2.13.2011

Chromium-OS Pilot Program And What Google Really Cares About...

After a couple of weeks with the Cr-48 laptop and using Google's Chromium-OS as a semi full time computer, I keep having to remind myself that the laptop hardware that is the Cr-48 laptop is only proof of concept of what hardware for future Chromium operating system computers could be like.

Yes, the laptop has a webcam, it supports standard cell phone headsets like the basic iPhone headset that I use as my goto headphones and a microphone, it offers Verizon wireless for on the go internet at 100mb per month, and it has a funky new keyboard layout that includes a missing caps lock key and a huge touchpad that's the size of a playing card; but that's not what this laptop that Google is giving out for the pilot program is trying to show off... Google is trying to show off Chromium-OS and what you can do from only a browser and the cloud.

The Cr-48 webcam is not the greatest, but you know what?  It works, and I can make a Google Talk video call with you right this instant.  The speakers are dull and the microphone is poor quality, but you and I can use Google Voice and if it is that hard for you to hear me, I can pull the headset I already carry with me out of my pocket, and use it.  The keyboard does take some getting used to and the touchpad is actually pretty powerful when you learn its tricks, like pinch to zoom, two finger scroll, and using alt+tap for a right click button.  But I have to remember, all that hardware is not what Google cares about me getting excited over.

Using a browser instead of a 'My Documents' folder and saving pictures, documents and other files on websites all over the internet and having an almost always available (remember, only 100mb of Verizon internet connectivity a month) online backup of your computer is what Google wants me and the other pilot program suckers to use, love, and become enslaved to.  They gave us a decent piece of laptop hardware with enough tricks up it's sleeve and improvements that can be made via software updates (like better flash to improve perceived webcam performance, microphone tweaks inside of GMail, and the ability to pay for a full day of unlimited Verizon internet) to keep us interested and using Chromium-OS so that we'll keep taking this little laptop all over the place and talking to our very jealous or totally uninterested friends about what can be done with only a browser and finding ourselves really dependent on synchronizing our Google Chrome browser on our Windows and OSx computers we are already used to using at home and at work.

2.06.2011

removable disk backup

this is an old post from my old blog, i thought i would save here becuase it contains a very useful script for keeping your thumb drive safe from loss.

i have a 16 gb thumb drive that i carry with me almost all the time.  the main reason i use the drive is to store thinks like serial numbers of items at home, personal records in encrypted databases, and to have some things with me like bookmarks and ftp access to my websites as well as some things i may need when i'm away from a computer i own, in order to help with outages at work.

so, i've been playing with robocopy and i found a guide by Greg Shultz over at Tech Republic that helped me write the following script to backup my thumb drive to my current user's download folder found on vista and windows 7 machines.  i'll walk you through the commands to show you how to modify this script for your own selfish needs.  :-D

i have the following file saved to the root of my thumb drive as 'backup.bat'.  whenever i am ready to backup my thumb drive, i simply double click on the file and let it automagically do the rest.
mkdir c:%homepath%\downloads\thumb_backup
robocopy ./ c:%homepath%\downloads\thumb_backup /MIR /XF backup.log /R:5 /W:15 /V /NP /LOG+:c:%homepath%\downloads\thumb_backup\backup.log
echo %date% %time% - %computername%\%USERNAME% >> ./lastbackup.log
so here's how it works...

the first line 'mkdir c:%homepath%\downloads\thumb_backup' simply creates a folder in the 'downloads' folder called 'thumb_backup' of the user i am logged into the computer as.  for example... 'c:\users\jermlac\downloads\thumb_backup\'.  you can specify any folder that you know can exist on all of your computers.  if this command runs and the folder already exists, it just throws an error as such, and moves on to the next line without causing any damage.

our next line is the work horse... 'robocopy ./ c:%homepath%\downloads\thumb_backup /MIR /XF backup.log /R:5 /W:15 /V /NP /LOG+:c:%homepath%\downloads\thumb_backup\backup.log' ...let's start with the beginning and work our way to the end...


'robocopy' is the system program called 'robust file copy' that windows vista and windows 7 have for synchronizing folders.  you can also download the 'windows server 2003 resource kit tools' that include the robocopy.exe program in order to run this on your windows xp machine, or directly from your thumb drive.
the robocopy proper syntax is to name the source folder after the robocopy command, followed by the destination folder.  our source folder will be './' because we are running this backup.bat file from the roof of the thumb drive.  the nice thing about this, is that it allows us to always run the batch file from the thumb drive, no matter what drive letter the computer assigned. (on my wife's computer, it assigns drive letter g:\ to my thumb drive, but my computer assigns drive letter f:\)  the destination of'c:%homepath%\downloads\thumb_backup' is the folder we created in the first step.

