Category Archives: fixing your desktop

Office suites (Word, Excel, Apple, Google) in 2016: Power-user experience

Every week, I have to use six different Office Software Suites:

  1. At school: Microsoft Office 2013
  2. At university: Microsoft Office 365
  3. At work: OpenOffice
  4. At home: LibreOffice
  5. Everywhere: Apple Keynote
  6. Everywhere: Google Docs

As an expert computer user (former SysAdmin), I’m often asked for help by people with non-computing backgrounds. When they see how many different suites I’m using, they’re … surprised, to say the least. Here’s a quick snapshot of what and why.
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Giving OpenOffice a “not disgusting” New Word Document

OpenOffice is great. It has flaws. One of the most insidious is that the “new document” settings for Word/Letter documents is vile. It has truly awful formatting – ARGH! MY EYES!

Today I was writing a doc to put down some thoughts for colleagues, and I realised that the formating is so unbearable it was actively blocking me from thinking or expressing myself clearly. Every glance at the words in front of me was corrupted.

So, I’m going to do some experiments in replacing it with something … “not s**t”.

Download a template

Not possible. The website has never worked – I’ve been using it for 10 years, and the Template Search is still 100% broken. “Sort by rating, Descending” and the top-rating is often … 0/5 stars. Um. No. Guys – can you please learn how to count to 1?

Screencap from today:

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 14.11.44

Make a template

Here’s the steps, if you want to do one yourself: How can I change the defaults for a new Writer document?

Attempt 1: Verdana, indents

Arial – especially using Arial Bold for every-other-heading – is painful on the eyes when a document has more than about ten words. Let’s dump that and – sticking with a common font everyone has installed, but is similar in look – go with Verdana.

I do not enjoy using Arial, Verdana, Helvetica etc in docs; but I have no idea how funky you can get today and still get 100% coverage of “this font is installed on everyone else’s computer, no download/import/conversion needed”

Looks like this:

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 14.07.59

DOWNLOAD LINK: Default Text (Verdana)


There’s a circle of hell set aside for the muppet working at WordPress who decided to block all files that he/she couldn’t be bothered to type into a pointless – BUT NOT UPDATEABLE – whitelist of filetypes.

That’s not what a filename extension is. It’s not what a filetype is for. Great example of “a little knowledge” (or in this case: no knowledge at all, just foolish assumptions) being a dangerous thing…

Installing HMRC’s PAYE tools on OS X

The old PAYE tools was bad, really bad – I saw it generate the wrong figures once (i.e. actively costing UK small businesses real money for HMRC’s carelessness).

The new one is great – but it hasn’t been tested properly. The install instructions are wrong, it installs illegally on OS X, and it has a major bug in the configuration system. By accident, I discovered it’s all written in Python, which I find very interesting although currently it’s a bad advert for the language :(.

Here’s how I fixed it…
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Fixing Firefox: removing the bad new-tab window (AGAIN!)

We already had to do this a year or so ago when Firefox developers tried to force a bad UI paradigm on us.

Now they’ve done it again, and added a new way to turn “new tab” from something that does what it says, into something that does stuff you don’t want.

Turn it off by pressing the magic button that exists nowhere else in Firefox and which you’d never guess was related to this broken feature.

Firefox won’t save/open PDF files any more

What is it with Firefox’s developers these days? Every other release of Firefox seems to overwrite at least one existing setting … with a broken feature.

Firefox version 22.0 disables your PDF viewer and replaces it with a non-working proprietary viewer from Mozilla

Cure is quick:

Note: this works because “always ask” is less annoying than it sounds. It merely means “let me open it or save it”, and it will use whichever viewer you last used. On OS X that – out of the box! – means the system PDF viewer. Which works perfectly on everything except bizarro-interactive-secure-encrypted Adobe docs/em>

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App takes all the RAM on a Windows tablet; turns out to be debug code the manufacturer left in by accident – Doh!

Everyone has had that dreaded experience: you open up the task manager on your computer… and there’s a program name you don’t recognize. It gets worse when you google the name and can’t find a concrete answer on what it is and why it’s there. It gets even worse when you remove it from Autoruns and it comes back. It gets terrible when you realize it has keylogger functionality. The icing on the cake, however, is when the mystery program is also eating up all your RAM.

