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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