Upcycled Jeans Cases – various assembly stages

Google-Serve 2017

Upcycled Jeans Cases – various assembly stages

Every year, I have the opportunity to spend the day helping some social cause. This year, I spent a morning helping at social fabric, an association that helps refugees with sewing classes. We spent the morning building make-up cases which will serve as reward for a crowd-funding campaign later this year. The cases are built from recycled jeans, so our tasks where to cut up old jeans and sew them into the basic part of the case’s hull.

I really liked this project, I usually select projects where I can do something with my hands and don’t involve coding and I had done any serious sewing in ages, I learnt how to use a sewing machine in primary school, but this is really a long time ago. This association was also well prepared to handle our group: up-cycling is a labor intensive task, which can be well handled by a group, and we were organised in groups that performed the various stages of the assembly. Using our work to boot-strap a crowd-funding campaign was a smart way of using the available staff.

Recycling jeans might sound like a trivial operation, but this is something than cannot be done at scale, you need to find good areas in the jeans to cut the pieces, you get more by removing the sewn elements, like pockets, but this is even more work, we had sewing machines, but no un-sewing machines. This is a shame because the elements of fabric behind the pockets yield the most interesting patterns, the stitched areas are darker as they were protected from the washing. This is similar to what happens with bags, the interesting ones are cut on some pattern of the truck’s tarp.

One of the organisers asked me if I was considering buying a sewing machine, I had to admit that they are cool, if I had the space and time to learn to use them properly, I certainly would. All in all this was an excellent Google Serve, I just felt it was a tad short, I could have done a full day, in particular as this one was really close to home. I look forward to next year.

View of Hof Waldenstein

Google Serve 2015

View of the Pasture above Hof Waldenstein

One of the nice perks of working for Google is Google Serve: once per year you can go and donate time for some organisation. This year, I joined a team who went to Hof Waldenstein, an organic farm in the Jura Mountains, north of the Nature Park Tal.

I did pretty standard farm-work: weeding in the morning and picking up the hay in the afternoon. The pasture where the hay had been cut is way to steep for regular machines, so we had to group the hay in vertical lines in places where a small tractor could drive vertically.

View of Hof Waldenstein

I was thankful for the cloudy weather, as picking up hay in the blazing sun would have been way more tiring. For me, it was a good day doing manual work outside. Hof Waldenstein is really in an idyllic and acts as a bed & breakfast, so if you are hiking in the area, it looks like a nice place to stay.

Google Serve 2013

Red cross truck

Each year, Google employee can spend one day helping out some non-profit organisation. Like last year, I went to help out the Red Cross in Bern. While in the afternoon, I helped in same shop, in the morning I helped a team that emptied a house. One of the ways the Red Cross gets the stuff it sells in the second hand shops is by operating a free disposal service, typically for people who move out of their houses.

In this case, we had to empty a gorgeous three story house. While we moved the stuff out we did the primary sorting of what would have a chance of being sold, only 20% of the stuff typically makes it to the shops, the rest needs to be sorted and properly recycled. I was not surprised to see CRT Television sets, heavy vacuum cleaners from the past century and 486 computers being sent to recycling, but also a lot of furniture and books don’t make it to the shop, people don’t like dark furniture from the sixties, or photo books from the eighties.

Everything that would not go to the shop would therefore be dismantled for easier transport. It’s surprising how easy it is to break furniture when you kick in the right place. I felt kind of sad flattening the delicate wooden structure build for some miniature train model. Once the truck was packed full, we drove to the recycling centre, where the trash was sorted and disposed off properly: glass, metal, electronics, paper, construction material, but also plastic containers for bottles, are all handled separately.

In the afternoon, I went to help in the same shop I had gone to last year: La Trouvaille in Bümbpliz. I sorted the books, redid the shop window, operated the cash register, hang up and sorted clothes.

In the end it was a very fun day, very interesting as I ended-up doing quite a few things I had never done before. I’ll probably do the same next year.

Matthias in Front of the plush toy shelf

Google Serve 2012

Matthias in front of the plush toy shelf

Each year, I have the opportunity to donate one work day to some good cause. Last year I went to speak in a high-school, the previous, I did a Hike with asylum seekers. This year, I went to help in a Red Cross second-hand shop in Bern.

The shop gets donations of various stuff, mostly second hand clothes, books, and toys, and sells them. I think this year’s plan was the one I like the most – the work was diverse: sorting donated wares, talking with customers, folding bought clothes, setting up new wares for sale. I was the only person helping the young lady that handles the shop, which was a nice change, usually there is always a bunch of googlers for those projects, this time I was really able to forget about work. Also because I was the only helper, I had much more the impression of making a difference.

In short, a really good experience, which I would gladly repeat next year.

