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Google Launches Sidewalk Labs (plus.google.com)
258 points by resmi on June 10, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 180 comments

Someone needs to develop a public toilet that's self-cleaning but doesn't cost more than some houses. The problem is making it homeless and drug dealer proof. SF has had major problems with their self-cleaning toilets.[1] Portland succeeded, but theirs is armored to contain a velociraptor and provides limited privacy.[2]

[1] http://www.sfweekly.com/sanfrancisco/occupied-san-francisco-... [2] http://www.citylab.com/design/2012/01/why-portlands-public-t...

Homeless proof - I'm really hoping the problems that Sidewalk Labs is working on don't include making sure homeless people don't have access to public bathrooms. I'm honestly not thinking of a lot of reasons for public bathrooms to exist aside from making sure people without houses have someplace they can use (whether that be as a bathroom, washing laundry, shaving, etc.)

If you read the linked article you will find that he means it is resistant to non-bathroom activities such as using it for washing clothes. I'm not sure why that would be a big problem, but the design isn't intended to prevent the homeless from using it as a bathroom.

Because homeless people should look and smell homeless, right?

Probably more because using it for other purposes degrades the facilities, and makes it unusable for its intended purpose.

Santa Monica, CA, has SWASHLOCK, which provides showers, washing machines, and lockers for homeless people. That should be copied elsewhere.

Hasn't this already been invented? With the problem being that most westerners don't like the solution because it looks unfamiliar:

    * You install a squat toilet
    * It's cleaned by flooding the entire
      toilet area with water, which once
      turned off all washes down into the
    * No toilet paper, you clean yourself
      with water

The biggest problem is not even that it looks unfamiliar, but that the majority of “westerners” have insufficient ankle flexibility to squat, due to a lifetime of sitting in chairs and no experience squatting.

You might be able to build a squat toilet where the feet rested on a ramp (i.e. raised at the heel side), though I suspect most Americans would still refuse to use it.

Not just westerners; squat toilets, while in theory are good for the rectum, are not accessible to the disabled.

You don't need a ramp to squat on tiptoe. I squat with my feet flat on the ground, but I have been told that doing that is hard for most (US) people. Still, Americans do squat. They just don't do it with flat feet.

Have you actually tried pooping while on tiptoes??

No, for multiple reasons. But if you're looking for people with that experience, I suggest talking to some American backpackers.

That comes pretty fast with time. I was surprised I could crouch like a baby, after 3 monthes, something I couldn't do anymore for decades. I believe your back will thank you too.

That’s how many public toilets work in China.

Many of those I saw were pretty disgusting, and my travel companion reported that it also applied to the toilets for the opposite sex.

Sounds like a waste of water, though.

What is "homeless proof"?

If you have so many homeless people, maybe you should solve that problem first?

If you have so many homeless people, maybe you should solve that problem first?

Solving homelessness isn't an on/off switch; people are still going to need a toilet while homelessness is being "fixed".

(It's a problem with saying why not solve X instead? You end up with neither fixed, and everybody loses. I mean, why solve homelessness when there are hungry kids that need feeding? And so the cycle continues.)

As an aside, I'm not convinced that it's homeless people per se that are the problem; it's people with issues that abuse public toilets, whether through drugs, alcohol or being a general malcontent, and "the homeless" get blamed as convenient name.

It's not like corporate headquarters are invulnerably to toilet abuse, least of all from the execs.

When someone says they want to make something "homeless proof" I assume they mean something like this: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/homelessness-...

Hence my comment - if you're worried about homeless people in your precious toilet, you (as a city/society) have bigger problems than public toilets.

I don't have sources at hand but it can actually be cheaper in the end to give homeless people homes than to keep them homeless. It's apparently mostly due to emergency police/hospital response which costs a ton.

    ...it can actually be cheaper in the end to give homeless
    people homes than to keep them homeless.
Here's a source:

"The surprisingly simple way Utah solved chronic homelessness and saved millions" - http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2015/04/...

That's not necessarily the best source - it just happened to be towards the top of the following SERP, which finds quite a few articles: https://www.google.com/search?q=give+homeless+homes

I realize we're all programmers but why does this have to be a complex self-cleaning toilet rather than, say, hiring a few people to clean them? It's not like there aren't plenty of people looking for steady work and humans have the advantage of being really flexible when something breaks in a novel manner.

Yes, hire cleaners to staff the restrooms and charge a small amount to use them. Its not rocket science, it works (see European train stations), and it puts people to work. Its a shame we don't have more of that here in the USA.

Ugh. As an European, I really dislike this new move to charge for bathroom use. It's often expensive, it requires having change (yay, trip to the ATM!) and it means having to wait if the staffer is him/herself in the loo.

I would not call it a "new" move. It is an old idea that works. I would rather come up with a coin or two than use a toilet stall sprayed with diarrhea on the floor and walls (and sometimes ceiling :-) ).

It's new around here; until a couple of years ago, I don't remember any paid toilets.

And there are other choices besides "diarrhea floors" and coin payment; in train stations, for example, they could simply charge a fee to the train company to pay for the permanent staff, which could then (very slightly) increase the price of tickets to accommodate it.

