Billions and Billions Served…

I started having problems with my computer while online a few hours ago, long pauses and the spinning wheel of (not quite) death, so I got out my faithful DiskWarrior CD — which, I’m not being paid for saying, is one of the greatest products I’ve ever owned. I really of course should have things more completely backed up (especially on Friday the 13th?), but DiskWarrior has saved me innumerable times over the years from complete computer collapse.

Things now seem to be back to order (except, of course, I need a much faster, much newer computer). Anyway, it turns out I have 245,294 files in the OS X part of this one, plus another 90,000 or so in the other partitions. A total of 335,300 files in all, in one little box here on the desk. Staggering, when you think about it.

While the program was making its way sorting out my hard drive, I went back to reading one of my current books, The Google Story, by David Vise and Mark Malseed (Delacorte Press, November 2005). I thought, when I got found it two days ago at the library, that it had been excerpted in a Wired article I just read last week from August 2005, but it turns out that was from The Search, another new book on the same subject.

Even more astounding than the number of files on my computer is just how overwhelming Google’s presence has become in the world, considering it didn’t exist until the late 1990s. Much of people’s interest, I guess, focuses on the equally staggering finances — the book notes in an appendix that as of August 2005, Google’s stock market value was 4th in the U.S. (almost $80 billion), behind only Microsoft, Wal-Mart, and Time Warner.

Those of us who are bad with money and good with information, though, think instead of all the other search engines now dead and gone so quickly: Lycos, Magellan, HotBot, WebCrawler, Infoseek, Excite, AltaVista, all of which I used at one time or another.

The best quote in the book comes from an author I admire, Michael Chabon: “Writers of the past had absinthe, whiskey or heroin. I have Google. I go there intending to stay five minutes and next thing I know, I’ve written 43 words and all I have to show for it is that I know the titles of every episode of Nanny and the Professor.? (I know the feeling well.)

My favorite chapter tells the story of Charlie Ayers, employee #56, the company chef who has since retired and (of course) now has his own website. His departure last May, after almost six years with the company, was big news in the computer world, and a few months later Google announced its own version of ‘The Search,’ a search for a new chef (or chefs). The job looks like it’s still open, in case you’re interested/available.

Charlie was famous in the Silicon Valley as “a former chef for the Grateful Dead,? which he readily admits was much exaggerated by the media. (He filled in as an assistant chef for the band a few times in the Bay Area.) Still, his website links page lists Phish, Bill Frisell, and before it gets around to Mario Batali, Bobby Flay, and Food TV.

p.s. The most staggering number of all: Google’s computer network, according to the book, now handles 120,000 searches every minute.

p.p.s. If you too would like to know the title of every episode of N & t P.

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