My 31 Day Chromebook Challenge Ends Today

Samsung Chromebook
The Samsung Chromebook

The 31 day Chromebook Challenge has been… challenging. There have been some failures. I have learned a lot and developed a huge respect for Chromebooks as a daily work tool.

I have also gone back to Windows or Linux on several occasions, and then realised there was an alternative that could have been used on  the Chromebook.

The Lessons – Chromebooks Offline

I spend a good part of my day on the road and away from Internet connectivity. That has been one of the challenges I faced with the Chromebook. It rose to the occasion beautifully. It is lighter than my Asus Zenbook, and a lot cheaper. I feel no fear of damaging it shoving it in and out of my backpack. I have saved hours on sleep and wakeup time.

ASUS Zenbook UX31E
ASUS Zenbook UX31E

My Zenbook crashes if I suspend it while it is connected to an HDMI port and external USB drive. Often it will not disconnect the external drive without me shutting the computer down and rebooting it. On one occasion I lost and entire day when I had to wait to get home to allow it an hour to go through recovering from a nasty BSOD when I woke it up after unplugging the HDMI cable to my external monitor. A day lost.

The Chromebook handles peripherals reliably and instantly

My Chromebook desk setup
My Chromebook desk setup

The chromebook goes to sleep instantly. If the external monitor is disconnected, all open windows are re-sized and appear on the Laptop screen. When the external monitor and USB devices are connected they are found and activated immediately. Open windows can then be dragged back to the the external monitor. The screen resolution is identified correctly and silently. I simply have to go into settings to identify the orientation of the second monitor once, and ChromeOS remembers it.

The Chromebook is Fast

Asus ultrabook
Asus ultrabook

My Zenbook is A quad core i5 processor. It is fast, it is hot. The fan runs much of the time. After a month with the totally silent Chromebook I find that the fans and heat have become quite distracting.

The Chromebook boots faster than the Zenbook despite the humble Exynos processor. It simply has less work to do. Google us using the Linux kernel for ChromeOS and have stripped alls sorts of un-necessary stuff out of the system. It boots fast, goes to sleep instantly, wakes up instantly, and then spends a few seconds discovering anything plugged into the ports. It takes about 5 seconds to identify and activate the HDMI monitor, USB network card, mouse, 3Tb western Digital drive and my 64Gb Kensington USB thumb drive, if they are present. Otherwise I just lift the lid and start typing.

There has been criticism of the Exynos based Chromebooks browsing slowly, and I notice that scrolling can be jumpy when multiple tabs are open. The graphics works fine, I can play full screen video with no problems. The number of tabs seems to be the issue. Chromebooks need more than 2Gb of RAM for heavy users. But I am using a music player, countdown timer, Keep, Drive, a couple of docs, and perhaps a dozen tabs. It runs faster that the Zenbook with a similar load of applications. There is simply less overhead.

The Chromebook Cannot do some things

  • Evernote cannot be used offline. I am now using Evernote much less, and relying on Keep and Google Drive
  • Truecrypt cannot be used on Chrome, so my secure volumes are closed to me.
  • Chrome does not support Scanners, so OCR is a problem. But using the Drive app on Android to photograph a document makes it a searchable PDF.
  • It cannot capture or Edit audio or video while offline. There are apps that work online. I will continue to use Linux to edit video and audio.
  • I cannot access files stored in Dropbox unless I download them while online

In Conclusion

This post is getting too long, so I will simply say, The Samsung Chromebook will continue to be my daily carry. It will travel with me, be used constantly, and be connected to a monitor and charger when I get home. The Zenbook will be used once or twice a week for the things I simply cannot do on the Chromebook.

I am very interested in the HP 11 Chromebook. It has similar specifications to the Samsung, but is lighter, has a better screen, and charges from a micro-USB adapter.

I will follow up with a later post. – Enjoy! – Phil Stephens

 

Sinking the Chromebook Myth – It Does Work Offline!

Samsung Chromebook
The Samsung Chromebook

There is endless carping by ill-informed or ignorant pundits talking about Chromebooks being “bricks without WiFi”. It is time to look at that with fresh eyes.

I am shocked to discover I have not written about the offline  capabilities of the Chromebook. I have written a lot in comments on other Blogs, and lost track of the fact that I have not discussed it here.

