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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HP Chromebook 11 Charging – revisited

The HP Chromebook 11
The HP Chromebook 11

I have had a comment on a recent post from Kathy, concerned that the HP Micro-USB charging port is not living up to it’s potential.  She was concerned by the “Low-power charger” message.

I decided to redo the last group of tests, to be sure.

last night I ran my HP Chromebook 11 flat by playing the Iron-man movie continually until the battery was dead. I do NOT like or recommend ever running a battery below 18-20% as this can damage the battery. I am not an Apple fan, but they have an excellent web page on battery care for laptops and devices with Li-Ion batteries here

I plugged the charger into my basically dead Chromebook four hours ago, and rebooted when the battery reached 9%. The results, with the computer asleep and only being checked every hour where:

  • Hour 1 – 33% up 24%
  • Hour 2 – 56% up 23%
  • Hour 3 – 78% up 22% (with the PortaPow fast  power only cable)
  • Hour 4 – 84% up 6% (with the computer in constant use)

smoothing out the results, this is about 24% / Hr, or four hours to pretty much full charge. The original HP charger does this in a whisker under three hours. not a bad comparison.

Interestingly, temperature is a factor for battery life, and fast chargers heat batteries up, as does fast discharging doing things like playing video at full screen and full screen brightness.  As a result, I have chosen, where possible to charge all my devices as slowly as possible.

Anker 4 Port Charger
Anker 4 Port Charger

My most used option for the HP Chromebook 11, my Nexus 7, and my phone is a one meter illuminated charging cable. I have purchased three different types, and the common factor is usefulness rather than speed. They glow red when charging, and turn blue when charging stops. They charge at about half the speed of the fast PortaPow cables, but I plug all my devices in at night, and by morning, everything has been charged slowly but effectively.

When I travel, speed becomes more of an issue, and I go to the fast charging options.

The HP Chromebook 11 and  the “Low-power charger” message

I have no inside information here, but I see devices described by my HP 11 as “Low-power chargers” charging at a pretty good rate (See the figures above)  My feeling is that the HP charger uses a customized “hardware handshake” or unique resistors between the signal and power lines. I am sure no matter how powerful the charger, and good the cable nothing but a genuine HP charger will be considered the full powered option. It does not mean the the charger is not doing a good job. Slower? Yes, but that is not always a bad thing.

I have worked for days with a 2 amp Nexus 7 charger slowly charging ( and sometimes discharging) my HP Chromebook 11 while it is being used. When I close the lid and the computer is suspended, it charged at a pretty fast rate.

I am currently writing this on the HP 11 with Drive, Gmail and a couple of other tabs open. It has charged only 5% in the last hour. But in my experience, a Windows Laptop being used while charging can often take 8-10 hours to charge. Assuming a 20% starting point, that is 8% per hour, so the difference is noticeable, but not catastrophic.

This computer has now been charging for four hours, three in sleep mode, one in constant use, and the battery has gone from 9% to 82%. Not a bad average, given that my $1800 ASUS Zenbook takes four hours to charge from 20% while not being used.

The thing to remember is, if you use the machine constantly, the charger will keep it going. Any USB charger will bring it back up overnight, and that USB charger can also charge your phone, tablet, headphones, keyboard, mouse and more. And the slower charging rate will preserve the battery in your Chromebook.

Also worth mentioning is that the power-bank you bought to recharge your phone or tablet can also keep the HP Chromebook 11 running longer. Everything from a 2600 mAh lipstick sized charger to the 10400 mAh Soshine power bank beside me (review coming) can keep that HP Chromebook 11 running longer.

My Takeaway:

  • Any USB charger can charge the HP Chromebook 11
  • Any HP Chromebook 11 charger can charge a myriad of other devices
  • Lower powered chargers may take longer, but they will extend battery life
  • The HP Chromebook 11 & Charger is a VERY light travel solution, and can charge other devices
  • pick the best cable for the job you need

If you have doubts, look at the numbers, and, does it really need to charge in three hours? What is your real usage model? In my case, a trickle feed keeping it going all day and an overnight top-up is perfect, and any charger can do that…

Enjoy!

