Playing with a Chromebook

For the past few days I have been playing with a Samsung Chromebook,  We got it at work to see how useful it would be as a second device or shared device.  I have been a little skeptical on how useful it would be as I can’t imagine not having my PC.  In reality I couldn’t use a Chromebook exclusively, I need tools like Office, Photoshop, Illustrator, VMware, and others for work.

However, I do a lot of volunteer projects (swim team, basketball, soccer, etc.) where I think something like a ChromeBook could be useful and keeping all of the information “in the cloud” would be really useful for transitioning ownership from one person to another.

For the past couple of months I have been using Google Docs exclusively for the church basketball team I am coaching.  I did it sort of as an experiment – can I do everything I need to do using Google Docs?  Not using Excel is a big step for me – we use Excel at work for a million things and I am pretty proficient with it.  It is my go-to tool for many things including, for the past couple years, managing my basketball roster.  Over the course of two seasons I created a spreadsheet which allows me to set my line up.  I can quickly change which players play when and it keeps track of playing time requirements so I make sure all the players meet the playing time requirements.

This season I moved my spreadsheet to Google Docs.  I wasn’t sure all of the formulas would work but they did as did the data validation I had set up to let me select players from a list.  The data validation from a list works a bit differently than Excel does but it is close enough and it is doing what I need it do.

So for my evaluation of the Chromebook, I am trying to do all of my basketball work with it. So far it has been a non-issue.  Now I haven’t add to do anything more complicated then sending email, updating spreadsheets and creating simple documents.

I thought the Chromebook would be pretty limited in what it can do but it isn’t too bad.  I actually like the Samsung machine quite a bit.  It is light and responsive.  I really like the keyboard, it is actually quite a bit better than the keyboard on my Sony Vaio Z1,

While I have had several people login into using their GMail account (no issues there), it doesn’t seem to switch users very well.  When switching users it seems as though it logs the current user out instead of keeping that user’s state in memory.

I’ll continue to play with it over the next month or so.  I can definitely see a use for it in the education market.  If a school uses Google Docs then it is a no brainer and I’d give each of my kids one.  As it is, my kids seem to like it quite a bit.  They’ll pick it up and login with their email address and use it to browse the web.  It will also come in pretty handy on a family vacation as it will allow everyone to keep up with their email pretty easily.

Less clear is how useful it will be at work.  We have a corporate Google Docs account but very few people use it.  I’ll probably give it a try in the next day or two.  If you have Google Apps for your own domain then a Chromebook is a pretty good solution.  It is too bad Google has eliminated the ability to get Google Apps for free.

EX495 WHS Server Recovery Successful

I finally ran through the Server Recovery process on my HP EX495 Windows Home Server over the weekend.  My WHS has been acting up for a while now and I have been unable to fix it.  It was visible on my home network through \\ServerName mapping but WHS Connector wouldn’t work and the Server had stopped backing up the clients.

A WHS that doesn’t do backups isn’t real useful, it is just an expensive media and file server.  After trying to track down a solution several times over the last two months, I gave up and decided I’d have to do a Server Recovery.  I was apprehensive about doing this to say the least.  I have all of our family pictures on my WHS so I needed to copy them to another drive before I could go through the recovery process even though it is supposed to be non-destructive.  I also had some video and a reasonably large music library.  All in all, about 4.5GB of stuff to copy somewhere while I did the recovery.

Thanksgiving weekend seemed like a good weekend to do this since I would be home and could monitor the process I expected to take a while.  Copying all of the pictures took the longest – I have about 35,000 digital pictures spanning about 10 years – they pile up!  Once I got everything copied and felt that if everything disappeared I wouldn’t be completely SOL, I started the recovery process.  I followed the procedure and it went exactly as described.  The whole process took about two hours and left me with a WHS which was working again.  I was thrilled to see that none of my data was gone – everything (pictures, videos, music, etc.) was all there just as it was before I did the recovery.  Whew!

The server was a bit slow throughout the day as in addition to trying to reconfigure all of the clients, of which I have seven or eight, the WHS was also updating itself with the various Windows Updates which have been released since the media was created.

This morning I got up to check on it and was happy to see that my laptop had been backed up and my wife’s PC was almost done.  Yeah.  A level of comfort has been restored.  I am not exactly sure why my WHS went AWOL on me, I added to modules to it:  Tivo and McAfee.  I no longer use a Tivo so there is zero reason to re-install that and I am on the fence about McAfee.  Actually, based on this article, it looks like there is no reason to install McAfee again since it isn’t supported any longer.  Avast appears to be an option, I’ll have to do some digging to see if it will really work.  I have no desire to go through this process again anytime soon!

