The Google Guys

The Book of the Week is “The Google Guys, Inside the Brilliant Minds of Google Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin” by Richard L. Brandt, published in 2009, with an Afterword published in 2011. This ebook recounts the history of the company that created the world’s largest internet search engine, which can analyze millions of pages a second.

The company has more than one hundred attorneys on staff. It must defend itself against lawsuits in connection with intellectual property, privacy, monopolistic practices, censorship, etc. It has about “twenty thousand employees and $20 billion in revenues.”

Larry and Sergey, the company’s founders, avoid doing conventional things that even many tech companies do. When they set up shop in 1998, the two never wrote a business plan. They “almost never give interviews or attend conferences.” Since they possess incredible power, they are not just tough business negotiators, but unreasonably arrogant ones.

Currently, the company provides a large array of services, in addition to a search engine. These include “PC applications, e-mail, cell phone operating systems, Web browsers, Wiki information sites, social networks, and photo editing sites…”

Read the book to learn more about Google, Inc., its history, and the personalities of its founders.

Just For Fun

The Book of the Week is “Just For Fun” by Linus Torvalds, published in 2002.  This is the autobiography of a computer geek who fell into fame and fortune.  He hails from Finland, where internet access is extremely widespread.  While in graduate school, he created the kernel for a new computer operating system he named after himself, “Linux.”  It is based on the existing system, “Unix.”  Linux is “open source,” meaning, a community of computer users can change the system’s source code to improve it.  Theoretically, any user who wishes to, can volunteer to work on the code. If it is imperfect, others will correct it.  Also, the system can be downloaded free of charge.

Torvalds’ family lived in a region of Finland where the people were Swedish-speaking, and reticent.  Besides, Torvalds fit the stereotype of the computer geek; admittedly he “lacked any social graces whatsoever.”  One day in the early 1990’s, he started a project on which he was to work around the clock, for nine months straight.  It was “just for fun.” He explained that computer programming requires the simultaneous tracking of many ideas and lots of information when one is in the thick of it.  Of course, many people helped him with Linux, which was introduced just at the time the open source movement was becoming widespread among computer hobbyists.  He accepted donations through his website, to keep the project alive.

Surprisingly, Torvalds got married.  Unsurprisingly, he went to work for a tech firm in California, where he made some money from stock options (before it was too late).

Silicon Snake Oil

The Book of the Week is “Silicon Snake Oil” by Clifford Stoll.  This prescient book (published in 1996) presents evidence that the use of technology in certain areas of our lives, such as in education, is not necessarily a cure-all.

Here is an excerpt describing what happened when the author’s machine was malfunctioning:  “…so I grovel before a technician or pay a long-distance fee to get lost in a thicket of automated help messages…”

Just a few problems in American schools include overcrowding, poor teaching, poor security and budget shortfalls.  “Computers address none of these problems.”  Just because technology might “make learning fun” does not mean students learn any better. It just makes curriculum suppliers richer.

This is a thought-provoking book.

Bad Attitude

The Book of the Week is “Bad Attitude; The Processed World Anthology.”  Edited by Chris Carlsson with Mark Leger, 1990.  This is a compilation of the late 1970’s magazine, “Processed World,” about early office computers.  It has many funny anecdotes, illustrations, comic strips and photos.  The caption of one photo (which really doesn’t require a photo) reads, “Sabotage… It’s as simple as pulling a plug…”