A few years back, Google introduced “GMail Paper” as an April Fool’s prank. The idea was that by clicking a “Paper Archive” button, you could have any or all of your GMail messages printed out and delivered to you (for free!).
It’s not quite GMail Paper, but this year, for Christmas, Google is letting you send a for-real paper Christmas Card to anyone in the US. It’s limited to one per person, but that’s still a fun idea.
Yes, it’s true. Sesame Street has sold out – to Google! Never mind that whole “Veggie Monster” flap from a few years ago, check out this video of Cookie Monster singing the praises of Google. (“When me hear a bugling sound, it make me want to Google around.”) Kermit the Frog even gets into, billing Cookie Monster as “one of the world’s finest Googlers.” (It’s no wonder, “with a Google, Google here and a Google, Google there.”)
What’s truly amazing is that they recorded this song 26 years ago. They managed to sell out 16 years before Google launched!
As of about two weeks ago, I now have my very own Google Voice phone number. The coolest thing about this is that I can give people a single phone number and it’ll ring all my phones at once. Much easier than telling them, “well from 9 to 5 I’ll be at my work number, unless I go to lunch, in which case you can call me on my cell. But after 5 you should call this other number all together.”
As a bonus, I can also set things up so for instance if Dave calls me, the call will go straight to voice mail with a message explaining, “I can’t come to the phone right now, I have to take care of my dog.” (Select others will instead hear about the toasters.)
One other cool thing is that I can put a button on a web site and anyone in the US can call me without having to pay any sort of long distance charges. Just whatever your phone company would charge for a standard incoming call.
(Dunno how long I’ll leave this here, but for a few days anyhow so friends can play with it. If Jennifer Aniston chooses to call, that would be cool too.)
(Update: I removed it on September 5. Jen will just have to call my regular number.)
I’m a little uncertain how I feel about Google knowing my phone habits, but it’s an interesting experiment.
As nearly as I can tell, I’m about the only person in North America who isn’t on Facebook. (Evidently all three of my brothers have joined – though apparently none of them are fully aware of the others’ presence yet.) But I have gone and joined a different cult — I now have a Google Android-based telephone (the T-Mobile G-1).
For me, one of the most appealing parts of the Android phone is the way it integrates your phone book and calendar with Google’s contact manager (built into GMail) and calendar. That’s a fairly killer application for me in that it makes everything a whole lot more portable. The only problem is, GMail isn’t my primary means of contact. I’ve had my Dactylmanor address for more than eight years and prefer to use that one.
GMail offers a partial solution to this in that you can set it up to send messages from another address. The down side to this is that messages go out saying they’re from the GMail address on behalf of the Dactylmanor one. So when other people see it (primarily folks who are using GMail as their main address), they tend to capture the GMail address in their contact lists. If they then write to me at GMail instead of Dactylmanor, it could be a while before I see it.
Being forced to move to GMail as my primary email address would have been a deal-breaker for me. A lot of people know to contact me through Dactylmanor and I really don’t want to deal with managing two addresses. (It’s been more than four years since I got rid of my landline phone, but I still occasionally hear about people calling the old number.)
So I went looking to see if there was a way to get an Android to work with non GMail address. One of the free services Google makes available is “Google Apps for Your Domain“; essentially, they provide a version of GMail, Calendar and their online Documents and Spreadsheet tools that work with a domain name you own. (For example, dactylmanor.org!) I figured that would be my best bet.
The first stop in my investigation was a thread on the Android Community Forums where someone was asking the exact same question I was: Does Android work with Google Apps for Your Domain?
And the answer is a resounding yes. Brilliant! (Apparently Google didn’t plan to do this, but later changed their minds.)
The first thing you have to do is setup your email to go to Google’s mail server. The instructions for that show up in the administration panel when you activate the email system. It’s mildly tedious, but fairly straightforward. You do need to have the ability to set custom records in your domain’s DNS server. (Pair makes this fairly simple.)
When I’m at home, I prefer to use Mozilla Thunderbird for my email rather than Google’s web interface. Setting up a desktop email client is also fairly simple, though given the number of them in existence, it’s not possible to document the step-by-step for every system out there. Google’s instructions provide the basic information for server settings, plus a double-handful of the most common clients.
Throw in the Lightning calendar addon for Thunderbird (as well as the provider for Google calendar), and at this point you have something equivalent to Microsoft Outlook, except that along with Windows, you can also run on Mac, Linux and a few other platforms.
Bringing the Android phone into the mix requires that you dig into it’s settings a little (Home Screen | Menu | SD card & phone storage | Factory data reset) and click the button for “Factory data reset.” (Yeah, that step’s a little scary.) When the phone starts up again, when it asks for your Google account, you instead enter an email address and password for your newly Google-hosted email system.
The phone synchronizes its contact list, calendar and email with what’s on Google’s servers and voilà! The Android is now ready to do your bidding.
The Google ads are gone from this portion of the site. (At least, I think I found all the places where they were set up.) I still need to remove them from the blog on the fandom part of the site, and also from Wylie’s pages. But much as Rome wasn’t built in a day, it took a while to tear it down too.
Just to be clear, I don’t have a problem with companies making money to pay for the content they put on line. I simply don’t agree with Google’s decision to keep track of what sites individuals visit. That’s just a little too invasive and a little too easy to abuse. (I’d love to think I’m part of a larger backlash on this one, but most folks seem fairly oblivious to privacy concerns.)
