Real-time traffic returns to Google Maps directions

When you're on your way somewhere, you probably want to know how long it's going to take to get there, and now Google Maps incorporates real-time traffic conditions in its directions to help factor that in.

As posted on the Google Lat Long Blog, typing in a starting point and a destination will give users an estimated time with current traffic conditions -- a valuable tool for those on the go who don't want to waste valuable gas idling in traffic. 

You could already view a layer of live traffic on routes, but this added bit of information now gets crunched when calculating routes. 

Comparing driving time vs. transit time on Google Maps

If that sounds familiar, it's because Google Maps used to show estimates of trip times based on traffic. But users found it wasn't always the most accurate gauge of real conditions, so the feature went away last year. Now it's back, and it's supposed to be better because it's constantly being refreshed.

Where does the fresh data come from? Android users. Those who have their location services enabled (i.e., those who have no problem with being tracked, albeit anonymously) and have opted to use the My Location feature on Google Maps for mobile contribute to the traffic info:

Screenshot of traffic layer on Google Maps

When we combine your speed with the speed of other phones on the road, across thousands of phones moving around a city at any given time, we can get a pretty good picture of live traffic conditions. We continuously combine this data and send it back to you for free in the Google Maps traffic layers. It takes almost zero effort on your part — just turn on Google Maps for mobile before starting your car — and the more people that participate, the better the resulting traffic reports get for everybody.
This new feature comes with other changes to Google Maps, notably Street View, which has exploded all over the world, with new images for international voyeurs to feast their eyes on in Thailand, the Amazon, Poland and Japan, where the cherry blossoms are in full bloom.


Google's self-driving car takes blind man to Taco Bell

Google's self-driving car has fascinated our minds with its technological promise since being introduced in 2010. But yesterday, the self-driving car touched our hearts.

Google posted a video of the self-driving car taking a legally blind man for a spin, showing one of the possibilities and benefits that could come from the technology.

"Where this would change my life is to give me the independence and the flexibility to go to the places I both want to go and need to go when I need to do those things," Steve Mahan says in the video.

The self-driving car takes Mahan to Taco Bell for a quick meal and a dry cleaner to pick up his clothes.

"Look, Ma, no hands," Mahan says. "No hands, no feet."

Google, which posted the video on its Google+ account, said the drive took place on a carefully programmed route and showed one of the possibilities that self-driving cars could offer.

"There’s much left to design and test, but we’ve now safely completed more than 200,000 miles of computer-led driving, gathering great experiences and an overwhelming number of enthusiastic supporters," Google said in the post.

Though it's uncertain just how far off self-driving cars may be from becoming a reality, the process to getting there is certainly in motion. Just last month, Nevada became the first state to legalize self-driving cars.


  California State Senator Pushes for Self-Driving Cars


Watch out Skype! Google plus Hangout has new app features

The Hangouts option on Google + is one popular feature since it allows social media users to voice chat without actually logging into another account. With Hangout, Google also hopes to give Skype some competition, more importantly since it is now owned by rival firm Microsoft.

And in a bid to draw more users into Hangout, Google has announced that it will release the API for Hangout thus ensuring that developers can have more fun with Hangouts, making it them capable of running social apps.

In a blogpost, describing the new functionality Google said:

The Google+ Hangouts API allows you to develop collaborative apps that run inside of a Google+ Hangout. Hangout apps behave much like normal web apps, but with the addition of the rich, real-time functionality provided by the Hangouts APIs. Apps have the ability to control aspects of the user interface, synchronize data between hangout participants, and respond to various events in the hangout.

So what will this mean for users? Video chatting with your friends is all set to get more interactive. Also (if you’re tech savvy enough) you can download the original source code and create your own app to run with Hangout.

TheNextWeb reports that a number of such apps have already been created, and focus on one called, Scoot and Doodle, which allows users to doodle together while ‘hanging out’ with their friends. “The cool part about Scoot & Doodle is that multiple people can draw at the same time, which makes a game like tic-tac toe”, says the website.  Business Insider mocked this one as the silliest apps, but we feel it’s quite a cute idea.

Other apps available include Clubhouse Challenge, by Bravo TV where pop culture fans can take trivia quizzes together.

While interactive apps could change the way people interact on video conferences, the big question will always be how much information is Google going to get via the apps.

Skype, uses peer-to-peer or P2P technology which means the video connection is perfectly secure but it means that more than two people in a chat can cause delays in the conversation.

In Hangouts, Google uses a  client-server model which “leverages the power of Google’s infrastructure.” So  when it comes to Hangout, Google still has access to all the information you share in your video chat.


Google I/O 2012: 10 Things Developers Can Expect at the Show

When tickets for Google I/O went on sale March 27, they sold out within minutes. This shows that developers are extremely excited to find out what the future holds for Google’s many platforms, including Android and Chrome.

When the Goolge I/O conference first started, the company had an exceedingly difficult time getting developers to join the event. It appeared that they wanted to see how it would go before they would commit. But in 2011, the event’s tickets sold out in no time. And this year, they hit a new sell-out record, exhausting the supply of tickets in just 20 minutes. The excitement surrounding the I/O Conference has hit a tipping point.
Google plans to hold the event on June 27 during a three-day period. Google hasn’t said what it will discuss, but the event is usually a good way to learn about the future of Google’s many services, including Android, Chrome, and even Google TV. In other words, it’s a major event that just about anyone who cares about the Google developer world will want to learn more about.

Realizing that this has become a must-see event, it’s time to look at some of the possible developments and announcements to expect at Google I/O 2012.

1. Android stats galore

Google is very much like Apple in that it likes to talk about mobile statistics as often as possible. So, at Google I/O, expect the search giant to take the stage and discuss everything from daily Android activations to devices sold worldwide. Providing Android stats is a key component in making Apple look bad.

