Monday, March 26, 2007

Gmail hacked?

This may sound strange, but does anyone else have a showgirl for their GMail logo today? Or maybe it's an indian chief? I've restarted, and it's still there...!

Ubuntu 6.10 / Firefox 2.0


It appears to be some sort of Aztec. This is what I get when I right-click where the GMail logo normally is and select 'View Image'

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Custom Blogger install for Apps

I'd love to see a G-apps version of Blogger. I think we could really use it at the schools I take care of as a MySpace/Facebook alternative.

While it's desirable to give kids the ability to express themselves in the way they are most accustomed, an administrative backend is necessary to manage any student that gets out of control, of course...

It's easy to see where this could go in the corporate space also. It seems to be the norm for current-technology companies to be open to their user base, and I think it's pretty common knowledge that this communication has been a very positive aspect of many company's successes, especially Google.

Monday, March 12, 2007

gPhone Applications

Many opportunities exist to have the user store their account information for web services in the gPhone, and interact while mobile. The rise of video and social media provide a wide variety of opportunity to add value to the device while still relying on its core services.

Already mentioned is Skype, the leading Voice over IP application. The inclusion of this application fulfills a requirement for the marketability to this phone, but we shouldn't rule out providing the ability of users to choose their Voice over IP provider. Giving the user the ability to choose the VoIP provider of their choice, independent of the method of WiMax/WiFi would be ideal. However, when marketing to specific companies, it may become necessary to set different versions of the device to lock in to specific carrier's networks for the sales agreement to be attractive to those companies.

Outside of the voice and data communications applications, the abilities of this device are limited by the Internet itself. The rise of social websites offer a unique ability for people to stay connected to these networks when mobile, and to access others and update their own personal portals. Sites such as MySpace would be an ideal candidate for offerings in this area.

Online video and pictures are also a rapidly expanding market. With the gPhone, users would not only be able to view and interact with media posted to services like YouTube and Picasa Web Albums, but would be able to shoot their own video and upload their contributions while mobile. A new class of grassroots news reporting may easily develop from this capability, providing mass user-generated content and a wide degree of coverage. Aspiring journalists could easily be paid for their media with Google Checkout.

Local shopping (the return of Froogle!) has great possibilities with the gPhone, as the on-board camera and bar-code reading ability make instant price comparisons with local stores a snap.

Due to the ease of connecting the device to the Internet, updates and new application offerings can be pushed out to the devices without issue. By having a wide catalog available to users, each device can be ideally configured to mirror the desired use by any user. This high degree of compatibility and ease of expansion into value-adding services guarantee a positive experience for the user.

Friday, March 9, 2007

gPhone market study

Due to the nature of the gPhone, many paths of sale are available. These paths consist mainly of sales to the public via a non-telecommunications third party, or through a telecommunications company as part of a wireless service subscription package.

When selling to the public via an intermediary, multiple options exist. For a companies that specialize in video conferencing abilities, our device could be marketed as an extension to that service. By doing so, the videoconferencing company could add value to an existing product without having to do the research, development or manufacturing themselves. In addition, our device can gain traction in sales to the industries utilizing the videoconferencing technology. This would be a beneficial foothold to our company in the business sector.

When selling our device to the telecommunications companies, certain problems arise. In principle, this device is designed to replace the majority of the need for a telecommunications service contract between the telecommunications company and their customers. In the past, the telecommunications companies have responded by requesting that the device manufacturer (or in this case, the device procurer) lock out the abilities on the phone that would be in direct competition with services already offered. In this case, the ability to place calls via wireless connection over the internet would certainly be a feature the telecommunications companies would like removed before accepting the device as part of a standard offering. This is an unfortunate decision on both parties' behalf.

Due to past actions by the telecommunications companies, it may be difficult, if not impossible, to explain the device as an entry to a new business model (such as offering their own wireless VoIP), and an opportunity for the telecommunications company to grow into the WiMax/WiFi arena. With their infrastructure, they would have an easier path than most others to expand their offerings at the municipal level while building upon their infrastructure investment. An option would be to thoroughly explain the risks of not expanding into new service markets, while warning of non-telecommunications companies establishing the next big service network (for example, wireless Voice over IP) before the telecommunications companies are able to. An ideal example of this is the expansion of WiFi access to the San Francisco Bay community by Google, Inc.

