Monday, February 28, 2011

Sexy Butt

Looking at the video of the scrolling queries screen, shown here in its original Googleplex lobby incarnation, brings to mind a story I heard about events that transpired prior to my joining Google in late 1999.

The idea of displaying the stream of user search queries for marketing purposes was an obvious one, but Larry wouldn't let us do it except at the Googleplex itself. There were privacy issues, but he was also worried that people might try to spam a live public display with multiple submissions of the same search. Highly unlikely by the time Google was processing billions of queries a day, but it did happen once.

When the company was still located in a small second-story office in Palo Alto, Sergey had ops guy Jim Reese set up a projector to send a continuous stream of live queries splashing onto the sidewalk below. At night, pedestrians would stop and stare at the ground for minutes at a time, trying to understand what connected the random terms appearing at their feet.

Engineer Ed Karrels, who was working for SGI at the time, was invited by Google engineer Georges Harik to stop by the search engine for an after-hours party. Before leaving his office, Ed wrote a script that sent the same query to Google ten thousand times. As the party kicked off upstairs, Ed’s query began showing up in glowing letters on the sidewalk below for all of Palo Alto to see, repeating over and over again: “Georges Harik has a sexy butt.”

Ed thinks the prank was one of the reasons Google offered him a job, which he accepted a short time later.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Some more Googleplex video from 1999

Thought I'd add a couple more clips. There's not much character development, but I've been told the car chase scene is very compelling.

The office with the green and red fringe shown here belonged to Larry Page.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Video of the original Googleplex

About a week after I started working at Google in November, 1999, I brought my new digital videocamera to the office. Most of the footage includes the people working there at the time, and I want to clear it with them before posting it online. This clip however, just shows the almost empty Googleplex "annex," the overflow space assigned to marketing and business development once the engineers occupied the other half of the floor.

As you can see, there wasn't much "there" there, other than a disco ball left by a prior tenant. My office is the one shown at the end. It didn't take long for all the space to be filled with cubes and people and pets and scooters, but for a while, we had ample room for garbage can bowling and nerf wars.

Code poetry

NOTE: I had originally posted this a couple of years ago and then took it down because I thought I might include it in my book "I'm Feeling Lucky" (henceforth abbreviated as IFL). It didn't make the final cut so I'm releasing it again into the wild. -Doug

The receptionists at Google always seemed overqualified for the tasks they were given. They smiled and pointed guests to the cooler full of free Naked Juice, explained how the massage chairs in the lobby worked, dialed the extension of the person being called upon and then consoled the visitor for half an hour or so until the Googler in question showed up. One result was that when given the opportunity to express themselves in more intellectually stimulating ways, they did so.

I think it was Deb who started emailing notices of lost and found objects in verse. One evening, this message arrived in inboxes across the network:

It was all alone, this sweet little phone,
And it went by the name of Verizon.
Silver and light, respond to its plight!
Please retrieve it at Bayshore Reception.

In a whiff and flutter, the scarf was a-hover,
And lost its way on one googly afternoon.
It's chenille, true -- and if this sounds like you,
Come retrieve it in the Bayshore Reception room.

Wei Hwa, an engineer and four-time winner of the World Puzzle Championship, responded in kind:

On a day such as this, one so merely mundane,
came a double epistle with a common refrain.
Assorted lost items with no one to claim,
inspiring lines that'd put Byron to shame.

Ranging from sane to the slightly absurd,
A motley of rhymes -- nay, a true smorgasbord;
The vocals! The echoes! The choice of a word --
but I think that the truth is: you're just awfully bored.

By the time I saw Wei-Hwa’s note it was after 10PM. As usual, I was logged into Google’s VPN from home, working on some project or other that was launching in the morning. I couldn’t resist sending this message:

TIME = -1















If engineers get to write poetry, English majors get to write code.
Btw, our own esteemed Peter J. Norvig gave me an A- on this assignment when he was a grader for my CS 50 class. Oh, what might have been...

Within seconds a dozen Googlers, including our CEO Eric Schmidt, emailed me to critique my code, ask what dust heap I had found it in and apprise me that no living coder on the planet still used this programming language. My favorite response came from Meng, an engineer, who simply noted:

Good tight loops,
Assignments look fine.
Logic flows well,
Correct every line.

Not too bad,
For English major.
Sadly, my friend,
Bart codes better.

Bart was head of our advertising operations group and not particularly known for his coding prowess.

The night in question was not extraordinary by Google standards. You could always count on reaching the people you needed when you needed them. And when you did reach them, they usually had pretty interesting things to say.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

It's done

Only a year later than I expected, I have completed the manuscript for "I'm Feeling Lucky: The confessions of Google employee number 59." It's scheduled for publication on July 12, 2011. If I had known how much work it was to write a book, I would have stuck with blogging.

The hardest part was "killing my darlings," the wonderfully irrelevant anecdotes, strained puns and obscure references that I found so trenchant, but that did little to advance the narrative. That's where this blog comes in handy. I'm going to dig out some of the material that didn't fit and post it here. That's right, for no cost whatsoever, you can read stories that were too weak to make it into in a book that's already a hundred pages too long. That's got to be pretty enticing.

For example, the "Parable of the Pompon" that Larry Page imparted to me. The saga of the spellchecker. The story of the "sexy butt" spam attack. And the rollicking "Five Reasons You Never Ask an Engineer to Answer Email."

Of course, being a marketing guy, it does occur to me that if you like what you read, you might actually buy the premium edition in its full ink-stained, dead-tree glory. And if you hate what you read, you might still buy it, assuming that it contains the good stuff you couldn't find here. So. Win-win. For me, anyway.

I'm in no rush to post stuff. I've already written 500 pages about Google, and have read them over a dozen times. I'm kind of tired of thinking about that period of my life. So, when the spirit moves me, or events dictate, new stuff will appear. In the meantime, check out the posts of my friend Steve Schimmel, Googler number 13, on his blog. He has a great story to tell.

I'm going back for my final read now, checking the multitudinous changes made by my copy editor, America's last strict constructionist grammarian. Her command of punctuation and sentence structure humbles me. I hear her comma corrections calling.

I can't wait to put this baby to bed.