Friday, November 30, 2012

Chromebook Ubuntu

Google’s Chromebook is a web-only device that looks like a laptop but acts like a web browser… I'm sure you've seen ads for them - they've been blitzing the airwaves and magazine ads with their $249 laptop.

Several other companies besides Google manufacture them, but to say they haven’t taken off would be an understatement.  They're actually kind of cool, but I think they're ahead of their time by a couple of years.

I signed up for one of the early pre-production Chromebooks, the Cr-48, and used it for a couple of months.  But since everything it does is on the web, there was no off-line access, and useful software was rather sparse at the time, I wasn’t able to use it for much other than browsing and Google Apps. 

Recently, there have been some upgrades to make it more useful, but I still couldn't easily get it to run a VDI client to connect to work, so it just sat on a shelf getting periodic software upgrades and not doing much else.

That is until a couple of weeks ago.  Jay Lee ported a version of Ubuntu to the Chromebook that he calls ChrUbuntu.  

I loaded it on the Cr-48 and it works great.  I did upgrade the SSD to 64GB from the 16GB that it came with it, and burned a new BIOS.   Performance is just fine - Linux doesn't need much - and it makes a fine laptop...  

Since it can run a Chrome browser, it can do everything that a Chromebook can do (along with everything that Linux can do!)  I use SSH and a VNC client to connect to the Equiso Android PC and the Raspberry Pi.  I loaded VMWare View Open client on it and now I'm able to connect to my VDI desktop at work. Very cool.

I think if I were in the market for a new laptop today, I'd get one of the inexpensive Chromebooks and load Ubuntu on it...

Would you use a "browser only" PC?  How cheap would it have to be to entice you?  

Thursday, November 29, 2012

What is that thing?

Obviously, it's  a "Digital to Analog Audio Converter".  

OK, so what is it good for?

Normally you would connect your Apple TV to an HDMI capable monitor. Assuming the monitor has speakers or or is connected to your stereo, you could then hear the audio being provided by the Apple TV program.

If not - say you're using an HDMI to VGA converter/adapter to connect your Apple TV to an older VGA monitor - you'll need some way to extract the audio and send it to your stereo.  The newer Apple TV's don't have the heretofore ubiquitous 1/8" audio jack, so...

That's where the handy device, below, comes in.  This one came from Amazon and cost less than $15.  Paired with an optical audio cable, it converts the digital audio from the Apple TV to analog audio that you can plug into your sound system.   

Voila: analog audio output from an Apple TV.  Pretty cool.

As the cost of consumer electronics continues it's downward slide, hobbyists and electronics buffs will have increasing access to this stuff, cheap.  

If you can think it, you can do it.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Cheap HDMI to VGA

Most modern monitors have an HDMI input.  But there are still a lot of them (from 2011 and before) that don’t.

A couple of years ago when I looked for a way to convert HDMI to VGA, all I could find were “converters” – like the View HD HDMI to RGB/VGA Adapterpictured below.  And they were quite expensive – the View HD was over $100, as I recall.

Now, you can get an "adapter cable", like the Cable Matters HDMI to VGA Adapter for $20.  I used one to connect an Apple TV to a couple of VGA-only Dell monitors and a couple of projectors and it worked fine.

So, if you need to connect HDMI to a VGA monitor, try one of these instead of one of their expensive cousins...  You should know that this doesn’t support sound (it just converts the Video) and it may not look as good as one of the more expensive converters, but if you just want to display cheaply – it’s worth a shot!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Help for Apple users: RTM

Like most of you, when I have a problem or question regarding just about anything, I typically consult Google. If I can't find the answer there, I might visit a manufacturer website or forum.

But the "manual" method also works... 

This may seem obvious, but you might consider reading the manual... Apple has great documentation if you're willing to take the time to read it. 

Browse to and you'll find user guides for iPhones, iPads, MacBooks, Apple TV and iPods.

It seems odd, but, I've never felt I had to read an Apple manual before - but these are actually pretty good.

Speaking of manuals, here's an example of the kind of thing that those of us working with poorly translated manuals of the last century had to deal with:

"We sincerely expect that the PRINTER CI-600 will be appreciated more than ever, in the fields of 'data-transformation' by means of human-scale, and the subsequent result of 'fluent metabolism' as regards the artificial mammoth creature-systematized information within the up-to-date human society."

Thank God for fluent metabolism...

