Monday, May 14, 2012

Do I still love my Chromebook?

That was the question a co-worker put to me. "Hey, it's been a while since you got that new gadget. Are you still excited about your Chromebook?"

The answer is Yes.

Yes, still in love.
I'm taking a long weekend to recover from a long bout of pneumonia and then a sinus infection (I'd rather have the life threatening one, thanks) with three rounds of antibiotics, a couple of weeks of one work-related crisis after another, and a few freelance gigs that are nice to do, but exhausting.

This is where the lightness and long battery life of my Chromebook really shines. I can lie on the couch and watch videos from Youtube or Hulu. I installed the Kindle Cloud app to catch up on my reading, a rare treat of late.

Of course, there's always the classic web surfing; finding new blogs, which link to interesting articles, and I can still get lost in Wikipedia.

How is this different from when I had my old Powerbook laptop? Well, it's not: when I was sick in bed with my laptop, I would be using my Chrome browser, just as I'm doing now.

Yet, it is different; because I can actually do all these things without plugging it in every few hours. Even with a new battery, the laptop would be setting the battery signal to "distress" before three hours was over, especially with videos. I'd be restricted to one hour long viewing session, because it got quite warm if I pushed it. It was much heavier than my Chromebook, too. So it was a much more cumbersome piece of machinery for the same use.

While a tablet can do all this with an even smaller footprint, it excels at content consumption, and not so much at content creation.

The Chromebook is the only one to offer both.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Chromebook: Offline

It's the biggest trump card Chromebook detractors have to play.

What if we can't get on the Internet?

If we are a writer, it doesn't matter. I need a keyboard to pour out the unfiltered, raw, thrilling material that is drafting. Once upon a time, when even the cheapest laptop was out of my price range, I drafted with a fountain pen and legal pads.

It is not the only access.
Now, I can draft with a full keyboard and save my work onto the cloud. Whenever I can gain access to the cloud.

My offline writing app of choice is Scribble (as they like to say: stickies on steroids.) Whatever I have written there is always there. When I am back on the Internet, it synchronizes my changes with my account on the web.

Even offline, I can edit, organize, and refine my thoughts in as many little "index cards" as my heart desires. In the meantime, it is stored on the Chromebook's flash drive.

I understand Google Docs is scheduled to have this same offline ability in the near future. This would handle other writers' needs for formatting or greater complexity.

This is one of the intriguing elements of the Chromebook's technical parameters. I got a skin instead of a sleeve to protect my Chromebook, mostly because I knew the Chromebook had no "moving parts."

The usual laptop has a usual hard drive. This is a wildly spinning disk which has a delicately poised floating head; which reads and writes within teeny tiny tolerances. The existence of a hard drive is why laptop users are encouraged to, at least, put their device to sleep before travel.

This delicately poised system is somewhat vulnerable to bumps and jolts. If we let our laptop know movement is imminent, it can park the delicate head in a safe place, and protect the hard drive data.

With a flash drive, such precautions are not needed, because nothing moves; in the Newtonian sense. Our offline data, whether from our offline Gmail account which lets us create emails to be sent when the Internet access resumes, to my drafts and edits saved on the internal flash drive, are safe.

They are merely in transition.

  • This post is one of a series of articles about living with my Chromebook. See all my posts about life in the cloud.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Chromebook: Blogging

The Chromebook is made for blogging.

Since blogging is so much of what I do, there isn't any question about a Chromebook's usefulness, appropriateness, or potential or projected limitations. I write to publish online. What I need is online, where I'm read is online, and what I need to do is online, too.

Here in the 21st Century (you have problems, but I love you!) a writer is often a blogger, too. While I publish, more and more, on outlets like the Kindle platform, (I wrote Cat 911: Fixing their Care,) it is through blogging that I, like so many other authors, reach my audience. It is a way to engage people with shorter, more accessible works, and keep that audience informed and connected.

When we look at the Chromebook as that gateway to the Web it is designed to be, we begin to understand the boon it is. It is for creators, for whom a tablet is not enough. While iPads and the like are unrivaled for the consumption of content, the creation of content is what a Chromebook is born to do.

This is a writing machine.

Lotsa things to lotsa people.
I have three blogs on the Blogger platform. Get the Cat to Love You is about my delight in cats as pets, and my tips and tricks gleaned from decades as a cat rescuer and rehabilitator.

Last Ten, Last Time is about my adventures in weight loss and health, and my joy in finally realizing success in both arenas.

Reality Principles, the one right here, concerns... well, reality. This, like gravity, is the Big Subject that should concern everyone involved in manipulating ourselves through its iron rules. Yet, so often, it becomes shunted aside.

