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David Chandler's Journal of Java Web and Mobile Development

  • David M. Chandler


    Web app developer since 1994 and Google Cloud Platform Instructor now residing in Colorado. Besides tech, I enjoy landscape photography and share my work at ColoradoPhoto.gallery.

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Archive for the ‘PC Tech’ Category

Chromebook deals under $350 for Black Friday 2019

Posted by David Chandler on November 11, 2019

It’s that time again! The Best Buy Black Friday ad once again has some spectacular deals on Chromebooks for all types of users.

My favorite this year is the new HP Chromebook 2-in-1 14″ i3 8GB, a new flip tablet with some of the beefiest specs of any Chromebook. At the Black Friday price of only $349 (reg. $599), it is hands down the best value on the market for moderate to power users. I purchased it on a preview sale and the only thing I don’t love is the weight. It comes in a little heavy at 3.7 lbs., but the 14″ full HD screen and excellent sale price more than make up for it IMHO. The backlit keyboard is a pleasure with lots of key travel and more mechanical feel. It has 2 USB-C ports and 1 USB-A port so you don’t need an adapter for your USB security key or external mouse. The trackpad is smooth and responsive, and the full HD screen, while not the brightest or most saturated in color, is sharp and adequate even under bright lights. It’s built solid, so there is no annoying give when you rest your hands on the keyboard. 8GB RAM is plenty generous for a Chromebook, and like most modern Chromebooks, it runs Android and Linux apps, as well.

A close second is the ASUS C434 flip tablet, which is similarly equipped. It has a thinner bezel than the HP but square edges, which I don’t prefer, and I don’t like the tablet fold as much. Costco has the ASUS on sale for $509 (reg. $549) with Core m3 (not as fast as the i3) and 4GB RAM (vs. 8GB for the HP). It’s a fair price for a very nice machine, but not as good a value as the Black Friday price on the HP. The ASUS C433 (Best Buy exclusive) is about $40 cheaper than the ASUS C434, but feels a little less solid next to the trackpad.

On the lower end, the Lenovo 2-in-1 is a good value at the Black Friday price of $179. The Acer Spin 11 is a little bulkier, but offers more solid construction and performance. Its cousin, the Acer R11, has served our family very well for years. The Spin 11 features an upgraded processor (Celeron 3350), USB-C ports in addition to USB-A, and generous battery life (10 hrs). At the Black Friday price of $219, it is an excellent value. The very similar Lenovo C340 11.6″ 2-in-1 is in the Costco Black Friday ad for $229, also a great value. It feels more solid than its predecessor. The Lenovo’s N4000 processor is slightly (~30%) more performant than the Acer’s N3350, but the Acer is more symmetrical in tablet mode. Also the Lenovo, being a new model, has a couple years longer support from ChromeOS.

For the most budget conscious, the Samsung 11.6″ 4GB model (not a flip tablet) at $119 is an excellent value. The rubberized case seems like it’s built to withstand some abuse, making it a good first machine for younger students.

To summarize, my top three Chromebooks under $350 this Black Friday are:

  • $349 HP Chromebook 14″ 2-in-1 8GB
  • $229 Acer Spin 11 4GB
  • $119 Samsung 11.6″ 4GB

Happy hunting!

Posted in PC Tech | Leave a Comment »

In search of the perfect Chromebook on Black Friday

Posted by David Chandler on November 19, 2018

My family has been using Chromebooks for home and school for the last 5 years. There’s lots to like: super fast startup, no worries about viruses or backups, and they update automatically, which is super easy on me as my kids’ systems administrator. All the Google apps including Gmail now support offline use, and newer models can run Android apps and now even Linux apps (more below)! And of course, for basic computing from email and word processing to Facebook and Netflix, they’re cheap. As Black Friday approaches, I thought I’d highlight a few of my favorite models.

