Google, you’ve failed me

Over the past few years, I’ve come to assume that any piece of information in the known universe is only a few keystrokes away, thanks to the wonders of Google.

So today, while wondering when the new Best Buy store at the Mall of America is opening, I naturally turned to Google, expecting an immediate answer.

For those of you now firing up Google in another browser tab, I’ll save you the trouble: try any combination of keywords you like, but you’re just not going to find this information.

Everything that came up for me is speculation from last summer, along the lines of “Best Buy to move into Mall of America?” Well no crap. I’ve seen the old Sports Authority storefront closed up with huge “Best Buy coming soon” signs all over it. It’s a done deal, and it’s probably just a matter of days or weeks before they open. The Best Buy logo was filled in a panel at a time, like puzzle pieces, but it’s all there now so it can’t be much longer. Not that I’ll ever know, thanks to Google.

Update (a few minutes later): Finally I gave up on the Best Buy-centric approach and just googled "Mall of America" "new stores" and found this page stating vaguely that the store will be opening in “late summer or early fall.” Boo.

Online privacy is an oxymoron

Big Brother is watching youAs I read this summary of complaints about some Google thing, it made me glad once again that I’ve made a reasonable effort to keep my truly private information to myself (as far as I know), and have always tried to keep in mind that anything I put into any Internet-based system, even if it’s supposed to be “private,” is something that could potentially be seen by eyes unknown to me.

Not that I disagree with the people who are pissed about this but… well, if it’s really sensitive information, don’t leave it in someone else’s database.

Forget what I said before; we have a winner!

It’s a given that anything I post here is going to be brain-deflatingly stupid. But this one goes beyond even what I would have expected of Microsoft. Fortunately, thanks to a highly effective Google search, I was able to solve the problem in minutes.

The problem was this: For a site I’m working on, we are manipulating the 404 error feature to allow users to set up customized URLs. If the URL entered doesn’t match a real page, it gets fed into this 404 error script, which looks up the path in a database and redirects the user to their customized page. A bit of a hack, but it’s pretty slick.

As usual, I am developing the site using Firefox as my test browser. But… UH-OH! Surprise! When giving a demo of this feature today using Internet Explorer, we discovered it didn’t work! Internet Explorer was not returning the server’s 404 error page, instead using its own internal version (which we’ve all seen and most generally ignore).

Drat! What to do? Well, as it turns out (thanks to the aforementioned Google search), the problem is quite simple. To quote the unbelievable but, as I verified, 100% accurate description I found on this page:

Internet Explorer has a lightly-documented “feature” that stops it from serving any custom 404 error page that is less than 512 bytes long. Your visitors will instead be sent to IE’s own 404 page, which is generic and suggests they use an MSN search to “look for information on the Internet.” That’s one way to lose visitors! Make sure your custom 404 error page is over this limit — about 10 full lines of text and HTML should be enough.

Yep, that’s it. I did my best Bart Simpson-at-the-blackboard impersonation, filling my 404.html file with a large comment block wherein I repeated (about 130 times, for good measure) the phrase “This block exists solely to force Internet Explorer to load this page.”

Sure enough, it worked. D’oh!

Thinking a bit more about this, I at least think I understand why Microsoft chose to do this. “If the server’s default 404 error page is so short,” I imagine them musing, “then it probably doesn’t offer users much helpful information. And since our wonderful web browser is much more important to our users than the web pages themselves, let’s just butt in and do things our way. (Is there really any other way anyway?)”