Friday, November 22, 2013

Solve for X: Help us work towards a radically better future

If we’re going to solve some of the world’s biggest problems, we need more people and teams to take on "moonshots"—audacious projects that create 10x improvement, not 10 percent. Part of that involves encouraging and celebrating the audacity of the attempt. So last week we partnered with Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer to run a special session of Solve for X on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., to discuss and debate audacious science and technology moonshots that could transform the world.
Neil Gershenfeld holding up a "Pop FabLab" with Nadya Peek as an example of how 21st century manufacturing won’t just happen in large factories, but out of portable briefcases like this one.

Solve for X is a community of individuals and organizations that work together to accelerate progress on moonshots—and what better group of people to work with than those already thinking about our country’s future? As Susan Molinari, our VP of public policy and government affairs, said at the event: "Policymakers are trying to solve big, intractable problems—and so are engineers. Engineers are tackling challenges that have no answers to date, and so are our policymakers.”

The D.C. event brought together a group of exceptional technologists, entrepreneurs, polymaths-at-large, AAAS fellows, Members of Congress and their staff. Pioneers in their respective fields proposed moonshots in manufacturing, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education, and access to natural resources:

  • Neil Gershenfeld and Nadya Peek from the MIT Center for Bits and Atoms proposed setting up FabLabs to bring manufacturing back to America—and in a way appropriate to the 21st century
  • Theresa Condor from NanoSatisfi proposed an inexpensive way to give all students direct access to personal satellites to conduct their own science experiments and to transform adoption of STEM
  • Chris Lewicki from Planetary Resources proposed mining asteroids for natural resources

Majority Leader Eric Cantor (above) said in his opening remarks: “We work in a world of problems, that frankly, any given day somebody could tell you we’ve got a solution for—it’s just about summoning the will to try and actually accomplish it.”

Following the moonshot proposals, we broke into small groups to brainstorm resources, technology and people that could help make the ideas better and happen faster. At Solve for X, brainstorming means two-thirds "yes and"—creating stepping stones to build on an idea—and one-third "yes but—providing critical feedback on blind spots or suggesting alternate implementations.

Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer told us: “You have a psychology of creation. A psychology of ‘what can we imagine?’ And then make it be reality. And that of course is the kind of thinking we need.”

Solve for X co-creators Astro Teller and Megan Smith closed out the event reminding us that moonshots can come from anywhere—people of all ages and places, companies, academia, government, inspired experts, enthusiastic newcomers, even accidental discoveries. So join our 160 moonshot pioneers by submitting your own moonshot video, and contribute to our conversations on Google+ and Twitter—we'd love to hear from you.

Posted by Puneet Ahira, Moonshot Evangelist and Project Lead, Solve for X

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Check off your holiday gift list with Google Shopping

Thanksgiving is just a few days away, and if you’re like us, you still have loads of stuff to buy on your expanding holiday gift list. If you can’t imagine braving the crowds to get everything picked and purchased, don’t worry: our elves have made some improvements to Google Shopping in time for the holidays.

Find the hottest toys and get inspired with our holiday shortlists
We’ve curated holiday shortlists for top gift categories including Hot Toys, Electronics, Google & Android Gadgets, Gifts for the Home, Gifts for Her and Gifts for Him. For those of you looking for something to delight the kids in your life, here are some of the top trending toy searches on Google Shopping this month:


And for those of us wanting to relive our childhoods, we’re also seeing many nostalgic toys making a comeback this year:


Browse more quickly and easily
A new shopping experience on desktop, tablet and mobile makes it easier than ever to browse and hone in on items you want to buy, whether it’s a camera, a ski jacket or an ice cream maker. Click on a product to preview details like sizes, colors and description, and find out if it’s available at a nearby local store. If you see an item that’s almost perfect but not quite, click to view “visually similar” items.

Make your shortlist and check it twice
Shortlists help you keep track of products that catch your eye, compare them at a glance, and share ideas with friends and family. Your shortlist now also stays with you at the top of each page while you browse Google Shopping, so you can keep track of items as you go.