Most versatile around the house

The Acer R11 is my all-around favorite for home use. It has a great feel to it, solid and comfortable. I find the R11 on the kitchen counter serving up recipes, at the kitchen table answering emails, on the couch doing school work in Google Docs, and set up in tent mode in the living room for a video call over Hangouts or sharing photos with guests. The R11 doubles as a tablet which can run Android apps so you can download albums for offline listening using Google Play Music, read offline with Kindle, or explore a new area with Google Maps on a large screen in tablet mode. It has all the standard ports you’d expect (USB-A, HDMI, audio, SD card reader) so you don’t need adapters as with newer USB-C ports. Performance is reasonable for the Google apps and Web browsing. The available Celeron 3160 model is noticeably faster than the Celeron 3060, although both are decent when running productivity apps like Gmail and Kindle Reader. The R11 is small enough that you can fit it almost anywhere, and you can even find a $15 stylus on Amazon.com that works great on the touchscreen if you want to keep it clear of fingerprints. Costco had the 4 GB / 32 GB model with Celeron 3160 on sale for $199 a couple weeks ago, a really great value for a computer + Android tablet. Using the beta Linux apps support now available in Chrome 70, I even installed git, Java, maven, and IntelliJ on the R11. I would definitely not choose this as my primary machine for software development as an IDE like IntelliJ is very sluggish on the Celeron, but for text-based Linux tools, it’s more than adequate.

Best Buy currently has a similar model from Lenovo with an ARM-based chip (vs. Intel) on sale for $179. I have no personal experience with the Lenovo and its app compatibility, but the look and feel is great and the reviews are excellent.

Best traveler

The ASUS Chromebook C302 flip model, like the R11, runs Android apps (but not yet Linux, sadness). At just over two pounds, it travels lightly through airports on my back, and it’s thin enough to be quite comfortable as a tablet, as well. Its Intel Core m3 processor is quite a bit faster than the Celeron processors in low-end Chromebooks and handles most everyday tasks instantly. I really can’t imagine needing more power for anything but high-end games and software development. The backlit keyboard and sleek, silver design feels somewhat like a Macbook Air. I like the extra inch and a half of display over the Acer R11, but the R11 feels more durable because of its heavier textured plastic shell. For use on a desk or in my lap, the ASUS is my favorite. I was lucky to find an open box at Best Buy for $350, but they’re in the $450 range new.

Best movie screen under $300

The Acer Chromebook 15 (older model, not the latest) offers a large 15.6″ full HD display and excellent sound from the built-in speakers. It is heavy (almost 5 pounds!) and built like a tank, with durable fabric texture shell. It has all the same standard ports as the R11. The Celeron 3205U processor is more powerful than the N3160 on the Acer R11. Combined with a speedy Internet connection, my son uses it to remote in to a Windows machine in Google Cloud Platform to run Excel for business school. There is no noticeable lag. It is a great machine under $300 for students who don’t mind hauling it around. Unfortunately, the 3205U doesn’t yet run Linux apps. It does run Android apps even though it’s not a touchscreen.

For software developers

The biggest limitation of Chromebooks for developers has been the inability to install local developer tools. It’s been possible to run Linux on Chromebooks using dual boot or Crouton for a while, but this required switching to the ChromeOS dev channel, which does not have the stability or security of the stable channel. Now that Linux support (beta) has reached Chrome stable channel as of v69 (you’ll find the ability to enable Linux apps right by the Google Play option in Settings), it’s quite possible to install a typical Java developer stack on many Chromebooks. I’ve installed OpenJDK, maven, and IntelliJ on everything from the $199 Acer R11 to the $1,000+ Pixelbook. Older Celeron 30xx and 31xx processors are supported as well as the newer Core i3/i5/i7 chips and a handful of chips in the midrange–check the official Chromium page above.

Aside from the ultralight but spendy Pixelbook (BestBuy has the 8GB i5 model on sale for only $699 this week!), there is one midrange model great for developers, the Dell Chromebook 14, currently on sale for $499 at Best Buy. The display is stunning with vibrant color and resolution up to 2194 x 1234. The built-in sound is also surprisingly good, but the main attraction is the Core i3 processor, which is capable enough to run IntelliJ smoothly. It scores 34,600 on Octane v2, faster than my high-end Pixelbook with i7 processor (score 27k)!  It’s also a tablet, though a bit awkward for its size, and runs Android apps admirably. The provided stylus with built-in holder keeps the screen free of fingerprints and works well with pressure-sensitive drawing apps like Squid. The Dell Chromebook 14 weighs in at about twice the weight of a Pixelbook and is bulkier in shape, but I prefer the Dell’s wider display with thinner bezel. As long as I don’t have to wear it on my back too much, this is my “one Chromebook to rule them all.”

