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Chrome OS for web mapping delivery
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01 Dec 12 Two years with the Cr-48! Meta-Chromebook in the house…

Although I didn’t find the little Cr-48 on my doorstep until about 9 December 2010, some aspect of the machine have just turned two years old.  I last used the bundled 100 MB/month Verizon data on 28 November 2012, and when it didn’t work on Friday 30 Nov., I had a word with the Verizon folks and learned that my two year Cr-48 data plan expired on 29 November.

It’s not like I rely on the Verizon plan very often, but I’m using 3G right now—at a mildly remote youth camp in Marin County that doesn’t have WiFi in the building.  I realize how accustomed I’ve become to having that little backup of 100 MB/month, and although my phone is humming with Android 4.1.2 Jellybean, the T-Mobile data just doesn’t cover this area so hotspot wouldn’t help.  But here’s how much I value the old plan: it was always there with no marginal cost.  Now that my two years of Cr-48 pilot use is up, my only data options from Verizon are $20 for 1 GB over 30 days, and I think it’s $30 for 5 GB over 30 days and something even more.  So it’s not like I use 3G often enough to even get much value out of the $20/month plan.  Everywhere I use the Cr-48 the most, I either have WiFi access, or I have a wired connection that I can plug my router into.  It’s these remote camp-out weekends where I might want to use either Verizon, or T-Mobile through Android mobile hotspot.  I actually found one camp where Verizon data didn’t work, but T-Mobile did—and I was very happy to have the hotspot capability!

Anyhow, I really have gotten to like this Chromebook.  When I’m teaching, it’s getting heavy use every week.  In the past semester when I’ve had a teaching hiatus, I use the Chromebook to read manga almost every night—probably seen over 10,000 pages in the last four months.  Basically, I’m using it like it was a Kindle  ;^)

But I was so pleased to see that the Chromebook $250 price point has been pierced with the Samsung Series 3.  I was bowled over to see Acer take one of their Windows chassis (Pentium, 320 GB local disk, and Windows-style keyboard) and blow it out as a $200 Chromebook.   Perhaps best of all has been to see the Samsung show up with Verizon 3G for 2 years at $329—suggesting that the Verizon plan has a marginal cost of $35/year for two years.  I truly wish that Verizon would offer something like an “extended warranty” where subsequent years of 100 MB/month for third and fourth years with Chromebooks.

Here’s my key observation about Chromebooks after two years on the keyboard: by turning over much work to the Cloud, and not relying much on the performance of the local hardware, the machine gets obsoleted more slowly.  Where a power workstation is a fine candidate for replacement after about three years, and smart mobile phones are downright stale after just 18 months, somehow the Chromebook paradigm has got the little device in an “ageing gracefully” sort of state.  Sure, I’m ready for something new (see below), but my Cr-48 is just about ready to start its new life as a kitchen internet appliance.

What should one call it if a (Cr-48) Chromebook is used to order a new (Acer) Chromebook through the Google Play Store?  Is that how Chromebooks reproduce?  Will the new Acer, already arrived, be considered a meta-Chromebook?  So many angles to ponder.  ;^)

The long-discussed convergence of Android and Chrome OS really seems like it would take a step forward in an interesting way when we start getting hardware that makes the transition from netbook-grade (like the Cr-48 and its descendants to date) to ultrabook-grade (as with a touch screen).  Since as of this holiday season we are starting to see some nice Asus touchscreen 11.6-inch Windows notebooks at $500, just maybe the WiFi-only touchscreen Chromebooks can drop in at around $350.  One can always hope!

Anyway, to maintain my ongoing logging, here’s where the Cr-48 has gotten to at this point:

Release:  3196.1.0 (Official Build) dev-channel x86-mario
Processor: Intel(R) Atom(TM) CPU N455 @ 1.66GHz
Hardware Class: IEC MARIO PONY 6101
WebKit: 537.19 (@134183)
V8: 3.15.1.1
Build Date: Wednesday, November 14, 2012

So this is the dev channel, and now I wonder if Cr-48 updates will go on hold, in favor of a dev channel on the newer generations of hardware.  I wonder, will there be something like a Nexus Chromebook to follow on the Cr-48?  Will this be the touchscreen version?

One last thought this evening:
What will the next two years bring?  At this point, we’re transitioning from pretty much having a single Chromebook device available, to having the first couple of ones from Samsung, and now there’s two new ones from two manufacturers.  Think back to what this stage was like for Android and there’s a point that matches.  I’ve watched too closely to believe the hyperbole that Android has been on track to stomp iOS since 2008. It wasn’t like that from my perspective—it was a really slow start with just the G1 phone.  I got mine in 2009 and it was a piddling user share that we had.  Then there were a couple of models, maybe the Motorola Droid to really boost popularity, and that was when, 2010?  I guess my point is that these new $250 Chromebooks are analogous to the arrival of the Moto Droid in Android world.

‘Nuff for now.

12 Feb 12 Back on track with PDF viewer! The Cr-48 heads to the woods…

My Cr-48 got a weekend trip to the mountains, and
I experienced the slowest connectivity that I’ve ever had with it…

But first, my thanks to Ken for posting a work-around for last week’s viewer.  When I use the Cr-48 to show slides during a lecture, I only give attention enough to the machine to push one keyboard button for the next slide.  Usually that’s a right-arrow key.
This afternoon I returned from a couple of nights in the barely-snowy Sierra and was happy to find an update staged.  After downloading and a restart, I’m able to view the PDF slide shows that I’ve got locally and open through FileManager.  It’s an enormous relief to know that I can have the Cr-48 back as a tool for classroom use!  The latest build numbers:

Google Chrome  18.0.1025.29
Platform    1660.20.0 (Official Build) dev-channel x86-mario
Firmware   Mario.03.60.1120.0038G5.0018d
WebKit   535.19 (@107116)
V8    3.8.9.5

For reference, this afternoon’s current build of Google Chrome Canary on Windows is 19.0.1040.0

Up in the mountains, I took the Cr-48 with me to a cabin by a lake at about 1600 meters elevation.  It’s not far north of I-80 so it’s a very easy drive.  Most years it would be nice and snowy.  Last year, I’m told, there was more than 2 meters of snow accumulated by Spring, and people had to dig down to get to the cabin door.  This year, there was barely 10cm of snow when we left this morning.
Normally, I wouldn’t expect to use the Chromebook up in the hills, but last night some conversations turned towards things that my mapping colleagues and I have posted, and I tried to bring up a public site that we have  to help folks.  (MarinMap.org)  It was very difficult.

In all of the lower 48 states, the coterminous U.S., a.k.a. CONTUS for federal folks, there must be only a tiny handful of locations like the one where I took the Cr-48 this weekend.  We were blacked out for Verizon coverage, but both T-Mobile and ATT worked, although only at GPRS speeds for data.  So after noticing that we had no WiFi to scavenge (no surprise there) and nothing detectable from Verizon on the Cr-48, I confirmed with folks who had Verizon phones that they couldn’t even get voice connectivity. Since my mobile phone is on T-Mobile, I was able to power up the Nexus S’ Android 4.0.3 hotspot and connect the Cr-48 to it, and the phone’s meagre but existent GPRS data link got the Chromebook online.

That worked fine for Google Talk, but when I connected to the map viewer applications, I recognized at once that we were in the slow lane.  I had plenty of time to chat and reflect on days perhaps 15 years ago when I worked in Romania and moved to a select apartment just to get an “International” direct-dial phone line.  I used that so that I could call dial-up Internet services and also have an answering machine in my apartment.  Ordinary phone lines were coupled in pairs, effectively as two-unit party lines—a very bad scenario when an unsuspecting foreigner hooks up an answering machine!  Anyway, in mid-nineties Romania, I was able to get at best a transfer rate of 7 MB/hour.  Plenty good enough to develop a habit for reading the fresh new nytimes.com site, but not so good for downloading software updates.

Those were the days I thought of as I watched my mapping application, which has an interface tuned for broadband, image its screens.  I opened another tab and saw Google Map draw far faster, but it did not have the overlays that I needed, so I was stuck trying to make something work on a bandwidth shoestring.  I gave up after an hour, but by then I’d had some nice oblique views of the site in Google Maps, and a much greater sympathy for those who still rely on dial-up and its associated connection speeds.

Back at home, Comcast is stomping out about 5 MB/sec right now (40 Mb/s).  I like it that way!   Never before have I had a reason to use the Android ICS (4.0) WiFi hotspot where T-Mobile worked for data and Verizon did not.  Always before I have used the ICS hotspot to avoid local WiFi policy restrictions or to listen to a streaming radio channel so as not to burn through my monthly 100 MB of Verizon data in a single afternoon.  This was a case where Android 4.0 had the Chromebook’s back covered.

09 Jan 12 Cr-48 updates – Chrome Canary numeric threshold reached

The Cr-48 is trucking along with its every-few-days updates.  Currently at

Google Chrome    17.0.963.27
Platform    1412.64.0   dev-x86-mario
Firmware  Mario.03.60.1120.0038G5.0018d
WebKit     535.11   @103967
V8          3.7.12.12

That’s all well & good, I continue to have an even better Cr-48 experience being able to use scavenged WiFi, or Verizon 3G data,  or T-Mobile 3G data via my personal Android 4.0.3 hotspot. That extra little bit of connectivity, plus making use of the data plan that I’m already paying for, was a nice boost on the road around California during the holidays.

The Cr-48 hardware is fitting into an ever-clearer space in my usage.  Yes, it’s been about 13 months now for me to figure it out, but in that time I’ve grabbed a new Android phone and installed 4.0.3 on it, and had the big workstation upgraded as well, so there are a few moving parts to my use case.  Now, the Cr-48 has platform as become a useful intermediary between my phone and my dual-screen workstation.   The Cr-48 helps me keep school or personal communications off of the work computer in a more productive way than the touch-screen keyboard can handle.

But back on Windows 7 workstation this morning, I saw a Chrome Canary threshold that I’ve been keeping an eye on for the past few days (possibly missing a build over the weekend).  It’s now at:

Google Chrome  18.0.1001.0  Canary

Chrome builds have surpassed the 1000-mark.  Meanwhile there’s already

Chromium  18.0.1002.0  dev-116865-Windows

and its Google Chrome derivatives to look forward to.

21 Dec 11 Cr-48 using Nexus S ICS hotspot – takes extra juice

On the first day when I used the Nexus S as a personal network hotspot for the Cr-48, the phone made it OK from about 8:30 until 1:00 PM, but was down to 15% battery at that point.  Today I’ve got the USB cable for the phone so that it’s sustainable.

I’m posting this now because I noticed that there have been some ICS battery usage challenges.  In my case, there was no noticeable difference between Gingerbread and ICS until I activated Mobile Hotspot and left it on all day.  Sreen was often dark, but clearly the Hotspot activity is keeping the Nexus S processor running closer to 1 GHz on average than 100 MHz.

Meanwhile, the Cr-48 is on its second day without charging ;^)