The complicated engineering behind an ice cream social


Moving offices is a time-honored tradition at Microsoft. Some time ago, several teams (including my own) moved into a new building, and my local team had an ice cream social as a housewarming party.

This ice cream social was not a fancy affair. It consisted of two one-gallon tubs of vanilla ice cream, complemented by a bottle of chocolate sauce, a can of whipped cream, and a jar of maraschino cherries. Two of us did the scooping, and everybody got two scoops.

(The administrative assistant explained that it goes much faster and is much less messy if you have a dedicated scooping-person rather than letting everyone scoop their own ice cream.)

The following Monday, another team thought of having their own ice cream social. The administrative assistant told them, "Oh, the XYZ team did that last Friday. I have a cart you can borrow. We took a shelf from a bookshelf and put it on the cart to use as a table. It worked out really well. Just the right size, nice and stable. You can borrow the entire set-up if you like."

The other team accepted the generous offer, but something must have gotten lost in the translation, because we saw the following in the kitchen refrigerator:

Glass-doored refrigerator with shelf inside.

On the shelf is a sticky-note that says "Do not remove."

We may be software engineers, but that doesn't mean that we're smart.

Comments (29)
  1. camhusmj38 says:

    Maybe they were trying to keep the shelf cold, so that they could mix ice cream on it without it melting.
    Otherwise, does not compute.

    1. Patrick says:

      That was my conclusion as well. Seems smart to me.

      1. Ugh, you're not really going to be mixing ice cream on a bookshelf, are you? That thing is not food-sanitary.

        1. Zan Lynx' says:

          I read an article a while back from a microbiologist doing research. Apparently random surfaces and kitchen cutting boards are about the same, germ wise. Unless you store your cutting boards in sterile storage immediately after soaking in bleach-water and rinsing.

          Spilled food or anything else can encourage the growth of bacteria and mold of course. But pretty much any surface that has been wiped down is as clean as any other.

    2. Kevin Eshbach says:

      At that point why not just head out to Stone Cold Creamery?

  2. xcomcmdr says:

    The photo is too small to see anything. :(

    1. Dmitry says:

      You know, fancy iPhones with 12 mpx cameras was not so popular in 2004.

      1. I'm not putting a 12 megapixel bitmap on my blog. Even this image was uncomfortably large.

        1. Dave says:

          Could have splurged for a little more that 4.4 KB though....

    2. Yuri Khan says:

      Obviously the image should have been re-created using styled HTML. It works for dialog boxes, why not for iceboxes, too?

      1. Ray Koopa says:

        As far as I know, the element does not support "vanilla" for the "taste" attribute yet.

        1. Ray Koopa says:

          I actually wrote <scoop> element, but the blog just sucked up my joke, probably because it was served too chilled.

  3. Don Reba says:

    Could you describe what's in the photo?

    1. ChDF T says:

      As far as I can tell, there is a refrigerator (of the ceiling high kind) with a glass window in the door, so you can see the contents without opening it. The contents are sorted by kind onto the different levels of in the refrigerator (for example one level filled entirely with energy-drink A, one entirely filled with energy-drink B, etc.). Behind the closed door, though still visible due to the glass, and in front of the beverage seems to be a shelf in an upright position with the sticky note on it.
      The sticky note is sticked onto the shelf on the left hand side, vertically centered. The shelf itself is horizontally centered inside the refrigerator, thereby obstructing the view of some of the beverages.

      1. Klimax says:

        Photo has no ALT text.

        1. Dave says:

          There is, but you have to go into the HTML to read the alt-text... I wonder if that's a bug related to the fact that it's a base64 image and not just a regular ol' JPG

          1. Calvin says:

            Alt text should only display if the image fails to load. IE 7 and earlier browsers displayed the alt text when hovering the mouse over the image, but modern browsers that follow the HTML specifications don't.

          2. cheong00 says:

            I think you should use "title" attribute if you want people to see it even if the image can load.

          3. Klimax says:

            Found it. I looked only after image data, not before, so I have missed it.

  4. Leonardo Herrera says:

    I guess I'm not smart either, because I have no idea what's going on.

  5. dalek says:

    It's obvious: they're trying to make an ice shelf

    1. Ramón Sola says:

      I confess I've read that sentence to myself in a monotonic, metallic voice.

  6. Ian says:

    Ah... Looks like a hardware problem....

  7. Ivan K says:

    > We took a shelf from a bookshelf and put it on the cart to use as a table.

    I'm pretty sure that this idea would have been immediately stopped if witnessed by the OH&S committee at my previous workplace. A non-fixed board placed on top of a movable cart??! What if someone accidentally knocks the shelf off its center of gravity and the whole thing starts to fall??! Then they'd proceed to submit a form to management about how they prevented a potential workplace accident, and create laminated signs for all bookshelves saying 'Shelves not to be used as ad-hoc table tops'.

    1. Brian_EE says:

      You forgot the part where the committee members get a monetary bonus for having saved the company the expense of medical claims from any potential on-the-job-shelf-related accident.

  8. Teddy Rogers says:

    The photo you posted is too big, can you make it smaller so I can see it...

  9. Walter Kennamer says:

    It might be a pretty good idea, though--it would keep the ice cream tubs colder. Kind of the same idea as serving food on heated plates.

  10. Brian_EE says:

    >We may be software engineers, but that doesn't mean that we're smart.

    The administrative assistant and her husband went on to found a national ice-cream chain called "Cold Stone Creamery" thereby proving who was really the smart one.

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