Archive by Author
“A writer always writes. Always.” Billy Crystal said that in “Throw Momma From The Train.” Wasn’t the most sane character in the movie, but good advice nonetheless. Cloud Computing enables one to access their work/workspace from any computer. In some cases, even a cell phone. Cloud computing makes it easier than ever to follow that advice.
An essential component of the writing process is the composting of your ideas. I have two tools that help me do this: A Moleskin (yes, those expensive things) which I use to keep scribblings of random thoughts and ideas and Penzu, an online journal which I can access through any computer, preferably my Chromebook. (You can only do this via Penzu Pro. More on that later.) Personally, I do like to put pen to paper for the shorter thoughts so I use a Moleskin, but one could use a program like Simple Note to “capture” one’s random thoughts, and in some ways, could be a bit more convenient, especially if you have the program on your smartphone.
I use Penzu for everything from writing “longer” scribblings I’m compelled to put to digital format to longer ramblings which I may or may not share with the world later on. My moleskin scribblings frequently become seeds for my Penzu entries that usually run over 500 words per entry, which is the quota I try to keep. “A writer always writes. Always.” — Billy Chrystal, Throw Momma from the Train.
So, you now you ask: an online journal. Couldn’t you use just any blogger platform for that?
I suppose you could, but there are several features Penzu offers which sets it apart from your standard blogger app. Penzu is designed to be used as a private journal rather than a means to publish articles on the Internet. “Private” is its default mode, meaning every entry you write will not be seen by others.
Penzu’s interface seeks to emulate a journal page and it succeeds beautifully. In full screen mode, this is especially evident. There is a room for the title, the date is automatically entered for you and can be modified. As you write, a draft is automatically saved which is very helpful when you are in the heat of your rhapsodising. You can concentrate on your inspiration and just getting those thoughts down.
Photos can be easily uploaded from your computer or Flicker and links can easily be embedded on the page. All entries are search-able and can be tagged, utilizing the benefits of digitized text. Helpful for bringing together the free-flowing ideas you have recorded previously that may be related.
You can use Penzu for free. Just sign up and start writing. However, a yearly subscription of $19 will get you a Penzu Pro account which will add some features that you may find very handy like interface customizability and other features like the ability to e-mail an entry to your journal. One recently added feature is the “Help” button which can give you some writing ideas if you need inspiration. Remember writers: consistency is key, just keep those words flowing even when the well of ideas feels like it’s gone dry. Being given a topic to write about can aide in this.
Penzu Pro allows for a user to keep multiple journals. All your journals can be downloaded to your computer. There is no question: the data you keep in Penzu is yours and can do with it what you wish. If you have another digital journals, these can be uploaded.
Besides the fact that you have a password to log into your Penzu account, there are additional privacy features that one may utilize in Penzu Pro. You can encrypt your journal and even specific entries. No more worrying about whether someone will take a peek at your ramblings and jucy confessions when you are away.
You can say, Penzu offers the benefits of both a paper journal and a digital one.
Distraction Free Writing:
Having all those great ideas, rambling floating around in your moleskin and/or “cloud” journal isn’t enough to produce. I think of those things like making clay. A “mass” of thoughts, ideas, impressions have been created. Now it’s time to shape them into a definite statement, a first draft.
For this stage, I use a “Distraction Free” text editor that lets me focus on the writing at hand. To paraphrase Brittany Spears, it’s just me and the words, baby. There are many such editors out there. Some of them cost money, but the good news is The Chrome App Store carries a selection and most are free! Just do a search for “writing” and they’ll pop up. My favorite is Pillarbox. This is the best one I’ve found so far, and yes, it is one of the free ones. I love typewriter scrolling and Pillarbox is the first Chrome App to offer this feature. (That I know of anyway.) You just type and the text scrolls up as you stay focused on the line at hand. If Heminway could do it, so can you! Another plus is that Pillarbox requires no internet access. If you by chance close your browser window, your text will still be there the next time you open the application.
You can’t — as of yet — save documents in Pillarbox. It’s not that big of deal really. When I’m done with my first draft, I just cut and paste it to Google Docs for further editing to the final draft. An on-line based word processor is probably what you want to use for editing anyway. One thing to keep in mind is that Pillarbox doesn’t sync text between browsers even you have enabled the “sync” in Chrome, at least not yet. This is likely to change in the future. Until then, you will want to cut and paste your text and save it in Google Docs or the like if you plan to access this draft from another computer.
