Thursday, 30 August 2007

Google Analytics is fantastic

Do you have a website? A blog? Some presence in the web? Then you must use Google Analytics. The wealth of information is awesome, and it is really well displayed, as pie-charts, graphs and maps. For instance, the two main countries where this blog is read are Argentina and the US (especially since I am now in the US :-) ), and that is displayed in a map, so it is really easy to see, but if I hover over the map, I can get the precise number and if I click I can see where in the US my visitors are coming from.

Disclosure: I am currently employed by Google; however I have found the product great on its own, so my recommendation has nothing to do with that. In addition, my views and opinions are solely my own, and are not endorsed by my employer.

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Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Let your people work

Once again I will show why it is great for work for Google (and therefore, everybody wants to work for Google, even the people who literally invented the internet)
The big secret is...
We are allowed to work; there are no obstacles between us and our job.
Since I am currently in the US, I have to use an adapter to plug my computer to the power grid. No biggie, except that the adapter is so large that I cannot have anything plugged in the socket where I plug my computer. Therefore I asked for a power source with the correct plug and it was provided. I didn't need any authorization, explanation or anything. Now my colleagues don't risk that I'll unplug their computers; it is just great that I am allowed to work!

Again, this is my sole opinion and doesn't reflect the opinion of my employer.

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Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Sparing a buck by spending more on programmers

It is a well known fact that turnover among Software Developers is high, since they usually want higher salaries than the company can afford. So it is just reasonable to save money by letting them go and hiring new ones, instead of trying to retain them. It's just the way things are.
Except it isn't. For those of you who have read my thesis, I will just copy a small part, so don't bother to go on. Imagine you have to replace a developer. Yo have to train him/her for 6 months, in order to have him up to speed (my estimate is quite optimistic, isn't it? So you already have 3 monthly wages lost. In addition, hiring a person through an agency or through internal processes normally costs about 2 months worth of his salary. So you have already lost 5 months as a sunken cost. If you have just a 66% turnover (quite low, I might say), every person stays around 1.5 years, so 5 months is about a 30% of the amount you'll pay this person during his career in the company. If you could double his stay, that would be only a 15% of his earnings with you; I think that paying 15% above market conditions is a good way of keeping your people for a really long time. By doing this you improve quality by having better trained people, with a longer-term mindset, who are more loyal to the company. For the exact cost of 0.
Of course, Timothy Lister and Tom DeMarco said this and nobody listened to them. Also Joel Spolsky repeats this every now and then, but who cares. Only bad companies as Microsoft and Google.

Disclosure: As of the date of publication of this article I am employed by Google. However, the content of this article reflects only my opinions and beliefs, and is in no way sponsored by my employer.

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Eating crabs (or how to make a big mess for some very small pieces of meat)

A typical San Franciscan experience is eating crabs (if you think that you are reading the wrong word, I mean exactly those small sea animals with claws and several legs; famous crabs include the honorable Eugene H. Krabs). Amazingly a 1.5 pound crab (750 grams) might have 150 grams of meat and generate 2 kg. of refuse after you eat.
According to well versed sources you should use a mallet, and not the nutcrackers I used. I guess that way I would have needed a complete shower, instead of only washing my clothes.
Anyway, it is a fun experience, not so much for the food, but... well, for the fun.

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Saturday, 25 August 2007

Working at Google

You will not be seeing any new information in this post, just my opinion about some of the perks of working at Google...
First, the free food in a beautiful environment; it is a problem not to eat it, especially since food is available all day long! Then, if you like dogs, you can bring them to the office (no cats allowed, though). And of course, all the nice things as having a full size replica of the Spaceship One
One trend that is either cool or worrisome is how easy it is to work in Google. All the campus has WiFi, and even the buses do. So, you can work in the way to the Googleplex, then stay long since it's great in there, and even work while you are in the toilet (which are certainly "Googley").
PS: Don't mind trying to read what is on the computer screen; no trade secrets there, just a newspaper.
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A good blog about Software HR in Argentina

Thanks to a mutual acquiantance, I came across this really good blog about Software HR in Argentina. I've found the entries refreshing and well researched:

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Thursday, 23 August 2007

There is a grain of truth in cliches

You know that California is known as "sunny California"? Well, I've been here for a week and I haven't seen a single cloud. Except in the Golden Gate. I arrived there and it was sorrounded in fog so thick that you could cut it with a knife. Actually, it was so thick than when the wind was flowing uphill you could see clunks of fog going up. After I crossed the Golden Gate it was sunny again, and you could see how the fog reached about half of the first two columns and completely covered the other two. And meanwhile, in Dublin, it was raining.
I still love how easy is to connect my mobile to my computer and then to Picassa. I also have a small comment about my Mac: it is so well designed. The DVD is just a thin slit in front. The keyboard lights turn themselves off if the room is lit enough. The power plug has no restrains: it attaches magnetically to the computer. Microphone, cammera and speakers are integrated. My only complain (besides the huge amount of programs that won't run): the cover feels a bit plasticky.

