Google takes to the skies

By | September 15, 2010
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In the Computers newsletter this month:

  • Google takes to the skies
  • How to convert almost any kind of file – without downloading any new software
  • A tip from next door – Louize’s top tab tip
  • New book: Not out just yet.


Well, the new book I mentioned last time is finished and at the printing company now.  It’s not available for sale yet – they tell me it’ll be ready in a day or two.  But if you’re curious, you can read a bit more about it below (and yes, Alastair did help a bit more by keeping me awake to get the last finishing touches done – and I even borrowed his piggy bank for a photo for the book!)

I’ve also got yet another clever thing from Google (I’m determined the next issue will be Google-free – they’re cropping up all the time!) and a way to convert almost any kind of file you’re having trouble with.

Google Sky Maps

I was impressed by Google Maps when it first came out.  And then when they did Street View and Google Ocean, that had me impressed, too.  But this latest one is even more ambitious.

If you go to you’ll get their latest set of maps – of the night sky.  You can move around it in the same way as you do their ordinary maps.  Or you can search for particular things.  Instead of typing in “Plymouth” or “Cumbria” you can search for “Moon” or “Milky Way”.

It’s not entirely complete – hardly surprising, really, since the Universe is quite big, so I’m told!  Sometimes when you try to zoom in, you’ll find they don’t have a zoomed in picture, just the one from further away.  But even so, it’s an amazing site to play with.

Since quite a lot of the sky looks similar, they’re also putting some links to interesting bits across the bottom.  They haven’t finished but I found the “Backyard Astronomy” and “Chandra X-Ray” ones interesting.  Well worth a look.

Oh and in the top left of the window you’ll see links to see their maps of the Moon and Mars.  (Helpful if you’re ever stuck on the Moon and can’t find your way home).


(When I recently wrote about a website showing flight plans, I heard back from someone who’d found it especially interesting because he’s a retired airline pilot – I wonder if there are any retired astronauts out there reading this one?)


Converting files: Video files, photos, graphics, documents…

Every so often I get asked how to convert a file from one type to a different type.  Or someone says “I’ve been emailed this file and I don’t have a program to open it.  What can I do?”

Before I used to answer “It depends – what kind of file is it?”  There are different programs for converting different kinds of file.  And If you’ve been emailed a file you can’t read it might be best to get a “viewer” program that lets you view (but not edit) the file.

But there’s a website that can convert almost any kind of file to any other kind. can convert graphics, video, photos, spreadsheets/Excel, Powerpoint, Openoffice, Word, (pauses for deep breath) pdf, Publisher, and text documents.  That’s not all, either – it can do more obscure documents like eps or rar files, if you ever happen to come across them.

You just go to the website and tell it where on your computer the file is.  It automatically works out what format it’s in and gives you a choice of what format you’d like it to be in.  Tell it that, give it your email address and it’ll email you the finished file.

Handy if you have (say) an Excel or Word file you want to email to someone but they don’t have Word or Excel.  Or if you’ve been given some instructions in “tiff” format and you’ve no idea what to do with it!

Tip from next door – tabbed browsing

Next door to the room I work in is where Louize, Laura, Emma and Georgia answer the phones, handle all the post and send out all the books.  With talking to so many people who are getting to grips with PCs, they’ve got a good idea of what tips people find most useful!  This time, here’s a tip from Louize:

When on the internet and you’re looking at various sites and want several pages open you can hold down Ctrl and press T to open new tabs and it makes it soooo much easier to skip from page to page.  Only it’s not recommended if you’re making a payment online (see the article a month or so ago: /NL150810.htm )

And an extra tip: when Louize was passing this on to me we got talking about another keyboard trick: once you’ve got several tabs open, hold down the ctrl key and tap the tab key (just above caps lock) and it’ll switch between the tabs you have open – saving you using the mouse.

A very quick word about my latest book

I’ll tell you more about the new book in a few days, once I get the delivery from the printing company.  It’s something a bit different, this book.  Not about computers – not entirely, anyway. I first started thinking about it a few months ago when a big well known company diddled me out of a few pounds.  Not much – but enough to get me annoyed.  I did a bit of research and then made a 30 second phone call that got my money back, without any quibble.

That was the start. From then on the idea for this book kept nagging at me: “You really should write this book” it kept saying in the back of my head.  “Everyone could do with knowing about all this – it’s not fair to keep it to yourself”.

But as I say, I’ll give you more information once I’ve got the printed copies back – hopefully in a few days.

Right – that’s all for this time.  I’ve got to make sure we’ve got a space cleared in the warehouse ready for the new book!


Tim Wakeling

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