If it works it only works by making most of the people avoid them :). I don't expect much from a free toilet but I usually don't have spare coins with me to use (especially abroad) so I end up going to various establishments like McDonald's hoping they don't lock down the toilets. Even if they do, I can buy a cheeseburger for the same price, which buys me both a clean paid toilet and something to eat.

Because within half an hour of being cleaned those toilets will be unusable again.

a) Do you really have flying bathroom defacement squads? Most of the places I've seen, even once a day would be fine.

b) In the few locations with particularly bad problems, isn't that really telling us that e.g. the problem is not something which can be solved by technology as opposed to, say, funding mental health programs?

Then you should hire people to clean every half an hour.

Something that only works for one gender, and only for urinating is not solving the problem of public toilets.

The second ones are not permanent toilets, on that same spot we do have permanent ones now that stay in the ground for most of the day and come out at night (in a nightlife area):


I don't know whether i would call that a toilet. They're literally doing their business in the street.

Paris has over 400 of these: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanisette

They're free to use, not drug dealer proof, and close at night. I'd say they work well, but they're rather ugly.

The biggest culture shock of visiting the UK was paying to use toilets. Do you want people pissing against walls? Because that's how you get people pissing against walls.

It's more pronounced in Southern France, where every town and little mountain village will have fountains spouting a constant stream of what amounts to essentially Evian for anybody off the street to drink and fill bottles from.

Then they charge you to pee.

Create a problem. Charge for the solution. Genius.

I think that’s a London thing rather than a UK thing.

I recall the toilets at Birmingham New Street station being paid for, and also recall the chap getting off the train carrying a few cans (and having drank a few!), observing the fee required for a toilet, swearing and then urinating in the concourse area....

The toilets in my hometown (Warwick) were closed. There used to be some on the castle walls at the top of Smith Street (near the East Gate) but they were closed. Also I think the public toilets in the main square (by the Rose and Crown?? where Woolworths used to be) are shut too.

And I don't even know of any public toilets in the town I am living in now (perhaps because I always just go home)

"spend a penny" is an old British expression, I think toilet charging goes back a long way.

Yeah, it's pretty lame. I've been reduced to carrying a coin purse (!) in my day-to-day/commute backpack containing just 20p and 10p pieces so that I'm always able to use a public toilet if I need to. Nothing worse than really needing to go but not having any change on you.

Seems ripe for disruption...introducing PeeCoin a new altcoin to solve the most human needs of society one transaction at a time.

It wouldn't be so bad if you could use your Oyster/contactless card to get in

One time I had to jump a barrier because I was bursting to go and had no change. I understand that there's a need to offset the upkeep and maintenance but had I not been able to get in, I'd have had to piss on something - preferably something other than my pants.

The trend in the UK now is to just pay pubs and places like Macdonalds a small fee from the council to let the general public use their loos. It saves on having to have separate public loos.

That applies to Sweden and the major cities as well (Stockholm, Göteborg, Malmö, Uppsala). All cities that used to have public toilets, regrettably no more though.

50p at Victoria station!

They need to improve them by using antimicrobial copper: http://antimicrobialcopper.org/

Weird, always assumed they weren't free. Seeing so many people "not seeking" for one late at night reinforced that idea.

Lausanne have transparent self cleaning toilets that are drug dealer / homeless proof :)


it's called starbucks

I don't understand the desire to do vague announcements. Why bother announcing at all until you have something more concrete?

What does "time to get to work" even mean here? Doing what?

Because starting something like this is exciting, and there is no reason to keep it secret. I can't think of a good reason to not announce. It's not like they called a huge press conference or brought this out at a trade show, it's a quick blog post. Do you not tell your friends when you start some cool new project? People like talking about this stuff.

Also, more practically, ideas for this kind of venture can come from anywhere. Maybe someone reading this has a brilliant idea for improving city life, but doesn't have the money or entrepreneurial ability to make it happen. Maybe some startup has a great product in this area, and could really benefit from a partnership with a company with Google's resources. Maybe some city government wants to commission a project to track and optimize their energy usage, I don't know. Why would you intentionally work in isolation when there are potentially great ideas out there?

There is no such thing as an insignificant "quick blog post" when you are the CEO of a $365B company.

And it is unlikely that the goal of the post was to solicit ideas given that it didn't solicit any ideas.

I didn't really mean the post was insignificant, just that it was as low impact as can be for such a giant company.

And I don't agree, one of the company's stated purposes is "incubating urban technologies". They aren't actively asking for any idea out there, but they clearly intend to interact with other startups and inventors at some point, and the only way to make that happen is to get your name out there.

And again, what is the downside? If there isn't any, then "because we wanted to" is a good enough reason.

Vaporware is when you promise a product and fail to deliver on it.

They have not announced a product yet, only a research area.

Fiscal year is ending.

This is a huge undertaking where public support and co-operation is paramount. They cannot come out one day and tell people what they have done and what to do. They need to give a heads up.

Is it only me or does HN take all announcements cynically?

This wasn't an announcement. It was the announcement of an announcement.

> Is it only me or does HN take all announcements cynically?

Given that most announcements turn out not to be worth the space they take on server HDD, it's hardly surprising.

> What does "time to get to work" even mean here? Doing what?

Sometimes the first challenge is to figure that out.

