5 Favourite Google Tools

30 June, 2006

Google has a swagload of tools now. Here are my fave five. 

Gmail 

Gmail was one of Google’s earliest (if not the first?) move away from pure web searching. In the computer world, I tend to use product that is the best (which is why I use a Mac), but this can mean that I sometimes use things only because they suck less than the competitors, not because they are good in and of themselves. (Such as the Mac OSX Finder – much worse in many respects than OS 9’s – but still miles ahead of Windows or Linux file and window managements programs. Even if Mac OSX plunges into unheard depths of crapitude, I couldn’t even start to consider switching until the makers of those systems realise that a global menu that changes according to context is a vastly better idea than redundant menus in every single freaking window).Not only does Gmail suck the least, it is good. Huge space, huge attachments, fast loading, fast searching, great spam catching, lack of irritating ads. The recent adding of chat to the email window is excellent as well (although I believe it still doesn’t work in Safari). The grouping of conversations is brilliant, you can show or hide the individual emails in your conversation at will, and the Labels give you some sort of order to your email should you not simply want to do a Google search on your own emails to find something.

Calendar 

Google’s calendar has replaced iCal as my appointment-making-thing. It can import and read iCal format calendars, is incredibly smart when you add an event (e.g. “Quiz at the pub next Tuesday 7pm” will put it in the right place – you don’t need to laboriously change little boxes for date, day, time, am/pm, length, status etc etc.). It will alert you via email, pop up, or text message (only if you live in the US for the last), does all the public and private, shared and single calendar things you might want, and can send you an agenda every day. iCal can subscribe to your Google calendar, so whenever you open iCal on the Mac, it will connect to the Net and update your iCal with all the appointments you added in Google Calendar

Personalised search 

This tracks your searches (only those searches that you want tracked, in case your “research” tends towards the “artistic”), and based on your past searches it will attempt to give you more relevant search results. Although most of one’s searches will tend to be completely unrelated (fastest bird in the world at one moment, Windows error messages the next: “Reserved error” – useful information there, thanks, Windows.), over time it does start building up a picture. Places that you’ve visited turn up in your results along with the number of times you’ve been there, and for the analysts amongst us, you can see how many searches you’ve done and when (in a blatant misreading of what the graphs show, apparently I search  mostly on Wednesdays in June at 9am…). The tracking includes normal web pages, images, news and headlines. Searching within your past searches is very useful when you come across a problem or query you had in the past, but can’t remember where you went to solve the problem, and saves you from starting your whole search again from scratch. 

Personalised start page 

Yes, I know the idea of a portal is dead and buried – but it died because all the other so-called portals were garish advertisements with a tiny areas for your content. (Can’t remember whether it was Yahoo or not, but I remember one portal/search site where I truthfully could not find where to type my search. At all. I had to leave. That’s crap).Google personalised home page allows you add modules for the things you want, and doesn’t have any ads. You can make it as cluttered or as minimalist as you desire. I have my Gmail, Google Reader, and Google Calendar as the main items, and a few other bits and pieces, such as Word of the Day, Apple’s share price, Links, and so on, which I change as the mood strikes me. Love it.

Sketchup 

This free 3D/CAD/drawing/visualisation package is bursting with potential. Have  a quick look at the tutorial included within it, and you’ll be creating holey buildings and abstract lumps almost instantly. Play around with it a bit more, and you can design anything you care to think of, put textures onto your creations so they look like the real thing, and upload building or places to their actual location in Google maps so others can view your prowess. Floor plans, and building based on those floor plans are obviously its main area of strength, and  it could therefore be very useful to those who are interested in certain game genres


Crap in the Email Details. Part 2

19 June, 2006

Time for another shot of the utter craptisity of Lotus Notes, as used in my workplace.

Situation: writing an email (or "memo" in Notes parlance). You decide to close the window you're working in. A normal program would give you a dialogue warning box with perhaps three choices: OK to delete the email you're closing, Cancel the action of closing the email, or Save the email you've been working on in your drafts folder. Lotus?

lotus-send-confusion.JPG

FIVE OPTIONS!

