Google Improves Currency Support in Spreadsheets

In July 2013, I wrote about using custom scripts to improve currency formatting in Google Spreadsheets (Tuenti worked in English, but operated in Euros, which was not well-supported by Google’s locale options).  Over the last two months, Google has launched a new version of spreadsheets  which exposes many more currency formatting options – although they’re a bit buried in the UI.  Here’s how to find them:

Step 1: Format → Number → More Formats … → More Currencies


 Step 2: use auto-complete dialog to find Euros

or whatever your preferred currency happens to be.


Step 3: select the specific formatting variant you want

Google now offers numerous options: the symbol (€) or the code (EUR), position before or after the amount (this is language, not currency dependent; in English, currency symbols go before the amount), and rounding.  Previously, most of these variants would have required writing custom Apps Script code.



Bonus: Google Sheets remembers recently used formatting options at the bottom of the Format → Number menu

This makes subsequent use of a given format much simpler. Unfortunately, recent formats are only remembered in the context of a given spreadsheet.  You’ll have to repeat the above steps for each new sheet you wish to format..  Ideally, I’d like Google to remember recent number formats across sheets.



This functionality eliminates the need for writing custom number formatting functions in Google Apps Scripts, as I showed in my previous post – although that can still be convenient in some circumstances, or for older Google Spreadsheets.  There’s not (yet) a way to automatically convert an old Google Spreadsheet to the latest version; you need to copy content out of the old version, into a new one.




Is Amazon Web Services “too big to fail”?

To borrow some financial market metaphors, it’s hard to argue that cloud providers aren’t a “systemically important” part of the Internet.  If one fails catastrophically, it’s more probable than you might think for others to quickly follow.

Compared to 10 years ago, Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) has greatly simplified web engineering.  Gone are the days of assembling and racking servers – experiences that every start-up experienced in the 90s and even well into the Web 2.0 era.  But any simplification involves trade-offs, and the rise of IaaS is no different.  One to consider is reliability.

With IaaS, you’re outsourcing a good chunk of your reliability to a 3rd party.  They give you an SLA, which at best compensates you for outages, but it’s usually limited  to what you’re paying them – not the true cost to your business of the outage.  At best, the SLA aligns interests a bit; they suffer when they cause you to suffer, albeit it not as much.  In practice, this often works OK.  Cloud providers are pretty reliable, and its very difficult for any young engineering team to credibly claim that their home-grown systems architecture is going to be more reliable than Amazon Web Services (AWS.)

But what if AWS isn’t reliable enough for you?  A straightforward approach is to avoid being dependent on AWS, which is appealing for cost and lock-in reasons in addition to reliability.  If AWS fails, you’ll quickly failover to Google App Engine (GAE), Azure, etc, right? But what happens when a lot more AWS users opt for the same approach? Then an AWS failure becomes a huge load increase on GAE, which could trigger it to fail as well.  The probabilities of AWS failing and GAE failing are not independent.

That is a subtle point: The probability that AWS fails is low.  The probability that GAE fails is low.  The probability that GAE fails, given that AWS fails, is not as low.

And it’s hard to predict. How many AWS users have disaster scenarios where they migrate to GAE?   How significant of an AWS failure would it take to cause them to invoke these failover procedures? How much spare capacity does GAE really have?

The logic above applies to all cloud platforms, not just GAE. The general reasoning is simply that there’s a relatively small set of major cloud providers, such that if a big one fails, so might others.  

The more fragmented and commoditized the cloud infrastructure market is, the safer we all are. As long as AWS is the dominant player, you’re better off – from a reliability standpoint – picking someone smaller and relying on AWS as your failover.  At very least, should your primary provider fail, you’re maximizing your chance that the aggregate hit to your failover will be manageable.