Chromebook Challenge Day 3 – Remote Support – A Problem Overcome

Chromebook
Image by Zoinno

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

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

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

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

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

Chrome remote login
Chrome remote login

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

Logging into Windows 7 Remotely
Logging into Windows 7 Remotely

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

Another problem solved!

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The Chromebook Challenge Day Two – Write Space

Samsung Chromebook
The Samsung Chromebook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy!

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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)

 

 

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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.

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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.

telstra-sucks-sml

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

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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.

 

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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: 128.250.36.3-Australia 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.

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WD My BookThunderbolt Duo Drives – Read the Fine Print

I was quite impressed when I received an e-mail advising me that Western Digital are now offering a new drive called the My Book Thunderbolt Duo with an Intel Thunderbolt interface port with a supposed transfer rate of 10Gb/s or 10 Gigabits per second.

But all is not what it seems.

Unfortunate my initial enthusiasm was somewhat diminished by reading the fine print in the speed graphic.

The actual performance of the device is given in MB/s or Megabytes per second, not Gigabits, so some arithmetic has to be done. Eight bits to a byte leaves us with a maximum speed of 2000 Megabytes/s or 2Gb/s, way below the indicated throughput of either Firewire or Thunderbolt port.

In fairness to Western Digital, the fine print is there, you just have to work at finding the truth.

The 10Gb/s throughput of the Thunderbolt interface is actually supposed to be a combination of up to two HD video channels, and multiple data devices, on a single cable, not a single device. The transfer rates are based on the manufacturers specification, not the realities of the device in question.

In short read the fine print.

I have been stung by transfer speed claims before. This is not the first time a manufacturer has erred on the side of hype, and will not be the last.
Have you been caught by claims that where not supported by reality? 
Why not share with us, I would love to know how you feel.
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Don’t Make This Social Media Marketing Mistake

Social Media Marketing – DON’T Send  Your Customers to Mark Zuckerberg

More and More, I see marketing campaigns sending customers to Social Media web sites.

Don’t do that! Really. Stop it now! The visitor is interested enough in you or your product to read a web page, blog post, tweet and look for more information. Instead of sending them to your  web page, you are directing them to a site you do not and cannot control.

Bloggers are doing the same with Follow us on Twitter and Find us on Facebook buttons. A visitor has come to your site, hopefully to read your content and perhaps buy your products, and you then send them to Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg thanks you. Your customer has now become his. In the Internet age we all have the attention span of goldfish. Once your prospect hits Facebook they may follow you, but they may never actually engage you. It may be days or months before they return to your web site.

Don’t Send People to a Place You Do Not Control

“Ahh”, you say, “but we have build a GREAT site on Facebook and are getting thousands of Likes”. Perhaps you are, but what real engagement are you getting, and how much control do you have?

Many businesses have used a standard Facebook account and use it a business page. A Group has some advantages, but today Facebook is pushing everyone towards Fan Pages. Many businesses have fallen foul of Facebook’s ever changing rules and had there site taken down. See the account by Ars Technica. Some have had the page taken over by hackers or ex-employees who have changed passwords and locked the business out of it’s own site. And many people will use comments on a popular Fan Page as a platform for their own purposes.

Facebook Changes Again

At the end of March 2012 Facebook is changing the rules about pages again. Fan pages, or Facebook pages are now being brought into line with the normal user page. The look is changing. Here is the facebook page of one business before:

This is how the Easy Luchbox page looked on Facebook

 

And After:

 

easy lunchbox facebook page now

Some businesses have spent $50,000 (and perhaps more) getting pages like this designed. Now much of that work will be thrown away.

 

McDonalds Australia. A Big Marketing Campaign pointing to Facebook

McDonalds Australia have been running an advertising campaign featuring their Facebook page. Their web site ( it doesn’t work for me most of the time, I have Flash disabled) also has a link to this page. I tried clicking on the link to Facebook and got a rather disturbing pop-up.

Eventually I accepted the caution and when to the McDonalds Facebook page. The advertising campaign seems to have worked. They Have 285,580 persons who like their page.  There was a reward for doing liking the site. Of those 277,965 have actually visited the site, but only 13,933 are Talking About the page.

This page will, of course change within the next week or so…

Be prepared for Damage Control

A quick browse through the comments on various posts indicate that many of the comments are less than flattering.

Comment on McDonalds Facebook Page
More less that flattering comments

 

I wonder if I commented on the violent bout of food poisoning that almost put me in hospital after eating a McDonalds, would it be deleted? Would it help their marketing?

Deleting comments because they do not meet your approval is a dangerous move. People do not like to be censored.

Keep your traffic at Home, Mark Zuckerberg has enough. Remember, Facebook is not there to help your marketing effort. Their goal is to get your customers engaged, gather information and target someone else’s advertising at them

A far better use for the precious seconds of their time someone has given you would be to direct them to you own web site. Preferably a custom landing page that has been designed to call them to action. Sign up for a news letter, subscribe to a feed or make a purchase.

Use Facebook and Twitter for Inbound Marketing

Facebook and Twitter have a very real place in marketing, but it is in the other direction. Don’t send people there. Use Tweets or posts to encourage people who find you on those sites to follow you because you point them to interesting content. If that content is on your web site, so much the better. The main thing is to give them something worth reading, commenting on or re-tweeting. Then they will bring their friends to you.

So when that Social Marketing Guru comes knocking, say “No, thank you, I would like to send my potential clients where I can control the message.”

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A New Router, And Problems out of the Box – Linksys WRT160N

I have used a D-Link DI-624S storage router for a couple of years now. I received a lot of criticism, much of it well founded. The ability to share printers and USB drives was a good idea, but it lost something in the implementation. Recently it died completely overnight. In the evening, the internet was offline, but the internal network was functioning. In the morning, I rebooted it, and it just did not come back. The same day I replaced it with the well reviewed Linksys (Cisco) WRT160N Wireless Router.

The WRT160N is a thing of beauty, looking more like a jet or flying saucer than a wireless router. But it also performs most impressively. It has outstanding wireless coverage. I walked around with my Asus Eee connected to the wireless network. I could get two doors down the street, or out into the back yard and to the back fence with full wireless network speed. And with 802.11n it is faster than any WiFi card I have at present.

It seems there is a problem though. It began to drop out, with DNS errors (site not found, etc) and I had to do some research. It appears the the router has a security vulnerability, and in an attempt to fix it, Linksys upgraded the firmware and introduced a bug. here I go again. I seem to buy the lame ducks!

The vulnerability is reported by Secunia here

Then solution was to install the older version of firmware 1.2.02_008. A web page showing how to do this has been posted here . Once the firmware was downgraded, and the DNS settings changes, the router began to work fine.

I will watch Linksys for a firmware upgrade, and hope they post one soon. In future I will spend more time reading the newsgroups associated with these products. It was a quick decision because I needed to get back on the air.

I am very pleased with the Wireless performance of the WRT160N, but not with the lack of comment or action by Linksys. I know it takes time to produce and test firmware, but there should at least be some comment on the problem.

How about it Linksys, are you taking any responsibility for this? The issue has been documented and discussed endlessly on your OWN FORUMS and still, four months later this defective product is still in the stores.

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