Essentially, this is my most personal blog, where my degree in psychology intersects with my love of the Tao.

As someone with lots of passionate interests, it is an act of will to confine myself to only three blogs. I choose subjects where I can match my enthusiasm with expertise.

This is how I can share my love informed by my learning. My Chromebook is an incredible tool that is actually designed for blogging needs; a big screen, an actual keyboard, a way of downloading pictures and minimally editing them.

Even offline.

  • This post is one of a series of articles about living with my Chromebook. See all my posts about life in the cloud.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Chromebook: Gateway

When my Chromebook came I was so excited I missed a step; I just plugged it in and watched the incredibly fast bootup; mere seconds. It didn't mind that I had forgotten to put the battery in.

While I turned it off and plugged in the battery later, my mistake served as an illustration of concept. There's nothing else in there. It is simply a gateway to the cloud.

It's a browser, not a laptop.
I showed a techy friend my new Chromebook, which he had heard of, but not seen. Even so, there were several times in the course of the conversation where his understanding of "it's only a browser" was shaky.

It's not aligned to our usual ways of thinking about computers. It should be especially difficult for me and my friend, since we remember computers before the Internet.

Yes, children, once upon a time, there was no World Wide Web. There was a bit of email, and I remember banking with a 300 baud modem, as part of an experiment. If we knew the right numbers and passwords, we could use our modem to call into a giant mainframe where lurked The Adventure Game. You are in a maze of twisty little passages...

But usually the way we did stuff on the computer was to do stuff on the computer. I remember potlucks which began with me putting the cassette in to load Sword of Fargoal. Twenty minutes later everyone would take a turn. Back in the 1950's, it was the first television in the neighborhood which became the object of fascination. Our household experienced this phenomena as "the one with the first computer."

But I find the transition ridiculously easy. Perhaps because of my circumstances. My friend has a high-end netbook which is vital to his work in IT. It's easily four times as expensive as my Chromebook. He got it when I asked him to heft my new purchase. "Nice and light!" he said. "You get six hours of of this?" He meant battery life.

"That''s right," I said. "I can't afford this in a computer. I can afford it in a browser."

And I saw the light go on in his face.

  • This post is one of a series of articles about living with my Chromebook. See all my posts about life in the cloud.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Chromebook: Security

For those of us who love the Internet, it's an incredible treasure chest of information, communication, and amusement.

What Grandma sees on the World Wide Web
But dangers lurk there too. Especially for those who are not confident of their ability to perform the correct evaluations and actions.

There are two categories of accident-prone Web users. There are the ones too young to understand the dangers. They are the ones who will click on anything that looks interesting, and gladly install heaven-knows-what when we've allowed them to use our computer one afternoon.

Then there's the ones who are old enough to understand; but not experienced enough to properly evaluate the risks. They tend to not click on anything; including that email from a grandchild with an attachment and the notices that their operating system needs to be upgraded.

Then they panic and click on the spam banner that promises to scan their computer and check for viruses, free. Funny how those programs always seem to find so many scary viruses!

These are the folks who drive their computer-savvy relatives crazy. The Chromebook can be the right answer for these kinds of Internet users. Because the Chromebook is the most secure operating system around.

It is called Verified Boot. Because the Chrome OS is so small, it can be stored in an encrypted section of memory. Then it can be checked against a "certified copy" to see if any part of it has been tampered with. If it has, it is re-installed with a fresh operating system before moving forward. In about 8 seconds.

This does more than protect against viruses. It also means it is easy to add updates, and get a "system refresh" that is truly fresh. During their running life, computers accumulate small errors in the lots and lots of little programs that make up their operating system. Part of what a computer does is evaluate these responses that are not what they expect, figure out what should be happening, and then make the right thing happen.

Over time, this accumulates into a lot of drag in the computer's responsiveness. The usual prescription is to re-install the operating system periodically. It takes a really hardcore tech nerd to enjoy that process. This also wipes out all the little tweaks and personalizations the user accumulated to feel at home on the computer. Even the most hardcore tech nerd does not enjoy that process.

This is what is supposed to keep my Chromebook as nimble and responsive as my first experience. While the Chrome OS wards off attacks from viruses, my data is in their cloud; safer than it would be on a hard drive that will have to be wiped clean if it gets infected.

Those of us who are used to the ways we maintain our system and keep it safe are not aware that this is any thing more than an onerous chore. But a lot of computer users can't think about it that way. They don't understand it.

Now, they don't need to.

