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I just moved to the Bay Area a few months ago, so when friends come from out of town, they're pretty underwhelmed with my abilities as a tour guide.

But not last weekend. My visitors wanted to have brunch somewhere with "a great view." So I plugged [brunch "great view"] into Google Local, and was pleasantly surprised with the results. Not only was brunch delicious, but we had that "great view" my friends were looking for. Best of all, now they actually think I know my way around the city. (At least until they see this.)

What's cool about Google Local is that you can go beyond standard categories like restaurant or hotel to search more specifically for things like [brick oven pizza] or [inexpensive hotel]. Very handy, especially if you're a budding tour guide like me.

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Data centers are not the most visually stimulating environments, and Google's are no exception. After all, they house computers, and the walls, ceilings, and floors are invariably stark white, or some minor monochromatic variation. So imagine this dream scenario for me: I'm a painter, apart from my day job as a data center technician, which keeps me busy swapping out parts and running cable. And we'd just set up a new Google data center in an undisclosed location.

Hardware Ops colleague 1: "So, we basically own this space and can do anything we want, right?"

HO 2: "Yup."

HO 1: "We should get a big old Google banner in here, or paint one on the wall. Even cooler, we should paint a mural. Hey, Ben, you like to paint, why don't you do something?"

Though I didn't take this challenge too seriously at first, I couldn't help playing around with some ideas. If you've been in a data center, you know there is a lot of wire, and racks with stacks of servers in them. I had some experience running websites and had seen evidence of the Googlebot hitting my own websites. Some kind of robot icon could be a neat starting point. Then I pondered the question: what does Google do? The grossly simplified answer that I came up with is Google connects the world with the Internet.

It all snapped into place: the idea of a robot, connecting a world with the Internet, with wires, that connect to big cabinets of computers. It was not hard then to make the leap to representing the internet as a world, or globe, made up of pages. So I drew up a design and the manager said, "That's great. Go for it."

mural1

Then, while everyone was away for the annual ski trip, I started by taking the basic drawing, drawing a grid over it, and translating the units of the grid to the wall.

mural2

I did the initial drawing with charcoal pencil, which was easy to remove with an eraser. I used a regular carpenter's level, held up to the wall, to get all the lines straight. Once I had the drawing down, I used masking tape to stencil out certain shapes. This allowed me to rapidly paint into those shapes, and when I pulled off the tape, I got very clean and straight lines.

mural3

The whole thing took 70 hours of work. It's 8' high x 22' long.

mural4

Now our data center isn't so stark anymore - and I'm looking for another empty wall.

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I suspect that when people think of New York, they think of Wall Street finance, Broadway shows, fashion, TV news. Probably "innovative software development" doesn't spring to mind. But hidden away in a Times Square high-rise, more than 80 software engineers are coding up some exciting Google products. If we told you *everything* we're working on, it'd spoil the surprise (hint: keep an eye on Google Labs). Recently, we've launched Google Q&A, My Search History, Web Definitions, and Local Search, including the UK version earlier this week.

In fact generally we focus on the next generation of Google's crawling and indexing technology. We've got hard-core statisticians pondering how to measure search quality more accurately, and a slightly nutty project that we think might revolutionize the way that we organize and search structured information.

It's not all work, work, work, though. We have a large three-story atrium, so it's axiomatic that we have several radio-controlled blimps - some with cameras - and a gyroscopically-stabilized four-rotor helicopter that can definitely take folks by surprise. And although breakfast, lunch and dinner are provided (we seem to have lost the ability to forage for ourselves) and two on-site masseuses (Manhattan can be a little intense), it's nice to get off site from time to time.

Which means a trip to the Empire State Building, of course. We've taken a group photo of the team standing on our 19th floor terrace from the observation deck of the ESB -- we calculated that this requires an effective focal length of 3000mm, which is just right for an astronomical telescope and a digital SLR.

wonderful_town.jpg

So we're a little geeky for New York City, but it is supposed to be a melting pot, isn't it? And we're right next to Bryant Park, home of one of the world's first free public 802.11b networks, which we sponsor. Somehow that seems appropriate for a bunch of hackers trying to organize the world's information.

It almost goes without saying that we're hiring like mad, what with our insatiable appetite for great software architects and coders. If the Bright Lights of the Big City are blinking at you, check out our New York jobs.

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How many times have you used Google to find an obscure funny website or fun facts about "The Wizard of Oz," but then got distracted by other web pages and tasks? I know - me too. Wouldn't it be great to find them again, and for that matter review all your Google searches over time? Which is exactly why we built My Search History.

When you're signed in to your Google Account, you can use My Search History wherever you go. An additional bit of fun: try the handy calendar to check the level of your Google activity on a given day, or see related searches you've done over time. Look for the link in the upper right corner of your Google web search home page and results pages.

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Sometimes it's hard being a Brit in Silicon Valley. Have you tried to find a decent pint, authentic fish and chips or well-made bowler hats in northern California lately? (Okay, the last one isn't a priority.) There's also that feeling of being left out when new technology gets launched in the U.S. before it reaches the rest of the world.

Take Google Local and Google Maps, for example - innovative local business search and beautiful interactive maps. However, as per the barrage of emails I got from mates back home: New Orleans, Anchorage and Beverly Hills are all very well, but what about London, Cardiff, and Belfast?

I guess my colleagues got tired of my moaning, so I'm delighted to introduce Google Local UK and Google Maps UK. The Google UK office and a few of us homesick Brits in California have been helping out with the development.

Engineer: Why are the streets in the UK such a mess?

Me: Sadly, the ancient Britons, Romans and Vikings had a different idea of urban planning than do we moderns.

Product Manager: Manchester's not that important, is it?

Me: It is if you're a Mancunian! (So watch it, lad.)

