Google Voice Typing – The Future of Writing.

Google Voice Typing Active
Google Voice Typing Active

When I started my Chromebook this morning I discovered that Google had added a powerful new feature. I can now use my voice to type in Google Docs.  Impressed when I was wondering if it would work on a Chromebook. and particularly how accurate it would be, as I have found that most voice activated systems tend to work very poorly. I spend more time editing and correcting then I would have done if I had typed the entire article myself.

Google Voice Typing
Google Voice Typing

To my surprise I find that Google Voice typing works almost flawlessly. the only fault I have found is that the words new line tend to be interpreted as a new lawn, and I do not get the new line that I was asking for unless I speak very clearly, probably my Australian drawl.

As an example of how accurate the voice recognition on Google Voice typing is I have produced this entire article using Google Voice with no editing at all.

While this is incredibly useful for writers like me who I slow on the keyboard or in my case have a problem with a shrinking tendon in my right hand, I can only imagine what the future will bring for those who are visually impaired or physically impaired when Google can expand this technology to make a Chromebook completely voice activated.

I have literally not edited a single word in this rather short post about Google Voice typing. I have been a little careful with the pronunciation of words but other than that I have SAT with my arms folded and talked the whole piece.

I am absolutely amazed at the accuracy of Google Voice at the top of the screen is a message telling me we are having trouble hearing you and yet it is continuing to record my words with great accuracy.

Voice typing menu
Voice typing menu

Additionally in each sentence words are underlined in gray and if I right click I get an option of Digimon and word was several words that might have been what I meant at that point if I had been misinterpreted.

Strangely I find it very difficult to compose as I speak. when I type I have more time to think through what I want to say and therefore, I am sure write better than I speak. Or as I should have said more accurately.

Punctuation is limited to only a few options which I will now cut and paste in because there is no way I can do them using the voice recognition system.

  • “Period”
  • “Comma”
  • “Exclamation point”
  • “Question mark”
  • “New line”
  • “New paragraph”

Google Voice typing has arrived with very little fanfare, but I suggest it is going to be one of the most important features in Google Docs in the future. I have tried other voice recognition systems for riding and found them all extremely frustrating. This is working very smoothly.

Enjoy!

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Mobile Phone Distraction, and the Multi-tasking Myth

mobile phone?New Google President Sundar Pichai was recently ambushed interviewed by a rather aggressive interviewer from the New York Times about the increasingly intrusive nature of mobile phones. The interviewer was implying that it was the task of Google to make phones less distracting, intrusive and anti-social.

CONOR DOUGHERTY was obviously fishing for a quote on “phone intrusion“, and turned a real opportunity into an embarrassing attempted ambush. Sundar was too polite to tell him to move on, but I think from the editing of the interview and comments, that readers can see the trend in the questions.

His proposition is completely wrong. Everyone has control of their own phone. The apps used, and the way of using them is at the discretion of the user. We each can choose to mute alerts, close apps, or mute the phone completely.

If there is any case for intrusion, I think it is management expecting employees to stay connected to their jobs 24 x 7, via e-mail, text and phone simply because the technology is available. An example is Microsoft’s pitch for Office 365. It lets you keep working on vacation, at the kid’s recital, or over dinner.

The individual must make their own decision as to how they will respond for the welfare of themselves and their families.

The belief that we can “multi-task” if we are smart or young enough is completely incorrect. The mind focuses well only on one thing at a time. Creative people are familiar with the concept of “flow” or being “in the zone”. This is that wonderful place we go when the right side of the brain takes over what we are doing, and we become productive. Really productive. We also lose all track of time, and, often, our ability to speak is impaired.

Some companies are now hiring people based on their (percieved) ability to multi-task. And some use this mythical ability as a keystone of their resume. But the damage done by multi-tasking is now well documented.

The Guardian Newspaper quotes MIT’s Earl Miller as saying “People can’t do [multitasking] very well, and when they say they can, they’re deluding themselves.”

The constant distraction caused by interruptions of any type severely disrupt our ability to be productive. They can also annoy or offend others, in meetings or a social setting.

