Monday, December 08, 2014

Chromebook 2 Feedback and Review

Now that I've had my Chromebook 2 for a reasonable amount of time, I thought I'd post some more details about my experience.
chromeos

In general, I'm still thrilled with the machine. It's an inexpensive computer with a full laptop typing experience. The audio and video are good, the battery life and charge times are fantastic, and so much is available via web apps these days that I can almost use it for everything. I also like that the operating system is simpler than a traditional desktop O/S. For all the reasons I mentioned in my previous post (Why I Just Bought a Chromebook), I think it's a fantastic device and I'm recommending it to people.

My issues pretty much stem from the fact that Chrome OS has a tiny web app store at this point. There are two ways to fix these issues, either more web apps in the Chrome Web Store or enabling Android (Google Play) apps on Chromebooks. There are rumours of Google Play capability coming to Chromebooks, but I'm not optimistic that will happen on my Chromebook 2. However, I sincerely hope my pessimism is poorly placed.

Here are the main issues I've encountered:

1. GoToMeeting doesn't work (even the web version only allows you to listen--you can't share your video or talk). This is a deal breaker for using my Chromebook as my only computer. Whether it's GoToMeeting or WebEx, I have to be able to participate in meeting using the technology that my employer and customers are using. Yes, Google Hangouts and Sqwiggle work--that's great--but it doesn't solve the problem. (As I pointed out in my last post, I'm not trying to replace my phone with my laptop and I can actually use WebEx or GoToMeeting on my phone, so that mitigates this problem.)

2. Skype doesn't work. This isn't a work problem for me, so I'm putting it in a different point. I use Skype with family, so I want it on my laptop. (Again, I can use this on my phone.)

3. Torrent files. I'm working on this one, but I have yet to find a good solution for downloading files via torrents. There are apps in the Chrome Web Store, but I tried one and it just didn't work. I'll have to try another. There's one that costs a few dollars--I might have to resort to actually paying for an app.

4. Heat. I'm not actually using a thermometer, but the Chromebook feels hot to me when I'm using it on my lap. By comparison, my wife's MacBook Air doesn't seem to get as warm, but my old Acer laptop is actually hotter than the Chromebook.

5. Google Cloud Print. I was pleased to learn about the Google Cloud Print option. It allows me to print to a printer connected to another machine (because you can't install print drivers on Chrome OS). However, it simply doesn't work very well. My printer isn't that old (it's wireless), but printing with Google Cloud Print results in such bad results that it's almost useless. For example, it's common for my documents to print with the last few characters of every line cut off.

6. SD Card. This is a minor annoyance, but every time I open my Chromebook, I'm told to safely remove my SD card--not on reboot mind you, but literally every time I login. I don't want to remove the card and I shouldn't get that error all the time. I just ignore it, but I'm not the only one seeing this issue and I hope it gets resolved in an update.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Why I Just Bought a Chromebook

I’m sure some people would see the title of this post and say, “Why wouldn't you buy a Chromebook? They’re a steal!” Ultimately, I agreed with this view and bought one. However, I went through a period of uncertainty when I looked to replace my current laptop. Here are the main factors that swayed me in favour of the Chromebook 2.

toshiba chromebook 2 geeklit cawood blog

But before I get to that, I think it’s important to mention that I took my time with this decision. What else did I consider? I weighed the pros and cons of many different options: MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Windows laptop, Ubuntu laptop, Microsoft Surface, Windows tablet, Android tablet, and iPad. We already have a MacBook Air, Windows desktop and iPad in the house, so that also played into my decision.

1. Affordability -- Chromebooks are remarkably affordable. Unlike a MacBook Air, or a Surface 3, they're cheap. I bought my new Toshiba CB35-B3340 Chromebook 2 for $329.99. That's about a third of what I would have paid for the others. Even if it turns out that I don't like the Chromebook, I've made a small investment to find that out.

2. Getting my work done -- I don't care about brands very much and I'm not a zealot when it comes to technology. I just want to get my work done and spend more time with my wife and daughter. If I can do everything I need to do on the Chromebook, I'm happy. These days, I spend most of my time either in email and Word documents. I can use web versions of Outlook, Gmail and Word to do all that. If I need something else, I can remote into my Windows Server at home or my Windows desktop at work, or just use my Wife's MacBook Air. An obvious example is Visual Studio for coding. However, these is a web version that I can try even for that. I'm very curious what the dev experience will be like on a Chromebook.

