Douwe Osinga's Blog: August 2008

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Swissest of all cuts

First to get you all up to date: two days ago we moved out of Switzerland. We’re off to India now, where we’ll stay for 5 weeks or so, before going to Sydney and to live there. There are many things I’ll miss about Switzerland and some I won’t.

All cultures have their rituals, the things that make them, well, them. If I had to pick one that defines Switzerland most, I’d say it is the Hauseuebergabe or house transfer. You go through one when you move in, but you miss the essence then. There’s a guy that walks you and the previous renters through your new home, pointing out the various things that are broken or slightly dirty, most of which seem too subtle to notice, so you feel protected and the apartment looks great anyway.

Fast forward three and a half years later. You read up on your obligations during this ritual as the leaving party and it gets scary. You’re supposed to clean it up before leaving as in other countries. Only what is clean to most isn’t necessarily clean to the Swiss. They keep their apartments very clean as is and then when they move out, the lazy ones pay a company 1500 dollars to do the final cleaning.

Real Swiss I’m told, don’t do this. They clean themselves. Not to save money, but because they believe that these companies don’t clean really thoroughly. They only clean as clean as it needs to be to pass the Hauseuebergabe (and they give a guarantee that it will), but only just as clean. What will the new people think if they find a spec of dust somewhere when they move in?

As it turns out, there is another way. Another interesting fact about renting apartments in Switzerland is that you can only quit them twice a year, September and March. If you want to leave at any other time, you have to find nachmieter, or next-renters and if they are deemed suitable, you’re off the hook. And if you find foreigners as nachmieters, the whole cleaning business becomes a lot easier, since it is the nachmieters that ultimately decide whether the place is clean enough.

Our place looked the best after, after we were done with it and our nachmieters were totally happy with it. The guy from the rental company of course thought differently and muttered something about it being a disaster.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Google Share and Chinese Radicals

I am slowly rebuilding my projects one by one, porting them from Zope to AppEngine. I restored Chinese Radicals just now. This is a program that I wrote to teach myself to read Chinese (I didn't want to learn to write or speak it, just read). I never got around learning it of course, but strangely enough some people mailed me saying they missed the program. Hopefully it works better for you guys than for me.

Second is Google Share. I believe this is one of my earliest Google Projects and I wrote it after reading an article by Steven Berlin (now famous for Everything Bad is Good for you). It is a simple, yet attractive idea. You choose a domain, let's say [search], and a number of concepts in that domain, let's say search engines and then you measure using Google the "mind share" of those concepts in that domain.

In other words, you look how many pages that contain the word [search], also contain [google], [yahoo], [msn] or [aol]. This percentage gives you an approximation of how important these concepts are within this domain. The graph below illustrates the point for search engines:

Google Share by DouweOsinga

Interestingly enough, if you wouldn't tell people, I'm sure they'd take this graph as an representation of actual market share in the search market.