  • This post is one of a series of articles about living with my Chromebook. See all my posts about life in the cloud.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Chromebook: Comparison

Many people have trouble understanding the simplicity and power behind my choice. Such as the ones who say, "You could get a netbook for the same price." They are thinking they get more with a netbook; a whole computer.

But when I started researching my options, I found that the "whole computer" part was accurate only in technical terms. The netbook operating system is downsized and the usual programs run sluggishly. Since they try to recreate the entire computer experience in a smaller package, they are heavier, and have a shorter battery life, than a Chromebook.

The computer experience is shrunken, too, from the smaller screen to the narrower keyboard. While the Chromebook gives me more of a laptop size screen, and a full keyboard. And it should, because that is all there is to it.

Netbooks are primarily sold as a way of browsing and accessing email. Over and over I was told they are not meant, or designed, to serve as a full service computer. Which is the central complaint of most negative reviews about the Chromebook, too. So what makes or breaks someone's decision between the two?

If we need the portability and a program that will only run on an operating system, netbooks will give us both. If we aren't sure of getting Internet access to reach the program we need, the netbook will serve it up reliably, if slowly. When I run across articles which outline the zippiest alternative programs to install on a netbook instead of the ones people are used to, I know there's tradeoffs, and additional expenses, lurking here.

Either mow the lawn or race the car.
Of course, there's a better portable computer experience if we get an actual laptop or a high-end netbook, like the Mac Air or Sony Vaio. But now we are talking about prices that are much higher.

It doesn't make sense to buy a big truck just for those times we purchase something that won't fit in our economical car.

Likewise, it doesn't make any sense to mess up our mobility experience... for those times we need to run programs on an operating system.

In one article on the Chromebook, the reviewer quoted a work colleague who wondered aloud why anyone wouldn't just get a Mac Air.

Gee, I don't know. Maybe because they start at $999? I already checked my couch cushions for spare change. Maybe I should do it again.

There are folks who need the portability and the power of an expensive laptop. But I don't. I need a good computer at a reasonable price, so I bought a desktop. Then, with the money left over from not buying an expensive laptop, I bought the portability, lightness, and quickness of a Chromebook.

It truly is the best of both worlds.

  • This post is one of a series of articles about living with my Chromebook. See all my posts about life in the cloud.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Chromebook: Acquisition

I actually got two Chromebooks. It turned out I had someone in my life who needed one even more than I did.

Art by Michael Gibbs
My mother-in-law had gotten through successful cancer treatment; but she was worn out. Too exhausted for much activity outside the house, and even in it. Her situation was made for the self-paced, infinite-interest, horizon of the Internet. Yet, she wasn't getting online.

In our regular phone chats, I'd been exploring her difficulties. She was usually too tired to sit at the desktop computer, and it was often being used by others.

Equally daunting was her unfamiliarity with "how it all worked" because of her serious fear of viruses. When I explained the Chromebook was the safest way to browse... I could hear her voice light up with enthusiasm.

For those of us who are long-term computer users, we don't notice a computer's "maintenance aspect." A window pops up, we assess, agree or not, and wait for it to be finished. But for someone who is unfamiliar with the way our software seeks attention, this simple task is fraught with dangerous unknowns.

My brother, also a writer, is following my adventures on this new device with great interest. He had wrestled with a PC for years, resigned to getting it cleaned up once a year, and becoming increasingly annoyed with it as it aged.

While he liked the Mac better, he discovered that any operating system demanded more maintenance than he wanted to supply. Once his auxiliary hard drive went down (it turned out to be a bad power supply) his tolerance was exhausted. When he divested himself of possessions to go traveling he wasn't sure of his next step.

It turned out that his Gmail account, with all his work loaded into Google Docs, was the one piece of guidance I'd given him which matched his new, minimal-tech, outlook. It meant he could pick up where he left off on any computer system. Or, as it turned out, no "computer" at all.

The Chromebook gives him the self-maintaining software and automatic backups that could be the answer for him.

  • This post is one of a series of articles about living with my Chromebook. See all my posts about life in the cloud.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Chromebook: Decisions

It has been a year since my kitten, Tristan, killed my old aluminum Powerbook with a glass of wine. I had been making an effort; the wine was being put away on a shelf behind me, safe from kittens. Tristan grasped this, because he tried to leap into my lap while I was drinking it. While I was holding it in such a way that even drooling (from either of us) would have kept my keyboard safe, a kitten head exploding the wineglass right out of my hand was a contingency I had not planned for. (Note to self: invent sippy cups for Chardonnay.)

