Full Nerd II: Nerd Harder

It seems that people really enjoyed my post about the computer history museum. At the time I wrote it, I was worried that it might constitute just a little bit too much nerd, so I held back on my initial impulse to put in more pictures and gush enthusiastically about how awesome it all was.

With hindsight, perhaps I can afford to ignore that particular mental stopcock, at least for a little while. I do not, I regret to tell you, have anymore pictures of the teapot. I do intend to buy myself a Melitta teapot at some point quite soon, however, so that it may sit in my flat and act as a most nerdy in-joke.

“Tea, anyone?”

“Yes, please.”


“Why are you grinning like that?”

I do, however, have pictures of many other fun things. Let’s start with a reference to my current employer:


This is one of the original Google server racks. At one point, if you typed a query into the Google homepage, this is where the magic happened. If you have any familiarity at all with how servers usually look, you might be scratching your heading and thinking that this one does not look entirely right. Let me help you with that:


Yes, you can see all of the components. No, that is not normal. Yes, each individual server would normally have its own case. No, under normal circumstances sheets of cardboard would not be used as the insulation between motherboard and shelf. Yes, that is an awful lot of servers to fit into a single rack. Yes again, that would require very good air circulation, but you’ll have a bloody difficult time finding a case that gives better circulation than no case at all. No, you would not expect a server to bow in the middle like that…

Two things the early Google was known for: providing the best search results; and being very, very frugal when it came to equipment purchasing.

Let’s talk about something a bit more fundamental, though. Hard disks, for example. The one in the computer I’m writing this on has a capacity of around 120 GB (depending on how you measure a giga byte, but that’s a different story). Wikipedia tells me that is measures around 69.85 mm × 15 mm × 100 mm, so quite small. This is also a hard drive:


Assuming I haven’t gotten mixed up here somewhere, this is the worlds first hard disk, and is made up of 50 24″ disks, holding a grand total of 5 million characters. Now, if  each of those characters is a one byte ASCII character (or similar) that’s approximately 5 MB, or 0.005 GB. Quite the difference in storage density, no?

Here’s a (slightly) more recent example of a hard disk, one which I’m told is actually still in use to some extent:


Now, if my understanding is correct, this next piece looks like a hard drive, but is much closer in function to RAM:


What’s particularly neat is that it’s based on an original design by the regrettably late, extremely great, and utterly brilliant Alan Turing.

The museum has an entire section devoted to the evolution of storage, and it’s quite fascinating. Another of the forebears of modern RAM is magnetic core memory, which looks like this:


Now that’s quite cool, but I’d say that it’s also quite pleasing to the eye. I think I’d happily frame that, mount it, and have it hanging from the wall in my flat (somewhere close to the teapot). People walk through castles and talk in hushed tones of all the many things “these stones” have seen. All of the stories they might tell, if they could only speak. But this… unlike your average rock, this is unquestionably memory, and memory which lived through very exciting times in the development of our society. Here’s something I look at and wonder what stories it might be able to tell, and what stories it has been forced to forget.

There are many things at the Computer History Museum which are very cool and certainly raise a smile (as well as an appreciative thought as to how far things have come). There are also things which just plain stop you in your tracks; the Difference Engine, for example. Well, at the risk of repeating myself, I’m going to post another picture of it, this time from the other side, so you can see a little bit more of the mechanism:


Now there’s a thing I would really and truly love to have in my flat. Ideally in a more coffee table friendly size, of course.


A Different Kind of Tourism

If a person were to walk from downtown Mountain View (in so far as Mountain View has a town to be down of) to the Computer History Museum, and then kept going, they might find themselves wandering into Shoreline Business Park. This is where you would find the silicon in this part of the valley.

Of course, there isn’t actually a lot of touristing to do in your average industrial park. We’re in Silicon Valley here, though, surely there must be something to see? Well… there are signs for reasonably exciting tech companies, with logos and everything… for example:


Here’s a fun one. 23 and Me is either a very cool company, or an utterly terrifying one, depending on your point of view. The basic idea is that you send them some of your spit (and some money). They use this to do some basic DNA profiling and tell you about your genetic predisposition towards certain diseases, your genetic predisposition to certain drugs, and a limited amount regarding your actual genetic ancestry. This all comes wrapped up in a neat web interface which updates as new discoveries are made. I’m generally of the the view that this is pretty cool.

Further in we find even more companies, at least one of which you might have even heard of:


LinkedIn is basically a professional version Facebook. Sort of a fancy online business card holder, networking centre, recruitment system and industry conference all rolled into one. As such, it allows you to show your respectable side to your business contacts, whilst still being able to display that photo set proving that you can get your entire fist in your mouth to your friends. It can be quite useful, but more on that in a moment. I had no idea who the other companies on the sign are, and have not, as yet, felt too much of a need to enlighten myself.

