Maggie and the Ferocious Beast

FamilySearch Indexing on a Chromebook over a Tethered Android Internet Connection

You may have read about how I feel about the Chromebooks (reviews here and here) and installing Ubuntu (via Crouton) on them. I got FamilySearch Indexing working on chromebooks by installing Ubuntu and the Java Development Kit (JDK) and putting in a softlink in the .FamilySearchIndexing folder to point to the correct Java runtime (JRE).

Now I got another task. I moved recently and do not have a good reliable internet service available (I refuse to pay for satellite or cell company high priced low bandwidth and metered usage!), so I do have internet on my cell phone (a Motorola X from republicwireless.com). It runs Android 4.4.2 KitKat and with an app called Proxoid you can basically set up your browser on your computer to use a proxy on your phone via the USB cable connected to your phone. It’s a free app, and easy enough to set up on Windows 7 and Ubuntu Linux (they also do Mac which I don’t have at the moment). Basically you install the latest Android SDK. Make sure you get the platform-tools to get the “adb” command. It hopefully installs the driver for your phone (mine got recognized immediately) and you put your phone in Development/USB Debugging mode. Connect your phone to computer via USB cable. Run “adb devices” (your phone should show up, if not then you probably don’t have the driver). Next run “adb forward tcp:8080 tcp:8080″ to forward your localhost:8080 port to the phone. Configure your browser to use proxy 127.0.0.1:8080 for http and https and you are good to surf net using phone’s internet connection.

Once I got that working, I wanted of course to do FamilySearch Indexing through the proxy! I did a Google search and found this. It tells you to create a proxy.properties file and put in your proxy variables (server, port) and shazam – it works! At first I tried in Linux just setting http_proxy and https_proxy variables and launching indexing from the terminal. No dice, login failed, server unreachable. I then looked at Java network settings, set the proxy there. Fail. Then I searched the great Googly Moogly

Hopefully someone else finds use for it too. Drop me a comment if you do!

Acer Chromebook C710

Review: Acer Chromebook C7 (C710 and C720)

After I bought the initial HP Chromebook 11, we were at Wal-mart and I saw the Acer Chromebook C7 (aka C710). I bought it and set about to install the stuff I needed (Crouton, as mentioned before) and Family Search Indexing (which requires Java, thus the Ubuntu install) and found that it also has an x86 processor (actually a 64-bit x86 processor). So I could also install DosBox and install games like Doom, Duke Nukem, Crystal Caves, Paganitzu and so on. Overall, I was enjoying the Chromebook.

One day while I was at work, someone dropped the Chromebook and cracked the screen. I could still watch hulu and netflix and the kids could still play games, just with a big blacked-out splotch in a certain area of the screen. Annoying!!!

I did a google search and came across a company called Screen Surgeons with also a youtube video showing exactly how to replace it! For $76 I got a replacement screen and, just like in the video, it was SUPER easy to replace! Later, the kids somehow busted the power cord so it wouldn’t charge. The C710 and C720 power cords are NOT interchangeable, so I found a supplier on Amazon called Jacobs Parts and ordered it, affiliate link here:

The first power cord replacement I got was bad (worked for 2 days) and I contacted Jacob Parts, got an RMA and returned it with no problems. In a few days I had the replacement cord and it has been working with no issues at all! I am very happy with the customer service from Jacobs Parts!

I got the C720 about a month after I got the C710 – same time I got my wife’s Vaio. It has a longer battery life than the C710, the screen is crisper, and it appears to be 1/2 lb lighter.

Just this past week I had a glass of water near the C720 and it got knocked over by one of the kids and immediately I lifted it up, shook the water off, got a towel, dried it off, etc. I then proceeded to watch it power itself off and it hasn’t came back on no matter how hard I have tried! I tried the “hard reset” (hold down power button for 30 seconds) to make sure it is completely powered off. Still won’t power on. I tried the ESC-REFRESH-POWER key combination and still won’t power on. It appears to be completely dead. I took off the screws from the bottom and gave it a look-over and didn’t find anything wrong, nothing smelled burnt. When I plug in the power cord, no lights come on at all either. Sad, sad! I was looking at the C720P which has a touch screen but decided that I don’t really need a touch screen on a device that has a full keyboard, especially when the C720 is $199 and the C720P is $279. Someday I may replace the C720. It had a good, short life and will be missed (sniffle).