So:

  • Turn off phone notifications.
  • Let workmates know you do not reply to messages and e-mail instantly, but are batching it up to process at a set time each day.
  • Unless it is being used for notes, PUT YOUR PHONE AWAY in meetings.
  • At business lunches, pile the phones up on top of each other in the middle of the table, and the first person to grab his phone pays for lunch.
  • Focus on one thing for 25 or 55 minutes, take a break, and move on to the next thing.

A smartphone is a powerful tool, and it can help us in many situations from navigating to an unfamiliar destination to providing weather, flight, and accommodation information. But if we allow to to distract us constantly with Twitter, e-mail, Facebook and Instagram notifications, we are becoming slaves to a device designed to help us.

If we do not control our phone It becomes our master, not our slave.

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Written by Phil Stephens of Philstephens.com.au .

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Cloudbooks – The Worst of Both Worlds

wccf Dump Chromebooks - Really?
wccf Dump Chromebooks – Really?

A post on the Wccf Tech website suggests we should dump our Chromebooks and move to a Windows Cloudbook. The give four reasons, an I do not agree with any of them!

While Google’s Chrome OS is ideal in some circumstances, it is still not as feature riche as Windows 10.

  1. The Windows 10 Experience: Yes, Windows 10 is wildly superior to Windows 8 and 8.1 because it is usable. This might be new for Windows 8 users, but my Chromebook is unfailingly easy to use. Is Windows 10 feature rich? Yes. But that is not necessarily a selling point for many of us. I like simple and fast…
  2. The Hardware: The hardware is very similar to that of a Chromebook, but the “feature rich” Windows 10 operating system requires far more resources that a Chromebook. Most come with 16 or 32 GB of storage, so forget about installing or running Photoshop (Microsoft’s usual reason for saying Windows is essential) and on 16 GB of storage, forget about Microsoft Office. My Chromebook runs MUCH better on this hardware.
  3. Pricing is Dirt Cheap: True, so are Chromebooks, and Chromebook of a similar price works better. If a $10 price difference is important, go to eBay or a second hand shop!
  4. Getting Onedrive and Office 365 free for One Whole Year!: Yes 1 Tb of storage free is good, but after a year, you have to pay. And without Office 365 you have bought a brick. A Chromebook comes with free access to Google Docs, and you can always access 15 GB free, and have 100 GB for a year.

The suggestion that:

Cloudbook owners will receive 12 whole months of free OneDrive storage, along with an Office 365 subscription. That is a total of two services that you will be receiving from Microsoft while only one from Google.

Is inaccurate and ridiculous, because both of these services are free from Google, except for the (temporary) 1 TB of storage.

If you are a home user and really need 1 TB of cloud storage, I suggest you look at options other than Google or Microsoft. 15 GB is enough for most home or small business users. If you need more, you are in a different category altogether, and will not be looking at $150 computers as a cost saving measure.

For the average computer user, Cloudbooks are the WORST of both worlds.

Cloudbooks

For the average computer user, Cloudbooks are the WORST of both worlds. They are under-powered, and have the complexity of Windows, making them slow. They require updates, anti-virus software, and require the installation of many programs to make them useful.

They are prone to viruses, hacking and malware.

They cannot use Office 365 without a permanent internet connection, making them useless for Digital Nomads.

Chromebooks

My Chromebook (and Chromebox) can do almost everything offline. ( they just wait to sync, if offline) and are fast thanks to a stripped Linux kernel and minimal O/S overhead. Is it simple? Yes.  Does it work?  Yes.  Is it fast? Yes.

I watch/listen to media from, and save files to a local NAS server, or work from a USB key or Google Drive for days at a stretch without Internet.

The ability to write, use spreadsheets, presentations and more is built in, free, and works offline. Apps like Pocket, Stackedit and Gmail Offline allow me to work happily without a connection.

No contest here, Windows has a place, and I like Windows 10. If I need serious power and apps like video and audio editing, I go to Linux.

I am writing this on an ASUS UX31E Ultrabook running Ubuntu Linux, after taking Windows 10 off yesterday. It was nice, but not compelling for me. To many things don’t work yet! And Microsoft now is collecting a great deal of information about me. Too much? No, Google collects the same information, but they do not then charge me for the service, they just show me ads!

But a Cloudbook? This is a Netbook with another name, and will go the way of the Netbooks. I do not need one of these fail whales.

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Written by Phil Stephens of Philstephens.com.au .

