Happy Hamster Interview

You probably don't know Mathijs van der Paauw by name (yet) but you might have heard of his recipes-for-hamsters book Happy Hamster, been on his addictive site HamsterTracker.com, or maybe even ran into a tweet or two from his hamster Lucy at Lucy Tweets.

HamsterTracker.com has been tracking how many meters pet hamster Lucy 1.0-5.0 has treaded since 2004. The site has been featured by the likes of Yahoo, Nu, Guardian, Eater, LA Weekly, and by CuteOverload (just 18 times!).

The site also includes step-by-step directions with pictures from his recipes for hamsters book, and some other totally geeked out projects!

Today, we're lucky enough to catch the man behind these projects, Mathijs van der Paauw. Let's pick his brain...

happy hamster happy hamster

Hi Mathijs, thank you so much for accepting this interview. First of all, can you please tell us a little about yourself?

Hi Tiffany, thank you for inviting me over. HamsterFanciers.com has a truly comfortable interviewing room! It's really great to meet you as well as being here.

I am a 45 year old Dutch Software Engineer with a passion for taking care of a hamster and bragging about it online. This might be the quickest way to describe myself.

Tell us about your hamsters. Any favorites? Hard to forget moments? Are they all Syrian hamsters?

It all started with Jamie, about 15 years or so ago. I finally felt grown up enough for the responsibility of taking care of a hamster. She captivated me in such a way that I started to ask myself questions like "How much does a hamster run in her treadmill?", "How much water does she consume" etc. etc. This is why I started the electronics and software development to collect this data automatically.

happy hamster

After Jamie there was Julie. Lucy (1.0) came after Julie. Then my website really started with Lucy (2.0), the white one.

Because I want to compare the data of my hamsters, I choose the gender to be the same for all my hamsters as well as them all being Syrian.

My hardest moment was when Lucy (2.0) spent her last 1.5 hours of her life in my hands... The tons of online reactions her death caused was a blessing and motivated me to continue my favorite hobbies.

(This might be the biggest downside of taking care of hamsters; their lifespan is 2-3 years.)

Why are your last few hamsters named Lucy?

Because a lot of people Google "Hamster Lucy" to find HamsterTracker.com I didn't really want to change it. Also I love the name Lucy, therefore they are numbered. Lucy (5.0) is my current (Blonde, slightly long-haired) hamster.

What motivated you to start these projects. And, now with a 9 year old site, has your motivations changed?

It is a lot of fun combining all kinds of hobbies: Taking care of hamsters, Electronics, Software development, Photography, Blogging, Keeping up with online-friends, Writing etc. etc. The list is virtually endless.

After blogging on almost a daily basis for a couple of years, documenting three hamster lives (Lucy 2.0 - Lucy 4.0), its fun to have fun with my hamster without a camera. Lucy 5.0 doesn't really like to pose on camera so it's a welcome change.

Of all the things you do, what is your favorite task? What is most challenging?

Fortunately I love doing it all! It's fun to see a site grow as well as all responses it generated. I've met a lot of great people online while doing so! Now we are doing this interview, how great can a hobby be?

I really love this HamsterFanciers.com-Interview Room. BTW did you decorate it yourself? It's so tasteful and at home like.

Haha, thank you! Yes, I decorated it myself! And I understand what you mean about getting a response from great people online!

6. I love that your pages have a "children's story" quality. For example the Blackbird Squatters page. Are these spur of the moment inspirations? Or do you get into the groove and start looking for something to share? What is the process?

After a photo-shoot, while downloading the pictures from my camera, usually a story automatically pops up! Maybe it's because Lucy is whispering it to me :-)

happy hamster

7. What inspired Happy Hamster?

A few years ago, I got an email from (my now) publisher Chronicle Books asking me if I ever had thought of writing a book? "I haven't..." I replied, together with " ... but now you mention it...". This was the very start of an exciting adventure with Chronicle Books resulting in the Happy Hamster book being published!

(You can purchase Happy Hamster on amazon.com.)

8. I've read some people were concerned about feeding hamsters human food. Is Happy Hamster a daily diet or meant occasional treat? Is it safe?

Thank you for asking, so I can say it again:

They are VERY, VERY OCCASIONAL treats! (sorry for CAPS-shouting)

I also do a full cage cleaning the next day, so any leftovers do not have a chance to spoil. All my hamsters have happily "survived" my meals without any problems, despite some claims of me using harmful ingredients in my recipes.

Is it Safe? If you stick to the exact same ingredients as I did in the book: YES!

That's excellent! The Happy Hamster recipes are creative and safe treats for pet hamsters! There are a few I want to try myself.

9. What experiments/projects (related to hamsters or not) are you working on now?

Lucy and I are preparing for the next digital future!

For hamster lovers the following explanation might sound pretty boring:

The HamsterTracker-server was experiencing some serious hardware problems, which I could (luckily) fix. Although it also runs a pretty solid backup program, I experienced that I also needed a backup-backup plan. So my latest project I am currently exploring and working on is the installation of a 2TB (=Tera Byte = 2000 Giga Byte), Network Attached Storage. Although this sounds really boring it's actually pretty fun to access my Lucy pictures (180+ Gb!) from anywhere in the world. This project is in preparation of my upcoming internet connection upgrade to a Fiber Optic one. [This will increase my current broadband bandwidth by 12.5 times, in case you wondered].

:-) it's all pretty exciting for me...

10. To old and new hamster fans who have enjoyed your work, is there any message you want them to take away from your work?

I am not really aware that I am projecting any kind of message.

It might be interpreted that having fun, doing what your doing, can lead to unexpected and spectacular results, while meeting a lot of great people along the way!

Who would have guessed a hamster could be the inspiration of this all! :-)

Thank you Mathijs. Your website and Happy Hamster book is most inspiring! Please continue your work!

Top Questions:

  1. Creative name ideas?
  2. How long do they live?
  3. How much do they cost?
  4. How to convince my parents to let me get a pet hamster?
  5. Can you recommend a hamster breeder?