Category Archives: Miscellaneous

My brand new gig: Augmenting reality in Google Research

I’m stupid-excited to say that I’ve just joined Google’s Skynet Machine Perception team to build kickass creative, expressive experiences, delivering augmented reality to (let’s hope) a billion+ people. I told you sh*t just got real. 🙂

Now, the following career bits may be of interest only to me (and possibly my mom), but in case you’re wondering, “Wait, don’t you work on Google Photos…?”

Well, like SNL’s Stefon, “I’ve had a weird couple of years…” 

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The greatly smoothed version goes basically like this:

  • I joined Google in early 2014 to work on Photos. I liked to say I was “Teaching Google Photoshop,” meaning getting computers to see & synthesize like humans (making your Assistant your artist!). Among other things, we created a brand-new image editor, did some early AR face-painting work (a year+ ahead of Snapchat et al), and made movies for tens of millions of people.
  • After a bit over a year, I wanted to explore some crazier photo- and video-related ideas (stuff not ready for Photos to include then, if ever), so I left the team & walked across the hall to work with & learn from Luke Wroblewski. Thus I was “working at Google on photos, just not Photos.” This was a subtle distinction, and as I was working on secret stuff, I didn’t spend time publicizing it. I remained closely involved with the ex-Nik Photos folks in building out Snapseed & the next rev of the new editor we’d started.
  • Meanwhile I spent the better part of the next year thinking up, prototyping, and iterating on a bunch of little photo apps. It was a tough but enlightening process. I know we were on to something, but I also felt like Edison saying some variant of “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways not to make a light bulb.”
  • Somewhat tired from the process & eager to make concrete contributions, I was set to join an imaging hardware team. When project plans changed, however, I agreed to help improve photography experiences on social apps including Google+.
  • Having witnessed on Photos the massive importance of speed, I teamed up with my future teammates in Research to build out the RAISR machine-learning library and ship it in Google+, saving users immense amounts of bandwidth (critical in the developing world).
  • Since then, and up until this week, I’ve been focusing on enterprise social needs. Though it wasn’t an area I sought out, I ended up really digging the experience, and I look forward to eventually sharing some of the rad stuff my team was building.
  • And then, Google bought this little company in Belarus & my old Research friends came calling…

So now we’ve come full circle, and to capture my feelings, I’ll cite SNL yet again. Wish me luck. 🙂 

Francis Ford Coppola’s wisdom for product managers

“Arbiter of Focus”—that’s how David Lieb, who was the CEO of Bump & who now leads product for Google Photos—describes a PM’s job. Elsewhere I’ve heard, “What game are we playing, and how do we keep score?” In a similar vein, I found resonance in these remarks from Francis Ford Coppola:

Q. What is the one thing to keep in mind when making a film?

A. When you make a movie, always try to discover what the theme of the movie is in one or two words. Every time I made a film, I always knew what I thought the theme was, the core, in one word. In “The Godfather,” it was succession. In “The Conversation,” it was privacy. In “Apocalypse,” it was morality. The reason it’s important to have this is because most of the time what a director really does is make decisions. All day long: Do you want it to be long hair or short hair? Do you want a dress or pants? Do you want a beard or no beard? There are many times when you don’t know the answer. Knowing what the theme is always helps you.

Here’s the rest of the interview.

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“Everyone sweeps the floor around here” — Wisdom from Adobe’s founders

I’ve found years’ worth of inspiration in the dichotomy expressed by Adobe founders John Warnock & Chuck Geschke:

The hands-on nature of the startup was communicated to everyone the company brought onboard. For years, Warnock and Geschke hand-delivered a bottle of champagne or cognac and a dozen roses to a new hire’s house. The employee arrived at work to find hammer, ruler, and screwdriver on a desk, which were to be used for hanging up shelves, pictures, and so on.
“From the start we wanted them to have the mentality that everyone sweeps the floor around here,” says Geschke, adding that while the hand tools may be gone, the ethic persists today.

— Page 27 of Inside the Publishing Revolution – The Adobe Story by Pamela Pfiffner

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Adobe & Stanford collaborate to automate video editing

I’ve long been skeptical of automated video editing. As I noted in May,

My Emmy-winning colleague Bill Hensler, who used to head up video engineering at Adobe, said he’d been pitched similar tech since the early 90’s and always said, “Sure, just show me a system that can match a shot of a guy entering a room with another shot of the same thing from a different angle—then we’ll talk.” As far as I know, we’re still waiting.

Now, however, some researchers at Adobe & Stanford are narrowing the problem, focusing just on saving editors time via “Computational Video Editing for Dialogue-Driven Scenes”:

Given a script and multiple video recordings, or takes, of a dialogue-driven scene as input (left), our computational video editing system automatically selects the most appropriate clip from one of the takes for each line of dialogue in the script based on a set of user-specified film-editing idioms (right).

Check out the short demo (where the cool stuff starts ~2 minutes in):

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