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A Light, USB Powered AA/AAA Battery Charging Solution

soshine AA charger
soshine AA charger

If there is one given in the portable office, it is the need for batteries and ways to charge them. The AA/AAA battery is a staple power source for many devices from mice and keyboards to a myriad of older devices. I have made a conscious decision to use as  many USB charged or powered devices as possible, but still wireless mice and keyboards are among the last holdouts in my mobile office.

For years I have used desktop or wall mounted multi-channel charger. The traditional multi-channel charger is heavy, often noisy, and for me, prone to failure. My last four-channel charger has gaffer tape over a dead third channel.

I have found the perfect solution, the SoShine LiFePO4 USB powered  charger. It charges a single AA/AAA Nickel Metal Hydride (NMH)  or Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePO4, LFE) battery.

It is small, light, and fast. It uses the less popular Mini-USB plug, but a cable (USB Type A to Mini USB is supplied) so it can be charged from any USB Charger, laptop or power bank. I now have two of these in my mobile office. They are fast and smart. They do a check of battery condition, and if the battery is no good, they stop and display a single red light. I have also had one shut down charging because I inserver the battery the wrong way round (Duh!).
They are small and light, so slipping two into my travel office is no problem.

If you are using old NiCad, you are out of luck, though… If you are, time to upgrade!

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How to Avoid RSI When Mobile Working

Every coffee shop, train and park bench is filled with people (mostly, but not always) young, working on laptop computers.

The smartphone and tablet have become the consumption device of choice, but except for quick email, notes and checking appointments, we need a laptop computer of one type or another.

An ugly, but as yet little discussed side effect of using laptop computers, especially (shock, horror) on your lap, is the damage you can be doing to your body and hands.

In the 70’s and 80’s millions of dollars were spend on the design of office workstations. Standards and rules were developed. Injuries were reduced, and the people rejoiced (well, not that perhaps) but injuries fell dramatically. Then came the laptop. And much of that work went out the window, with the office…

For digital nomads and mobile workers the idea of a workstation is not on the radar.

Think Again – You Have A Workstation!

Your Workstation is the place you sit down (or stand up) and work from. It may be a coffee shop, bar stool, airplane seat or hammock, but if you work there for more than 10 minutes, it is a workstation. And it needs some thought.

A recent survey in the UK found that 79% of people using mobile devices were having health problems, 10% said “nomadic Working” had created long term problems and 5% had been forced to give up their jobs.http://www.dynamicmarkets.co.uk/

RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) is not associated with age, it is associated with hours in front of a keyboard. ( in some areas The term ‘RSI’ has been replaced by ‘CANS’: Complaints of Arm, Neck and/or Shoulder, but RSI is best known)

It is very easy to make a mistake. Especially digital nomads who tend to be young. You are young, active and healthy, and then, suddenly, you are not.

Then it can take months or years to fix even the simplest problems, because you cannot work without aggravating the problem. Imagine not being able to type (at all) for 3 months. How is that online business looking now?

So, lets look at the solution.

The Workstation

The “Workstation” is your whole working environment. For Mobile Office users, the basics are this:

  • Avoid glare on the screen
  • Have the top of your screen at about eye level
  • Have your arms nearly horizontal to the keyboard
  • Your feet should be flat on the floor
  • Your hips should be slightly above your knees
  • You should be reasonably upright, with the chair supporting your back (or no back, forcing you to sit/stand straight)
  • You should be able to read the screen without leaning forward or back. If necessary, get reading glasses specially for the computer.

If you have nothing but a laptop, you are screwed have a problem.

One solution is to raise the screen or back of the laptop with a stand. The options here are endless, so I will not offer a suggestion. It can be a simple as a pair of socks or a glasses case.

The best solution is a stand, keyboard and mouse. This may seem like an impossible load for a digital nomad, but it is not.

* more to follow*


Tablets and smartphones

iPad neck or tech neckhttp://iospress.metapress.com/content/x668002xv6211041/fulltext.pdf

http://www.chiropractic-uk.co.uk/laptops-a-pain-184-news.aspx On its excellent page on Perfect PC Posture, the British Chiropractic Association says “Never sit at the computer for more than 40 minutes; less if possible,”

My personal approach is to use the widely recognised Pomodoro technique that requires working for 25 minutes and the taking a 5 minute break. I have tools in place to reinforce this approach.