Sometimes it makes sense to note the problem in the early stages.

I think its kinda cool that Google is exploring this.

what about if you already start working during the commute? it is "shortening time" travelling to work.

They are recruiting for staffand ideas. All they have is seed funding and a famous guy

nice pun!

Google is going to start building infrastructure. Rail, fiber, cable, etc.

All the things the US Government should have been doing

Why should the government be doing it?

There's no reason the government actually needs to build the infrastructure itself—but since infrastructure is a natural monopoly (only room for one set of roads, one EM spectrum, etc) the government needs to "regulate it into existence", setting laws to incentivize cooperative building of neutrally-owned infrastructure by interested players, rather than the natural monopoly leading to a real monopoly/oligopoly.

> rather than the natural monopoly leading to a real monopoly/oligopoly.

Of course you realize that there's debate about whether government makes this scenario more or less likely.

The notion of natural monopoly, while superficially plausible, is an ahistorical ex post rationale for government intervention.[1]

Any day now some guy or gal will visit my home to hook up my Google Fiber. How can that be if if Time Warner Cable has a natural monopoly? Oops, I should say that TWC, AT&T, DIRECTV and Dish have an oligopoly. Before you protest that I lump guys who launch satellites together with guys who hang wire on poles, remember in a dynamic world supposed natural monopolies are not safe from substitutes.


But you're comparing apples and oranges. Are you seriously suggesting that we could duplicate or triplicate all the roads in the country to allow competition between private road companies?

(and your example is a bad one - here in my area of NYC, Time Warner absolutely does have a monopoly, I have no other providers to choose from. So it makes sens that someone regulates them.)

But the reason that Time Warner has a monopoly because the city granted them a monopoly--not because of technology. Plus, politics and regulation make it difficult for new entry into their market.

But the reason that Time Warner has a monopoly because the city granted them a monopoly

That isn't the case. Verizon have rolled out FIOS to areas in the city, but have decided to stop doing so.

I don't follow -- which are the apples and oranges? Comparing wires and roads does seem like apples and oranges.

You have to ask, why does TWC have a monopoly in NYC? Did the market create it? Does the market protect it? Why do you think Google Fiber is skipping big markets like NYC in favor of KC, Austin (where I live) and Provo? I hear it said that it's too much work to lay infrastructure in Manhattan. Sure it's a lot of work, but as I watch them boring through the hard limestone up and down my street for the last 9 months -- it takes a whole day for a machine the size of truck to bore a hole from one house to the next -- to reach a maybe 1000 subscribers, I cannot imagine it's less work per subscriber here than a big dense city. No, they are avoiding the big markets because of webs of regulation and bureaucracy which protect incumbents like TWC.

>Are you seriously suggesting that we could duplicate or triplicate all the roads in the country to allow competition between private road companies?

If you want to seriously consider alternatives to the status quo or at least be able to capably debate those like myself who do propose total privatization of roads, I'd point you to Walter Block's The Privatization of Roads and Highways.

free PDF/epub here: https://mises.org/library/privatization-roads-and-highways

I don't think that it would make sense to just multiply the roads we already have. For privatization of roads to exist, the gov't would have to give up its monopoly on their provision first, but the problem is much deeper than just this one unlikelihood.

You mention that if TWC/Comcast/etc. are given state-granted monopolies, why not, of course, ought they not be regulated? If I have a broken knee, why not get a doctor to fix it?

If I have a broken knee and it became this way because of the widespread acceptance of a legal order where nobody is punished for brandishing tire irons and kneecapping, the problem, then, really lies with this legal order. As an anarchist libertarian, I hope that one day governments worldwide will be abolished and until such time will work toward solutions for the problems to come from the inevitable insurrection of the "great" Western democracies.

My position is so unpopular, and so many people now are unable to consider that maybe democracy isn't such a great thing or that gov't shouldn't have its paws on healthcare, education, etc. I certainly don't suggest a step backwards toward feudalism or some sort of dictatorship, but you ought to keep in mind that besides the US, democracy before WW1 was only in 2 European countries.

I really do share the sentiments of those indoctrinated by statism, to want to see peace and prosperity, children be educated, the elderly having healthcare and so on, I just disagree with the technical (legal and economic) approach.

If one can overcome the idea that government MUST do X/Y/Z in order for civil order to be maintained or a good/service to be provided (and these ideas are often easily disproven by historical examples), then it can at least be a fun thought experiment.

So, to answer your question on multiplying roads we'll imagine that somehow the US gov't has been abolished. All the roads now would have a legal status of being unowned. Private companies could branch off roads but not just swoop in and toss up roadblocks or tollbooths. The reason here, and similar logic applies to public parks and other municipal monopolies, is that citizens have been granted easement rights to travel the roads.

Assuming the citizen is not a criminal member of the political elite, there's no reason to be able to take away these easement rights to travel. Companies could begin a very slow process of homesteading or coming to own the previously public roads by making improvements, patrolling for drunk drivers, etc.

For a road company to succeed, given that they can't just extract tolls from easement rightsholders, they'd have to add some value like as mentioned with fixing potholes, you'd probably see some expansions like the original ideas for I-70 in Baltimore, then there would probably be some bundling in with auto insurers and DRO's ("dispute resolution organizations", which could be for- or non-profit police and judges basically).


