Category Archives: Gadgets

Cool stuff and toys

The Pixel. Chromebook at it’s finest.

I drooled over these for a year after they came out. Minimalist design. All brushed aluminum. Etched glass touchpad. Lighted keyboard. All the style of a Macbook Pro, without the necessary hipster pretensiousness. Specs of a top of the line notebook (at the time.) It had some weaknesses- the limitations of ChromeOS, 64GB storage, and NOT upgradable…4GB RAM, and same limitations, but it was PLENTY usable. Add in the dual-boot, keystroke-only Linux, and it does EVERYTHING I’d need it to do. Photo and vdeo editing, games, Steam and Skyrim, and anything else I can throw at it with out it puking.

The screen is BETTER than a retina display (no, really), and 10-point multitouch.

The SDCard port is the recessed style, and not the 720 abomination.

I finally broke down and ordered one, but a used one. The 64GB, Verizon LTE variety. We no longer have Verizon, but I’d consider adding a plan if I was a true road warrior for work.

The biggest downsides are the non-upgradeable disk and RAM. The disk I can mitigate with SDCards, but the RAM is a bigger blow. Still, 4GB is plenty  in a lappy- it’s not like I’m running virtual machines on it. Oh, wait….yes I am. If I run a Windows VM in Virtualbox, I make sure I am not running anything else, and give it a full 3GB. It’s not the best solution, but it works. And I’d rather not run Windows unless I absolutely *have* to.

The other downside is the total lack of USB3. That is almost unforgivable, but …. with only a 64GB disk, it’s not like you’re going to be transferring a lot of data.

I really have no true complaints with this beauty.  She’s alright in my (chrome)book.


Next Chromebook…the C720

With the damage, Mom earned the new replacement, instead of the kid that broke his lappy, and kid got mom’s “old” one. We decided to up hers to one of the new, flashier C720’s. (She didn’t need, nor want the P model- no use for the touchscreen, and the shorter battery life it come with.)

So first things: the graphics are MUCH more crisp on the 720. Significant upgrade. It also has a more powerful, but still low voltage processor. It also has the smaller 16GB SS HDD. Much faster boot, but less storage. I got the 4GB version, but once I got it, I learned that the memory is soldered on, and not upgradable. The HDD has no such limitation, but is a NGFF SSD, and not a SATA, like the 710s.

I found a 128GB NGFF disk on Amazon for ~$100. It swapped easily, and the Chrome repair tool flashed it with ChromeOS in about 5 minutes. Very impressed with the Chrome software.

Even better was the new firmware- it supports USB and Legacy boot loaders. Meaning- I can now install Chrubuntu next to ChromeOS, and it’s only a keystroke at boot (Ctrl+L  … L for Legacy) to select linux- and a keystroke (Ctrl+D …for Default…or just wait the 20 seconds for timeout) to boot to Chrome. A separate keystroke (Ctrl+U….for, well, duh…) boots to the USB bus. Much slicker process. Legacy boot also supports booting to a SDCard, which also expands storage. I’ve got a few 64gb SD Cards, so 128GB SS + 64GB SD is reaching a reasonable size.

The CPU/RAM combo makes Ubuntu usable, but not exactly a speed demon. I can run photo editing software, and games, but running more than one large application will slow down the system significantly. Video editing is possible, but almost as slow as using Youtube or some other online editor.

It’s thinner and more sleek than the C710, but the downside is it definitely feels flimsier than the older model.

It also loses several ports- it’s only got 2 USB, the full size HDMI, 3-way audio mini-8 (that’s a standard headphone jack, people), and the SDCard slot. It loses the VGA out, a third USB and the ethernet jack. The network jack I can understand, with wireless and all, but sometimes you just need a 10/100/1000 line. The VGA I get, too, as it still has HDMI. I don’t like the loss of the USB port, but they try to make up for it by making one of the two remaining ports a USB3 jack. That does lessen the sting. However, the dealbreaker for me was the SDCard port.

The SDCard on the 710 was similar to ones in a camera- it slides all the way in, and has a click-in, click-out mechanisim, where when it’s in use, only about 1/16″-1/32″ of the card is exposed. The click-in/out mechanism is recessed, so you have to use the very tip of your finger, or thumbnail to eject/seat the card. It keeps it clean and out of the way. It means I can insert a card, and throw it in a laptop bag and not worry about the card.

On the 720, the card port is a friction port, no click-in/out, and it leaves almost a full inch of the thin, flimsy, (did I mention thin and flimsy?) card exposed, outside the frame of the laptop. If you leave a card inserted and put it in a bag, you *will* break your storage stick, or the port, or both.

For the wife, it wasn’t a deal breaker, so she seems plenty happy with it. Being able to upgrade the storage internally made the SDCard less mandatory- being stuck with the 16GB SSD would have been unbearable for me.