There is, of course, another tech company with a fairly large presence in this business park, but I can’t for the life of me remember their name. Oh, wait, yes. I remember:


When in doubt, follow the street signs. While I’m sure it is helpful to have signs pointing to stuff (other examples in this estate include “movies” and “amphitheatre”) hanging above the road, making them indistinguishable from street signs is bloody confusing, in my opinion.

Google is, of course, the whole reason I’m in this town, and in fact in this country for these two weeks. For the record, I was recruited via LinkedIn, so it definitely does have it’s uses. One of the reasons for this wander was to get a general idea of the lay of the land surrounding the Googleplex. My overall opinion: it’s big. Luckily, the Google bikes were very much in evidence:


Often being found looking slightly forlorn in the strangest places. I’m fairly sure the local teens play a bit of cat and mouse with security guards and joyride around the park on them at weekends. This one was close to one of the volleyball courts:


There actually is a reasonable amount to see, wandering around the campus. Google really does live up to a lot of its hype. One of the more famous landmarks of the campus was actually bloody difficult to find, though. It took a serious amount of detective work, comparing photos from the web to views from Google Maps, but I finally tracked down the “Android Lawn”:





As it turned out, if I’d just stood up and looked over my right shoulder from the place I was performing all of this furious Googling, I probably would have just spotted the damn thing. Such is life. Strangely enough, I was feeling a little hungry at this point, so I headed home.

Finally, it is important to note that while all of this touristing around is fun, and Google is a fuzzy and well meaning company, you should never forget that these are serious guys, doing a serious job. One most always strive to live up to the standard set by those who come before you, and always act in a professional and responsible manner when surrounded by such a high caliber of people.

Seriousness. Responsibility. Decorum.


That is all.

This Morning.

You’re going to have to wait a little while longer for the Computer History Museum, Silicon Valley Wandering and San Francisco based updates I had in mind, since I still haven’t found a good way of adding the images I wanted to. In the meantime, I thought I’d tell you about my morning, in a similar (if significantly smaller in scope) fashion to Tim Bray’s semi-famous post.

Now, Google is very transparent internally, but also has fairly strict rules about what you can and can’t talk to people about, regardless of whether you’re talking to your friends, your family, random people on the street, or potentially random people on the information super highway (that’s you). I haven’t entirely gotten my head around them yet, so I’m limiting myself to things you could find out by yourself, either via the internet, by wandering around in the general vicinity of a Google office, or being invited in as a lunch guest. This latter option is not too uncommon; it’s actually something we’re encouraged to do (up to a point).

Be that as it may, this morning I drove in to the campus*, and parked in a nice easy space a reasonable distance from the building. I’m not entirely used to driving on the right wrong side of the road and I’m not going to take any chances, so I was looking for a space with no other cars around. Someone had left one of the Google bikes next to where I parked, so I jumped on, rode straight past the the building my class was due to be in (I’m here for training) and headed over to one I knew had a cafe which served a decent breakfast.

Side note: the Google bikes are distinctive in many fashions, one of which is that they lack brakes. This is good knowledge to have, and personally I would have liked to have found out when I was a little further away from the speed bump. Now you know. You’re welcome.

I stood the bike up near the door, next to a pack of its siblings, and badged my way into the building. The breakfast did not dispoint, and I actually broke down and grabbed a smallish portion of the french toast /crispy bacon / maple syrup combo which always tests my willpower (but thankfully doesn’t seem to be an option at the London office). It was, on the whole, a very good breakfast. It does, however, leave me with a bit of a dilema: do I return to this cafe tomorrow, or try a different one?

As I was leaving, a girl walked her bike into the cafe and propped it up while she filled a takeaway container with yummy, yummy breakfast food. Then, as I was gabbing a coffee before my class, a guy wandered past with his St. Bernard. Google is a very different kind of a workplace, that’s for sure. Did I mention the building my classes were in yesterday has a four lane bowling allay and a dance studio?

After that, I…


…all of which was very interesting. In all seriousness, though: I’m getting a lot out of this trip.

A brief update

Most people can definitively trace at least one or two traits directly back to one of their parents. In my case I can definitely lay the blame for two at the feet of my father:

  1. I know the rules of cricket inside out;
  2. Walking right across town doesn’t faze me in the slightest.

The first isn’t really important right now (unless you need to know the specifics of the leg before wicket rule STAT), while the second is the result of a father who likes to walk. A lot. In fact many of my childhood holidays consisted of a series of walks across various British cities, often culled from the pages of an impressively large (and impressively modular) Reader’s Digest walkers guide… to British cities.