Check out the product from all angles
Sometimes it’s hard to imagine what an item actually looks like from the online picture. Now, for many items on Google Shopping, you can see a 360° view of the products. These interactive images bring you the in-store feeling of holding and touching a product.
Once you’ve got something for everyone on your shopping list, we encourage you to buy something for yourself. You’ve earned it.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Bringing hobbits, dwarves and dragons to screens everywhere

You don’t need to be besties with a Wizard to share an adventure in Middle-earth—just point your favorite browser to goo.gl/TheHobbit on your laptop, phone or tablet to check out “Journey through Middle-earth,” the latest Chrome Experiment.

Inspired by the upcoming motion picture "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” “Journey through Middle-earth” brings the locations and characters from the movie trilogy to life with a mix of modern web technologies. It was developed by North Kingdom in collaboration with Warner Bros. Pictures, New Line Cinema and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures.
Your adventure starts on a beautiful, interactive map of Middle-earth. Zoom in to explore Trollshaw Forest, Rivendell and Dol Guldur (with more locations to come in the next few weeks). Click on each one to learn its history and meet the characters who inhabit it, or dive further to test your wits on a unique survival challenge.

The immersive 3D graphics in “Journey through Middle-earth” were built with CSS3 and WebGL, which you might recognize from previous Chrome Experiments. But “Journey through Middle-earth” is the first Chrome Experiment designed to bring this beautiful, 3D experience to mobile, thanks to support for WebGL in Chrome for Android on devices with high-end graphics cards.

The rich audio effects and sound manipulation are delivered through the Web Audio API, which is now supported on both Chrome for Android and Chrome for iPhone and iPad. Although WebGL isn’t supported on iOS, Chrome users can still experience most of “Journey through Middle-earth” on their iPhones and iPads. We can’t wait to see what sort of rich experiences developers will build as modern web technologies become available on more types of devices.

Circle +Google Chrome to stay updated as more Middle-earth locations get released in the coming weeks. You can also check out the Chromium Blog and read the team’s technical case study if you feel like geeking out a bit more.

Adventure is a click away. Just watch out for the trolls!

Posted by

Monday, November 18, 2013

See all five copies of Lincoln’s handwritten Gettysburg Address on the Google Cultural Institute

Not quite four score and seven years ago, I was an elementary school student, staring at a classroom map, gripped by the (mistaken) deduction that since Los Angeles was in the southern half of the country, Civil War battles must have clattered on the ground outside my home. While a teacher eventually helped me understand that California wasn’t in the Confederacy, the moment led me to understand the weight of history and that it has shaped the world into what it is today.

Today, on the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, we’re helping make the past come a little bit more alive. Three new exhibits now available on the Google Cultural Institute focus on President Lincoln and the 272 words that shaped a nation’s understanding of its identity. Thanks to our friends at the White House, the Lincoln Library, Cornell University, Dickinson College and the Library of Congress, you can browse high-resolution digital versions of all five Lincoln-handwritten copies of the address. You can also:


Comparing two copies, side by side

You can also contribute your own version of the Gettysburg Address to Learn the Address, a project by documentarian Ken Burns, who has also been reaching schoolchildren across the U.S. with Google+ Connected Classrooms.

Most of us will never stand in the Lincoln Bedroom and see the handwritten draft exhibited there. But now anyone with access to an Internet connection can explore all these artifacts from this defining moment in history—perhaps a bit more accurately than when I gazed at that map.

From your CS class to the real world: a deep dive into open source

Today marks the start of Google Code-in, a global online contest for pre-university students (13-17 years old) interested in learning more about open source software. Participating students have an opportunity to work on real world software projects and earn cool prizes for their effort.

For the next seven weeks students from around the world will be able to choose from an extensive list of tasks created by 10 open source projects. Some tasks require coding in a variety of programming languages, creating documentation, doing marketing outreach or working on user interfaces.

Participants earn points for each task they successfully complete to win T-shirts and certificates. At the end of the contest, 20 students will be selected as grand prize winners and flown to Google’s Mountain View, California headquarters. Winners will receive a trip to San Francisco, a tour of the Googleplex and a chance to meet with Google engineers.
Google Code-in 2012 grand prize winners at the Googleplex with a self driving car

More than 1,200 students from 71 countries and 730 schools have participated in Google Code-in over the past three years. Last year, our 20 grand prize winners came from 12 countries on five continents!

