Tag Archives: Technology

My Chromebook Experience

I was listening to Hacker Public Radio episode #3242, which was a lengthy look at Chromebooks by a couple of Linux folks, who were on the whole pretty happy with the experience. This may surprise some folks, but I was not surprised since I have been using one for over a year and have found it useful. Chromebooks have, at the heart, a Linux base, and you can do a lot with them. And the discussion went into things like installing emacs or doing audio and video production, and so on. But the is not my use case at all.

I have home network with several desktops, one of which belongs to my wife who uses it for her work. Although we have Wi-Fi for things like phones, tablets, and laptops, the desktops are all connected via ethernet to the router. And we also have a Drobo NAS box to handle backups (onsite; we also have Carbonite for offsite backup) and for mass storage of things like MP3 music files, videos, and photos. When I do audio production, such as recording my shows for HPR, I do that using Audacity on my Kubuntu 18.04 desktop machine, and I will happily continue to do that. So while I was enjoying the discussion of how you can do that on a Chromebook, frankly I will probably never do anything that interesting. I try to fit my tools to my purposes, and have no problem using multiple tools. I considered posting a comment on the show, but then I channeled my inner Ken Fallon and decided to record my own show in reply. Besides, HPR always needs more shows.

In 2014 I had purchased a Nexus 9 tablet with the idea of having something I could easily carry around and do things like read, check my email, and look things up. Basically things I could do on a phone, but just with a larger screen. But the thing with e-mail is that you have to type, and using the on-screen keyboard never got comfortable for me. I could do it, but it was work. I really wanted a keyboard. So I got a keyboard/case combination, which connected via Bluetooth. Sometimes. It was quite erratic, and tended to drive me nuts. Still it served my primary purpose. I took it with me on my trip to Ireland in 2015 and used it to keep my diary of the trip and similar things. And I took it with me for breakfast on Sunday mornings at a local restaurant. So, it was not excellent, but it was OK, and once I had bought it I kept using it.

Then it started to misbehave. While I was at breakfast at that local restaurant, it started to emit loud sounds kind of like a siren, which is embarrassing when you are out in public. And this happened again after rebooting. At some point I just had to face the fact that it was dying. I could have bought another tablet, but since I didn’t entirely enjoy the experience I decided to buy a Chromebook. So in June of 2019 I spent $309 USD to buy an Acer Chromebook. It has an Intel Celeron dual-core processor and 4GB of RAM, so it isn’t particularly powerful, but it is very light and easy to carry around. I can check my e-mail on it, and when my wife and I visited Europe in Fall, 2019, I used it to keep our travel diary as a Google Doc. I can install and run Android apps on it, and I use it every day to run a couple of Spanish learning apps because typing on a keyboard is much better than trying to do it on a phone screen. If I fold the screen and keyboard back, it behaves like a tablet. And I use it at least a couple of times a week for Zoom calls. It is great for that and easier than plugging in a camera and microphone on my desktop, since it has all of that equipment built in. And as a slim and light machine, it is great for taking on flights or other travel.

So it does a lot of good things for me. That said, it will never be my main computer., but that is fine since I have more powerful computers for other uses. But for something I can just grab-and-go, I am quite happy with it. If this one reaches EOL I will probably get another one. Mine is scheduled to receive updates through June of 2024, and right now I expect I will buy another when that happens.

My Review of Tips for Time Travelers

Tips for Time Travelers by Peter Cochrane

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Peter Cochrane was the head of the research labs at British Telecommunications, and this book is a series of short essays on his ideas about future technologies. Given that this book was assembled in 1999 (I believe the individual articles were written in the 1990s), events have overtaken some of his projections, but they are still interesting. At 2 pages per essay, this is a book best dipped into rather than read at one sitting. There are 108 of these short essays in this book.





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My Review of How Google Works

How Google Works by Eric Schmidt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Google started as the project of graduate students at Stanford, but as it became successful and grew they realized they needed some managerial assistance, and this book comes from two of the people they brought in: Eric Schmidt (Executive Chairman) and Jonathan Rosenberg (SVP of Products). As one of the most successful companies in the world (perennially in the top three for market capitalization) knowing how they did that is worth some consideration. And this is an interesting book for that. Their story is that they were brought in to apply management skills but quickly learned that Google could not be managed the way they were used to doing it. They focus on empowering creative people to do awesome things, and there is certainly evidence that Google does that, but it is also true that this is an insider’s book that is not going to air any dirty laundry. So take it with a grain of salt.



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My Review of What Technology Wants

What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is an interesting read if you don’t mind a bit of teleology. Kelly conceives of technology like an organism, which he calls the technium: “The technium is a superorganism of technology. It has its own force that it exerts. That force is part cultural (influenced by and influencing of humans), but it’s also partly non-human, partly indigenous to the physics of technology itself.” His purpose in this book is to trace the ways technology has developed in the past and use that to project where it will go in the future. Since we will be living in that future and relying on that technology (barring a disaster), this is a book that repays the attention you give it.



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My Review of In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives

In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives by Steven Levy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not quite as mandatory reading as his classic Hackers, this is nonetheless a good book for anyone who is interested in more contemporary Internet history. Levy got “embedded” in Google for a couple of years and had access to pretty much all of the significant people in the Google story. One personal note: the Google “house economist”, Hal Varian, was one of my professors at the University of Michigan when I was studying for a Ph.D. there in the early 1980s. I doubt he could pick me out of a lineup, though.




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My Review of Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution

Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution by Steven Levy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a recently updated and reissued version of Levy’s classic book from 25 years ago. He traces the development of computing from the MIT model railroad club in the late 1950s through Silicon Valley in the 1980s. All of the major figures are covered, and he really brings home what the hacker ethic is about. If you have any interest in the history of computing this is one of those books you have to read




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My Review of The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology

The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology by Ray Kurzweil

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I think it is important to consider how the things we do today will create the future we will inhabit. Kurzweil’s book is very important. You might think that the things he talks about cannot possibly happen. But then think about Moore’s Law, and what that has done in one small area. That is the premise Kurzweil starts with, and he makes an attractive case for it. Still, I am skeptical because the brain is so much more complex than he seems to realize. I doubt the things he predicts will happen on his schedule. Still, this is a book that is thought-provoking.



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My Review of What Would Google Do?

What Would Google Do? by Jeff Jarvis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I found this book to be a fascinating look at how the Internet is changing all kinds of businesses and institutions. It really rings true. Jarvis is a journalist who explains why the death of newspapers is inevitable, but also what will take their place, for instance. His rules of the Google age are well worth reading.



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My Review of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations

Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations by Clay Shirky

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is a very interesting book about how the Internet changes the way people interact and how business will be done. The companies that don’t understand this will have difficult times ahead. I found myself thinking about how healthcare will be affected.



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My Review of What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry

What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry by John Markoff

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This was just a fun break from serious reading, but I quite enjoyed it. Before Steve Jobs, before Bill Gates, there were the real pioneers who gave us personal computers, people like Doug Engelbart, who probably did more than either of the above. This is the story of those unsung folks. And of course all of this took place in the Bay area around San Francisco just as the anti-war and hippie movements were active. It was not an accident that these things happened in the same place at the same time.



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