Douwe Osinga's Blog: January 2005

Sunday, January 30, 2005

The ears of my grandfather

My parents are visiting. After a brisk walk through the city we were talking in our apartment and my wife remarked that habits and excentries of people tend to magnify as they grow older. 'Just like their ears', I remarked. People called me on that and we talked about whether old men do have larger ears, or if it only seemed may be because of their having less hair.

I remembered reading somewhere that ears grow all your life and I could find some Internet evidence for that, but there is nothing like doing some real research. My own grandfather turned ninety last november and as present my mother had created a website for him with lots of pictures. So I fired up paint, pasted pictures from different decades in their and started measuring.

And yes, it seems true. On his 18th birthday the ears of grandfather covered 26.6% of his head. On his 90th birthday it was 40.1% and the growth was visible in every step. As supportive evidence I provide the picture series (slightly scaled down) below. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The Freedom to Work

People sometimes ask me if I don't miss the freedom of being my own boss now that I work for Google. The thing is, I think I'm freer now than I was when I ran my own company. Being your own boss usually means that your customer is your boss and they have never heard of any employment protection laws. Being free to make sure all computers and the network work the way they are supposed to be can be a bit overbearing. But it is not just that; working for Google involves a lot of freedom in itself.

Everybody by now probably has heard of the 20% rule, i.e. you get to spend 20% of your time on whatever project you like. A lot of the rest of the work, however, is like that too. The rest of your time you work on an official project that was handed down to you, though they do ask you what would interest you. But they don't tell you what to do. You have to understand the why of the project and then come up with targets and a plan yourself. Then you go do it and afterwards you evaluate yourself. It's not so different from running your own company.

In my old company we had this rule that you had to be in at 10:00 am, except for one day in the week where you had to be there at 9:00 (we rotated, this way every day at least somebody would be there at 9:00 and could answer the phone for any calling customers). Missing any of those deadlines would mean buying cake for everybody else. Well, no more of that. At Google you come in when you want, you go when you want and generally work when you want. Nobody checks.

Weirdly enough it works. People tend to keep long hours and pick tough assignments to do. There probably are some slackers at Google, but I've never heard of them. It is the same as with the 20%. Some publications suggested that people walk their dogs, read to their children in the 20%. They don't. They try their best to come up with the next big thing and do it. Freedom is a demanding mistress.

Partly this is of course due to the fact that most of my colleagues used to be the best engineers by far in the place where they worked. Then they moved to Google and suddenly they were just one of the many brilliant people. So now they suddenly need to work hard to make it clear to everybody that they are still the best. The other part is of course that the work is really interesting. Most Googlers would answer the question 'what would you do if you got a few million dollars' answer with 'still work for Google.' Quite some have answered that question that way.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Another market bites the dust

Gadget lovers all over the planet me included have a good week, whether they are checking their favorites blogs every hour or in Nevada seeing the stuff with their own eyes: the CES in Las Vegas has it all from latest cell phone to portable media centers. One thing thing seems clear to me: there is new king or at least king-maker in gadget land.

Nokia ships most cell phones. Apple breaks all selling records with its iPod. Sony is still the king of the hill when it comes to game consoles and the cable companies don't have a thing on Tivo. Still, if you  look at what powers the competition of these princes of gadgets, it is an OS made in Redmont. Microsoft is taking this digital convergence seriously and it seems rather conceivable they'll win this multi-front war.

Take cell phones. My list of favorite cell phones is being overrun with Windows Mobile. I used to think my next cell phone would be either palm-based or Symbian, but now I'm not so sure. If you want wifi on a cell phone, plus a good camera, MS seems the only way to go right now. Nokia is still number one, but MS is playing catch-up and they're improving fast.

Same for iPod. Sure iPod outsells all competitors, but all competitors use Windows Mediaplayer DRM. And Tivo is the big guy, but all those entertainment centers that run Windows XP are powered by Microsoft. The Redmonians are going for second place on all fronts.

Here's the thing. With convergence, seconds place might just be enough. One reason I'm considering a windows cell phone, is that it will allow me to easily transfer music to my cell phone. Tivo is nice, but for now it won't let you play what you taped on a Nokia phone. Playstation games don't work on Tivo's. Etc. If Microsoft gets there DRM/Windows Media/Operating System on everything, then at some point people will probably prefer having the second rate stuff that is compatible then the market leaders that can't communicate with each other.

Of course the logical solution is for Apple, Nokia and Sony to work together. Symbian was supposed to be that, but that doesn't seem to develop a lot lately, so there isn't much hope here. Meanwhile, I'm lusting for a P50

Thursday, January 6, 2005

Enough already with this Tsunami

Am I the only one, or is this giving aid to the Tsunami victims getting out of hand? I mean, it is great and all that we finally have a disaster that strikes choir with people, may be because there are actually western tourists involved and it could have happened to us too, but we're loosing perspective here. Debt reduction and long term development plans are much more needed elsewhere.

A lot of people are dead and maybe 5 million lost their house. This makes it probably the worst natural disaster ever, if you don't count epidemics and other diseases. However, if you do count them and if we do count man-made disasters, this is nothing. It happened on Christmas so we give a little bit more, sure, but I'd say, let's move on. In the war in the Congo the last few years more than four million people died. But there was no huge aid effort there at all.

All in all the aid for the Tsunami disaster might end up being somewhere north of 10 billion dollar for may be 5 million people that lost there home. That is 2 000 each, which doesn't sound like a lot if you lost everything, but there are a billion people that make 2 000 dollars if they work for eight years. Sri Lanka and Indonesia might be hurt badly, but these are not the poorest of countries.

And there is a serious risk that aid that otherwise would have ended up with the very poor, is now going to Asia, where the local organizations admit that they are overwhelmed and don't really know what to do with all the money. Peoples generosity isn't endless and this bidding of countries against each other who is going to give more, well, you can spent money only once, so chances are this is paid out of existing aid budgets.

And if we talk about helping countries on the longer run, why not open our markets and ease immigration?

Saturday, January 1, 2005

Happy New Year

New Year resolutions this year are easy. You wanted to give a lot of money to Asia, right? Just take out that credit card, click the button on the bottom of the page and do it. It is a great way to start the year.