Here are the affiliate links on Amazon for the 3 chromebooks mentioned:

  

sony vaio

Review: Sony Vaio with Windows 8.1

My wife wanted to try and see if she could get a homeschool Math Worksheet Generator we bought a few years back when we had computers that ran Windows XP. So we headed to Best Buy and checked out the latest. Our criteria was kind of like this:

  • must run the Math Worksheet Generator (which we didn”t bring on a thumbdrive – we should have, hindsight is 20/20)
  • must not be a crippled version of Windows like Windows RT
  • must be tablet-like
  • must be < $800

So we checked out the ones they had there, and decided on the Sony Vaio for $799. We knew that if we didn’t like it we could bring it back and get our money back.

We got home and first thing was to try out the Math Worksheet Generator. It didn’t work. Sigh. So then we prepared to set up access to GMail. Windows 8.1 has a Store thing that had a GMail app, but not an official one from Google. So we opted for one that was supposed to be able to be used in the “Metro” tablet-like overlay in Windows 8.1, but it didn’t work as well as expected, so we opted to load the Desktop and then install Google Chrome (also not available in “Metro”). It came with the usual “bloatware” like a link to Microsoft Office (“buy now”) and the trial version of Norton Antivirus which I promptly uninstalled since Windows 8 comes with Windows Defender which is an anti-spyware and anti-virus (good or bad as that may be). My wife installed other things and has made it hers. Kids haven’t been able to use it. I used it to test out some program that ran on Adobe Air (which doesn’t run on a Chromebook nor do they have a Linux version any more) and that’s about it. I did NOT install LibreOffice on it, since I have told my wife to save things on Google Drive as she has had various laptop hard drives fail on her.

A few weeks later, we decided that it wasn’t what she was looking for, so we decided to take it back to Best Buy. I figured I’d try to see if I could wipe it and restore the factory image. No CD/DVD drive, just USB ports and memory card slots. I ran the recovery by powering off the device, then pushing the “ASSIST” button on the back. It presented me a menu, I selected I wanted to recover and wipe it all, reset to factory settings. It told me that some files were missing and could not comply with my desires. As my 17 year old son would say: EPIC FAIL.

So we took it back to Best Buy with the receipt. They scanned the receipt and the box and then told me that we were 3 days past the 30-day return date. Really? Sigh. So we’ve had to keep it. Grr.

So now my wife has really made it hers. Today I come home from work and my wife told me that she can’t click on various links correctly, it keeps sending her to some other links with ads. Great, adware. Fun. NOT! There were also popups with “Your computer needs an antivirus scan” and “Your computer is running slow” – actual applications, not browser Windows. So I moused over the notification area and saw some things I didn’t recognize, disabled and killed those. Then I went to the Control Panel, Add/Remove Programs and looked at programs recently installed, uninstalled everything from that day and any others I didn’t recognize and that she didn’t know what they were. Reboot. Log in and programs are still popping up. Sigh. I then run msconfig and go to the Services and Startup tabs and uncheck non-Microsoft services and startup programs. I then do a take-two and see if any of the Microsoft labeled programs look suspicious and disabled those too. Reboot. OK. Still every now and then stuff would appear in the notification area, so I did a google search for “malware scan windows 8″ and found good old SpyBot Search & Destroy which used to be free and there is a barely functional version downloadable for Windows 8. I did find one that worked and removed 4 Spyware/Malware programs – it is called adwcleaner. After that, I then had to do some more Google searching to find out how to uninstall some programs that weren’t uninstalled via the “Add/Remove Programs” dialogs (typical Windows).

As my favorite band of all time RUSH says in the song “Circumstances”:

All the same we take our chances,
Laughed at by time,
Tricked by circumstances.
Plus ça change,
Plus c’est la même chose
The more that things change,
The more they stay the same.