We hope this year’s participants will enjoy learning about open source development while building their technical skills and making an impact on these organizations. Please review our program site for contest rules, frequently asked questions and to get started.

Posted by Stephanie Taylor, Open Source Programs

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Solar in California and Arizona: More of a good thing

You’d think the thrill might wear off this whole renewable energy investing thing after a while. Nope—we’re still as into it as ever, which is why we’re so pleased to announce our 14th investment: We’re partnering with global investment firm KKR to invest in six utility-scale solar facilities in California and Arizona. Developed by leading solar developer Recurrent Energy, the projects have a combined capacity of 106MW and will generate enough electricity to power over 17,000 U.S. homes. Google will make an approximately $80 million investment into these facilities.
The 17.5 MWac/22 MWp Victor Phelan project (pictured), located in San Bernardino, Calif., is part of six Recurrent Energy developed projects acquired by Google and KKR. The six-project portfolio is expected to operational by early 2014 and will generate enough clean electricity to power more than 17,000 U.S. homes.

This investment is similar to one we made back in 2011, when we teamed up with KKR and invested $94 million in four solar facilities developed by Recurrent. Those facilities have since started generating electricity, and we’ve committed hundreds of millions more—more than $1 billion in total—to renewable energy projects around the world.

These investments are all part of our drive toward a clean energy future—where renewable energy is abundant, accessible and affordable. By continuing to invest in renewable energy projects, purchasing clean energy for our operations and working with our utility partners to create new options for ourselves and for other companies interest in buying renewable energy, we’re working hard to make that future a reality.

Government requests for user information double over three years

In a year in which government surveillance has dominated the headlines, today we’re updating our Transparency Report for the eighth time. Since we began sharing these figures with you in 2010, requests from governments for user information have increased by more than 100 percent. This comes as usage of our services continues to grow, but also as more governments have made requests than ever before. And these numbers only include the requests we’re allowed to publish.
Over the past three years, we’ve continued to add more details to the report, and we’re doing so again today. We’re including additional information about legal process for U.S. criminal requests: breaking out emergency disclosures, wiretap orders, pen register orders and other court orders.

We want to go even further. We believe it’s your right to know what kinds of requests and how many each government is making of us and other companies. However, the U.S. Department of Justice contends that U.S. law does not allow us to share information about some national security requests that we might receive. Specifically, the U.S. government argues that we cannot share information about the requests we receive (if any) under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. But you deserve to know.

Earlier this year, we brought a federal case to assert that we do indeed have the right to shine more light on the FISA process. In addition, we recently wrote a letter of support (PDF) for two pieces of legislation currently proposed in the U.S. Congress. And we’re asking governments around the world to uphold international legal agreements that respect the laws of different countries and guarantee standards for due process are met.

Our promise to you is to continue to make this report robust, to defend your information from overly broad government requests, and to push for greater transparency around the world.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Street View floats into Venice

Venice was once described as “undoubtedly the most beautiful city built by man,” and from these pictures it’s hard to disagree. You can now explore panoramic imagery of one of the most romantic spots in the world, captured with our Street View Trekker technology.

It was impossible for us to collect images of Venice with a Street View car or trike—blame the picturesque canals and narrow cobbled walkways—but our team of backpackers took to the streets to give Google Maps a truly Shakespearean backdrop. And not just the streets—we also loaded the Trekker onto a boat and floated by the famous gondolas to give you the best experience of Venice short of being there.
Our Trekker operator taking a well-earned rest while the gondolier does the hard work
The beautiful Piazza San Marco, where you can discover Doge's Palace, St. Marks' Cathedral, the bell tower, the Marciana National Library and the clocktower

We covered a lot of ground—about 265 miles on foot and 114 miles by boat—capturing not only iconic landmarks but several hidden gems, such as the Synagogue of the first Jewish Ghetto, the Devil’s Bridge in Torcello island, a mask to scare the same Devil off the church of Santa Maria Formosa and the place where the typographer Manutius created the Italics font. Unfortunately, Street View can’t serve you a cicchetto (local appetizer) in a classic bacaro (a typical Venetian bar), though we can show you how to get there.
The Devil’s Bridge in Torcello Island