However, I still wanted something more powerful….and Google provided. The Pixel.

First up: the Acer Chromebook C710.

TL;DR: C710:

Intel 64bit 1.5GHz Celeron, 2GB ram, 320GB disk, 11inch screen.

Likes: Matte screen, lightweight, lots of ports- 3USB, full size HDMI out, full size VGA out, ethernet and SD card slot, 3-4 hour battery.

My likes: full insertion SD slot. (click-in, click out. no card sticking out while in use. I’ll bitch about this later for the C720’s…)Plenty of storage for Linux. Plenty fast for almost everything. Both disk and memory are upgradable.

My dislikes- nonstandard charger, the BIOS is locked, so rebooting into Linux and back require running either commands or a script from the command line, touchpad takes some getting used to.

Most heard complaint: *only* a 3-4 hour battery. (I can’t believe this is an actual complaint, but it’s at the top of most people’s radar.) The spinning disk make the 3 hours more likely, the SSD models get 4.5 hours.

Full story:

This is not Acer’s first (or even second) foray into Chromebooks. Acer first released the AC700- a first gen Chromebook, and then the C7. I’ve never seen either of those in the wild, but the C7 was short lived, becoming the c710. The 710 first was available with a 320GB spinning platter hard disk- the traditional laptop drive. This was almost universally panned by critics of the CB- what good is storage to a online-only device? Theye were quickly “upgraded” to 16GB SSD’s. Personally, I went out of my way to keep the spinning drives- I need the space for the linux partitions. 16GB is plenty, but seriously, I use more than 16GB every photo session with my Nikon- hell, it’s got a 32GB sd card as it’s primary storage- double the whole 16gb Chromebook. So for me, I want the storage.

So, Chrubuntu was the first thing I did. Read about and get it here: Jay Lee’s Blog!

Long story short. The thing with Linux on this CB is that unless you really like typing or like writing your own batch scripts, moving from Chrome to Linux is a pain. And it’s not something the kids will do on their own. Chrome is much better for browsing, FB, etc- it’s fast, all the plugins work out of the box, and the ridiculous fast boot time is teh awesomesauce. However, Minecraft, Skyrim, and anything else Chrome doesn’t support means opening a shell session, swithcing to bash, and entering a fairly complex set of commands, submitting a reboot, and then waiting on it to shutdown cleanly, and powerup, go through the boot process for linux (which is considerably slower than Chrome…) – all that together- sucks…..but it’s still better than waiting on Windows.

So after the fun with the C710’s, eventually one got stepped on in a kid’s room.

Well, I kinda expected that, and with the, being sub-$200, I didn’t mind as much as if it we a Macbook. Also, the C710 has a full HDMI port, so it can easily be hooked up to a TV. Add a wireless keyboard/touchpad, and viola- an instant WebTV machine, with (near) universal logins.

Next: Prescott chips, and the C720.


Chromebook reviews and comparisons.

We’ve had the Chromebooks for over a year now, and I thought it’s time to look at Chrome as an actual viable daily laptop. And, surprisingly enough, it’s shone brighter than I expected. I’ve played with four models of them, and I have a Pixel being delivered today. (Verrry excited about that, too :) ) We now own 4 C710’s (320GB spinners), 2 C720’s (a 2GB ram w/16GB SSD, one 4GB ram upgraded to 128GB SSD from the 16GB SSD) and the 64GB LTE Pixel. I’ve played with the Samsung chromebook, and a couple HP11s, and see some of the pros and cons that haven’t really been mentioned in many places, or at least not prominently.

Truth be told, I really like the “cheap” factor of the CBooks, and as a Linux junkie, I’ve made a living taking systems that would be considered obsolete and making them not just usable, but productive. I take pride doing things “on the cheap”. Many *nixers have two or three philosophies when given a task – they ask the following questions of themselves: Continue reading Chromebook reviews and comparisons.

10 reasons to BAN technology from kids? I got your 10 reasons RIGHT HERE

Okay, so HuffPo posted a list of 10 Reasons your kid should be denied access to handheld technology because…..reasons. Here it is in all it’s glory.

I have so many issues with this article that I felt the need to individually break this down and respond. So here goes:

1. Rapid brain growth – This is by far the closest thing she has to a point. And it only really appies to children under the age of say…5. (Just to be as arbitrary.) OVEREXPOSURE is what is condemned by the CORROBORATION evidence that there is “decreased ability to self regulate.” Repeat after me: “CORROBORATION DOES NOT EQUAL CAUSATION.” I’d argue that the children more prone to be unable to self regulate would also have mitigating factors like genetics, and perhaps uninvolved parents.