My Windows Home Server is driving me crazy

About a year ago after a catastrophic data loss from my wife’s computer (which I’ll admit was largely my fault for not having a recent backup) I bought a Windows Home Server.  I have the HP EX490 and when I first set it up, did everything it was advertised to do flawless.  The setup was simple, setting up backups of all of our computers (6 of them) just worked, I had a ton of storage where I could put photos and videos – life was good from a home IT perspective.

I am not exactly sure when but several months ago I realized I was no longer able to connect to my WHS using the Windows Home Server Connector client.  This was annoying but not a complete show stopper as I was able to login via Remote Desktop Connection and everything looks pretty good.  Backups were still running, I was still able to access the shared drives normally, etc.  Just the WHS Connector wasn’t working.

Earlier this week my wife was telling the “backup disaster” story to an acquaintance and I decided to check and make sure everything is a-ok.  Much to my chagrin, it isn’t a-ok.  About two weeks ago backups stopped running! My WHS can’t seem to see all of the clients even though they are all on the same sub-net.  Every computer on the backup list is greyed out like it is offline.

I am having a real hard time finding any information online to help me sort this out and it is driving me crazy.  As best I can tell the first problem started when I switched from Time-Warner Cable Internet to AT&T Uverse.  I am not sure why this would matter since all of the PCs are still behind a router but I can’t think of anything else.  I also installed the McAfee anti-virus that comes on the HP WHS – maybe that has something to do with it as I had not installed it originally when I set it up.

I am running out of ideas – I really don’t want to reinitialize the whole thing again as I have a lot of data on the shared drives that I’d have to “park” somewhere until it was set up again.

Moving forward with Thematic

I haven’t had much time to work on any of my theme projects but in the last week or so I’ve been trying spend some free cycles on something I am called “Middle School – High School Boosters Club” theme.

My wife is the president of our Middle School Boosters Club this year and much like the swim team was years ago when I got involved, the Boosters Club has no web presence and just about everything is done on paper.  Bleh.  She has asked me to build a web site for the Boosters Club so I am  using it as an opportunity to choose a new theme framework (I’ve settled on Thematic) and see how much stuff I can leverage from Google Apps to build them a solution that doesn’t require me to babysit it all the time. We’ll see how that goes!

As I noted in a prior post, the Wicked WordPress Themes book has been a good resource to get me going with Thematic.  I also found a Thematic Child Theme called Byty which caught my eye and I decided I wanted something similar.  The downside of Byty is a lot of the nice gradient effects have been achieved with images as opposed to CSS.  That is understandable as gradients were not available until CSS3.  However, I want whatever I build to be fairly modern so I’ve decided to go down the CSS3 route.

I am specifically not building a theme for our school but instead and building one which can be tailored for any school by selecting a color scheme.  We’ll see how well I accomplish that!  These are some of the requirements that I am working against which I suspect would be similar for any other school boosters club that may want a web site.

  1. Online Store with PayPal/Credit Card Payments
  2. Support for Twitter and Facebook Fan Pages
  3. Color schemes
  4. Custom Logo(s)
  5. Calendar(s) for game and practice schedules
  6. Sport specific pages featuring just the posts relevant to that sport

Since Google Calendar is dead simple to use and with so many people using Gmail already, it seemed like the logical choice to base the calendar solution on.  Google Apps is free for organizations like a boosters club to  use to registering our domain with Google Apps was the first thing I did.  This also makes it easy to create e-mail accounts for the various people associated with the club (president, secretary, etc.) so they can perform their task without polluting their personal email.

Once Google Apps was configured, I created a Calendar for each of the sports we will support (Football, Volleyball, Boys and Girls Soccer, Softball, Boys and Girls Basketball, etc.).  These calendars can be viewed separately or combined making it easy to view the whole calendar or just the calendar for a specific sport.  Even better, WordPress supports Google Calendar vias oEmbed turning a Google Calendar URL into a Gcal short code!  About the only downside I have found so far is it is very hard to style the Google Calendar, I’d really like the light blue Google uses to be a different color to match the rest of the site but I will live with it based on how easy managing the calendar will be!

I’ve decided to use Simple Twitter Connect and Simple Facebook Connect, both from Otto, for Twitter and Facebook integration.  I’ve used them before so they were familiar to me.  Based on the recommendation from the Wicked WordPress  Themes, I also tried AddThis but it is a  bit more invasive than I want so I went back to SFC and STC.