Without sales support from the traditional telephone service companies, sales may be less than traditional devices in that sector. However, the previous example highlights an important point: the key to rapid sales may be in helping to establish a new market by working with those companies to develop a hand-held device on the user's end to correspond to the service offering on the suppliers' end. Again using the Google WiFi example, the gPhone adds value to the WiFi service already in development and deployment by Google. To call this relationship beneficial is an understatement. By marketing in an area where the device is highly usable in its primary purpose, we can have a much lower barrier to entry in those markets. Since the access is already there, the phone is immediately useful. On the supplier's end, Google benefits by not only adding value to their service twofold (computer and handset utilization), but they gain users in separate market segments as well. As it stands now, Google benefits from exposing free WiFi users to their computer (laptop) based products, primarily their search engine. By adding the users in a demographic comprised of mobile phone customers, we expand our user base tremendously.

In addition, the ever-increasing ability of Google's products to be accessed via mobile device gains a much wider audience. These points alone validate the gPhone, as we not only offer the services necessary to connect our device to the internet, but we also supply applications useful to users of the device. We are able to offer services like instant messaging, mobile email, directions (with a bluetooth-enabled GPS unit) and traffic, as well as ancillary tie-ins to such services as Picasa web albums (photo sharing) and YouTube (video sharing).

Rollout is suggested starting in the San Francisco Bay area and expanding the main focus of sales to other areas as ubiquitous municipal-level WiMax/WiFI services are deployed. One glaring problem with this partnership, however, is the lack of any internet-based live audio or video communications product by Google.

The leading company in this area is Skype. Skype is owned by eBay and boasts the greatest user base and (arguably) the service with the least barriers for users to get started with internet voice and video communications. With a simple download onto their computers, people can immediately begin speaking or instant messaging other Skype users for free, or call traditional phones for a small fee, charged monthly. In terms of a partnership with Google, this may not be a large problem. Google has no communication products that compete with Skype, and no auction products that actively compete with eBay. The lack of conflicting agendas does well to suggest that it may be possible to have a partnership with both companies, and in the case of conflicting offerings (such as instant messaging service), offer the user either service. (In this case, some stipend to Skype may be inevitable as the sheer amount of Google instant messaging users would most likely mean a large percentage of device users would prefer Google's instant messaging service.

With the primary service of this device sorted out (a partnership with Google and Skype to offer internet-based video and audio communications), the need remains to provide the users with the ability to use traditional mobile telecommunications service if they desire to travel outside the WiMax/WiFi coverage area. This isn't difficult, as the device has the traditional SIM card to enable a person paying for traditional wireless service to connect with their account information, if desired. In the case of conflict, such as when both WiFi and cellular service are available, the user can choose to prefer one over the other, but due to the nature of the device, the default setting should be to use the WiMax/WiFi connection whenever possible. The user may select to override this default, and would be made aware of their connection method via the external display on the unit.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

gPhone hardware specifications

So I thought I'd have a look at the targets for the upcoming gPhone. The order listed below describes the level of importance in a candidate device. However, without these features, the functionality of our device will differ to a lesser degree from existing products, or will appear to be less functional than existing devices. In total, these targets specify two needs: to match currently-offered technology in a familiar and convenient manner, and to provide the extra functionality needed to successfully market the device.

Candidate Device Targets

  • Standard network interoperability (at least EDGE/GPRS)
  • two-way videoconferencing capability
  • WiMax (802.16e-2005) and WiFi (802.11a/b/g) capability
  • small in form, lightweight
  • video/still camera capability, preferably with flash
  • Bluetooth 2.0 capability
  • At least 1GB storage
  • At least 2” diagonal 256K color screen
As of the time of this writing, the closest match to our target specifications is in a mobile handset recently announced by Motorola (Q4, 2006, released for the 2007 model year), the MOTORAZR MAXX. This unit meets or exceeds all areas of our target specification with the exception of WiMax and WiFi abilities. Since WiMax and WiFi are two technologies we will depend on to differentiate our product from the marketplace, some additions to the MOTORAZR MAXX will be necessary, as expected. Below is a summary of the technologies provided in the MOTORAZR MAXX.

