I wanted to let folks know that I’m about to take a few months of leave. When I joined Google, my wife and I agreed that I would work for 4-5 years, and then she’d get to see more of me. I talked about this as recently as last month and as early as 2006. And now, almost fifteen years later I’d like to be there for my wife more. I know she’d like me to be around more too, and not just physically present while my mind is still on work.
So we’re going to take some time off for a few months. My leave starts next week. Currently I’m scheduled to be gone through October. Thanks to a deep bench of smart engineers and spam fighters, the webspam team is in more-than-capable hands. Seriously, they’re much better at spam fighting than I am, so don’t worry on that score.
One critical point is that I won’t be checking my work email at all while I’m on leave. My friend and colleague Amit Singhal took about six weeks off not too long ago, and his #1 piece of advice was to unplug from work email. So that’s what I’m going to do. I will set up Gmail filters to forward some of my outside email to a small set of webspam folks, but they won’t be replying to emails.
Q: Is this because of some specific event?
A: Nope. I’ve been talking about doing this with my wife for a while now, and it feels like the right time.
Q: You’re not going to check your work email at all?
A: That’s right.
Q: No, really? No work email?
A: Really. I’m thinking of it like a 30 day challenge, except for longer than 30 days.
Q: If I can’t email you, how should I communicate with Google about search topics or find out about new things in search?
A: I’m so glad you asked! There’s still tons of ways, from our webmaster forums to Office Hours Hangouts where you can ask questions to experts. On the social side, instead of sending SEO-related comments to me on Twitter, you can ping the Google Webmaster Central account. Likewise, make sure you follow Google Webmasters on Google+. A bunch of different Googlers will continue to speak and answer questions at search conferences too.
For broader search-related news, read our Webmaster blog or Inside Search blog. To understand how Google thinks about search, we’ve made hundreds of webmaster videos and they’re designed to be evergreen.
Our web documentation is superb: Google Webmaster Central is the best place to start. From there, you can find our Webmaster Academy, our help documentation, and our SEO beginner’s guide. We even made a mini-site about how search engines work.
One of the most important ways to hear from Google is to add and verify your site in Google Webmaster Tools. That’s the primary channel to find out about issues with webspam or other errors or notices.
Q: Are you doing anything fun?
A: Yup! I’ve been taking a ballroom dance class with my wife, and we’re going on a cruise in late August. Our 15th (!) wedding anniversary is next year, so we might do some early traveling to celebrate that too. We’ll also be spending more time visiting with our parents. I’m also trying a half-Ironman race.
And just to reiterate, the webspam team is in great hands while I’m out. I’m looking forward to trying this, so thanks for your understanding.
Hey everybody, I’m looking for some fun books (mostly fiction) to read this summer. What would you recommend? One book I recently enjoyed was The Martian, a novel about an astronaut stranded on Mars who needs to figure out how to survive and get home with minimal supplies. It was a little heavy on the science, but I liked learning a couple things while reading it. I also enjoyed Flash Boys by Michael Lewis, even though it wasn’t fiction.
I’m not much of a fantasy reader (normally I prefer sci-fi), but I did enjoy The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss and his follow-up book, The Wise Man’s Fear. Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane was satisfyingly haunting–highly recommended.
Almost anyone in the tech world would enjoy Hatching Twitter, by Nick Bilton. I like almost anything by Jon Ronson as well. Likewise, Ramez Naam and Lee Child and Daniel Suarez are good bets for me at least. I enjoy just about everything by John Scalzi, although Redshirts got a little too meta for my taste.
I also enjoyed The Last Policeman by Ben Winters, about a policeman who stays at his post in the months before an asteroid is predicted to collide with the Earth. I’m not a horror fan, but an unexpected delight was the comedy-horror novel This Book Is Full of Spiders by David Wong.
When I asked for reading recommendations in the past, here’s the description I used:
Okay, I’m looking for fun, light reading for my vacation. I don’t want search stuff, I don’t want heavy reading, I don’t want geopolitics or history.
Things like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Or Terry Pratchett. Or early William Gibson. Cheesy cyberpunk if they don’t get the computer stuff too wrong. Neil Gaiman. Transmetropolitan.
So, what fun books have you enjoyed recently? Tell me what books you’ve really enjoyed!
Okay, it’s been a while since I’ve blogged. Let me tell you about the 30 day challenges I’ve been doing and what I learned:
- March 2014: I went back to doing no external email, and I learned this one weird, simple trick that helped. In previous “no email” challenges, I relied on sheer force of will not to reply to email. That didn’t work so well. In March, I tried something different: I used Gmail filters to take outside email, add the label “march2014″, and then made the outside emails skip my inbox.
