An Actual Useful Use for Google Docs

I’m not a fan of Google Docs. I never have been. It’s ugly, poorly organized, and lacking features. Web apps generally are.  I don’t use it.

However, I didn’t break my long, long silence on this site to bitch about all the things that are wrong with Google Docs (and Google in general lately). Because, I actually found a useful use for Google Docs.

I just had a user that couldn’t open a PowerPoint file. It was damaged. When trying to open the file, PowerPoint attempts to repair it, but cannot. It then gives the message that the “PowerPoint file may be damaged, or it may have been created in a pre-release version”. Web searches for the error didn’t produce anything useful.

(I ran a fsck with no luck.)

Long story short, since the file was damaged, but it still obviously had content (it was about 1.5 MBs, whereas sometimes corrupt files will show as being 0kb, or 4kb, or whatever the block size is, etc.), I knew there had to be a way to get at the data in the file.


I had the user upload the file to her Google Docs account to see if it would be able to convert it, even though it was damaged.  Surprisingly, it was able to.  Once in Google Docs, we were able to resave it as a .pptx file (you know, an actual usable, non-Google, format).

So, if you have an Office file (or pdf, or any other format Google Docs will handle) that won’t open, it might be worth a try uploading it to Google.

NOTE:  This was on a Mac. If the user had Keynote installed, I would have tried opening it in Keynote, which I’m sure would also have worked.

Don’t Be Evil

Google got into trouble when they started covertly mapping people’s wireless networks with their street-view vehicles. Obviously, this raised a number of privacy issues.

Well, Google has an answer for that:

Basically, you can opt out of this “service” by renaming the SSID for your wireless network to include “_nomap” at the end.

Read that again. That’s their solution.

Are they serious? Never mind the fact that the vast majority of people aren’t going to know they need to do this, do they realize that most people aren’t even going to know what that means, let alone how to do it? (I’m guessing that yes, they do realize that. And that’s the point.)

Oh, sure, they have directions for doing this linked from that blog post. This is part of their directions:

  1. Establish a physical connection between your access point and your computer using an ethernet cable.
  2. Establish the default gateway of your connection:
    1. On Windows, type ‘ipconfig’ into the command prompt (accessed from the start menu).
    2. On Mac OS, type ‘ifconfig’ into the command prompt.
    3. On Linux, type ‘ifconfig’ into the command prompt.
  3. Once you have the default gateway (it will look like, type it into the address bar of your web browser, this will take you to the control panel for your access point.
  4. You may have to sign in to your access point’s control panel. If so, the appropriate username and password should have been included in the booklet included when you received the access point.

They’re joking right? They really expect the average user to be able to do this? They really expect that the average person is going know what they’re looking at when they run those commands? This is the output of running ifconfig on the computer I’m currently using:

lo0: flags=8049 mtu 16384
inet netmask 0xff000000
inet6 ::1 prefixlen 128
inet6 fe80::1%lo0 prefixlen 64 scopeid 0x1
gif0: flags=8010 mtu 1280
stf0: flags=0 mtu 1280
en0: flags=8863 mtu 1500
ether 10:9a:dd:ac:6e:a2
inet6 fe80::129a:ddff:feac:6ea2%en0 prefixlen 64 scopeid 0x5
inet netmask 0xffff0000 broadcast
media: autoselect
status: active
vboxnet0: flags=8842 mtu 1500
ether 0a:00:27:00:00:00
en1: flags=8863 mtu 1500
ether 00:0e:c6:88:42:a0
inet6 fe80::20e:c6ff:fe88:42a0%en1 prefixlen 64 scopeid 0x4
inet netmask 0xffff0000 broadcast
media: autoselect (100baseTX )
status: active

They really think the average person is going to understand that!? (Never mind the fact that it doesn’t even tell you the default gateway.)

That this “opt-out” procedure is their answer to people’s privacy concerns is a complete joke. They clearly don’t want people to be able to opt-out, or even know that they need to. This should be an “opt-in” service, plain and simple.

It seems everyday Google does something to make their “Don’t be evil” slogan more and more of a joke.

Thoughts on Mobile Flash

So, the big story/controversy/hub-bub in the tech world right now is mobile Flash.  Everyone knows Apple won’t allow Flash on the iPhone due to its poor performance.  Now, Flash has been shown running on Android.  It was buggy and slow, and turned the entire browsing experience in to a painful mess.

Now, many geeks have been clamoring for Flash, even though it’s a dying technology, and have been bashing Apple for their hard-line stance against Flash.  “At least give us the choice,” seems to be the rallying cry.  Apple is taking away their choice to run (and write) Flash.  These same geeks are defending the horribly running Flash on Android saying that you can turn it off.  At least you have the choice.  You can run it when you want to access sites like Hulu, but turn it off for regular browsing.