The 31 Day Chromebook Challenge – Day 30

My 31 Day Chromebook Challenge is drawing to a close. And it is time to speak out about the Chrome OS. Most of this article was written in the passenger seat of my car, definitely offline. And with no problems at all.

I am writing this on the Samsung chromebook. I am offline, typing in Write Space using a fairly large font. I like the ability to set up Write Space with colours, fonts and page width. I am writing is less than perfect viewing conditions, and It is perfectly readable and comfortable.

I am listening to music saved to the downloads folder through my headphones, writing until a 25 minute countdown timer to tells me to take a break, and I have access to lots of notes in Google Keep and saved from Feedly into Pocket.

So, here is the executive summary for you impatient types:

Offline, with the default Chromebook installation I can:

  • Manage Files – Move, copy, delete and more with The file manager
  • Read and edit e-mail, and send when connected with Gmail offline
  • Edit  all types of documents with Google Docs
  • Create, read and search notes in Keep.
  • Set reminders and alarms in Keep
  • View my Calendar in Google Calendar
  • Use Calculator – A simple calculator, but it works offline
  • Audio & Video player – Part of the Files app. Most music and video files just play. Even from External drives and devices
  • Display a presentation in Full Screen mode and use the HDMI port to send it to a projector
  • Take photos using the (front facing) camera app.

With apps from the Play Store I can:

The Things I CANNOT do:

  • Capture or edit audio or video (offline)
  • Open a zip file
  • Open an encrypted volume
  • Access Dropbox folders and files (offline)
  • Use Evernote (offline)

All in all, I can do a hell of a lot with a Chromebook. And I have close to 9 hours of battery life in lecture note taking mode, with WiFi off and screen brightness lowered.

And I have six or more hours plus in full working mode.

I intend to write a lot more about ChromeOS and Chrome apps in the Future. I also have some words about the Microsoft Scroogled Toadies and their severely slanted views.

Enjoy! – Phil Stephens

 

 

What is Identity Theft, and Should I Worry?

Identity Theft
Identity Theft -Image by Don Hankins

Identity theft is having someone steal enough personal information from you that they can impersonate you well enough to obtain a credit card, bank account, apply for a loan, register a car, get a drivers licence or apply for a passport or mobile phone account in your name.

The danger is, all of these things can result in you being liable for unpaid debt, crimes or other fallout from someone posing as you behaving badly or illegally.

A lot of identity theft is performed on-line, but in this article, I want to discuss the more personal and local version. Your garbage bin.

Much of this information can be gleaned from papers you throw in the garbage. We all get mail every day with personal information. From bank statements and Centrelink documents to invitations to get new credit cards or increase our credit limit. Most come with much of our personal information pre-printed. These are absolute gold to an identity thief. They raid letter boxes on a daily basis, looking for this kind of information.

When I started my last business, we advertised it locally (and laboriously) by trudging from house to house around much of Launceston area putting flyers in letterboxes. I once received an irate phone call from someone telling me we had stolen a letter from his box when we dropped off the flyer.

When I explained the the fliers were being distributed by me, my wife and my son, and leaving a flyer after robbing the box would not have been the brightest idea for us, he apologised and hung up. He had lost a piece of vital mail that day…

AFP Identity Crime Page
AFP Identity Crime Page

The Australian Federal Police have an excellent on-line resource under the title Identity Crime. It is worth a read. There are many other resources, but for Australians, this is a pretty good one.

I was prompted to visit this subject by an excellent post on Unclutterer.com  about shredders. I am sitting looking at my shredder, a Fellows P-35C purchased from Officeworks.

It replaced a series of cheap shredders that failed when fed too much paper, or just burned out. I have never been one to overload my shredder, but the cheap, low powered models are prone to choking and jamming if paper is fed in off-centre.

The fact is, with care, even the cheapest shredder will do its job, but spending a bit more is well worth the cost. My current shredder will handle five sheets of paper and cuts it into confetti rather that strips. It cost around $70.

Shredders need to be maintained. I spread a little 3 in 1 oil on a sheet of paper and feed it through the shredder occasionally.

We recently had an episode here in Australia where the opposition turned up in parliament with a sensitive document that a government minister had shredded. The document was retrieved from the bin and taped back together and produced in parliament to much laughter and hoots of derision. I decided that my next shredder would be a cross-cut shredder!

For those home based, a bonus of shredding is the ability to turn shredded paper and other junk mail into Paper Log/Briquettes and use them in the fire. There are a number of tools to do this, unfortunately most of the are US based, and freight is expensive.