This is the stage where I use Google docs exclusively. I know there are other online office suites out there, but Google Docs does fine by me. Not really much more I can say about it. Not really a fancy office suite, but Google really knows how to provide the essential features the majority of people which results in a nice, clean interface.So there you have it. A Cloud Based Workflow for writers. Happy writing!
Have you noticed the icon for Scratchpad has changed from yellow to silver in your Chromebook? I refrained using Scratchpad for many weeks, because it just felt too buggy. I almost forgot about it, in fact, but it has recently been revamped to be a much more usable. With the latest upgrade, Scratchpad seems to have matured (finally) to its true potential.
Currently, if you open Scratchpad from Chrome and compare it to the interface that is displayed in the Chrome Web Store, you will see quite a difference.
Here is a list of new/improved features:
Google Docs Sync: While you can choose to run the application strictly locally, its seamless integration with Google Docs comes in real handy. All your Scratchpad notes will be tagged “Scratchpad” in Google Docs. You also have the option of staring any particular note that suits your fancy for your own personal system of organization. You can even star your note so it will appear in your starred documents in Google Docs. (NOTE: to to get this feature, you need to be authorize the application with your Google Account.)
Title Notes: Now, you are able title your notes on the top panel of the app.
Formatting Options: You now have more formatting options, which appear in a thin bottom pane. The options are: color, fonts, font size, bullet and numbered lists.
Send to Tab/Send to Panel: You can toggle between a panel interface (to use when referencing notes while working in another page) or expand your scratchpad to a tab.
Here are some ways you can bring Scratchpad to use:
(1) Use it to write notes on your web research.
(2) A To Do List. (The “star” feature can be useful here. That list wil be accessible easily if you use the Android Google Docs widget.)
(3) Use the panel feature to keep an outline open to reference as you are writing the actual document.
I can see Scratchpad replacing an application like Simplenote in many instances, especially for people who use Google Docs regularly.
Just a couple of days after the company released its first iPad app, Skype announced it is embracing the Open VP8 standard. This is the same codec Google developed and is using for Google Talk and Google+ Hangouts.
The latest Windows Skype client uses VP8 for one-on-one video calls as long as the other user has the same version of Skype. This is a big victory for VP8, comparable to Netflix going HTML5. The fact that the VP8 codec is being adopted by such a huge service as Skype despite MPEG LA threatening to form a patent pool, is a good sign for the open web and the future of VP8.
Now you may ask, what does this have to do with Chrome? Well, with Skype moving to an open VP8 standard, greatly increases the likelihood that Skype’s services will be available for Chrome OS users. What is good for the open web is good for Chrome OS. After all, Chrome OS is an operating system that depends on the web for its functionality.
While you can’t say that Skype had Chrome OS in mind when it announced its change in codec, it does show that Skype is getting behind the vision of an open web. The recent development brings to mind an important aspect of Chrome OS as well. The more Chrome OS is adopted, the greater demand there will be for the web service providers to adopt open web standards to great consumer benefit.
Of course, it is unclear what will happen if Microsoft’s purchase of Skype does get approved. It is worth mentioning that Internet Explorer currently only plays VP8 “if a compatible codec was installed.”
What do you think? Do you see a Skype for Chrome OS in the future?
The technology that enables such convenience in many cases is AJAX. AJAX allows data to be loaded quickly and asynchronously, with no need for the user to refresh the page. AJAX even enables data to be loaded in the background without delaying page rendering, which greatly improves the user experience.
One problem with AJAX, however, comes with sites like Flicker and Twitter that provide RSS feeds. AJAX has issues when it comes to accessing that feed however. The RSS feed can be accessed only by the same domain it is hosted on.
The usefulness of JSON doesn’t come without its downside. That downside is security vulnerabilities. The security vulnerabilities of JSON usually come from poorly written code rather than a developers maliciousness. A eval() can render the system vulnerable to malicious code. The problem for the user is it isn’t always possible to know whether they are trusting their data to a site with a good implementation of the code.
