Why Chanute?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006 at 1:34 PM

Posted by Dan Webb, Software Engineer, Google Earth for Mac OS X

If you're in the U.S. and you have a Mac, try this: Launch Google Earth, wait for the zooming to stop, and then press the + button to zoom closer. You'll arrive at the small town of Chanute, Kansas, nestled in the southeast corner of the state. I doubt you've ever noticed this before now. But even if you have, you're probably wondering -- why Chanute?

There are several reasons. The most important reason is that I was born and raised there. I grew up on a small farm, and while everyone else was out feeding the ducks and milking the cows, I was inside making electronic contraptions and eventually programming computers (which would scarcely be recognized as such today, since my first computer had only 256 bytes of memory and a dual hexadecimal LED display).

The second reason I chose Chanute is that it's near the geographic center of the 48 contiguous states. If I had been born in, say, New Hampshire, I never would have thought to tamper with the Google Earth coordinates.

And the last reason is that my co-worker Brian McClendon, who grew up in Lawrence, Kansas, had already positioned the Windows version of Google Earth (which shipped a few months earlier than the Mac version) at his hometown. I guess you could say that Brian's shenanigans inspired my own.

But the choice of Chanute is not without controversy. Because it's farther than Lawrence from the geographic center of the 48 states, and since (as of this writing) the satellite imagery at Chanute is not as crisp, it could be interpreted as a less user-friendly choice, which is not in keeping with the Macintosh tradition. But don't let that fool you -- the people in Chanute are as friendly as they come. Stop by sometime and say hello -- and be sure to tell them Dan sent you.

A Passion for Music

Monday, December 11, 2006 at 12:18 PM

Posted by Mark Dalrymple, Member of Technical Staff, Mac Team

After an orchestra rehearsal last month, some of us went to the local Eat-n-Park, a family restaurant chain here in western Pennsylvania. I was decked out in a traditional black Google T-shirt. After chatting with the waitress a bit, she asked about the shirt, and I said that I worked at Google. She said "Wow! It never occurred to me that people actually worked there."

Yes, indeed, real live people work here. And because we're real people, we have real interests. The most interesting programmers I've come across have also had serious passions outside the world of bits and bytes. Among the Googlers I know are a triathlete, an expert wordsmith, a rescue dog trainer, and an incredible black-and-white photographer.

My particular passion is music. I've been playing music of one kind or another since fourth grade, having floated into and out of dozens of groups, and I have played hundreds of performances over the years. I met my wife Sharlotte in a community orchestra in Northern Virginia. Since moving to the Pittsburgh area in 2000, we've joined two concert bands, one community orchestra, an on-again off-again woodwind quintet, and we sing in a church choir.

I started out my music career on trombone in elementary school and got to be a fairly decent player. In junior high school, my folks sent me to The Summer Arts Camp at Interlochen, an 8-week musical immersion experience where you perform 7 complete concerts. That's a fresh batch of music nearly every week! At Interlochen, I met the bassoon while I was counting hundreds of bars of rest during orchestra rehearsals. One week the group was doing the Berceuse and Finale from Stravinski's Firebird suite, which has an amazing bassoon part. At that point, I decided I wanted to play that thing. I had to play that thing. Luckily, my school had an instrument no one was using, so I glommed onto it and took some lessons. I've kept up with both instruments over the years, becoming a "doubler": that is, I play each of them well enough to not embarrass myself in public.

Sharlotte and I are very busy musically, especially during the holiday times. This month, we're slated to play a three-night run of a hometown Christmas musical, one orchestra concert, three community band benefit concerts, background music at a grocery store, background music for a dinner banquet, two church services, and we'll be demonstrating the double-reed family to the local middle school's seventh grade band. It's a crazy schedule, but we love it.

I'll leave you with two recordings. In the first, I'm performing "Bye Bye Blues", a bass trombone solo with the Westmoreland Symphonic Winds Jazz band. The other is Zephyrs (The West Winds), a quintet I'm in, playing the second movement of the woodwind quintet by Muczynski, which includes Sharlotte on oboe and me on bassoon. I hope you enjoy the music -- played by people!