It turns out that getting those emails out of my default view was critical. A while ago when I was losing some weight, I noticed that small nudges could make things easier. Instead of leaving chips or snacks lying in plain sight, I tucked them away where I wouldn’t see them. The principle of “out of sight, out of mind” can really work for you! Even better was to skip buying certain snacks. In theory, I could get in the car and drive somewhere if I really wanted a treat, but in practice I rarely did.
Archiving email out of your inbox has the same effect. Now if I’m done with my internal work-related email, I might click through to check out the outside email at the end of the day, but it doesn’t sit right in front of me begging for a reply like it did before. I’ve kept up this practice after March.
- April 2014: This is going to sound crazy, but I wanted to figure out how to make quirky eyebrow expressions (watch what Emilia Clarke can do with her eyebrows–it’s crazy!). Unfortunately, I only practiced in front of a mirror once or twice, so April was a total crash and burn. But so what? I still tried a couple times, and not every 30 day challenge has to be deep or meaningful. Fun is fine! Maybe I’ll circle back around to this one again down the road.
- May 2014: My challenge for May was to get eight hours of sleep a night. I only hit that goal about half the nights. But I became much more aware of when I was trading off sleep for a meaningful activity, like getting up at 4 a.m. to drive to Vallejo for a triathlon. Or more often, I realized that I was trading off sleep to answer emails or surf the web. As a bonus 30 day challenge, I biked into work almost every day in May.
Which brings me to my 30 day challenge for June! In previous months, it would take me about three hours a day to battle email to a standstill, and I’ve also noticed that I end up surfing the web for at least a couple hours a day. All told, I spend a lot of time sitting in front of a computer, which might not be the best for my health.
For June 2014, I’m going to try to convert some of that computer time to at least an hour a day with a treadmill desk. I have a treadmill at home and I slapped a couple plastic risers and a piece of plywood across it–instant treadmill desk! So the incremental cost was only like $20. I set the treadmill speed to one mile an hour, which is fast enough that my Fitbit can detect I’m walking, but slow enough that I can still think and work. I’ll let you know how it goes!
Is there any new habit or experiment you’d like to try for the next 30 days?
In January 2014, my 30 day challenge was to limit my social media. That was a productive month.
In February 2014, my 30 day challenge was to eat more slowly. I did that by counting to ten between chewing bites of my food. I tend to wolf down my food, which doesn’t give my stomach time to say “Hey, I’m full enough to stop.” I was also raised to finish everything on my plate, but sometimes it’s better to stop eating and leave leftovers on the plate. It’s actually been a really great challenge, and one I hope to keep doing in some form.
For March 2014, my 30 day challenge will be not to reply to external emails. Email continues to be my nemesis. It’s so hard to prioritize important things over the pelting of lots of emails that claim to be urgent. Answering emails provides the illusion of progress, but it’s one of the least scalable ways to communicate. When you answer an external email, you’re usually helping one person in private, as opposed to helping many people at once like with a video. And of course when you’re answering emails, you’re usually reacting rather than plotting an active course forward.
Last night I got the chance to hear Fred Brooks talk about different aspects of software engineering and management. He told a story about the IBM System/360. Apparently a few months before the public launch, a smart manager concluded that the team need to focus on work with no distractions. So the manager decreed: no meetings with sales people or other non-related internal staff. What the team needed was to “just be mean” and buckle down and focus on the most important goal, which was meeting their launch deadline.
March is a great month to do some deep thinking about the future and various work and personal projects. So I’m going to try to do more of that and less answering email. Sorry in advance if you write but don’t get a reply from me.
Okay, I’m calling it: if you’re using guest blogging as a way to gain links in 2014, you should probably stop. Why? Because over time it’s become a more and more spammy practice, and if you’re doing a lot of guest blogging then you’re hanging out with really bad company.
Back in the day, guest blogging used to be a respectable thing, much like getting a coveted, respected author to write the introduction of your book. It’s not that way any more. Here’s an example unsolicited, spam email that I recently received:
My name is XXXXXXX XXXXXXXX and I work as a content marketer for a high end digital marketing agency in [a city halfway around the world]. I have been promoting high quality content in select niches for our clients.
We are always on the lookout for professional, high class sites to further promote our clients and when I came across your blog I was very impressed with the fan following that you have established.I [sic] would love to speak to you regarding the possibility of posting some guest articles on your blog. Should you be open to the idea, we can consider making suitable contribution, befitting to high standard of services that your blog offers to larger audience.
On my part, I assure you a high quality article that is-
- 100% original
- Well written
- Relevant to your audience and
- Exclusive to you
We can also explore including internal links to related articles across your site to help keep your readers engaged with other content on your blog.
