Operation Consolidate Devices…

Has been a resounding success for the most part.  (Also some minor blog housekeeping notes.)

I just need to sell the iPad Mini 2 (hopefully at work this week).

The plan: Sell the iPad Mini 2 and the Macbook Air 11″ and go to only the following:

  • Desktop that my ex and I built. It runs Windows 10 right now; it’s run Windows versions 7, 8.1, and now 10, as well as varying versions of Ubuntu.
  • Dell XPS 13 that I bought in March. I got it from rich_h_ in #ubuntu-us-mi (the Ubuntu MI LUG group). It runs Ubuntu 15.04 and it’s the right balance of size, speed, and weight to transport home or to other places.
  • iPad Air 2 that I just bought to replace the Mini 2. It’s a sweet, skinny machine that runs iOS 8 and all of my apps blazing fast.
  • My phone which is a Samsung SIII. I am looking at other phones/plans possibly to update to next year sometime. It works and runs what I need it to.

I’ve sold the Macbook Air to a friend. Got a fair price for it.

So. Yes. I’m trying to have fewer devices to organize and take care of and keep updated. This will work in my favor, I do believe.

For the record, I’m keeping iOS, Ubuntu, Android (well this doesn’t really count), and Windows 10 up to date and running without any issues.

I will have a quick review or whatever about my impressions of the iPad, but honestly, it’s like the iPad Mini 2 except with touch ID and larger.  I dunno.  It’s a slim slab of glass that you touch to interact with it.  It’s great but there’s not a lot to really get into.

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Also, a short aside, I apologize for the double posts over here.  I was experimenting with Medium and I’d not pulled my IFTTT connection before I did that and… it posted the stuff I pulled over there.  I’m impressed with it as a writing and reading platform but it’s not really… extensible.  Like WordPress.  I dunno.  We will see… I might publish some stuff over there and have it cross post to here.

Let’s Talk About Pocket

Pocket, the web bookmarking service, is an invaluable tool for me (and many others) to hold temporary bookmarks. I’m using ifttt to copy my “starred” articles to pinboard, which is my favored bookmarking service.

I really like pocket. I had an account when it was “Read it Later” and I never really got into it. I don’t think I really got it because I wanted something that would sync between my different browsers. It didn’t work that way so quit using it in favor of Instapaper.

I love this service. It is awesome to read things on my phone and ipad because it strips out extraneous formatting and makes it much easier to read. Also, it’s perfect for temporary bookmarks. If I’m reading something in my RSS reader and I want to save it for later I can just send it to my Pocket account. Then the articles sit there waiting for me to have 5 or 10 minutes to read something.

This service is something that is totally worth trying out.  They have apps for your android device, Mac, ipad/iphone, and Chrome.

MaxKeyboard Blackbird

I’m not exactly obsessed with mechanical keyboards, but I do know that I love a great computer experience, so I’m attempting to make my home computer the best it can be.  That does include having decent peripherals.

After I built my computer I was using a MS Natural keyboard that I’d had from about 3 computers ago.  I liked it, but I wanted something better, so I “upgraded” to the newest version of the MS Natural.  These are decent enough keyboards but they’re hard to game on.  They’re great for typing and keep your arms at a comfortable angle and whatnot but I wanted something better.

I went to Microcenter and found a Razer BlackWidow on sale for $75.  Granted, this is much more than I’ve ever spent on a keyboard (I usually used the ones I got for free with a PC purchase or the aforementioned MS Natural that was cheap).  The BlackWidow has Cherry MX Blue switches and it’s quite heavy.  It typed fairly well though, so I was happy.  Or so I thought.

I started hanging out on Reddit quite a bit more and found a community for people who tweak their workstations called “/r/battlestations”.  I looked over it quite a bit and I noticed a lot of people had mechanical keyboards and there were quite a few cross posts to another community called “r/MechanicalKeyboards”.  So I started hanging out over there and reading reviews and recommendations and discussion.  I noticed that the community didn’t have a lot of respect for Razer (I didn’t know why then but I do now) and I started reading more and more reviews.  I figured I wanted to try a different switch as well as get a smaller keyboard.

I agonized over this decision.  I read review after review and decided that I wanted a Ducky Shine 3 TKL with Cherry MX Browns.  I could not find it anywhere.

I also looked at customizing a WASD board but they had no backlighting and I figured I might as well get something with backlighting so I can use it more in the dark.  Besides, I think backlighting looks cool.  Well, their CODE keyboard had backlighting but not the switches I wanted, plus it was sold out.

