Tuesday, September 29, 2009

My favorite Google Apps

Inspired by Louis Gray's post about his favorite Google apps (who was inspired by none other than Google CEO Eric Schmidt), I thought I'd capture some of my favorite Google apps - especially those which are lesser-known. (To the many friends who I'll no doubt annoy by not including their products: note that I said some of my favorites. And I'm omitting a couple obvious ones: I live in Gmail, Reader, and Calendar... those deserve their own posts about how I rely on them seemingly every hour of the day. Not today.)

Last week, I was invited to give a presentation to a group of execs from the World Presidents Organization (it's real - I checked!), and the topic was pretty broad: "What are some of the things that wow you at Google?" As I read Louis's blog post, I realized that this presentation was more or less my follow-up to his post. With that, here's what I presented:
  1. Blogger. Yes, I'm biased. But as I near a year of working with this team, it's hard not to love being part of a product that enables millions of people every month to tell their stories - and to have those stories reach nearly one in four people on the Internet every month! Specifically, I love that as soon as I click "publish post" the post is live on the web. No rebuilding, file transfers, or other delays: it's there. (And thanks to Pubsubhubbub, the post shows up instantly on Friendfeed, in my FeedBurner feed, and will soon show up instantly in other places. Hint, hint.) I love having complete control over the look and feel of the blog. And let's just say there are a few things coming in the next couple months that will make lots of Blogger users happy.
  2. Picasa Facial Recognition. When this first launched in Picasa Web Albums, it was almost like a game: my wife and I sat on the couch, seeing pictures of our kids we hadn't seen in years. Now that it's available in the client app, it's been phenomenal to watch it collect and organize the thousands of pictures I've taken over the years. Nobody in the room at my presentation had seen it, and it was the first "magic" moment of the presentation.
  3. Google Voice. There are several cool things here, but the transcription of voicemails is definitely the killer feature. I almost never listen to voicemails anymore (though when GV gets the transcription wrong, it gets it really wrong.)
  4. Google Docs, especially surveys that populate Google Spreadsheets. Another product the audience hadn't even heard of, I showed them how I created a form to survey the parents for an end-of-year gift from the PTA last year. The form took just twenty minutes to build, we then e-mailed it out to all the parents, and within a day we had all the data we needed to make the decision. (For more on creating forms, check out this great post from yesterday at Digital Inspiration.)
  5. Google Scholar. Everyone's done the normal Google ego search. But for anyone who's writen for a scholarly journal, few know that those journals are searchable at Google Scholar. (Here's mine.) One of the execs in the room had written several articles for labor law journals, he'd even forgotten about one we found when searching!
  6. Google Mobile Voice Search. Several had iPhones in the room, and most of the rest had Blackberries. But none had the Google Mobile app, which lets you speak your query and get back location-aware results (say "pizza" and you'll get the nearest pizza joints).
  7. My Tracks for Android. You want to know how overwhelming it is to work at Google? One of my fellow PMs also happens to have been teammates with Lance Armstrong. (Small world, actually - I have seen Lance Armstrong on TV!) So it is that PM Dylan Casey rounded up some engineers and built My Tracks, an insanely cool app for Android phones. (Side note: many in the room kept asking how to get this on their iPhone. Explaining that Android was our OS, and that it was different than the iPhone OS, made no sense whatsoever to them.)
  8. Fast Flip. I really like this effort, currently in Labs. I keep coming back to it, intrigued by the UI - and folks in the room (most of whom were older) immediately caught on to the idea that this is very similar to how they read their print periodicals. I see this getting more traction as other products look at how to incorporate this idea into their own interface.
 What about you? Which Google Apps can't you live without?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Free books on your iPhone

In last week's post about the books I've been reading on my iPhone, I neglected to point out that there are a ton of free books you can "buy" from Amazon. The Kindle app is a free app in the App Store, so go ahead and put it on your phone if you haven't already.

Now go visit this page (better, if you use iGoogle, My Yahoo, Google Reader or another feed reader, subscribe to the feed). This is the current best sellers page for the Kindle, and not surprisingly, books that are free tend to sell pretty well. When you see one that intrigues you, click to buy and it'll be on your iPhone in minutes.

I've got a backlog of at least a dozen books I've picked up over the last 6 months that all look pretty good, and several have been downright outstanding. It's a great marketing tactic for authors - particularly those who have several books available but who want to reach a new audience. And if you're on a tight budget you can't beat the price!

Update: And if you don't have an iPhone/iPod Touch, or you'd really rather have the actual Kindle, the original Kindle (refurbished) is now $149 from Amazon.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Presenting to the WPO at Google

I'm presenting at Google to a group of execs from the World Presidents Organization. Say hi!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Rodrigo y Gabriela at the Fox

Robin surprised me with tickets to see Rodrigo y Gabriela last night. They were playing at the Fox in Oakland, which is a stunningly beautiful venue.

