Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Doing the Chromebook "thing"

Typing this from an Acer Chromebook 15 - core i5 model with 4 gigs of RAM and decent (though not particularly generous) SSD. Boots in approximately 7 seconds, as advertised. Ties into my google accounts and so all my "stuff", at least the online portions, is already there.

Of course, that's what you would EXPECT a Chromebook to do, right? You'd expect it to excel at navigating the web. So the fact it does so I would imagine hardly generates even a yawn.

But then you start looking at the difficult stuff. On my Windows boxes, connecting to my office computer involves installing the Java JRE, finding and configuring IE (since Edge is a no go at this point), logging in, typing in my PC identifier, waiting for the rdp client to time out, then loading the java version of the client, then making sure to specify the right domain, and finally I have a decent (if a little hard to read) connection to my desktop.

On the Chromebook it was install the Cisco Anyconnect VPN app, configure the app, install the FusionWare RDP client, connect to the VPN, type in my PC identifier and domain, and then I'm there. By default the RDP window is 3/4 screen, and the domain and PC identifier are stored so I won't have to type those in every time.

That was NOT something I expected to be easier on a Chromebook.

Of course the CB 15 is a full 1920x1080, which does a nice job of replacing my Yoga with it's "interesting" resolution. It also comes with a full 802.11ac connection so I can get onto the faster side of my WiFi - something the Yoga (which given it's age isn't really surprising) could never do.

Trackpad is slightly larger and more sensitive (though hardly anything to write home about), but can't figure out how to convince it to accept a right click. Works just fine (including the right click) with a USB mouse however.

Have not tried pushing the battery life yet, but will be interesting to see how close to the 9 hours I could get. Prominent speaker grills on both sides of the keyboard mean you aren't surprised to get nice, possibly too loud, sound from it.

Of course what I'm REALLY looking forward to doing is getting out and about with it, and see if I can be productive from places I was less certain I could work from using the Yoga. More on that to come.

Long story short, if you're not doing a lot of Video editing or major game playing on a daily basis, you may want to give a Chromebook a second look.

Monday, February 22, 2016

To Build the Perfect Car Phone Holder, first start with TWO Car Phone Holders

Since about December, I have been trying to find a way to use my Nexus 6 with Google Play Family to be my main music source in the car. I was getting a bit tired of the Slacker pre-recorded bits playing several times a week (not sure if their DJs aren't getting paid to do as many or...), and a quick two-day trial with Sirius XM reminded me of all the reasons I hate radio in the first place (can't skip a song, can't mark a song to never play again, lose the signal going into the parking garage, etc).

The problem is that a Nexus 6 is not only a large phone (nicknamed the Whale during development for a reason), but I have a protective case that allows it to snap onto a clip for my belt. So that adds even a bit more. The majority of phone holders are about a quarter inch shy of what they need to be to hold that. I was finally able to find one that opened big enough (barely) to clamp the phone. But then there was the issue of how the clamp actually mounts.

There are several different formats for these. One popular one uses a magnet attached to a rubber end split to hold onto your car vent. Given the big phone and my Jeep Patriot's flimsy vent louvers, I generally had to position the phone so it got additional support from the in-car entertainment console - usually blocking one or more switches. Worse, using the heater would inevitable cause the glue holding the metal plate that attached to the phone case to soften, and plop would go the phone.

Another popular type uses a suction cup to attach to your dash or the windshield. On the Jeep Patriot the dash is curved one way or the other in most places (at least those within arm's reach of the driver), and the windshield is at an angle and forward such that the phone was either out of reach, or blocking your view of some or all of the rear view mirror.

Next up is a type that goes in the cup holder. These are deep enough and far enough back that you either can't really see the phone, or you are blocking the shifter.

Then there are the ones that go into your DC Port (or cigarette lighter though they are rarely used for that). Again, on this particular car that puts the phone either blocking the heat/ac controls or the shifter.

My final solution was to buy two holders. One was the item I mentioned at the start (made as part of a 3-in-1 kit by Omaker), and then to use a kit that stretches back from the Windshield to the dash with a holder to keep it in place by IPow. Using the tightening spinner that came from the Omaker on the ball end of the Windshield arm (bit of a push, but it fit) the phone now rests just on top of the dash.

We don't want to talk about how many of these I went through to come up with this Frankenstein solution, but let me say I find it difficult to imagine so many of these products have 4 and 5 star ratings given my personal experiences.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Refreshing Yoga with Ubuntu 15.10

Note - The following is a bit long because I think it's useful to see how I got to where I am from where I started. You have been warned... :-)

So this started a couple weeks ago when I was trying to figure out if for my yearly technology refresh I wanted a monster laptop (i7, 980m, SSD) with minimal battery life, or if I wanted to try and use a Chromebook that would have great battery life and use either Teamviewer or Chrome Remote Desktop to access one of my desktop machines and do video editing and other work that way. I recently upgraded my Verizon to 12 gis/month so it was less likely I would blow through my data plan, and the idea of a less expensive and lighter weight machine seemed right up my aisle since I am always trying to optimize and simplify.

The problem was, I don't have a Chromebook and if it turned out that there were going to be some issues doing what I needed to do with it, then I would still have to buy the monster as well and would now have $300-$500 less to do it with.

Asked a few questions over on the Reddit ChromeOS subreddit, but didn't get any answers that left me feeling like anyone was trying to do what I had in mind. However that did point me to Neverware and their CloudReady distribution that suggested I could run the next best thing to ChromeOS on my Lenovo Yoga (original generation). Since the Yoga relies primarily on the Intel Integrated graphics, and has an older core i5 and 8 gigs of RAM it seemed like a good match.