All I ask in return is a dofollow link or two in the article body that will be relevant to your audience and the article. We understand that you will want to approve the article, and I can assure you that we work with a team of highly talented writers, so we can guarantee that the article would be insightful and professionally written. We aim to write content that will benefit your loyal readers. We are also happy to write on any topic, you suggest for us.
If you ignore the bad spacing and read the parts that I bolded, someone sent me a spam email offering money to get links that pass PageRank. That’s a clear violation of Google’s quality guidelines. Moreover, we’ve been seeing more and more reports of “guest blogging” that are really “paying for PageRank” or worse, “we’ll insert some spammy links on your blog without you realizing it.”
Ultimately, this is why we can’t have nice things in the SEO space: a trend starts out as authentic. Then more and more people pile on until only the barest trace of legitimate behavior remains. We’ve reached the point in the downward spiral where people are hawking “guest post outsourcing” and writing articles about “how to automate guest blogging.”
So stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done; it’s just gotten too spammy. In general I wouldn’t recommend accepting a guest blog post unless you are willing to vouch for someone personally or know them well. Likewise, I wouldn’t recommend relying on guest posting, guest blogging sites, or guest blogging SEO as a linkbuilding strategy.
For historical reference, I’ll list a few videos and links to trace the decline of guest articles. Even back in 2012, I tried to draw a distinction between high-quality guest posts vs. spammier guest blogs:
Unfortunately, a lot of people didn’t seem to hear me say to steer away from low-quality guest blog posting, so I did a follow-up video to warn folks away from spammy guest articles:
In mid-2013, John Mueller gave spot on advice about nofollowing links in guest blog posts. I think by mid-2013, a ton of people saw the clear trend towards guest blogging being overused by a bunch of low-quality, spammy sites.
Then a few months ago, I took a question about how to be a guest blogger without it looking like paying for links (even the question is a clue that guest blog posting has been getting spammier and spammier). I tried to find a sliver of daylight to talk about high-quality guest blog posts, but if you read the transcript you’ll notice that I ended up spending most of the time talking about low-quality/spam guest posting and guest articles.
And then in this video that we posted last month, even the question itself predicted that Google would take stronger action and asked about “guest blogging as spam”:
So there you have it: the decay of a once-authentic way to reach people. Given how spammy it’s become, I’d expect Google’s webspam team to take a pretty dim view of guest blogging going forward.
Added: It seems like most people are getting the spirit of what I was trying to say, but I’ll add a bit more context. I’m not trying to throw the baby out with the bath water. There are still many good reasons to do some guest blogging (exposure, branding, increased reach, community, etc.). Those reasons existed way before Google and they’ll continue into the future. And there are absolutely some fantastic, high-quality guest bloggers out there. I changed the title of this post to make it more clear that I’m talking about guest blogging for search engine optimization (SEO) purposes.
I’m also not talking about multi-author blogs. High-quality multi-author blogs like Boing Boing have been around since the beginning of the web, and they can be compelling, wonderful, and useful.
I just want to highlight that a bunch of low-quality or spam sites have latched on to “guest blogging” as their link-building strategy, and we see a lot more spammy attempts to do guest blogging. Because of that, I’d recommend skepticism (or at least caution) when someone reaches out and offers you a guest blog article.
Today I made a Bluetooth garage door opener. Now I can open my garage from my Android phone. There’s a short how-to YouTube video from Lou Prado. Lou also made a website btmate.com that has more information, and you can watch an earlier howto video as well.
The project itself was pretty simple:
- Acquire a Samsung HM1100 bluetooth headset (the Samsung HM1800 also works). You can buy these cheap from Fry’s or eBay. I got mine on eBay for $10-$15.
- Crack open the earpiece on the Bluetooth headset and solder one of the earpiece wires to the base pin of a transistor. Solder red and black wires to the other pins of the transistor.
- Connect the red and black wires to the garage door opener. It turns out that most garage door openers are built to allow easy insertion of wires, which is nice.
That’s more or less it. My soldering was ugly as sin–too ugly for me to even post a picture. And rather than leave the house for some heat shrink tubing, I just left bare wires on the transistor, but everything works fine.
Lou wrote a nice Android app that’s free to install and then pay-what-you-want for a license. Then it’s just a single button to open or close the garage door. In theory, I could use Tasker to open the garage door automatically when I get home.
It’s not quite as sexy as Brad Fitzpatrick’s Android garage door opener, but it was a fun little project for a day.
I’ll keep it short: this week when you donate for cancer research, I’ll match your donation (up to a limit of $5000 total for all donations). We’ve already raised almost $8,000 dollars to help stop cancer, but I’d love to get to $10,000 or even higher.