2. Delayed Development Yes there are issues with kids spending all their time on videos and video games. We have known this since the iPad came out. Wait…since DVDs came out… I mean…since VHS came out. Wait…since Nickelodeon. Television.Radio programming. Picture books. Books. Since FIRE came out, okay? YES. Kids need physical stimulation to go along with mental stimulation, but giving a 3 year old your android tablet (sorry, apple fans…I’m not going to advertise the iPad for you) while they’re in the back seat of the car is NOT detrimental to their health.

3. Epidemic Obesity This is almost a good point. Yes, there is an obesity problem. Yes, TV is a problem, but again with the “facts” that are scary, but have no real relevance to the statement. The point here is that being fat is bad for you, but the reason given is TV and video games, not handheld technology. THIS IS THE SAME THING OUR GENERATION WENT THROUGH 20 YEARS AGO.  People are fatter. Yes people may even be less active than a generation ago (show me some actual documented and peer reviewed facts please, not just links to studies that you are extracting single line cherry picked quotes to prove your point.) Still, add less natural foods, soda, HFCS, reduced PE classes, less recess in school, people living too far away to walk anywhere, and you have an obesity problem, regardless of whether or not there are video games. (Interesting fact: kids who are not naturally athletic and are picked on by the more athletic kids will find something to do that they might be good at instead of suffering through ridicule at not being able to make a three pointer on demand. Weird, huh?)

4. Sleep Deprivation Point one:  made beautifully, and then fall flat. 60% of parents do not monitor their kids activity. THAT IS THE PROBLEM. THE GAMES ARE NOT THE PROBLEM. THE PARENTS ARE THE PROBLEM. Seriously? The afterthought of a point that kids are sleep deprived because of the games goes back to the first point: PARENTS NEED TO BE RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR KIDS.

5. Mental Illness We live in an era where being a boy means you automatically have ADHD. Obviously technology is evil because we have scary numbers that we didn’t have before technology. Granted, The medical system is biased towards diagnosing everything it can as a disease, since we’re in a for-profit health system….but I’m sure that’s just a coincidence. This is a hyperbolic argument based in a small amount of fact, wrapped in FUD. (Nice job casually throwing in the “many on dangerous psychotropic drugs!” quip. Did you learn that from Fox News? Hint: that’s a strawman argument.)

6. Aggression Okay, you got me. GTA5 is definitely going to make your kid an asshole. Assuming you are the parent stupid enough to let your 5 year old play GTA5. Or even your 12 year old. Your 14 year old might play it anyway at a friend’s house, but again PARENTING. Minecraft is a great game and fosters creativity. Portal is a great puzzle game and physics simulator. There are as many positive effect of video games as there are negative ones. The trick is fostering the positives and filtering the negatives. Again, PARENTING.

7. Digital dementia This is just a repeated #5 with a second link. Still doesn’t make it true. Even worse, this phrase poisons the whole article. This is the heart of pseudoscience and instilling fear in people who the author is trying to convince to side with. It’s dishonest and disingenuous and does a disservice to the readers. Google digital dementia. Go ahead, I’ll wait.  There is no such thing except in articles on Fox, the Daily Mail, and dozens of “I’m a Mom so I know everything” blogs. More to the point, the places that DO describe “digital dementia” describe it as the brain not remembering things like phone numbers because we keep them stored in our phones. It has NOTHING to do with not paying attention, nor is calling it a mental illness helping the cause..

8. Addictions Based on the loosest possible definition of the loosest possible association, sure, there’s such a thing as Technology Addiction. After all, you’re reading this on the INTERNET. You must be addicted, else you’d still get all your news and opinions from the newspaper. If you want to buy in that parents are not paying attention to their kids because of technology, fine, put down the technology and join Technology Anonymous. For you rational people, don’t blame the phone on not paying attention to your kids. Again: PARENTING.

9. Radiation emission This is real folks. And there ain’t NOTHING you can do about it. Radiation is NOT SCARY. It’s simply a scientific principle of energy being spent and light, heat, radio (which is a form of light, btw), X-ray (also a form of light), gamma rays (still light), nuclear radiation (yup, light) all are simply dissipation of energy. There is a common fear of radiation because some forms can be dangerous, especially high energy waves like X rays and gamma rays, and even some fairly low energy, live ultraviolet (sunburns and skin cancer- maybe we should all live underground?) You are exposed to radio waves every second of every day. You are exposed to radiation every second of every day. You will receive more radiation, and harmful radiation at that, every time you ride in a commercial aircraft than from a phone. (Flying above a large portion of the atmosphere exposes you to solar radiation.) LCD screens, phone transmitters, bluetooth, etc. do not cause ionizing radiation and DO NOT CAUSE CANCER. One doctor saying it does (or rather *might*) is not damning evidence. Society has had cell phones for 30+ years, and the first several generations were MUCH more powerful than the ones we carry now. If it did cause cancer we’d have an epidemic of cancer, and we do not, despite the fears expressed by news outlets. Cancerous brain tumor rates are flat, and have been for nearly 50 years. There are more cases, yes, but that’s because there ARE MORE PEOPLE. People are living longer, and the older you are the more likely you are to get cancer- that’s how cancer actually works. There are more diagnoses of cancer now because there is MUCH better screening and deaths from cancer are actually listed as cancer instead of “Natural Causes”. Has cancer increased in the last 50 years? Probably. But even if it has, it’s not epidemic in the people that have used technology the last 50 years as you would expect from this assertion. This one is ABSOLUTE BOGUS BULLSHIT from the fear mongers. (Oh, and check this out to learn more about radiation.)