2007 Motorola MOTORAZR MAXX
  • HSDPA “3.5G” (7.2Mb/s+)
  • EDGE “2.5/3G” (237kb/s)
  • GPRS “2.5G” (8kb/s)
  • 2-way video at 15 frames per second
  • Class 2 Bluetooth (“Bluetooth 2.0”)
  • 3.5 ounces / 0.6” thick
  • 2.2” 256K OLED screen
  • 2MP VGA video and still camera w/ flash
  • 50MB internal storage w/ MicroSD expansion slot
  • Metal and glass construction
  • form complies with Motorola's RAZR line of specifications
The MOTORAZR MAXX contains nearly all the functionality specified in the target device description. However, some of the features that will differentiate our product from the market are missing. There are two areas that need addressing before a modified MOTORAZR MAXX can be considered an ideal candidate.

One capability we have named is WiMax (802.16e-2005) capability. WiMax is sometimes referred to as 'municipal wifi', and this explanation goes a long way towards explaining its appeal. In short, WiMax enables a device to maintain its connection to a data service while roaming in a WiMax covered area. Typically, this means connecting to the Internet via antennas mounted to utility poles in an urban or suburban area.

While the MOTORAZR MAXX already has broadband data access capability (HSDPA), we feel that in order to market this device to any vendor, we should plan on giving the device access to data services without needing to connect to any particular carrier's network. In this regard, we are eliminating the need for a potential vendor to have an established cellular network. By offering WiMax in a hand-held mobile phone, any company interested in using the device can provide data and voice services via WiMax while utilizing the device's connection to the internet. Since the WiMax standard specifies the technical aspects of handling a mobile and roaming connection to the Internet, our device will be able to provide the same services as a traditional mobile handset without the need for subscription to a traditional telephone service operator. To this end, our recommendation would be to drop support for the data-centric HSDPA support to save on space and battery power. For the features to be added, we'll need both, and we'll gain back the data support in a different manner.

To gain this functionality, we need to integrate a mobile-ready WiMax technology into the device. While many WiMax solutions exist, the need to properly and minimally use battery life is a requirement in our application.

Recently announced (Q1, 2007), the LiteMax chip from Redpine Signals is a new design for WiMax-enabled communications specifically designed for low power consumption and a small footprint for mobile applications. With chips expected for Q3 2007, this gives our mobile device the ability to communicate via WiMax, and we are gaining one of the key aspects that differentiate our product from the market. Drivers for the chip are currently available for a variety of operating systems, including Microsoft's Windows CE and Embedded Linux. Early estimates and current WiMax performance figures place connection bandwidth at or above 10Mbps in urban areas.

Our WiMax connection will revolutionize the mobile communications service industry, but based on research into people's usage of automobiles, we can surmise that a typical handheld telephone is only truly mobile (moving from area to area) for 10% of the time it is owned by the user. While the ability to communicate while mobile is an absolute technical requirement for the device, statistics say that we also need to extend this capability to the places to which the phone will spend the most time: in the home and workplace. WiMax service may be available to these areas for some users, but WiFi access (802.11 a/b/g) has in recent years become mostly ubiquitous in urban or suburban homes and businesses. In addition, many organizations are developing systems to provide WiFi connections for users of public transportation and aircraft in flight. WiFi access, therefore, will prove to be a vital connection technology for our device, due to the amount of time the device will be in range of a WiFi access point.

To enable WiFi on our device, we've chosen the recently-announced (Q1, 2007) BCM4325 chip by Broadcom. This all-in-one design utilizes a small-sized and low-power chip that combines 802.11 a/b/g connectivity, Bluetooth 2.0 and FM radio reception. With the addition of this chip, users will be able to use their existing WiFi infrastructure in their homes, businesses and communities to communicate over an Internet connection. This not only allows the user to communicate without a traditional mobile telecommunications service, but also to communicate in areas where traditional service is poor or not available, but Internet access is in place. This allows handset owners to define their own terms of connection, and to change the quality of service by developing their own infrastructure at their discretion.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Historical traffic on Maps

Well, here I am. My first day (un)officially working for Google. I had the opportunity this morning to make myself more familiar with the product lineup, and I'm excited by what I see!