The application does not store or transmit or even display the information polled. It does nothing. I spent the better part of two hours scouring the obscure corners of the binary, thinking surely I must be missing some cleverly hidden method that actually uses this data. I couldn’t find one.

that still leaves the question of why it’s doing this at all. The clues are there, vestigial remnants of removed code, exciting to any Executable Archaeologist: The generically named “Form1” of the application contains several widgets which are never actually displayed: a start button, a stop button, a place for displaying mouse coordinates, and a text box for displaying some other unspecified data. I believe this was originally a debugging utility used by “Spacer” engineers to calibrate the accelerometer so that it would not go off when one simply tapped on the touchscreen (triggering a mouse event or keyboard event). They didn’t bother to rigorously prevent memory leaks because it was never intended to run for more than a few minutes at a time. Somehow, through some miscommunication, a copy of this program with the logic for rendering the visuals stripped ended up on the list of utilities that needed to be kept in the final version of “Spacer’s” Windows 8 image for this model of tablet.

Apple finally supports Windows 8

Apple has finally released drivers for Windows 8 (NB: because Apple takes standard PC hardware and then customizes it, Apple customers are reliant on Apple for “custom” drivers; the manufacturer drivers don’t work)

Download link for the new drivers (March 2013)

Also: the built-in copy of BootCamp has been updated, if you upgrade OS X to version 10.8.3 or later.

To recap:

  • 2011 September: Microsoft releases first beta of Windows 8
  • 2012 May: Microsoft releases final beta of Windows 8
  • 2012 September: Windows 8 (final) goes on sale
  • 2013 March: Apple enables their customers to install Windows 8

Even being generous, that’s an 11 month delay between “the world discovering that Apple hardware needed a new set of drivers, or Windows 8 wouldn’t run” and “Apple delivering the drivers”. Many Apple machines were fine, but a large proportion were effectively blocked from running Windows 8 at all. It’s good to see this finally released, but … that’s a pretty poor service from a company the size of Apple.

Worst was the iMacs, where even machines less than 18 months old were (allegedly, according to the forums) unusable on Windows 8. You could install it (with some hacks), but then the graphics card was disabled. This means: most major software won’t run (because the graphics card is used so heavily on modern computers you got corruption of on-screen info, or just massive drops in performance, so that apps were unusable), and definitely: no games.

…which, after all, is one of the main reasons for Mac users to dual-install Windows.

Interestingly, it seems this was caused by Apple’s modifications of the ATI graphics card, so that the ATI drivers were convinced there was an external monitor (which Apple didn’t provide a socket for, so there was nothing you could do – even if you owned a second monitor).

Interesting because: in the PC world, ATi used to be famous for writing low-quality, poorly-tested graphics drivers. ATi owners were accustomed to poring over every new minor version update “just in case” it fixed the glaring bugs in the previous one – and spent a lot of time de-installing and re-installing the older versions (when the newest version frequently introduced major new bugs).

So … although it’s ostensibly Apple to blame here in being so late to fix it, my suspicion is that it was some shoddy code in ATi’s driver that (accidentally) only affected Apple-modified cards.

3rd Party Device drivers: every OS-developer’s nightmare!

OS X: Make your Mac load web pages 1000x faster

Apple’s core networking for OS X (Lion, Mountain Lion, etc) is famously poor. One of the (many) unfixed bugs is this:

“I go to a webpage (e.g. and my browser displays a message saying ‘Server not Found’. If I keep hitting Refresh, it never works. If I wait a few minutes and try again, it works”

This is entirely Apple’s fault. They aggressively (and incorrectly) cache “failed” lookups. And … because it’s Apple … you can’t turn it off. It’s been broken for at least 5 years now, which suggests they have no intention of fixing it.

But: you can “flush” it. Since it’s a cache (which are designed to auto-flush anyway), there’s no harm in doing this.

Solution: restart Apple’s DNS cache

  1. Open a Terminal window
  2. type: “sudo killall -HUP mDNSResponder”
    • (you’ll need your admin password, annoyingly, because you’re ‘forcing’ Apple’s code to behave itself)
  3. Reload your webpage – works immediately

After the first time, you can repeat the command frequently without typing your password. Simply hit the “up” arrow (to re-type previous command) and Return to run it.

Virgin Atlantic – how to get them to phone you back

Here’s the magic URL, that you can’t access directly from the site:


In 5+ years of flying with Virgin, their online booking system has always, every single time, failed – and redirected me to a page where I get that link to get THEM to phone ME.