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Sunday, 19 August 2007

Dublin to San Francisco (via Hell)

Lately, my trips have been hellish.
This time, my baggage was delayed; I still can't understand how. Since I entered the US through Atlanta, I had to pick up the bag, carry it through customs, and then, it was put in the next plane. Somehow, the airline made a mistake in that final step.
By the way, it was quite amazing that I went through US immigration in Dublin; yup, there were several officers in Dublin, with the whole fingerprint scanning, cammera, etc. and when you arrived to the US you just went straight ahead, with no further paperwork. I guess the airline avoids getting a person back and paying a fine if he/she is rejected.
Another side comment; technology is getting really idiot-proof. I took the pictures of the hotel room with my Samsung D900
(which has an amazing camera, I took the pictures in a hurry, with little light and no flash, and they are not that bad), transfered them to my notebook through Bluetooth and uploaded them to the internet via Wifi. I didn't need to connect any cables, or setup anything. And I have just arrived to the hotel after traveling for 24 hours, as my writing skills show; my technical skills must be really bad too.

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Thursday, 16 August 2007

How I'll get rich in a few months

Actually, it is very simple
1. Hire a lawyer
2. Sue The Economist for copyright infringement (they've copied my post about Heathrow!)
3. ...
4. $$$ Prophit!

What could go wrong with this idea?

Nitpickers: I know that it is not copyright infringement; in order to be a copyright infringement, exact words would have to be copied. I guess I could only sue them for patent infringement if it were an invention, or under the DRMA if I were in the USA.

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Wednesday, 15 August 2007

A small note about the friendly and helpful Irish civil servants

I've only had a couple of meetings with Irish civil servants, but I like to give due recognition when it is deserved. These people are really helpful and friendly, and make every effort to assist you, even if you don't know the exact procedures. I don't know if it is a part of the national character, but they are always smiling and patient.
Thanks, and keep the good work!
PS: I am not the only one who thinks like this

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Monday, 13 August 2007

Controlling payment in subways around the world

So far I have seen three different ways of controlling payment in subways around the world.
The most stringent is in London and Barcelona, where you must use your ticket when you get on the platform and out of it. Also Buenos Aires' trains do something like this, even though not all the time. They just don't allow you to go out without the original payment or a fine.
Then you have a more normal method, that you pay to get in (there are cammeras or a guard to avoid turnstile jumping), but you just leave without further check (there might be checks inside the vehicles from time to time). Buenos Aires', Santiago's and Paris' subways control payment this way.
Finally, there is the honor or trust systems, where nobody checks whether you pay before boarding. However, there are controllers who come into trains quite often, and fines are really steep. Munich transport system works like these. What is peculiar are the controllers. Usually you are in the train and you see a couple of large, unsightly guys getting in; they are certainly easy to spot, since they are the worst looking people in the train. As soon as the doors close and nobody can escape, they show their IDs, and start asking for tickets. In a rude way. In a very rude way; since you are in a train, in Germany, with guys posessing state authority shouting, certain bad memories crop up.

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Saturday, 11 August 2007

About the unsustainability of economic imbalances

What a title!
All I mean is that if a country or a company in a market economy has an economic imbalance, sooner or later it will end. If it is recognized as unavoidable and well handled, a soft landing will be the result, and most probably, a positive result will come out. Otherwise, crisis ensues.
I will write a couple of things about a country that is basing it's whole economy in a huge devaluation. Since I want to avoid specifics, I'll only say that the name starts with A in almost every language and it has a great national football team.
A few years ago its currency was pegged to the dollar on a 1-1 basis; due to several reasons (government inefficiency, under-investment, high debt payments) the country was in recession with deflation and high unemployment. In the long term would have caused the prices to adjust to be market-efficient and market forces would have brought salaries down.
However, some illuminated minds thought that the process was too tough, so devaluation was the way to solve the problems, with the "better" minds of the government "gently" guiding the invisible hand.
So, in a few months, the Peso (let's say that's the name of the currency) was moved to a 3-1 rate against the dollar. Salaries were cut in real terms (even though they stayed the same in nominal terms), and of course, imports and exports immediately went up. Following the exact laws of economics, unemployment went down, since labour was cheap compared to industrial imported goods.
To fight inflation, exports were taxed, so the full impact of devaluation was not felt immediately (taxing exports makes them cheaper inside the country since those taxes don't have to be paid). Of course, to maintain the currency at such low levels money had to be printed to buy the currency brought in by the trade surplus.
Expensive foreign goods, industrial capacity at 100% usage and money being printed are to inflation what gin and vermouth are to a martini. Inflation became the norm, unions started asking for pay rises (creating inflation in non-tradable good as well as well), and some artificial measures where used to curb prices, such as maximum prices, unmovable rates for utilities, statistics make-up, etc. The obvious result: shortages.
One interesting fact is that non-unionized labour didn't get the same rises as other jobs. One of the groups that suffered this problem is IT staff, which produces one of the few easily tradable services. High demand and low prices don't match, so engineers (especially the best qualified) are getting jobs abroad and creating an even worse staff shortage.
What will happen in the future? My opinion (as always, personal, doesn't reflect the opinion of my employer, yaddy yaddy yadda) is that everything will crash. Inflation will raise (due to full industrial capacity, expensive imports, expensive investment due to expensive capital imports and expensive capital, high emission rate), unions will request higher raises adding pressure to prices. Of course, when the currency exchange reaches stable levels inflation will slow down; however, recession will come back since problems are structural, not conjectural. To avoid recession the currency could be further devalued, which is a short term solution, since inflation will go even higher after devaluation expectations become normal.
Oh, in case you haven't guessed, I am speaking about Argentina.