Monday, November 26, 2012

iOS Vs. Android - your experience?

I've been an iPhone user since I ditched my Blackberry, back when the iPhone first came out.  I've never rooted it - never needed to - and I've done a little development (the iPhone for Dummies kind of development...)  It's easy to configure, the upgrade to the new iPhone 5 took about 20 minutes as I recall and I love having all my music in the cloud, available to all my apple devices and do backups to the cloud for my phone and iPads.  So, I'm a little biased. 

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve used a couple of Android devices (a Nook Color running Jelly Bean and an Equiso running Ice Cream Sandwich - both of which I rooted in order to do things I could do on the unrooted iPhone, but with proprietary software...)  

Though they're not as fast as the newest Galaxy, I found them both basically capable platforms.  I like Linux (I have a couple of Linux boxes, and one ex-Chromebook running Ubuntu) and I like that the underlying software in Android is Linux based.

But, honestly, I use my phone a whole lot less than I used to.  I use my tablet(s) and Macs much more.

Here's an informal poll:

Is it a religious thing, or are there certain features that only exist on your preferred model?
If you are still using a Blackberry, what would it take to get you to switch?
Do you find yourself using your tablet or PC more than your phone?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Equiso - Android TV

I don't watch a lot of TV - Modern Family, cooking shows and the show about guys looking for junk in barns is about it (plus an occasional movie or two.)

And since I'm an Apple TV user with Netflix and Hulu I thought I was pretty well set in the TV department.

Then I saw the Kickstarter for Equiso. And thought, "Hmm an HDMI Android TV; that might actually be kinda cool!"
I bought into the kickstarter and got one.

I'm running the second beta update and it's improved somewhat since the initial release.  Still, it takes way too long to boot.  But once it does, it actually works - most of the time.

They've included a unique remote - in the picture above, it looks like two remotes but it's just one double-sided remote.  One side offers a traditional QWERTY keyboard and the other an accelerometer based cursor remote.  It takes a little time getting used to it, but it works rather well.

The Equiso itself is tiny - it looks like an oversized USB thumbdrive.  One end plugs into your HDMI port on your TV and the other end is a USB port.  I've got it connected into a USB port expander with a keyboard and mouse plugged in just for fun.  Apparently on newer monitors it can take power from the HDMI port.  With my old monitor it gets it's power from the USB port expander.  It connects to the Internet via WiFi.

I rooted it and loaded VMLite VNC Server, TouchDown, and an SSH server to it along with Insync, a Google Drive sync program.  I also loaded Skype on it and hooked up a cheap Microsoft camera and it actually worked.  The video was pretty pixellated but I managed to call my iPad and have a quick video chat with myself.

I watched Super 8 on it last week and while it looked pretty good, the video froze a couple of times (I did have a bunch of apps running and should probably have shut some down.) It's 1080P, but the monitor I used only supports 720P so I didn't get the best picture.  I expect these issues will get resolved with one of the upgrades (and with a better monitor.)

It's available now for $79 from their facebook site.  The "pro" version isn't on sale yet, but it should cost about $100 and is available for pre-order.

So, for now, it's a nice, inexpensive Android platform to play with - and you can watch movies on it!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

CyanogenMod 4.1.2 on Nook Color

Hi, my name's Mark and I'm an iPad user.

Just thought I'd better get that out of the way.  I've used an iPad from day 1 and find it to be a very useful tool.  I use it every day for everything: email, facebook, movies, reading, as a VDI terminal, SSH, VNC - everything.

A couple of years ago, I thought it would be good to get some experience with Android, so I bought a Nook Color and loaded CyanogenMod Android on it's SD Card.

It worked, but it was a bit slow, apps crashed or didn't run, yadda yadda yadda.  A couple of months ago, I upgraded it with a newer N2ACards version and loaded up a bunch of apps.  It worked better.

I just upgraded my Nook Color Android to Jelly Bean using the N2A cards update. And I really like it.

Smooth upgrade, very easy to do - they provided video instructions and it was trivial.  I loaded TouchDown and hooked it up to my corporate account in a couple of minutes.  I also loaded VMLite VNC Server and was connected to it from my Mac in another couple of minutes.  Performance is also much better.

I may actually use it...

Here's a screen shot of the VNC Viewer running on the Mac:

If you're looking for a cheap and easy way to get into Android Jelly Bean - pick up a Nook Color and load it up.  Very nice.