Douwe Osinga's Blog: November 2004

Monday, November 29, 2004

On the dangers of drinking tea

So I'm back from Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka or Ceylon as it used to be called has a certain claim to fame when it comes to tea. The grow a lot of tea and are proud of it. Not that it is that great economically speaking, the average tea picker makes slightly more than a euro a day, which in Zurich would allow her to buy a hot chocalate with cream every week. However, it didn't always be this way. Sri Lanka used to grow coffee instead. If they had stuck to that, a war probably could have been avoided. Tea drinkers everywehere, pay attention.

Originally coffee was grown on the hills of Sri Lanka. They are steep, sunny and high, perfect for growing coffee (and cocaine or tea). However some weird virus arrived at wiped out the coffee plant. So they switched to tea. Doom was sure to follow.

The English, who by that time ran the island, had great trouble getting the Sinhalese (the majority of the Sri Lankians) to work for them on the coffee estates, so they imported workers from the South of India, mostly Tamils. Coffee is picked by man, it being a manly drink. Tea is picked by women (Real Men don't eat quiche, program pascal or pick tea). Also, men hunt, women nest. So during the coffee period of Sri Lanka, migrant workers would come in from India, work for the season and return with the money to their families in India.

After the switch to tea, whole families moved to Sri Lanka from India. The woman would work on the fields and at the end of the day return home to cook for their men (who I'm sure were being usefull by making plans all day they'd never execute while drinking tea). The rest is history. Sri Lanka got a Tamil population that didn't like the Sinhalisation in the seventies and revolted. The Tamil Tigers fought a long a bloody war argainst the central government and the development of the island was thrown back decades.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Illusive reality

This is very weird. Click the link and follow the instructions. It's a simple game, you see a movie and count the number of times the people in white shirts pass the ball to each other. You can reach the movie from the link somewhat down the page. After watching the movies go back to the page and click the second link down there to be amazed.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Off to Sri Lanka

Tonight we're flying to Sri Lanka for a week of relaxing and looking at old temples. Yeah, I know, a week is too short to appreciate a country like that, but then the world is just to big to visit it all within the holidays provided by average employers and still do it justice. So what's a poor guy to do?

From time to time I meet people who insist that if you don't spend 6 month in Nepal you haven't really been to the country, you don't really know it. I don't know. If you really get down to learning the language and study the culture in depths, you probably do take home something quite unique, but that doesn't seem the usual case with the  long time travelers. The longer they travel, the more the cost of accomodation seems to play a role in day to day conversation.

I take a more global view. Our planet has lot's of stuff to see and there is no real reason to limit yourself to one country other than practical stuff like visas and plane connections. Life's a box of chocalates, you never know what you'll get, except for that you do. There are travel guides and lists of monuments. If you have the time and money, you can check out all the best man kind has produced. Nobody has the time to learn all the languages of man kind or to really know all the cultures on the planet.

If you're a regular to this site, you know about my visited countries project where you can check countries you've been to and get a nice map as a reward. My approach to travelling has given me a map with relatively a lot of red. Interesting dilemma for now, I had a look at the prices in Sri Lanka (which seem very reasonable, especially compared to Zurich of course) and then wanted to convert them so I looked up the currency rates. But I wasn't really sure what to convert them to, Swiss Franks, Euro's or Dollars.

Anyway, I got to go. Here's to country #85.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Googles not so secret sauce

People often ask me what it is I do for Google. Hmm, that's secret. Google has a lot of secrecy going on, for good reasons most of the time. One of them is that we don't want to tell people about stuff before we launch it in order to keep rumors down and not play the FUD (fear uncertainty doubt) game (where big companies announace pre-anounce stuff that subsequently never shows up but keeps customers from buying stuff from competitors). There are however some things that give a great insight into how Google works that are out there, which seem like they should have been a secret.

One of them is the Google Filesystem. The paper describes how we store data at Google and goes into some detail here. Basically we run one distributed filesystem over more than a thousand machines using thousands of disks in order to manipulate hundreds of terrabytes at a go. Data is safely duplicated and can be checkpointed. It is really quite astonishing to work on stuff like that from the inside and you'd think that if you're going to keep stuff secret, this would be one thing. But it is not, it is a public paper.