2. A new Android version

In the past, Google has used Google I/O to discuss the latest and greatest Android flavors. At this year’s event, expect the same. After all, Google I/O is the place where the search giant has all the attention of media outlets and developers. Why wouldn’t it discuss the future of Android?

3. A new Chrome OS

Remember Chrome OS? It’s the operating system that was supposed to take on Microsoft Windows and Apple Mac OS X. Well, it’s still available and still running on Chromebooks, but it’s been largely ignored. At Google I/O, expect the search company to bring it back to the forefront and discuss how it might be used in the coming years.

4. Android Market developer discussions

One of the central elements of Android’s success has been its ability to attract developers. And the fact that Google I/O sold out in just 20 minutes shows how excited developers are to create apps for the company’s operating systems. So, expect lots of discussions on apps and the Android Market, as a whole.

5. Security will take center stage

Security is undoubtedly the biggest issue facing Android right now. And Google knows it. So, at Google I/O, expect the search giant to discuss security and the ways in which it plans to safeguard its many operating systems. To neglect security would be a huge mistake on Google’s part.

6. The future of Google TV

At Google I/O 2011, Google TV made a comeback, as the search company discussed how it would attempt to appeal to customers in the living room. Since then, however, Google TV has been all but ignored, making some wonder if it should be discontinued. With rumors of Apple launching a television this year, however, discontinuing Google TV seems unlikely, making it increasingly likely the platform will be on display at Google I/O.

7. Expect search to play a role

It wouldn’t be a Google-related event if the search company didn’t discuss, well, search. From Android to Chrome OS to Google TV, search plays a crucial role in all the services that might take center stage at Google I/O. Google would be remiss to not discuss it.

8. Google+, anyone?

Online services outside of search have become quite important to Google as of late. And more recently, Google+ has arguably become its most important online consideration next to search. Realizing that, expect for Google to discuss its social network and talk up app development for it. As Facebook has proven, social apps can mean big business -- and Google wants a part of that business.

9. A Google-branded smartphone and tablet

Although much of the discussion surrounding Google I/O will relate to development, there’s also a good chance that the search giant will show off a smartphone and tablet under its personally branded Nexus line. The Nexus strategy worked brilliantly in the smartphone space, but Google hasn’t followed the same path in tablets. The time has come for it to do just that. And Google I/O might be the place to do it.

10. An all-out assault on Microsoft

Lastly, expect Google to take aim at Microsoft at the Google I/O Conference. Since its inception, Google has hated everything about Microsoft. Now, the search giant is starting to chip away at Microsoft’s defenses, including Windows. Expect a rather significant chunk of Google I/O to continue that work.


Google Launches “Google Play” Marketplace

Move over Amazon and Apple?  If Google has their way with their latest service, Google Play, the two aforementioned major players in online content and applications could feel some competition.  Of course, that was said about Google+, and how many of you actually use that service?  Nevertheless, Google keeps on trying to break into the paid content and application marketplace, and their latest attempt is Google Play.

Savvy Gmail, Calendar, and Google+ users should have noticed the new “Play” link to the right of the Maps on Google navigation bar at the top browser window.  Click on the link and you’re directed to the Google Play home page, where users can choose between several genres of content, including music, books, movies, and Android apps.  You can even buy the new Angry Birds Space game (which we previewed here).   After spending a little time browsing through the various genres, it’s pretty clear what Google Play is trying to emulate.  Any guesses?  OK, it’s the iTunes Store.

As you can see from both the content offered as well as the layout, the Google Play marketplace is definitely trying to become the Android version of the iTunes Store, which surprisingly doesn’t already existed.  Though after a quick pause of thought, perhaps it’s not that surprising a centralized, mobile-free Android marketplace was missing from the technology landscape until Google Play.  Unlike Apple’s iTunes Store, where everything is streamlined due to only Apple products working with it (at least for portable usage), there are dozens of Android devices made by a slew of varying manufacturers, all of whom are more focused on building smartphones and tablets than worrying about content.  And to be honest, the mobile Android Marketplace has worked pretty well for the tens of millions of happy Android customers.

But in order to gain a better share of the market – both mobile and non-mobile – Google had to deliver a product that could reach non-Android users.  Keeping in line with Google’s web-based applications, Google Play is essentially an “in the cloud” version of iTunes and Amazon Prime combined into one.  This way, Android users can keep on downloading the coolest apps right to their devices (and make searching for apps a heck of a lot easier than on a mobile device), while Android and non-Android users alike can check out the latest music, movie, and book downloads.

Google has attempted in the past to enter into markets where it didn’t lead in innovation, and so far their results have been quite sub par (social media and Google+, anyone?).  But the Google+ example might be unique, because social media and its idiosyncrasies is considerably more tricky than, say, starting up a standard marketplace for content.  So unlike Google+, I think Google Play could really cause some headaches for Apple (at least in terms of non-music content) and especially Amazon.

Of course, if Google Play fails, at least they can say its logo was way cooler than any other Google services.


Smartphones hike your risk of ID fraud

About 12 million Americans got hit by identity fraud in 2011, a 13% increase from a year earlier, thanks to consumers’ growing use of social-media websites and smartphones, plus a sharp jump in security breaches, according to a recent report from Javelin Strategy & Research.

“The new ways in which people can communicate with each other create new risks,” said Joel Winston, chief privacy officer at ID Analytics, a consumer risk management company.

Some 7% of smartphone owners became identity-fraud victims in 2011, the Javelin survey of 5,000 consumers found. Smartphone users are about one-third more likely to fall prey to identity fraud than the general public, the report found.

Why? Because smartphones are minicomputers that store vast quantities of personal information, yet many users don’t protect their smartphones the way they do laptops and PCs.

“Consumers must be vigilant and in control of their personal data as they move toward these new mobile and social technologies that are putting them at risk,” said James Van Dyke, president of Javelin.

Javelin found that 32% of smartphone owners don’t update to new operating systems when they become available. And 62% don’t use a password on their home screen, meaning that anyone who steals or finds their smartphone can easily access their personal information.