Give it a go: your fish and chips in Plymouth, theatres near Piccadilly Circus, and haggis in Inverness await.

P.S. We Brits also love our text messaging, so all this info (and more) can be found on the go by texting your (UK) queries via Google SMS.

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Okay, we know we're always saying that this product and that product are cool, but seriously: Google Maps are cool. And in the few weeks since we added Keyhole satellite imagery, we've enjoyed watching netizens inventing ingenious ways to play with Maps, and thought we'd share a few of our favorites.

We'll begin with a sampling of our favorite views. The Photoshopped White House roof is soooo last week, but the airplane graveyard may never get old. We're impressed by Dave's work -- but even more so by Luecke's. And of course, people are always finding a few surprises.

But the real jewels are the various Google Maps collections. This is a nice aggregation of views, and the Google Sightseeing blog might eventually be even better. This guy's marriage of Google Maps and Craig's List real estate ads had our engineers saying "Wow." Speaking of engineers, our own Nelson Minar came up with this visualization of where people did the most Maps searching on April 6th. And on the high art front, the Memory Mappers are creating nothing less than a new literary form. Cool.

P.S. Go Sox!

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As my mom's unofficial tech support hotline, I got a call from her today with a problem: She had a tracking number for a package, but didn't know who the shipper was.

Me: "Just plug it into Google."
Mom: "But Tom, I don't know what company shipped it."
Me: "Just plug in the number itself, Mom. It's cool. See what happens."

Google didn't let me down. She got a link to the USPS website with her tracking info - the one she hadn't checked. Next time you have a mystery package en route, try it yourself.

Mom: "We need to tell people about this." Yes, Mom. Google Search By Number.

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You worked hard making your video; you deserve an easy way to put it in front of millions of potential viewers. That's the idea behind today's announcement of the Google Video Upload Program, which lets you upload your video to Google for free. Eventually your work will be included in Google Video, where users will be able to search, preview, play and purchase it. We're accepting digital video files of any length and size. So if you have a video - or hundreds of videos - that you want the world to see, show us what you've got, and stay tuned.

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It's so irritating when I leave the driving directions behind, or have to find another restaurant to try when my favorite is booked. I may be forgetful, but now at least there's Google Local for mobile. If your phone/device supports XHTML, you'll get the same results for search terms plus maps and driving directions. Here's your bookmark: http://mobile.google.com/local.

And on the Google SMS front, there's now access to driving directions. Send a text message query with your start address, the word 'to' followed by your end address to 46645 ('GOOGL' on most phones) to get step-by-step directions from point A to point B. (An example: to get directions from Newark Airport to the Empire State Building, send 'ewr to 350 5th ave ny'.)

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I've represented Google at many events for women in engineering, and I'm always asked the same thing: "What's it like to work there?" I certainly don't mind discussing the subject, but I often think it would be great if more people could see it for themselves. Well, now you can. We invite you to take a sneak peek inside Google and hear straight from some of our female engineers what life here is really like.

Of course, our goal of recruiting as many gifted female engineers as we can also means encouraging young women who are still in school. So I'd like to issue a hearty congrats to the winners of this year's Anita Borg scholarships.

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Have you ever needed a piece of info right now? Today we're excited to introduce Google Q&A. We've pulled together facts from all over the Web to help give you the fastest possible access to the quick bits of information you need every day; just type a query into the search box, and you'll get back the answer at the top of your search results. Q&A knows about a lot of areas: celebrities, countries of the world, the planets, the elements, electronics, movies, and anything else we've thought of so far (including enabling you to get answers on your mobile device). Try it out, and keep checking back. This is only the beginning.

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Rajen Sheth, Google Enterprise Product Manager

Do you find that it's easier to find the migration habits of peacocks on Google than to find last week's sales presentation? Between blogs, wikis, file shares and other easy publishing methods, organizations are generating a lot of new content. So to keep up with this content explosion, we've upgraded our website and intranet search products. The Google Mini, our hardware-software search solution for small and medium-sized businesses, now supports up to 100,000 documents (and is dirt cheap at $2,995). And the entry-level Google Search Appliance, designed for large businesses, now supports up to 500,000 documents for $30,000. So blog away -- we're ready for you.

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What's an iwi? What does spiel mean? Google Definitions is one example of how we work to make the world's information more accessible: ask us what a word means, and we'll try our best to get a good variety of definitions from all corners of the Web. So I'm happy to say that a handy feature just got handier; as of this week, Google Definitions is multilingual, and is indexing more sources than ever. Enjoy the peace of mind of knowing that the definition of voip is just one click away.

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Have you ever wished you could see what someplace looked like before you got there? A house? A hotel? A freeway exit? We thought you might find it useful, so we've incorporated Keyhole technology into Google Maps and Google Local. Now when you type an address into Google Maps, you can click the 'Satellite' link and see a view of the area. You can zoom, move the view by dragging, and even resize the window just like the normal 'Maps' view. Looking for a new apartment or house? Type in an address you're considering, get a view from the air and, with a quick local search, find out if you can walk to your favorite Saturday morning cup of coffee. Thinking about spending time at the shore this summer? Search for hotels with Google Local and check out the "beach" in "beachfront." You can even see driving directions with real images. We can't promise you'll never miss another freeway exit, but we do think that Google Maps + Keyhole gives you a great way to see and explore your world. But take a look for yourself and let us know what you think.

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...and to celebrate our birthday, we're giving all Gmail users another gigabyte of space, and then some. And yes, we're serious. Sort of.

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Granted, for an online search company a beverage line constitutes a bit of a departure. But at Google we try never to lose our focus on the user, and this year we got to thinking that the one thing missing from the perfect web-surfing experience was a cool, refreshing smart drink.

Cheers!