* Take breaks*

Some excellent resources on this subject:

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/askjack/2013/jun/20/using-laptops-tablets-physical-pains

http://www.utwente.nl/hr/en/health-safety-environment/health-welfare/rsi/students/using-the-laptop/

http://www.rsitips.com/laptop-ergonomics/

WSJ Youtube video:

(637 words)

Written with StackEdit.http://www.nomadicnotes.com/news/7-june-2015/

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Chromebooks Can Now Access Windows Servers, OneDrive and Dropbox (Updated)

00162-smb-playstoreI was excited to see a post from +Yoichiro Tanaka on Google+ that he had posted a new App in the Chrome store for ChromeOS devices.

It is a new service for the Files app that allows Chromebook and Chromebox users to connect directly to SMB (Windows) server shares. I immediately installed it and connected to my NAS4Free server with no problems.

The NAS4Free share appears in the left pane of the Files app, and everything is immediately available.

I was ecstatic, for the one downside of Chromebooks and Chromeboxes is that the only way to connect to a local resource is to use FTP by typing and FTP address into the browser.

For example to play a video from my NAS server required me to connect with ftp://192.168.1.250/ and then right-click a file and save it locally to play the content. SOME FTP content will play directly in the browser, but most has to be saved locally.

Compared to the point and click possible between Windows and Linux machines and network shares, ChromeOS has been pretty clunky.

00162-services-in-file-managerUnfortunately, I was unable to connect to my ASUS router. It has a 3TB USB drive connected and shared as SMB and FTP. All attempts to date have failed to connect. This is unfortunate, but for an App that has only been available for days, it is a VERY GOOD start. SMB is a difficult protocol to cope with. Microsoft spent years trying to break connections from any device that was NOT Windows until they finally realised it was in their best interests to let everybody connect to their servers.

UPDATE: The latest version of this app now connects to everything in my office perfectly. I have connected to a NAS4Free box, ASUS router and a Seagate Wireless Plus Mobile Storage / Wi-Fi hub that is my travel server.

The Service/App is not perfect. Pausing a video during playback causes a timeout error, and I wonder if the failure to connect to some of these SMB devices is simply the slow speed of low powered devices such as router based SMB shares and NAS boxes that take time to spin up sleeping hard drives.

I am confident that Yoichiro will continue to work on this, as long as he gets some encouragement, and with time it will sort out the problems.

New File Services
New File Services

As I worked away with this I noticed something new in the usually simple Files left pane. A new item at the bottom. Add New Devices!

And behind that button is OneDrive, WebDAV and Google Cloud Storage.

00162 0 dropbox-app-storeAdded to this the exciting Dropbox implementation done as the first proof of concept for the new API Google released, and some seriously exciting things are happening in the Chromebook / ChromeOS world!

I do NOT want ChromeOS to grow into the bloated sloth that is Windows, but by adding features such as connecting to local network devices, the ability to connect to Bluetooth headphones and speakers and access phones via Micro-USB / OTG in just the last month or so.

ChromeOS is getting very interesting.

 

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My Portable Office – A Laptop Workstation

The Travel Workstation
The Travel Workstation

My Mobile Office is an HP Chromebook 11 (The original -1101 model, with the beautiful screen and USB charging) and a mobile phone. A very light combination, but what happens when I need to spend a lot of time in one place?

The Micro Office requires a more ergonomic approach to the workstation.

My portable office is often a place I spend a few minutes here and there. the laptop is enough. But sometimes I need to spend hours or even days in a single location with the minimum of technology.

So how do I cope with the ergonomic issues of a small and light device without the back pain and wrist issues caused by “iPad neck” without much extra weight? A few additional lightweight devices.

Travel Stand
Travel Stand

I have a very light and simple laptop stand. It is a strip of Corflute board purchased from a stationery store for about $5 and used for a number of projects.

I cut a strip with the (tubes running upwards) 480mm wide and 130mm high. I sliced half way through it vertically at the half-way point resulting in two wings 280mm wide by 130mm high that can bend around like the covers of a book. I added a strip of cloth tape down the fold to strengthen the bend. I now have a light stand 280mm wide, 130mm high and about 10mm thick weighing a barely discernible 57 grams or 2 oz.