3. I’m not replacing my phone -- While it's true the Chrome App Store doesn't offer the millions of apps in the iOS Store, or the Google Play store, or even the Windows App Store, that's not what I need in a laptop. I have my phone with me at all times and I don't need to send text messages or play Flappy Bird on my laptop. (BTW -- Angry birds is in the Chrome App Store)

4. ‘Traditional’ operating systems are too much work -- I was already thinking this way, but a few weeks ago, I picked up a Windows 8 tablet I use at work and found that it was running Windows Update. I just wanted to write a note in OneNote, and I couldn't because the operating system is huge and powerful and therefore takes time to update. This is just one example of the ways that large traditional operating systems (Windows, MacOS, Linux) are just too much work for my use case (see "Getting my work done" above). Chrome O/S is simple and I like the sound of that.

Update: Now that I have my Chromebook (I'm writing this update on it), I can say that I'm impressed. I ran into a minor issue during set up (Chromebook setup freezes at Determining Device Configuarion) but restarting was enough to quickly resolve the issue. Since then I haven't hit any hurdles and I'm really enjoying the experience.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Chromebook setup freezes at "Determining Device Configuration"

Just a quick note about this setup problem that a few new Chromebook users have encountered. During the initial setup phase, the message "Determining Device Configuration" appears and the setup process stalls.

Apparently, one person waited four hours in this state. I guess I don't have that kind of patience. I simply shut down the computer (after about 15 mins), restarted it a few seconds later and the setup process completely immediately. If this doesn't work for you, you can search for info about hard reseting your Chromebook.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Leaving the Microsoft MVP Program

In a few days, my time as a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) will come to a close. Sad, yes I know… OK, not really so much sad as the natural evolution of things. I first received the MVP award a mere four days before my daughter was born. Even back then, I knew that I would have to eventually bow out of the program. Of course, there are people in the program who successfully juggle their job, home life, and somehow still manage to be excellent MVPs, but I don’t feel I’m one of them, so I’ve asked not to be renewed this year.

The MVP program is excellent and I’ve enjoyed being a part of it. Most of all, I’ll miss going to the MVP Summit and hanging out with the other MVPs. There are other benefits of course—access to early information, free software—but those don’t match the amount of effort it takes to get the award. As I describe in the post mentioned below, you really have to doing community work because you love doing community work—otherwise the time investment just doesn’t make sense.

I already sent the obligatory “so long and thanks for all the fish” message to my fellow MVPs. I wish you all well and keep up the excellent work!

Microsoft MVP Banner geeklit cawood

BTW -- If you don’t know what the  Microsoft MVP award is, here’s some content from a post I wrote called How do I Become a Microsoft MVP?

First of all, if there is only one thing to remember about the MVP award, it’s this: the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) award isn’t a certification. There are no set criteria or steps that someone can take to become an MVP. As the name implies, it’s an award.

“This award is given to exceptional technical community leaders who actively share their high quality, real world expertise with others. We appreciate your outstanding contributions in SharePoint Services technical communities during the past year.”
-
Microsoft

In practical terms, this means helping with community-focused resources such as contributing to newsgroups, speaking at conferences, writing/blogging about your subject (e.g., SharePoint) and contributing code to CodePlex (an open source site).

Microsoft MVP Logo geeklit cawood

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

My ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Video

Here is my ALS Ice Bucket Challenge video. I was challenged by my good friend and advocate for ALS fundraising efforts, Rasool Rayani.

You can contribute online to the Walk for ALS (ALS society of BC).

"Also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. There is no cure and only one medicine to slow its progress has been approved."
http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/ice-bucket-challenge-brings-millions-of-dollars-to-battle-als-1.2739663

Thursday, July 10, 2014

MVPs and the Evolution of Windows

I’ve been mentioned on the Microsoft MVP Award Program blog. The post is about MVPs and the evolution of Windows.