One thing I do agree with though: Google should try to make their ads a bit more relevant. Looking at my fandom blog just now, Google’s displaying an ad for car insurance. That one’s not only irrelevant to the content of the blog, it’s irrelevant to anything I’ve even looked at online in the past six months.
Google has announced plans to make their ads more “interesting.”
Evidently the plan is that they’re going to track what web sites you visit over time and use that information to decide what ads you might find interesting. They’ve had this capability for years, every time you visit a site with Google ads, they set a cookie in your web browser. By serving up a cookie with the ads, they’re able to track you no matter what sites you visit. If the site includes Google ads, Google will know you visited it.
Do you find it a little creepy that Google will know your every move? They’ll let you opt out. You just have to be know that they’re watching you and also know that there’s a way to turn off the tracking. Because, you know, this is going to be completely obvious to everyone. (Believe that and I have some ocean front property in Colorado I’d like to talk to you about.)
My personal preference for dealing with this is to change my browser settings to discard cookies every time I exit from the browser. That way, none of the various trackers (Google is just the largest company to do this) knows my usage patterns outside a single session.
This is fairly easy in Firefox: Go to Tools menu, select the Options sub-menu and a dialog box will open. On the Privacy tab, change the setting for “Keep Until” to say “I close Firefox.” Note that after making this change, most web sites with logins will require you to login again for each new browser session.
Internet Explorer is a little different, but not too much more difficult: Go to the Tools Menu (you may need to press the [Alt] key to make the menu visible), select the Internet Options sub-menu and a dialog box will open. On the Privacy Tab, click the “Advanced” button.
This will open a new dialog box. Click the “Override automatic cookie handling” checkbox (1). To block ad-based cookies, in the column labeled “Third-party cookies”, select “Block” (2). For greater privacy, you can also choose “Block” from the “First-party cookies” column, however this will prevent some web site logins from working. Check the “Always allow session cookies” which will allow cookies to be set for the current browsing session (3).
Full Disclosure: You may have noticed that my site makes use of Google ads on a number of pages. I don’t care for Google’s new tracking technology, so I’ll be removing the ads completely over the next week or so. Between the privacy concerns, the lack of relevancy, and the number of blatant scams appearing in the ads, I don’t think they’re worthwhile.
Until I remove the ads, I’ve modified the settings in my Adsense account to exclude my content from the interest-based ads. In the meantime, Google’s context-based ads will continue to appear. It may be entertaining to see what sort of ads result from this post. 🙂
I’ve been playing with Google’s new “Chrome” web browser for the past 24 hours. Not literally of course. I did take some time off to sleep last night and go to work today. (Just don’t ask how many hours of sleep and did I mention that I write web-based applications for a living? The sort of thing that will likely be required to work in Chrome?)
In all, I’m pretty impressed with it. I have found a few minor problems with it — for instance, selecting all the text in a sentence (such as this one) which wraps around onto more than line on the page, results in the “selection marker” spanning the entire page. Also, my bookmarks weren’t imported. But all in all, it’s been pretty solid so far. If Google puts any sort of marketing muscle behind this like they have with the Google Toolbar (when’s the last time you saw a PC without the Google Toolbar?) or GMail, they could put a serious dent in Internet Explorer’s market share. (Depending on who you ask, about 70-80% of the people on the web are using Internet Explorer, 15-20% are using Firefox, and the rest are using Safari, Opera, or another small player.)
One of Microsoft’s practices which people have been pointing at as anti-competitive is that every copy of Windows comes with Internet Explorer pre-installed. Internet Explorer’s default search engine is Live.com.
In the past, Google has protested this practice. (One theory is that Chrome was released as a hedge in case Microsoft does any further integration between Internet Explorer and Live.com.) The default search engine for Chrome is (of course) Google, but they appear to be attempting to forestall any claims of hypocrisy. When you run Chrome for the first time, before you do anything else, you have to confirm your choice of search engine. In addition to Google’s, you can also choose from Yahoo!, Live Search, AOL or Ask.
So by now you’re probably thinking this sounds pretty cool, and I want to get me a copy of that “Chrome” thing, but what the heck does this have to do with any sort of nuclear ambitions?
Well, as you know, when you install the Google Earth application, you explicitly agree to refrain from using Google Earth to control nuclear reactors. (It’s very similar to how you are forbidden from using iTunes for “…the development, design, manufacture or production of missiles, or nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.”
As is my habit, I read Chrome’s End User License Agreement before downloading the program. It seems to be a lightly edited version of the boilerplate license agreement from all of Google’s online services (e.g. Blogger, Picasa, etc.). I’m by no means a lawyer, but one of the more interesting clauses in this license appears to claim that you grant Google a license to use anything you publish (or upload!) via Chrome.
But there’s nothing in there forbidding you from using Chrome to control nuclear reactors.
This is kind of cool. Google, in association with the X-Prize foundation, is sponsoring a $20-million prize for the first funded team to land a robotic rover on the moon. (There’s also a $5-million prize for the second team and another $5-million for meeting various bonus objectives.)
Actually, this is very cool. It’s a return to the Moon. They’ve even established some goals — finding water ice in the permanently shadowed craters on the poles, having a probe survive the lunar night (equivalent to two weeks of “brutal cold”), and finding the artifacts left behind by the previous lunar missions.
To promote the contest, the Google X-Prize has put together a very inspirational video.
I’d love to see this succeed. Getting back to the Moon is the first step toward exploration of other planets.
But one thing troubles me. Google makes nearly all of its money from advertising, and I’m suddenly reminded of D.D. Harriman pointing out that because it’s visible from everywhere on earth, The Moon would be a great place to put a billboard…