Once you’ve explored the city streets of today, you can immerse yourself in the beauty of Venice’s past by diving deep in to the artworks of the Museo Correr, which has joined the Google Cultural Institute along with Museo del Vetro and Ca’ Pesaro - International Gallery of Modern Art.
Click on a pin under "Take a tour" to compare the modern streets with paintings of the same spots by artists such as Carpaccio and Cesare Vecellio
Or delve into historical maps of Venice, like this one showing the Frari Church, built in 1396

Finally, take a look behind the scenes showing how we captured our Street View imagery in Venice.

The Floating City is steeped in culture; it’s easy to see why it’s retained a unique fascination and romance for artists, filmmakers, musicians, playwrights and pilgrims through the centuries—and now, we hope, for Street View tourists too.

Global Impact Award to improve veterans’ higher education

When veterans return home, a college degree is often a great next step for a successful transition to civilian life. But college can be a tough place for veterans, especially when they’re juggling classes with personal, family and financial pressures. Unfortunately there’s very little data about what can help veterans thrive in school. We want to change that.

Today, we’re granting a $3.2 million Global Impact Award to the Institute for Veterans and Military Families, Student Veterans of America, the Posse Foundation and Veterans of Foreign Wars to support data analysis of U.S. veterans’ higher education. The study will be made public and answer critical questions:

  • Which colleges are most successful at supporting veterans through to graduation day?
  • What on-campus programs have the biggest impact?
  • How do veterans’ education majors stack up against employment opportunities?

Based on the report, we’ll fund the expansion of the veterans’ programs found to be most effective—whether it’s on-campus child care, access to dedicated mental health services or physical gathering spaces—and will also provide Googler support to make this project a reality.

This award builds on our work to train and mentor student veterans through the Google Veterans Network. We’re proud to serve those who’ve served.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Attachments in Gmail, now with the power of Google Drive

You're probably used to downloading email attachments, but each of those files takes time to download, eats up space on your device, and can get buried deep inside your "Downloads" folder. With today's update to Gmail, you can skip that whole process. Instead, you can view attachments and save files directly to Google Drive without ever leaving Gmail, making it easy to access them later from whatever device you’re on—computer, phone or tablet.

The next time you open an email with attachments, you’ll see new previews of the files at the bottom of the email, from photos and videos to spreadsheets and PDFs.
When you click on one of those previews, a full-screen view of the image or document will appear. You can read, search for a particular phrase, and even browse through multiple attachments right in Gmail.
You can now also save your attachments directly to Drive simply by clicking the Drive button that appears when you hover over the preview. Of course, if you prefer to download the attachment to your computer, you can—just click the arrow button.
This new attachment experience is available on desktop and will be rolling out over the next week. If you’re one of the more than 120 million active Drive users, you know that saving your files to Drive lets you get to them from any computer, phone or tablet. And if you aren’t taking advantage of Drive just yet, give it a try with your next Gmail attachment.



(Cross-posted on the Gmail Blog and Google Drive Blog)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Growing our support for veterans and military families

Over the past year, more and more Googlers have had the chance to meet service members and hear their stories through the Google Veterans Network—our employee resource group. These interactions have led to a greater understanding of the challenges the veteran community faces and have inspired many teams across Google to find additional ways for our technology to help.

This Veterans Day, on behalf of the Google Veterans Network and all Googlers, we’re proud to share some of the new ways we’re working with partners to support the military veteran community.

  • Helpouts by Google allows anyone to give and receive help over live video, and we think it can be an effective platform for nonprofit and veteran service organizations to connect with veterans and their families. Helpouts for veterans are already available, ranging from guidance for veteran education benefits to entrepreneurship/business planning. Because Helpouts is HIPAA-compliant, providers such as Give an Hour can provide secure and confidential mental health care sessions online—particularly useful for those veterans who are physically unable to travel from their homes.
  • Tour Builder is a storytelling tool in beta that enables anyone to record memories of their travels in Google Earth. Tour Builder was inspired by the accomplishments of military service members around the globe. We hope it will give veterans an easy way to share their journeys with loved ones at home and to preserve the legacy of their service for generations to come.
  • 13.5 percent of the nation's businesses are run by veterans, employing a collective 8.2 million people. In recognition of the contributions veterans make to the economy, the Google Enterprise blog and Google+ page will share stories throughout the week from veteran-owned business and service organizations that achieved success with the help of Google Apps—like RuckPack Combat Nutrition:

Our professional development programs that pair Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with Google mentors continue to grow. This past summer, we hosted resume writing workshops for 350+ student veterans in 12 Google offices in partnership with Student Veterans of America and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. Last week, working collaboratively with the Bob Woodruff Foundation, we welcomed more than 100 injured post-9/11 veterans and their loved ones to Google NYC for a tech immersion and mentoring day. Finally, VetNet, the Google+ career services platform we launched last year with the Institute for Veterans and Military Families and Hire Heroes USA, has helped thousands of veterans prepare for civilian careers.

Follow us at google.com/+GoogleForVeterans to let us know how else we can help and to stay up to date on our activities througout the year. Happy Veterans Day!

Monday, November 04, 2013

Introducing Helpouts: Help when you need it over live video

What if getting help for a computer glitch, a leaky pipe, or a homework problem was as easy as clicking a button? What if you could connect via real-time video to a music teacher or a yoga instructor from the comfort of your home? What if you could get someone knowledgeable to get you “unstuck” when you really need it?

Today, we’re announcing Helpouts—a new way to get and give help over live video. Our goal is simple: help people help each other. We want to use the convenience and efficiency of the web to enable everyone, no matter where they are or what time it is, to easily connect with someone who can help.

Help might be a quick answer to a problem you’re having right now, like how to fix your garage door, or how to remove a computer virus; or it might be guidance completing a project, like building a deck. It might be learning a new skill, like how to speak conversational French or how to draw cartoons; or it might be general advice on how to improve your fitness or your writing (I could use this right now).

With Helpouts, you can choose who you get help from based on their qualifications, their availability, their price, their ratings and reviews. You can connect instantly or book in advance. You can get help from individuals or from brands you already know and trust, like Sephora, One Medical, Weight Watchers, Redbeacon (a Home Depot company), and Rosetta Stone. Once you’re in a Helpout, you can do more than just talk—you can share your computer screen, collaboratively edit a presentation, or record your Helpout. And if the experience doesn’t meet your expectations, we offer a full money back guarantee.

Today is just the beginning. We’re starting small and in a few categories. The number of people giving help on Helpouts and the type of help available will grow over time. Helpouts may not be suitable for every occasion, and it will take time to get used to interactions via real time video. We hope that the efficiency, convenience and global reach of Helpouts will make people’s lives easier in the long term.

We hope you’ll give Helpouts a try and give us your feedback through ratings and reviews, or talk to us on Google+, Twitter or Facebook. And if you’re interested in giving help on Helpouts yourself, let us know.

It’s time to make getting good help a whole lot easier.

Google+: Explore the world, right from the classroom

We all remember the days when we’d arrive at school, permission slips and bag lunches in tow, ready to venture forth on a field trip. Those were the days we waited for all year. Yet most field trips cost money, require lots of planning, and can only go as far as a school bus can take you.

Today we’re launching a new initiative on Google+ called Connected Classrooms that enables students around the world to take “virtual field trips” through Google+ Hangouts, visiting places they would otherwise never be able to explore. We’re kicking things off today with field trips to the Seattle Aquarium, the Minnesota Zoo and the Solar Impulse hangar. Later, teachers can sign up to take their classrooms on virtual field trips hosted by organizations like National Geographic, Matilda the Musical, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and more than 20 other partners.

Teachers are already using Google+ to make learning more relevant, collaborative and accessible—from exploring a world-class art museum to staging a play to venturing into space. Connected Classrooms aims to make it easier for teachers to access exciting educational content to share with their students. In addition to the virtual field trips, teachers who visit the Connected Classrooms site will have the opportunity to join a Google+ Community with other educators to collaborate on field trips and share best practices for using digital tools in the classroom.

If you’re a K-12 teacher, head over to the Connected Classrooms site and learn how your classroom can participate.