I found RyG based on a recommendation on Marc Andreessen's blog a couple years ago. (Marc - what's up with the lack of archives? Where'd all the good stuff go?) Thanks to Rhapsody, we were listening to their album that evening, and we were hooked. How could two people get so much music out of two guitars?!

Last night's show was remarkable on a couple fronts. The opening set was Rocco DeLuca playing a solo accoustic set (note to Rocco: next gig you play, introduce yourself!), and he quickly owned the crowd. Really enjoyed his singing - I just listened to some of the songs on his site (with his band The Burden) and his set was much more sedate (in a good way).

As for the main attraction, they were outstanding. My iPhone videos are admittedly blurry, and don't do justice to the insane finger work both do on their guitars - but I think you get a sense of just how phenomenal their music is. Here they are playing early in their set:

And here's their encore, where they sprinkled in just a bit of Stairway to Heaven (which they covered on their self-titled album) and finished with some help from the crowd:

We had a great time. If you get a chance to see them perform live, it's definitely worth it. Gabriela can make more music with her knuckles than most can make with a whole back-up band. (Here's a video from their appearance on Letterman that shows you up close what she does with her guitar.)

At the very least, they have to be among the top 10 Mexican ex-thrash-metal-classical-guitar-playing-Irishmen in the world, right? Who wouldn't want to see that?!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

First post on SideWiki

Just installed Sidewiki in Google Toolbar on my Mac. A feature I had missed when this was available internally (ironically) was the ability to copy your annotation to your blog; beneath the edit window for your Sidewiki comment, there's a "My blogs on Blogger" element; pick your blog, and then your Sidewiki comment is auto-posted to your blog.


in reference to: tins ::: Rick Klau's weblog (view on Google Sidewiki)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

BlogPress Lite is live!

Use an iPhone and have a blog on Blogger? Head on over to the app store and get InfoThinker's free "blogpress lite", built by them to celebrate Blogger's 10th birthday. Thanks, guys!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Really enjoying Socialvibe

A couple weeks back, we announced a partnership with Socialvibe. As the blog owner, you get to pick which charity you support in the gadget configuration - then your blog's visitors are invited to do something (for example: rate a video, watch an ad, sign a petition). Each time they do that something, the advertiser who's sponsoring the gadget pledges a certain amount to the charity you've chosen.

I picked charity: water, and in two weeks my blog's readers have raised nearly 7,500 gallons of water for Charity Water. That's really remarkable, and I hope to see the number continue to go up.

What's been intriguing to me has been the effect it's had on me as the blog owner. I've watched the number climb and check the site a couple times a day to see where it's at. I'm thinking about picking a new charity each month to try and spread the love a bit, but also to re-engage prior visitors. It's a fun exercise, and it's quite fulfilling to know that something so simple can have such a meaningful impact on people who need the help.

If your blog is on Blogger, the link above contains the simple instructions to get started. If you're on WordPress, this article does a good job explaining it in more detail and has links to the WordPress setup (Socialvibe is also a WordPress partner). The Socialvibe site has simple directions for getting started on MySpace or Facebook. Give it a try, let me know what you think.

We're hiring

You may have seen the news that we're getting more active about hiring at Google. We didn't really stop - but as you can see from the jobs listings (US, international) there are lots of opportunities to join and make a difference.

The hiring process remains rigorous, and if you're not confident you're among the best at what you do, this probably isn't the opportunity for you. From my own experience, I can say that you will find it among the most stimulating, challenging, exciting jobs you could have. Interested? Drop me a line, I can try to put you in touch with the right team. (Caveat: I will happily give referrals for people I've worked with or know professionally, but not if I haven't met you or worked with you before. If we don't know each other, please use the "job cart" to apply directly.)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Latest books on the Kindle: On my iPhone

It was a running gag between Don Loeb and me last year when I bought my Kindle: it's great, he'd say. But I want to read the books on my iPhone. I laughed at him. What sane person would want to do that?

It paralleled my mocking of Don's praise for his Mac... except then I bought a Mac. And then, last week, I realized I'd read the equivalent of 1,500 printed pages on my iPhone. Don was right. Again.

I read both Song of Susannah (560 pages) and The Dark Tower (1,072 pages) entirely on the iPhone, and have read about 2/3 of Chris Anderson's Free (288 pages) on the device. Never once did I switch back to the Kindle.

What does this mean? More than anything, all it really means is that I often stole time to read instead of setting time aside to read. So instead of being uninterrupted for hours, I'd grab chunks of 15, 20, 30 minutes to read a few "pages" on the iPhone. It's not that I don't like the Kindle (I do) - it was just never handy in between baseball games, waiting for the shuttle to arrive, at breakfast, etc.