For those on the road, papers can be used as fire starters or soaked, screwed up into logs, dried and burned. The simple option is to simply burn any papers with personal information. A smoky option, but a simple one.

On the road, we tend to use fires or braziers, and paper to get the fire going is always in short supply, so save those personal documents and feed them to the fire

The key is, DO NOT put anything with personal information in the bin. Grey Nomads have been fined for disposing of waste in public bins based on papers found by council inspectors, and any paper can lead to identity theft. Dispose carefully!

Image courtesy of Don Hankins 

Chromebook Challenge Day 14 – Two Weeks In…

My Chromebook desk setup
My Chromebook desk set-up

I am on day 14 of the Chromebook Challenge.  So how is it going? Very well. I use the chromebook connected to my 22″ HD LG monitor via the full sized HDMI port in the back.

I have a seven port powered USB hub under the desk. It is connected to a 3Tb Western Digital drive, a USB Ethernet port, a wireless mouse and powers a pair of Logitech speakers plugged into the headphone socket on the monitor. The Chromebook drives audio through the HDMI port to the speakers when connected, and reverts to local speakers when I disconnect.

The beauty of this setup is I can close the lid and unplug the two cables, HDMI and USB and walk away. I also have the power supply connected when I am docked.

Issues So Far

I wrote about the problem related to providing remote support. I have solved that.

Another Issue relates to capturing images, and editing them. I take a lot of screen shots. When the image is going to be published, I need to be able to Blur out certain elements of the shot. The Chromebook allows images to be uploaded to Google Drive and Google+. Google+ has a nice on-line editor that does some excellent clean-up of images. Unfortunately I have not been able to find a way to blur things.

I have found two solutions. The first is the big gun of browser based editing, Pixlr Editor. This is a remarkably full featured photo / graphics editor offered by Autodesk. It is currently free. I suspect that may change in the future. Autodesk is known for it’s high priced AutoCAD software.

Pixlr blurring a Screenshot
Pixlr blurring a Screenshot

Pixlr runs using the Flash plugin, It works well, is extremely capable and will open, edit and save images stored locally. It is a quick loading app, but is slow when editing large images on the Chromebook.

 

The image shown here shows me blurring the word Warning on a screenshot of the ABC North Tasmania web site.

Andrew Cunningham  complained that it takes forever to edit images captured on a professional DSLR, and that is hardly surprising given the size of a 18  Megapixel image. For me, editing screen shots is fast and easy.

Pixlr will also store images in an online library on their servers or access Facebook, Flickr, or Picasa. I had some trouble activating this feature, and edited the shot of my desktop setup using an image taken using my Android phone, auto-backed up to Google+ (the Picasa option) and edited in Pixlr. I am mainly interested in local images though.

Webpage Screenshot Capture
Webpage Screenshot Capture

The other option is Webpage Screenshot Capture.  A tool that allows a screenshot to be taken, and edited immediately and saved. It has some interesting features, and seems much lighter weight. and it is available with a click of an icon. It is fast and simple. It allows simple editing of the screenshot, including blurring. It has become my tool of choice now.

It can be found on the Chrome Plugin page.

Webpage Screenshot capture
Webpage Screenshot capture

 

 

 

Things I cannot do on a Chromebook or Android tablet.

I never believed a Chromebook could replace the computer for most businesses. However I am developing an increasing respect for my Samsung Chromebook. Here are some more things I cannot do:

  •  Open an encrypted ZIP file or a True-crypt volume.
  •  Begin a Skype conference call. I can join one using an Android tablet though.
  •  Play a CD or DVD. I can however copy MP3 Audio and MKV Video to the downloads folder, or plug in a USB stick.

Chromebook Challenge Day 3 – Remote Support – A Problem Overcome

Chromebook
Image by Zoinno

The Chromebook challenge began badly. On the second day I had to provide some technical support for a friend in another state. Unfortunately she is barely coherent, technically, despite having a degree in another field. As a result I soon had to fall back on accessing her machine remotely to make some configuration changes to her wireless router.

I know remote management of another computer is possible on a Chromebook using Chrome Remote Desktop.

This requires the installation of Chrome and the Remote Desktop plugin, on the client or host machine, and this was more than I thought we could manage, so I booted a Windows laptop up for this situation.

There is another solution, the new Google Hangouts Remote Desktop. This is an addon, easily accessed in Hangouts, even while a hangout is in progress. Unfortunately either the Samsung Chromebook, or my bandwidth was not adequate, and the remote connection was painfully slow, and audio was reduced to a Cylon snarl. I gave up fairly quickly.

The Chrome Remote Desktop option, however is improving, and works very well. There is now an option to install the Remote Desktop software on a PC in Permanent Access Mode so that you can connect to it even before it is logged in. (Chrome Support shows how here: https://support.google.com/chrome/answer/1649523?hl=en )

Chrome remote login
Chrome remote login

I installed this service on a Windows 7 Netbook and logged in easily as soon as it booted up. 

Logging into Windows 7 Remotely
Logging into Windows 7 Remotely

If you are required to do remote support, I strongly recommend installing this service and appying a STRONG PIN to protect the host computer. Once done, you can log in at any point from any computer with a Chrome browser. That obviously includes a Chromebook.

Another problem solved!

The Chromebook Challenge Day Two – Write Space

Samsung Chromebook
The Samsung Chromebook

Well, here I am on day two of the 31 day Chromebook challenge. It has not been without problems, one of them causing me to use a Windows PC to do a remote support call. I now know how to do that from ChromeOS and will write about it when I can do some more research.

The first question I asked when I started using a Chromebook a couple of months ago was what will I use as a text editor? The obvious choice would seem to be Google Docs or a Google Drive Document. Drive (For now, I will call them Google Docs) has formatting, spell-check and word-count, all things important to a writer. And despite the the “without WiFi it is a brick” whining of the Microsoft Scroogled campaign’s lapdogs, it works perfectly offline, accessing and editing all your documents, as long as you have allowed them to sync with Google before going offline.

But I have one problem with Google Docs as a general purpose text editor. A Google document can be quite hard to view in field conditions. I spend a lot of my day on buses and in the sun, with my Samsung Chromebook Series 3 on my lap. A big, clear screen is vital.

I am currently using Write Space, a full-screen text editor. Write Space is basic. A handful of basic key-strokes, a status bar at the bottom of the screen with Words, Lines and Characters typed.

Write Space
Write Space, Configured the way I like it!

There is no menu, and no save option. Everything I type is saved locally. It has no file save option. Text just gets saved to the local Chrome storage, and is kept. To use it elsewhere, it must be cut and pasted to a Doc file, Keep, or a text file.

I using Write Space because of the simplicity of the screen and the ability to re-configure it. If you go to the Chrome > plugins > settings menu you can change the page width, font size and colour. Save the settings, and Write Space instantly updates its look an feel.

I am writing in a large, pale blue font on a dark blue background on a page that is 800 pixels wide. It is large, easy on the eyes and very responsive. It is visible in low light. I can read the large font easily when using the computer on my lap. It is a little reminiscent of the Wordperfect screen of the eighties, and easy on the eyes.

There is a spell-checker that works well, even when offline. The usual short cuts work, including the undo function.

When I hit the full-screen key (the equivalent of F11 in a Windows Chrome browser) I have a full, uncluttered and simple screen that allows me to work without distraction.

It is hard to get any simpler, and hard to think of more that a few hundred words to say about an editor that just works. I have never lost a word, and occasionally I copy everything into Keep so it will sync across every device I use.

All in all, I recommend Write Space as a simple and reliable text editor.

Enjoy!

The 31 Day Chromebook Challenge

Samsung Chromebook
The Samsung Chromebook

The Chromebook is a surprisingly capable platform. It is little understood and constantly maligned by people who speak without taking the time to understand the potential of it for accomplishing real work.

It is the wisdom of the herd that nothing important can be done on a Chromebook. The widely held belief that it cannot work without an Internet connection is just plain wrong. I have decided to put the Chromebook to the test with a 30 day challenge.

The challenge is not to use nothing but the Chromebook, but to always look for an alternative to using Windows or Linux.

I will use this Chromebook as my primary computer for a month, starting today. I have packed up my Desktop PC and put it in storage. I have a Windows laptop, and may need to use it for some specific tasks such as editing podcasts and using a scanner with OCR. But I will always try to find an alternative from the web to allow the  Chromebook to perform the same task. Time will tell how well I can survive without a full featured computer as my main device.

I will also use my Galaxy SIII Phone and Nexus 7 (2013 edition) tablet.

(This article was written on the Samsung Chromebook shown above)