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.

WordPress Google Form Plugin

I’ve spent some time over the last couple of days cleaning up the WordPress Google Form plugin I’ve been working on and getting it added to the WordPress plugin repository.  I am happy report that I think I have a stable version (v0.4) finally available that people can play with.

I’ve added a Sample Form and the corresponding Sample Results collected from form submissions if  you are interested in seeing what the plugin looks like in action.

This plugin resulted from a need to collect data in a simple manner that could be managed in a spreadsheet.  Google Docs provides an easy to use spreadsheet that be used to store the data.  Google Forms provides a mechanism to design a form that can add data to the spreadsheet.  The WordPress Google Form plugin allows the form to be added to a WordPress site and maintain the look and feel of the active theme.

Note:  It looks like I didn’t flush out all of the bugs – the tabs on the Settings page are not working correctly!

Displaying Google Spreadsheets in WordPress

As I continue working on my School Sports project I am discovering some pretty cool stuff when it comes to displaying content on Google Docs as part of a WordPress based site.  I am particularly interested in this because lots of people make lists in Excel and making lists in Google Docs is basically the same process just done via a Web Browser instead of Excel.

Our Middle School has 10 sports (6 girls, 4 boys) teams.  Each has a different coach and along with one or more parents who help coordinate things like concessions, team banquets, weather updates, time changes, etc.  If you’ve been involved with youth or school sports, you know how much things change and information needs to be communicated to parents and participants.

I cannot envision training 12-20 people to manage content on a web site and have any prayer of the content keeping any sort of consistent look and feel.  I need a solution that is low touch (for me) but simple enough that anyone who can create a spreadsheet can keep a fair amount of content up to date.

Which brings me to Google Docs.  It turns out Google makes it pretty easy to publish content from Google Docs (documents, spreadsheets, presentations, etc.) in a form that can be embedded on another web site.  This will allow me to have content owners have to do nothing more than keep a couple spreadsheets up to date in order to keep the web site updated.  While this works pretty well, the downside of this solution is the control over the look and feel of what Google will allow you to embed is pretty limited.

There are a couple of Google Docs plugins but it looks like Google Inline Spreadsheet Viewer will do exactly what I want.  This plugin allows you to add Google Docs spreadsheets to your pages and posts using a shortcode.  The resulting output has a plethora of CSS classes which means styling the spreadsheet content (which is displayed as a table) to be consistent with your theme is pretty straight forward.

The only issue I’ve encountered so far is empty cells on the spreadsheet don’t seem to be output at all, not even as an empty table cell.  I think this only happens when the empty spreadsheet cells are at the end of a row of data.  If there are populated cells later  in the row it seems to work fine.  This was a minor issue for me, one I fixed by simply populating the spreadsheet with a reasonable value.

Documenting the .hyv File Format

Before I spend a lot of time writing code to read Hy-tek files, I thought it would make sense to try and document them first.  I’ve started with the .hyv file format which describes the events that comprise a swim meet.  I’ve documented the fields I’ve been able to figure out in a Google Docs spreadsheet.  If you’re interested in helping me flush this out, let me know and I’ll provide the ability to update the file.

You can see what I have so far here.