Category Archives: Technology

My Day At The Googleplex

In July, I had the very unique opportunity to travel to the San Francisco area to attend a one-day conference at the Googleplex. Getting an up-close look at a major Tech company is something I consider to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and it really opened my eyes to the sheer size of the company as well as the tech industry and its culture.

So what is the Googleplex?

The Googleplex is more than just Google’s headquarters. It covers an extensive area, with numerous buildings. Here, take a look for yourself: Googleplex on Google Maps.

On the day of the event, we caught the shuttle from the hotel to the Googleplex which takes you through part of the Silicon Valley. I’d have liked to explore a lot more, but as it was I saw quite a few buildings with signs of companies I recognized. And after a short drive, there we were!

arrived-at-google

Google, at last!

Google Partners All-Stars

The conference was the Google Partners All-Stars 2015, an event for agencies that achieved certain levels of success. Most of the people I met were either business owners, or people who ran or worked in the online departments of advertising agencies. I may have been the only software developer there, but I was happy to take things in from a development perspective.

google-partners-allstars

A huge thank you to Savvas Kyriakides of Savvy Search Marketing Ltd for inviting me to go as part of his team. This was an amazing opportunity to learn about Google directly from the people who are involved on a day-to-day basis, as well as talk about new ideas, business strategy, and more.

The conference was packed with information on Google’s latest advertising technology, as well as a few really great talks on topics like how Google encourages innovation.

Google Culture

Spending one day, most of it in a conference hall, didn’t allow me to see too much, but I did see some of the culture and was really impressed.

google-cafeteria

The picture above is one of the cafeterias. Actually, it was more like a buffet with a huge salad bar, Indian food, fajitas, drinks, and more. I came to realize that this was set up for Google employees to eat — for free! And there isn’t just one. The conference attendees were split into three groups, and based on the size of the Googleplex and number of employees, my guess is that there are more.

My understanding, based on observation and inquiries, is that Google employees get breakfast and lunch, and I even heard there are to-go suppers.

google-courtyard

And it goes far beyond the food. This is a photo of the courtyard next to where we ate lunch. There’s nice outdoor furniture, a beach volleyball court, two big smoker BBQs, and in one area they had an area set up for massages. Free, I assume.

So yeah, the culture around Google is amazing. I get the impression that employees spend most of their time in and around work, and that it’s more of a lifestyle rather than a job, so this type of environment and benefits really matter.

The Googleplex

After the conference, we got a walking tour of the Googleplex which took us around some of the main buildings and to the Google Store.

googleplex

googleplex-gps

GPS proof that I was there!

google-patio

Another taste of the Google culture. Looks like a great place to sit outside for lunch.

google-store

And the last stop, the Google Store, where you can find just about anything with “Google” printed on it. I was pleased to find an array of reasonably priced items in addition to the expensive bags and clothing.

That’s it! Overall, a really fun day in a unique location. Obviously, this barely scratches the surface of what is actually there at the Googleplex, and I can only imagine what exists behind the scenes that your average person doesn’t get to see.

Google Cardboard

This Virtual Reality viewer is one of the most unusual and interesting items I received at a recent conference at the Googleplex. It consists of a cardboard frame that you get to fold yourself, two lenses, and a magnetic button trigger. The front opens up, allowing you to place a smart phone inside, and if running the correct software can create a really great display.

Google Cardboard Virtual Reality Viewer

There are apps that let you do all sorts of things, from a virtual rollercoaster, to looking around on Mars, to navigating the streets around Paris. The educational and entertainment, and even business possibilities here are huge, and I’m surprised this isn’t more well known than it is.

This technology is meant to be open and available, and you can download printable templates to build your own. Of course you’ll need a few special items such as lenses, but all components are available to your average consumer. For those who want to jump right in and perhaps get something more solid than cardboard, you can find a number of viewers available online.

Read more about Google Cardboard: https://www.google.com/get/cardboard/

Connecting a MacBook to a TV with RCA connectors

I recently needed to connect a MacBook to a TV set. For most people, this is as simple as getting an adapter, plugging in their HDMI cable, and moving on. However, the TV in question is an old model, with nothing but RCA inputs.

A Google search quickly locates pages of questions regarding this same problem, with many answers and a varying level of successful solutions. I spent a good deal of time figuring out what was necessary, some time on Amazon to find products to match, and came up with something I thought would work. Maybe I got lucky, but my solution was a success, and I’m sharing it here to help anyone else in a similar situation.