Thus, for the past two days I eschewed the use of my rental car and went wandering. Yesterday (that’s Sunday) I wandered around Mountain View itself and today I took a train to San Francisco and did the same thing there. I want to tell you about it. I plan to tell you about it. SOme of it is actually worth telling you about. But I want to throw some of the pictures I took into the mix, and right now I don’t have a good way of doing that. The Google provided free WiFi which covers the entire of Mountain View is very useful indeed, but it’s not super fast and thus not ideal for uploading a bunch of pictures.

Tomorrow I’m heading into the office for day one of my Google training (I’m told there’s some awesome Kool-Aid, so I’m looking forward to trying that) and I think I may have access to a slightly better connection there (just a hunch), so I’ll see what I can do.

Fourteen Days in the Valley

I can see the mountains, but I suppose that’s only to be expected. I am in Mountain View, after all.

As of today, I’m in Silicon Valley for my “noogler training,” something which most companies would just refer to as an induction. At Google, though, there’s a bit more too it than that. There are a lot of tools and technologies to to learn, because so much of what we use is built in house, and there is a lot of culture to adapt to, because most companies don’t function the way google functions. Hence, all new hires get shipped over to the mothership, partly to centralise all of this learning, and partly (I suspect) because the Googleplex is really, really cool. I’ve been told I must try all of the cafes and slides.

The flight over was truly awful. It felt like crossing the Atlantic in the jet plane equivalent of a council tower block. My entertainment system was broken, so I had to relay on what I had with me. Fortunately, I had prepared for this eventuality and loaded my iPad up with some films and TV shows, and the iPad has a much nicer screen, anyway. What I wasn’t prepared for, though, was how shit the cabin crew were going to be. I must have pushed the call button thirty times during the flight and they did not respond once. I always had to flag someone down or walk to the galley. Before you ask: it did occur to me that maybe my call button was malfunctioning, but no the crew confirmed that it was working. Perhaps, then, they were busy? Some of the time yes, I’m sure, but I also watched them standing around chatting as I pushed the button. Not cool, British Airways, not cool.

Speaking of happier things, I arrived in San Francisco and proceeded to the hire car stan to be greeted with a huge queue. I don’t want to oversell how long the queue was, but some of these people had tents. A moment realisation dawned, though: since I work for Google I automatically have Hertz #1 Gold status, so I walked straight passed that queue to the garage… and proceeded to wait in a shorter queue. Still, I call that a win.

As of right now I’m sitting in my very pleasant hotel room trying to decide what to do for a couple of hours before I can legitimately go to sleep. Aside from getting dinner, of course. That’s the next problem. I’m probably a little strung out right now, so if this post reads a little incoherent, let’s just go ahead and assume that’s the reason why, m’kay?

Tomorrow I’m going to go for a bit of an explore. I’ll let you know if I find anything exciting. Stay classy.

Relocation Relocation Relocation

As part of my pretty sweet relocation package from Google, I have the help of a “flat search consultant”. If you’ve ever watched Location Location Location or A Place in the Sun, you’ll more or less know what this is. If not: why not?

I have a couple of friends in the Kingston area (and several others in South London as a whole), and now work in Victoria, so my plan was quite scientific: throw darts at a map.

Not really. I basically drew a line between between these two areas and declared that I wanted to live somewhere along it. Furthermore, this place should neither be shit, not overlay expensive. In particular I thought Richmond looked like a very cool place to live, and seemed to be in reach of many of the places I wanted to go. That said, it has the potential to be a bit of a slog into the centre, and unfortunately it’s quite expensive. Thus, my flat search consultant wanted me to look at a couple of other places.

We started in Richmond and straight away viewed a really nice flat, which set the bar a little high. It already had offers, and thus I would have make a decision fast if I was interested. This is generally the case with rentals in London at the moment, though this one had a particularly short fuse. I came very close to putting in an offer, but n the end came to the conclusion that it was too small.

Next we went and had a look at the outside of a flat the agent wasn’t able to show us, to get an idea of the area. I’ll come back to this one. We also viewed a flat in a quite cool art deco development, which was a bit crap on the inside. Single glazing and on a main road? I think not…

After this we checked out a slightly dingy  flat which was essentially in the landlord’s basement. I don’t, quite frankly, want to feel quite that much like a tenant. This was the last spot in Richmond, so it was on to Clapham, via a fairly spectacular drive through Richmond Park.

