Making friends with Facebook

Ah, Facebook. Possibly the most hated of the social networks, in terms of its insidiousness and ubiquity. People can opt in or out of Twitter, but in the 21st century, for people of a certain age (and those above it), it seems as essential to have a Facebook account as it is to have an email address. I have friends who have deleted their Facebook accounts out of fear of lack of privacy, or simply because it was reducing the quality of ‘real-life’ friendship. [Such a description makes it appear that online relationships aren’t real. I disagree with such a view.]

Being the ‘social media queen’ that I am (someone else’s words, not mine), I obviously have not relinquished my account. I may post there less now that I’ve embraced Twitter with open arms (I really should remember to copy some of my tweets over once in a while), but it’s still the main way in which I keep track of many of my friends and it’s kept many a friendship alive that may otherwise have fallen by the way side. Thus, I was obviously just a little excited to receive a text from some friends I was due to visit in California, informing me that we had dinner plans at the Facebook offices.

Facebook. For dinner. The place where Zuckerberg works. The company immortalised in The Social Network. The network whose app features on practically every smart phone. Facebook.

1 Hacker WayFacebook offices, 1 Hacker Way

I was incredibly lucky – my friends, the fabulous Chan-Fam, had a close friend who works there and who hosted us for the evening. I’m indebted both to him and to SiNing for organising it in the first place – it is already a highlight of a trip that’s barely half-over. From the moment I inputted my details into an iPad Facebook app in the front lobby, to the moment we left, my eyes were as wide as saucers. I was one happy geek!

Facebook Pass Got to be said, I was loath to give this up at the end.

In short, the Facebook complex is like a mini town. There are several buildings, all arranged around what looks like a main street – complete with a open square in the centre. In common with many of the tech companies in Silicon Valley, Facebook provides its employees with a lot – free breakfast, lunch and dinner; gym facilities; hairdresser vans and masseuses that visit regularly; bikes to travel around the campus on; kitchens crammed full of goodies in every office block; numerous free beverage vending machines; bathrooms with endless supplies; and even a movie night in their ‘town square’, complete with nachos and popcorn…

Facebook vending machine You’ve got to love a branded vending machine…

Facebook town square Gearing up to show the Avengers.

Bathroom suppliesOk, yes, I took photos in the bathroom. Those are toothpaste-loaded toothbrushes…

Micro KitchenMicro-kitchens. I was invited to pick out something – so I had a package of ‘Facebook Twizzlers’. 

The offices themselves are, in some ways, just like any other open-plan office – except that in many ways, they’re not like any open-plan office I’ve ever worked in! There are breakout areas and meeting rooms, but with added artwork and graffiti walls. There’s an entire room that seems to be dedicated to playing computer games. There are vending machines that sell computer paraphernalia. And, there was plenty of publicity around that plugged Facebook’s ‘Women in Timeline’ campaign, highlighting significant women in history.

Facebook Offices

Facebook Art

Facebook vending

Facebook humour

I confess, I did leave the offices wondering whether I could get a job there. Perhaps they might need a chaplain? Safe to say, I could’ve spent a whole day exploring and chatting to (not un-cute) geeks. So, next time Facebook changes something in a way you don’t like, this is where those annoying geeks are based…

Oh, and talking of geeks, next time you’re using a Google product, imagine people eating their lunch here:

Google offices

And when you’re using one of your Apple devices, the thinking behind it happened here:

Apple HQ

Oh, and this happened…

Eating the Apple

Ah, the simple pleasures of being a geek. As a bonus, I get a second bite of the apple (ba-dum-tsch) next week, when I go to an actual meeting at the Apple offices. Who knows, I may even treat myself to an iPad at the Apple Company store…

Oh, and if you want to put in an order for one of these classic t-shirts available there, let me know.

Apple Tees

Friday Fun with two of my favourite men

I’ve said it before and no doubt I’ll say it again, but Josh Groban has to be one of my all-time favourite men. He’s got a beautiful voice, a ridiculously fantastic sense of humour and a Twitter feed to die for. When he writes a tweet that begins with: “On this day, remember it well, the Internet reached it’s peak.” you can be virtually certain that the attached hyperlink contains a gem.

When that sentence is followed by the words “And it starred Alan Rickman.” then quite frankly I couldn’t click on the link fast enough. Alan Rickman is a legend – end of story. And thus, watching eight minutes of Rickman making a cup of tea in slow motion becomes a thing of utter beauty…

Quite frankly, that’s almost too much fun for me on an otherwise quiet Friday, but I do appreciate that some will not be satisfied with it. So, for your fun and amusement, I present you with an educational game that incorporates technology and sex education – can you tell an android phone from a condom?  Yes, I’m serious. Recently, someone created a chart illustrating the similarities in nomenclature between the two products, so it was only really a matter of time before it became a game. Informative, educational and fun – what’s not to like about that?

The beautiful things about Jobs

This post has been brewing for a couple of weeks, in fact, I nearly wrote it last night. However, at just before 1am this morning, it suddenly became incredibly apt that I hadn’t written it yet. A post in praise of my brand new shiny toy with a piece of fruit on the front of it deserves publication on the day that Britain woke up to hear that Steve Jobs had died.

There’s no question that Jobs’ creations have changed computing, phones, film and music beyond recognition. (I think to say that he changed the world is possibly a bit of an exaggeration given how much of the world’s population need simpler things to enhance their lives – like food or healthcare.) Being something of a technophobe until recent years, Apple had very little impact upon my life until three and a half years ago. In fact, I went through a phase of deliberately avoiding owning an iPod because of its ubiquity – that ended when a gift enabled the purchase of a beautiful silver music playing device. That year, I needed a new laptop and I toyed with going to the Mac-side, but chickened out and played safe.