Meanwhile, fraudsters are mining your status updates or, worse yet, taking note of your personal information such as your birth date on social-media sites.

LinkedIn, a site most users consider more “business” than “social,” had the highest identity-fraud incident rate, at 10%, versus 5% for the general population, the Javelin study found.

Meanwhile, 7% of Google Plus users and 6.3% of those on Twitter reported a case of identity fraud. Among Facebook users, 5.7% said they were victims, a surprisingly low percentage — perhaps because of widespread media attention on Facebook’s privacy policies.

People with public profiles that are visible to anyone online were likelier to expose personal information that can be used to access accounts.

On LinkedIn, for example, users tend to be careless about allowing access to their information. Presumably, they assume the site is about connecting with people in the business world, not scammers.

“It’s almost like the desire to be part of something is too great to be cautious,” said Steve Schwartz, executive vice president of Intersections, a risk-management services provider. He encourages users to dig deep into the privacy settings of social-media sites to make sure information is available only to those whom you trust.

Alarming, too, is the correlation between security breaches and ID fraud.

Javelin said that high frequency of fraud could be tied to the number of high-profile, big breaches in 2011 — a 67% spike from 2010 — at companies such as Sony PlayStation, Epsilon, RSA and several government entities.

Here are tips to avoid identity fraud:
  • Pay attention to security-breach notifications. “Consumers see a lot of these notifications and unfortunately it’s become a little bit of white noise,” Schwartz said. “Most notifications come with some sort of educational note that consumers should use.”
  • Keep a close watch on your credit cards and bank accounts.
  • Don’t give out your Social Security number unless you absolutely must, such as to your employer or insurer. If you have health insurance, for example, you shouldn’t have to give the doctor’s office your Social Security number because it’s already tied to your insurance.
  • Keep your antivirus software up-to-date on all electronic devices, including your smartphone.
  • Use strong passwords, a mix of letters, numbers and symbols, and use different passwords for each account. Yes, it’s inconvenient but getting your identity stolen is more agonizing. According to credit-reporting firm TransUnion, it takes victims about 30 hours and $500, on average, to resolve identity fraud.
  • Be careful what you tell your “friends” on social-media sites; scammers may be reading, too. “Assume that anything you post in public areas is fair game,” ID Analytics’s Winston said.
  • Don’t store personal information on mobile devices.
  • Leave your unneeded credit cards, Social Security card, birth certificate and passport at home. 


Google+ Hangouts now calling any phone

With the flip of a virtual switch, Google has graduated a popular experimental feature into a standard for Google+ users, the ability to place calls to any number using Google Hangout.

Video chatting in Hangouts is busting out of Google+.

Video calls among two or more Google+ users was the big draw when Hangouts launched, but now Google has flipped the switch the allow Google+ users to make phone calls to almost any phone number, not just within the Google+ ecosystem. That means that users will be able, for example, place a voice call from their computers and reach friends or family on their land line or cell phone.

Now you can place calls to phones from Google+ Hangouts.(Credit: Google)
The feature is limited to outbound calls and cannot accept incoming calls to your Google+ account. It's also currently desktop-only, and isn't compatible with Google+ on mobile apps.
Calls to phone numbers in the U.S. and Canada are free, and callers can buy credit to dial out to international lines.

To place a call, click the "Invite" button in Hangouts, then the "+telephone" link. After entering the number, hit "add." The dialer currently stores one number at a time.

The Google Voice platform powers the entire operation, though the feature bears the Google+ Hangouts name. You can similarly place calls to land lines and mobile phones using Google Voice's integration into Gmail.

Calling out with Hangouts is a third high-profile experimental feature that Google has pulled into the mainstream product, along with screen-sharing and support for Google Docs.


Google interviews: would you get a job with the search giant?

In an extract from his new book, William Poundstone considers the logic puzzles, trick questions, mind-bending riddles that make Google interviews notoriously hard. Would you make it through to the next round?

Does not compute: The style of interviewing at Google is indebted to 
an older tradition of using logic puzzles to test job candidates at technology companies

We live in an age of desperation. Never in living memory has the competition for job openings been more intense. Never have job interviews been tougher. 

For some job seekers, Google is the shining city on the hill. It's where the smartest people do the coolest things. In the US, Google regularly ranks at or near the top of Fortune magazine's list of 100 Best Companies To Work For. But unsexy firms also find themselves with multiple well-qualified applicants for each position. That is very good for the companies that are able to hire. Like Google, they get to cherry-pick the top talent in their fields. It's not so good for the applicants. They are confronting harder, ruder, more invasive vetting.

This is most evident in the interviews. There are, of course, many types of questions traditionally asked in job interviews. These include the "behavioural" questions that have almost become clichés: "What is your biggest failure in life?" Questions relating to business: "How would you describe Holland & Barrett to a person visiting from another country?" And finally, there are open-ended mental challenges, such as how you would weigh an elephant without using a scale  something for which Google is particularly known, an attempt to measure mental flexibility and even entrepreneurial potential. The answer? Nudge the beast on to a barge. The elephant's weight will cause the barge to sink several inches in the water. Draw a line on the barge's hull to mark the water level. Then direct the elephant back on to land. Load the barge with 100lb bags of sand (or whatever is handy) until it sinks to the line marked on the hull. The elephant weighs as much as the sand.

The style of interviewing at Google is indebted to an older tradition of using logic puzzles to test job candidates at technology companies. Consider this one: the interviewer writes six numbers on the room's whiteboard – 10, 9, 60, 90, 70, 66. The question is, what number comes next in the series?

Most of the time, the job applicant stumbles around, gamely trying to make sense of a series that gives every indication of being completely senseless. Most candidates give up. A lucky few have a flash of insight.

How would you weigh an elephant without using a scale?

Forget maths. Spell out the numbers in plain English, which gives you the following: ten nine sixty ninety seventy sixty-six. The numbers are in order of how many letters are in their names. Ten is not the only number you can spell with three letters. There's also one, two and six. Nine is not the only four-letter number; there's zero, four and five. This is a list of the largest numbers that can be spelled in a given number of letters.

Now for the payoff: what number comes next? Whatever number follows sixty-six should have nine letters in it (not counting a possible hyphen) and should be the largest nine-letter number. Play around with it and you'll probably come up with ninety-six. It doesn't look like you can get anything above 100, because that would start "one hundred" requiring 10 letters and upwards. You might wonder why the list doesn't have 100 (hundred) in place of 70 (seventy). "Million" and "billion" have seven letters, too. A reasonable guess is that they're using cardinal numbers spelled in correct stylebook English. The way you write out the number 100 is "one hundred".

At many of these companies, the one and only correct answer is 96. At Google, 96 is considered to be an acceptable answer. A better response is 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000. Aka "one googol".

That's not the best answer, though. The preferred response is 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. Ten googol.

Puzzles such as this have drawbacks as interview questions. The answer here is a simple matter of insight: either you get it or you don't. There isn't a process of deduction to relate, and thus no way to distinguish someone who solves the problem from someone who already knew the answer. At Google, of all places, anyone applying for a job knows how to use a search engine. It's expected that candidates will Google for advice on Google interviews, including the questions asked. Consequently, Google encourages its interviewers to use a different type of question, more open-ended, with no definitive "right answer".

You and your next-door neighbour are holding car-boot sales on the same day at the same place. Both of you plan to sell the same item. You plan to put your item on sale for £100. The neighbour is going to put his on sale for £40. The items are in identical condition. What do you do, assuming that you're not on especially friendly terms with this neighbour?

The bit about not being on especially friendly terms should tell you that a strategic response is expected. As should the fact that this question is frequently asked at the more aggressive Wall Street houses. The friendly solution is to pull the neighbour aside and say, "You're throwing money away by offering it for £40." But this plan is not considered an especially good answer. Suppose the big spender finds two identical items on sale for £100. He's equally likely to choose either one, and the other may go unsold.

You simply want the neighbour's item off the market. You might offer to pay the neighbour not to market his item. A better answer is simpler: buy the neighbour's item. He'll be pleased to sell his item immediately. He's not likely to be offended or to raise the price. You can haggle, like any other buyer, and may get it for less than £40. Why should you want his item? When you put something on sale for £100, you hope to make a decent profit, compensating for the time you've invested in selling it and factoring in the chance that it won't sell. Anything that diminishes the chance of your item's selling in effect costs you a significant fraction of that £100.

If you were a cartoon character, which one would you be and why?

The numbers in this puzzle were chosen so that the neighbour's price is comparable to the economic damage he's doing to you. By buying the item, you get the right to keep it off the market when that suits your purposes, plus the right to sell it at any price the market will bear. Anything you get from selling the second item is pure profit. The best plan is to hide one item until the first one sells. Then put the second item on sale at a reduced price, according to how late in the day it is.

As the job market collapsed in 2008, employers took to career-fair or phone interviews in which the interviewer poses so-called screener questions or litmus tests. These are simple questions or criteria that (supposedly) weed out the "wrong" people. Many companies ask trivia questions about the firm itself. Morgan Stanley asks interviewees to name a recent story they read in the Financial Times – apparently a lot can't – or to give the square root of 0.01 (it's 0.1).

Bloomberg LP is big on proofreading. Some applicants are given a test in which they have to count the number of times a given letter appears, upper case or lower case, in a paragraph. It's a lot harder than it looks. (Don't believe it? Count the hs in this paragraph. There are 15, and hardly anyone gets all of them.)

"If you were a cartoon character, which one would you be and why?" This is a question that Bank of America has asked aspiring personal bankers. "I said Yogi Bear," one applicant recalled. "I can't remember why I said this, but the hiring managers were all applauding it." He was given the position immediately. Questions such as this, sometimes downright silly, have become more common. Since being a maths or tech wiz is irrelevant to running most businesses, mainstream companies have redoubled their efforts to find the perfect match of candidate and corporate personality. Online retailer Zappos has asked, "On a scale of one to 10, how weird are you?" The preferred answer there is somewhere in the middle, CEO Tony Hsieh explained. A one is "probably a little bit too strait-laced for us" and a 10 "might be too psychotic".

The unanswered question is whether today's ever-more-polymorphous interviews succeed in identifying better employees. The usual justification for creative thinking riddles and personality assessments is that they test broad, general abilities not tied to a specific set of skills. Whether they do that is hard to say. What is certain is that "pet" questions take on a talismanic quality for some interviewers. Just as athletes don't change their shirt during a winning streak, interviewers keep asking the same question because of a few remembered instances where it supposedly "worked". The fact that many of the most admired, innovative companies use such interview questions seems to speak for itself ("You can't argue with success").

Try this one. You're locked in a pitch-black, empty room with bare walls and no electric lights. You've got a book of matches, a box of tacks and a candle. How would you attach the candle to the wall for a light?

The best answer: empty the box of tacks. Take the box top, turn it upside down and tack it to the wall. The box top projects out like a little drawer. Then put a tack to attach the candle to the box's bottom. The tack's point, projecting through the box bottom, serves as a pricket. Finally, slide the box bottom into the box top on the wall. The nested top and bottom will be sturdier than either alone, and safely support the weight of the candle.

The great physicist Richard Feynman once applied for a job at Microsoft (so runs the guaranteed-apocryphal story). "Well, well, Dr Feynman," the interviewer began. "We don't get many Nobel prizewinners, even at Microsoft. But before we can hire you, there's a slight formality. We need to ask you a question to test your creative reasoning ability. The question is, why are manhole covers round?"

"That's a ridiculous question," Feynman said. "For one thing, not all covers are round. Some are square!"

"But considering just the round ones, now," the interviewer went on, "why are they round?"

"Why are round manhole covers round?! Round covers are round by definition! It's a tautology."

" Uh, right. If you'll excuse me, Dr Feynman, I would like to consult with our human resources department."

The interviewer left the room for 10 minutes. When he returned, he announced, "I'm happy to say that we're recommending you for immediate hiring into our marketing department."

This joke pokes fun at one of the most famous brain-teaser questions, long associated with Microsoft and alleged to have been devised by Steve Ballmer himself. It expresses deep ambivalence about this style of interviewing. Feynman (a childhood hero of Sergey Brin's) shows more creative thinking than Microsoft's so-called right answer (the "right answer" to the manhole question by the way, is because a round manhole cover, unlike a square one, can't fall in the hole).

This "higher level of abstraction" figures in many of Google's interview questions. Here's an example. You want to make sure that Bob has your phone number. You can't ask him directly. Instead, you have to write a message to him on a card and hand it to Eve, who will act as go-between. Eve will give the card to Bob, and he will hand his message to Eve, who will hand it to you. You don't want Eve to learn your phone number. What do you ask Bob? This question is usually asked of software engineers, who instantly recognise the names "Bob" and "Eve". In computer science textbooks, it's conventional to speak of "Alice" sending a coded message to "Bob" (it sounds a bit more human than saying, "A sends a message to B"). The rote villain of the textbooks is a snoop called "Eve" (for "eavesdropper"). Coded messages are vitally important on the internet – they're the basis of e-commerce and cloud computing. Eve's many guises include hackers, spammers and phishers. It is not too much of an exaggeration to say that this interview question presents, in a kernel, the central problem of our wired world.

It also reveals very different ways of thinking about problems. There is a technically brilliant solution. Every textbook discussion of Bob and Eve segues into an exposition of RSA cryptography, the type used by PayPal and other forms of electronic commerce. Suffice to say that RSA involves some heavy computation. That's OK, because it's always done by computer. The smart interviewee is led to wonder whether there's any way to explain RSA to Bob as part of a message that could fit on the back of a business card. This is something like telling your grandmother how to build an iPad so clearly that she could make one.

It's possible to explain a bare-bones implementation of RSA to a naive Bob who doesn't know how to code. The candidate who succeeds in drafting his RSA message to Bob will feel he's knocked the ball out of the park. Not so fast. He's just given the "Microsoft answer". Eve or no Eve, Bob is sure to balk at following complicated instructions just for the mundane task of confirming a phone number. Google interviewers expect engineers to know RSA, of course, but they're especially impressed by those who come up with a simpler, more practical answer. Tell Bob to call you (ideally, give a specific time). If your phone rings, bingo. If not, that tells you he doesn't have the right number. That's all the question asks for ("You want to make sure that Bob has your phone number…"). Why do things the hard way?

This question tests something rarer than education – the capacity to ignore what you learned when it isn't helpful. In business there's no one to tell you what part of your education applies (if any). There is an overwhelming temptation to use whatever intellectual tools are at hand and to pat yourself on the back for using the highest-powered tool possible. Google doesn't want people who instinctively do things the hard way because they can. They want those with a knack for intuiting simple solutions that work.

Who's smarter: a computer science PhD or your mum? After years of interviewing at Google, Paul Tyma, an engineer, resolved to find out. Suppose you're given a million sheets of paper (runs one of Tyma's interview riddles). Each is the record of a university student. You're to sort them in order of age (number of years old). How would you do it?

Tyma posed this question to his mother, who knew nothing about computer science. Mrs Tyma's answer was more efficient than those of many of the highly educated applicants Tyma has interviewed. She'd make stacks. Take the first record off the top of the pile and look at the age. If it's a 21-year-old, it goes in the 21-year-olds' stack. If the next record is a 19-year-old, it goes in the 19-year-olds' stack. And so on. You have to look at each record only once, and when you're finished simply collect the stacks in order of ascending age.

That procedure is about 20 times faster than quicksort, the algorithm that many Google applicants suggest. But Mum's stacks happen to be a much better tool for this particular task. Sometimes "creativity" is just common sense.

How would you answer the following? If you had a stack of pennies as tall as the Empire State Building, could you fit them all in one room? This may sucker you into thinking that it is one of those interview questions where you're intended to estimate an absurd quantity. Hold on – the question doesn't ask how many pennies. It asks, will the stack fit in a room? The interviewer wants a yes or no answer (with explanation, of course). That should be a clue, as should the fact that the question doesn't say how big the room is. Rooms come in all sizes. Intuition might suggest that the stack wouldn't fit in a phone booth but would fit easily in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. The answer is roughly this: The Empire State Building is about 100 storeys tall [it's 102 exactly]. That's at least 100 times taller than an ordinary room, measured from the inside. I'd have to break the skyscraper-high column of pennies into about 100 floor-to-ceiling-high columns. The question then becomes, can I fit about 100 floor-to-ceiling penny columns in a room? Easily! That's only a 10 x 10 array of penny columns. As long as there's space to set 100 pennies flat on the floor, there's room. An old-style phone booth has room.

Swagger counts. The goal is not just to get the right answer, but to make it look easy. Great athletes do this naturally. Lately, job seekers are expected to do the same.


Google patches 9 Chrome bugs, pays more to top researchers

Google yesterday patched nine vulnerabilities in Chrome in the sixth security update to Chrome 17, the edition that launched Feb. 8.

Wednesday's update was the first since the Chrome security team issued a pair of quick fixes during the "Pwnium" hacking event held March 7-9 at the CanSecWest security conference.

Six of the nine bugs patched Wednesday were rated "high," the second-most dire ranking in Google's threat system. One was marked "medium," and the remaining two were labeled "low."

Google paid $5,500 in bounties to four researchers for reporting five bugs. The four other vulnerabilities were uncovered by members of Google's own security team or were too minor to be eligible for a bonus.

Three of the four researchers who reported flaws fixed in Chrome 17 yesterday have been recently recognized by Google.

Sergey Glazunov, who received a $2,000 bounty for submitting a bug described by Google as "cross-origin violation with 'magic iframe,'" was one of two $60,000 prize winners at Pwnium earlier this month.

Glazunov was the first to claim cash at Pwnium, the Chrome-only hacking challenge that Google created after it withdrew from the long-running Pwn2Own contest over objections about the latter's exploit reporting practices.

Two others, Arthur Gerkis and a researcher known as "miaubiz," received $1,000 and $2,000, respectively, for bugs that Google patched yesterday.

Gerkis and miaubiz were two of the three outside bug hunters who were given special $10,000 bonuses three weeks ago for what Google called "sustained, extraordinary" contributions to its vulnerability reporting program.

So far this year, Google has paid nearly $200,000 to outside researchers through its bug bounty and Pwnium programs.

Google will not be patching a Chrome bug revealed in "Pwn2Own," the other hacking contest that ran at CanSecWest.

At Pwn2Own, a team from the French security firm Vupen exploited Chrome by using a one-two punch of a bug in Flash Player -- which Google bundles with its browser -- and a Chrome "sandbox escape" vulnerability.

Because Pwn2Own sponsor HP TippingPoint's Zero Day Initiative (ZDI) bug bounty program does not require researchers to disclose sandbox escape vulnerabilities, Google was not told how the Vupen team hacked Chrome.

Yesterday's update to Chrome 17 can be downloaded for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux from Google's website. Users running the browser will receive the new version automatically through its silent, in-the-background update service.


Linux Plus Android Equals Easier Multitasking

A new version of the familiar Android operating system and the Linux kernel project was released Tuesday, marking a quiet linking of the two disparate projects responsible for much of the existing mobile phone operating systems.

Scientific American reports that Linus Torvalds, the leader of the Linux project, has released Version 3.3 of the Linux kernel, considered a mainline improvement of the Linux systems already in use by Android.

Android OS devices use the Linux kernel   with a Java script interface for most applications, but there is a slightly different Google-customized version handling non-apps details such as multitasking and keyboard input.

Described as a “fork”, the Google code had branched off from the original Linux system. This week’s link-up is expected to make for easier programming for all concerned and therefore faster progress in the development and utilization of apps mainly for mobile devices. It is likewise expected to keep data available more quickly when the Android and Google branches finally merge into a single operating system.

Devices other than those using the previously Google-customized OS code will also see quicker tasking since the unified Linux-Android system now has readily available added features.

The best result of the linkup is for apps developers making use of the Linux and Android open sources, who will now be directly benefitted by the new Version 3.3 which removes the necessity of retrieving improvements from the separate Google code.


How to Get Off Google for Good

Get a fresh start with our complete guide to moving your data off Google servers and permanently deleting your Google accounts.

Now that Google has unified its search functions, Gmail, and its other offerings under a single Google Privacy Policy, it’s much easier for you to carry your preference settings and personal information from one Google service to another. It’s also much easier for Google to build a comprehensive profile of you based on your search history, your correspondence through Google services, and the media you upload. If you're not comfortable sharing private information with anyone who has access to the Google servers, the company makes it pretty easy to dial back the amount of personal data you’re sharing (or even go cold turkey) if you know where to look.

Of course, if you just want to make your Google account more secure, you can employ plenty of tweaks to make it difficult for anyone to hack your account and sneak a peek at your personal data. If you also want to ensure that you’re sharing as little identifying information as possible while browsing the Web, simple changes such as opting out of personalized ads or clearing your Web search history can help to keep your private data off the grid.

To bolster your online anonymity even more, you’ll have to take drastic measures and start deleting your Google service accounts. While it is possible to shut down parts of your Google account selectively while keeping others intact (cancel your Google+ account while maintaining your Google Reader list, for example), you should probably delete your Google account entirely if you’re concerned about data privacy. Before you do that, consider taking advantage of Google’s Data Liberation Front to download all of your documents, photos, and other personal data from Google’s servers. 

And while you’re at it, don’t forget to remove your home Wi-Fi network from the Google Maps location database, as well as to change your browser’s default search engine to Bing, Yahoo, or another search provider you feel comfortable using.

See more like this: google, privacy


Google to offer free website hosting for small businesses

Google wants to help the 55 percent of small businesses in Washington state it says do not have websites by offering them free hosting services and a free two-day tutorial on creating a website and online marketing.

On March 22 and 23 at Bell Harbor Conference Center on Pier 66, Google will kick off its Washington Get Your Business Online program, which provides a free website, customized domain name and hosting services for one year through a partnership with Intuit website-building software.

After the year, if a business keeps the services, it will pay $2 per month for the domain name and $4.99 per month for hosting. Companies that have already registered a domain name can move that name over to the Intuit/Google service.

During the conference, which 400 small businesses have already signed up to attend, Google representatives will have workshops for small business owners and employees interested in creating websites for their businesses.

Google is launching the service all over the country, marketing the program to each state individually and bringing local community organizations, such as the Washington Small Business Development Center, on board to help market the campaign.


The top 50 Android phone apps

Android has overtaken iOS as the UK's most popular smartphone platform. We pick the best of its 450,000 apps, for music fans, children, gamers, shoppers… There's even an antidote for app addiction

There is far more to smartphone life than Apple's iPhone. Google launched its Android software in 2008 and has since sold more than 300m of its smartphones; currently, more than 850,000 are added to that number every day.