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QwertyZen – A Writers Text Editor for Chrome

I spend a lot of time writing in ChromeOS on a Chromebook and Chromebox. I am always looking for a reliable, distraction free text editor, a Writers Editor.

QwertyZen Uncluttered Interface
QwertyZen Uncluttered Interface

I have used several text editors, and all work well but have issues. Some have no save capability, some do not work offline, some have no spell-checker and some are cluttered and allow no font and color options. Some are not persistent.

 

QwertyZen is elegant, simple, and has an uncluttered interface

QwertyZen is elegant, simple, and does all of that. It has an uncluttered interface, saves, works offline and on Chromebooks and Windows machines and has a good spell-checker.

When you start typing the interface disappears, showing just the text and nothing else. Moving the mouse over the page brings up the interface. The file name is at the top of the screen, and the word count, letter count, target, and average reading time shows at the bottom of the screen. A simple menu system appears on the left side. This allows full screen mode (and back) file save, save as, and open, new document, and an additional nice feature, the ability to set a target.

Setting targets

Is there any writer or blogger who is not trying to reach a target word count? Articles need to be a certain length. Most of has have a personal goal of a certain number of words per day. This can be set for each document, and a green popup appears in the corner of the screen when the target is reached.

Settings

The QwertyZen Interface
The QwertyZen Interface

The settings tab is simple and basic. Font and background colour, font size and type and line width and height can be set.

It is also persistent. If I close my Chromebook down, when I restart and open QweryZen, the last document is still there, waiting to be edited and saved.

A small but nice feature is a findable cursor

I set my background to a dark blue and my font to white or light blue. Many text editors show the mouse pointer as a fine black bar, making it impossible to find the mouse location on a dark background without clicking on the page to see where the cursor will appear. In QweryZen the mouse Cursor is black with a white outline, making it clearly visible at all times.

It does not have a built in ability to print, but I can open any text file from Google Drive as a doc and print it, in the rare cases I want to print a .txt file from my Chromebox or Chromebook.

QweryZen cannot be registered in Drive as an App, so clicking on a text file will not open it in QweryZen, but I simply open files from inside QweryZen using the File List option.

I would like to see a search or search and replace capability. A recently opened files list would be nice. Autosave would be a nice option. I can survive without all of them, though.

Other than that, I am VERY pleased after a few hours of use. I have now deleted Caret and Write Space to remove confusion and clutter, and am using QwertyZen as my sole Chromebook text editor.

This review was written in QwertZen

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Windows 7 Updates Cause Lost Time & Aggravation

Asus ultrabook
Asus ultrabook

Trying to get my ASUS ZenBook UX31E running this morning has been an exercise in frustration. I use a USB stick with PortableApps on it for mail, so I can move from PC to PC. Most of the time I am on a Chromebook using ChromeOS and Gmail, and there are no delays because of updates and patches. It all just happens automagically. Windows, of course, is different.

Most of the time I am on a Chromebook using ChromeOS and Gmail, and there are no delays because of updates and patches. Windows, of course, is different.

I have not used the machine for a couple of weeks, so there were 12 updates. The antivirus software wanted to update. The PortableApps wanted to update. I am moving from a USB 2 stick to a new 64Gb USB 3 stick. The drivers on the Ultrabook do not recognize the new USB 3 stick.

Bluetooth and USB 3 driver pains

The Bluetooth mouse would not connect. I deleted the last instance and re-installed, three times. Each time I went through the troubleshooting routine that re-installed the drivers. that is SIX installs, still no go.

After two hours the PortableApps are updated, the 12 Windows updates have downloaded, and I am waiting for the machine to install and shut down. In that time that has taken, I have written most of this post on my Chromebook in Google Drive. We are at update 11, still installing. Still no Bluetooth or USB 3.

I keep a wireless mouse just for this situation. The ASUS and Windows 7 is so perverse that I despair of ever having these high tech devices work for more than a few days without having to re-install.

By comparison, the Chromebook instantly recognises the Bluetooth Logitech Ultrathin Mouse and the Sandisk 64Gb USB 3 drive. The Chromebooks are constantly ridiculed by Windows and OSX users as nothing but a web browser.