If anyone has ever wanted to take money out of my pocket, now’s your chance! Donate for a great cause and I’ll match you dollar for dollar.
Thanks in advance if you can donate to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute this week. And if you do donate, remember that many employers will match charitable donations! I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who has donated, and I’ll be thinking of you on my multiple-hours run in Boston this spring.
I like to set myself different challenges every 30 days. In October 2013, I tried to eat better and exercise more. I did alright on that, but without a specific daily goal, I had a hard time deciding how well I did. I mostly got back into the habit of exercising daily, so that was helpful.
For November 2013, I tried to do a “no work November.” I had enough vacation days built up that I was hitting the upper limit for work, so I took a bunch of vacation in November. My in-laws visited one week, then it was a family member’s birthday, so we took some time off at a resort in Arizona. Then it was back home for a week before spending the week before Thanksgiving in Kentucky with my family.
I learned a few things in my month off:
- I still enjoy reading tech and Google news for fun. It’s amazing (or problematic?) how much time you can spend just surfing the web each day and reading what other people are writing.
- My initial goal was to not read work email at all, but I had to give up on that. There were a few urgent things I genuinely had to weigh in on. I eventually settled for reading work email but trying really hard not to reply unless it was an emergency. I probably ended up writing 20-30 replies over the month, along with passing on spam reports that people emailed to me.
- I realized that I’d gotten in the bad habit of giving friends my work email address, as well as forwarding my personal email address to my work email. Takeaway: keep your work email separate from your personal email. Seems like common sense, but after almost 14 years at Google, things had gotten tangled together.
- A couple good pieces of advice that I failed to heed: 1) remove your work account from your phone, so you can’t check work email or docs on your phone. 2) if you have an “email tab” that you keep pinned on your browser, unpin and close that tab. I didn’t take either of those steps, but I should have.
- I didn’t feel the need to start any big projects, or write any Android apps, or blog a lot. I have a newer Linux computer that has configuration issues; I didn’t tackle that. Mostly I enjoyed reading a few books.
- I’m incredibly proud of the whole webspam team at Google. Things ran like clockwork while I was gone. I’m really grateful to the phenomenal people that fight spam for Google’s users every day.
Which brings us to December 2013. Back in September, I threw my back out. I can still move around fine, but it sometimes hurts if I bend in various ways. So my goal for December 2013 is to do 15-20 minutes of stretching–things like cat and camel–each day to help my back recuperate.
How about you? Are you doing any 30 day challenges?
At this point, our webmaster console will alert you to manual webspam actions that will directly affect your site. We’ve recently rolled out better visibility on website security issues, including radically improved resources for hacked site help. We’ve also improved the backlinks that we show to publishers and site owners. Along the way, we’ve also created a website that explains how search works, and Google has done dozens of “office hours” hangouts for websites. And we’re just about to hit 15 million views on ~500 different webmaster videos.
So here’s my question: what would you like to see from Webmaster Tools (or the larger team) in 2014? I’ll throw out a few ideas below, but please leave suggestions in the comments. Bear in mind that I’m not promising we’ll do any of these–this is just to get your mental juices going.
Some things that I could imagine people wanting:
- Make it easier/faster to claim authorship or do authorship markup.
- Improved reporting of spam, bugs, errors, or issues. Maybe people who do very good spam reports could be “deputized” so their future spam reports would be fast-tracked. Or perhaps a karma, cred, or peer-based system could bubble up the most important issues, bad search results, etc.
- Option to download the web pages that Google has seen from your site, in case a catastrophe like a hard drive failure or a virus takes down your entire website.
- Checklists or help for new businesses that are just starting out.
- Periodic reports with advice on improving areas like mobile or page speed.
- Send Google “fat pings” of content before publishing it on the web, to make it easier for Google to tell where content appeared first on the web.
- Better tools for detecting or reporting duplicate content or scrapers.
- Show pages that don’t validate.
- Show the source pages that link to your 404 pages, so you can contact other sites and ask if they want to fix their broken links.
- Or almost as nice: tell the pages on your website that lead to 404s or broken links, so that site owners can fix their own broken links.
- Better or faster bulk url removal (maybe pages that match a specific phrase?).
- Refreshing the existing data in Webmaster Tools faster or better.
- Improve robots.txt checker to handle even longer files.
- Ways for site owners to tell us more about their site: anything from country-level data to language to authorship to what content management system (CMS) you use on different parts of the site. That might help Google improve how it crawls different parts of a domain.
To be clear, this is just some personal brainstorming–I’m not saying that the Webmaster Tools team will work on any of these. What I’d really like to hear is what you would like to see in 2014, either in Webmaster Tools or from the larger team that works with webmasters and site owners.