The US government is abolished, but the legal system is preserved? Not how it works. There would be a vacuum and a brutal rush to reappropriate resources according to rules other than property rights, which ceased to exist along with the government.

Government evolved from much worse scenarios. What's to stop me from building a militia and taking over a town? Taking your house and wife? I've got overwhelming force and I say they're mine.

>The US government is abolished, but the legal system is preserved? Not how it works.

I said this was a thought experiment to sort of isolate this one issue. It's how we (praxeologists of law) might give suggestions to the polycentric legal system rising from a previously state-ruled region.

You might not have this misunderstanding but many do. Anarchy simply means a lack of rulers. It doesn't necessarily entail chaos and it certainly doesn't mean a lack of law.

Anarchist libertarianism or anarcho-capitalism is distinguished from early leftist-"anarchism" by two main characteristics.

The former is radically and uncompromisingly for free markets and anti-state, with a focus on sound legal theory (a combination of a set of static legal grundnorms, viz. the praxeological aspect or a set of laws reasonably suited to all humans, with room for free variation among groups/cultures understanding that personal ideology will shape jurisprudence).

The latter—leftist-"anarchists" as you'll probably see protesting the next Gx Summit or depicted on the TV—make varieties of socialist or communistic ideological proposals which results in a total lack of consistent legal theory. As an ideology, "an-cap" is relatively new and our body of attendant legal writings already dwarves theirs. Where leftist-"anarchism" has been tried, it's failed to maintain civil order and the "leaders" have been nigh-indistinguishable from other despots.

>There would be a vacuum and a brutal rush to reappropriate resources according to rules other than property rights, which ceased to exist along with the government.

You'll probably get that anyhow if you are so unlucky to live in a country that implodes and it is more likely that most people will just go on following the status quo than you and others being so swayed by my words and we see an orderly unwinding of your gov't.

Throughout civilized history, from tribalism to today, we've seen paradigm changes. What's next when democracy fails? Ideology and law can both be seen broadly as "technologies". A few of us are working on a backup plan. Most people who are even interested involve themselves in electoral politics and/or try to use the web for "smart gov't".

>What's to stop me from building a militia and taking over a town? Taking your house and wife? I've got overwhelming force and I say they're mine.

The simple answer is that feuding is expensive, even more so of a drain without a mass of people to extract wealth from to fund wars.

Really though, if you were concerned with these objections you'd realize you already live in such conditions and become a libertarian anarchist! You live in a state (geographic monopoly on law, arbitration and the use of violence).

Democracy is an insidious advancement in ideological technology because it gave the populace the idea that "anyone can be king". The US was a noble experiment but I consider it a failure. You have a massive drain on standards of living from bureaucracy and regulations, meanwhile the political elite is not much different than in previous paradigms.

Why take houses by brute force when you have everyone in them convinced that X/Y/Z must be provided by gov't, and that gov't needs it's "revenues"?

Polycentric legal orders similar to what we propose have maintained civil order longer than the US has existed so far[0]. It was just after WW2 that the dollar upended the pound sterling as the world's reserve currency and there was a sudden huge rise in prices and chaos in Britain.

It will be an interesting chapter in history for how long the US maintains its global hegemony. Why not, with half of world military spending or whatever doesn't the US just start picking off little countries here and there like you say? Well they sort of actually do by proxy wars and "economic warfare".

At a basic level, governments are in a state of anarchy amongst themselves though. Why might it not work at other levels? I'm convinced that we can have what's promised by states but under-delivered by abolishing them. A lot of those suffering the sort of Stockholm syndrome concomitant with statism see what I am saying as crazy but I'm unconcerned.

This is one tactic on bringing about libertarian anarchy and many who in debate will say they oppose it actually are helping bring it about[1]. If you want a more in depth answer to your actual questions see here perhaps[2]. A DRO is a startup too ambitiously frightening for today's YC, but it actually funds many who feed into said tactic. Legal praxeology is just a hobby for myself and I doubt I'll live to see my dream of a free society, so I am working on a large global health problem which again is part of the tactic.

[0] https://mises.org/library/medieval-iceland-and-absence-gover...

[1] https://web.archive.org/web/20140530221508/http://www.anti-s...

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jTYkdEU_B4o

That sounds a lot more appealing to me than the government actually building the thing.

With the EM spectrum for instance, the unlicensed 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands have been pretty useful. Google actually tried to get the 700 MHz spectrum (in the 2008 auction) licensed in a way that would probably benefit consumers quite a bit, though I'm not sure how well that worked. It's odd that Google had to do that when it's ostensibly the government's job to ensure good use of this limited natural resource, but I think the idea was good.

Well that is how our existing broadband infrastructure was brought into existence. The big cable companies were given billions in subsidies for expanding their high speed networks.

It worked well except for the fact that they were allowed to form monopolies/oligopolies after expanding into new markets.

Yeah, I find it weird that nobody else can use those cable networks, unlike the phone lines, or build their own. Perhaps those subsidies should have included more strings. Or maybe it should be easy to run cables.

That's my opinion, as well. But corporations have realized that they only need to go one step up and regulate the regulators, so they still get to keep a monopoly (in a more dangerous way)...