(which is useful, since the evil mobile network operators don’t like Virgin’s 08-something numbers, and turn them into premium-rate bills)

It’s a pain going to the site, going through the pointless online booking, knowing that you’ll end up on the “our booking system sucks, click here” page.

So I’m blogging this so I never need to do it again!

Unity crash: “type == kMetaAssetType && pathName.find (“library/metadata”) != 0″

Unity’s QA dept needs a smack up-side the head. If you get this bug, you’re a bit screwed – the only “fix” is to go into system settings and wipe Unity’s crud.

Error message:

type == kMetaAssetType && pathName.find (“library/metadata”) != 0

Thanks, Unity, that’s very human-readable and helpful. Not.

(appears to be an Assert written by a junior programmer – or a debug-only Assert that got left in the shipping version(!))\


  1. Unity’s tech team wrote Unity 3 so that it would open projects BEFORE checking if there was a new version available
  2. Unity 4 is NOT backwards compatible; it corrupts projects so that they will NEVER load in Unity 3.x
  3. …also: Unity 3.5 will FATAL CRASH if it tries to open a Unity 4 project
  4. Unity (generally) is badly written and auto-opens the last project, even if you don’t want to, and EVEN IF ITS CORRUPT
  5. Unity (generally) DOESN’T BOTHER to offer any way of starting “safely”

Solution (OS X):

  1. Force-quit Unity (not only does it crash, but it hangs forever) – RMB on the icon, hold down alt/option, and the Force Quit option appears
  2. run Finder, go to (your user)/Library, aka “~/Library”. If you don’t know how, then do ONE OF the following (either works):
    • EITHER: Start at your username folder (it’s the parent folder of your Desktop folder, parent of your Documents folder, etc), un-break OS X (Apple ships it as broken-by-default): google for “enable see Library folder in Finder”, follow the instructions
    • OR: In Finder’s “Go” menu, select “Go to folder”, and type “~/Library”
      • Inside Library, find “Preferences” folder
      • Find *everything* that begins “com.unity3d.” and delete it (there are approx 20 files, of 2 different file types)
      • Re-start Unity, and it will open the default project
      • …And this time, Unity will offer to upgrade to Unity 4


For bonus points, the Unity 4 “upgrade” isn’t an upgrade: it’s a replacement. I expected it to download “the bits that have changed”. Nuh-uh. One gigabyte download! (try getting that in a hurry, when your project has suddenly imploded in front of you, because of the non-existent backwards-compatibility :( ).

Some idle thoughts…

I’ve seen similar behaviour before when writing very simple OS X apps. There’s some massive bugs in Apple’s code that have been around for 5+ years (and Apple shows no intention of fixing), which cause “startup actions” to happen in a semi-random order, depending on the NAME and NUMBER of recently-opened projects.

It takes very little testing to discover this. If it’s the problem with the Unity software, then Unity needs to seriously improve their testing on OS X – they should have discovered this easily.

But also … why on earth are they using the NSDocument loading system? Apple never finished writing the docs for it, they seem to have never finished implementing it (major bits of the API seem to be missing) – in general, OS X authors don’t seem to use it any more. Probably because it doesn’t work?

Installing Windows on a Mac: what you need to know (2013)

Prologue: Apple et al recommend you “install new OS’s from USB, not DVD – USB is faster”, but I’ve never bothered before. However, there appears to be a major defect in most Apple iMacs, where the DVD drives fail after only a dozen or so uses (google it and there’s depressingly-long forum threads of people reporting the same problem). When this hit my iMac, I was forced to explore the USB alternatives…

Windows 8 boots the same way Macs do

With the arrival of Windows 8, much of what we see on the web about “installing windows” or “booting windows” is wrong — including Apple’s own Bootcamp (currently: almost a year out of date, badly broken, and Apple hasn’t announced a fix. Sigh).

Allegedly (confirmed by direct experience, but I’m no expert on this) – Windows 7 (and previous versions) used “MBR” booting. Intel Macs use the more modern “GPT” booting – and Windows 8 has finally dropped backwards compatibility, and uses GPT too.

