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  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

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: )

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.



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)




A New Start for Phil Stephens

Phil Stephens
A face made for radio

After running a number of businesses and currently posting content and putting effort into three different web sites I have decided to bring everything together here under my own name.

My interests are diverse, but revolve around one theme. Using and enjoying technology in life and in business. From my first 8-bit Microbee computer with 64Kb of RAM and a cassette tape storage system to the Asus Core i5 Ultrabook I am typing this on, and the Samsung Chromebook I may be using from tomorrow, technology is a wonder and sometimes a curse.

This site and blog will focus on helping people get over the hurdles and pitfalls of technology. It will focus on small businesses, start-ups, home businesses and those struggling to get the most use from the least technology.


Why Telstra Sucks – A Lesson in Poor Service

Telstra has gone from one of the most respected entities in Australia to a joke among it customers. Here is one reason why.


It is a truism that good service is good marketing. Certainly it is easier and cheaper to keep an existing customer that it is to get a new one. Smart managers know this at put a lot of effort into retaining their existing customers.

 The last twelve months have seen me go from a very long term Telstra customer into a very disgruntled ex-customer.

This saga began when my business partner, who also is my son, was facing surgery and a protracted hospital stay. He had formerly worked from the office, and had not had a mobile phone. I use the mobile phone diffidently, usually to allow people to contact me, rather than me calling out. So the business had a low cost business plan with two mobiles sharing one data plan. It was economical and activated it in 2009.

So in October 2012 I went into a Telstra shop to activate a third phone.

Enter the clowns…

Our business plan was no longer available, to add a new phone we would have to move to a plan that was 20% more expensive. That was a shame, but not a deal breaker. I had an existing handset, and simply wanted a SIM and a connection to our business plan that allowed us to call between phones.

For some reason that was never explained, the phone first had to be activated with a 10$ pay as you go SIM. This was explained after the SIM was installed. This was annoying, because I already have three unused $10 PAYG SIMs in my desk drawer.

I waited for two hours while repeated calls where made, forms filled out and signed, whispered consultations and trips into the back room, and more calls. I left to get back to work, and returned the next day for another two hours. Just before the store closed I was assured they would get everything working the next day, and call me if there where problems. The phone was working, but I had data turned off until I was sure it was on a data plan. Given Telstra’s outrageous charges for casual data I was not taking risks.

All seemed well, the next phone bill looked about what I had expected. I paid it.

This is not my account number!

Then on the 11th of December I got a notice that my mobile phone account was in arrears. It was a account number I did not recognise. The Telstra shop had created a new account for my third mobile phone. Calls between it and the other two business phones where being charged and full rates. And a data pack had been added each month. In the meantime my existing phones had been moved to a more expensive plan, and both phones now had data packs, even though one handset did not have data capability. My mobile phone charges had gone up more that 300%.

Between 11 December 2012 and May 2013 I spent over eight hours on the phone over multiple calls trying to rectify the problem. The second account was cancelled, but I still had to pay the three months charges including multiple $15 data packs that had never been touched. My two existing phones where now being billed at almost three times the rate I had paid previously. All told the three phones where costing five times as much as the two had. And the Testra support lines could do nothing but promise it would be fixed NEXT month, just pay this bill, it will be fixed next time. It never was. 

They never missed sending a bill on time, though!

At the end of May, in total frustration, I moved to another carrier, and Telstra promptly billed me $344 for exiting my contracts early. I had been a mobile customer since the days of analog phones, my first being a Motorola brick that would just fit in a briefcase without bending the aerial.

I had been on a Telstra business plan for more than five years. But I was billed for early termination of my contract because Telstra had forced me to move to another plan so I could add my third phone.

Another 45 minute phone call got that termination fee halved. and I decided $172.02 was a small price to pay for finally being free of the worst customer service experience I have ever been through.

It was too much to hope for… When the SIM cards arrived from our new carrier, one phone demanded an unlock code. This was a handset I had bought outright from a Telstra shop more than two years before. I did not know it was network locked, because I was using it on the Telstra network.

Once again I went back to Telstra phone support. A 15 minute call gave me the assurance that I would have an unlock code within five working days. A week later I called again, and got the same assurance, and again a week later. On the fifth attempt I was a little more forceful. My problem was escalated to a supervisor, and I would get a call back within one hour.

Fortunately, I have a drawer full of old feature phones, and we pressed one back into service to keep us working. Because once again, nothing happened.

I called back in another week. I got the same routine. “Sorry sir, it is a priority, we will call back before close of business”.

$15 and 5 minutes accomplished what Telstra could not do in six weeks

The next day I  Googled unlocking Telstra handsets and in five minutes had payed $15 via Paypal to an individual in Australia. I thought the money might just disappear, but 30 minutes later I had the unlock code, instructions, and a phone number I could call if I had problems. within 10 minutes the phone was working again.

Something that Telstra should have done free, and had been promising for more than six weeks was done in 30 minutes for $15.

Like the previous fees, I considered it money well spent. I am now totally free of the bloated and inept Telstra. The total cost of getting that extra handset working ran to $480.42 above what I should have been charged. and when it was finally working with three phones on one light usage business plan it was costing 2.5 times as much as I am paying on my new carrier. And I am enjoying  four times as much data per month.  

Goodbye Telstra. Do something about your customer service or you will find yourself going the way of the dinosaurs. Too slow and stupid to respond to a changing world of social media and fast responding competition.

Photo Credit: Indigo Skies Photography via Compfight cc


User Account Control Settings – Windows

User Account Control (UAC) settings in Windows Vista and Windows 7 seem like an annoyance rather than a benefit to Windows users. There are  many web sites telling users how to turn UAC off. However the UAC warning:

Is a vital tool in maintaining the security of your computer. It ensures that you know when a program is attempting to make changes. If you are trying to install a program, you expect the warning. But if you see a message like this when you are visiting a web site, or reading e-mail it is a warning that something is being done without you requesting it.

Simply cancelling the request will keep your computer safe.

To maximise your safety, increase the level of notification from UAC to the maximum.

How to Raise UAC to the highest setting

1) Click on the Start button or hit the Windows key.

2) type UAC in the “search programs and files” box

3) Click on the “Change User Account Control Settings” option (it should be the first choice)

4) Push the Slider up to the highest setting

5) Click OK, and you are done.

This will ensure nothing makes changes to your computer without notifying you. and remember, ALWAYS read those notifications before clicking on them. A malicious program, once installed can be an expensive mistake.

What Else Can I Do?

There is lots more, and we will post about them here, but with these three things, and common sense, you will enjoy a safe and secure Windows computer.



Belkin N750 DB Router – System Time Problem for Australia

I have recently purchased a Belkin N750 DB Router and I am pleased with it’s performance. More on that later.

The router gets it’s time and date settings from the Internet NTP servers. The list of servers is a drop-down list of IP addresses, only one for Australia. The list cannot be edited, and the date and time cannot be set manually.

I set the default time server to: from the drop down list, Set my timezone (Hobart) and moved on.

It was some time later I realised the clock was completely wrong, it was showing January, 1970 as the date, and the time was many hours out. I pinged the NTP server. Nothing. The server is not running. The solution is simple, switch to another server. I am now using the Asia-Pacific servers, and all is well.

The ability to use DNS to find other servers in the pool would be good, but I have found a work-around. Check out the NTP Pool project site for Australia.