If think the Google File System is pretty cool, keep checking back. There's another paper out there about some of the stuff we're doing here that will really blow your mind.


Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The chair for the office

 Since today the Zurich office is a complete Google office. We have our own massage chair. From buying to actually receiving the chair, it must have taken more than six months so we really have something to be happy about. Not just because it is nice to have one, the massage chair is also part of the God given (well, at least Larry & Sergey given) rules that make an office into a Google office.


Googlers should never be further than 30 feet away from food, they should have unlimited access to caffeinated drinks and they should have access to a massage chair were the founding principles of the company (there might have been something about a new way to determine which search results are relevant). Of course we’re not talking about any massage chair here.


There is only one company that makes the right kind of chair and that company is of course based in Japan. Massage chairs are very big in Japan. As it turns out, this company usually sells only to Japanese and they don’t really speak English, which explains to some extend why it took so long to get the chair in the first place. But now it proudly stands in our office, with seven different massage programs to choose from. All labeled in Japanese of course.

Saturday, November 6, 2004

On stupid programs and stupid humans

The multimedia side of our new appartment is shaping up. What previously was our main computer will from now on just serve mp3's and movies. I added an extra hard drive and it sits monitorless next to the stereo. For now you'll need VNC to select music, but at some point a smallish lcd touch screen or a XBox controler should take over. I also switched to iTunes as the main mode of playing songs (from WinAmp). This almost cost me my entire mp3 collection.

I like WinAmp a lot because it has a nice compact mode. It's ideal for playing music while doing something else. However, for a multimedia only PC a more full screen approach would be better, so I decided to try iTunes. Download and install went perfect and I could import my music by just dragging the folder to the library. iTunes doesn't copy the files to its own folder, except when it does conversions.

I realized I had reorganized my music collection in California and added some recent purchases to it, but this was all on an external harddisk, so the stuff I had on the MM PC was old. So, I deleted the MP3s there and copied them over from the external drive. Started up iTunes, but unfortunately it didn't recognize that the files on disk had changed. In order to make iTunes understand, I dragged the collection again to the library icon and iTunes started reimporting all.

Ah, but it still didn't recognize that some of the files had gone. Worse, mp3's I had moved now showed up twice in the list, once playable (from their new location) and once unplayable (from their old location where iTunes no longer could find them). Clearly I had to start from scratch, so I cleared the library of iTunes. That took a surprisingly long time. As it turns out, delete doesn't mean delete it from the library, it means delete it from disk. Grrr. Luckily they had only be moved to the recycle bin.

So I went there and clicked restore all. Strangely enough that operation was almost instantly. Even more strange was that  it didn't help. It had restored some of the files, but not quite all of them, maybe 60%. Well, I didn't make up back ups for nothing, so I deleted the freshly restored files again, this time pressing Shift-Del so that Windows would delete them for real, and not just move them to the recycle bin (and not free up the space).

After the delete I clicked the songs directory again and to my surprise it was filled with directories. Then I realized that the restore from the recycle bin had been instaneous only because it had launched a background restore process; I had deleted the first bunch of 'm, and now the rest had reappeared from the recycle bin. Too bad I had deleted the first bunch, now I had to delete the second bunch too. I did.

Nice theory about the asynchronous file restore, but completely false. What had happened is that I selected the wrong directory. Instead of cleaning the target directory I had deleted all songs from the external drive. Everything gone, no songs on the external drive nor on my music pc. Good thing I keep backups.

Tuesday, November 2, 2004

Vote advise for American readers

All bloggers seem to do it, so it here it goes. I think Bush is a man with a plan, who loses no time over executing it. He wanted to cut taxes and invade Iraq and he did that. I think Kerry is often uninspired and mostly lacks vision. He says the country is heading into the wrong direction and then copies most of the ideas of his opponent. But the end this is not so important. Given the state of affairs I don't think the US nor the world can afford four more years (or wars) of this administration.

It's too bad the democrats (or even republicans) couldn't come up with something better than Kerry, but he still has the huge advantage of not being Bush. Bushes Alleingang has not only divided America, but also the world, in a time where we need cooperation. This conservative has destroyed the budget surplus and increases the size of government more than ever. Freedom is under attack daily.

Vote Kerry. It might get better.