So, as of 2013: there is nothing “special” needed to make a Mac boot in Windows 8

In fact, if you try to, Windows 8 install WILL FAIL because it doesn’t support the old MBR booting any more (it even produces a clear, helpful error message explaining why)…

If something ruins your booting, fix from command line

For power-users who know what they’re doing, this stack-exchange answer gives good step-by-step instructions (with explanations!) on how to “un-break” a broken boot setup on Mac. Worth bookmarking (I used it to fix one of my machines).

NB: all the tools they use in that answer are pre-installed with the Mac and have “man” docs – type “man (command name)” in Terminal to read them.

NB: you can run these tools straight away, but they will probably refuse to “save changes” because you’re using the disk they’re trying to change (mentioned in the link above). You’ll need to boot into a special “repair mode” – see below:

NB: if you mis-type the instructions on that page, you probably will wipe your hard disk. Don’t try this while tired/drunk/etc – or at least take a full backup of your computer first!

An OS X “emergency boot USB drive” is only 1GB

The web is plagued with technically unskilled “journalists” who write articles about “make a USB boot disk for OS X”, and all they do is copy/paste Apple’s own instructions on how to INSTALL OS X (and then they claim credit for it).

The OS X installer requires a 4GB – or, if you’re unlucky, an 8GB – USB key. That’s 8x what you actually need.

It is faster, easier, and safer to use Apple’s own “Make an OS X Bootable USB key” app, which works on any USB drive that’s 1 GB or larger.

You can even create the USB key without downloading the special app – although it requires more fiddling (I recommend: download the app. It’s small and trivial to use).

NB: if you own a mac, make one of these now. Do something useful with those crappy 1GB USB keys you have gathering dust on the shelf!

OS X has an Emergency Partition by default – but you can’t use it

Because those USB boot disks are so massively valuable, Apple now includes a hidden one on your hard disk too, so that you can boot into that and “fix” your main OS X even if you don’t have a USB drive.

Here’s more info on the “Recovery Partition” as its called.

HOWEVER: since that’s installed on the same disk you’re partitioning, … most / all of the disk-repair / disk-alteration utilities are still disabled. That’s why you want/need a USB emergency disk!

Apple’s emergency boot disk doesn’t support all USB devices (e.g. some mice)

Even devices that work during the Apple boot-menu are DISABLED BY APPLE in their “emergency repair / boot” setup.

But without a mouse, you cannot get to the OS X menubar.

And Apple designed their “emergency” system so that most of the features can ONLY be reached viw the menubar (hmm. They really didn’t think that one through…)

So, memorize this keyboard shortcut: ctrl-f2 (or, on a wireless keyboard or laptop: fn-ctrl-f2).

That hilights the “apple symbol” menu, and you can then use cursor keys to reach the other menus.

Apple won’t let you create a USB Windows installer unless you have a MacBook Air

Someone at Apple went out of their way to make life miserable for Apple customers. If you own (or can borrow) a MacBook Air, Apple’s Bootcamp enables an extra “magic feature”: it will create the Windows 8 install USB key for you. (NB: requires a 4GB or greater USB key).

…but if you try this on any other physical Mac, Apple blocks that feature. The key you create will work on EVERY Mac – there’s nothing magical about it.

NB: if you have a Windows 8 DVD but don’t own an Air, and you know someone who does, it’s probably worth borrowing theirs now, to make one of those keys, in case you need it later!

NB: alternatively, if you have access to a machine that already has Windows installed, you can use Microsoft’s “create a Windows8 boot disk / installer” app (says win7, but works for win8 too). Unless you have a recent version of Windows, though, you’ll need to download hundreds of megabytes of .NET updates before this will run – which makes this a slow and irritating option.

How to export timesheets from OfficeTime

OfficeTime is one of the more popular/higher rated time-tracking apps for iOS / OS X. On the whole, it’s fine.

But exporting the data – which is half of the app’s purpose – is extremely difficult. There’s no docs I could find either in the app or on the website. You have to google, get lucky, and find some old blog posts by the author with hints. And even then you still have to jump through a 9-step process.