It’s important to be knowledgeable of the potential security risks you take on a daily basis and to know cloud computing – or computing in your browser – has its dangers. This doesn’t make cloud computing a less valid form of computing. After all, every kind of computing has its own particular risks, however, knowing of the risks enables you to take the necessary precautions.
The troubling issue about JSON is that the security fix is at the hands of the developer, not the user. The user may not even know a vulnerability exists until their security has been compromised. Google is working on its own implementation of JSON called GSON which is about to released to the public. Hopefully this can address some of JSON’s security issues.
Many people complain that the Chrome Web Store is just full of book marks. I guess you could see it that way, but I do find it handy to have a source of these apps which are available in one place for my perusal.
I’m sure there are a number of want-to-be adopters out there just waiting for the day when all of these services will be also be available offline. And yes, it is only a matter of time before that functionality will be available. Right now, there are a few applications that are available in the web store that don’t require web access to perform their designated function. One of the best I’ve come across is “Pillarbox.”
Pillarbox is an application that gives you a customizable full screen text editor that aides in creating a distraction free writing environment. You write words, and they appear on the screen. As you write, you get a word count on your bottom left corner, and on the bottom right, you have a clock. Move your mouse cursor to the bottom of the screen and you have the option of setting a timer. This allows for a frequent practice of writers: the “Timed Writing” in which you just write what’s on your mind for a designated amount of time.
For me, the stand-out feature of this little — and free — application is typewriter scrolling. Every line you type scrolls up when you finish, with the new line remaining at the same eye level. follow your cursor down to the bottom of the screen.
Pillarbox saves the text you’ve been working on for the next launch, so it’s a bit like having your document being backed up automatically. One thing to keep in mind is that Pillarbox doesn’t sync text between computers even you have enabled the “sync” in Chrome, at least not yet. This is likely to change in the future. Until then, you will want to cut and paste your text and save it in Google Docs or the like if you plan to access this draft from another computer.
With Pillarbox, it’s just you and the words.
In an effort to see what the Browser Gamer world had to offer besides Angry Birds, I checked out a game called Realm of Mad God, a MMO shooter. “MMO” stands for “Massive Multiplayer On-line” Game” which means many, many people are playing along with you. While you’ll find many playing in this world, in the form of pixilated sprites scurrying around, you won’t find jaw dropping CGI here. Realm of Mad God’s look is a throwback to those old Nintendo games. The websites motto is “It isn’t a game unless you can see the pixels.”
Oh, and it is free to play!
In this Retro-Fantasy Realm you too are a little pixilated sprite — a warrior, wizard are among your many choices for your character — that traverses a 2D environment populated with scorpions, snakes, evil archers and the like. You move around this land with the A,W,D,S keys and you shoot by clicking your mouse in the direction you want to shoot. That’s basically it, but who said fun had to be complicated. There are many levels in this game, many lands to explore.
You have the option of teaming up with other players to fulfill quests and battle evil, or you can go at it solo. Before you go off to strange lands via portals, you have the option of trading with others or buying weapons, potions, armours, and rings you may need on the rough lands you will encounter.
A big dynamic in this game is “PermaDeath.” In Mad God’s Realm, dead is dead. When you die, that’s it, you can’t take up where you left off as in games like Diablo. You start over with an new character. The point is to improve on the amount of fame points you accumulate. While your dead character may not have the benefits of the knowledge you accumulate through play, hopefully, your next character will.
Realm of Mad Dog is a casual game, which allows for much flexibility. You can play for as little as five-minutes or adventure on for hours. For each session, you try and pick up as many “fame” points as you can before your inevitable demise. If you decide to make a Mad God account, your fame score will be kept in memory for you to beat the next time you play.
There is the opportunity for some rich game-play here, especially if you interact with others to fulfill quests. I was quite amused and recommend trying this game out.
With Chrome, Google has been at the forefront of enhancing the capabilities of the browser and enhancing the powers of the browser. One of these areas is GPU Accelerated Drawing. Traditionally, the CPU was the only computer hardware which was utilized to render graphics in a browser, which resulted in limitations with regard to the browser’s graphics rendering. With GPU Accelerated Drawing, however, the browser is utilizing the thin client’s GPU in rendering browser graphics, greatly boasting the browser’s rendering power.