*note - there are lots of handy environment variables you can use in scripts such as this.
the next portion of our syntax '/MIR' tells robocopy.exe to mirror the source and destination folder's so that if we add or remove any files on the source, the destination is an exact copy.  a key point to this syntax is that if you add any files to the destination folder, it will not copy those files to the source, only delete them, so think of this folder as a one way sync from the thumb drive.

the next part of the script lists '/XF backup.log'. you will see that my last syntax used on this line creates a backup.log file in the destination folder.  to avoid errors whenever the /MIR command tries to delete this file because it is created and locked by this command running we simply tell it to ignore the file called backup.log.
speaking of errors, by default robocopy tried to copy files a crazy number of times, unless you specify otherwise.  with the syntax'/R:5 /W:15' we tell robocopy that if it gets hung on a single file that it is unable to copy, to retry 5 times, after waiting 15 seconds between tries.  it's common to get the script to hang if you have a file saved on your thumb drive open for editing in word or excel.

the last bit of syntax on this complicated work horse line relates to logging the backup process.  '/V' specifies that we want verbose output logged to tell us whenever what files are copied, deleted, or cause errors.'/NP''/LOG+:c:%homepath%\downloads\thumb_backup\backup.log'' tells robocopy to skip logging the progress bar to our .log file.  this switch is optional depending on how geeky you want your log file to look.  our last bit of syntax, , tells robocopy to append the current running log file to any existing backup.log already created in the \downloads\thumb_backup\ folder.  this is handy to track back through backups to verify things are being done as you wish.

the very last line of the backup.bat file is a much more simple one.  'echo %date% %time% - %computername%\%USERNAME% >> ./lastbackup.log' runs a command to write todays date, the current time, the current computer name, and the username that i'm logged into the computer as, to a file on the thumb drive called 'lastbackup.log'.  the reason i included this handy line, is so that if i find something missing on my thumb drive, i can easily pull up this file with a text editor to see when the last few times where that i backed up my little drive, and where the backup should be stored.  this is helpful for when i backup my thumb drive on my work computer and on my home computer after i make large changes to the contents.

the little backup.bat file has been handy for me to know my drive is backed up.  my last thumb drive failed and i lost several folders containing work information that i needed.  i found that even though manually backing up my thumb drive is not difficult, i rarely did it because it was an extra few steps to go find my last backup, and overwrite the information stored there while trying to ignore old stuff that i had deleted for a reason (all nerds have some form of ADD).

*note - if you open a command prompt and type 'robocopy /?' you will find lots of syntax available to tweak this script to work better for your needs.

let me know what you think, and if you have any questions about this script.

2.05.2011

stratus, cumulus, or wall cloud?

I imagine this whole cloud thing is confusing when you're used to just turning on your computer and doing your stuff and moving on.  In reality, you already know what it's all about.  Here's what I mean.

First, let me explain the reason it's called "the cloud".  For a long time, networking guys and gals who make computers on college and business campuses talk to each, have referred to everything outside the building network as, the cloud.  And the big secret is, the cloud, is the internet.   Moving to the cloud, is the same as moving to the internet; and it's not that hard.

Here are some common tasks you use your computer for, that are already 'in the cloud'.

If you take pictures of your cat, or your kid, or your car, you have probably always put those pictures in a folder on your desktop to edit, and then uploaded them to a place on the internet like an email, or Facebook, to share them with your friends, family, or car club.  If you've ever taken a picture with your cell phone and shared it on Twitter, Facebook, Picasa, or Flickr, you're already using the internet to store and share your photos.  All of those pictures can then be edited with an online service like Picnik or Aviary.  Using these cloud based services, you do not need your documents folder and that horrible software that came with your camera, to save those pictures and edit that weird guy at your office out of the Christmas party photos.  You can upload the pictures directly to Picnik, edit weird guy out, and then immediately share that photo with your coworkers via email and add them to your Facebook at the same time, with one click.