There are some infrastructure Governments must do because it provides equal opportunity setting the level playing field for all. For instance, Govt must fund schools otherwise all the great schools would eventually set their prices according to supply/demand so that bottom population can't afford them. This translates to situation where you can realize your potential only if you were lucky enough to be born to right parents.

Consider another scenario: A country has cities A, B and C. Assume that the govt doesn't do infrastructure like building roads. So a private company comes in and builds road between A and B because there is a net profit for them. One problem is obviously, now everyone must pay to use this road. If you are poor and can't pay then you can't use that road even if you need it go to hospital or send your kids to school or start your new business. Again, the result is that lack of infrastructure puts poor people at the severe disadvantage from making progress.

Further, private companies may decide never to build any road between B and C because their analysis shows C only has 1000 people and they can never recover their cost. Now, you can argue that 1000 people needs to suffer for making a bad choice about where to live and should not expect other people to pay up. However if you go in that line of thought, I bet most of the cities would never could have been connected. The crux of the issue is we as humans are only good at finding "local optimums" and it's impossible to see for us what could be "global optimum". What that means in nutshell is that we need to allow possibilities even though it may look venture of loss and foolishness because sometime those possibilities are what leads to huge outcomes.

So that they are public infrastructure that everyone has the ability to access.

Because we the people should be owners of our own infrastructure.

Falls under 'general welfare', Article I Section 8.

I am not sure why you are getting down-voted but this is very legitimate question.

The role of government is to provide for the infrastructure a society needs to prosper. Roads are a primary part of that infrastructure. If I could see how fast and conveniently goods and people are moving within a country, state, I could tell you how developed it is. I believe this has always been true. The old nations which had better ways of moving goods also had great power to some extent.

Other parts of this basic infrastructure the government should provide include: a legal system, protection, education and healthcare. Perhaps beyond this the government can keep clear and let private markets handle.

Pretty sure all road work in my state is done by private companies.

I wonder how much Google does this just to get positive PR to hire for their main businesses. It gives the impression that you'll be working on cool stuff like this when you join Google instead of the rest of the 99% that drives the ad hive (which is where you'll really end up).

I don't know where you are getting this from - do you have any personal experience to draw from?

It doesn't match my experience. In almost seven years at Google I've worked on amazingly interesting projects - from hardware to user-facing products.

I've never once, in my entire time, had any level of management tell me that I should be worrying about selling ads or monetizing my projects. The consistent message has been "build great products".

So the notion that 99% (or really any majority) of developers at Google "drive the ad hive" is completely untrue - at least in my experience.

I have the personal experience!

I'm a new hire, and I got assigned to somewhere that doesn't align with my interests, at all... other than the fact that it's "not front end."

Hoping switching is as easy as everyone says!

Former Googler here: After an epic blind allocation fail, my attempt to switch to a project that made use of my talents enraged my manager and he reported me to HR. I left for greener pastures shortly thereafter and HR has apparently banned me from ever returning now that there is relevant work for me.

Obviously I have no knowledge of the specifics of your situation, but when I worked at Google I freely moved projects many times without a problem, my first time about 3 months after I arrived. I haven't worked there for a while, but I have many friends there and they change projects with some regularity.

Oi. Hope I grow to love my assignment, or can at least switch "cleanly."

If you're a new college grad or just new to the industry, Google rocks. But, if you have "a very particular set of skills. Skills I^Hyou have acquired over a very long career" then Google will most likely arbitrarily assign you* to whatever arbitrary team needs seatwarmers at the moment. And FWIW, my skills were considered irrelevant to Google the year I joined, but suddenly very relevant barely a year after I left.

*Unless you're an acqui-hire, and then Google once again rocks because you get both the perks and the interesting work.

Please drop me an email internally. My username is the same as here. This conversation cannot be meaningfully had in a public forum.

It is! I was assigned to a team I was not particularly passionate about and around 8 months later made my way to exactly where I wanted to be. It can be done!

It certainly didn't happen that way for me. I'm doing exactly the kind of work that I love to do. You're afforded quite a bit of mobility inside the company.

That also has been my experience. I've moved three times in five years and every time it's been because I heard about what a team was doing and wanted to join them.

Dude, we're both in 2HS! I'm in the "UI Box" (Material).

If you're in the UI box, can you enforce the apps that have a Hamburger menu to map the physical menu button on devices (like last year's Samsung that I use) to the menu please? The button does nothing - popping up the menu would be welcome and much appreciated in all of Google's apps.

Drifting away from the topic, but this would be a big change from the expected behaviour of opening the overflow action menu.

What do you think should happen instead?

The standard behaviour for a while has been to open the action overflow (the "hidden" menu with three dots on the right hand side of the action bar) menu. This menu affordance was supposed to appear on devices that didn't have a hardware menu button.

Ah ok thanks. In that case, it does nothing for some apps! eg. if I am in the Google+ Android app and press the hardware menu button, it does nothing. Calendar does nothing. Hangouts does nothing.

If I am in Gmail, it pops up the menu (but at the bottom, and not where the hamburger is). Chrome pops the menu up. Maps opens the side bar. YouTube pops the menu up. Drive opens the menu.