The $100 computer and one for Grandma, too

Lastly, I want to call out a couple deals in Best Buy’s Black Friday ad. The Samsung 11.6″ Chromebook with 2 GB RAM and 16 GB storage is only $99 this coming weekend. It’s a minimal machine, but certainly sufficient for Gmail, Google Docs, and Facebook. The 4GB model (preferred, as ChromeOS likes RAM) is only $129.

Older eyes will also appreciate several of Acer’s Chromebook 15 models that have 1366×768 resolution. While not as sharp as a full HD display, a large screen at lower resolution allows older eyes like mine to use the display at the default zoom level. And they’re cheap: this one is currently on sale for $169.

Happy deal hunting!

 

Posted in PC Tech | 2 Comments »

Custom search shortcuts in Chrome

Posted by David Chandler on July 25, 2011

One of my favorite Chrome features is the “one box” which serves as both address bar and search box. Press Ctrl+L and away you go. It’s also the handiest way to access bookmarks. Press Ctrl+L and start typing the name of one of your bookmarks, and you’ll see it appear as one of the starred items. Just arrow down and press Enter to go to the bookmark. Some Chrome extensions contribute shortcuts to the one box, and you can also create your own.

For example, let’s create a shortcut to search dictionary.com. Right-click in the Chrome onebox and click Edit search providers. You’ll see many defined already. Scroll to the bottom and click in the box that says Add a new search engine. Type “Dictionary.com”, then tab to the next box, where you’ll enter a shortcut. Type the letter “d”, then tab to the next box and enter this URL: “http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/%s”. To save the shortcut, click anywhere on the page.

Now try it out: press Ctrl+L and type “d blogger” then press Enter. As soon as you type the space after “d”, you’ll see that you’re searching Dictionary.com, and when you press Enter, your results appear.

Here are some other useful shortcuts:

In most cases, you can determine the correct URL by doing a search at the target Web site (like weatherbug.com) and observing the URL in the address bar after the search. Simply replace your search words in the URL with “%s” as in the examples above.

Happy shortcutting!

Posted in PC Tech | 3 Comments »

Ditch your land line with Google Voice and the OBI110

Posted by David Chandler on March 12, 2011

In tonight’s “Saturday evening post” you’ll learn why I’m one step closer to ditching our home phone number. For the last several months I’ve been making long distance calls with Gmail calling (ever tried that “Call phone” link in the Gchat sidebar?) It was especially valuable during my recent speaking trip to Sweden as I could use the hotel wireless to call home for free. For these calls, I tethered myself to my laptop using my cell phone earbuds plus this handy adapter to split the 3.5mm earbud plug into separate mic / speaker plugs for my notebook. I’ve also used a USB headset, but the earbuds and adapter roll into a tiny ball I can more easily stuff into a backpack and the sound quality is just as good.

Personally, I love Gmail calling as a phone interface. Being a keyboard shortcuts freak, I simply press “g,p” in Gmail and start typing someone’s name. Their phone numbers appear, I arrow down, press enter, and Gmail dials. Very cool. And of course, thanks to Android, I see the same contacts whether in Gmail or on my cell phone. However, the other people in my house don’t necessarily want to turn on and plug into a computer just to make a phone call.

Enter the OBI110, a VOIP adapter that lets you use your plain old telephone with Gmail calling and optionally, Google Voice for inbound calls. Mine arrived last week and I finally got around to setting it up this afternoon. The steps are simple (though NOT particularly clear in the instruction booklet). After you plug in all the cords and turn it on,

  1. Sign up for an account at obitalk.com. It’s free.
  2. Add your OBI110 device to your control panel (click Add Device in the left nav).
  3. Click Tips, Tricks in the left nav and then click Google Voice Configuration Wizard. Put in your Gmail account info using your full username@gmail.com and away you go…

The OBI110 lets you plug in your existing land line as well as the Ethernet connection to your router, and you can configure it to use Gmail calling for all calls, or only when you dial “**1” first. This way, you can continue to make local calls on your land line and use Gmail calling only for free long distance.

Note: instead of step 3 above, you can also click on the OBI110 device in the dashboard at obitalk.com and click the Google Voice setup button; however, when I tried it this way, it always made my Google Voice # the primary number, even if I unchecked that box in the setup, so I couldn’t make local calls on my land line.