For the folks that don’t know, I’ve been out for a couple weeks and I’ll be on vacation the rest of November. If you’ve tried to contact me recently and haven’t heard back, that’s probably the reason.
Added: if you enjoy watching our webmaster videos, you can follow @googlewmc to hear as soon as we publish new Webmaster Central videos. It looks like @googlewmc is just about to hit 100,000 followers on Twitter!
On April 21st, 2014, I’m going to run the Boston Marathon. If you want to show your support, please donate to a good cause for cancer research. Anyone who wants to give is welcome.
So many people have been affected by cancer, including members of my own family. The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute funds basic and innovative cancer research. That’s why I’m trying to raise $9,000 for the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge.
I’ve been running for a few years now (that’s me at the San Francisco marathon), but this is the first time I’m trying to run to raise money for a cause, and I would really appreciate donations. It won’t give you more PageRank or a higher rank on Google, but Dana-Farber is a great institution and I’d love to raise as much money for them as I can before I run in Boston. If you can, please consider donating to kick cancer’s butt. Thank you!
For Halloween 2013 I decided to be the Dread Pirate Roberts from the movie The Princess Bride:
I even grew a slight moustache to help make the character believable:
But to be clear, I wasn’t just any old Dread Pirate Roberts. I decided to be the Silk Road Dread Pirate Roberts. So if you want to buy some Iocaine powder, it’ll cost you five bitcoins:
By the way, I did have a couple Penguin masks and a tuxedo. I thought about doing a Penguin costume, but decided not to. Maybe next year?
Someone recently asked me how I manage my to-do list, so I thought I’d write up the software that I use. Fundamentally I use Google Tasks as the backend, but with extensions and apps that improve on the basic functionality in Google Tasks.
I use a couple different extensions for Chrome:
- Better Google Tasks is a great Chrome extension. Just click a button in Chrome and you have instant access to all your todo items. I like the extension so much that I donated some money to the author, Chris Wiegman. You can get the Better Google Tasks extension from the Chrome Store.
- I also noticed that on the New Tab page of Chrome, seeing thumbnails of my most visited sites (Techmeme, Hacker News, Nuzzel, Google News, etc.) every time I opened a new tab inevitably led me to click over to those sites. The result? I was wasting more time surfing than I wanted. The solution is a great Chrome extension called New Tab to Tasks. It changes Chrome’s new tab page to be your todo list. That way, I get a nice little signal every time I open a tab: “Hey, remember that you’re supposed to be working on stuff, not goofing off.” Thanks to Scott Graham for writing this Chrome extension.
Oh, and one last Chrome recommendation: if you don’t want *any* distractions on Chrome’s new tab page, consider installing Empty New Tab Page, which makes the Chrome new tab page completely blank.
For Android, I use an app called Tasks. It costs $0.99, but there’s also a free version that starts showing ads after 10 days. I like the Tasks app for Android because it syncs with Google Tasks, has nice widgets, you can easily move tasks up and down, and you can indent tasks underneath each other. I only keep a few todo lists (Home, Work, Grocery, etc.), and to switch between lists you just swipe left or right. Tasks works great for me, but if you have tons of different todo lists then swiping between those lists might get old.
I can already imagine someone asking “Okay, but what about Google Keep?” I’m not opposed to Google Keep, but at this point I’ve found various third-party solutions that interoperate with Google Tasks and work well for me on Chrome and Android. Plus I already have my data in Google Tasks, so for the time being I like these solutions for Google Tasks.
Some relatives were visiting this past week, so my inbox has a triple digit backlog. That’s after aggressive pruning of mailing lists and so on. Nearly all of those emails mention me in a “to:” or “cc:” line and request a response. Some observations:
- roughly 40% of those emails are from the outside world (that is, not from colleagues at Google).
- only 5% of my emails are from people who are actually on my team.
- 3% of my current emails are about internal legal matters.
- 1% are from public relations folks.
- about 10-12% of those emails are about a couple recent internal projects that aren’t related to webspam but that I’m helping with.
My 30 day goal this month is to get to a better place with email. Heck, I might make “better email habits” an ongoing 30 day challenge until things are in a better place. Could I get to a healthier place in three months? Four months? I have no idea how long it will take, but email represents my largest source of work stress. When I’ve tracked my time in the past, it takes me about three hours a day to keep from falling behind on email. If my whole day is full of meetings, then I’m spending several hours at night to keep my head above water. Does anybody else tackle email on their vacation so it’s not as bad when they get back? Some of you do, right?
At 40% of my overall load, it’s clear to me that I have to do something different for emails from the outside world. For years I tried to answer everyone who emailed me. I’m going to have to go “lossy” and just let some of those emails drop.