Buying an iPhone was always going to happen and sure enough, nearly a year ago (after at least three prophetic iPhone dreams) I succumbed. It may sound ridiculous, but that’s changed my life – I don’t get lost nearly as often as I used to; I can instantly prove myself right (or, occasionally, wrong); and, most importantly, it helps me fall asleep (programmes on iPlayer) or restores my sanity when I have insomnia. Ironically, it was in this last state that I heard the news about Apple’s co-founder – a quick look at Twitter on my iPhone in between attempts to sleep just before 1am showed a tweet from Gizmodo. Within seconds Twitter was ablaze with tributes – including one which noted:
“It’s crazy to think about how many people are sharing the news of Steve Jobs’ death using devices he invented.”

There will be countless tributes printed to Jobs’ undoubted genius, his passion for creating products that were intuitive and were what the public wanted – before they even knew they wanted them. My own personal tribute is the fact that I’m writing this post on a computer that’s the most expensive piece of technology I’ve ever bought, but that I chose to spend more on because I had confidence in it as a brand and a product. (Plus, obviously, I thought it would make me look cooler at college. I’m not sure yet if it does, it seems my typing skills are impressing more people…) 
A friend was visiting when the package arrived – I told her she’d be impressed with the packaging. 
She was.

What can I say? It’s shiny, it’s beautiful, it’s intuitive. By the time I next used a PC 10 days later my brain had switched to Mac-mode and I became frustrated at its inability to be smooth and efficient. (Not making that mistake again, darling Macbook now comes with me on office days.) I’m still getting the hang of it, but fortunately, I seem to be living with a Norwegian techy genius and have plenty of friends who have already crossed over to the ‘dark side’. (There was a Twitter debate last week as to whether it was dark or light, we concluded dark, I think…) I need to make a decision about Office for Mac versus iWork, but I’m currently undecided – Pages is beautiful and I love it, but I can’t help thinking that essays might be easier in Word (thoughts – anyone?). 
Steve Jobs, thank-you. We have much to be grateful to you for (not least the fact that with an iPhone, one need never be bored again) and it’s terribly sad to think of what might have been, had your life not been cut short. 

When technology goes wrong

At work, we have a regular whole team gathering (that’s 100+ people) that takes place on the first Wednesday of the month. It’s rather inventively known as ‘First Wednesday’ and is a cunning combination of nice lunch (to get people to the meeting) followed by an hour of presentations on assorted work-related subjects.

For some reason, I’ve had the dubious privilege of presenting at this function several times. I had the pleasure again today, and this morning while tidying up my script could be heard bemoaning the fact that we didn’t have a remote control with which to manage the PowerPoint slides. Usually, someone else does them for you, but that never quite works out the way you’d hoped it would.

On arriving at today’s meeting, I was informed that a remote control had recently been acquired and that June’s First Wednesday was to be its inaugural outing. I was both exceedingly excited and relieved that I wasn’t going to be the first presenter using it. As the meeting wore on I grew more and more concerned. No one was having much luck with the remote – it went too fast; it didn’t work at all; it shut the laptop down…all generally a bit frustrating.

I was the penultimate speaker and only had one slide in which timing was crucial. What was the one slide on which the remote went too fast? That one. Sod’s law! It also turned off the screen completely, but by that point I’d decided to carry on regardless. Stupid technology – who needs it?

The other problem with this function is that attempts at humour are sometimes lost on the audience. In our first joint presentation, C and I adapted a classic Simpsons quote – Troy McClure’s catchphrase: “You may remember me from…” and didn’t raise a murmur (though one colleague did e-mail her appreciation of the reference subsequently). Today, I described my Missing Generation project [I could go into this in detail, it’s honestly fascinating, but could bore the pants off you] as sounding like an Enid Blyton mystery, but I feel few noticed or found amusing the subtle reference…serves me right for trying to be funny. I should know better.


Never did I think I’d see the day that this blog would start commenting on something as techno geeky as alternative browsers. (Alternatives to the ubiquitous Internet Explorer, obviously.)

Here are the top 5 things I’m loving & why I might be about to make it my default browser:

1. It spellchecks. Fantastic for ensuring there are no embarassing spelling errors in facebook updates, although slightly annoying in facebook chat because I care less if things are correct there.
2. On opening, it shows you (in nice boxes) your most used sites, so less faffing around with the bookmark tab.
3. It allows me to use facebook, gmail & the guardian website simultaneously on my work laptop – a combination that always had a tendancy to freak out and crash IE.
4. It’s smooth and doesn’t make that annoying clicking sound IE makes. (As a downside, it doesn’t always make the noise for facebook chat, which can mean I miss messages, but that’s minor.)
5. You can type you search request directly into the address bar.

On hearing that I was experimenting with Chrome, my brother-in-law commented on facebook:
Google Chrome? It’s one step away from buying a Mac, reading the Guardian and having dinner parties with people called Jasmine and Jeremy. Stick with IE – it’s fine and it annoys smug Mac gits who don’t actually know any better.

I was particularly amused that his comment had been posted from an iphone. The irony.
The truth is that I’d rather like a Mac, but I’m not brave enough to get one – so this way I can pretend. (Plus, I love reading the Guardian and Jasmine & Jeremy throw terrific dinner parties!)
* Thanks to those who spotted my clearly deliberate spelling mistake in the title of the original post. Clearly writing past 11pm is a very bad idea.