From the article:

For more than two decades, MVPs have been on the forefront of helping people around the world make the most of their Microsoft technologies, including its centerpiece, the Windows operating system, from Windows 3.1 to Windows 8.1 and all the releases in between. Today, with Microsoft’s new rapid release cadence, their expertise is more important than ever…

In Canada, five MVPs produced guidance for the Windows XP End of Life campaign. Here are some highlights:

Brian Bourne | Windows XP End Of Support – Mitigating the Security Concerns
Yannick Plavonil | Chères entreprises, réveillez-vous Windows XP c’est fini dans un mois!
Sean Wallbridge | I Love My Surface Pro 2 and Windows 8.1
Colin Smith | XP End of Support – Do You Need New Hardware?
Stephen Cawood | Windows XP End of Life Is Coming

Turn off Image or Video Prompt in Snagit 12

If you haven’t tried Snagit, you should check it out. It’s much better than relying on the old school screen capture mechanisms. When I was taking screenshots for my books, Snagit saved me a great deal of time. As just one example, try capturing an open dropdown menu using just Windows screen capture shortcuts—it’s like trying to catch a greased pig.

I just upgraded to Snagit 12 and found that every time I take an image capture, I’m prompted to select either a video or image capture (see the big blue buttons in the screenshot below). I rarely use the video capture, so this is a waste of time. Here’s how to turn it off.

image

First, check if you’ve got an old version of Snagit installed. I had 11 and 12 installed and was not getting the behaviour I wanted. I had to uninstall Snagit 11 to get rid of the old editor.

Next, go to the preferences window and check the hotkey associated with the default capture profile. I like to use print screen, so I’m going to change the “Global capture” shortcut key to something else. To get to the preferences window, you can right-click the icon in the task menu (bottom right corner of your screen with the hidden icons), then choose Preferences and the Hotkeys tab.

image

After I’ve freed up the right shortcut key, I’m going to associate that key (PrtScn) with a profile that doesn’t ask if I want to take video.

To do this, choose the “Send to Clipboard” profile from the Manage Profiles dialog, and then click the Hotkey button at the bottom to associate this with the keyboard shortcut you’d like to use. Note that I wanted to go directly to the Snagit editor, so I have that enabled.

image

Now I’m back to the lightning fast capture that I’ve come to love. When I use the hotkey, I go straight to the Snagit editor. If I wanted, I could add styles (such as borders) as part of the profile and they would be automatically applied.

image

p.s., If you’re wondering how I captured the Snagit windows. I cheated. I used Alt+PrtScn to do it old school.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Aquatic Informatics Blog Post: AQUARIUS: Where Smart Water Data Meets the SMART Tunnel

Check out my first blog post on the Aquatic Informatics blog: AQUARIUS: Where Smart Water Data Meets the SMART Tunnel

In this post, I discuss the engineering feat that is the SMART (Stormwater Management and Road Tunnel) Tunnel. It stretches 9.7 km beneath Malaysia’s capital and function both as a roadway as a storm drainage system.

SMART Tunnel Aquatic Informatics Blog by Stephen Cawood

- Image Courtesy: ENTURA, Hydro Tasmania

From the post:

The “Stormwater Management And Road Tunnel” (SMART Tunnel), has been featured in many news stories and television shows such as Extreme Engineering on the Discovery Channel, Build It Bigger on the Science Channel, Megastructures on the National Geographic Channel, and Man Made Marvels on the Science Channel. The reason the Kuala Lumpur tunnel is so amazing starts with its length: it is the second longest storm drainage tunnel in Asia at 9.7 km (6.0 mi). The truly amazing aspect of the SMART tunnel is that it’s the first dual-use storm drainage and road structure in the world. The tunnel is mainly used to ease traffic congestion in Kuala Lumpur, but there is a storm drainage system under the two decks of cars. Essentially, the tunnel acts as a reservoir to decrease the peak of water flows of the Klang river and therefore mitigate the severity of floods. However, that’s not all. In the event of a bad flood, the road decks can also be used to drain the storm water away from the city. That’s right. The car levels can be completely filled with water as well!

Update: It was recently announced that a similar tunnel project is planned for Jakarta:

Jakarta Announces Plan for Integrated Tunnels to Manage Traffic and Floods