You have to read every single one of those buttons every single time you get this freaking thing because they are completely meaningless and arse-backwards.

First, read the message again: "Choose Cancel to continue editing". Cancel to continue? This has got to be a wind-up.

Next: why oh why is there a Send Only button? You don't need a send button at all – because you've chosen to close this email! If you accidentally closed it, well then, just press Cancel to prevent the close, and then carry on your happy way. And what does Send Only mean? Send it, but don't do some other unspecified thing?

And how does Send & Save differ from Send Only? Send Only will send the email, and put a copy of the email in your Sent Items folder, while Send & Save willl… send the email, put a copy in your sent items folder and a copy in your drafts, maybe? Who knows.

Crap like this means this software is broken.


I’m a Donkey Hole.

19 June, 2006

Dymocks is having one of its infrequent sales at the moment, and as well as the usual tables of books that never sell (vast amounts of home crafty-type books on stencils and stencilling or the grand history of tea infusions), the table of outdated computer books (great for people interested in learning iPhoto 2 or Windows 98), and the swathes of $5 romances and “thrillers” that not even the feeble-minded touch, there are plenty of bargains. In fact, I realised recently that almost all of my books purchased in recent years have been sale purchases. I very rarely buy a book at full price. Maybe I’m a tight-fisted Irishman (or descendant of one, at least). Or maybe I don’t fancy being gouged $24.99 for a paperback book of the latest popular pseudo-intellectual fiction where the pages turn yellow after a week and fall apart the first time you sneeze.

Anyway, I picked up Thunder Run: Three Days for the Battle of Baghdad the other day.

ThunderRun cover

It’s in the same vein as Mark Bowden’s Black Hawk Down, in so far as it’s a war book written by a journalist (and for this book, by a journalist who was actually there) and not written by an actual participant of the battles. Downside to this: journo’s are inherently untrustworthy and traditionally distort almost everything to make reality more entertaining. Upside: it’s not written by a participant of the battle, which I’m led to believe that the recent Jar Head is (I picked that up off the specials table at Dymocks as well, and saw that there were about six words on each page, written in approximately 20 point font. I put it down again.), which means that the chances of a coherent read are better, and a reader gets a view of more than one participant.Thunder Run recounts the US taking over Baghdad,  where a battalion of tanks (or lots of them anyway – I have no idea what military words like “battalion” mean) rolled into the centre of Baghdad, rather than engaging in a siege as everybody on both sides seemed to think was going to happen. They drove up the nice modern highways of that city, defending themselves against thousands of frankly inept Iraqi attacks, established hold points to defend their supply lines, and took Baghdad. The sheer numbers of Iraqi attacks from all directions simultaneously, the rocket propelled grenades exploding against the tanks, and the continuous streams of bullets pinging of the tanks’ armour as they cruise up and down the highway are amazing. Just because it was quick doesn’t mean it was easy. So it’s a good read, but it disturbs me that I’m starting to read and enjoy books like this and like Black Hawk Down. It reminds me of the Dennis Leary song (I’m an) Asshole: 

I'm just a regular Joe with a regular job.

I'm your average white suburbanite slob.

I like football and porno and books about war.

I've got an average house with a nice hardwood floor.

My wife and my job, my kids and my car.

My feet on my table and a Cuban cigar.

Too close.

(Well, apart from the wife and kids) 


An Easter Egg. Of Sorts.

15 June, 2006

Here’s an interesting tidbit for all you people forced to work on Windows-based machines (by forced I mean you are either forced by your work, by your finances, or by your lack of knowledge that there are better computers out there ;-)). Note that doing this will not crash your computer or anything else dodgy.

 Here's how to do it:

  1. Open up Notepad (not Wordpad, not Word or any other word processor)
  2. Type in this sentence exactly (without quotes): "this app can break"
  3. Save the file to your hard drive.
  4. Close Notepad
  5. Open the saved file by double clicking it.

Odd, yes?