Google Summer of Code and Macs

Wednesday, December 06, 2006 at 12:10 PM

Posted by: Desmond Elliott, Student

What did you do on your summer vacation? Desmond Elliott, a computer science student at Edinburgh University, spent some of his time working on Camino, the Mac-only open source browser, as part of the Google Summer of Code (GSoC). Here's what Desmond had to say about the experience:

Working on Camino this summer was so much fun. I had never done much software development outside of the required coursework for University, and I decided that I really needed some experience. There is only so much you can learn from coursework!

My GSoC project was certainly a challenge for me. I had never written any Objective-C, and let me assure you, it showed! I wasn't part of the Mozilla/Camino community. I had never worked on a codebase as vast as Camino/Gecko. And I'd never had somebody review my code and scrutinise it as much as Google engineer Stuart Morgan did.

Working on this project made me a better developer because so many of the patches I submitted were negatively reviewed. Instead of taking this personally, I used it to improve my coding style and standard. For example, when I write code in Java for my research project, I think about whether I am wastefully creating objects.

Of course, I did learn a lot about Cocoa/Objective-C Programming on Mac OS X, but I learned a lot more as well. I learned about the importance of being able to communicate with people non-verbally. I think that being a great developer means you can work as a team and I certainly learned a lot about that this summer. Some of the people you work with might not even natively speak your language, so how you express yourself is important. I learned about managing my own time on a self-directed project. It was almost like it was a trial for my undergraduate research project.

Although my mentor Mike Pinkerton was always busy with those "work" things that Google forces him to do (and he cannot talk about them, which is even worse), he was an excellent mentor. He was always able to meet with me once a week. This was important for both of us because it made sure that neither of us were out of the loop. He was quick to respond to my emails, too.

There are so many great things that I took from GSoC that I could go on and on.

Even though GSoC is over, I'm still active within the Camino team. And I will definitely apply for a place in GSoC next summer, my last summer at University, and it will probably be writing Mac software once again.

Remote Access

Friday, December 01, 2006 at 12:50 PM

Posted by: Amanda Walker, Member of Technical Staff, Mac Team

I started my career working on Mac networking products way back in the '80s and '90s, well before the Internet was in everybody's living room. For example, I wrote SLIP and PPP packages to get Mac users online over dialup connections, pitched in on efforts to standardize things so that everyone's gear would actually work with everyone else's, and so on. In those days, "Internet client software" meant Telnet and FTP, not web browsers and streaming video. We could see the potential, but it would take years for reality to catch up to the vision.

About a year ago, I got a phone call out of the blue from a recruiter, asking if I was interested in talking to Google about its incipient Mac team. This was quite a surprise: Until that point, while I was an avid Google user, I hadn't noticed Google paying any special attention to Mac users, beyond delivering a Mac version of Google Earth.

By the time I got the recruiting call, I had not worked on insanely great Mac software for awhile. The idea of a Google Mac team was very intriguing, and things snowballed from there. As Greg Robbins noted, Google was quietly recruiting a top-notch Mac development group, and the search wasn't limited to just Silicon Valley. I live near Washington D.C., where Google does not have an engineering office, so I mostly work at home. This has its downside -- there's no excellent, free Google food, and I sometimes feel like I'm living at work (hmm, maybe I am: check out the picture).

However, it all works surprisingly well, at least for our team. VPN, high-speed Internet service, and flat-rate long distance make it a lot easier than it used to be, but I also spend about 20% of my time working from Mountain View and other Google offices. Of course, there are worse things than having to leave D.C. for California during the winter.

In the '80s, I chose to develop Mac networking software because I wanted to change the world. Here in the future, it's a much taller order. Technology is moving faster than ever, and Apple and Google are both very careful not to tip their hands in advance about future products. So instead of questions like "the Inter-what?", I get questions like "will I be able to watch YouTube on my iPhone?" Unfortunately, they don't tell me the answer to that. But I'm ready for anything: one thing my home office has in common with the Googleplex is an espresso machine, available 24/7.