So it works for some but not for others. Perhaps you could enforce consistency or follow your own guidelines etc.? Go crack the whip.

The main devices that Google devs use - Nexus devices - do not have a menu button.

And I guess they think that the three dot menu is ugly or something.

It is automatically created in the action bar when the action area is too small for buttons:



Hey, I was just going to mention how easy it was for me to move... to right next to your cube! (I'm in V8.)

Cool! I've just joined the Polymer team. I'm off until the 21st, but drop by and say hi!

Oh hey, me too! Well, the first part, at least.

Is switching really that easy?

I'm a new hire, and I've been given the choice of working on one of two teams, neither of which particularly align with my interests.

I suspect you won't hear as much from the ones that had a hard time switching:


I don't think that applies here at all. Why would people who had a hard time switching be any less visible? I would think they would be a lot more likely to talk about it, like how people are more likely to write a review of a product they hated than one they were content with.

Pick the team with the lowest attrition rate. The team to which I was assigned was losing someone every month and I was allocated as cannon fodder to stop the bleeding. It didn't end well.

Yes. If you want to switch teams, and the team that you're switching to wants you, then it's basically a done deal. Feel free to send me an email if you've got more questions.

Positive PR is probably a side effect, not the main reason.

At what point is Google going to officially become a consulting company?

Right now, they seem to be playing arbitrage with engineering talent. They buy up engineers with large salaries and fancy perks. Those people, who now span almost every industry, are then used on projects like these. This has nothing to do with Google's core business or any branch of it at all.

It seems like Google is designing all sorts of products outside of its core competency (medicine, cars, now this?) with the hopes of either spinning it off, selling to the highest bidder, or...? I can't see shareholders liking Google trying to enter every market in the world.

I think Page and Brin can do lots of (relatively at Google scale) small-stakes things just because they want to, as long as the money keeps rolling in.

For example, the self-driving cars are a genuine passion of Page's as I understand it, and came about from his relationship with Thrun. They really do want to make the world a better place by preventing thousands of deaths and many more injuries a year, among other benefits.

I don't think that is hopelessly naive of me. These are youngish, bright billionaire geeks who have made a lot of people very good money. They can do things just because, at least while the gravy flows.

That doesn't mean that these projects are not good strategic business, just that they can be risky since the organization is prepared to tolerate a loss.

> I can't see shareholders liking Google trying to enter every market in the world.

Maybe the shareholders aren't investing in an advertising company and app store, but they're investing in the company that succeeds to a higher degree than it fails.

But maybe they like Google's brand power and unique company ethos?

How many other companies worth $350Bn+ with 50k+ employees have Google's operating style?

> Right now, they seem to be playing arbitrage with engineering talent.

I think the actual problem is that very few other companies know how to make appropriate use of engineers.

"Robert, you said this sprint that you would move the logo image 2 pixels to the left. Can you PLEASE come to the morning stand-up, listen to 26 people report their status, and then tell us if you have any roadblocks? kthx."

I laughed really hard at this. Have been in some hour-long "standups." :) IRC standups are pretty nice.

My impression is that the fraction of Google that works in these types of ventures is tiny. I don't mean to suggest they won't produce anything of value. These small ventures that Google launches are all about having a big impact with a (relatively) small investment. In terms of headcount, though?

I don't think shareholders of Google should be concerned about this; they should stick to being interested in ARPU, CPC trends, etc.

That depends how you define Google's core competencies. Some of their main core competencies(where they lead the world probably) are AI/machine-learning and high-speed software development. Those skills are now the core of every business("software is eating the world"), so Google has lots of options. Another core competency is long-time investment in high-risk projects - which basically nobody does.

Also one criteria of choosing projects for X - is projects in areas where there's little competition. Once you start from that point, maybe the analysis framework of "core competencies" is less useful.

"At what point is Google going to officially become a consulting company?"

That could happen. It happened to IBM[1] and HP[2], both of which were once product companies.

[1] http://ibm.com/consulting [2] http://www8.hp.com/us/en/business-services/it-services/it-se...

I think you are buying into the marketing/PR hype. The majority of headcount actually works on core products like advertising & search. The headcount in fringe areas like things like X is a very small % of total engineers. This basically is a huge boost for recruiting because every engineer hopes to work on these moonshot teams.

I don't see how Google designing "outside of its core competency" is a problem, though. Lots of companies span large numbers of only tangentially-related verticals-- go take a look at Hitachi or Sony or Samsung, for example.

> selling to the highest bidder

Have they ever done this? Or even shown any interest to sell a business unit they own?

*Larry Page said: “By improving urban technology, it’s possible to significantly improve the lives of billions of people around the world. With Sidewalk, we want to supercharge existing efforts in areas such as housing, energy, transportation and government to solve real problems that city-dwellers face every day. Every time I talk with Dan I feel an amazing sense of opportunity because of his passion for all the ways technology can help transform cities to be more livable, flexible and vibrant. And when you combine that with his experience as an investor, in NYC government, and as CEO of the large information company Bloomberg LP, I can’t imagine a better person to lead these efforts.”

Let's get serious. This initiative is not about toilets, smart flushing and homeless.