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Thursday, 9 August 2007

I am an official Googler

Well, not yet. So far, I am only a Noogler (which means a new Googler). I will use this opportunity to link to my album about how I went to my first day at work and to remark that the opinions of this blog are my own, absolutely my own, and that no comment should be taken as an official statement from Google. If you do, you do so at your won risk.

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Sunday, 5 August 2007

Transportation as a token of the national character

All my readers (both of them) have complained that I've gone too deep into technical stuff; so I'll write a couple of posts that I've been thinking about some time. Namely, I'll do some comparative studies of transportation around the world; I plan to do it as seriously as I'd do a comparative study about "The Simpsons" and "Futurama"
I'll start with airports. Airports are the quintessential expression of the national character. For instance, American (and by this, I mean airports located within continental USA, explicitly excluding Puerto Rico, Hawai and the US Virgin Islands) are large; really large; really, really large. And that's not considering the parking lot, which usually has enough space to park the annual production of Ford, Chrysler and Toyota combined. They are so large that they might have a public transport system within the airport even though the city they serve might lack one. Of course, everybody knows that once logistical issues are solved that communist concept of public transportation will be replaced with individual gas guzzlers. Mind you, these airports are among the most comfortable and easy to use that I have ever seen (this would be an excellent place for a joke about Swedish women, but I'll let it pass). Seriously, this ease of use is typical American, and so is the tacky decor. In addition, in a really American Way, for a few years most employees have been speaking Spanish.
Across the ocean, you have airports that are just the opposite. Beautifully designed but impossible to use; you never know if you are in the right place or how to get there, and don't you dare to speak in English. Of course, I'm speaking about France.
A bit more to the East, you get in Germany (to the Southeast you are in Switzerland and Austria, which are quite similar regarding airports but are completely different in every other sense, so please, don't start an international conflict). German airports are, well, Germanic. The same concept that is used for chocolates is applied to airports: they are Quadratisch, Praktisch and Gut. They are squares that are practical and good, where you can just use logic to find your way. And of course, in a very German way, you can count that the timetables are exact, no matter whether the sun shines or the snow has to be cleaned from the planes' wings; I'll bet a good way to prepare mashed potatoes for dinner would be to put a sack of potatoes behind the wheels of the 7:00 PM flight and pick the remains at 7:01.
Latin American airports have the usual characteristics that you can rely on; or rather, not to rely on. They are unpunctual, the published information doesn't bear any resemblance with the facts and with a 10 U$S bribe you can get an Uzi, cocaine and, god forbids, a metal knife into the plane. But don't worry, people are friendly and a plane might be delayed for half an hour just to avoid losing a passenger.
Finally, I have to say I was quite surprised with Spanish airports. They are somewhat organized, they are large enough, and quite comfortable to use; I guess they show that Spain has really advanced since the eighties. However, one cliche is still true; if you arrive before 7 AM, you'd better wait. No employee arrives before 10.

I have found an amazing exception to my rule: London Heathrow is the most un-british airport I can think of. People are rude, it is a mess, no plane ever leaves on time, and worst of all, escalators' slow lanes are on the right, instead of being in the wrong side like cars!
EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg is a strange case. Even though the airport is technically in French territory, it is shared with Switzerland (there is a special fenced highway that goes directly to Basel), so there are customs WITHIN the airport, outside the arrivals and departures areas. Of course, you almost never use them, except when you leave through the wrong door and get into the wrong country. This airport stills respects my rule. The old building (built by the Swiss) is almost a square with one floor for departures, another for arrivals and then, a separate floor for restaurants and stuff. However, the new gates' building is a modern, futurist looking finger.
I guess my next post will be about subways, so stay tuned...
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