If given the choice, I'd still choose a larger-form device like the Kindle. I miss the fuller functionality of the Kindle (the iPhone app doesn't include the built-in dictionary, something I grew to enjoy using). But it's notable that even though it was in my backpack the whole time, the iPhone was always more convenient. And I ended up reading 100x more pages on the device than I ever thought I would.

Moral of the story? Listen to Don more often. (He likes his Roku, which is intriguing to me. And of course he happens to think blogging is staging a comeback. The man's a genius, I tell you.)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

iPhone and home automation

When I buckled this summer and picked up an iPhone, I was pretty sure I was doing it mostly for the camera (image and video) and the seamless integration with a number of Google services. I haven't been disappointed on those fronts - but it's been the home automation on the iPhone that's most impressed me.
We moved to California after Google acquired FeedBurner, and the house we bought is in a new development where the builder (Lennar) installed solar panels in every new home. Included with the panels was monitoring by SunPower - for the last two years I've been able to log into SunPower's website to see how much energy we consume each day and how much we produce.

Earlier this year, SunPower released an iPhone app - and it's fantastic. With one click, I can see how much energy we've consumed or produced for the current day/month/year. Hilariously, a few weeks ago our neighbors were walking by and we got to talking about our solar panels (they live in the same model house as we do, but their panels face a different direction due to the arrangement of nearby homes and we were wondering whose panels produced more energy). Robin pulled out her cell phone, and my neighbor's wife pulled out hers - both compared their system's data in real time. (We'd guessed correctly - the neighbors panels produce more energy per day than ours does. And if you're wondering if this was our quintessential only-in-California moment since moving back here in 2007, the answer is yes - yes it was.)

Aside from the eye candy, there's a practical benefit to the app: getting real-time insight into when your home's energy consumption spikes can drive radically different behavior: seeing just how many kWh the dishwasher consumes, or the washer/dryer (all of which are new and are as energy efficient as can be), helped us shift when we used them - thanks to PG&E, we're on a variable rate plan and spend dramatically less per kWh at night than we do during the day. Similarly, we were able to help show our kids the impact things like having the "big" TV on can have (the TV doesn't consume a lot of power, but the stereo that produces the audio sure does). One side effect? They are much more conscientious about when they play the Wii now. :)

The Sonos app is a case where the iPhone app is dramatically better than the product it complements. I cannot rave about our Sonos system enough - though my post from a few weeks after we first got it still pretty much sums up how much I love it. A very minor quibble was the included remote - it's an impressive piece of hardware (it's connecting to the Sonos's private mesh network via WiFi to communicate with each music server), but the UI was frustrating. Searching was cumbersome, as there was no touch screen and you had to use the dial pad to scroll through to find each letter to type out a band name or song title.

The iPhone app, on the other hand, is perfect. From my iPhone, I have complete control over every Sonos zone in the house - and because it's a touch screen, typing in search queries is a breeze. I can control volume for any set of attached speakers, pick which music plays where, you name it - and unlike the bulky Sonos remote, the iPhone is easy to keep in a pocket - which makes switching from radio to Rhapsody to Pandora a snap.

Yesterday I found that Alarm.com has an iPhone app. The alarm company the builder contracted with uses Alarm.com for their Internet monitoring - and though I've used their website a couple times, it's never been that useful for me. But the iPhone app is simple, and useful: one tap to arm the system, one to disarm - and an ability to review past alarm events (arm/disarm by user, sensor activations, overrides, etc.).

I could see this being useful when needing to remotely disable the alarm (to let someone in, for instance) or to monitor alarm activity. On the feature request list, I'd love to see a status window that would show me which sensors were currently in the 'tripped' state (i.e., which windows/doors are currently open) - but I haven't yet poked around enough to see whether that's even possible. (Impressively, if your alarm has any video capabilities, the feeds from those cameras are viewable from the app.)

Last but not least is a nice app called DVR Lite - it's the free version of a for-pay app that's a third-party app built to control your Series III TiVo or TiVo HD. Once you enable network remote control on the TiVo (a feature I didn't even realize the TiVo supported), DVR Lite auto-detects any TiVos on the network and provides you with a fully functional remote for your TiVo:

One of the things that's nice here is, like with the Sonos app, the ability to type on the iPhone screen is far superior to TiVo's Kings-Quest-like up-up-right-right-right-select-down-down-left-left-left-left-select text entry for finding programs. Another nice time saver in DVR Lite is one-click access to TiVo's mobile interface, which makes one-off recording of shows easy (particularly when you're not home to do it on the TiVo directly):

I'm sure there are other apps I'm missing. One I stumbled on that I'll put on Robin's iPhone is the Comcast app (solely to make it easier for her to listen to voicemail at the house when she's not home). What other home automation apps should I know about?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Blogger turns 10

So... been a tad busy. Still not enough time to catch up, but here's a glimpse into the last month or so:
And there's more to come. Going camping tomorrow, hopefully coming up for air next week.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009