Off the grid

Her: Sir, I can’t see your computer on the network

Me: That’s why I called; I can’t get on the network

Her: I really can’t help you then; can I close your case?

Me: Do what you’ve got to do

My wife was on the chair busting a gut laughing at this. She has seen and heard me on the receiving end of this type of call for years.

Earlier this week, she and her sister had spent a couple of nights in Goderich at this hotel and I got a panic call that she couldn’t get her Chromebook on the network. Our tech discussion was similar to the one above.

As it turns out, we fell into a couple of dogsitters and went back there for Sunday/Monday to enjoy the leaves and I traveled light; meaning I brought my Chromebook to see if I could use it. I’m egotistical enough to think that I’d be able to get connected easily.

Darn it if I didn’t have the same problem. Our Android phones connected just like “poop through a goose” but the Chromebooks were a no-go.

It was frustrating. With my job and my work as a CSTA volunteer, I’ve connected to networks all over the Northern Hemisphere but this was a non-starter.

As a regular blogger, I had mentally formulated a blog post to go Monday morning and all I had to do was key it in. That’s the easy post; posting it is kind of important too. Thanks to those who checked in to see if I was not healthy or something. Except for higher blood pressure from my call with tech support, I was great. We visited parks in Bayfield and Goderich and did the Menesetung Bridge twice and enjoyed the leaves. A rather noisy bit on Instagram and Facebook will tell the story.

As I’m sitting and panicking on the fourth floor of the hotel, I could see neighbours’ networks coming and going. They weren’t strong enough to join and kudos to them for having passwords on them. Then, I noticed a flash and a Tim Horton’s network was available. I pulled the curtains and sure as shooting, there was a coffee shop just a short distance away. I grabbed my Chromebook and went.

Now, I don’t know if you believe in signs and I didn’t think I did but check this out. As I started to walk through the driveway, it was closed! The stars had aligned.

I could have gone back and blogged on my phone or set it up as a hub but I thought I’d done too much away from the original purpose so I packed the computer and we went out to West Street Willie’s for an incredible supper and then down to the lake for some sunset pictures. (Yeah, I know, more pictures)

Now, I’m not one to admit defeat so I’m curious to know if there are others with the same problem. And there was.

Chromebook Won’t Connect to Hotel WiFi – How to Fix

I tried most of them – and the tech person indicated that she had reset the router. Who knows for sure?

This was interesting. I’m not about to do a Powerwash (particularly if I’m not connected) but the Captive Portal issue sounds like it might have the answer.

My easiest solution would be to just not take my Chromebook in the future and avoid the issues that way.

So, folks who were wondering about me, I was enjoying a great weekend and just couldn’t get connected. That’s certainly not the end of the world.

Has this happened to you? Do you have a solution?


It’s fixed

If you’re a follower of mine, you know that I’ve been complaining and unhappy about one thing in my Chromebook. In Twitter, during replies or looking at my private messages, the text has been pixelated for quite some time.

I wrote about it in one of my Sunday summary posts.

Technology Troubleshooting

I have this issue with Twitter on my Chromebook. For the most part, things are working well but there’s a problem with the text being pixelated in the overlay windows. Replies, Messages.

It doesn’t hurt the functionality but it is annoying. I’ve tried everything I can think of; the best suggestion, it seemed, was to turn off hardware acceleration. That didn’t work. I can run Opera or Vivaldi on the Android side and it works fine.

I thought that maybe it was an extension that was interfering but I’ve tried Chrome with no extensions with no success.

My solution is one of:

suck it up
magnify the screen size to 150% and the problem goes away
Neither are really attractive and so I continue to search for a solution.

It was tough talk, I know, but it still bugged me every time I used it. I bounced between blaming Twitter and Chrome and found that if you’re looking for anything negative about either, you can easily find it. But not a solution for this problem.

Last night, I was curious as to why the Chromeos on my Chromebook hadn’t had that big security update that is making the news. On my other machines, there was an update to fix whatever the problem was but not on the Chromebook.

So, I thought that I would force an update. After checking and being assured by Chrome that I was up to date, I asked it to reboot and switch to the Beta Channel. It only took a couple of minutes and I think I probably forgot why I did this until I went in to reply to a Twitter message and the content was crystal clear. No pixelation at all! How about Messages? I popped up that menu and it was perfectly clear as well.

To be honest, I couldn’t believe my good fortune. This morning, I turned the computer off completely and rebooted and the fix remained. I read the release notes and it hadn’t been noteworthy enough to comment about. I sure wish I knew what they did but I’d so glad that they did what they did.

I’m one happy camper.