I need to think about whether it makes sense to write a blog post like Chris Sacca did (which
Rick Klau recently surfaced) that tries to address the common things that people email about. Then again, Rand Fishkin did something like that at http://moz.com/rand/making-email-more-scalable/ and he reported that he ended up with “a bunch of very angry people” when he pointed them to a blog post.
So I’m not sure whether it’s better not to reply, or to write up a canned response or maybe a blog post or a flowchart that I can point people to. If you have tips that have worked for you to make email more manageable, let me know in the comments below.
Added, 9/25/2013: This has been a tough challenge. One tactic that has worked well for me is to put email away from Friday evening until Sunday evening. Then (since I’m a workaholic), I ask myself “If someone else were trying to relax this weekend, what would I recommend for them to do?” and I try to do that. As a result, I’ve read more books this month, which has been nice.
The other tactic is to allow myself to go lossy, which means not answering every email. A lot of emails require 5-15 minutes at a minimum to respond, so email becomes a todo list in which anyone can keep adding to the list. Treating any non-trivial email as if it’s a request for 10-15 minutes of my time has helped me figure out which emails I should respond to vs. not replying.
A couple friends have recently had security scares with their Gmail account where they were worried that their accounts might have been hacked. I was emailing one of them about how to make sure that your account is safe, and I realized it might be handy to post this on my blog as well.
Here’s the email that I just wrote to a friend:
Here’s what I’d do:
- change your password (make sure you’re on google.com when you change your password)
- check for any strange activity. In Gmail, go to the bottom right and look for a message that looks like “Last account activity: 30 minutes ago. Open in 1 other location” and click on the “Details” link and look for any unusual logins, for example log ins from countries that you haven’t been in recently.
- Also check for weird forwarding rules. If hackers get into your Gmail, sometimes they’ll create a rule that forwards all your email to them. To check your filtering rules, in Gmail click on the gear icon in the top right, then select Settings from the drop down. Click on the link for “Filters” and just check whether there’s any rules that look suspicious to you.
In an ideal world, you’d turn on two-factor authentication like is described at https://support.google.com/accounts/answer/180744?hl=en . It’s more hassle to use two-factor authentication, but it makes your account much more secure against being hacked.
I’m a big fan of two-factor authentication, but I realize that casual users might not want to turn it on. My take is that it’s a lot better to set up two-factor authentication than worry about a hacked account.
For June 2013, my 30 day challenge was to record a second of video every day. I was inspired by Cesar Kuriyama’s wonderful TED talk about how he records a second of video every day. There’s a couple things Cesar said in his talk that really resonated with me:
- “[A]s the days and weeks and months go by, time just seems to start blurring and blending into each other and, you know, I hated that“. Totally agree. One of the reasons I started doing 30 day challenges was that I was alarmed at how quickly time was passing and I wanted to make my time more memorable.
- “This has really invigorated me day-to-day, when I wake up, to try and do something interesting with my day“. Recording a second of video a day has definitely made me keep my eyes peeled for noticeable sights. That also happened when I took a picture every day for a different 30 day challenge.
Okay, enough talk. Why don’t I show you my video montage for June 2013? (I missed three days, so I added three seconds from May to make it a full 30 days.) Here’s my video:
To make this video, I used Cesar’s 1 Second EveryDay app. The app is available for iPhone and iOS devices now, and Cesar let me beta test the Android app. The Android version of the app just went live, so you can give it a try.
I really enjoyed this challenge. I definitely did more interesting things, and the video is like a diary of travel and events from June 2013. Even on boring days, there’s probably at least one fun second you can save. The video makes my life look more exciting than it actually is, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing?
If you’re new to 30 day challenges, recording a second of video every day is a great way to start.
For May 2013 I decided to try making a Chromebook Pixel my primary laptop. So how did it go? Well, the short version is that I’m still a happy Pixel user, almost three months after my one month challenge started.
Previously, I was using a Thinkpad 420s running Goobuntu. In fact, I’ve been using Thinkpads since 1998, when I got my first one in grad school. Before I talk about the Pixel, here’s what I like about Thinkpads:
- Thinkpad keyboards have been the best in the industry. Great depth and just-right resistance. I especially liked the Thinkpad’s dedicated back/forward buttons for web browsing, located right near the arrow keys. Unfortunately, Lenovo has moved to “chiclet” style keyboards and dropped the back/forward buttons in newer Thinkpads.
- Thinkpads have a red rubber TrackPoint in the middle of the keyboard. TrackPoint pointers are faster and more precise than trackpads or even mice for me, since you don’t have to take your hands off the keyboard. I didn’t think I could use a laptop without a TrackPoint.