Chromebook on the Stand
Chromebook on the Stand

This can be opened into a triangular shape to support a laptop, opening facing forward. The size may have to be adjusted for your laptop and height. It supports the laptop perfectly, but requires an external keyboard and mouse.

T630 touch mouse
T630 touch mouse

I use my HP Chromebook 11 as my primary portable office computer and carry a Logitech Bluetooth Illuminated Keyboard (K810) for my PC, tablet and smartphone and a Logitech Ultrathin Touch Mouse T630.  The combined weight of the keyboard and mouse is 400g or 14.4oz.

For a long mobile working session, this is a very small price (in weight) to pay for arguably the best keyboard and mouse on the market.

Logitech K810 Keyboard
Logitech K810 Keyboard

The mouse and keyboard both charge via a Micro-USB port, so I can charge them with the Chromebook charger, or from a USB port on the Chromebook. One charger can handle the HP 11, my phone, the mouse, keyboard and my Bluetooth headset. I carry a couple of extra leads and can charge the HP Chromebook 11 while using it, or while it is suspended, and also charge devices from one or both USB type A ports. I have written about the brilliant HP Chromebook 11 here.

These devices have probably been replaced by later models, but are the best lightweight, quality devices I could find at the time. I have written about the Logitech Ultra-thin mouse here

As you can see from the Photo, I have cut two pairs of notches in the front part of the stand. This fits my tablets, and at a pinch my phone. It allows me to use a tablet (or phone) at eye level to watch video.

I can also use my Windows 8.1 tablet with Keyboard and mouse as a full PC if I need to. (more on the tablet later, it is still under review)

When I fly, the folding stand goes in a pocket in my SCOTTeVEST jacket in front of my tablet screen, if I am carrying one. It protects it from impacts that may break the screen, and adds zero weight. I use two thin rubber bands to keep them together in transit.

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How to Avoid Pain and RSI Using a Portable Office

Mobile Working Without Pain
Mobile Working Without Pain

Every coffee shop, train and park bench is filled with people (mostly, but not always) young, working on laptop computers or tablets.

Silently, RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) or ( ‘CANS’: Complaints of Arm, Neck and/or Shoulder) is resurfacing. This time it is not factory workers. It is knowledge workers. Home, Portable and Mobile office users. Digital nomads, teleworkers and more.

The smartphone and tablet have become the consumption device of choice, but except for quick email, notes and checking appointments, we need a laptop computer of one type or another. An ugly, but as yet little discussed side effect of using laptop computers is the damage you can be doing to your body and hands. Back, neck and wrist pain can become chronic and debilitating.

In the 70’s and 80’s millions of dollars were spend on the design of office workstations. Standards and rules were developed. Injuries were reduced, and the people rejoiced (well, not that perhaps) but injuries fell dramatically. Then came the laptop. And much of that work went out the window, with the office…

For digital nomads and mobile workers the idea of a workstation is not on the radar.

Think Again – You Have A Workstation!

Your Workstation is the place you sit down (or stand up) and work from. It may be a coffee shop, bar stool, airplane seat or hammock, but if you work there for more than 10 minutes, it is a workstation. And it needs some thought.

A recent survey in the UK found that 79% of people using mobile devices were having health problems, 10% said “nomadic Working” had created long term problems and 5% had been forced to give up their jobs.

RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) is not associated with age, it is associated with hours in front of a keyboard. ( in some areas The term ‘RSI’ has been replaced by ‘CANS’: Complaints of Arm, Neck and/or Shoulder, but RSI is best known)

It is very easy to make a mistake. Especially digital nomads who tend to be young. You are young, active and healthy, and then, suddenly, you are not.

Then it can take months or years to fix even the simplest problems, because you cannot work without aggravating the problem. Imagine not being able to type (at all) for 3 months. How is that online business looking now?

So, lets look at the solution.

The Workstation

The “Workstation” is your whole working environment. For Mobile Office users, the basics are this:

  • Avoid glare on the screen
  • Have the top of your screen at about eye level
  • Have your arms nearly horizontal to the keyboard
  • Your feet should be flat on the floor
  • Your hips should be slightly above your knees
  • You should be reasonably upright, with the chair supporting your back (or no back, forcing you to sit/stand straight)
  • You should be able to read the screen without leaning forward or back. If necessary, get reading glasses specially for the computer.