Hardware

To make this work, you’ll need three things:

Apple Mini DisplayPort to VGA Adapter

Click here to see the product.

This is your standard Apple adapter. If you have an older MacBook, you’ll need a Mini DVI adapter instead of the Mini DisplayPort. Find out which one your device supports and purchase accordingly.

Generic PC to TV Converter

Click here to see the product.

This is where the magic happens. Somewhere, somehow, inside this blue box, the signal from the VGA cable is converted and exported to a video RCA plug.

Stereo to RCA Cord

Click here to see the product.

The audio needs to be sent separately from your MacBook to the TV, and this will let you go directly from one to the other. You do not need this exact product, and it’s possible you can find it at a local electronics store, or even a dollar store.

Bringing it all together

Once you have all of your equipment, the rest of the process is basically just plugging in cords. Let’s take a look at the cords you’ll plug into your MacBook:

On the left, you see the Apple Mini DisplayPort to VGA Adapter, which is plugged into the VGA cable that comes along with the Generic PC to TV Converter. Next to it is a USB cable that powers the Generic PC to TV Converter, and comes with it. And on the right, the stereo end of the Stereo to RCA cord.

Now we look at the Converter box:

On the left is the power input, which connects to your MacBook via USB. In the middle is the yellow RCA cable which is the output we’re looking for. On the right is the VGA cable, which is plugged into the Apple Mini DisplayPort to VGA Adapter on the other end.

Once everything you see here is connected, plug the yellow video cable, and the red and white audio cables into the corresponding places on the TV set. If you’re lucky, it’ll just work. If it doesn’t work right the first time, don’t panic. There are a lot of cords and connections, and you’ll need to tinker a bit. I’ll provide a couple of tips below.

Troubleshooting

If you have trouble making this work, try the following:

NTSC vs PAL

You may see a rapidly flickering screen. If this happens, look on one of the sides of the blue Generic PC to TV Converter box where you’ll find two tiny switches. Confer with the manual, but in the end I had to guess. Try flipping them both in the opposite direction.

Check the connections and TV settings

You’re dealing with at least 10 connection points. Make sure they’re all plugged in properly. Some TVs have more than one set of RCA connectors. Be sure your TV is displaying the right ones.

MacBook display settings

When you plug in the Apple Mini DisplayPort to VGA Adapter, you should see a display screen icon in the top bar. Check the settings to make sure everything looks good on that end.

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One Simple Way To Improve iPhone 5 Battery Life

One thing I consistently hear from new iPhone users is that the battery life is poor. These phones are high powered devices, and are quite small, so it’s not a surprise that battery life is an issue. Still, I use my iPhone every day, all day, and believe that with a bit of smart energy management, there isn’t a thing wrong with it.

There are a lot of resources on the web with advice on improving and maintaining battery life, but I’m going to cover just a single one that will go a long way: Turn down your screen brightness!

iOS Brightness Settings

More often than not, when a new iPhone user tells me they have battery problems, I have them check the brightness and it’s at the highest setting. I don’t have solid numbers, but you’re going to notice a big difference if you bump it down. There’s also a handy Auto-Brightness feature that might help you if you are changing locations often, but generally I find that adjusting it up when I go outside and down when I’m indoors is sufficient.

So instead of thinking about battery life as a problem, think about the benefits of holding a phone that is sleek, compact, and powerful, and try to better manage the battery life with little tricks like this, and you’ll likely reach a place where you won’t even find it a problem anymore.

Missing “Personal Hotspot” on iOS devices

Earlier today after a business meeting, I wanted to show someone a demo of an app I’m working on, but when I went to tether my iPad via “Personal Hotspot” on my iPhone 5, I couldn’t find the option! Where did it go? It was there the day before!

After some online searches and some attempted fixes, I figured out what was really wrong. The option wasn’t gone. It had just moved!

If you can’t find it, try opening the Settings app, then select General > Cellular, and you’ll probably see “Personal Hotspot”. Interestingly, when I activated it, it showed up again on the main menu. There must be some logic behind this, I just can’t figure out what it is.

It’s also interesting to note that this means the Settings area can be modified even without an upgrade to iOS, probably via changes triggered by Apple and your cellular provider.

Happy tethering!