Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Commodore Nostalgia

Just got done reading "On The Edge: The Spectacular Rise and Fall of Commodore", by Brian Bagnall. As someone who grew up right outside Commodore headquarters and learned to write code for both the C64 and Amiga computers, it brought back a lot of memories. If you ever read a copy of COMPUTE!, played a game by Epyx, or experienced a Guru Meditation Error, you'll get a kick out of this book.

The book paints a detailed picture of the various eras of Commodore technology, but it also provides compelling portraits of the engineers and executives responsible for Commodore's successes and missteps. You can really feel for the engineers who invested so much of their lives into the company with seemingly so little in return.

Some interesting factoids are revealed as well. The stories behind why C64 games took so long to load, how the Amiga chips got their names, and why so many Commodore computers were DOA are all covered in the book.

One particular thing that jogged my memory was the descriptions of the various marketing campaigns. I can still recall the strains of J.S. Bach's Invention #13, which was featured in one of the early Commodore commercials. So after finishing the book, I checked to see if any of these commercials could be found on YouTube. YouTube did not disappoint - enjoy the VIC-20, C64, and Amiga commercials in all their 80's glory...

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Embedding the Google Talk Gadget

As an embeddable module, the Google Talk Gadget can be put in a number of interesting places. It works great in the Google Personalized Homepage, but here are a few other places where it can be handy:
  • Bookmarklet: Drag Google Talk to your Bookmarks Bar for 1-click access to a floating version of Google Talk.
  • Firefox Sidebar: go to http://talkgadget.google.com/talkgadget/client, bookmark it, and check the "Load this bookmark in the Sidebar" checkbox in the dialog that pops up:
    Hit OK, click the bookmark, and it will open in Firefox's sidebar panel.

  • Netvibes: Check it out in your Netvibes Homepage.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Google Talk Gadget

Today, we're releasing the Google Talk Gadget - a embeddable component that provides a rich IM experience anywhere on the web! It's Flash-based, so it's nice and snappy, requires no download, and works anywhere Flash 8 is supported, including Mac OS X and Linux. It's got the same look and feel as the downloadable Google Talk client, along with some cool new features, including integration with YouTube and Picasa - if you add a video as your status message, your friends can watch the video directly from Google Talk!

See it in action, or check it out in this YouTube video. If you're using the Google Personalized homepage, you can add the gadget to your page. Or, if you'd like to add it to your own page, learn how here.

More coverage on the Google Talk Blog and Official Google Blog.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Matt Cutts on "Not trapping users' data"

Matt Cutts had a great post the other day about how Google is making good on Eric Schmidt's promise to not trap user data. Eric had spoken out at last year's Web 2.0 conference against web companies locking users in by preventing them from taking their personal data somewhere else.
Schmidt was asked if users could get all of their search history and export it to Yahoo. “We would like to do that, as long as it is authenticated….If users can switch it keeps us honest.”
Matt looks at various Google products and finds that most of them do allow you to export your data, including Search, Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar, Google Reader, Blogger, Google AdWords, Google Groups, and a few others.

Matt also mentions Google Talk, noting that the service supports the open XMPP protocol and therefore can be accessed by any XMPP client. That's definitely a big positive; in addition, you can export your contacts as a CSV file from Gmail (go to "All Contacts", click on "Export"). However, there's no easy way right now to get at your saved chat history; Gmail's POP access doesn't include chats. Clearly, that's something we'll want to address in the future.

Update 3:25 PM: added explanation on how to export contacts.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Lessons Learned: Google Report on Hard Drives

The other day, several Googlers released a white paper detailing the experiences they have had with hard drive failures in our datacenter machines. According to the report, there hasn't been a good study on hard disk lifespans in a really large population, so the decision was made to collect this data from the large number of machines that Google has in service. The study reached several conclusions, some of them surprising:
  • There was no consistent pattern of disk failure associated with high temperature or increased disk activity.
  • Some SMART error signals are well-correlated with impending drive failure, including scan errors, reallocation errors, and probational counts; drives that reported a scan error were 39 times more likely to fail within 60 days.
  • However, other SMART error signals have only weak correlations with failure, namely seek errors and CRC errors; over 72% of all drives reported at least one seek error.
  • A majority of the failed drives (56%) reported none of the aforementioned well-correlated errors, and a large fraction (36%) reported no SMART errors whatsoever.
As someone who has had a few drives go bad over the years, I found this very interesting. My key takeaway: certain SMART error signals (not all) serve as a valuable warning, but you can't count on SMART to tell you when your drive is about to fail.

Lots more data and details in the full paper.

Crunch Time...

Haven't had a post for the past two weeks - like some other Googlers, I've been pretty busy lately. Reminds me of a joke I heard before joining Google: "Your 20% time? That's hours 80 to 100 in the workweek". Fortunately, it's not quite as bad as that. I've got a number of (hopefully interesting) posts queued up which I'll be putting up this week.