Incidentally, it’s always seemed a bit curious to me that given what the Americans say they owe to the Separatists and the Pilgrim Fathers, and indeed it could be proved that they owe a great deal, the English are so often the villains and while we have people in America happy to be Afro-Americans and Irish Americans and Hispanic Americans, I have yet to meet anyone in the United States who has told me that he was an Anglo-American.
From Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time newsletter

Google File Search

Web pages are useful, but if you’ve ever wanted to find a specific file on the web, you noticed it’s not very easy. Fortunately, search engines like Google could be used for this tricky task.

Sometimes people create a web site, put some files in a directory, but forget to add an index file. So they end up with an unprotected directory that lists all of its files and subdirectories, when directly accessed from a browser. If someone links to the directory or submits it to Google, it becomes available to anyone who performs a search.

Because these directory listings are built using similar templates (depending on the web server), you can add to your query the most distinctive traits:

* The title starts with “index of” -> add to the Google query: intitle:“index of”

* They typically contain these words: “parent directory”, name, “last modified”, size, description -> you can add to your query “parent directory”, for example

* Since most sites use Apache servers, you could also add Apache, that appears in the footer of a listing for Apache web servers

To find the page from the screenshot, you could use a query like:
intitle:“index of” firefox 2.0 rc1 source

Of course, you could use this idea to find any kind of file from a PDF e-book to an MP3 podcast or song. Some of the files are shared by breaking a copyright law, so you must you use your judgment before downloading them.

But finding files using this technique is too complicated, you’ll say. First you have to enter a very complicated query, then visit all these strange-looking web pages and perform a new search in the current page to actually find the file. Then there are so many dead links and disingenuous webmasters that try to trick you with fake pages.

Some people with too much time on their hands built web apps that make it easy to search for files using Google. Briefli builds the query internally, loads the first results from Google and displays the links to the files on the same page. Moreover, the files that actually match your query are highlighted. To play the MP3s inline, you could add the bookmarklet to your browser and for Office files and PDFs, use Docufarm.

A site optimized for finding and playing MP3 files is mp3Salad. It lets you play all the MP3 files from a directory using a simple Flash player and even export the entire listing as a playlist.

The avalanche of file hosting sites brought a new to search for files: restrict the search results to one or more of these sites. Some examples of popular file hosting sites: or This custom search engine lets you restrict the search to 127 file hosting sites.

And then there are BitTorrent sites. Because they’re so many, this custom search engine is useful to search across the most popular ones.

Google actually indexes some of these files, mostly Office documents, PDF files, text files. You can restrict a Google search to a file type by using the filetype: operator in your query (examples: bash linux filetype:pdf restrict the search for [bash linux] to PDF files). This way you can search inside these files and not only in a listing of filenames.

For files residing on your hard disk, a desktop search engine like Google Desktop (Windows/Mac/Linux), Windows Vista’s search, Mac’s Spotlight are great and should be used before searching on the web.

Maybe one day Google will come up with a nice file search engine that indexes unprotected directories, FTP servers, file hosting sites, torrent sites. But probably the legal challenges outweigh the advantages of a such a search engine (Yahoo has a music search engine, but only for China).
Google File Search

What's actually annoying about bad customer service?

Jane Galt posts her thoughts on Sony Vaio customer service. I bought a Sony Vaio a few months ago, at the recommendation of a friend. Fortunately [it now seems] it arrived at the Best Buy with a broken drive and I never had the chance to lay my hands on it. It was only last week that they gave me my money back. Best Buy wouldn’t give me the computer, and Sony wouldn’t accept the damage claim from Best Buy rather than from the customer.

I see two especially frustrating elements in bad customer service. First, the reward/pleasure centers of the brain are already turned on, anticipating that a longstanding problem – lack of a computer – was going to be solved. The resulting disappointment is especially acute, much worse than before you try to fix the problem.

Second, we don’t like the tension of not knowing when the problem will be solved, or when being put on hold will end. Going to the dentist with certainty stresses me less than some chance I might have to go.

I try to manage the former problem by not getting excited until the product has been working for at least a day. That means I remain a bit emotionally flat in some spheres of commercial life and I don’t go out shopping enough or with enough gusto. I try to manage the second problem by mentally capitalizing the worst case customer service outcome I can imagine. That means when something goes wrong I toss in the towel too quickly. Sometimes I just buy a new item rather than solving the problem with the old one, or working to get a refund.

On this matter, Natasha believes I am crazy, yet I persist in my ways.

What’s actually annoying about bad customer service?

Excel Tip: Copy Subtotal (Aggregate) Data Only

Have you ever used Excel’s subtotal functionality?  It’s great for counting things.  For instance, I’m running some tests right now, where the output is a sequence.  If I run the test 10,000 times, then I have 10,000 sequences.  I want to know how many times each sequence happens. 

I copy the output into Excel, then sort the column containing the sequence into alphabetic order, thereby sticking like sequences with like.  Then, I use the subtotal feature to count how many times each sequence occurs.

It’s great - it does exactly what I want.  See the snapshot below.

The only problem I have is that sometimes I want to manipulate the aggregate information, say, calculate percentages, or compare it to some hand-created date from somewhere else.  So, what I really want to work on is the aggregate data, not the underlying information.

As you can see in the diagram, there are actually over 10,000 rows of information in the sheet, even though I can hide all but 20-some.  But, when I want to do a calculation on the data, I end up also doing the calculation on the underlying data as well.  I can’t even just copy the subtotal information to somewhere else, because all of the underlying data comes too!

There has got to be a way around it.  After some searching, and some bad suggestions (i.e., didn’t work for me), I discovered help in the form of Joseph Rubin’s  You can follow his instructions.  It’s really easy.  Basically, all you do is:

  1. In the view I have above, I just click on some cell in the data range, e.g., A260.
  2. Press Ctrl+A to select all of the subtotal data (would also include the underlying data).
  3. Magic Step: Press Alt+; (This selects only the visible cells.  Magic!)
  4. Copy and paste as desired.

Wow, that little Alt+; step is pure magic.  You can also get there by using the F5 key (which brings you up the Go To Dialog), selecting Special… and then selecting Visible cells only.  Why you can select visible cells only by going through the “Go To” menu is completely beyond me.

As you can see in the screenshots below, selecting visible cells makes them look slightly different.  The shot on the left (first) is the Ctrl+A selection (all data, including underlying, hidden, data).  Notice the dark border.  The shot on the right (second) is Alt+; selection (visible cells only).  notice that the border is gone.  A good visual way to make sure you’ve selected exactly what you want.


An interesting sidebar: I’ve just gone through the Help for Excel 2007.  I originally went there, but had no joy when looking for information about copying and subtotals.  But, if you search for “visible data”, you can get to a set of instructions that will let you copy just the subtotals.  Funnily enough, there are no shortcut keys provided, just how to do the task with the ribbon.  And, there’s not even a listing discussing what the Alt+; keyboard combination is good for!  Shocking.  It really is magic :)


Excel Tip: Copy Subtotal (Aggregate) Data Only