So I started looking for alternatives and stumbled upon MaxKeyboards.  They have a limited selection of switches (blue and brown for the board I was interested in) but the biggest plus for me was the fact that they didn’t have any software needed for their boards.  The Razer needed their Synapse software drivers to work and it was becoming beyond annoying to deal with that updating all the time.  I needed a board that would work with no problems in both Linux and Windows.

So I looked through the choices and picked out the Blackbird.  I’d never tried Brown switches before but I’d read about them and they were close to the Blues I’d been using but with a less audible click, more of a bump.

Anyway, I ordered it from Amazon and it finally arrived up at my mom’s house and I was able to pick it up this past weekend.  I’ve been using it a couple days now and let me say… Wow.

Well, before I get more into the review, how about a picture or a few?

2014-02-09 18.15.40 2014-02-09 18.15.57Here is the box and what comes in the box.  As you can see, it’s a really simple affair, with the keyboard, the wrist rest, and a info sheet about all the lighting options.

The lighting options are easy to understand and most are activated by hitting the function button and then the page up or down button (to change brightness), the insert or delete button (to light certain buttons like WASD and the arrow keys during a game), and the escape button to change the lighting timer on the board.

There are also some other options to control volume and whatnot that are activated by hitting the function button and F1 through F6.  This is great if you don’t have easy access to your speakers.  I do, so I don’t think I’ll be using them much.

Anyway, how about a quick compare between the Razer and the Max?

2014-02-09 18.18.03The Razer is on top and the Max is underneath.  The Max is much smaller than the Razer and I can easily hold my arms in front of me to type instead of having them off to the left a little bit.  This will hopefully help my shoulders and back and arms to not get fatigued while using the computer.

2014-02-09 18.20.06 2014-02-09 18.19.26 2014-02-09 18.20.35These next photos show the board on my desk.  Also, my shoe is there for Reddit and keyboard SCIENCE.

Anyway, you can see how it sits on my desk and how it’s directly in front of the chair.

Typing on this board is a dream.  It’s easy to actuate the keys and not totally bottom them.  Well I usually do bottom but I don’t have to thwack them as hard as I do a membrane board like the one I have at work.

There’s not a satisfying click-CLACK like there is with the blues, but I’m very happy with the browns.  I love the sound they make and they’re not mushy at all.  Also, it’s quieter than my other board.  I’m not sure if my upstairs neighbor could hear me (I hope not) but if they could I’m sure they’re happy that I’ve switched boards.

I’m not really missing the keypad on the right; it makes for a quick switch to the mouse when I need it.  The only issue I will find is when doing something with numbers, but I have the Razer that has a keypad on it so I can use that for that application.

Now I want to get a Ducky for work.  I want the Shine 3 but if I can’t find that, I’ll settle for a Zero.  I should also look into getting either Blacks or Browns and putting O-rings on the keys so they’re not as loud.

Anyway, I love this board and it’s a 5/5 for me.  No extra crap, no special drivers, works in Linux and Windows (and Mac for that matter), and it’s small and backlit.  Everything I need.  Nothing I don’t.

Oh, and regarding the non-love for Razer that I mentioned above… I see why many people don’t like them as a company because their boards are… somewhat gaudy and light-covered.  Mine was not, but it was HUGE and I’m glad to have more desk space with the smaller board.  Also, some have had quality issues with their boards.  I’m glad I’ve not, but it’s always a possibility.  Oh, and they market to “gamers” so their boards are a bit pricier than they should be as well as having the lower quality.  So that’s a problem.  I still like my Razer DeathAdder mouse; it works well and I’ll be keeping it for awhile.

HP Chromebook 11 Update

As many of you know, the HP Chromebook 11 had a problem with its charger.  Essentially, the charger ran hot (which is kind of normal; this one ran SUPER hot) and could potentially cause a fire.

After all the jokes about a fire sale and how the Chromebook was “too darn hot” I started looking toward Google to find a replacement charger.  I filled out the form that I got from here and figured that I wouldn’t see it til after the holidays.

I had a couple emails about this, but I figured that I wouldn’t get it anytime soon, so I forgot for awhile.  Imagine my surprise when the following arrived today:

I also was absolutely floored when I also pulled out a $25 Google play gift card.

I knew Google was awesome but I was unaware as to how awesome they were.