For an online shop, I am going with eShop which is a very simple shopping cart plugin.  Since we’re selling just a few items (e.g. t-shirts, sweatshirts, etc.), we don’t need anything complex and eShop looks like it will do what we need.

The site isn’t online yet so there isn’t anything to see but hopefully I will have a demo up and running fairly soon.  I need to do some more CSS work and get the custom page loops I want.  I am impressed with how easy Thematic has been to work with.

Why doesn’t the new iPod Touch have GPS?

Yesterday was the big Apple iPod announcement event for 2010.  There has been oodles of coverage of the event.  I was surprised that the iPad didn’t get an OS update and was pleased to see buttons back on the Shuffle.  The Nano is ok although I am not sure losing the slim rectangular shape and click wheel is a good idea, only time will tell.

The real interesting device was the iPod Touch.  I have a second generation 8GB iPod Touch which I bought off of Craig’s List before I committed to the iPhone.  I was unsure about only having a touch screen key board so a used iPod Touch let me test it out without committing to a two year contract for the iPhone which I eventually did.

I like the Touch and actually use mine quite a bit even though I have an iPhone.  I was looking forward to the new Touch, in particular for the rumored camera feature.  Having an HD video camera would be nice, the camera in my 3GS is so-so at best.

Today I was speaking with my co-worker Nick and we were talking about the Touch and my desire to have one, even though I don’t need it.  Nick mentioned that if it had GPS, the Touch would be perfect.  It got me thinking – why did Apple leave out the GPS?

If the Touch had GPS then it could:

  • Geo tag photos and video
  • Enable navigation with Google and/or Bing Maps (there is nothing worse than using my iPhone for GPS only yo have a call come in)
  • Possibly replace dedicated GPS hardware
  • All the location based services that Apps offer

I am sure there are other uses too but these came to mind.  Lack of GPS is really the only short coming that I could see.

I was hopeful that the rumors about the new Apple TV would be true and it would be a screen-less iPod Touch for the TV.  While the new Apple TV has some pretty cool features, I don’t see much differentiation over comting products from Roku, Western Digital, Boxee and others.  Each of these streaming devices seems to have one limitation or another.  I haven’t seen anything that says the new Apple TV supports UPnP which both my Xbox and WDTV Live do support.

I am disappointed in the Flickr support from the WDTV Live so was hopeful that the Apple TV would be more compelling than it is.  As it is, if I had to buy something right now, I think I’d get the Roku HD for $69.

Working with WordPress 3.0 multisite

I started playing with WordPress 3.0’s multsite functionality this week. I have a number of WordPress blogs for various things and they are a nuisance to keep updated. I had looked at WordPress-MU about 18 months ago when I did the CASL Ambassadors site and determined that it had more limitations than I was ready to deal with so I just went with a separate WordPress installs.

WordPress 3.0’s multisite functionality is pretty straight forward and it only took a little while to set it up.  I followed the instructions found in the this post on  I wanted to use the subdomain setting but it appears the hosting plan I have with won’t allow it so for now, I am using subfolders.

Now that I have things up and running I need to start moving my sites.  The first one I moved is for Photos.  I want to share photos with my family and host them on Flickr but I have never liked the lack of presentation that Flickr has.

I found an interesting theme called AutoFocus which tiles posts across the front page of the blog.  I am slowly going back in time to create a post for each of the sets I have stored in Flickr.  I had to create a work-around for the post image to appear on the front page.

AutoFocus uses the first image attached to a post as the image display on the blog front page.  My posts don’t have one, at least I don’t want them them.  I want the post to contain the oEmbed Flickr gallery and the thumbnails using the Flickr Gallery plugin.

What I ended up doing to get it to work was to add an image via URL from Flickr and then add the tag attribute  style=”display: none” to the IMG tag.  Works like a champ!

Home networking woes

Sunday afternoon my home network went down.  The way it went down I assumed it was simply a hiccup in the service from our ISP.  After waiting a while I went to check on it and it was still down.  Obviously not a glitch.  Ugh.  I don’t have time for this!

I spent some time with it late Sunday night and determined the router had gone bad.  Odd?   Yes.  Unprecedented?  No.  I had a Linksys WRT54G go bad a few years ago.  What is odd is that the whole thing wasn’t dead, just one interface, albeit and important one, didn’t work.  When this happened a couple years ago I ended using the WRT54G as an extra access point (can’t have too many right?) and it has worked just fine in that capacity.

