Douwe Osinga's Blog: January 2006

Friday, January 13, 2006

The Heidi Song

At the end of every Friday at the Google campus in Mountain View, Larry or Sergey present TGIF. A nice look back at what has happened last week with nice food and some drinks. In the Zurich office, we didn't have such a thing, mostly due to a lack of executives. Since I am never the guy to miss an opportunity to have drinks with people, I took it upon me to organize the Swiss Google TGIF. This post is about how the Heidi Song became instrumental in that and how it surprises our new neighbours.

Heidi is of course the story of a little girl who lives in the Alps with her grandfather. Moreover, there is a Japanese cartoon version of the story that has a rather terrible theme song. Now, the thing about people in general, and busy Googlers especially, is that it is not easy to make them stop what they are doing. It is always, oh, let me finish one more email and such, even if there is beer available and the fact that I usually did a presentation on what had happened helped surprisingly little in getting these people to move. So I had to come up with something.

The answer was the Heidi song. Swiss as anything else made in Japan and irritating enough if played at higher volumes to make people move. I would just play it on the speakers in the lobby and people would come. Of course this was when Google Zurich was small enough to be sound covered from the lobby. We are now in a bigger building with multiple floors, but luckily enough also with an intercom system.

Since we are with so many more people now, it is less important to get them out of their offices - there are always enough people ready for a quick game of Foosball or a TGIF starting beer, but it has become a tradition, so every Friday I walk down all the stairs to the lobby of the building, turn the volume on my laptop as high as it goes and play the Heidi song into the microphone of the intercom system.

The thing is that since two months or so, the first floor including said lobby are rented out to another company. And this is the weird thing, every Friday I basically walk into this company and start playing this very kitchy Heidi song as loud as it goes in their lobby. They sometimes look a little surprised, but nobody has ever said a thing. I suppose by now they know that I am just the Heidi song guy. Does that every week. People accept anything as normal.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Ikea hacks

A lot of the furniture in my home in Amsterdam was more or less self build. I like working with wood and designing something and then actually building it, especially if it can be done in a day or so. Another advantage is of course that you'll end up with stuff that maybe isn't the prettiest (straight & right angles), but fits the available space or is even mounted in the wall. Of course when we moved to Switzerland this advantage turned into a disadvantage. The self made stuff was left behind or was thrown away and here we started a new. Ikea entered our lives.

The thing is of course that if you're new to Switzerland, Ikea seems like the only place with somewhat reasonable prices. Add to that the fact that if you need a lot of stuff, it is pretty much the only choice. So we ended up with a whole lot of furniture that looked quite the same as the furniture of other Googlers that had just moved to Zurich. Some of them might be millionaires, but we're still cheap.

Anyway, the room we use as a study is sort of oddly shaped and it was hard to find a right desk in there. So we put our old kitchen table in there (which was transported from Amsterdam, but which we had bought there in the Ikea - replacing the hanging kitchen table design of mine that had served me well from my student years on). It was a nice enough table, but it didn't fit very well.

Last weekend I set out to buy wood to build something better. Unfortunately in mideuropean fashion, the wood shop closed at 16 00 and the project had to be canceled or so it seemed. I stared a little longer at the kitchen table and then I realized that I wouldn't have to change that much really to make it into a perfectly fitting desk - the table was 140 x 100 cm and we needed 70 x 200 cm, so that's two minutes on the electrical saw. The legs needed to be moved around and the frame needed to be refitted, but the whole project was relatively straight forward and took only two hours or so.

And then it struck me how 'Ikea hacks' would be a great book in the O'Reilly's series. The book would show you how to build all kinds of furniture out of Ikea stuff. For each project you would have to order one or more Ikea products and it would involve some light or more heavy modifications. Build a vacation home out of 14 Billys and 2 Bjorns, that kinda thing.

Sunday, January 8, 2006

Penguins and children

Long time no blogging. I switched servers - which was more painful than I thought, because basically everything stopped working. Plus I had a mild attack of blog spam - I put back an old version of this site to make it go away, so if your comments got lost that way too, I am sorry, but it seemed the easy way out. I've also installed a little thing that makes it impossible to post [/url] in comments, which is something these blog spammers tend to do. Heck, and I always thought that writing your own blog software would isolate you from these guys. Oh well.

So I saw this movie today about penguins on the South Pole. Now, I've known that penguins live there for a long time, but this movie showed me how bad they really have it there. Like my wife said, no wonder they look so happy in the zoo [ducking for animal right people throwing things].

See the problem that penguins have is that if they would lay their eggs in or near the water than the sea lions would eat their young in a big penguin meat fiesta. So what the penguins do instead is march off into the inland of Antarctica. There they mate in the autumn - they live in strict pairs at least for a year. When the eggs are laid (one per pair) the female carries them around for a bit on her feet (the ice that is everywhere would soon freeze the embryo inside) and then transfers the egg to the feet of the father. She then marches back all the way to the ocean and lives a life of leisure in the warm water (slightly above freezing) with lots of food (and the random sea lion of course).

Meanwhile the guys are left standing there, in the polar winter storms, with an egg on their feet for three months. It is dark, this being the arctic and they have no food, again this being the arctic. They can't move much, since they have to balance the egg on their feet to keep it warm. At some point it becomes spring, the chick comes out of the egg and the mother comes back to feed it, after which mother and father take turns marching back to the ocean to catch more fish.

Now my wife and I don't want children - we like children, but just don't need any of our own. What if you are a penguin? You probably don't have a choice, but these guys to get punished a lot for being a father, standing around in the arctic winter for three months instead of swimming around and eating fish all the time - especially if they would realize that instead they could swim to Argentina, where they have penguins too and where it is so much warmer.

Anybody who still believes in intelligent design should take notice - this can all be explained from a evolutionary perspective reasonably well, but the design just isn't intelligent.