The Claw or Playing Not So Hard

When I began my career hiring managers still said things like “we work hard, and we play hard”. The “playing hard” usually consisted of drinking tequila shots after work and having either a ping-pong table or an arcade machine or two in the office.

Free tequila shots were always a crowd pleaser. Not so much with the games. The worst offender was the Packman machine. The silly little tune and “WAKA-WAKA WAKA-WAKA WAKA-WAKA” got old really fast. The ping-pong table was even worse: it’s hard to write code late in the evening in the middle of a death march project while system adminstrators click-clack the celluloid ball for hours. Both were gone quickly.

The lone “play hard” straggler was the awesome APB arcade machine that was placed near restrooms. “Help, help”, “yeah, yeah” and the awesome mumbling of the commanding officer deeply etched in our collective brains.

Besides insidious noise pollution, arcade machines make coders burn out even faster: staring into blinking phosphorus is not good after a long and hard day.

So, how can a startup stay true to the Silicon Alley/Valley cliche? I think I figured out an answer. A claw machine otherwise known as a “skill crane”.

My co-worker recently got obsessed with an obscure iphone game called Clawzilla. The original purchase price is a bit steep, but it includes free game tokens. The graphics suck big time, but the remote control functionality and responsiveness is top notch. In theory you can even claim toys caught by you by using a claim code and providing a few bucks for shipping, but that part did not really work for me.

In any case, me an my co-workers somehow rediscovered that claw machines are awesome. I spotted a toy claw machine at a drugstore and could not resist buying it. I cut the wire to the speaker that blasted circus music, but it’s still a bit noisy (but not as bad as the video makes it sound) because of poor gear alignment. We filled it with memory sticks, a titanium spork, minifigs and other geek items, culminating in a business card of our MIA CTO.

It’s still kind of lame. Unfortunately there are no affordable “real” mid-size claw machines on eBay: they were only created recently for prizes like the iPod. It’s kind of interesting: there’s a claw machine for iphone, and an iphone for a claw machine. In any case, these small machines can only be found brand new and cost several thousand dollars. Meanwhile, eBay is full of fully functional $500 claw machines.

Those are great. Load it with old phones, unwanted swag for conferences, etc. Use the proceeds from the quarter slots for charity (be it beer for developers or a real charity), and watch your employees and friends unwind trying to grab that lobster harmonica. It’s a dumping ground for swag accumulating in the drawers as well as a way to refocus and rest your eyes.

The best part? Have your designer make decal featuring local headcounts and localized title card and decorate your machine with them.


Yesterday I went to see the new Muji store in SoHO. I’ve never seen so many hipsters and so many $800 baby strollers concentrated in such a small space outside of Williamsburg. Spent about half an hour in the store, but could not find anything to buy – there were some good and hard to find soy sauce pourers, but I already have a similar one.  The rest seemed to be well designed kipple. Also, the items only seem well priced to those who willingly buy the strollers I mentioned earlier. The selection was rather small – maybe the forthcoming flagship store will be better…

Gyro Captain or Helicopter Liberals

Looks like I am in a snarky mood today. Look, pilot extraordinare Philip Greenspun, after salivating over his recreational helicopter flying, puts down SUV owners:

“Pacific Coast Helicopters will take non-pilots on the same itinerary as a sightseeing tour. It is certainly fun for getting some perspective on LA freeway traffic. Lots of monster SUVs going nowhere burning premium gas that is now up to $3.10 per gallon in Malibu”

By my super rough calculations a Robinson R22 helicopter should do about 10 miles per gallon, and an suv about 20 miles per gallon. I think I know which Mad Max 2 character Philip Greenspun would be. “Looks like I got me some gasoline, eh, eh?”

[Update] : Also see Small airplanes and the environment: A moral dilemma by Matthias Wandel.

I Will Survive

I went on a used book shopping spree last weekend. Among other things I ordered Stingray : The Lethal Tactics of the Sole Survivor and 101 Survival Secrets: How to Make $1000,000, Lose 100 Pounds, and Just Plain Live Happily. I have a whole shelf in my library dedicated to psychological warfare books. And the original Survivor was probably the best piece of psyop action that I have ever seen on TV. Although the books seem to be of bathroom reading quality, I just could not pass them up for a dollar twenty five + shipping.

I also learned something interesting about the Survivor theme song, Ancient Voices. The chant that goes “ei i oh – e – eoh e – ohli – la a i i oli oli” sounded kind of Russian to me. And guess what – I was not mistaken.

“Landau was quoted as saying the theme was “part of an ancient Russian folk song that I’ve totally bastardised” by Entertainment Weekly in June.”

I think what he means by that is that he used a generic chant of “oy luli-luli-luli” that is very common in Russian folk songs. Sort of like Russian “yippie-ka-yee”.

While I was searching for links I found this funny story on Usenet.