Kantonsschule Enge – ⓒ Marco Zanoli Creative Commons

Google Serve 2011

Kantonsschule Enge – ⓒ Marco Zanoli Creative Commons

Chaque année, mon employeur m’offre la possibilité de dédier une journée à une bonne cause. Cette fois-ci, j’ai été parler aux élèves du cours d’informatique à la Kantonschule Enge. C’est certainement moins exotique que faire la sécurité à la Gay Pride, mais curieuse­ment ces temps-ci j’ai pas mal pensé à mon époque au Collège Calvin et j’avais eu de bon souvenirs des sessions de ques­tions-répon­ses, organi­sées par Mme Marie Antoinette Leseman, où des gens établis dans leur profes­sion étaient venus nous parler de leur métier, de leur cursus.

Les bâtiments de la Kantonschule sont très différents de ceux du collège Calvin : point de con­struction datant de la réformation, mais un complexe datant des années 60 qui inclut une autre école, la Kantonsschule Freudenberg. L’en­semble est considéré comme le chef-d’œuvre archi­tectural de Jacques Schader, et donc totalement mal-pratique comme bâtiment : il faisait beaucoup trop chaud dans la salle de classe, mais on m’a expliqué qu’en hiver c’était l’inverse. C’est rassurant de voir que les architectes ont à cœur de reproduire au XXe siècle les caractéristiques fonctionnelles d’un bâtiment datant du XIVe.

La Kantonschule Enge était historiquement une école de commerce, et a gardé un profil d’enseignement axé sur l’économie et les langues vivantes. Peut-être à cause de cela, le cursus implique des cours d’informatique, avec de la programmation, et pas seulement un apprentissage de Word et Excel. Le cours est obligatoire, ce qui fait qu’une majorité des élèves n’était pas réellement enthousiaste, de leur point de vue la branche se rapprochait beaucoup des mathématiques. Sur une classe d’une vingtaine, à peu près trois élèves étaient réellement intéressés par la branche.

J’ai trouvé la répartition des questions initiales plutôt intéres­santes : les élèves étaient surtout intéressés par des questions pragmatiques, comment Google gagne de l’argent, comment se passe une journée de travail, est-ce que l’on passe beaucoup de temps devant l’ordinateur. L’enseignant responsable du cours avait des questions sur l’infra­structure informatique que nous utilisons, langages de program­mation, système d’ex­ploitation, la second ensei­gnante a surtout posé des questions sur les parcours profes­sionnels et les implica­tions sociales des systèmes en lignes – un des rares sujets où les adolescents semblent avoir une vision plus fine et plus nuancée que les adultes.

Le manque d’intérêt des étudiants était un peu frustrant, surtout vu la pénurie ambiante d’ingénieurs, mais si je me projette dans mon propre passé, mes congénères du collège ne l’étaient guère plus, et si les ses­sions de questions étaient volontaires, le fait qu’une fille plutôt mignonne les organisait – je crois qu’elle s’appelait Odile – avait probablement aidé à me motiver. Comme le faisait remarquer l’ensei­gnante, ces adolescent sont des natifs du numérique, la première génération qui a toujours eu accès à internet, mais cela ne se traduit pas par un intérêt pour la branche sous-jacente, ce qui est logique, je doute que l’intérêt pour les études en électricité ait augmenté avec la généralisation du courant…

Atlantis Hotel

Google Serve 2010

Atlantis Hotel

Une nice tradition of Google is called Google serve. One day per year, employees can go and help some social work of charity. My activity for this year was a hike on Üetliberg with asylum seekers. The goal was to have them do something fun with “normal” people, although I’m not sure Google employees really qualify.

We left from the Atlantis hotel, a abandoned four star hotel that has been turned into a refugee shelter. At some point this was the place with the most refugees in Switzerland. There is something strange in seeing a building that was in its prime in the seventies, then left to rot, with children playing in the hallways were there still is some old red carpet.

Climbing Üetliberg is hardly a long hike, but we took a winding path, and the weather was perfect, warm and slightly cloudy. Communication was a problem, with people speaking a mix of broken german and english, or in some cases russian, but in the end it was a nice experience for everybody, and everybody finished with a smile.

Google Serve

Centaurea Solstitialis – Photo by Peggy Greb - Wikimedia Commons

One of the initiatives of Google is Google Serve, where employees can donate half a day’s work for some public good initiative. Those two weeks, Googlers have been helping on various projects in the bay area. On Thursday, with other GooglersI went to the Almaden Quicksilver County Park, we did some trail maintenance, cutting back tree branches from the trails, but mostly we removed invading weed species. The most common invasive plant is the Yellow star thistle Centaurea solstitialis, which is spreading wildly (and is toxic for horses), but given the extent of its population, weeding out that plant is basically hopeless. Instead, we concentrated on weeding out the Cut-leaved Teasel Dipsacus laciniatus, which is still not to commonly spread.

California has really beautiful parks, where I did quite a few nice hikes, the weather was sunny and warm, so it was really nice to work outside for one morning and contribute in a limited fashion to those parks.