I adore the kitten, and the Powerbook was not long for this world, anyway, being almost eight years old and already throwing up barriers to updates, enticing new software, and playing videos longer than thirty seconds. So I got philosophical about it, and explored the horizons of my iPod touch for my portability needs. I have to say I wound up amazed at all the things I could do with it; especially during a bout of pneumonia that stranded me in bed for several days. I could read free eBook classics or summon fresh on my Kindle app, explore upcoming movies on the Turner Classic Movie app, surf the web, even draft new work with ShapeWriter, about which I cannot say enough stunned and admiring things.

It cannot be beat for portability, either, being about the size and weight of a deck of cards. A crucial element of writing, the rewriting, was possible; but so slowly and painfully that my way forward was clear. Whatever I next chose for my mobility/writing slot would have to have an actual keyboard.

There are Bluetooth keyboards for both the iPod touch and the various tablets which have sprung up on the market. This would be fine for those stream-of-consciousness word dumps that is proper drafting; but I have ShapeWriter for that. The iPod touch's smaller screen would still be a barrier to the "fiddly bits" that is editing. The iPad is bigger, but has a touchscreen keyboard. A "reality" keyboard would undercut the portability element by requiring two devices; each with their own  battery duration, charging times, and quirks.

I have several life factors which make desktops literally out of reach for writing. I'm not always home. I have a lunch hour, I have a gorgeous view from my apartment house's front porch (down three flights of stairs,) and  I go lots of places and wait, especially doctor's offices, since my husband has a chronic illness. When he's feeling lousy, he lies in bed and watches TV. I enjoy that, too, but it's often the kind of show or movie that doesn't need that much attention; and I could be writing.

This mantra inserts itself into so many of my daily tasks when my complete attention is not needed. I get as much writing done as I do because I have become a Zen Master at grabbing bits of time. Even though I have written on a computer since the Commodore VIC 20, I also had to be able to write wherever I was at the time. Once, when laptops were new, large, and expensive, I relied upon a leather portfolio with legal pads and a fountain pen. (Fountain pens have the least drag of all paper-based instruments.) I once drafted a whole novel with these primitive instruments.

In a universe of infinite money, I would simply get a Mac Air, next day shipping. I don't live in that Universe. (In such a Universe I would also have more kittens.) So even with such new variables I was left with my previous best choice; an older Mac laptop from, chosen with the help of the awesome Michelle, which would come with a warranty and still fit my budget.

But then Google changed all the variables.

They came out with the Chromebook. It is a device of stunning simplicity; it's a Chrome browser. That's all.

This fact is seemingly so simple it was ungraspable for 33% of the reviewers and 50% of those commenting on reviews.

During my research I learned to ignore the stars on the retail sites which actually sell Chromebooks because so many of the reviewers complained that it was just a browser in a laptop case. What part of Does Exactly What It Says On The Tin do these people not get?

Whereas I grasped the implications immediately. What did I do with my laptop, after all, that wasn't on the web? Desktop, sure; I Photoshopped and FTP'd and edited videos and built websites. I couldn't do those things without having a state-of the art laptop I couldn't miss because I'd never had one. Because I used my laptop lying in bed or on the couch or sitting on porch steps and I didn't want to do complicated things at such times. I wanted to research and surf and write and blog and play Bubble Shooter; and I did all those things on the web.

My brain caught fire at the possibilities. The Chromebook was a fourth of the cost of that Mac Air, and half the cost of a tablet plus keyboard. I had WiFi at home, at work, the doctor's office, and my favorite restaurant.

This could work.

  • This post is one of a series of articles about living with my Chromebook. See all my posts about life in the cloud.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

I love President Obama.

I was very clear in the title...why?

Because I believe he truly cares about all Americans. He is a kind man, or he wouldn't have passed the Affordable Care Act. My own life has been ruined once by lack of health care*... and is currently greatly impacted by such an issue.

Because I believe he is a genuinely intelligent and open-minded leader; and that this is one of those crisis times when we need the best our country can come up with.

Because he's a feminist; raised by a single mother, with an awesome First Lady and two daughters. One of his first actions was to pass the Lily Ledbetter Equal Pay Act.

Because he is extraordinarily skilled; his opposition is very powerful, with a propaganda organ masquerading as a "news outlet" and unlimited funds. And yet he is able to wipe the floor with them. Regularly.

Because have you seen the clown car that passes for the Republican candidates this year?

What has President Obama done?

*Short version: I had my own business with my first husband of 18 years. We couldn't afford health insurance. He died, I lost the business, the house, most of my pets, and 90% of my possessions.