For advanced configuration, you can login to the OBI110 router using your browser by going to its IP address. When you add the device to your account at obitalk.com, it creates an admin password which you can view on the dashboard. This password replaces the default admin/admin and you must enter username admin and this new password in order to connect to the OBI110 with your browser. If you get in trouble, you can always reset to factory defaults using a paper clip in the tiny hole in the back of the device or by logging in to the OBI110 and selecting System Management | Device Update | Reset.

So far, I’ve only made a few test calls to verify that inbound and outbound calls are routed as expected.  If I dial a number directly, it goes through my land line according to caller ID, and if I dial **1 first, it shows up as my Google Voice #. There seems to be a delay of one or two rings before inbound calls on the land line make it through the device to reach my cordless base system.

With the OBI110, you no longer need a computer to use Gmail calling nor a land line to receive calls at your Google Voice # on a corded or cordless telephone. Google has said Gmail calling will remain free at least through 2011, so if you call numbers in the US or Canada, you can make everyone in your house happy with free long distance on your familiar home telephone system.

In case you’re wondering, the event that got this ball rolling was that I got a corporate cell phone (Android, of course), which allowed me to cancel our AT&T family talk plan that we used mainly for free long distance on nights and weekends. We now have much cheaper pre-paid cell phones, free texting through Google Voice numbers, and free long distance at home with Gmail calling. We’ve pretty well drunk the Google Kool-Aid 🙂

Posted in PC Tech | 6 Comments »

Daily defrag? You’ve got to be kidding!

Posted by David Chandler on February 26, 2011

For our second edition of the “Saturday evening post,” consider the case of an old Compaq Presario desktop with Vista that was running painfully slowly. Every time it came out of suspend mode, the hard drive would spin and spin and spin. What on earth could it be doing? Task Manager showed lsass.exe doing a lot of reads and writes, but everything uses that system service. CPU usage was minimal, and AVG was not doing a scan.

I thought I might need to defragment the hard drive so I opened the Tools menu in Windows Explorer only to find that Scheduled Defrag was enabled to run EVERY DAY and anytime on wake-up if the previous run was missed. Those must have been default settings as I certainly don’t remember setting them, but my other Vista machines have not been that obnoxious.

The computer gets less than an hour of use per day and defrag takes a while, so basically it would never finish, leading to the ever-spinning disk.

Now that I’ve disabled the daily defrag, it runs a lot faster and quieter. I also ran CCleaner to remove temp files and installed Google Chrome, and my wife will now be able to check her Gmail just seconds after wake-up.

I wonder what people did on Saturdays before there were computers to fix?

Posted in PC Tech | Leave a Comment »

Resolved: Lexmark Printer Issue in Vista

Posted by David Chandler on February 26, 2011

One or the other of my teenage kids have been unable to print from the Lexmark wireless printer for several months now, and it finally could not be put off any longer.

Vista kept popping up messages saying that the Print Spooler service (spoolsrv.exe) had stopped. I logged in as Administrator and restarted the service, only for it to stop again in a few seconds. Print spooler virus? AVG in safe made checked clean. After several hours of Googling and getting nowhere, I found a post that mentioned C:\Windows\System32\spool. I went to that directory and deleted everything in the Printers folder. Now I was able to restart the Print Spooler service (if you don’t know how to do that, just restart the computer) and Add a Printer in the usual way through the Printers Control Panel.

Just documenting this for myself for next time…

Posted in PC Tech | Leave a Comment »

Everybody please update your Gmail pic

Posted by David Chandler on September 2, 2010

This really neat Chrome extension makes email a lot more personal again.

Posted in PC Tech | 1 Comment »

The ultimate file browser for maven repos and more

Posted by David Chandler on August 26, 2010

Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of work with maven where I needed to verify that the correct artifacts were deployed to a maven repository. While it’s easy enough to view a maven repo in a Web browser, it’s a pain to click through all the levels, and the POMs don’t show up very nicely due to the XML content.

So, I reached way back in time in my toolbox and pulled out lynx, the text-only browser created at my alma mater the year I graduated. (Ironically enough, I was then unaware of HTTP and lamenting that all the interesting work in EE had already been done. I had even used the Internet, as my wife and I would telnet across state lines with our campus VAX accounts to chat on the VT220 terminals in our respective dorms. But I didn’t see the Web coming, and it’s most of what I’ve done for the last 18 years…).