Here’s the problem, and this is why this is bad for Android and Google.  The average user (you know, the target demographic if you want these devices to actually be profitable) could care less about Flash.  What’s more, and here’s the key, they won’t know how to turn it off.  Only the geeks who think there’s a need for Flash in the future of the mobile web will know how to turn it on and off.  The average user will be stuck with it (because it’ll be there by default).  The average user won’t have the choice, so all they are going to see is how painful it is to surf the web on their Flash-running Android device.

What’s worse is they’re not even going to know that Flash is the problem.  All they’re going to see is how slow and buggy their web browser is.  Then, they’re going to look over at their iPhone (and iPad) using friends, and see them browsing the web with no problems, and still getting Hulu through the iPhone/iPad app that will certainly come out in the near future.  Then, they’re going to wonder why they didn’t just get an iPhone in the first place.

This is the part the geeks, and by extension the tech websites, don’t seem to get.  Apple could care less if the geeks flock to Android, with feelings of false superiority just because they can run Flash, as long as the average user (the majority of their customers) have a flawless, “it just works”, experience with their iPhones.  They’re not going to let the vocal minority’s hollering stand in the way of that.

Let Google and Android market to the geeks, we’ll see how well that works out for them and mobile Flash.

Why I switched back to Firefox from Chrome

I’ve been using Chrome as my default Windows browser since it was in Beta.  Today, I finally switched my default browser back to Firefox.  This comes after about a week of using both.  After continually waiting for a site to open in Chrome, then switching to Firefox and have the same site come up while Chrome was still trying, I just gave up.

When I first started using Chrome, I loved it.  It was fast, it renders pages almost as well as Safari does, and it has a lot of nice features.  But, as time wore on, Chrome started getting slower and slower.

Sure, I tried emptying the cache, download history and whatnot.  That helped at first, but it wouldn’t take too long for Chrome to slow down again.  After a while, it didn’t help at all.

So what’s going on?  Why is Chrome slowing down?  I think it’s simple, really.  If you use Chrome, open the options and try to set how many days of browsing history to remember.  Go on, I’ll wait.

Can’t find it, can you?  There is no setting to tell it how far back to remember.  Basically, Chrome remembers your entire browsing history, until you manually delete it.  And then, your only options are to delete only the recent history (up to four months), or everything.  This is exactly backwards.  I’d much rather keep my recent history, and delete everything older than, let’s say, a month.

I went ahead and deleted the entire history, and guess what?  Chrome much faster now.  But, I find this an unacceptable solution.  Having a recent history aids in browsing sites I routinely visit, and quickly finding things I’ve recently looked at.  The only choice with Chrome is all or nothing.  That’s too bad.

The other problem that I’ve run into is that Chrome is just is not as stable as Firefox.  I’ve had it lock up on me too many times.  And, although Chrome opens each tab as a separate process, so that one locked tab theoretically won’t effect other open tabs, this doesn’t seem to work so well.  What I’ve found is that, if and when a tab does freeze, you can’t actually switch to any of the other tabs.  So, while it’s well and great that the processes in the other tabs weren’t effected, it really does me no good if I can’t switch to them, because the tab I’m looking at is frozen and won’t let me close it or switch away from it.

Yes, I know I could kill the tab with the built in process manager, but a) that doesn’t always work, and b) most people probably don’t even know that’s there, or how to even get to it.

Having said all that, I haven’t made up my mind 100% just yet.  I’m going to put on Firefox for a while, and see if it still fits.  But, the one thing I really love about Chrome is the “Application shortcuts” feature (which is basically a site-specific browser).  I’ve used that for my email and for the web-based help desk system we use at work.

Maybe in the end I’ll wind up running two browsers at once, Firefox for general web surfing, and Chrome for the SSBs.

Safari Only Google Homepage?

UPDATE: It turns out Google is “bucket testing” variations on its homepage, apparently completely at random.  I guess I’m one of the lucky few to get this so far.  Read more at Tech Crunch.

This is something I’ve noticed lately, but have seen no mention of on the internet:  When I go to in Safari under Snow Leopard, all I see is the “Google” logo and the search box.  That’s it.  No buttons, no links, no nothing.  If I move the mouse, the other elements on the page then appear, but if I just type in my search and hit “Enter” it takes me to the search results.

I like this sparse design, but I only see it in Safari under Snow Leopard.  I’ve tried the latest versions of all other browsers on Windows (Windows 7), including Safari, and I get the regular old Google page.

What’s going on here?  Is anyone else seeing this new, sparse Google page?  Am I going crazy?