So after I got my desk sorted out (I chose to bring in my own faux wooden cubicle floor, some plastic palms and cheap astroturf to wrap some of my desk in...along with my cheapie rock garden and water fountain...) I took a look at the feeds and checked out Google Maps' new service.

As you may have heard, Google Maps now offers traffic conditions for most major cities. I was lucky enough to catch a special on TV one day a while back that showed how this system has been used since something like the 1970's. (?)

Here in Chicago, there are magnetic sensors in the interstates surrounding the Chicagoland area. The sensors report in to a central machine, and update a display every 2 seconds or so to show traffic flow. By knowing how many vehicles travel through a given set of checkpoints over a given amount of time, they can estimate average speed, and assume that slow traffic (like 30 mph) means traffic congestion.

Originally meant for emergency crews, this information has been used to give real-time traffic reports to the public. The best site I’ve seen that uses this type of information is the one over at I like it, because not only are you able to look up traffic conditions, but you can look up historical traffic statistics.

This doesn't sound like much, until you realize that if you look at the data, you can save (and I do) over 15-20 minutes in the car by shifting your departure time as little as 5 minutes. This is easily accomplished by looking up the traffic statistics for a particular time of day, on a particular stretch of road, on a given day of the year. By timing your travel so you’re not in the congested sections of highway when they traditionally have problems, you can save a large amount of time by slightly adjusting your departure time. In addition, if you know you're going to be stuck in a 5-minute merging zone, it's a big stress relief to know ahead of time and be able to adjust accordingly.

Traffic stats on Google are a great thing, and I'd like to ring the guys over at Maps and congratulate them, but also to make a suggestion: although the information is very cool, maybe we can use it in a few more ways?

  • Let's have a little pop-out window to help people plan their commute. The starting point, destinations and (to a large degree) departure times are about the same year-round. Why not record traffic statistics and help people plan their commute? I propose giving the application your information, and a window in which you'd like to depart, and it will give you suggested departure times within that window to meet the least resistance. It doesn't sound like much, but I've been doing it for years with the website, and I can verify that moving your departure time as little as 5 minutes earlier (or sometimes later!) can make a difference in travel time anywhere between 10-20 minutes!
  • Along these same lines, why not build this technology into the multiple-destination feature in Maps? Seems like if people are going to be using the expressways, maybe they can stop at their destinations in the order to which there is least traffic (not to mention the most efficient path to meet all destinations).
I've got a lot more Maps-related ideas, but I'll limit this post to the traffic-specific ones. Looking forward to my second day!

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Why Google?

I know some people have problems with Google, but I think that although there might never be a perfect company for everyone, you need to find the company that is perfect for you.

For me, the more I learn about "the Google way", the more it’s like reading about myself. Since no other place else seems to come close to the method of working and holding the same values as I do, Google seems to be an ideal home for me, and vice versa.

So here it is, my formal entry into the running. I'll post the results of my work for Google, and we'll see where it takes us.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Who am I?

My name's Dan, and I've worked in th IT field for a while now. I originally graduated with a Bachelor's in Information Systems, but am now about 3/4 of the way through earning my Master's degree in Information Systems Management. Along the way, I've picked up my share of certifications which have been useful at one time or another.

To be honest, Google has been a motivation in all of this.

It's always been in the back of my mind that someday I would want to work at Google, developing the next web applications that would change the world. Among other reasons, I've adjusted the past 6 years of my professional life to make sure I get exposed to a variety of things, in order to make me a more well-rounded IT guy.

It's worked well for me. I'm glad that I have a few handfuls of knowledge about a very wide range of IT areas, but what I'm especially grateful for is the culture of learning I've become accustomed to. I've trained myself to get used to a constant learning process, because in IT, that's the life if you're going to survive. Whether it's reading a few hundred feeds per day, learning new programming concepts and languages or just working on your collaboration skills, this is the path to success: legitimate hard work and dedication. I think I've got it, and that Google and I will mesh wonderfully in this area.

Now all I need to do is prove it. :-)