Every time I need to do this, its sufficiently un-obvious that I forget how and have to figure it out again. So, here’s a step by step:

  1. You must have a wifi network that both your computer and iphone are on
    • Yes, really :(.
  2. Run OfficeTime on the desktop
  3. Create a new project you will never use (author requires you to do this – if you don’t create the blank project, the app quits itself!)
    • I prefer names like “Delete this that Officetime created”
  4. Run the app on iphone
  5. Go to the Settings menu (cog icon from the home screen)
  6. Select “Desktop Sync”
  7. Select “Sync with”
  8. …if everything’s working, your computer name will appear in the list…
  9. On the computer, ACCEPT the sync
  10. …nothing happens. None of your data appears, but don’t panic, this is “as expected”
  11. On the computer, open the Reports menu, and create any report – your data from iPhone will finally appear

…after that, it’s plain sailing. The UX of the desktop app is poor, but it’s trivial from here to get to Excel, and clean up the data.

UPDATE: getting it into Excel…

At first, I thought you should use the “Reports” menu.

Don’t do that – the export GUI is terrible, it saves files in the wrong format, and … the output format is harder for Excel to use. There’s an easier, better way…


  1. Open the QuickStart menu
  2. …this will silently, magically, have gained a set of new options now that your iPhone is connected. One for each project on the iPhone
  3. Select the project you want to export. A window will appear with all the data, nicely formatted, easy to read
  4. NB: for me, the desktop app creates a phantom “0 minutes long” additional entry when you do this. Select it and delete it
  5. Select all the rows in the window, then CMD-C (copy), switch to Excel/ and CMD-V (paste)
    • (this uses a better format than the built-in exporter, and you can manually clean it up)

This gives you the exact times, down to the nearest minute. Most people don’t bill their client that way – although it’s good to show the actual numbers, you usually want to do a precise (accurate) total, and then round to the nearest 15 minutes for each billable period.

Here’s the Excel / OOO formula for that:

Create a SUM cell for all your times (use the appropraite column, not C6:C10):

Create a ROUNDING cell for final number (C12 is wherever you put your SUM cell above):
=CEILING(C12; 1/24/60 * 15 )

NB: the “15” in that last formula is the “number of minutes to round to” … replace it with “30” for half-hours, “60” for hours … etc.

Fixing Firefox: Prevent it quitting and losing all your work

Are you having this problem?

“I tell Firefox to ask before quitting, but it always quits without asking”

Especially on Macs, where cmd-w (close tab) and cmd-q (close window) are immediately next to each other…


It looks as though Firefox won’t fix this. It’s been 3 years, and it’s been reported to them plenty.

In the meantime… I found one solution that *does* work:

Plugin: “Always Ask” (tested on OS X Mountain Lion, with Firefox 16 – works fine)

Background / history

I find it interesting. The developers decide to remove features – but seem to have misunderstood how/why those were important to the userbase.

Fortunately, the Firefox team are extremely open with their process. Anyone can see the reasoning and the debate that goes into each change – and can comment on it themselves with their own feedback.

So, reading the bug reports on, you can build up a picture. My impression – based on reading a bunch of these reports over the past few years – is that it went something like this:

  1. “The ONLY reason someone would want to “not quit” is because they lose all open tabs”
  2. “We’ve changed Firefox so that it re-opens all tabs by default, all the time”
  3. “Therefore: we can remove the feature”

That’s pretty sound reasoning. Although (and I’m not sure why?) … it seems they forgot to remove the GUI that lets users *insist* on the original behaviour, and to remove the three about:config flags that let advanced users fine-control it. Those are all still there, but they don’t work (any more).

But … by browsing the open bug reports, we find a bunch more reasons why Firefox had the original feature (just a sampling from what I read) :

  1. Accidentally closing would lose your set of opened-tabs (OK, they understood that one!)
  2. Firefox has disabled long-term disk caching for the past 4+ years – this is a basic feature of web-browsers, but to workaround bugs in their implementation, where data could get corrupted, Firefox mostly disabled it. It’s proving a long and difficult task to fix it, partly because the rest of the browser has changed so much in that time, and partly because the original implementation was poorly designed (I’ve been watching the bug thread for 3+ years now)
    • …so, when you restart Firefox, ALL your data has to be re-loaded from the web.
  3. If you’re offline when you accidentally quit: BANG! You (often) lose EVERYTHING.
  4. Even if you’re online: Firefox reloads every page. This can take a lot of bandwidth, and a minute or more to complete on broadband … on dialup, or tethered iPhone, it can take minutes or tens of minutes
  5. Some webpages WILL NOT reload after quitting, as a security precaution (for instance: internet banking). If you were typing into a form … the data there is lost, forever, with no workaround
  6. On Macs / OS X: the “close tab” shortcut (used hundreds of times per day) is adjacent to the “quit Firefox” shortcut (used rarely)
    • …OS X has a feature where you can re-assign those shortcuts. If you use this feature, Firefox IGNORES THE OPERATING SYSTEM, and continues to use cmd-q (although it will allow you to use whatever else you chose “in addition”)
    • On Windows, Linux, etc – the shortcuts are very different, so that it’s very difficult to achieve this. In many versions, it’s impossible – only OS X has a global “kill everything” shortcut for each app

…which explains why people get so angry and frustrated at the removal of this feature from the browser.