Such advances in browser technology also has benefits for Linux.
Linux doesn’t have the best reputation with regards to graphics, mainly due to the fact that that not all hardware manufacturers make Linux compatible drivers for their graphics cards and it can take considerable time before open-source drivers for those graphics cards are available. Due to its cross platform nature, OpenGL ES is a clear path for Linux to obtain video support from major chip makers and sidestep these driver issues since OpenGL standardizes the rendering API for the browser regardless of the platform. GPU Accelerated Drawing will eventually enable the browser’s graphics performance to be at a level expected from today’s demanding users.
I remain optimistic however. WebGL technology and the like are sure to advance due to the superior development process of Open Source. It’s just a matter of time. Consider the below statement from Linus Torvalds:
“[Open Source] is superior because it’s a lot more fun and because it makes cooperation much easier (no silly NDA’s or artificial barriers to innovation like in a proprietary setting), and I think Open Source is the right thing to do the same way I believe science is better than alchemy. Like science, Open Source allows people to build on a solid base of previous knowledge, without some silly hiding. [Y]ou can obviously never do as well in a closed environment as you can with open scientific methods.”
In a ZDnet article dated June 26, 2008, an exec from the Linux Foundation is quoted as saying “The future of cloud computing and Web 2.0 application development will be built on Linux and open source.” Consider how far cloud computing has come since then. Today, we can even play Angry Birds in the browser!
What are your views on Linux, Chrome, and the advances of cloud computing? Are you optimistic?
While Chrome has been rapidly gaining market share, there are still those who find certain features of the Firefox browser essential – some of which Chrome currently lacks. One of these features is a bookmarks sidebar. The most popular answer in the forum topic “Please add a Bookmarks Sidebar on Chrome’s left side. Thank You!” was the following comment: “I won’t switch until Chrome has a Bookmarks Side Bar. I have too many favorites to have them cluttered on the infinity bar.”
Google has implemented sidebar tabs in Chrome browser for Windows which is found in “about:flags”. This feature isn’t available for Mac and Linux versions of Chrome though. For more details, click here.
While currently there is no bookmarks sidebar feature for any version of Chrome, there is a workaround. You can use the “Recent History” extension that makes available your recent history by one click. Note, this is only a work around, what this extension will do is give you access to your recent history, not your bookmarks. Since your bookmarks are usually in your recent history you may find this extension a convenient way to access your most commonly visited web sites.
I have mixed feelings about sidebar features. They are best for larger screens because they take up more screen real-estate then tabs, which could be why it isn’t being offered in Chromebooks. While they take up more screen real-estate, but can be handy.
Do you find sidebar features essential for a browser?
The slogan for the Chromebook is “Ready When You Are.” The truth of the matter is that’s only partly true because services many find essential are not being offered yet. Ironically, one of these services is one of the biggest sources of web traffic in North America, accounting for 24.71 percent of aggregated traffic is not accessible via Chrome OS. The cloud app I speak of, of course, is Netflix. Netflix is one of those services that validates the cloud because it allows the user access to thousands of movies and television shows (about 12,000 to choose from) via the Internet and can make you wonder whether you need a dvd collection at all.
Yet, Chrome OS — the ultimate cloud operating system — is currently unable stream Netflix movies. It’s taking time for Netflix to migrate to the HTML5 technology. Not a small feat considering the amount of movies they are streaming. The Netflix plug-in is in the Development Channel for Chrome OS, so it is only a matter of time that it will be available. But the fact is that it isn’t working yet.
What is a Chromie supposed to do in the mean time? You may be a bit disillusioned by the change Netflix’s pricing plans as well. Such questions may lead one to ask: what are the alternatives?
Well, the ones that come to my mind are Hulu, Amazon Prime, and YouTube. All of these services can be used quite easily in Chrome OS and that shinny, new Chromebooks.
Hulu is mainly for television shows, though if you get Hulu Prime, you get access to the Criterion Library. Many excellent films are to be had here for the film connoisseur but more mainstream movies are not in Hulu’s offerings. So if you want the latest Adam Sandler film, you are out of luck.