If you have nothing but a laptop, you are screwed have a problem.

One solution is to raise the screen or back of the laptop with a stand. The options here are endless, so I will not offer a suggestion. It can be a simple as a pair of socks or a glasses case.

Dozens of laptop stands are being sold, from large desk based base stations to light weight folding stands.

The best solution is a stand, keyboard and mouse. This may seem like an impossible load for a digital nomad, but it is not.

The following Article looks at a simple, light, solution for a travel workstation.

Tablets and smartphones

Protecting against iPad neck or tech neck.

the IOS Press web site has an excellent 11 page PDF with the results of a study done into problems caused by the typical low postion tablets are used in.

On its excellent page on Perfect PC Posture, the British Chiropractic Association says “Never sit at the computer for more than 40 minutes; less if possible,”

My personal approach is to use the widely recognised Pomodoro technique that requires working for 25 minutes and the taking a 5 minute break. I have tools in place to reinforce this approach.

Stand up, walk around, roll your shoulders, and head. Make your eyes focus on distant objects. Don’t just switch from work to checking Facebook. Actually make your body move for five minutes. Your body will thank you.

Take Regular Breaks!

Some excellent resources on this subject:

And and excellent  Wall Street Journal video:

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Staying Focused In A Noisy Workplace – Music To Code By

Staying Focused In A Noisy WorkplaceStaying focused and productive is a problem for everyone. Digital Nomads may be working anywhere, and modern offices are shifting to open plan office layouts that many find it difficult or impossible to work in.

In a brilliant article entitled “Google got it wrong. The open-office trend is destroying the workplace.”  By Lindsey Kaufman the Washington Post shone the spotlight on this bizarre and soul destroying movement to open plan offices. If you want to work a Facebook, Google, Yahoo, eBay or many other tech. companies, you basically have no choice but to buy the best headphones you and find and try and cope. Silence is simply not an option, even with the best headphones, and earplugs are hot and uncomfortable. I am glad I have exited cubicle city!

I work from a mobile office that can be anywhere from a heavy vehicle layover or McDonalds to an airport departure lounge. Today I am in my home office but still have to cope with the sounds of passing traffic and neighbours who love to work on high performance cars at all hours of the day and night. The sound of revving engines, screaming burnouts and loud cheering does nothing for my concentration at any time, and especially not late at night.

Some people like silence, and some play music. Given a choice I would prefer total silence, but find that is impossible to achieve, so I have gone for the music option. The only music I have found that works for me has been some Enya tracks and the sound track from Blade Runner (with one track removed) but I am distracted by lyrics and need to keep the volume low.

Yesterday I heard Carl Franklin, a software developer, podcaster and musician, interviewed on the TWiT network on Windows Weekly  (Skip to 44:15) . When the talk turned to Music To Code By, I wrote the URL down, and went to visit http://mtcb.pwop.com/ and listened through the provided samples. An hour later I bought and downloaded the digital version.

This is instrumental music played between 50 & 80 BPM, a speed designed to help you focus, but not be distracting. The pieces change enough not to be boring, but not enough to demand attention. It will not put you to sleep or sooth, just let you focus and work. The first album is 3 x 25 minute segments. This fits with the Pomodoro Technique of time management, designed to let you focus for 25 minutes, and then spend five minutes exercising, moving around to come back ready to work again five minutes later.

I have set it up on a special playlist alternating the 25 minute segments of MTCB with other songs that run about 5 minutes to signal my five minute breaks.

I have used the Pomodoro Technique for some time with good success, but finding reliable timing methods was a problem. This playlist solves the problem. The music can be played louder than anything else I have tried, and so far is working well.

It is Sunday Morning, and the only distractions are the TV in the next room, passing cars and a dove cooing loudly outside the window tying to woo a mate. I am playing MTCB through speakers at a low level. With my noise rejecting headphones and more volume this music will do the trick anywhere.

I am impressed! This is now my preferred timing system for future productivity. Google Play has a competitor, but a quick listen told me the music is far more intrusive. Carl is working on a second album (two tracks are available individually already) so i have put myself on the mailing list for the next album as well.

Thank you Carl Franklin and Pwop studios.