Whenever you log into GMail, Hotmail, Yahoo!Mail, or your work webmail website, you're already using a cloud based email client. Before webmail services offered features like archiving your old bill payment confirmation emails into folders and filtering rules so you can automatically delete those annoying 'Fwd: Fwd: Fw:' emails from your cousin, we had to use software on our computers to do all of this.  Now with services like Facebook and Linkedin, you can also keep in touch with your friends and family without ever installing any software on your computer.  The nice thing about this, is that you can login to those websites from your home computer, your work computer, your friends computer, or even your cell phone, and still see all the same options and view as you do on your laptop sitting on your comfy couch at home.  The magic of the cloud.

Another less common example of a cloud service that a lot of people use, but some people do not know that much about is Google Docs.  Microsoft also now offers an online document editing and saving service they call Office Web Apps for Hotmail and Live.com users.  The nice thing about these services is that not only can you login and create a new spreadsheet of your budget, or gather notes for the lesson you've been asked to speak on at church, you can also upload your current spreadsheet or document so that you can access it from your home computer, friends computer, or your cell phone, anytime, anywhere.  Now the value of using this free software that is available 'in the cloud', really starts showing it's value to your life on the go.

Now that you have an idea of what the cloud is, do you feel like your floating above the sea, or trying to find the lighthouse through the fog?

2.04.2011

First Impressions Are Everything

After a day or so with the CR-48 laptop, I have not really made any new headway with "moving" to the cloud.  I've mostly just been getting acquainted to the keyboard layout and the software settings.  The laptop battery life is really exceptional lasting most of the day with me tinkering with things off and on.  The wireless seems to think my wifi signal is lower compared to a Dell Latitude E6400 running Windows 7 sitting right next to it.  I do not know if this is a wifi card antenna issue, or a hardware signal strength issue, but it's been working, so I am not complaining, yet.

I made a long Google voice phone all with my sister earlier using my iphone 4 headset and finding that the on board mic was clearer for her to hear me on.  Then, I made several video calls with Neo, and his CR-48 and found that the on board webcam is not very clear, but it works.  We also plugged in external webcams for video calls, and even though we could switch between the two, there where some sort of software problems that required us both to reboot our ChromeOS laptops before we could chat again.  It seemed like there was a lock on our conversation on Google Talk because it kept telling both of us we where already in a call whenever we tried to chat.

Overall, I cannot complain about the CR-48 hardware.  It was free for me to receive and it all does work, out of the box.  You can ask for any more than that with 'reference hardware' as Google explains it.

One caveat I found... Whenever I first setup the laptop, I skipped the option of adding a picture for my login account.  After using the laptop, I found that the first user cannot change the picture and cannot add one later if it's been skipped.  I found a fix for that was to flip the sekrat developer tab under the battery compartment and basically walking through steps to re-flash my laptop, then setting the switch back to default so I could walk through the first time setup again to take a picture.  Luckily, whenever you do something like "re-format" or re-flash your computer, and log back in with your Google credentials, all your settings and applications automatically come back, because all of those are stored "in the cloud" with your Google profile.

Pretty slick so far.

2.02.2011

cloud what now?

It has been icy here in DFW, where I live, and yesterday afternoon I received a knock at the door.  I figured it was one of our friends who had gotten cabin fever and wanted to get out.  As it turns out, it was UPS dropping off a surprise box.

Here's what I found when I opened it...






The laptop came with a sticker sheet to add to the lid...  



The laptop box had this little quick start guide and the Intel card inside..


The laptop was packed in a pretty basic box...



The charger is actually really small compared to some of the bricks I have used in the past...



The laptop has a rubbery coating and a different style keyboard.  The bar over the screen includes a webcam and a microphone. 


The right side of the laptop has the power port, a USB port, a single speaker/microphone port, and an SD card reader.


The left side has a video port and the exhaust fan.




I decided to create this blog as a way to show my transition from using mostly Windows 7 as a desktop at home to the CR-48 laptop.

I originally requested a Google Chromium laptop because of my background in IT.  I have 10 years of professional experience with Windows workstations and sever platforms, Fedora and Red Hat Linux, Cisco networks, as well as a number of applications for everything from scanning barcodes, to programing a weather station as well as the standard office products.  Outside of my work experience, I have been taking computers apart and learning how the Internet connects our world together since the early nineties.  I have seen the internet and personal computers shape the world in business, education, and everyday life.

Cloud computing has always been my dream, even before it was a catch phrase used by consultants and marketing analyst.  The funny thing about living in the cloud is we already do a lot of it.  Facebook, email, google searches for recipes, and online banking are all "cloud" or internet based services that we connect to with an internet browser.

As I write my journey to using a cloud based operating system I will hopefully help define the cloud and show examples of how our lives have and will continue to be shaped by this new generation of computers.