There is also YouTube. YouTube has been working hard to extend its digital offerings and offer commercially produced movies as well as user content that has come synonymous with the brand. It offers 3,000 movies for rent, some of them at no cost. The issue I see in this service is that the movies you are most likely are going to want to watch are rentals. A Netflix streaming subscription is $8 a month. That would be only two rentals on YouTube.
Last, but not least is Amazon Prime. If you are a big Amazon shopper, this may be a no brainer for you because you get free 2-day shipping as a member of Amazon Prime. The “Prime” catalog, while it has many movies and television shows to stream, is not as extensive as Netflix. Amazon has around 5,000 movies for streaming, however 1,668 of them offered for free on-demand streaming for Amazon Prime members. Not a very high number if you ask me.
While Chrome OS keeps things beautifully simple, it does have a crosh shell which gives the user some powerful features. One of these features is SSH which allows you to exchange data between another computer and your Chromebook, giving you secure access to other computers on your network.
For example, lets say you are working on your Chromebook and you decide you want to upload some pictures into Picasa, but they are in your other computer. All you need to do is use ssh to access those pics, transfer them to your Chromebook via SFTP or SCP protocols. Once they are transferred, you can upload them into Picasa. And you didn’t even need to get up from your comfy chair and you saved some wear and tear on your sneakers.
Step 1: Access the Chromebook terminal.
Ctrl + Alt + T
Step 2: Access the SSH sub-shell.
Type “ssh” in the command line
Step 3: Log into your the target host.
You will have to know the host IP to do this. If you don’t know the IP of the host you are trying to access use “ipconfig” in the host system and keep a record of it for future reference. (I’m assuming the computer you are trying to access is in fact yours and is easily assessable.) The basic form of a ssh login is “ssh  (port is usually port :22)” In crosh, this is entered by the following:
Type “host” and the ip address you want to connect to, then press “enter”.
Type “user” and type the user login name, then press “enter.”
Type “ls”, and you’ll be able to see all the files in the user home directory and browse the host file system with a range of terminal commands.
Step 4: Log out of the host system.
To quit the session, type “quit” and you’re done. Type “exit” to quite the crosh shell.
So there you have it. SSH is a pretty simple and handy tool to know, and Chrome OS gives you access to it.
There was always speculation that the CPU for Chromebooks would be upgraded to higher specifications. It was just a matter of when. More details on the next generation of Chromebooks is out. Chrome OS chip-set support will grow to include Intel Core i series processors. Intel is supporting this by giving Chromebook manufacturers a 10-20% discount for related processor quotes, according to “sources from notebook players.”
It will be interesting to see how this affects Chromebook specs. With greater CPU power, will obviously come faster performance, but will the Chromebooks still be able to maintain their superior battery-life with more power consuming chips?
Besides Samsung and Acer, Asustek Computer is likely to join the Chromebook upgrade project “after the forth quarter.” The fact that other manufacturers are interested in producing Chromebooks is a sign that Chromebooks will continue to be with us for a good while and will succeed in going beyond a Google experiment.
The question remains out when Chromebooks with ARM processors will be manufactured. From the looks of it, Google is sticking with Intel, at least for the time being.
As you likely know, Chromebooks aren’t being sold in brick and mortar stores, at least not at this time. They are only being sold via the internet. Considering that the $350 – $500 is a lot of cash to invest in something you haven’t touched or seen up close, let alone something that whose most outstanding feature is a lack of features, it’s a very good idea to give the public more of an idea of what the Chromebook is about through a demonstration that is longer than your typical commercial.
The Samsung Series 5 Chromebook got just that treatment in the most unlikely of places: The Late Night with Jimmy Fallon Show. For three minutes, Fallon’s audience got to see Chromebooks in action. Not only that, but all audience members got Chromebooks themselves to take home. Resident tech expert for the Late Night with Jimmy Fallon show Joshua Topolsky demonstrated over-the-cloud syncing in Google Docs. The demo didn’t go too smoothly – syncing got disrupted because one of the Chromebooks went into sleep mode, but all in all, it was a positive presentation. Topolsky described cloud computing as “the future… look at Apple.”
True, Topolsky. If a traditionally hardware focused company like Apple is also trying to get to the cloud, that’s as good sign that it’s only a matter of time before cloud computing takes to the main stream.
You can watch the video here: