Cops in hunt for donuts

Every so often, traffic and pedestrians using a street or avenue in Manhattan are forced to a standstill. This is because a crazy number of police cars (well over 50) are heading in convoy down said street/avenue, flashing their lights and whooping their sirens. Traffic is forced to the sides of the road, while pedestrians can’t cross for an age, even when the white man is showing.

Church Street is a favourite for this futile pastime, as is the West Side Highway, the venue for tonight’s escapade.

There’s no obvious reason for their doing this: no armoured truck for them to defend, no presidential motorcade to escort. Somewhere, there’s a donut shop awaiting their imminent arrival.

Conditional minimums in Excel

Simon asked me today how to return the lowest positive value from a horizontal range in Excel. Given that there’s no MINIF function, at first I struggled. (Create an interim series and work off that – not very elegant.)

Then I re-phrased the question: how do you return the Nth lowest value in a range? Ah, we can do that with the little-known SMALL function. And can we find N? Sure we can, using the COUNTIF function.

So, the following formula gets you what you want:

=SMALL([range],COUNTIF([range],"<0")+1)

From the range, count the number of non-positive values, add 1 (the result being N), and return the Nth lowest value.

Beautiful, even if I do say so myself!

Tea-bags and pearl necklaces

I can’t believe that I missed the references to the above in my first reading of the Department of Justice’s verdict on the Google vs. government case. Sure enough, in the footnotes on page eight, both are referenced, the former not relating to traditionally British drinks, the latter having little to do with jewellery, as far as I can tell.

Delay to Windows Vista

If you want an event to be delayed, then let me know what it is along with its due date, and I’ll put it in my Countdown module over on the right, complete with a trailing question-mark.

First, the Shuttle’s launch was delayed. Now, Andy Helm has pointed out that Windows Vista has been pushed back by six months to January 2007. Everything I’ve questioned so far has been proven optimistic.

Transportation in Manhattan

Manhattan’s transport system truly is a work of art, but like that of many big cities, the only feedback you hear comes in the form of complaints.

Basing the road system on a grid makes for simple journeys; numbering rather than naming the streets may avoid some of the charm that accompanies London, but it certainly makes life easier – there is no equivalent of The Knowledge for New York taxi drivers. The accompanying one-way system and synchronisation of traffic-lights up and down the avenues helps keep the city flowing.

Beneath ground, the artistry doesn’t stop. There are two mainline train stations: Grand Central Terminus feeding the north and Penn Station feeding Jersey and Long Island. There are over 40 platforms at Grand Central, over 20 at Penn. Yet you rarely see trains or tracks in Manhattan, save some interweaving of lines with roads north of Central Park.

There are weaknesses with the subway system (it’s confusing to the novice, there’s little coverage on the Upper East Side, accessibility is a serious problem), but it’s efficient and relatively reliable, save the odd strike.

It’s human nature to complain about what you have (everything could be better), but considering the complexity of the system and the fact that it serves many million people every day, it’s hugely impressive. The same is true of London’s system: people are too quick to complain when a train is late or a diversion is in place. True, they could both be better, but once in a while, you should step back and marvel.

Google Finance

So, Google Finance has launched. Although he’s likely to be biased, Matt Cutts highlighted a clear benefit. If you search for a company name, you don’t get an error indicating that you’ve not entered a ticker symbol. Instead, you either get the finance page you were looking for or a list of close matches. Simple, yet so effective.

The draggable maps are elegant and neat (try flicking between the zoom levels and tell me that ain’t sweet!), but maybe more cool than useful.

John Battelle raises some good points, one of these being the fact that Google is slowly intervening in its own search results through its own content offerings – generally for the better, but intervening nonetheless. Keywords such as map, convert and calculate keep you within the Google world. Search for a ticker symbol on google.com (or .co.uk for that matter), and the first result returned is the one from Google Finance. Whether this ethos goes against its core values is another question.

Experienced Polish Woman

We received a flyer under our door earlier today. Under the headline House Cleaning came the following supporting bullet

– Experienced Polish Woman

Due to the capitalisation of each opening letter, I’m not sure whether she’s Eastern European or particularly nifty with the duster.

Worst primary navigation on the internet

I’ve just found the worst primary navigation on the internet. It’s on a site called Britain USA, maintained by the Public Affairs Team of the British Embassy in Washington DC.

The primary navigation that sits atop the entire site consists of a set of images that stereotypically typify Britain, each of which links to a page on the site. Each has an alt text (which is one thing, I suppose), but for those using Firefox, this doesn’t show up on hover (rightly so), leaving you to guess where you might be taken. Here are the images and their destinations.

– Carnarvon Castle (I think): takes you to a page about Wales
– London Eye pod and St. Stephen’s Tower: tourist information (why of course)
– Tennis balls: culture, sport and leisure
– Prince William: the British Royal Family
– Some tartan socks: Scotland
– A bag of fish and chips: food and drink
– A London Underground sign: "Bringing a pet to Britain". Huh?
– The door of Number 10: UK system of government.

Overall, a thoroughly dreadful experience.

Search comparison: CenSEARCHip

Some people have come up with ways of comparing the results of Google’s .com and .cn engines, but here’s the best I’ve seen so far by the Infomatics department at Indiana University.

Allowing comparisons between any two of .cn, .fr, .de and .com (why no .co.uk?), it then creates keyword clouds representing the top ten results from each. It even allows you to do a comparative image search, the images appearing on either side of the screen. An image search for tiananmen is somewhat revealing.

Search anomalies

Some amusing search anomalies on Google of late, both of which still exist at the time or writing. Search google.com for liar and the first result returned is the biography of our beloved Prime Minister; from the Number 10 site itself! Here’s a screenshot if they’ve since "fixed" the problem.

Blair liar screenshot

And search for ashley cole and you get a nice prompt asking whether you want to show results for ashley cole gay midway down the screen.

Ashley Cole gay

The former was due to a link bomb, which has linked a whole bunch of liar-related pages to Tony’s bio. The latter is due to the number of articles containing that combination of words, no doubt fuelled further by this post.

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