Chrome OS for web mapping delivery

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)
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.

30 Jan 12 A New Semester – and Chrome OS updates; better mouse action?

It’s the second week of Spring 2012 semester here, and those of us part-timers in the department have been moved into an adjacent office.  I got a personal meeting with the campus IT folks when I installed the router on the second network outlet in the new office.  Unlike the office of last semester, in our new office both network outlets wired into the private network; all I did was to test which one was private, hook up the campus-issued workstation to it, and I thought things would be going smoothly…

Campus IT folks were reasonable in accommodating us and hooking up the other ends of the cable to the appropriate switch to duplicate what we had before, and we’re off again.  Turns out that with the new office location, we’re even better positioned to maintain signal on both 2.4 and 5 GHz in two faculty offices and two teaching labs.   Nearby faculty who have laptops are pleased to have a connection.   Turns out that for those of us using web apps, there’s very little downside to being on the public side of the campus network.  In my case, I choose to use MS Outlook Web Access over the native MS Office Outlook app, so that my interface is consistent whether I’m here, at home, or at my day job.

And this semester, I’m choosing to use a mouse with my Cr-48 whenever I’m in the faculty office.  Today I had another Chrome OS update, and the (Dell optical wheel) mouse was plugged in when I restarted the machine.  On reboot, the pointer was VERY slow.  I had to drag the mouse six times to move the pointer from one side of the screen to another.  When I got to the settings, it was the second notch from slowest, and I moved it up a couple to get back to normal.  I’m not certain, but there seems to be something a little bit different about the trackpad, too.  Sadly, even after using the Cr-48 for almost 14 months I’m still hitting the upper corners of the trackpad and blasting my cursor off into oblivion in mid-sentence, at least once in a while.  I’m hopeful that the pointer speed reset indicates that some updates to the pointer drivers have been installed.

As of this morning, the Cr-48 is up to (oh–I think that we got new fonts with this update, at least how it looks in WordPress)

Chrome OS      1625.0
Google Chrome
Firmware    Mario.03.60.1120.0038G5.0018d
WebKit      535.19 (@105663)

In terms of course documents, mostly quizzes and presentations for me, I’ve been learning to finesse multiple Google accounts to help partition my teaching documents from personal e-mail and documents.  This has been an evolving experience, as it seems very possible to set up Gmail for multiple sign-ons (and Android 4.0.3 does a stellar job of providing a central switchboard for many Gmail accounts)—but things are a bit more partitioned with Google Docs.  I never have trouble when sharing from one account to another, but sometimes I confuse myself dealing with multiple identities.

With Chrome 18 on Windows or Ubuntu, opening Gmail with a separate account will automatically spawn a new browser window, which really helps keep identity management cleaner.  On Chrome OS, I am still learning to recognize what appears graphically like a Workspace switch in Ubuntu.  Without having a desktop background, I need to think a little more about identity on Chrome OS.  When there’s a desktop and the browsers are not maximized, the graphics sort of do the thinking for me.  ;^)

And that just about wraps it up for January, 2012

19 Dec 11 Cr-48 and ICS synergy

Three days ago, I was pleased to update my phone to Android ICS 4.0.3, and I’ve been enjoying some of its new cool stuff.  On my second attempt, I got a nice-looking panoramic photo of a sunset from my office.  The first one was a head-to-foot vertical pan of a wiggly six-year-old sitting close by in a chair, and it was a little too cubist to share with the family…

Test of Android 4.0.3 panoramic camera mode

Marin Civic Center sunet 2011 12 19 1708h


Despite any technical gripes from typeface boffins, I do prefer the new Roboto font, and I’ve learned some new ways to use the updated browser efficiently.  I still haven’t dug in deeply enough to learn the browser’s name yet.  Chrome it ain’t. There have been a few cases where I really like the interface improvements, and a couple where I find myself stressed.  Usually those circumstances are how I try to relate to Google Maps’ Traffic view while driving.  One might say that I’m a little impatient with default start ups that forget my preference for Traffic-always-on-thank-you-very-much, and zoom levels drawn from random space.  But somehow I just don’t seem to use the phone for maps when I’m at my desktop (go figure!)

But what inspires me tonight is an elegant technical solution to a recently created policy challenge at work.  You see, the WiFi police from IT came by ready to confiscate the router because it appeared to be plugged into the private network.  Well, with ICS on my Nexus S, the problem is solved—and I’m blogging with it right now.  Although I like having 100 MB of Verizon to use out in the boonies, most of my life I’m well within T-Mobile coverage area, and as of tonight I’m happily using my Nexus S for the first time as a hotspot for the Cr-48.  Works great, less filling of the Verizon data load.  Doesn’t require a cabled router in hostile territory.

Admittedly the Nexus S is not as small and fast as a Verizon LTE MiFi; but you know, I’ve looked at my bill and decided that gosh, I’m really not using enough of my 5 GB monthly cap with T-Mobile!  I really like this setup, although tomorrow I’ll be finding out how the Nexus S battery fares in its new augmented role as mobile hotspot support for the Cr-48.

The Cr-48 system configuration has been static since 2011 12 16.  Probably going to have a drop in the next 48 hours.

23 Nov 11 Closing in on a first year with Cr-48; Chrome convergence

In the US, this is the start of an odd sort of holiday weekend.  Elementary schools might extend the holiday early through Wednesday, some employers provide a holiday extension on Friday, and most people get Thursday—with reasons for its timing vague and, at a continental level, homespun.  The more aggressive households pull kids out Monday and Tuesday, glom together the weekend before and after, and declare a nine-day hiatus.

However it works out (and for me there’s college class today and it’s been a busy work week already), there’s a sense up here in North America of the year sliding down toward its true close at the shortest-day solstice, followed by a coda of holiday events both de jure and de fides, most phase-delayed by the frailties of human calendar-keeping.  That said, in the northern hemisphere outside the tropics, it’s a fine season for reflection as daylight squeezes in on life’s activities.

This season’s days’ shortness echoes the words of Gilmour/Mason/Waters/Wright “…one day closer to death.”  Though for us using Cr-48s it’s not necessarily a morbid thought—the little machines are getting long of tooth.  Mine is about two weeks shy of its first year of use, and it’s holding up fairly well.  It’s gained a couple of stickers that stick (as opposed to those making just an ephemeral appearance), and it actually has an ironic scar on its face.  The irony of the scar is that it is from a brand-new industrial strength HP Z400 workstation, a twelve-thread Windows 7 machine from which I had removed  the side cover in order to add two USB 3.0 adapter cards.  While I was getting my first look at the Z400′s guts, and before I had set the cover down, an inside corner of the cover touched  the upper-left corner of my Cr-48 screen, and a razor-sharp edge from some Chinese sheet-metal stamping factory caused me to make a five-cm scratch on the display.  Of course, the Cr-48 was open and in use at that moment as a third screen at my desk…  Anyway, the Cr-48 display wasn’t cracked, and I chalked it up to character-building for the little proto-Chromebook.

On topic, In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been keeping Chrome SXS (a.k.a. Google Chrome Canary) updated on four different Windows machines that I use, two flavors of XP and two of 7.  These are usually just a couple of versions shy of a Chromium nightly build, and I update them at the start of most days.   Well, in the past two weeks I had the intriguing experience of seeing  the little wrench icon on SXS display the small green up-arrow annunciator that tells us Chrome OS folks that an update is available.  That small item really drove home for me how much convergence I’m feeling between the versions of Chrome Browser that I work with and the Chrome OS on the Cr-48.  The other hints of convergence that I’m noting are the functionality of Web GL in Google Maps that makes me look forward to a future Chromebook making use of integrated graphics as might be power-friendly with an Ivy Bridge-generation processor, and the Google Remote Desktop that has provided me with some stunningly useful alternatives to centrally controlled installations of VNC that aren’t given out.

Anyway, as I complete a second semester, and total of three classes that I’ve taught while having the Cr-48, the downloads section at chrome://files/  is really filling up and I’m making use of the Ctrl-F search function to locate stuff.  I haven’t yet run out of local storage ;^)  I carry around the wireless router in my Cr-48′s sack in preference to a mouse, and I very seldom use the plug-in mouse.  The touch pad still gives me random annoyance, and my cheeky palms hit it about once every 1500 letters, which is way too often, but the multi-finger gesture responses make up for that, at least in my experience.

On a personal note, I had the pleasure of seeing a certain household member in a Kindergarten class photograph this week; they use MacBooks for computer class but have access to iPads during certain other activity times.  I mention this because in a photo of his group with iPads, he was the only kid trying to use multi-touch—with one index finger from each hand ;^)  Again, it might be a small thing, but the Cr-48 has introduced useful new interface paradigms and use-case experiences not only to me, but also to my colleagues at work, my fellow instructors at college, some of my students, and even those at home.

‘Nuff said.  After at least three updates since my last post, the Cr-48 is now at:

Chrome OS      1324.0.0
Google Chrome  17.0.942.0
Firmware     Mario.03.60.1120.0038G5.0018d
Webkit         535.8  @100508
V8                 3.7.7

So, after a 10-day to two-week lag, my Cr-48 has joined the ranks of Chrome SXS and the more recent Chromium builds, and sits at version 17.x   It’s welcome.  I really like the subtlety of the new add-tab button along the rightmost tab, and look forward to more updates as this first year with a Cr-48 draws to a close.


20 Oct 11 ChromeOS versions return with new dev update

This morning my Cr-48 decided it needed an restart to complete its new version push.  And version numbers have returned!

Now at ChromeOS dev channel 1169.7.0  featuring Google Chrome  16.0.906.1  with WebKit  535.7 @97251  and V8 at for now.

In the past week, when plugging the machine into a projector, which I tend to do three  to five times a week, I’ve had the Cr-48 appear to balk at syncing with the projector.  It could have been the projector, but I’m rather certain that it gets fewer firmware updates than my Cr-48 gets OS updates ;^)   In any case, it always resolved itself by my unplugging the projector for a few seconds then reconnecting.

It could be that I’m impatient and am inadvertently testing different startup sequences.  Plugging in the to the Cr-48 always makes the onboard screen dark (perhaps this is a power savings for the Cr-48 battery?) No matter for me, as I just position myself so that I don’t strain my neck while looking at the projected screen along with the class.   Anyway, the glitches appear to happen somewhere between my opening up the Cr-48 screen and having it wake up, connect to my wireless router (which is always booted up and has received its DHCP address before I open the Cr-48), and sometimes even get myself logged in.  The Cr-48 hardware continues to do a fine job of negotiating the highest possible undistorted resolution possible from any projector it’s met.  Pushy little Chromebook, it is. ;^)

Whenever my screen is not quite ready to be projected (like it is showing a full list of Google Docs items, or the class grade list) I just disconnect the projector.  In many ways, it has been a helpful safety catch to have the screen go dark, as it utterly prevents me from looking at my screen and inadvertently projecting some grading details to the class.  Chalk it up as a feature, IMHO.

During the day at work, I really enjoyed a beta update to Google Maps+Street View integration, mostly run with Chrome Canary build.  It has really gotten slick and the transitions between vertical orthophoto (“satellite”), oblique imagery (“45-degree”), and Street View are extremely fluid in the new GL interface.

The new interface is really helping me to extract certain public infrastructure features *in bulk* running standard GIS software on an adjacent screen, with both GIS and Google Maps running full screen.  Yea Maps team!

On Ubuntu, this evening Chromium browser has attained version 17.0.915.0 — so there’s something to look forward to in the next week on Chrome OS, perhaps?

01 Sep 11 Fresh build, new month

Last evening, it was easy to see the crescent moon over Mount Tamalpais, haze and all.  It’s a new month, and a time of reflection with some personal loss in the mix.  But with loss come touchstones of new direction, too.

The little Cr-48 got its regulation dev build updates this week.  Verizon 3G is still working fine when it needs to, and yet the new Cisco / Linksys E2500 is turning out to be a great resource for visiting.  It’s always on in the office and at school, and now works both in the classroom during lecture time and in the College office during other hours there.  Fine 5 GHz connection for the Cr-48, and 2.4 GHz connection for the Nexus S.

The latest build is Chrome OS 972.0 of 2011 08 31, with Google Chrome 15.0.867.0, just a few tens of hours behind the Windows-centric Chrome Canary 15.0.868.0 today.  On Chrome OS now it’s WebKit @94073 or 535.2 and V8 is now.

I’ve been adding some redundancy to the domain name servers for the root of this site’s domain, so there might have been a bit of inconsistency in the past week—sorry about any apparent lack of presence, the content was still there.  So the registrar in Belize and name servers in Texas and New York all need to be copasetic in order for this content from California to show up safely on the web.
Isn’t it all just a little bit amazing?  (did my Cr-48 just yawn??)

In terms of usage, the Cr-48 has gotten plenty this past week.  Lectures Monday and Wednesday, and a lab on Monday, plus an off-site talk in Sacramento on Friday, and plenty of lecture prep over the weekend.  I have taken to downloading PDF versions of talks just in case I’m ending up in some bunker without either Verizon 3G or a public network for the E2500 to get out on the Internet.

One of my colleagues was asking about some sort of map of the body, and I remembered the Google Labs body browser to share with him.  It was OK to see that site image semi-adequately on the Cr-48.  But checking how it looks on a modern graphics workstation is a world apart.  Anyway, nice 3D mapping site for humans!

I think that the twitchiness of the track pad has lessened with this build.  That is a very welcome development, or if not a development, a very welcome refinement!


20 Aug 11 Two updates this week – and mobility improvements

This morning I restarted Chrome OS into the second update this week.  The dev channel now has us up to ChromeOS  916.0 featuring Google Chrome 15.0.855.0  which seems like the first version 15 browser, although as usual it’s a handful of days behind the Chrome Canary Build that works on Windows.   Webkit 535.2  and   3.5.5  for V8.

One of my usage changes this week has been big and somewhat liberating.  I obtained yet another wireless router, but this one is just for my convenience as I cart the Cr-48 around from home to work to school and travel to friends and relations.  After a visit to Best Buy and some head scratching, the appropriate value for me seemed to be the Cisco Linksys E2500, at about $75 for simultaneous dual-band 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz with 802.11n and plenty-fast wireless.  I don’t use these around the house because the E2500′s wired side is limited to 100 Mbaud.

What I do with the E2500 router  is carry it around in the bag that I was given for the Cr-48.  I use it the way some laptop users use a charger, except I tap into data networks for my own performance satisfaction.  The router is tightly configured so that it helps serve my needs while presenting a rather small attack surface.

At work, my other option is a public-access WiFi network that requires me to re-enter a logon and password every time the Cr-48 takes a nap.  Since I’m not using it regularly throughout the work day, this is a log of logins each day.  With the E2500, it’s always on.  Works great for those of us in the office using smartphones, too—and that’s part of why I wanted a dual-band router—the Nexus S only has 2.4 GHz WiFi, so the Cr-48 can have 5 GHz band all to itself.

At school, current network restrictions preclude instructors from using their own equipment to connect to the Internet, so the E2500 hasn’t yet made its way off the campus.  Although that could be approached simply as a technical challenge, I’m presently using the rational discussion option to pursue appropriate flexibility in the policy.

On the road, visiting friends and relatives, the router is simple to use—just plug it in to an available port on their home router and we’re set for both the Cr-48 and the two Nexus S in our household.  It’s been an excellent option for houses with cable modem or DSL service but no wireless yet.

The E2500 configuration was worth a bit of thought because its role is to roam around with the Cr-48 in environments that are either neutral (work), passively accomodating (visiting), or a little bit hostile (campus).  For the first two, having the Internet side of the router set up for DHCP has been very convenient.  On the private side of the router, I’ve chosen to have the 5 GHz channel serving only MAC address for Chromebook, and the 2.4 GHz channel serving only Nexus S by MAC address.  Among the available options that aren’t much work, the WPA2 non-enterprise security has been an easy choice for setup.

With the Cr-48 not having any wired network ports, it has been necessary to permit router administration via wireless connection; I’d never do that at home, but requiring SSL makes it a bit less dicey.  Oh, in case it’s not obvious, there’s no automatic configuration allowed and no broadcasting of the SSID—so the router shouldn’t  be showing up on any StreetView or related roving network scans.

That’s how it works for now.  Thanks to the new mobile wireless router setup, I’m about to set up a video call so that certain grandchildren back can have a little bit of face time with the elders, using Google Talk video calls between a pair of WiFi-connected Nexus S at remote locations.  It’s all so 21st century…  ;^)