After all that and 39,386 registry updates, we are running again. The Mouse works! I have had to re-install the the ASUS USB 3 drivers.

Finally running after two and a half hours

Then , finally after almost two and a half hours, the machine is running and talking to all it’s peripherals. Why oh why can’t Windows adopt the Linux driver model that makes Linux and ChromeOS (using the Linux kernel) as fast and reliable as it is!

Make a backup now!

Having finally gotten everything updated and working in a configuration I like, I am now running a backup, saving a System Image to an external USB drive. Another hour and a half gone, but this time NOT WASTED. I strongly recommend making a system image every week or so. It is the ultimate recovery option.

I have two old USB drives, both recovered from laptops that have been upgraded to solid state drives (SSDs) and put into cheap USB drive cases. I alternate backups between the two drives for all my Windows machines. One is stored remotely, and I swap them every few weeks.

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Travelling Light for Business – Watch The Carry-on Weights

I flew Cabin luggage restrictionsout of Melbourne at 7 pm on Saturday night.

Nothing unusual there. But between arriving at the airport and boarding the plane I went through a security check, got pulled out of the line to have my backpack and bag sampled for bomb making residue, and had my carry-on bag weighed a the boarding gate by Jetstar’s new carry-on police.

The boarding gate weigh-in is because my carrier, Jetstar have just lowered the carry-on weight from 10 Kg (22 lbs) to 7 Kg (15.4 lbs) and people who exceed the 7 Kg weight are charged $50 to have their overweight bags shifted to the hold as late checked baggage.

The carry-on policeman thanked me politely but looked a little disappointed when my bag weighed it at 6 Kg. To my surprise, they did not add the small bag I carried over my shoulder to put under the seat.

I knew about the new limits, and had weighed my bags near the check-in area, and they came to 7.1 Kg, so when I saw the carry-on police ahead, I quickly shifted my Nexus 7 tablet (and case) into my pocket, taking 400 grams out of the load and putting me safely under the carry-on limit.

Others were not so lucky. I saw several people being ushered out of the queue with over-stuffed bags, headed for the $50 sin-bin of late checked luggage.

The reality is carry-on weights vary from country to country and airline to airline. Jetstar even had different rules for different routes. but now, 7 Kg combined carry-on weight is the rule. In my case, the little shoulder bag was not weighed, but that may well come. With budget airlines trying to increase profits, baggage is a money-spinner. In 2013, 20.6% of Jetstar’s revenue came from “ancillary sources” namely food, checked luggage, seat booking fees, booking fees, etc. This added up to an average of $31.60 per passenger.

Qantas reportedly comes third in the world in ancillary revenue per passenger at $US45.67, But much of that is from selling frequent flyer points to credit card providers and retailers loyalty programs.

Overall airlines extracted $US31.5 billion, or $US16 a passenger from ancillary fees in 2013. These fees are helping to get airlines back into the black.

The moral of this little story is, look carefully at what you carry, and where you carry it.

The night before I flew to Melbourne, I made a last minute switch from the HP Stream 11 laptop I am testing back to my HP Chromebook 11 because it, and its power supply were half a Kilo heavier than the Chromebook, pushing me over the 7 Kg limit. It caused problems, mainly that a selection of video and music I had saved on a Micro-SD card for the trip got left behind. I had other sources, so it was just an annoyance, but it has generated a to-do item to write a couple of travelling checklists.

I have learned a number of lessons. I am the proud owner of a hard-shell wheeled carry-on case. I bought is as a kind of walking stick last year when I had to travel while recovering from a month long issue with vertigo (dizziness & nausea when moving around) I could set the handle low, and lean on the four wheeled case as I pushed it along. It was an unusual color but a very cheap demo model, and it saved my life. Its new cousins are still costing around $300, and other similar devices are as high as $840. But now, its 2.5 Kg shell is too big a price to pay for style and convenience.