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Review: HP Stream 11 – A Low Cost Windows Laptop

HP Stream 11
HP Stream 11

(Review edited and updated 2015/04/16.)

I recently purchased the HP Stream 11. I have better Windows computers, but since becoming a fairly serious Chromebook convert, I thought I should try to be balanced.

Please understand, I am NOT a reviewer. Nobody sends me computers or hardware to try out. If I like the look of something, I spend my own, very limited cash on it, and hope I have made a wise (or at least justifiable) decision.

The HP Stream 11 has low but interesting specs.

  • It uses the  Windows 8.1 with Bing Operating System.
  • The processor is an Intel Celeron N2840 running at 2.16GHz with Turbo Boost Technology, up to 2.58GHz.
  • The screen is an 11.6-inch WLED backlit screen with 1366 x 768 resolution
  • Memory is 2GB of 1333MHz DDR3L SDRAM and it has Intel HD graphics.
  • The 32GB eMMC Drive assures a pretty snappy response.
  • And it has an HP TrueVision HD webcam that does a pretty good job.
  • It has an SD card slot on the left and 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0.
  • It has USB 3.0 and 2.0 ports, a full sized HDMI port and an audio jack on the right side.

There are speaker ports under the front, but the sound emanates from under the keyboard. The DTS Studio Sound is quite good for a compact device, and is clear at full volume. It is perfectly adequate for personal listening. If you care about audio quality, you will be using headphones anyway.

I like the fact that it is Fan-less. After months with Chromebooks going back to a Windows PC with whining fans can be annoying. I have learned to love silence.

Activating a new Chromebook takes about 90 seconds. Switch on. Select the WiFi access point and type in the password. Enter my Gmail address and password. Thirty seconds later it is working. With my many plugins and large Drive storage, it takes another five minutes to be fully functional, but that happens in the background as I work.

With the HP Stream 11, it took me almost five hours to get it to a stable working point.

I had to register and log in. I had to install multiple updates.

The computer came pre-loaded with a number of apps and pre-installed spyware, scareware and bloatware, that I had to remove. These programs I considered to be “Potentially Unwanted Programs” or PUPS were:

  • Super Optimizer, a system optimizer utility, once installed it claims that several issues were been detected on your computer. However, if you try to fix these issues, Super Optimizer will state that you need to buy its full version before being able to do so.
  • iStartSurf a browser hijacker, it will change your browser homepage to iStartSurf.com and default search engine to search.yahoo.com. It will also append the argument http://iStartSurf.com to random Windows shortcuts on your desktop and your Windows Start Menu.
  • And TV wizard – It is a Windows application. It installs plugins in your browsers. They spy on your internet usage, and display ads. They also assist malicious sites to install adware and spyware via deceptive advertising.

One of these would not uninstall. I had to resort to Systools to stop it booting. It is still installed, cluttering up my drive, but does not run on boot-up.

And of course there was the inevitable anti-virus trial version, not needed if you know a bit about computers, and all the HP special bits and offers.

There was then a multi-step account activation process to begin using Skype and Office 365. This required TURNING OFF SECURITY SETTINGS in IE so it could run ActiveX controls (seriously Microsoft? let’s make the new user expose their PC to attacks from the web by de-activating the security we finally build into IE just so they can activate a Microsoft Office 365 account!!!) Then the various office components downloaded and installed.

All in all, the setup was an exercise in frustration. A basic user will get it going quickly, but redeeming all the vouchers, offers and add-ons took a lot of time. Removing the spyware and setting this machine up properly may well require help.

The Stream is a surprisingly good experience for Windows on limited hardware. The Keyboard is a little clicky, but quite nice, and a good size. The track pad has received well deserved criticism, but I use a mouse.  The case is solid and comes in a striking Matt finish in blue or pink. Predictably the blue I wanted was sold out, but everyone had pink. I waited for blue. The keyboard surround is an anodised aluminium finish with a graduated colour scheme. It actually looks fantastic.

I name ny computers, and since it is running Windows 8.1, NOT my favourite O/S I named it Humphrey after Sir Humphrey, the obstructive bureaucrat in Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister, the BBC series that is surely a comedic seed for House of Cards.