Chrome 100

Geeky me, I was waiting for this milestorm to drop. In a perfect world, this would have been time for big features to be added to the browser. This time, it wasn’t earth shattering but, with all the security warnings running around, it’s something that needs to be done.

The Chrome update came to Windows first and a few impatiently waiting days later, I was eligible for my Chromebook. I was starting to get worried that maybe it had aged to the point where Google wasn’t supporting it any long. Fortunately, it did land here and I got the update.

There were two things that had me really curious. With the revision moving to 100, the version now has three digits instead of two. There was lots of speculation that we might be in for another Y2K, this time websites checking for two digits instead of the now three. So far, it has been another non-issue for me.

There were a few other changes that were interesting to read about and probably have good features but didn’t reach out and grab me.

The big thing on the user end was that the Launcher was changing. Instead of a full screen coverup with all of the available applications launchable, it was to take on a more of a Windows pop up look. Quite honestly, that wasn’t going to be new for me since it’s been an experiment on my personal unit that I’ve turned on for a while.

Besides the smaller footprint and the ability to see what’s under the menu, picky people like me could right click in the open window and sort the icons by either colour or alphabetically. I went alphabetically which is the only option that made sense to me.

I turned off the experiment and did the reboot and was hoping that there was more to be enjoyed. I was quite surprised when it didn’t work. So, I did what any superstitious computer user would do – I shut the entire computer down. Maybe a harder reboot was needed. No go. I wasn’t a fan of the old launcher so I went in to the experiments and turn the new launcher again. Maybe my Chromebook wasn’t ready for that feature officially but it has always worked and it continues.

So, eventually, I got the update and I was happy that my Chromebook was still supported and I started to poke around. It’s working well, my blog is still available – what’s not to like?

Chrome OS shortcuts

If you were to look in on me at 5:00 daily, you’d find me sitting in my chair in the rec room watching news on the television with my Chromebook on my lap. As I’m watching the morning news, I’m also reading the latest news on my Chromebook and I do share them to my timeline. I’ve often thought that if someone was tracking me, they’d give up because I like to think I have a random bunch of reading topics.

Since I’m sitting in a chair, using a mouse is out of the question so using shortcuts is what keeps me productive. The nice thing about the Chromebook is that most of the key placement is the same as Windows so new learning really wasn’t necessary to get started.

There are a couple of noticeable differences through. There is no Windows key. Or Apple Key. Instead, there are wider CTRL and ALT keys when makes shortcuts so easy to work with. A complete list of shortcuts can be found here.

Like Windows, these are my most frequent shortcuts.

  • CTRL+A – Select All
  • CTRL+B – Bold
  • CTRL+C – Copy
  • CTRL+F – Find
  • CTRL+V – Paste and the variation CTRL+SHIFT+V
  • CTRL+Z – Undo
  • ALT-TAB – Switch between programs which has a whole new meaning when you’re using Edge as a browser

It’s when you go to ALT-TAB that you realize that there is Google branding. Where every keyboard I’ve ever used has a CAPS LOCK key, the Chromebook has just a search looking button. And, when you think Google, you think search. Tapping it brings up a list of shortcuts and the ability to search the computer for what you’re looking for. It’s such a nice feature.

Back to ALT-TAB, it does what every computer does and shuffles through open applications but the Chromebook is just a little more unique. It supports Android and Linux applications and you can shuffle through them as well. This little machines supports multiple operating system!

On every other computer I’ve ever used, above the number keys is a row of Function Keys. Not so on the Chromebook. It’s actually got a collection of functions that you’d actually use. Like going full screen, audio controls, brightness controls, refresh, and forward/backware. Probably the most used feature though is CTRL-SHIFT-SCREENSHOT which lets me capture part of the screen. For a blogger, that’s invaluable.

Critics of the Chromebook will tell you that it’s just a browser and, around here, it’s probably used that way 100% of the time. But like any browser, I can install Privacy Badger, uBlock Origin, and Cooke AutoDelete to keep the “operating system”/”browser” on task.

I started this series of posts focused on productivity and the notion of shortcuts really does enable increased productivity. With three operating systems, there are the core shortcuts but then those that are unique. If nothing else, it keeps me thinking about things and that’s always a good thing.

A rainy day project

This seems silly to title a post in the middle of winter but our storm last week started with a great deal of rain before the snow hit. The plan was to hunker down for a day to let the storm hit and then dig out.

So, planning to hunker it was.

