And Then, No More PixelBook

So, when we were last here, I was talking about how I had been happily using my PixelBook for a year, and everything was just fine. Then, life happened, and things changed, and I found myself working out of the house for a while.

Why should this be a problem? Well, the program I use to remote into the office has a desktop client as well as a web-based one. Under Chrome OS, all I could figure out how to use was the HTML5 web based one. The HTML5 one is fine for the getting and checking email and doing web work. However, it leaves a lot to be desired for any development work.

So, I went back to the trusty HP R810 again. This time, I am trying out Ubuntu 18.10 with Gnome. I have been at it for about 6 weeks now, and I am still liking it. Even though this is an older laptop, the performance has been very good and it has handled everything I have thrown at it.

12 Months of Chrome OS

For the last 12+ months, Chrome OS has been my daily driver. And for the most part, it has treated me okay for all that time. Recently, some issues have cropped up.

I have successfully used my PixelBook in my day to day life doing things. Telecommuting to work a few days a week. Taking online training for work. Doing basic photo editing. Talking with the family whilst traveling. Helping launch a great father/child program. I can run Linux apps, android apps, commercial apps, in addition to web based apps. It has been great.

And, the hardware is awesome. Thin, light, and has a battery to last all day working on it unplugged. The screen has served me well .

My problems started to come in one of the strengths of the platform: the automatic updates. Chrome OS will automatically download in the background any updates to the apps (besides the Linux apps, but I can deal with that), and will either install them and let you know in the case of apps, or will let you know that an OS update is ready, and I all need to do is reboot.

This is great, when it works. For most of the year, the OS updates came at a reasonable pace. They also added new features and fixed bugs without changing things on me without warning. However, this fall, the updates started getting few. I found odd since the PixelBook is the Google flagship for Chrome OS. There were even a few updates which skipped the PixelBook.

Then the last one hit, and performance took a dive. The worst part is, it is only sometimes. Sometimes I will move the mouse, and it takes a few to catch up. Video is choppy. Switching tabs or to a different app might take a few seconds. And no word from Google when the fix will come.

The performance issue would not be enough for me to stop using Chrome OS as Google does have a good track record of fixing things. Without any news on when it will be fix, I may have to start weighing my options.

The area this is really impacting me is my photography work-flow. As I mentioned last time, I am trying to get back into photography a bit more seriously and the lag makes it hard when I am trying to process more than a handful of photos.

My main concern for finding a replacement is to find a laptop of similar specs as the PixelBook, preferably without paying serious money for it.

A look behind, and a look ahead

As 2018 draws to a close, it is the way of things to look at the year past, and then look ahead.

A look behind…

My main tech experience this year has been using the PixelBook as my main computing device. This for the most part has worked out well. Everything I needed to do I figured out a way to do it under ChromeOS, and most of the time it was as easy to do as under Linux.

The only place that I feel it was a struggle was with photo editing. If I chose to only use GApps, then it works well, but since I have 10+ years of photos not in the Google ecosystem, I need something else, and this is where ChromeOS currently hits a limit. While using AfterShot Pro, I notice that the Linux container struggles with both memory and disk IO. Given what I am planning on in the coming year, this may become bigger issue for me.

In playing around, I installed Ubuntu 18.10 on my HP R810 to have a look, and surprisingly, I liked what I saw. If I do move back to Linux over ChromeOS, then 18.10 is the answer. I doubt the R810 will be the platform, as while I love the size, the battery is only good for 3-4 hours at best, and the PixelBook will run 8-10 hours, and is about 1/2 as think as well.

Looking at news from the $JOB, due to a co-worker moving to a different group, I find myself back in a managers role again. This is in addition to my normal work. My new team is US based operations folks (I work in Engineering), who thankfully all sit near me. Their day-to-day will be managed by someone currently on the team who has a deep understanding of the operational concerns. I should be more of the HR manager approving time off, helping with reviews, and that sort of fun.

..and a look ahead

I have come up with a few areas I am planning to work on in the coming year.

Professionally, I want to take the team management and use it as a catalyst to learn what being a manager in the 21st century looks like. I plan to use both resources from the $JOB and from reading that I am planning to do. Traditionally, I only read fiction books in my down time, so this will be a big shift for me there.

I also have looked into what it would take for me to get a promotion at work, and there are many areas in pure tech, tech management, and people management for me to explore and learn.

Personally, I have two areas I want to focus on: Photography and my health.

In photography, I want to get back into the habit of taking pictures every day, and looking at the world in terms of light and textures. To do this, I am planning on doing what is called a ‘Project 52’ which is posting one photo per week for 52 weeks. I am planning on working 12 themes, one per month, to help me focus on what I am shooting.

For health, I want to train to run a 5K by Thanksgiving. This will help me in many areas, and seems to be a very doable goal. First step is to get up and get moving!

Keeping it (me) real

I will try to post check-ins on how I am doing on the various projects and goals. The $JOB ones will have to be vague, but the personal ones I should be able to give more details.

I also have plans to be more active here, and try to post at least monthly with something real to share.

10 Months on a Chromebook Check-in

So, way back in November,  I decided to use ChromeOS has my main OS.  And, then in January, I did a check-in on using ChromeOS for a month.  Fast forward to-day, and I am still using my PixelBook as my daily driver for all things.

I still use the R810 and the x260 to test new Linux distros just to see what is happening in that space, but not to do anything else.

The battery on the PixelBook last me most of the day when out and about, and the size makes it easy to carry.  Last month, I even used it to give a talk to a group I help run, and it worked flawlessly then.