Kathmandu Lite-Haul Pack
Kathmandu Lite-Haul Pack

I flew with a 1.4 Kg (3 pound) 38 Litre Lite-haul convertible Kathmandu backpack, and discovered that 7 Kg is a totally different story to 10 Kg. Even with a less than robust back I could carry the 7 Kg bag comfortably. I did not deploy the shoulder straps once. I just carried it everywhere will only minor discomfort. I walked 14 Km in three days, 10 of them carrying the 7 Kg carry-on, and arrived home feeling fine.

I simply did not need the 2.5Kg wheely case. Next time I may carry my Nike sports bag. It weighs in at 0.74 Kg saving more than half a kilo for more important items.

200 Gram (0.44 pound) Day Pack
200 Gram (0.44 pound) Day Pack

I carry a lightweight folding backpack. it weighs 200 grams, or 0.2 Kg (0.44 pound) and folds into it’s own back pocket. It easily fits under the seat on the plane with personal items in it, but is big enough to carry 15 liters of personal stuff, shopping or warm clothing. It may not impress at a business meeting, but for a working trip it worked fine for me.

So spend some time checking that you are only travelling with what you need. Most of us add a host of might needs to the mix, and finish up fighting with too much baggage. I recommend a visit to Onebag.com for some tips on keeping it light.

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The Samsung Phone Extended Battery and Back

The Samsung Phone Extended Battery and Back.

Galaxy S3 Extended Battery & Back
Galaxy S3 Extended Battery & Back

While most phone manufacturers delight in offering thinner and lighter phones, some users, me included, simply want more battery life. This is the best answer I have found so far.

I always carry a 4400 mAh power bank that can charge all my mobile devices, and since an embarrassing episode in Melbourne a couple of months ago, when it’s charging cable broke, I have been looking for alternatives.

I am currently using what I think is the best option for me, as a Samsung Galaxy S3 user. The S3 is old, but it works, does what I want, and I have heaps of accessories for it. And there are two of them in my office, so sharing accessories, advice & batteries is common.

Galaxy S3 Extended Battery
Galaxy S3 Extended Battery

I am now using an add-on battery that is 4500 Mha, almost 2.5 times the capacity of the original. It comes with a curved white back to replace the factory back. It adds weight, about 35 grams or 1.23 ounces, and gives a slightly pregnant look to the phone, but fits well and looks fine. Having lived with the original Motorola Brick phone weighing 0.8 Kg or 28 ounces, I will not complain about the weight. It is about one third thicker, and about one third heavier, and for twice (or more) the battery life, that is a good deal.

The phone stays the same width and length, and uses the superb Sony charging controller, with a constant 870 mA charging rate.  It also protects the camera better than the original case. Since the battery fits in the normal battery holder, it will not interfere with the antenna, but does not have the NFC (Near Field Communication) chip fitted. I have never used NFC, but to some users, this will be an issue.

It will not be a permanent fixture, but whenever I travel I will switch to this two day battery for some peace of mind. This is one of the true benefits of using a phone with a removable battery. Some phones, notably, but not exclusively, Apple devices do not have this option.

I am not, and may never be an iPhone user, but I know that many users of this “thin, jewel like, bla, bla, bla” phone look first for an add-on battery. A search for iPhone battery case returns 41 million results… Mac World says: “The iPhone 5’s battery life isn’t bad, but it isn’t awesome, either. With careful use, you can make your iPhone’s battery last all day. If you want to work your iPhone hard, however, particularly when you’re traveling or otherwise away from places to recharge the device, you need a battery case.” The recommended cases cost $80, $100 and $120. and a benefit described is that most cases use a Micro-USB charging port,not the more expensive Lightning cable. And everything else uses USB charging, so you can share a charger. The power case makes the phone not only thicker and heavier, but wider and longer, and must play havoc with the notoriously problematic antenna.

Other phones by different manufacturers have the same problem. For some, it is to reduce weight and size, for others, it is a cost saving measure.

Galaxy S3 Extended Battery & Back
Galaxy S3 Extended Battery & Back

The result is that public power outlets are at a premium. I was amused when passing through Melbourne airport a last week to see five people huddled around power outlets, even sitting on the floor talking on their phones while they charged them.

So if you travel, and have a phone with a removable battery, check out the options for your device.

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