The first flat in Clapham was amazing. Really big, nicely finished and in a decent area, if a little ways off the main drag. This was probably my favourite from the entire day. I’m not sure how I feel about the location. Transport wise it’s very cool, and you can get just about anywhere from it, but… I don’t know. You know?

Next we viewed a couple of really nice new builds in an utterly unspectacular area of Battersea. Nice price (for London!), nice size, nice big garden (in one case), nice finish (aside from the one wonky switch in one of the kitchens, so that flat was out). But… right on a busy main road, in part of Battersea which seems to mostly be a place people pass through when going to other places? No. Well… probably not.

Lastly was had a look at a mansion flat in a gorgeous building… but that’s about all it had going for it. If you gutted it, it could become something spectacular, but work would be required.

On the whole, non of the flats I saw were utterly terrible, and all of them will get rented. This is definitely a seller’s market. We’re going to go back to the Richmond flat we couldn’t see today, because the pictures look great, then it’ll be a straight choice between it and the Clapham flat. Perhaps there’ll also be a couple more viewings. We’ll see. Tomorrow, a choice must be made, otherwise I have nowhere to live after I get back from Mountain View. No pressure!

In other news, I stopped by the office to finish of a last bit of admin, and then attend my first ever Google meeting, which also included participants from Mountain View and Dublin. I’m starting to understanding things more, which is good, because I have an absolute ton of stuff to learn. I also briefly petted a very cute West Island terrier, which either belongs to one of my colleagues, or IS one of my colleagues.

Day One

This is going to be short. Suffice to say: almost everything you’ve heard about working for Google is true. That being the case, there is no slide in my office. I’m told they have them in Mountain View and Zurich, however, and I’ll apparently be visiting both this year (Mountain View next week!).

The food / restaurants / kitchens are awesome in a “we’ve thought of everything you need” kind of way. The people are really nice, but also intimidatingly smart. For a tech firm, a lot of them are girls as well, which makes for a more balanced working environment.

On the whole it was a good first day, though mostly consisting of administration. I’m itching to get into the code!


Yes. That’s right. I did it. I used a sed expression as post title.

I’ve been very quiet as of late, though in my defence I’ve been very busy for a few months. In the middle of that I had a potentially life changing decision to make, and then I was dealing with the ramifications of the choice I made.

As you may have gathered from the post title (even if it mostly looks like crazy speak to you), the choice was whether I should accept a job at Google or not. Believe it or not, it was a choice, and a fairly hard one. There are various reasons for this. I’m not going to go into all of them, though I will go into some, but let’s start with a little bit of background.

It started with the receipt of a LinkedIn message with the subject “Hello from Google.” and ended with me standing in a car park being offered a very good job. Regarding what happened in between: the Google interview process is lengthy and pretty hardcore. Reputedly the most hardcore in the entire of the tech industry. But having a gruelling four and a half hour viva a little over a week before your main interview can make it seem like a walk in the park, albeit a mentally tiring one.

So then I was left with a choice. I could stay at my good job at a small but growing company with a lot of potential, at which I knew I had some prospects. I’d still be working in an industry which I know, and which to some extent knows me. I’d stay in a city I love (and have loved since the moment I set eyes upon it ten years ago), surrounded by a wonderful group of friends.

Alternatively I could accept an incredible opportunity to work at one of the most exciting companies in the world, which is famous for treating it’s employees incredibly well, and has projects which excite me more than I can adequately express in words. But I’d be changing industries and I good portion of my existing knowledge might be useless (or more useless, as the case may be). I’d have to move to London, a city I like but don’t know that well, and feel slightly intimidated by. As luck would have it, though, I do have a group of close friends living in London, who are also awesome.

It was a very hard choice, and it came down to a couple of things:

  • A former colleague put it to me that if I turned this offer down I’d hate myself for it every time I had a bad day (or spent a year putting my life on hold for a field trip which was consistently two weeks away from happening);
  • Another colleague suggested that I would be swallowed up by Google. A tiny cog in a huge machine. Which is potentially true… and a little scary. But… the other analogy people use here is “small fish in a big pond.” There’s a distinction to be made: fish grow, cogs don’t. Unless you put yourself in a bigger pond, you’ll never find out if you have the potential to get any bigger.
  • It would be nice to not work for the oil companies and the military. Not necessarily because either party is evil, but because of the shear amount of red tape involved.
  • I’d been feeling as though I’d been stuck in a rut for a while, and really wanted to shake things up somehow.
  • It’s frickin’ GOOGLE!

So. Here I am. In London. Staying in wicked temporary accommodation. Tomorrow is my first day at my shiny new Google job, and right now I should really go to bed!

PS More updates coming soon I swear, though it may be a month before I can get back to my Clockwork Aphid project, for logistical reasons.