Downloaded their file, added the Chrome Restore Utility to my Windows chrome setup, inserted a freshly formatted 8 Gig Flash drive, pointed the Chrome Restore Utility to the Cloudready file, and 30 minutes later was ready to reboot the Yoga off the flash drive and do my install. Of course to get the Yoga to boot from the USB I had to first turn off Secure Boot in the BIOS.

A couple boots later, and I was running CloudReady off the USB for the install, and noticed it said that there was no network available. I chose "Enable WiFi", but that didn't do anything. Figuring I could fix it after the install, I went ahead and told it to proceed, and to setup as a dual boot rather than take the whole disk. Idea being that in the worst case I could reboot into Windows, and move on.

Did the install, rebooted, and still no network. Tried a few things, including plugging in an external USB WiFi adapter, and no luck. So figured I'd boot into Windows 10 and do some more research. However, when I told Grub during the reboot to bring up Windows, there was a moment of loading, followed by a Critical Error and a reboot.

Several more reboots later, and it was clear that Windows was not going to come up again, and that Windows couldn't find the recovery partition any more. My suspicion is that the CloudReady setup presumes there is only one Windows partition on the primary drive, and so carves out space from what is left and labels accordingly. However the Yoga has a recovery partition that is also on the primary drive, and so GRUB and Windows were expecting the Windows partition to be somewhere other than where it was. At this point a little investigation showed I had more than 20 partitions now (logically, not sure if they were all real), which is actually in a note about the CloudReady support for dual boot as something that they are working to fix.

Time to fall back on my old favorite for such situations - Ubuntu. Put the Flash drive back on my desktop and... hmm... it only has 1 gig available after formatting? Sure enough, the Chrome utility creates a protected partition. A little research shows that it also has the ability to blow that away, so I did that, then brought the flash drive up in Windows Disk Management tool and created a single partition, and it was back to creating my Ubuntu USB boot drive. Got that done, booted into Ubuntu, told it to go ahead and blow away the whole disk on the Yoga, and half an hour later I had Ubuntu 15.10 up and running.

Was working to get that setup right when I noticed that the wifi kept dropping the internet connection while showing that the WiFi connection was still connected. Some research turned up that the latest Linux Kernels will automatically load a Realtek module that is close to, but not really the right one, needed for the internal wifi on the Yoga. Recommended solution was to blacklist the Kernel driver (using modprobe -d  >> blacklist.conf), install github (which I would have to do eventually anyway), and use an open source driver that was the right one. Then setup DKMS support to ensure that future Kernel upgrades would force the open source driver to rebuild and load rather than go back to the default state. Once all that was done, my wifi has been rock solid since.

Of course the Ubuntu issue suggests that the CloudReady distribution may have done the blacklist by default, and might not have the replacement driver. My other USB WiFi adapter might be new enough it didn't have a driver either, and so that could be the source of my ongoing issue. I am tempted to setup the Yoga with a Powerline network adapter and try it all over again, but at the moment I'm not sure I want to know badly enough to possibly have to retrace my steps in Ubuntu again.

The again, setting up Chrome in Ubuntu and adding apps to Chrome through the Web Store gets me 90% of what a Chromebook would give me anyway, so I may yet do a couple experiments with that setup once I get my CC account setup with Adobe later this week.

In fact, if you haven't looked through Chrome's web store for a while, you may want to give it a browse. The best part of it is that since apps work like web pages, you can use Ad Block Plus to block the ads in apps. Figuring out I could do that made a couple of so-so apps for Weather and Time into my now favorite apps. I do wish that more authors would consider having a "Premium" offering so I can pay a couple bucks to have a supported version without ads, but this comes close enough for now.

Long story short, if you've got an old laptop or desktop lying around, trying CloudReady or Ubuntu with Chrome might be worth some of your time!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Why the Maven should be your next "car"

Hopefully everyone has seen GM's announcement about their new "Maven" service which has just started in Ann Arbor, Michigan this past week, and is supposed to roll out to the rest of the country over the next year or so.

For $12 an hour, with no membership fee, you use their app to find the car, unlock it, use it, and then park it at the same or another Maven location.

Am hoping GM will be setting up a Maven Calculator soon. Am also hoping they are planning to work with Schools, Shopping Areas and Large Employers to set up sites. Schools because they could use the funding and often have space in their parking lots they could afford to put aside. Large Employers and of course Shopping Areas, would be natural targets.

For myself I would ideally be able to walk the one block to the local school, rent the car for an hour to get to work (which is more than enough time), and then in the evening repeat the process. If so, that would be around $300/month all in since they are handling all the other costs of car ownership. For my newer car the all in (maintenance, payment, etc) is closer to $600/month. You can imagine how something like this, done right, could quickly disrupt auto ownership. I presume this is GM's attempt to be their own disruptor and own the experience given the likelihood of this kind of model to eventually replace individual ownership all together. Throw in the ability to drive from my home to the Maven spot using an autonomous feature, and perhaps getting GM to offer an "all you can ride" monthly fee, and you can see how close we really are to having "car as a service".

Not a moment too soon if you ask me :-)

The Problem with the Cloud is it's still Physical

Trying to do an rclone sync today and keep getting:

2016/01/23 16:23:18 Amazon cloud drive root '': Couldn't list files: Get https://cdws.us-east-1.amazonaws.com/drive/v1/nodes?filters=parents%3Ad7yxwkFUSFSm_K8YMmQwMA: dial tcp connectex: A connection attempt failed because the connected party did not properly respond after a period of time, or established connection failed because connected host has failed to respond.

Started around 10 am (Central), and each attempt since then has been similar. I presume the location may be affected by the current blizzard, but would have hoped that AWS would maintain more than one copy of my data and could route accordingly. Guess this makes the argument that I should stay local and physical at home and at work a little more tellingly.

On the plus side, looking around for the reason did let me notice I needed to get an updated copy of rclone.