- Thinkpads have a consistent power connector that doesn’t change very often. Most Google conference rooms have Thinkpad and Mac power connectors, so you don’t have to haul a power cord around with you.
- The Thinkpad 420s has a black magnesium case that’s not as cold on your lap when it wakes up as aluminum.
- The Thinkpad 420s has a 1600 x 900 widescreen. Until retina-type displays came out, that was one of the highest-resolution laptops you could get.
Okay, Thinkpads are great machines. But what’s not to like?
- Battery life. When I kept my screen pretty bright, I only got 2-3 hours of battery life.
- Heavy. I didn’t notice until I started using the Pixel, but my Thinkpad 420s was 5.2 pounds. That’s pretty darn hefty for a laptop these days.
Overall though, I was very pleased with my Thinkpad and expected to return to it after the 30 day challenge was up. After all, I’ve been using Thinkpads for 15 years.
Then the Chromebook Pixel surprised me. The main thing you need to know about the Chromebook Pixel is that the screen is phenomenal. The resolution is 2560 x 1700 and 239 pixels per inch (ppi), compared to 227 ppi for a Macbook Pro with retina display. To demonstrate the screen, the Pixel comes with an app called TimeScapes which is drop dead gorgeous. The screen is also a 3:2 aspect ratio, which seems weird for a few days but is actually much better for web browsing than a widescreen display because more of a web page fits on the screen.
The Pixel also comes with a terabyte of Google Drive storage for three years and 12 free Gogo wifi passes for airplane trips. And if you’re worried about the Chrome-only, cloud-only aspect of a Pixel, you can install Linux on it. Even Linus Torvalds likes it.
Okay, but how did it work over 30 days? Better than I expected. I was 12 days in when I realized I’d probably keep using the Pixel after the challenge was over. Let’s run down what’s good and bad:
- The screen. So nice. Although I don’t understand why they made it so glossy. Screens should be matte, in my opinion.
- Incredibly easy to set up. I use Chrome Sync to sign into Chrome, so basically I just logged in and all my settings, bookmarks, and extensions showed up like magic.
- No configuration. I spent most of this past January reconfiguring several new computers, so “no muss, no fuss” is a big plus.
- The battery life is better. More like five hours, so I’m not constantly looking for a power adapter. If Google puts a Haswell chip in the Pixel, the sucker should go practically all day.
- The trackpad works great. The physical texture of it is silky-smooth, and I never saw any of the glitches that affected the CR-48. Sometimes I do accidentally click when I’m touching the trackpad just to move the cursor, but that’s hard to get right.
There were a few times I missed a regular laptop though:
- John Dvorak’s blog got hacked, and I wanted to send Dvorak a snippet of code that I fetched from his server, but the Pixel doesn’t have wget installed of course. You can do SSH, so I could have SSH’ed into another computer to fetch the page, but I didn’t bother.
- At one point I was trying to download a list of my books from Good Reads in comma separated value (CSV) form so I could upload the file to My Library on Google Books. The Pixel didn’t know what to do with a .csv file, which surprised me since Gmail and Google Drive seem to handle them fine. I suspect that this is a temporary “slip between the cracks” sort of thing, since it looks like Google is working on editing Office docs on Chrome OS. There have been a few times that I’ve downloaded a file and just wanted a simple text editor to tweak 2-3 characters in the file though.
- When you have a ton of tabs open using a lot of memory, clicking back on a tab that had been unused for a long time could cause the tab to reload. If you had unsaved work in the tab, you might lose it. This got better (but not perfect) over time. I’m not sure if Chrome OS got better, or I just got more careful with my tab management though.
One thing that annoyed me (selecting large blocks of text was slow when you had to scroll) was fixed when Chrome OS updated to a newer version. I have faith that other tiny annoyances–scrolling a page with two fingers doesn’t work for some reason when your cursor is over a tab instead of a web page, for example–will also be fixed. At the same time, I haven’t fully adapted to the touch screen and dedicated search button and don’t use either as much I could. But in general, the Pixel seems like it will just continue to get faster and better over time, not slower and cruftier like most machines.
So is the Pixel perfect? Not completely, but most of that (glossy screen vs. matte, trackpad vs. TrackPoint, chiclet vs. regular laptop keyboard) is a matter of personal preference. If you’re in the Apple ecosystem, I understand the decision to get a MacBook Pro with Retina display so you can run native apps. But I’m not in the Apple ecosystem, and I actually like a machine that discourages me from keeping too much data locally.