I'm fine with it as long as I don't have to have anything always connected to internet, sync data in the cloud and be forced to agree/manage/monitor gazillions of privacy changes, terms and conditions where companies decide to update and change their data protection acts, the ways the share, store and manipulate my data.

Maybe we should firmly keep big technology companies, already in tune with the NSA friends, get closer to our families and private lives. The last thing I'd want is Google, Bloomberg, IBM, Facebook and Cisco circulating all my activities (toilet flushes including) for the sake of my children, future nephews and my neighbours to NSA, have my own cars or my own house lock me out because Palantir discovered about my passion for Moroccan tea or my kid flies a Chinese quadcopter in the backyard.

Without attacking Google, the consensus is that Google Launches {Project} is not anymore news than it is a long sigh and a jaded response of "Oh Google just launched another project, go Google. Now to work on my side project".

It's interesting that Google chooses to create new companies for problems orthogonal to its core purpose, instead of choosing to diversify itself as a company into multiple industries. Is this a common phenomenon or is it something that is new?

That is interesting indeed. You didn't see Apple Computer, Inc. spinning up Apple Mobile Technologies, Inc. after the iPod and iPhone success. They simply pivoted (to use a maligned term) their company and mission to Apple, Inc.

I would also love to read about some similar companies, but I don't even know how to go about finding them.

Sorry for OT but why is google plus not responsive?!?

Sometimes I have to increase the size of the page to ease my reading. This is what I get:


And I can't even scroll to the right! Is there something wrong with my chrome configuration (maybe a plugin not playing nice)? Or can someone else repro this on their mac?

I can reproduce it. In order to fix it, I have to refresh the page. Happens on my Mac all the time when accessing G+ from a browser window that may be a different size from the browser window I previously used to access G+ in another session.

Funny, the fact it was on Plus made me subconsciously averse to clicking it. Turns out there was a good reason for that feeling.

So if you choose to live in X urban area, could you potentially be forced into using Google technology because of where you live?

That is probably already true of other companies. The systems that run the traffic lights may be run by IBM, train routes may be overseen by Cisco, etc.

So they targeting companies like Siemens now? They do not make public transportation systems, they do not make energy systems, they do not build houses.



I don't think the word "Targeting" is correct. Google has unique innovation skills, and they are willing to use them to collaborate with others who are willing to innovate. Only unless said companies(say ISP's) aren't willing to innovate, they'll be a threat.

At least that seems the general theme at Google.

Not sure you really addressed why 'Targeting' isn't correct. Just because they have unique skills doesn't mean they can't target someone's business.

>> So they targeting companies like Siemens now? They do not make public transportation systems, they do not make energy systems, they do not build houses.

Am I missing something? That first link you provided: http://i.imgur.com/URR2MJK.png

The text I circled in red looks very similar to the 3 things you mentioned and looks like exactly like the kinds of issues sidewalkinc.com would be tackling.

> Am I missing something?

"They" in that sentence might be referring to Google?

Oh, you are probably right. But Google is messing with self-driving cars, so they(Google) at least have the transportation angle covered. :p

I think there's more than enough room in the market of making better cities for every company to thrive.

From their homepage: "By 2050, the population in cities will double, intensifying existing socioeconomic, public health and environmental problems."


People move into a few big cities because companies companies like Google congregate there, ultimately creating problems such as skyrocketing rents, congestion, declining real living standards, homelessness.

Google holds an obvious solution in its hand. By altering their way of working they could support remote working, creating clusters of specialized work forces and communities online rather than in a narrow physical location.

If you look at settlements from a scaling point of view you will inevitably find that not only are larger cities more efficient structures but they lead to an improved quality of life. This is not just because of "companies like Google". Here are some slides (http://www.complexcity.info/files/2011/12/BATTY-Scaling-Laws...) and a TED talk (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XyCY6mjWOPc).

Yes, large cities make humans more productive! It's not necessarily intuitive but more interactions leads to more innovations.

(Shameless Plug) You can read a bit more about the research in the TED talk here: http://santafe.edu/research/cities-scaling-and-sustainabilit...

Our research group (started by Geoffrey West & Luis Bettencourt) is also trying to understand (and help address) the issues of growing cities in the developing world, where the biggest issue are slums: http://santafe.edu/research/informal-settlements/

Are you suggesting that an industry driving people into cities is new? It isn't. It goes all the way back to the industrial revolution, and the main alternative before us at present (suburban living) only dates back to the '50s.

And it's not a panacea: the car-oriented nature of suburban life is environmentally pretty terrible (not to mention that detached single-family dwellings are less efficient to climate control, and more expensive to provide services to for municipalities). And suburban life brings with it the long commute, the length of which is a better predictor of happiness (negatively, of course) than almost any other demographic factor, including income, marital status, house size, or any of the other things people think make their hour and change in a car every day worth it.

> People move into a few big cities because companies companies like Google congregate there

Actually in big cities like New York, Google's office doesn't make a dent - most Googlers can just take the subway. The Mountain View office is only 4 times bigger, but because Mountain View wants to be a suburb and not a city, it now enjoys gridlocked roads every day.

Living space and roads are severely limited resources, but in most cases the proximity to resources is more important. That's why people move into cities, not just because of jobs. Think hospitals, shopping, culture, friends, child care, inspiration, work, face-to-face interaction, play, love.