I had been reading a number of posts from people who were turning old computers into Chromebooks using Neverware’s CloudReady operating system. Now, I’ve got this beautiful computer that I bought in 2010. It’s a Sony Vaio and it was yet another one of the “last ever” computers that I would buy. It had an i7 processor, 500GB hard drive, 4GB of RAM, every port that you could ever think a computer would ever have a use for. It came with Windows 7 and it was a screamer. Those who go back to that time will appreciate that it was my go-to computer for doing presentations. It’s not a light machine but I had a rolling computer bag so it wasn’t a big deal. At the time of purchase, Sony had this promotion where they would engrave your name into the screen frame which sounded great at the time but makes it a bit awkward to recycle to others!

I went to the Neverware site and the only thing I needed to make this happen was an 8GB USB key. I don’t know about you but I’ve always hoarded these things. So, I had no doubt that I’d have one. I have a bag of them and went through – 1GB, 2GB, 4GB, some memories of conferences where I actually got them but no 8GB USB key. I looked out the window and it hadn’t started to rain yet so I quickly decided to go into town to Walmart and buy one. If they had one.

It’s been a while since I’d bought a USB key. There was nothing less than 8GB that I could see. There were some with massive storage amounts. The “cloud” has made me miss a whole technology getting bigger! After my purchase and a $1 Mcdonald’s coffee, I was ready to go. Now, I had checked the list of Neverware’s verified machines and, unfortunately, mine wasn’t one of them. But, the message, in this case, was to just try it and chances are that it would work. The installation procedure was easy enough. I had the power sitting on my key.

Now, I had configured the computer to dual boot – Windows 10 and Linux Mint. It was the Windows 10, upgraded from Windows 7, that was the inspiration for this project. It was so slow as to be unusable. This had really just been a Mint machine for me. So, I was hoping that I could just replace the Windows partition. I booted with the key in one of the three USB ports and quickly there I was in Chrome OS, using the Chrome browser. I kicked the tires and all seemed to be good so I instructed it to put the OS on the hard drive.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t an option to put it on a particular partition. That really wasn’t a show stopper; I figure that I could install it and then create and install a Linux Mint partition later if I wanted. Go!

All seemed to be going well and I was doing something else at the time. After a while, I heard a “snap”. That snapped my head up to see the computer now with a black screen. That seemed like an odd way for an installation to finish. I rebooted without the key and sadly got a “No OS” warning. Perhaps there was something that I had missed so I redid the process, paying attention this time. There wasn’t anything for me to do that I had missed out and the snap happened again. Maybe the third time would be a charm. Snap.

What to do now? I had a computer with no operating system.

I was going to grab a Linux Mint installer and then remembered why I went down this road in the first place. I wanted to make a Chromebook out of it.

I went looking for the “lightest” version of Linux I could find. I had an idea but this article confirmed it. I wanted something that would be a derivative of Ubuntu so that it would be well supported. I’ll admit that I was leaning towards Lubuntu and the article basically confirmed it. Besides; one of the earlier releases was nicknamed “Bionic Beaver”. That was a message for those who can remember the Icon computer!

I know that the “minimum” standards are basically there to get it to boot. 4GB of RAM for Windows just makes it start. You need more to actually do something. With Lubuntu only needing 1GB, I should have more than enough!

The last time I’d done a fresh installation of Linux, I had done it from CD or DVD. You don’t find those on new computers these days but my Vaio had one. All I needed was to burn myself media to do it. Again, I found myself behind the times. As I poked around, I learned that the world had changed for the best. There’s a whole new world of installers for the ISO file that do it right from the USB key – Rufus, LinuxLive, Universal USB Installer – I went with the last one called fondly UUI.

Now, in a perfect world, I would try out Lubuntu live from the USB key before clobbering the data on my computer. But, I’ve already done the clobbering part so I went straight to the install and it worked incredibly quickly. No snapping this time and all looked good. A reboot without the USB key in place and my computer was ready to configure Lubuntu and let me log in. Voila! There I was.

Now, I had the intention of making this a Chromebook but Lubuntu comes with Firefox. I started that and, once I gave my wifi password, I was good to go. Of course, me being me, I was happy but what else came with the installer. LibreOffice, VLC, the classics and then a few other specific things I resisted the urge to play around and just checked out the internet. I needed my Password Manager so that I could actually log into my favourite websites and an ad blocker but those were just momentary hiccups.

I’m constantly amazed with all the Linux that I’ve installed how they recognize all the components. Even my trackpad worked right out of the box. It was kind of neat to use a trackpad with two actual buttons again. As I write this post on my new Firefoxbook (is that a thing?) I realize that I’m where I wanted to be when I started this project.

It was a very successful day. Maybe this truly could be the last ever computer. Who knows? I look forward to playing around and seeing what this combination is capable of.