More than 450,000 apps are available on Google Play, which is generating more than 1bn app downloads every month. The latest Android smartphones are also viable competitors to the iPhone (stylish and powerful phones from companies such as Samsung, HTC and Sony Ericsson have been flying off the shelves in the UK), but Android apps haven't always had a great press. Android has been criticised on security grounds, with accusations that there are more viruses and malware apps on Google's store than on Apple's App Store. However, Android apps have to ask for explicit permission to access your personal data and phone features, so familiarise yourself with these permissions requests when installing apps and you'll be less at risk.
Android is interesting, because it attracts two very different kinds of people
Big games such as Grand Theft Auto III and Angry Birds Rio now launch on Android at the same time as on iPhone, while all the major social networking apps are also available on both. There is a growing catalogue of useful productivity tools and lifestyle apps, while Google has ensured that its key web services all have polished incarnations for Android.

Over time, Google has made it easier for people with Android smartphones to find new apps, too. Its recently rebranded Google Play store has improved greatly on the one available when the first Android phone went on sale, but as with iPhone, finding the best apps can still feel like rooting through a digital haystack; apps such as Appsfire (featured here) are making the needle hunt less of a chore.

Android is interesting, because it attracts two very different kinds of people: on the one hand, tech-savvy users who have made a decision to choose Android over iPhone and regular phone users who want a nice smartphone for a more affordable price. We've taken as read that you'll be installing some of the most obvious apps, such as Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Amazon Kindle, BBC iPlayer and eBay, which is why they aren't in this list.

We've left out some very good apps due to restrictions on their availability or the phones they work with. Google Chrome browser (currently restricted to the handful of handsets running the latest Ice Cream Sandwich Android software) and excellent keyboard app Swype (still in beta and not available on Google Play) are two examples. However, the fact that they will be available for all Android users in the near future is another reason for smartphone owners to feel excited about the future of their gadgets. This list of 50 apps is a starting point, but there is plenty more in store.

ANDMADE SHARE Free This is a simple utility that replaces your Android phone's default "Share" menu with a better one, to make it quick to share your photos, messages and updates on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks.

FOURSQUARE Free It started as a way for groups of friends to check into bars, restaurants and other venues and earn points for their gadding about. That's still true, but now it's as much about using that data to recommend new, cool venues to visit.

GLANCEE Free One of several social location apps that are all the rage. You sign in with your Facebook details and it then alerts you when people with similar friends and interests are nearby, so you never need miss an important connection.

GOOGLE+ Free It's nowhere near as big as Facebook, but Google is making a big push for its Google+ social network, which has plenty of fans already. Its most impressive feature is Mobile Hangouts: live video chat with up to nine friends at once – and while you're on the go.

PATH Free Instagram for Android has only just been announced, but Path is plugging the gap with this well-designed social photography app. Upload photos for friends to see and post them to Facebook to share with your wider circle.

LINKEDIN Free If Facebook is for fun, Linkedin is strictly for business: a network for your work contacts. Its easy-to-use Android app helps you add new people, see what your contacts are up to and enables you to browse news from your industry.

WHATSAPP MESSENGER Free An app that wants to kill off text messages, replacing them with instant messaging that works across every smartphone. It supports text, photos, voice notes and videos and also offers group-chat features.

TUNEIN RADIO PRO £0.20 TuneIn is an essential download for radio buffs or anyone who regularly travels abroad and wants to fend off homesickness. It streams more than 50,000 radio stations – including the big UK ones – as well as podcasts.

ADELE Free She's sold more than 20m albums and scooped a host of awards and Adele's official Android app is equally classy. It offers news, videos and tour dates, as well as a "fan wall" to post comments and chat to other fans.

7DIGITAL MUSIC STORE Free Looking for a good Android alternative to Apple's iTunes Store for music downloads? 7digital is the one. It has a catalogue of 18m tracks for sale and lets you re-download your purchases when you buy a new device.

ESPN GOALS Free This sounds too good to be true for football fans, but it isn't. ESPN's app delivers video highlights of Premier League goals just minutes after they're scored, as well as live scores and stats. It's free, and funded by ads.

SHAZAM Free Are you listening to a tune on the radio or in a club, but can't quite place it? Shazam is your friend. It identifies tracks, then enables you buy them, watch the YouTube videos or start them playing in Spotify. It can also display lyrics.

SKY GO Free to Sky subscribers Sky's live TV app offers up to 23 channels, although how many exactly depends on which you have access to through your home subscription. They stream over 3G or Wi-Fi and you can register up to two devices.

SPOTIFY £9.99 a month Streaming music service Spotify goes from strength to strength, with more than 15m tracks available to stream or store locally on your phone for offline listening. It also works with Facebook for friends' music recommendations.

TED Free Californian conference Ted is famous for its thought-provoking technology talks, as big thinkers grapple with the future of… everything. Its Android app serves up its archive of videos, many of them genuinely mind-changing.

ANGRY BIRDS RIO Free You can't escape Angry Birds on any smartphone these days. The game sees you catapulting the miffed birds at nefarious pigs, with the addition of characters from animated movie Rio and boss battles to spice up the action.

FLICK SOCCER £0.69 There are full simulations, such as FIFA on Android, but the most addictive football game is Flick Soccer, which sees you flicking free kicks into a goal from a variety of positions. Fearsomely addictive, with bags of depth.

FRUIT NINJA £0.77 Fruit Ninja is another casual game that's as playable on Android as it is on iPhone. Here, you're slashing various fruit in half with swipes of your finger on the touchscreen, building up your score with squishy skills.

GRAND THEFT AUTO III £2.99 It's 10 years old, but GTA III still feels fresh on a mobile phone. This is the full console game crammed on to Android devices, with new touchscreen controls. Your nan still wouldn't approve, but this is excellent.

MINECRAFT - pocket edition £4.29 Want a game where you make things rather than kill them? Minecraft sees you roaming a colourful virtual world made of blocks and digging and building to your heart's content. It's like digital Lego for gamers.

TANK HERO: LASER WARS £1.99 The first Tank Hero has been a big hit on Android, with more than 5m downloads. This sequel bumps up the puzzle action, as you kit out a tank with all manner of destructive weapons to eliminate enemies.

