Googlers in Paradise

A Google tourist over at Valleywag reports back after scoring a coveted Free Lunch at Google.

Well I had my lunch at Google last week. And I can describe it in one word. Paradise. Make that two words. Freaking Paradise.

Allow me to give you a flavor: The sun was shining, the smell of meat grilling in the outdoors, a good-natured volleyball game in progress, the tinkling sounds of children’s laughter (I don’t know where they came from, maybe they were avatars.)

Googlers drinking their lunchtime libation out of coconuts. Yes. That’s right. Out. Of. Coconuts.

Deep breath, Nick.

There was a mango lassi machine. As if everyone is entitled to a mango lassi. What kind of world is this? Mango lassi is special, exotic, meant for only those who deserve such a treat. Unless you are at Google, where it’s mango lassi madness.

Scooter steps down

Scott McNealy, founder and CEO of Sun Microsystems for the past 22 years, is finally stepping down. Jonathan Schwartz, former head of Lighthouse Design, will succeed him. Jonathan has been “groomed for the role” for years, according to the media. Scott put a positive spin on the move in a conference call with analysts Monday night.

“When you start a company, you always wonder who’s going to carry it on. You can’t run it forever,” McNealy said. “It was going too fast to hand off during the bubble. . . Now we’ve got it stabilized.”
He emphasized the decision to step aside was his.
“We had a late Friday night board call,” McNealy said. “I said, `Gang, it’s time. We had a very solid growth quarter.’ ”

The ‘solid growth’ was a loss of $217M last quarter, compared to a loss of $28M a year ago. The company has lost a total of $4.5 billion in four years.

One Wall Street analyst has said Sun needs to cut 10,350 to 12,150 jobs, or 27 percent to 31 percent of its workforce. “There’s no plan whatsoever for a cut of the magnitude” Wall Street wants, Schwartz said…

Schwartz also announced the promotion of my old professor Greg Papadopoulos, from CTO to executive vice president of research and development.

The fuel of the future – and always will be

President Bush visited California last weekend. One of his stops was at the Fuel Cell Partnership, where he again promoted hydrogen as the ‘fuel of future’.

“I strongly believe hydrogen is the fuel for the future,” he said. “It produces no pollution or greenhouse gas emissions. It can be twice as effective as gas. It can be provided from domestic sources and dramatically curb our dependence on foreign oil. It’s the wave of the future.”

Of course, today we produce hydrogen from fossil fuels like oil and gas. Many scientists refer to hydrogen as a means of transporting energy, rather than an energy source. According to MIT Prof. Mildred Dresselhaus:

While hydrogen has advantages, it’s “not a fuel. You can’t mine it. We would have to make nine million tons a year, and eventually, 20 times more than that,” Dresselhaus said. Because hydrogen is currently produced from fossil fuels, scientists would have to find a way to produce it from sustainable sources such as rainfall and ocean water.

So why is the president so excited about the technology?

Critics say Bush, a former oil executive, has fastened on the far-away technology because it enables him to be seen as environmentally progressive without having to immediately jolt the oil industry with alternative energy initiatives.

Vietnam startups

The Merc has a story about software startups in Vietnam.

“We want to have the culture of Silicon Valley in Vietnam,” said valley veteran Kevin Nguyen, co-founder and chief technical officer at Global CyberSoft, which employs more than 300 tech workers in the Saigon Software Park.

Be careful what you wish for, Kevin.

There are about 100 software companies with at least 50 employees in Ho Chi Minh City, and 200 software companies throughout the country. The young software industry employs some 32,000 workers…

Costs are also lower. A Vietnamese software engineer earns between $3,500 and $13,000. In India, the pay range is $7,000 to $30,000, while valley engineers pull in between $79,000 and $125,000.

Market still crazy, but no longer ‘insane’

How boring. Home prices in Santa Clara county set another record . But wait! What’s this? Prices increased less in the past year than expected. In fact, the yearly appreciation hasn’t been this low since October 2003.

Santa Clara County’s median home price hit a record $735,000 in March but the double-digit annual appreciation of years past is slowing, providing further evidence of a cooling real estate market.

The median price of a previously owned house was […] up nearly 11 percent from March 2005.

A LEGO Difference Engine

Back in 1991, the Science Museum in London built a working example of Babbage’s Difference Engine #2. It took years of effort to produce that brass beauty.

Now Andrew Carol, a software designer at Apple, has designed and built several subsets of Difference Engine #1 out of LEGO components. Carol’s design is small and compact, and built using standard LEGO pieces.

“Babbage’s design could evaluate 7th order polynomials to 31 digits of accuracy. I set out to build a working Difference Engine using standard LEGO parts which could compute 2nd or 3rd order polynomials to 3 or 4 digits. I have built two generations of Difference Engines and am designing the third version now.”

Engine No. 2 relies on lots of vertical rods for translating information between the machine’s components. The plastic Legos were too soft for the task. But Babbage’s earlier design, No. 1, while more complex, works with gears, and Lego has gears aplenty. Once Carol had managed to get a key component working—a mechanical adder that retains the numbers being added—it took him three months to build his own, all-Lego, difference engine.

Lego Difference Engine 1

The gospel of Judas

The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot?

To most Christians, Judas is seen as a traitor, the disciple who betrayed Jesus to the Romans for 30 pieces of silver. But a newly restored papyrus document dating to the 2nd century AD portrays a very different man. Judas is shown as Jesus’ best friend, asked by Jesus himself to betray his identity to fulfill the prophecy and liberate his soul to ascend to heaven.