I still want to do some things via the command line, so for a while I was using Chromebrew to get by, but that has a couple of issues for me.  The first is that a lot of what I wanted had not been ported to that system yet, so I had to go and build it.  The second, and for me more important, was that to use it, I had to turn off some of the security built into ChromeOS to make it work.  A couple of months ago, Google announced Project Crostini, which uses Linux containers to allow you to run a full Linux (default is Debian) image under ChromeOS, using all the default ChromeOS security, which makes it a big win in my book.

Add on top of that, that the PixelBook can run most Android apps, and I have everything I need currently.  ‘But, what about photography?’ you ask.  Well, I have found that I needed to rework my photo work flow, but I have found something that works for me.  All the photos that I have uploaded this year were posted under ChromeOS and so far, it is working for me.

February, Already?

AR Test
AR Test

I am shocked to look at the calendar, and realize that February is almost over.

Where to begin?  Well, the test with ChromeOS is going well.  I have found that I need the access to my R810 less and less as I move things over to the Pixelbook.  I have even found myself doing some light python coding on it.  The flexibility and the speed is very nice.  I have also been enjoying one of the major benefits of the Chromebook life style: major battery life.  I can take my Pixel out of the bag when I get to the office and not plug it in all day, and still have a couple of hours of juice left over when I get home.

On of the things that I am still not totally sure about is doing my photo workflow.  I have been doing some reading, and finding a few tools to play with.  To that end, I am going to set myself a challenge of taking, processing, and posting a photo at least once a week.  As I get more comfortable, I might even move that up to many a week.  It will be good to get back into that as I have done that in the past, but I did fail the last time I tried daily.

The photo above is from my playing around with ‘Augmented Reality’ which is all the fade now days with ‘virtual stickers’ you can insert into photos.

A month in, using ChromeOS only

As I pointed out a while back that I was moving to ChromeOS more seriously.  Well, since Christmas day, I have parked my R810 to the side, and installed Chromium OS on my Lenovo X260 and started using it full time.  What is Chromium OS?  It is the open source version of ChromeOS.

So far, everything has been working great.  The only thing that has not worked for me is DRM protected video stream, things like Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Video.  Not a major lost, but I missed it on a recent trip.

The other major issue I have run into is photo processing and management.  Under ChromeOS, there is not many options for this, only pure web-based solutions like Google Photos.  There are some pretty decent solutions in the Android world.  How does this help me?  Well, the newer version of ChromeOS running on newer Chromebooks can run Android apps.

Sadly, my Acer C720 and HP Chrombook 11 G1 are both too old to get the Android solutions.  Additionally, both systems are starting showing their age in running modern web apps.  So, my solution?  I am buying a Google Pixelbook.  I opted for the smaller of the versions which should have more than enough horsepower for me to run for many years.  It arrives today, so I will be having some fun setting it up.

Really moving in on the Chromebook

As I mentioned a while back that I was experimenting with using a Chromebook, I decide to see how far I could take it.  On my recent trip to the UK, I only took my Acer C720 with me.  During the trip, I used it for things like uploading photos I took, Skype to chat with the family, checking email and news, and remote access while in the hotel room.

This worked out pretty well, to the point where I am trying to use it or my HP Chromebook 11 G1 full time.  While I can get lots of things done in a browser now days, there are some things I find my self sshing back to another box to do.  So, I decided to see if I could do that on the Chromebooks.

The ‘normal’ way is to install Linux into a chroot using something call Courton. I have done that in the past, but the work flow is not something I can adapt to easily as it involves more than a simple key combo to switch between.

I found a project called “Chromebrew” in the vein of “Homebrew” for MacOS.  Setup is pretty simple as I had turned on Developers mode on my boxes a long time ago, so it was a matter of downloading a script, reading it, and then running it.

From there, I used the crew command to install some basic tools (git, vim, & python), and I can now do 90% or more of my day-to-day work on the Chromebooks.

The only thing that I have not figured out yet is a decent VPN solution, but I am working on that.

I suppose at some point, I will upgrade one of the Chromebooks to one of the newer generation which can run Android apps as well.

Night Mode for ChromeOS

So, what is night-mode?  It is a mode for changing the color temperature of computer screens to be ‘warmer’ (more red-tones, less blue tones).  Why?  The strong blue tones (and whites) from most computer screens help trick your mind into thinking it is still day, and therefor you need to be awake.

I have been trying to enable night mode on all the things for a while now.  For my android phone, I use twilight for Android (IOS has something built in now), Solus Linux added it in the most recent release, Gnome has it in the later releases, and under i3, I use xflux.

However, I could not find anything for the Chromebooks….until now! 9to5Google.com has a story about the feature coming soon to ChromeOS, but they claim that you need to be on the very latest development branch called ‘Canary’.  I tend to run on the Developers branch, and did not want to switch.  I did a bit of digging, and found this reddit thread which has the feature flag to set:

chrome://flags/#ash-enable-night-light

Normal warnings, this can lead to breakage of your system.

I have enabled it, and it is looking good so far!

Welcome to the New Look

I have been running a bit of an experiment recently by using a Chromebook while not at home.  So far, it has been going fairly well with the exception that I cannot easily update this site.  So, I switched to something which lets me use the web to update.

I have all the posts moved over, but I will have to do a bit of cleanup around categories and move the photos over.  A lot of the older posts suffer from being imported into a few different blogging platforms, so that may take time.