You can quickly browse maven central, for example, using

lynx https://repo1.maven.org/maven2/

For extra speed and the ability to look at POMs in vi, pull in the HTTP repo first (POMs only for speed) with wget:

wget -r -l3 --no-parent https://repo1.maven.org/maven2/com/whatever -A.pom

Now for the really fun part. Inspired by the ability to launch Finder on the Mac with “open .”, I tried

lynx .

Sure enough, lynx has finally cured my emacs file browser envy. Use the arrow keys to navigate, “o” to set options, including vi as your editor, then “/” to search just like in vi and “e” to edit any file. If you have to edit a bunch of files in multiple directories, this definitely trumps tedious “cd” and “vi” commands, even with shell filename completion. For really hardcore users, there’s

lynx -vikeys .

Of course, all this would be unnecessary if the Mac Finder worked a little more like Windows Explorer. Or if I’d learned emacs instead of vi.

For a real blast from the past, pull up the Google home page with lynx. Even Gmail works! I love text, I really do. Although, for the record, I do much prefer GMail and GCalendar in Chrome with keyboard shortcuts on.

Posted in PC Tech | 2 Comments »

Mac tech notes (phantom NumLock stuck, KeyNote)

Posted by David Chandler on August 19, 2010

The latest episode in my adjustment to the Mac involved the nonexistent NumLock key on the MacBook Pro. Twice during presentations, the keyboard has gotten stuck in NumLock mode in which the j,k,l and surrounding keys function as the numeric keypad and no other keys work. Thankfully, my password has a letter in the phantom numeric keypad area so I could diagnose this situation when typing in the login box. The trouble is, the MacBook Pro has no NumLock key (older Macs used Fn + F6), so it is a mystery how I got into this mode. It appears to be a bug in Mouse Keys. The solution is to tap the Option key 5x to turn off Mouse Keys or go into System Preferences | Universal Access and disable Mouse Keys.

On the bright side, KeyNote rocks. I kept noticing that the most polished presenters were using KeyNote, and now I see what they’re seeing: a presentation console on the notebook LCD that shows the current AND next slides (which makes smooth transitions much easier), speaker notes, and a giant digital clock. It uses extended desktop mode beautifully: console on the notebook display, and audience slides on the secondary display, to which you can also drag over all demos, editors, etc. KeyNote alone has finally sold me on the Mac.

Posted in PC Tech | 5 Comments »

I don’t miss Outlook / Exchange

Posted by David Chandler on August 14, 2010

Having previously seen only the personal edition of Google Calendar, I was skeptical of its value as a replacement for Outlook / Exchange in the enterprise. But now that I’m fortunate enough to work for a company that uses Google Apps for the enterprise, I can’t imagine going back. Here are some of my favorites, in no particular order:

  • See anyone’s calendar. Including, of course, other people at work (Apps edition of Calendar has a nice Find a Time feature similar to Outlook), but also my personal Google calendar (yeah! ONE calendar at last!) which I’ve shared from my Gmail account, calendars of other Gmail users who have shared with me, various team calendars, even the Atlanta Braves calendar so I know when to avoid the downtown connector (see Add | Interesting calendars).
  • Google Calendar on my iPhone (and, of course, Android). It’s a beautiful thing, works anywhere, and you can even set your Calendar settings to send you text message meeting reminders. Of course, I can see ALL calendars shared with me on the phone in one unified view, including personal, school, work, etc.
  • Google Calendar widget for Gmail (Settings | Labs to enable). Shows my day at a glance in Gmail. Works well with the Right-side Chat widget (also in Settings | Labs) to make more room.
  • Click and drag to create an appointment. Easy! Quick Add is great, too. Just type “Dinner with Vicki Fri 7-9 pm” and presto, you’ve got a date.
  • Search. Of course.
  • Keyboard shortcuts! This was my biggest fear moving from Outlook / Exchange. Microsoft helped make the transition easier by hiding many of my old favorites in the new Outlook ribbon bar. Happily, I’ve found that Gmail and Calendar keyboard shortcuts are every bit as productive as Outlook. Enable in Gmail and Calendar Settings, then type ? to see a list of available shortcuts. My newest favorite: “/” for instant access to the search box. Makes perfect sense if you’ve ever used vi.
  • Finally, I can get my calendar anywhere, anytime. No VPN required, no installed software. I think Google is here to stay.

Combine all this with Google Docs and Sites, and I really can’t understand why every small business hasn’t moved to the cloud. Google Apps is a sleeper.

Posted in PC Tech | 2 Comments »

 
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