In short:

  • ONE reason to do with another Firefox behaviour (the thing that Firefox authors “fixed”)
  • MULTIPLE reasons to do with a major Firefox bug that no-one can fix
  • ONE reason to do with online security (that’s very unlikely to change! The security problem will always be there)
  • ONE reason to do with the design of OS X

I suspect that the most common of these reasons is the Mac-specific one. So it’s very likely that a bunch of Firefox developers – who don’t use Macs – wouldn’t have been ABLE to see the problem for themselves. That underlines the importance of consulting your user-base…

Gmail NEVER LOADS in Firefox? Cookies cleared, still get a blank screen? Try this…

After trying 4 or 5 things from this several-years-old page on Firefox’s support forums, I finally hit upon one that worked:

“For the heck of it tonight I clicked on Gmail in my calendar and it finally went to my gmail inbox.”

In my case, I just went to Google Groups, and clicked the Gmail link from the top navbar. Lo and behold – it works!

(this is after a week of having no way to access Gmail from my main web browser)


Looking at the problems other people have had, my guess is that Google’s code for running Gmail has some illegal (i.e. breaks-the-standard) bits in there that try to get around the browser standards by doing silly things with caching. Some of those are … fragile, perhaps … and tend to break easily. Over time, Google has added more and more unnecessary “features” to that code (e.g. I often have to wait for “connecting to google chat”, even though I have google chat permanently disabled and will never EVER use it) … there’s a *lot* of code in there these days; lots that could go wrong!

Normally, a Refresh of a page would fix this – that’s how the WWW was designed in the first place, as a core feature – but Google’s (my guess) playing so fast-and-loose that they’re *also* (deliberately? or accidentally?) bypassing the refresh. I can imagine several well-meaning reasons they might do that, but in the end I’d rather they stuck to the standards, instead of creating these “breaks permanently” problems for people.

And, of course, there’s no Google support for this problem. Once it strikes you, GOOD LUCK! (you’ll need it)

iMac crashed; wouldn’t turn on! (black screen)

At 27″, it’s too big to “simply” take in to the Apple store. In desperation, I followed this support article from Apple that’s for older iMacs and officially no longer supported.

Which is a pity, because in typical Apple fashion, they’ve deprecated an article that’s still accurate and useful. Following the steps in that article (copy/pasted below in case Apple ever deletes the webpage – something they’ve a habit of doing, sadly), my fans roared to life and the iMac REVIVED!

Resetting the SMU can resolve some computer issues such as not starting up, not displaying video, sleep issues, fan noise issues, and so on. If your computer still exhibits these types of issues even after you’ve restarted the computer, try resetting the SMU. To reset the SMU on one of these iMacs:

Turn off the computer by choosing Shut Down from the Apple menu, or by holding the power button until the computer turns off.

[NOTE — in my case, OS X had crashed completely, so there was no “turning off” to do – I had to yank the power cable out, and after that, it wouldn’t switch on]

Unplug all cables from the computer, including the power cord.
Wait 10 seconds.
Plug in the power cord while simultaneously pressing and holding the power button on the back of the computer.
Let go of the power button.
Press the power button once more to start up your iMac.

I then had to repeat the process – but with a *fifteen second* wait, as per the support page that seems to supercede the article above – to get the fans to shut up.

Google Docs 2012: Google loses your documents

Beware – latest version of Google Docs has the Gmail bug whereby emails (documents) randomly disappear and become completely inaccessible (this happens a few times a year with Gmail’s IMAP client). With Gmail, you can use the web interface to get around it and see the actual email – but with Google Docs, I don’t know of an alternative route. What you get is that Google appears to have deleted your data, with no comeback.

I just saw it now with Google Docs where a doc created yesterday allegedly didn’t exist any more – it had been removed from history, from recent documents, and … most distressing of all … it resulted in zero hits if you searched for it.


