Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What's up, Google Docs?

My brain hurts. I spent all day thinking about things and looking at things and manipulating spreadsheets, and when I got home what did I do? I created another spreadsheet.

This was my first attempt at using Google Docs to do anything more serious than store a list of stuff; there's immediately some good things that it allows you to do, that would be more difficult in Excel. As an example, we're organising an event in Canada, but all the money we're gathering for it is in Hong Kong dollars; you can have a handy formula like
and now the spreadsheet will query Google to figure out what the current exchange rate is, which is jolly decent. Although unfortunately since Hong Kong dollars are worth about one eighth the price of Canadian ones, any expense restated in Hong Kong dollars begins to take on the appearance of something mindbogglingly expensive.

And this is before the jokers at HSBC decide on some huge charge to shift all this money from Hong Kong to Canada, but never mind that.

Anyway, it's really rather impressive what you can do in a web page, but it's not ready to replace Excel yet: time and again I found myself baffled, confused or annoyed as my favourite keyboard shortcut would fail to be replicated by Google Docs' interface. Or maybe I'm the one who needs to adjust.

Graphs in Google Docs aren't brilliant, but then they weren't in Excel either for years. I'm rather excited, though, by a graphing tool called Tableau, which one can use to put nice looking data visualisations into web pages.

Which is another way of saying I'm going to draw a scatter plot of words I've written per post vs number of times somebody has read them, cross-referenced against my weight since August 1 2011.

Some might think that isn't a useful way to spend my life. They'd be overlooking the fact that each point on the scatter plot will be in a different colour.

If that wasn't enough technology for one day, I installed a Facebook app onto my Blackberry, and almost immediately wished I hadn't. Yes, I can now take embarrassing photos of my friends when we're drunk, using the rubbishy Blackberry camera, and upload them to Facebook already tagged for maximum annoyance value, but I now also have an inbox suffused with all the junk communications that Facebook spews out. I could do without having to delete dozens of messages whose utility doesn't even approach Farmville-like levels. And I could do without deleting the same message five times because the app didn't quite work properly.

Moan, moan, moan. In my day, phones were things you talked into, not obstreperously unhelpful computer devices. And we lived in a hole, and we ate nothing but corned beef and tinned ravioli.

Thus, I feel grim and ground down, and I hope upon waking tomorrow I'll feel more tip-top than before. Toodle pip!


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