Thank you Google.  I also have a nice little note for you in the box I’m sending back to you.

Computer Fiddling

I’ve had a heck of a ride the past week.  I decided to install Xubuntu.  I did a backup and then tested everything on the liveCD and everything worked so I installed it.  Wahoo, everything was quick and nice… except things were really quiet when I tried to play my music collection.

So I investigated and… lo and behold, Xubuntu shipped with a faulty sound indicator.  I tried the various hacks to get it working but nothing worked.  Apparently Ubuntu changed the way the indicator worked or something and the fallback indicator didn’t work at all in Xubuntu.

I got frustrated and shut everything down and decided to deal with it later.

Later came on Friday night.  I wanted to give more room to Windows to accommodate my expanding Steam library, so I booted into an Ubuntu disc and ran gParted.

And promptly started messing around with my partitions and accidentally deleted everything.  I didn’t panic because my stuff was all saved on my external drive, but I was bummed that I’d have to reinstall everything.

And so it went.  I repartitioned my drive so Windows would have about 520 GB of space, and Ubuntu would have 475 GB of space, and I’d have about 5 or so of swap.  (Honestly, I could skip the swap because I have 8 GB of RAM but I’ve been conditioned to have swap.  Five GB is probably not enough but oh well.  I’m not going to run out of RAM anytime soon.)

I installed Windows, did the reboot, and then had a small panic attack because I didn’t have any internet connection.  After finding my motherboard driver disc and installing the drivers, I had internet and could start getting everything else installed including my GPU.  I have most of my “stuff” back, but I need to get things off of the external hard drive which seems to not like to play well with both Linux and Windows.  Annoying.

After getting WoW, D3, and Steam installed, I called it a night.

Cue this morning.  I got breakfast and started on my Ubuntu install.  It takes almost no time to install Ubuntu it seems, especially compared to Windows (even though Windows doesn’t take long to install at all; it’s the drivers that are a pain).  I now am back up in business with my dual-boot system and I have more room for Windows and my games.

Ubuntu currently looks like this:

Ubuntu Screenshot
Ubuntu Screenshot

I cannot remember where I got this wallpaper from; perhaps deviantArt?  If you’re the artist, send me a link and I’ll credit you; I apologize that I can’t remember where I got it.  I basically shrunk the launcher down and changed the wallpaper and put the programs I like in the launcher.  Simple and effective.

HP Chromebook 11

My Macbook Air is having a drive problem right now that can’t be solved until the SSD drives are available for repair.  It’s kind of crappy for Apple to tell a customer when she tries to update that she needs a new hard drive and then not ship those hard drives to the repair centers.  So, I will be going back to Microcenter again when they come in to get the repair actually done.  It’s under a recall so I don’t have to pay for it.

In the meantime, because I can’t use the Macbook, I picked up a stop-gap HP chromebook.  I’m not sure how this will fit into my computing arsenal once I get my Air back, but we’ll see.

Anyway, I picked this up for $279.  Unexpected, but I really don’t want my Air to get damaged beyond repair and ruin any of the internals (I’m not sure if that can happen or not but I’m not taking a chance).

Also, NaNo is going on right now and I’ve missed the first week but I might be able to salvage part of the month with a new story that I’ve been thinking about.  I might work on it through next month too just because.

ANYWAY, I have some unboxing photos.

Firstly, the box.

HP 11" Blue Box
HP Chromebook 11″

I got the blue one, which is the only color they had.  The poor guy that was trying to help me couldn’t get the drawer open on the display and I felt bad for him.

Anyway, that blue stripe slid off to reveal a plain white box:

With the blue stripe off
With the blue stripe off

This is actually pretty classy packaging and it reminds me of the Macbook Air box that I did not have an unboxing for because I unboxed it at the airport.  Anyway, this is simple and without a lot of extra flair.  I like it.

I pulled out my knife and cut the tape and opened it up:

Box Open!
Box Open!

Wow simple.  I like simple.  The white is very clean and the stripe at the top is very understated.  My Macbook Air has more “flair” on it with the glowing apple on the lid.

And now for a pic with all of the stuff out of the box:

Everything out of the box.
Everything out of the box.

There’s the chromebook, a charger, a quick start card, and a guide that has several languages.

I was able to plug it in right away and boot it up.  The cord is a hair short; I’ve gotten used to the Macbook cord that has the brick with the removable extension.  Anyway, I logged in using my google account and most of the stuff I needed right away was there.  I had to add dropbox and a hangouts extension as well as an IRC program but I pretty much have a functional computer on par with what I had on the Macbook.