WHALE TRAIL £1.49 Another excellent iPhone game that has found its way on to Android. Willow the Whale soars through the clouds as he seeks to escape the evil Baron Von Barry. The soundtrack comes from Super Furry Animal Gruff Rhys.

WORDS WITH FRIENDS Free Words With Friends is basically Scrabble under a different name: you make words with tiles on a board with rows and columns. Here, though, you're competing with your Facebook friends, taking turns at your leisure.

WORLD OF GOO £2.99 Having started life as a PC game, World of Goo has become one of the stickiest Android games. It sees you squeezing and stretching goo balls to build objects to get you through a succession of puzzle levels. Tactile and wonderful.

THE CAT IN THE HAT £1.91 There is a comprehensive selection of Dr Seuss books on the Android Market, so why not start with the most famous? You get voice narration, sound effects and words that rise up to help children's comprehension.

THE GUARDIAN Free Excuse us this one self-interested entry. This app puts a slick, mobile interface on the Guardian website, complete with podcasts, videos, the ability to save articles for offline reading and customise the homescreen categories.

BBC NEWS Free The BBC's official news app for Android is a well-designed way to scoot quickly through its stories, from UK and world through to technology, business and entertainment. You can also pick categories for its homescreen to suit.

PULSE NEWS Free Pulse is one of a clutch of news aggregation apps for Android. You tell it what websites you like and it pulls down the latest stories, while also letting you search for keywords of specific topics you're interested in.

AA ECO DRIVE Free An app that aims to save you money while also helping the planet? That will be AA Eco Drive, which uses GPS to track your driving style, then provides useful tips on how you can be more efficient at conserving fuel.

ANDROIDIFY Free One of Android's strong points is its striking robot logo, something capitalised on by Google's own Androidify app. It lets you create your own Android avatars, complete with accessories, to store and share with friends.

BUILDAPP Free This app is still in beta, but if you are thinking of moving house or redecorating, it could still prove invaluable. Buildapp enables you to design your rooms in 3D and then move virtual furniture around to see how it might look.

GOOGLE MAPS Free Google Maps remains, hands down, the best maps app for Android. Hardly surprising – it's easy to use and the maps are clear and detailed. Although built into Android, this standalone version is updated more frequently.

JAMIE'S 20-MINUTE MEALS £4.99 Android is as pukka as iPhone for Jamie Oliver, whose app offers 60 recipes. They can be made in less time than an episode of The Naked Chef (though 20 minutes is optimistic)and have step-by-step instructions and photos.

LONDON BUS CHECKER £1.66 This app has been a huge hit with the capital's commuters on iPhone, but now it's on Android too. See live times of the buses coming to your nearest stop, based on live data from Transport for London as they travel around.

MET OFFICE WEATHER APPLICATION Free The UK's Met Office has an official Android app and it's very good indeed. It provides five-day forecasts and daily weather maps, as well as severe weather warnings and favourite location forecasts.

NETFLIX £5.99 a month Netflix is a service for streaming films and television shows. It crossed over to Britain from the United States early this year and has a broad selection of things to watch. It works well on Android smartphones and tablets.

TOUCHNOTE POSTCARDS Free Picture messaging, Facebook and email might be good ways to share your photos, but sometimes you have to get physical. Touchnote turns your pics into postcards, sent to any address for £1.49 a time - in the UK or beyond.

TRAIN TIMES UK £3.49 If you're used to using the National Rail website to look up train times, Train Times UK is the best equivalent on Android. It provides live departure and arrival times, fare details and directions to and from stations.

BARCLAYS PINGIT Free Barclays' new mobile payments app is an innovative and impressive idea: send money direct to friends' bank accounts from your phone. For now, only Barclays customers can send, but that will change in the future.

APPSFIRE Free Appsfire is an app to help you shop for… apps. It lets you browse your own collection and, crucially, recommends other app downloads you might like, based on your tastes. Appsfire offers a good way to keep on top of the latest apps.

AMAZON MOBILE FOR ANDROID Free Still think people won't shop on a phone? They said that about websites once. Amazon's app is fast and efficient for browsing and buying products, with barcode scanning to get more details on something when in a real-world shop.

TESCO GROCERIES Free Tesco's shopping app is a model of simplicity and effectiveness, as you create and manage shopping lists, book delivery slots and switch between the mobile and web shopping services. You can also scan products in-store to add them to your list.

ADVANCED TASK KILLER Free If you're experiencing performance issues with your Android smartphone, it may be because too many apps are running in the background. Advanced Task Killer is the antidote, helping you shut down those you don't need.

DROPBOX Free Wonder why there's so much excitement around cloud services? Dropbox should help you understand. When installed on your computer and Android, you can swap files between the two at will – photos, videos, documents…

EVERNOTE Free Another good advert for the power of the cloud, Evernote wants to help you "remember everything across all of the devices you use", storing and synchronising notes and to-do lists, while adding photos for visual memory aids.

GOOGLE DOCS Free It should come as no surprise that Google's own online office suite works very well as an Android app. You can create, edit and share Google Docs with it; it also uses the camera to convert snaps of printed text into documents.

ONAVO Free You may know that your mobile tariff provides 500MB of data a month, but do you know how that data gets used by different apps? Onavo will show youhow, monitoring data traffic and displaying it as easy-to-understand charts.

OPERA MINI Free Looking for an alternative to Google's preloaded Android web browser? Opera Mini is well worth a look. It uses compression technology that ensures websites load faster and cost you much less in data usage – a godsend when roaming abroad.

SKY MAP Free Originally made by Google, this app has just been open sourced for other developers to work on. It's an excellent showcase for Android phones: point your device at the sky and it will tell you what the various stars are.

SWIFTKEY X KEYBOARD £0.49 If you don't get on well with the default on-screen keyboard for your Android phone, maybe you should give Swiftkey a try. It learns your language and provides more accurate predictions and corrections as you tap.

Adarsh vijay