Monthly Archives: June 2009

Fun With Fun With Dick and Jane

Ed McMahon died. Though I don’t believe in an afterlife, it’s nice to think about him and Johnny Carson together again.


Dicks and Janes

The news about Ed McMahon made me think of the one real acting role of his I’ve ever seen — that of Charlie, the aerospace executive who fires George Segal in Fun With Dick and Jane (the original, from 1977). He was surprisingly good in the part.

That made me think of the 2005 remake of that film, with Jim Carrey, which did poorly at the box office. Not surprising, considering that it was one of Hollywood’s many completely unnecessary remakes, but more to the point, it was made during an era of economic good times. The original was from the depths of the drawn-out economic malaise of the seventies, so its premise of a white-collar executive on the ropes and turning to a life of crime was relevant social satire. The remake was merely zany.

If it were remade today I’m betting it’d do better.

The Swedish fish of brotherly love, the sequel

Two years ago, when Jonah graduated from preschool, I wrote about how he unhesitatingly volunteered half a piece of candy to his little brother, who hadn’t gotten any.

Well, Archer just graduated from the same preschool, and at the party on Saturday he was the one to win a Swedish fish in a mock fishing game only for the new grads.  At once, and without a word, he brought it over to Jonah, tore it in half, and shared.

I was stunned — even more so when Archer informed me that he shared because he remembered (despite being three at the time!) Jonah doing the same for him.

Team spirit

Saturday was the end-of-season party for Jonah’s little league team at his coach’s house. A few days earlier, Andrea discovered that we had managed to accrue decent photos of every team member plus the coach; so for the party we designed, printed, cut, and collated a complete set of trading cards for each member of the team; wrapped each set — plus a stick of chewing gum — in a piece of paper printed with a “Popps Trading Cards” label [sic]; and distributed them at the party alongside the team trophies. They were a huge hit.

Lyrics showdown!

Chris Cornell, “You Know My Name” (the theme from Casino Royale) vs. Maggi, Pierce, and E.J., “Yipee-I-A.”

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The year of living Googley

Today is the first anniversary of my coming to work at Google.

It’s been a good year. Google is a great place to work, as you may have heard, but the perks are just a small part of it. Mainly it’s the energizing work culture and being surrounded by lots of really bright folks in a company that (forgive me for having drunk the Kool-Aid) cares — really — about improving the world in its pursuit of profits.

But Google can also be a frustrating place to work, and it’s not for everyone. The culture requires employees to be a lot more self-directed than elsewhere, and those who rely on a more traditional manager-employee structure can find themselves at sea. While still at Danger I knew a few people who burned out quickly at Google for this very reason and so I almost didn’t accept Google’s job offer.

I don’t want to sound too self-congratulatory, especially in the current poor job market, but at that time I was lucky enough to be entertaining a few different job offers. They ultimately came down to Google and Apple, and for a while, Apple was looking like a lock.

It would have been quite a haul for me — it’s a 75-minute drive to Cupertino, or more than two hours on bad traffic days. But Apple had the edge in most other ways. For one thing, I’d be working with the prestigious iPhone team, where I’d be an instant expert, since I’d just spent five and a half years working on one of the iPhone’s direct predecessors. Google, by contrast, wouldn’t even tell me in advance what I’d be working on; just that if I accepted their offer, they’d put me where they thought I was most needed and would do the best. Apple’s tenacious recruiter kept sweetening the deal every time I wavered (out of genuine indecision, not some sort of cutthroat negotiating skill). The folks I interviewed with at Apple talked about how involved “Steve” was with the iPhone team, making sure I was good and starstruck. There was the personal satisfaction of being sought-after by a company that had turned me away many years earlier. And as for the long commute — well, if Google stationed me at their Mountain View headquarters, that was almost as far; and both Google and Apple had employee shuttle buses that I could ride from San Francisco.

I mulled my options during a visit to New York last April. And that’s when it dawned on me:

  • To keep in contact with the two companies during my trip, I switched from my home e-mail account (which it’s hard to access remotely) to Google’s Gmail;
  • To find my way to my various interviews, I used Google Maps;
  • To compare the values of my respective job offers, I used a Google Spreadsheet;
  • To learn more about the senior Apple executives I’d met and would be working with, I Googled them.

I never even touched an Apple product, not once. The choice was clear: if I wanted to have the biggest possible impact (and I did), I had to join Google.

Google placed me at YouTube. On the one hand, that was good: YouTube’s offices in San Bruno were much less distant than the main “Googleplex” in Mountain View. On the other hand, I was disappointed: to me YouTube was an online toy of little consequence, and my initial project was to make not-very-consequential tweaks to an already-mostly-finished part of it. I read the internal mailing lists with envy about the cooler projects underway in Mountain View and Google’s many other offices.

But I needn’t have worried. Almost immediately, the prestige of working at YouTube went up (in my mind, at least) as YouTube transformed unexpectedly from the place for funny cat videos to a tool for social change. That very summer, the presidential election became known as “the YouTube election”! And I moved to a project at the interface of technology and public policy, where a lot of new engineering awaited my talents, and I became very engaged.

At the same time, Google itself (partly in the form of some of my old Danger colleagues) produced a mobile-phone platform that’s cooler than the iPhone, while “Steve” disappeared from Apple for mysterious health reasons. The entire media landscape is now tipping in the direction of online video and I once again find myself accidentally near the center of the zeitgeist.