A lot of people poke fun at Chromebooks saying that they’re not much use without a WiFi connection. Personally, I believe that practically any computer is not much use without a network connection. Chromebooks are getting better at working well offline, but I have to say: the Pixel I’m using has an LTE option for when WiFi isn’t available, and I didn’t need to use the LTE connection on the Pixel any time in the last three months. Especially when you take the Google Drive storage and 12 internet passes into account, the Pixel is quite a good deal for a premium laptop. I’m going to keep using it.
This is getting long, so I’ll close with an anecdote. My Dad visited earlier this month. I gave him a Samsung Chromebook as a loaner for his visit and he’s been using it happily. He logged into his Gmail account in Chrome and his bookmarks and other Chrome settings just showed up. Dad’s laptop back home is about 5 years old, so we stopped by the Apple store. I was going to outfit him with a top-of-the-line MacBook; since he goes for years between upgrades, I wanted him to have a laptop that would last as long as possible. But after noticing the price, he balked. “Matt, we can buy ten Chromebooks for that much money,” he told me. We’re still discussing it, but the $250 Samsung Chromebook does everything he needs. I think more and more people will discover that’s true for them as well. I’ve been surprised how well the Chromebook Pixel works for me.
I realized that I didn’t mention this widely: my current 30 day challenge (July 2013) is not to read any news or social media. So no Twitter, Google News, Techmeme, Google+, Hacker News, Reddit, Imgur, etc. So if you’re wondering why I haven’t replied to a question, that’s the reason. I might still share a link if I run across something interesting, but I’m trying not to read any social media or news.
Why am I doing this? I find it to be a useful challenge. I’m crunching on a bunch of stuff and really wanted to get my head down and focus on some projects. I did this challenge in January 2013 and got a ton of stuff done. After the no-news challenge in January, I started surfing Twitter less often. I’d still check in every 3-4 days to read the tweets that people were sending my way, but otherwise I’d hit Nuzzel to skim just the most important tweets.
Longer-term, I’m trying to find a healthier approach to news and social media. On the spectrum of books to magazines to newspapers to social media with its second-by-second focus, I’d like to shift my media consumption more toward books and research. I’d also like to spend less time consuming media and more time doing things. See Clay Johnson’s Information Diet book for more about those kinds of ideas.
Back in the 90s, the heart of a computer was the CPU. The faster the CPU, the better the computer was–you could do more, and the speed of the CPU directly affected your productivity. People upgraded their computers or bought new ones whenever they could to take advantage of faster CPU speeds.
I remember the point when computers got “fast enough” though. Around 1997 or 1998, computers started hitting 166 MHz or 200 MHz and you could feel the returns diminishing. At some point, the heart of a computer switched from being a CPU to the hard drive. What mattered wasn’t the speed of your Intel or AMD chip, but the data that you had stored on your computer.
The era of the hard drive lasted for a decade or so. Now I think we’re shifting away from the hard drive to the network connection. Or at least the heart of a computer has shifted for me. In 2006 I contemplated a future where “documents sat in a magic Writely [note: now Google Docs] cloud where I could get to them from anywhere.” Sure enough, I keep all my important files in Google Docs now. At this point, if I have a file that sits only on a local hard drive, I get really nervous. I’ve had local hard drives fail. By 2008, I was spending 98% of my time in a web browser.
Don’t get me wrong. Local hard drives are great for caching things. Plus sometimes you want to run apps locally. But for most people, the heart of a computer will soon be its network connection. Ask yourself: could you get by with a minimal hard drive? Sure. Plenty of people store their files on Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, iCloud, or SkyDrive. Or they back up their data with CrashPlan, SpiderOak, Carbonite, or Mozy. But would you want a computer that couldn’t browse the web, do email, or watch YouTube videos? Not likely.
Folks at Google get cold-call emails out of the blue just like everybody else. Here’s an email that a colleague of mine got recently:
I was on your website www.google.com and wanted to shoot you a quick note. I think I can make a few changes (aesthetically and/or SEO – wise) to make your site convert more visitors into leads and to get it placed higher in the organic search results, for a few of the select terms.
This is NOT like one of those foreign emails you probably get in your inbox every day. Just to be upfront I have 3 agents that work with me for development /SEO.
I would just need to know which (if not both) services you’re open to checking out information about, either web design or SEO. Would you be open to seeing more brief info / quote for what I would like to accomplish?
So this person is offering help to convert Google visitors into leads. Or, you know, to improve Google’s rankings in organic search results. Sigh.
Earlier this week, I got a different email that said
I would like to extend our knowledge to your audience in the form of a uest post [sic]. This post will be written by a college educated writer fluent in English.
To recap we will provide-
- 100% original guest post with statical [sic] data and studies from professional writers.
Here’s my rule of thumb: if someone sends you an email with an SEO offer out of the blue, be skeptical. For example, check out some other fun SEO emails that I’ve gotten in the past.