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Success has allowed the Google guys to retain a childlike approach. (It probably helps that although they have girlfriends, each is single.) Page, 33, grew up in Michigan obsessed with inventing things. In college he built a functioning ink-jet printer out of Lego pieces. Page's father was a computer-science professor at Michigan State; his mother taught computer programming. When he isn't working, Page spends his time staying fit (his latest passion is windsurfing) and playing with gadgets, like his new TiVo-type radio device. He's into music (he attended a recent U2 concert in Oakland) but has mostly given up the saxophone he played as a kid. Compared with Brin, Page is probably a deeper thinker and bigger nerd. I saw him preparing his keynote speech for the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas--the geek-world equivalent of the Super Bowl--nearly a month before it took place. (He ended up bringing Robin Williams onstage with him; Williams called Page "Mensa boy" and mocked how he talks: "Larry, do you realize you sound just like Mister Rogers?")
Brin, 32, has also been precocious all his life. Born into a Jewish family in Moscow, Brin fled Russia with his parents amid rising anti-Semitism in the late 1970s and settled in the U.S. Brin's father Michael teaches applied probability and statistics at the University of Maryland; his mother works at NASA. Brin from an early age was fascinated with numbers; his father gave him his first computer, a Commodore 64, when he turned 9. Brin's other love is gymnastics, and he studied flying trapeze at a circus school in San Francisco. He has lately taken up springboard diving. Michael Brin recently visited the West Coast to check in on his son, the billionaire. "Sergey was a good boy," Michael wisecracks, "when he was asleep."
Brin and Page's creation is a company that is quirky and practically shouts it out. The lava lamps and electric scooters that replaced the original Segways at the "Googleplex" headquarters in Mountain View have become iconic. There is also a sand-volleyball court, a pair of heated lap pools and, for some reason, a ball pit with dozens of brightly colored plastic balls, like the one you throw the kids into at Ikea. The dress code? "You have to wear something," says Schmidt. And even he can't explain the (phoneless) London-style phone booth that stands in one hallway--"Who bought that?!" he wonders aloud, sounding like the sole sane person in a loony bin. Above all, there is Google's fetishistic devotion to food; the company serves three excellent meals a day, free, to its staff, at several cafés. In what passes in Mountain View for a crisis, Google has spent months trying to find a successor, or maybe two, to replace departing head chef Charlie Ayers, who once cooked for members of the Grateful Dead. A search committee has been meeting with candidates. We're not talking meat loaf and bug juice. In a recent tryout, the executive chef from an acclaimed area restaurant prepared sugar-pie pumpkin lasagna and cedar spring lamb chops.