will be featured in Playboy (another awful image, engineers in Playboy, I won't be able to sleep tonight).
On other news, Google has another method of fighting weight gain: the conference bike. Since everybody knows that meeting are a waste of time, at least you can exercise (if something important were to be said, there will be an e-mail later anyway).
PS: no link to Playboy in order to avoid angry parents whose kids have read by blog and found about Playboy.
PS2: that's a Gedankenexperiment! Thinking that somebody with a computer doesn't know about Playboy

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Working at Google IV: The free food

Yes, there is free food; yes, it is amazingly good. Last wednesday, for instance, I had oysters. Unless you've been to a school in the Swiss alps, I guess no other canteen will serve oysters. And of course, you put on weight. It is so common that it even has a name: Google 15 (the imperial impaired say the Google 5, since the Google 6.80388555 don't have such a hit, or the Google Stone, those who are really into measures).
But this being Google, it is part of the world's information, and has to be organized (and Googlers really like to code). The result: The Google 15 Weight Tracker. I rest my case.

Next installment: how we battle the bad karma (Gaining weight is evil)

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