The WRT110 I replaced it with was behaving similarly.  I figured I’d pick up a replacement in the AM at Wal-Mart.  Unfortunately Wal-Mart didn’t have what I was looking for so I then went to Staples.  At Staples I was going to buy a Linksys E2000 Wireless-N router but it was $129 which seemed high to me.  I checked Best Buy on my iPhone and they had it on sale for $79 this week so I figured I could wait a while and ordered it over the web.

I should have stopped there.  But I didn’t.  When I got home I started thinking and for some reason, decided it couldn’t be the router.  One interface just doesn’t go bad and the rest of it work fine.  In my case, the router would not get an IP address via DHCP from the Cable Modem.  Everything else worked as it should.

I decided to pull the router out of the loop and connect my laptop directly to the Cable Modem.  A simple ipconfig /release followed by an ipconfig /renew didn’t work.  But a reboot did.  After rebooting my laptop I was on the Internet.  That helps me but not the rest of the house.  Back to the router.  I reset, I updated firmware, I tried a number of things.  None worked.  I called Earthlink (who at one point told me I wasn’t a home networking customer and would have to pay an additional $18 per month – uh, no, I don’t think so) and called Linksys.  Neither had any ideas.  I hindsight, think I got off track because the woman from Linksys I was speaking with assured me the router was working properly based on the information on the status page and the lights on the box.

I dug up the old router and tried it (I had forgotten why I replaced it) and it too didn’t work (as it shouldn’t have).  I was trying to take care of this while I was working and had to stop messing with it to attend a couple conference calls.  I had to go a meeting and left the house to deal with it later.

Later in the day I still hadn’t made it to Best Buy to pick up the router I purchased but happened to be passing by CompUSA.  I ended up buying a Linksys WRT160N for $35.  Seemed like a pretty low risk solution.  Took it home and plugged it in, change a couple settings, and ta-da, the Internet was working again!  There was much rejoicing from the rest of the family.

It really is amazing how dependent my family has become on the Internet, myself included.  Going without it or having limited access for 24 hours was a challenge.  Can’t imagine what we’ll do if the power goes out for a few days!  It’s been a while since we’ve had a hurricane or an ice storm to knock out the power, we must be due.

E4300 resolution?

I got word from our IT department last week that Dell is going to replace the motherboard in my E4300 sometime in the next couple weeks.  The rumored BIOS update that was supposed to be out on January 19th still hasn’t appeared.  The only thing that is making life with my E4300 palatable is that the connections problems seem to under control now that I reinstalled the Dell Connection manager software.  It still behaves oddly from time to time but at least it is mostly usable.

The one behavior which still drives me crazy is the unwillingness to turn off or go into Stand-By.  I can press the function key or use the Start Menu option but the computer simply remains powered on.  Sometimes it will go into Stand By only to turn itself right back on a minute to two later.  Very annoying when it happens while it is in my computer bag.

Dell E4300 improvements

After all of the frustration I have had with the WiFi and wireless broadband I have had with my E4300, things are a little better.  The really odd things I am not really sure why.  Dell was supposed to have a BIOS update on January 19th but as of the 29th, it has yet to ship.  I have been checking their web site daily.

I had taken the SIMM card out of my laptop to use in a Sony-Ericsson Z750 UMTS phone that I have and when I put it back in my laptop, I noticed that I didn’t have a BroadBand device listed with the Dell Connection Manager.  Very odd.  I cannot explain why it went away.  After dinking with it off and on for a couple days, I decided to reinstall the Dell Connection Manager software.

After doing so, my BroadBand card was recognized AND both my WiFi and BroadBand connections have been more stable.  I worked for almost two hours Saturday night via BroadBand without any problems.  Last night I used my home WiFi connection for several hours also without any problems.  I had also noticed that there was a newer version of the Dell Connection Manager (A11 vs A10) than I had installed so I have installed it as well and all seems to be well for now.

I will continue to monitor this and I am sure that now I have committed it to a blog post, it probably won’t work worth a crap tonight when I need it!

I want an HTC S743!

Why is it all of the phones I am interested aren’t carrier subsidized?  HTC unveiled the S743 at CES.  This phone is pretty much everything I want in a phone:

  • Windows Mobile Standard
  • Slide out QWERTY keyboard
  • WiFi and GPS
  • Numeric Keypad

It’s a phone first, PDA / email device second which is exactly what I want.  I really wish AT&T would pick this device up.  Looks like it will be north of $600 unsubsidized at Best Buy, CDW, etc.  Bleh.  I like this phone better than the Xperia X1 I have had my eyes on for a while.