Simplifying Technology

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Sunday, 12 October 2014

The ChromeBox Experience

I have been a keen follower of the Chrome OS concept for a while now. They are still a rare consumer commodity here in NZ but they are appearing in some retailers, and with on-line purveyors of technology.  They are making a splash in the Education market.

At the beginning of the year I advised my brother-in-law to get one to replace an ageing desktop PC.  He did, he bought an Acer ChromeBook, and he loves it.  Well, the other week my wife tried to watch a TV Episode on her old Vista laptop.  It wasn't able to do it.  The video was not smooth, and the CPU ran at 100%, and hot.  So we decided on a replacement and took my own advice.  However we went for a ChromeBox not a ChromeBook as we wanted to try it connected to a TV, and the small form factor was attractive.  We picked the HP bundle option pictured below.  No technical reason for the choice - it just looked nice.

Well it arrived on Friday.  The set-up was almost non-existent.  Undoing the boxes and entering my stupidly long WiFi password were the hardest bits.  We logged in with a Google account and it was all there.  So simple - this is a computing/internet appliance.  You don't need a nerd or a geek to set it up, or to support it.  It just works - just the same Chrome Browser that my wife was using on her old laptop, with all her synced bookmarks and extensions.

Using the TV as a monitor is not great for anything except watching video (which work really well), but that was the main purpose.

Oh, and did I mention cheap.  This is about 9% of the price I paid for my first desktop computer nearly 20 years ago.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Using the Web - for old Petrol Heads

I've seen one in a museum.  This is way better.
Just another snippet from the weird and wonderful web journeys that I have been on.

Well, confession time.  I'm old(ish) and an armchair petrol head.  Love cars, love old cars, love racing cars, love old racing cars.  On my bucket list is a visit to either the Goodwood Festival of Speed, or the Goodwood Revival.  If you're into cars you probably already know about these events already.  "Speed" is all about fast cars, racing, and motorsport people.  The "Revival" is like "Speed" but for older cars (and drivers), and the spectators are encouraged to dress up in period clothing.

So yesterday, while idling surfing through YouTube, I found a link to the 2014 Revival event - Day 3.  So I clicked on it expecting the normal YouTube snippet for 10 minutes.  But no it was longer.  Not 30 minutes, not one hour but the whole damned day - all 9 hours 24 minutes and 22 seconds.  As it was a very wet and windy Saturday afternoon I clocked up 3 hours of it.  More to come later when I can find the time.  This is not just someone's amateur video this is a professionally produced video with excellent camera work, and great commentary.  Great stuff.  So I have 6 hours left on this video, then I could view days one and two...sigh.

Where else would I get to see this, apart from at Goodwood?  Certainly not anywhere in New Zealand except for the web.   I couldn't live without my internet connection.

The only downside to this discovery is that I now have two entries on my bucket list - "Speed" and "The Revival".  Oh well I guess that's what bucket lists are for.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Chromebooks are coming

Day 226 - My New Toy
Chromebooks are sneaking into our region.  As far as I am aware, apart from a brief flurry from Dick Smith's, no major retailer is selling them here. Although that is all about to change apparently. (Check out the link below). You can buy them online from various places of course.

However there is a major initiative underway in Otaki to provide Chromebooks for all school pupils in the Otaki area, so are plenty of them in this area.  Check out for some pictures.

Chromebooks are a great device for people who just want to do some email, surf the web, manage photos, and do some basic word processing and spreadsheets.  Well, that actually sounds like most people I know.

Of course there are downsides, especially for people in the PC Support business.  Whoops that could be us! Perhaps we'd better concentrate on out coaching and advice - at least that's still required.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Using the Web - The Recipe for Recipes

Their are millions of websites and tools out there, not all of them useful or relevant to me.  But there are still plenty of sites that provide something really handy.  Finding a website/tool that does exactly what you want can sometimes be a challenge, but when you find what you need it makes the search very worthwhile. Here is one such tool that we have been using for several years now.  It is a very simple site where we can store our recipes - check it out at Onetsp.  

Cheese Soup Recipe
Cheese Soup Recipe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This all started several years ago when I printed out yet another piece of paper with a recipe from a website and added to a tatty old folder.  I decided that there had to be a better way.  I looked at several sites that do all sorts of wondrous things, and have a zillion recipes already there, but what I really wanted was just a clean, accessible place to keep our recipes.

After a lot of searching, and trying various food/recipe sites I came across Onetsp.  It is really simple, no frills, easy to understand and did exactly what I wanted.  It replaced my tatty old folder with a clean and easily accessible Recipe store.  The recipes are all laid out in the same simple fashion, and we use it regularly.  It's easy to add the recipes - either copying them manually from a book (or tatty old folder), or copying from the web.  It also has a neat extension that 'clips' a recipe from a website for you when you find one you want.  This doesn't work all of the time but it will at least give you a start to copy and paste the bits you need.

Since using this I have seen other alternatives that could do a similar job, tools like Evernote, or Springpad, or more specialised 'foody' sites, but I still like the simple no-nonsense approach that Onetsp takes.

I should also mention that this is free (up to 150 recipes anyway).  That appeals to my Scottish and Yorkshire heritage, and is usually one of my criteria when I go searching for something useful.

How do you store recipes online, or do you still use the tatty folder technique?

If you ask me nicely I could email you the recipe for Pasta e Fagioli.  I know exactly where to find it.
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Thursday, 10 April 2014

Windows 8.1 Update - maybe this thing will fly after all

I have had some issues with Windows 8, see my earlier blog at

Apart from my installation experiences I have not been a happy Windows 8 and 8.1 user.  I am a desktop user with a mouse and a clean, non-touch, screen.  My new laptop was chosen without a touch screen as I can't see using a touch screen on a laptop is a good idea, messy and hard on the arms.  Don't get me wrong I love my Android Tablet, Windows smartphone and Kindle - all devices with touch screens that wouldn't really work without them.  

Using Windows 8 and the 8.1 update, I found that the Tile interface and the Desktop interface were too divergent to make my user experience a good one.  trying to get from the Desktop to the Tiled Apps, and then back again was just too ugly taking multiple mouse clicks in places that didn't seem natural; and turning the machine off is so complicated that the power switch looks very appealing.

So when I read about the update to the update I couldn't wait to try it.  Well, I upgraded to the update yesterday evening and had my first play on it today.  You know what - this thing is now useable for me.  I can see everything I am running at all times - I can switch environments like a pro.  So now I am happy using the laptop.

So if you are an unhappy Windows 8 user I recommend that you upgrade to 8.1 (you have to do this yourself).  Once you are there then the magic update will be downloaded and installed along with all the other MS patches.
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Saturday, 8 February 2014

Chromebook 1 - Windows 0

My last blog chronicled my installation of Windows 8.1, and how it took days, the proverbial blood tears and sweat, and some lengthy investigation to get it to work.  Well, just as a contrast I will tell you about my Brother-in-law, Mike, and his computer installation.

First some background.  Mike and Christine have just built and moved into a new house (lovely it is too).  As part of the new move they had decided this was an appropriate time to retire the 10-year old desktop system and the excruciating dial-up connection they have used.  Wise move.  They had't made too much use of the old computer (well - dial-up - say no more).  They don't have computer skills above those required to run Chrome and email, and copy photos from heir camera.  Just normal users.

When it came time to buy some new gear they took my advice and looked at a Chromebook which had recently gone on sale at a national chain (Dick Smith).  And, that's what they bought.

Mike arranged the Broadband connection, followed the instructions and got that working.  Then switched on the Chromebook and followed the registration, set-up a Google account, and before you know it was up and away doing more than they have ever been able to before.

That is the way these things should be.  The effort and pain I went through to set-up my Windows 8.0 laptop, transfer data from the old PC,build recovery backups, and then upgrade to 8.1 consumed hours of frustrating effort.  And, guess what, I spend 95% of my time here inside the Chrome browser.

Maybe I should have listened to my own advice.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Thanks Windows - my brain hurts

A couple of weeks back Mr Dell delivered me a neat new XPS laptop,  Great device, beautifully made, expensive but cool.  This one came with Windows 8 installed and I knew this would be a challenge.  I know Windows 7 and earlier, and I had read the (usually bad) press on the Windows 8 experience.  Still, I like a challenge.  Anyway it all worked as expected, I sort of got the hang of Windows 8, although I am still mystified at the confusing mix of touch stuff (which I can't use on this laptop) and older point and click stuff.  I personally think Microsoft would have done better to have two variants of Windows for the two environments.  But, what do I know, Microsoft is smarter than me, well richer anyway.

After playing for a few days I thought to myself well, lets get the free Windows 8.1 update installed.  That is meant to simplify the touch/mouse conundrum.  I read the instructions.  Wow, That's easy.  Go to the Store, click the, apparently obvious, 8.1 tile, and go.

Headache Pills
Headache Pills (Photo credit: sacks08)
This is where it all started to unravel.  I went to the Store, like a veteran as I had already poked around in there.  Now where is that 8.1 upgrade tile?  Nowhere that I could see.  The instructions said it was obvious - wrong.  It wasn't there.  I spent a while looking in various categories, at increasingly smaller tiles, but it wasn't there.  I finally went to Uncle Google and found I wasn't alone.  There were lots of reports of this being unavailable.  The most common cause was apparently not doing the Microsoft updates.  But, I work in IT and know that installing patches is often a good thing and I had done that on day one, and I already had the special one that enables the 8.1 update.  Still I did it again.  A couple more arrived, but the mythical 8.1 upgrade tile still didn't show.  After a couple of days and further research I was close to sacrificing a goat and chanting the appropriate spell when I noticed a couple more updates had arrived.  I did those, rebooted (again), and, to my surprise, the 8.1 Upgrade tile was suddenly front and centre of my choices.

So it was with a sigh of relief that clicked the upgrade button.  Guess what, Windows 8 hadn't finished with me yet.  "You can't do this as you are not an Administrator".  "Oh yes I am" I yelled (actually I yelled a lot more than that).

Back to Uncle Google.  Guess what, many people had this issue as well, and there were the usual 1,000 solutions, 999 of which don't work.  I know I tried a few and I won't bore you with the details here.  Buy me a beer sometime and I'll tell you.  After several more days I finally tried the correct bit of voodoo.  This was to un-install the special patch to allow the 8.1 upgrade and re-install.  I still didn't have a goat to sacrifice, so I tried the voodoo approach.  It worked and down came the download, meek as a lamb (or goat).  Much to my delight and surprise, the upgrade installed and up came 8.1.  Windows had finally relented and let me into the secret 8.1 club.

I have no idea why this didn't work as it should, and why it is so obviously complex and error prone.  I am not impressed.

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