10. Unsustainable I’m fairly certain that is one was added just to make a tenth entry. That or to help the people playing Buzzword Bingo. Unsustainable? Really? What exactly is unsustainable? The environmental aspect? The keeping up with tech is unsustainable? This makes absolutely no sense.

More to the point, here’s what’s really wrong with this: not only is this wrong, NOT being versed in technology at a young age is what’s REALLY unsustainable. If you want a job in the future, manufacturing is out, and technology is in. Even manufacturing needs to be versed in technology. The problem here is PARENTING. Not technology. Parents that let their kids do whatever they want, whenever they want to do it.

You want to be proactive? Teach your kids how to code. Teach them how to set up your network. Install an operating system (try a FREE open source one!) You don’t know how? LEARN. You’ll also discover you can keep up with what your kids are doing if you learn how to set up operating systems, learn about parental controls, or even learn how to set up OPENDNS on your home network, and filter bad sites or track what your kids are doing. Don’t just demonize the tech you don’t understand. And certainly don’t ban it. Moderation and parenting win in this world – book burning was soooo two centuries ago. E-book burning isn’t quite the same, and would still be just as stupid.

I am NOT SAYING free games and Tablets and Phones for EVERYBODY!!!!!

Kids need to go outside. They need to play. They need to go to bed at a reasonable hour. They need to do their homework. They need to eat their damned vegetables. They need reasonable limits on technology uses, and they need to be monitored, and THEY NEED TO KNOW THAT YOU KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING. Be the parent, and don’t have digital babysitters. I repeat DON’T HAVE DIGITAL BABYSITTERS. But don’t make your kid fall behind because you are too lazy to parent.

Brave new world…

Chromebooks. We got a few… Acer C7’s.

The twins each got one, and I have one as well. They see to be good little teaching machines.

I’ve already spun Ubuntu onto mine, and will show the kids how to do theirs when they’re ready to load them.

Looking into flashing the bios and possibly adding some other bootloader…these are fairly locked down OOTB. Looks like it’s time to do some good hacking. :)


Edit: This post was written back in December, I just forgot about it and it was sitting in draft for months.

iPad Facebook app exists…

…if you know where to look.

Apparently you can enable the iPhone facebook app to iPad mode just by adjusting a setting in the app itself. Just change the UIDeviceFamily setting from 1 to 2, and voila, instant FB in the native format. The offical release can’t be more than a few days away, but @AeroEchelon sent along the fix via twitter with a bit of a headstart. Enjoy!!/AeroEchelon/status/95119442828214272

Choosing your battles…early adopter or late?

I am not a typical early adopter. I love gadgets, but newer is NOT always better. I waited a year before I got my first iPhone. And I got a refurb. (And I hated it. I’m not a Mac Fanboi.)  I waited until last year to get an Android phone – not because I didn’t want one, I just don’t see the percentage in shelling out a metric shit tonne of money for something just because it’s new. I will, however, shell out a metric shit tonne if a.) I can afford it, and b.) it’s something that actually does something valuable. I am an early adopter for the Honeycomb tablet because it actually does save me a ton of time.  That was not the case for the iPhone, only moderately the case for the ‘Droid phone. Continue reading Choosing your battles…early adopter or late?

Android Tablet Heaven

I have had my Android Phone for a while now, and had been completely happy to have it. However the raw power in it has been diminished a bit by the recent acquisition of an Acer Iconia A500 tablet. I picked on up just over a month ago, in addition to a Viewsonic G-Tablet for the wife. Now… my phone is handy, as is hers, but it’s largely relegated to just pushing wifi so the tablet can surf.

Christy’s G-Tablet is an older, Android 2.2 Froyo device, but it is completely bastardized by Viewsonic. It is a horrible, horrible user experience, and doesn’t even have the Android Market available. Fortunately, Continue reading Android Tablet Heaven