Some first impressions:

  • The keyboard is nice.  Really nice.  It’s not quite as good as the one on the Air and it’s nothing like my mechanical keyboard, but I sure can type on it, and fast too!
  • The trackpad is… usable.  It’s at least plenty big and supports two-finger scroll but the surface is a little rough.  Granted, I’m comparing this to the trackpad on the Macbook which are top of the line trackpads, but for the price, this is decent.  I turned off tap-to-click and reversed the scroll.  It’s actually pretty good for this price point.
  • The display is gorgeous.  Wow.  On par with the Macbook Air, clear, clean, bright.  Love it.  Shiny, but still usable.  I’d probably get a screen cover if I had to use it in direct sunlight.
  • There are a lot of apps available.  Don’t pay attention to the reviews that say there are “no apps”.  Go to the app store for Chrome and look.  There’s plenty; you just have to figure out which ones you can use on or offline and adjust accordingly for your particular usage.  Many of the reviews are from windows or mac power users that can’t fathom living in the cloud for more than a few files in dropbox.  Granted, I’m kind of that way as well but I’ll just have to adjust to this thing for the time being.
  • I like the way everything seems to work together: Android phone, Android tablet, browser on windows/mac/linux, and now this cloud computer thing.

Basically this is a great little machine to keep on the couch to look up information on or IM while you’re watching TV or blogging.  It’s not going to work if you don’t have access to the internet for a prolonged period.  If you don’t have access to the internet, I’d download your most precious files to a flash drive and then you can edit them offline and then re-sync later.

I will most likely go back to my macbook when it is repaired (because it’s more functional than this) but I will keep this around for when I go somewhere on vacation and might want to type up something.

Verdict: If you need something cheap and decent and not a lot of local storage and can deal with living in the cloud, get this.  If not, get an ultrabook/Macbook Air.  If your Macbook isn’t working right, get this as a backup and work in the cloud til it’s fixed.  It’s a recommend from me for specific uses.

Ubuntu 13.04

I upgraded to Ubuntu 13.04 last month on the day it came out.  I’ve been running it since then, and I figured I should do a little write-up here because I usually do when the new one comes out.

Anyway, when I upgraded, I found that everything… worked.  This, literally, was the easiest Ubuntu upgrade I’ve done.  I usually do a reinstall when I change versions, but I didn’t this time.  I just ran my updater and let it go.  It took very little time to download the packages, and before I knew it, my computer was running 13.04.

I looked around and noticed some of the polish that Canonical has added to Ubuntu.  I also noticed that the upgrade didn’t muck with my already installed apps like Banshee; it didn’t install Rhythmbox and then force me to remove it later.  Same with Pidgin!  Kudos!  The OS has been improved speed-wise, the dash is much more responsive, and I find that apps load a little quicker than they did in 12.10.

Gwibber was replaced by Friends.  I had to install Friends, and I must say that it’s working pretty well.  I also installed Turpial, Polly, and Birdie, just so I could play with different Twitter clients.  Friends is good but has a ways to go yet; I would recommend adding a “@-replies” tab so I can see who’s replied to my messages on my social networks.  Oh, and the messaging menu works better with Thunderbird and it works with Pidgin now (again!).  Another thing I noticed was better support for my Razor DeathAdder mouse.  In 12.10, I noticed that I couldn’t change the speed and it would zoom all over the place if I looked at it wrong.  Now I can change the speed in the mouse settings and it seems to work a lot better now.  I’d just gotten used to the super-fast mouse acceleration, but being able to turn it down is a great thing.  Now, if my new iPod Nano would work…

This release seems to be polishing up the OS.  It’s not a huge mega update, but it seems to “just work” and with the announcements of Ubuntu phone and tablet and the work that’s been done to reduce resting RAM usage, I see it only getting better.

I’m not sure if I’ll run an Ubuntu tablet or phone in the near future (I love Android) but having a unified system is a grand idea; one which Apple and Microsoft are trying and I’m not sure if they’re going to be successful.

I’m still digging Unity.  It’s still got some niggles (I have to change its size as soon as I update) but I like the keyboard shortcuts and how elegant it looks.

All-in-all, this is a great update.  Polish, speed, and simplicity.  Also, the whole upgrade process had no issues for me and my hardware.