Unless you find a cost-efficient way to decentralize all of this, people will be attracted to each other.

I doubt I'm in the minority here when I say I wouldn't move to a 'specialized and remote' community inhabited by people who are all affiliated with the same company. I don't live to work, and I don't want to be surrounded solely by people who are affiliated with the company I work for.

While one of the reasons I live in Manhattan is because the job market is very good, I also enjoy it precisely because there is diversity. I can walk down the street or take the train and see hundreds of people working hundreds of different jobs in dozens of industries. That's why people are moving to cities - they're exciting. There's things to do and people to meet.

> I wouldn't move to a 'specialized and remote' community inhabited by people who are all affiliated with the same company.

Re-read the sentence again.

> By altering their way of working they could support remote working, creating clusters of specialized work forces and communities online rather than in a narrow physical location.

The concept is that if you encourage remote working via online workplaces, you can solve the "big city" issue for a percentage of the population by allowing them to live further away from the densely populated areas "because of work".

> The concept is that if you encourage remote working via online workplaces, you can solve the "big city" issue for a percentage of the population by allowing them to live further away from the densely populated areas "because of work".

But then again some of us really don't like to work all alone in our house, in the middle of nowhere. If I'm spending 8 hours per day working for my employer I might as well socialize while doing that, not living life like a hermit.

On the other hand, some of us do.

Reducing the pressure for people who don't really want to be there to move into cities should improve life for everybody.

When did living outside a city become "living life like a hermit"?

Can I ride a bus/affordable taxi back home at 11PM after having a couple of beers in a pub located downtown? If you're living outside a city the answer to this is in most cases a "no".

That depends entirely on the situation, and "affordable" is a relative term. Also, the term "downtown" seems to indicate you're still thinking in terms of a reasonable size city.

What about a village where you can walk to the local bar/pub?

Most of that doubling will not be in the US (or other developed countries). It will mostly be in India & China with Africa following not far behind.

People comparing Apple and Google on everything forget that both companies are very different in their missions. It's not about right and wrong, it's just different.

Making money is agenda number one for both companies regardless of what their respective PR departments say.

Google's founders hold enough of the voting shares to make Google's agenda whatever they feel like making it that day.

If you must make money to pay for your living and take care of your spouse and kids so that they may have a better future than the life you have lived, is your agenda number one to make money regardless of what you tell your friends you are working for?

No it's not. You can support your family without enabling an evil corporation in sneaking billions in tax evasion schemes. Greed destroys. Capitalism destroys. No paint job fixes that.

> Capitalism destroys.

All systems destroy. Destruction is a natural phenomenon. The difference is that capitalism creates more than it destroys, and (empirically) creates more than any other economic system.

> Greed destroys.

On greed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RWsx1X8PV_A


> You really don't get out much, do you?

No personal attacks on Hacker News, please.

Nice metaphor.

Google is bassically just five products- search, ads, gmail, youtube and android. Anything else is just roundoff error, even though they may be very interesting.

and Google Maps

This is visionary. We are becoming a predominantly urban species and there are incredible tech opportunities both from a business and from a social benefit perspective. Walkscore, Bikewise and Open311 are a few examples that come to mind, but that's just tip of the iceberg. After the internet-of-things, the internet-of-habitat is coming. It's brilliant that Google wants to help invent it.

Microsoft, IBM, GE, Siemans, and even companies like Cisco, Rockwell and others have all been making moves here.

Nice to see Google finally joining the rest of the tech industry ;-) I have to assume this was prompted by the sort of standards work Nest were doing, and the sort of impact that Google Maps is having on traffic.

From http://www.sidewalkinc.com/: "By 2050, the population in cities will double"

Is the best solution a frontal attack? Or could it be moving away from existing cities?

Could one design a new city from scratch?

Maybe you will find the following TED talk interesting (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XyCY6mjWOPc) and perhaps reconsider your position.

If you pack a lot of people in to smaller/denser living spaces like rats, they will still live like rats, regardless of of whether the bus shelter is able to wish them a happy birthday.

> Could one design a new city from scratch?

Yes, but the result is Milton Keynes.

Thanks for Milton Keynes but that can't be the only result in the whole world.

One proposal is Arcosanti, an urban laboratory focused on innovative design, community, and environmental accountability. https://arcosanti.org/

With all due respect to the project, I don't consider a 150-person community a city. Letchworth is closer but it's still not going to tip the scales or become a second Newcastle or London anytime soon.

Milton Keynes clearly isn't the only possible result. Even I kind-of like Letchworth, and I'm really not a town/city person.

Google: Serving you ads, in every corner of the city.

They mention public transport. Does this mean "google buses" for everyone, or is that still going to be a sore point in SF?

When Google killed off a lot of its technology projects the assumption was Page and Brin listened to the Jobs' advice to focus on fewer products. But then they started announcing a bunch of these other projects that are not directly related to their core products.

Isn't Google better off just running and maintaining those other projects they killed?

I am not saying these are bad but from an investor point of view only a small number of them make sense.

I don't think Larry and Sergey are interested in upping their $$$ status to $$$$. They are pure technology enthusiasts and want to change the world with it, and they use their money printing machine as the enabling engine.

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