There’s none – it’s just Google’s software being stunningly bad (again).

You have to wait. And pray. And wait some more. And click random things. And pray some more.

For me, clicking around on the different tabs on the left hand side (Home, All Items, Owned by Me) after a minute or so it randomly reappeared.

SaaS In the Cloud: Screwing the User, yet again…

I’m coming back to this topic more and more, because these abuses of web and HTML services are getting more and more damaging to the users.

If the “old” version of Google Docs doesn’t have this bug, it doesn’t matter – Google has already confiscated it from us. Unlike the core concept of desktop, laptop, and home computers … Google repeatedly takes the software that you possessed, and destroys it, for no reason other than to make things a little easier for engineers who don’t like to support the bad code they shipped.

That’s what this is about: people who use Cloud/SaaS to avoid taking responsibility for the apps they created.

GitHub 2nd chance: infinite crashes

I’m periodically re-trying GitHub’s GUI client, just in case it becomes stable enough for anyone to use on a real project.

Today, with the latest version: every time I start the app, it immediately hard-crashes. The app is literally unusable – it won’t run at all.

At least with the previous versions it would actually start up, so … this is a pretty big step backwards. If it had decent error reporting, like most apps do, I might be able to work out what’s wrong, but of course that’s one of the original problems with GitHub’s app – it disables all error reporting.

(as an aside: it’s interesting that Apple’s Mac App Store has made it so rare to see an app crash that … I can’t even be bothered to try and fix this app or complain about it. For an app to crash on startup is so VERY far behind the current “normal” for apps that … it’s just not worth the effort. I think the Mac App Store is one of the worst things to happen to computing in the last 20 years [if the US govt allows Apple and Microsoft to continue in this way, computers will become a thing of the past], but I have to admit it is achieving some great things)

How to fix Firefox’s stupid “new tab” page grid of random websites

Firefox … ah, how we love watching you make terrible usability decisions, and then force them upon your users!

FF now has this ridiculous page – WHICH YOU CANNOT DISABLE in Firefox settings:

Fixing it

Since it’s not supported as an user-configurable option, you have to open the magic low-level settings page. Type this into your web browser, as if you were visiting a new website:


You’ll get a list of settings, and a search bar. In the search bar, type:


You’ll get something like this:

…double-click the “browser.newtabpage.enabled” line until it says “false” in the final column. This will probably make it go bold:

…et voila! You’re back to a normal web-browser. Like you’ve been used to, all these years…

Why Firefox was stupid to add this “magic” page, in my opinion

For those that are interested, here’s why I’m scathing about this page:

Most of all … because it actually breaks Firefox’s core feature (searching using Google).

That’s just downright stupid. How come no-one noticed this? Why on earth did they ship something that breaks the core web-browser functionality? I have no idea. Google’s Chrome team must be delighted when stuff like this happens – it just drives more and more people to stop using Firefox.

  1. While this page is enabled, Google searches from the Search bar … hang every time for me
    • You have to hit the Search button twice – or wait several seconds before pressing it (the first click is accepted, but Firefox bugs mean it can’t actually load the page)
    • I’m guessing this is because the browser is unable to “load a new page” until the grid page has finished loading? Anything I do before the “grid tiles” have finished appearing gets ignored
  2. Random webpages from your history are thrown up on screen
    • Have fun explaining to a new client why you have their competitor’s website open on your browser during a meeting
    • It’s pretty, but it’s not even useful. For most of us, when we open a new tab, chances are we’re about to visit Google. Firefox has spent 10+ years training people to do exactly this!

Warning: OS X Lion downloads gigabytes of data, secretly

When you “upgrade” to Lion, be aware that Apple will silently wipe your “auto install / update” settings, and start aggressively downloading every update it can find for every Apple app you use.

In my case, this was gigabytes of data – I really don’t care (and don’t want) “upgrades” to PhotoBooth and other trash that Apple pre-installs. But, because Apple wants to force these on you, they’d already wasted large amounts of bandwidth (on my laptop – on a desktop broadband connection, I wouldn’t care), and reduced my internet browsing for a few days before I found this out.

So … when you upgrade … remember to open “Software Updater”, and change the setting (that Apple has overwritten), back to “don’t check automatically”. Sadly, there’s no setting for “don’t download stuff unless I tell you to” – but at least turning off the auto-check avoids this.