The screen resolution is often criticized, but in my opinion an 11.6” screen does not benefit from higher screen resolution, 1366 x 768 is perfectly adequate. The viewing angle is poor, and would be less of a problem if the screen tilted back a few more degrees. It is simply not bright enough. It is the one true let-down with this laptop.

It works perfectly for web browsing, email, writing and general purpose use. Just don’t try to watch to much video on it. One episode of House of Cards has convinced me I cannot do the 30 day challenge I was contemplating. The screen is just not up to long term use or quality video watching.

The computer works fine as long as you do not try to do too much at once. Office will exercise it, too many applications open at once will slow it down badly. I would not want to keep Outlook open all day, it will cripple everything else. For basic Windows users, It is fine. If you spend most of your time in a web browser, it will be perfect.

HP Stream 11 Pink
HP Stream 11 Pink

My Stream, after a basic installation of my usual suite of Windows apps including Evernote and Chrome has 2Gb of disk space left.

Much of that is taken up in my case by Chrome storing my Google Drive contents offline, Dropbox, and Evernote. Desktop Evernote downloads my entire database. You probably do not use all these services.

If you are using the Microsoft OneDrive storage that comes free with the HP Stream 11 for the first year, this is not a problem. If the Stream runs out of storage, you can move it elsewhere. Perhaps the ideal would be a 32 or 64 Gb SD card tucked into the SD slot on the left side of the machine. Moving the OneDrive storage is easy, and there is a tutorial on how to do it here on CNet.  I can do something similar with Dropbox, if I desire.

I cannot use the HP Stream alone as a daily driver, the screen and performance fail it. I use a computer many hours a day, and this is just not good enough to be my only computer.

For me, it becomes the thing you toss in the backpack before going to the library or to type with for an hour or so.  It is cheap, connected, and adequate. Not suitable for continued use.

But, don’t give up on it just yet… It does have a place, and potentially a large one.

Microsoft sells Windows computers as superior to Chromebooks by talking about all those crucial applications that people need like Photoshop, Quicken and Call of Duty. None of these will run at all, let alone well on this computer ( well maybe Quicken). Audio and video editing apps like Audacity and Openshot will run, but with no disk space left, editing audio and video becomes a balancing act with the available disk space and constantly inadequate (and non-upgradeable) RAM. Adobe Premier will require 4 times the RAM, more disk space than is available, an external monitor, and a better CPU, rule it out here.

The Verdict:

If you are a digital nomad, flitting from country to country, living out of a 7 Kg carry-on bag and working online for a living, this computer is NOT for you.

If you are a digital grey nomad, living out of a van or motorhome, or house sitting with the 22 Kg  lifestyle (7 Kg carryon plus 15 Kg checked bag) this may be for you. It is rugged, reasonably compact and capable. It is quite suitable for an hour or two a day of use on its own. It can handle video, windows programs and works happily offline. If your van or house has a TV with an HDMI Port, a cable will give you a big screen, and it can drive it well.

For the price, it is an excellent computer.

Keep in mind that it is reliant on a Microsoft Office 365 account for most of its features, including OneDrive storage. These cannot be transferred. If you buy it, you own it for the first year. Resale is pretty difficult, since the new owner will need to immediately purchase and Office 365 licence at around $99 per year to use the Office apps, Office 365 cloud applications, OneDrive storage or free Skype minutes.

I can pass a Chromebook to anybody and they can be online in minutes, at no cost. Most of my Chromebooks have three accounts, and can switch between users instantly, or allow free guest access. This is not possible with Office 365.

It is not for me, I prefer the simplicity and speed of a Chromebook or the Performance of a high end Windows Ultrabook, but it does definitely have a place with many digital grey nomads.

I cannot sell it, since it is now locked to a new “outlook.com” email address and account. If I sell it, it will be useless to the next user as I outlined above. It weighs more than my 13″ HD ASUS Ultrabook, and almost twice as much as my Chromebook (with power supply included, when I travel, that has to go as well) so for me, is is not a viable option. It may be perfect for you.

LATER: I have bitten the bullet and installed the Ubuntu 14.10 operating system on the HP Stream 11, and I am very pleased with the results. It is still too heavy to be a prime travelling machine, but for the price, I will find uses for a full featured laptop with Audio and Video editing software and, now, quite a bit of free disk space. For those who know Linux, it was pretty much a default install. I will write about it later… PAS.

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