Windows has changed a little bit over the years, but still the same issues have been occurring. It’s still a closed-source, for-profit operating system, even though MicroSoft started out as a Unix shop selling Xenix.

My next task to is install Ubuntu Linux on this machine and see how it does – will the detachable Bluetooth keyboard and mouse work? Will the onscreen keyboard work? Touchscreen? Sound? Video resolution? etc, etc. I at least won’t have to worry too much about downloadable adware, malware and viruses. I’ll let you know how it goes in a later post!

Ubuntu on MacBook Air

Ubuntu on MacBook Air

I thought this was an interesting post that I would share: Ubuntu on 2013 MacBook Air

It talks about running Ubuntu 14.04 LTS on the 2013 MacBook Air. Wifi works, graphics work, etc. Awesome. It also has some performance metrics.

My kids have all used Ubuntu on various desktops and laptops. They are quite used to it. When the Windows hard drive fails due to “oldness” or I get tired of having to update the antivirus/malware/anti-spamware junk, I get a new hard drive and install Ubuntu. I then set up user accounts and off they go. Well, almost as easy as that. I usually have had to install Java and Flash (which has in most cases been replaced by HTML5).

Enjoy!

HP Chromebook 11

Review: HP Chromebook 11

The first Chromebook that I purchased was the White and Blue HP Chromebook 11.

This was my first experience with a Chromebook. I have owned various laptops in the past and I’m a fairly geeky techie, so I knew what I was getting. I was expecting a quick booting, web browsing, Chrome-browser-like laptop. I also knew that there was a possibility to install Linux or a Linux-like layover due to the “Developer-mode” that is inherent to all of Google’s Chromebooks. I have been using Unix since 1989 and so I’m VERY comfortable around Linux. Now my wife, on the other hand, could care less if it ran Linux. I knew she would use it if it got her to her Gmail, her Google Calendar, Facebook, etc. She is a homeschooler too, homeschooling our five children. Most of the applications she uses are on websites, so the Chromebook would work fine for that. I wanted to use the Chromebook like any other laptop I had to: watch Netflix, Hulu, surf web. Do all the Google apps (I prefer them over Yahoo or Microsoft apps) including Google Drive/Docs. I also use Feedly for viewing all my feeds and since the OS is Chrome-based, I knew that all the plugins I use in Chrome would work on the Chromebook too.

Nowadays, my kids use this Chromebook exclusively. They spend a lot of time watching youtube, playing games, listening to music and so on. It works great for those activities too. My teens use it for FaceBook and reading email. It easily prints to our Google Print-enabled printer.

My wife says that it worked for most things. There were every now and then some problems with some PDFs. She would download it and save it and it wouldn’t open. Since you can’t download Adobe’s Acrobat Reader, you are stuck with whatever PDF viewer is installed or that you can download from the ChromeStore. I, personally didn’t have any issues, but then again I didn’t view too many odd-ball PDFs (mine were normal, hers were odd-ball). If I get smacked for that one, maybe I’ll post pics of my bruises.

There is one application that I and the kids use at least weekly: Family Search Indexing. If you haven’t heard of Family Search Indexing, it’s basically a project to index things like census records, death/birth/baptism records and so on. Big genealogy indexing projects. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka “LDS” or “Mormons“) and this is something that I feel I need to do. Currently, the application to do indexing is built using Java. You may have heard good things or bad things about Java. Steve Jobs and Apple Inc. don’t like Java. Google and Oracle don’t get along either. Chromebooks do not come with Java. So I was at a loss of how to do indexing on my new Chromebook. Then I remembered that Chromebooks are Linux based (Linux in the background) and so I did a few searches and found that I could either use Chrubuntu or Crouton to run Ubuntu on my new Chromebook.

Here are the steps I took to get Family Search Indexing working on my Chromebook:

  1. First, I had a Linux laptop (one that my kids used, an HP 2000 with Ubuntu already installed) with Family Search Indexing installed and working.
  2. I installed Crouton as in the link above. Ideally, create the same username (in my case “jimmyd”) on the Crouton installed Ubuntu as on the real laptop.
  3. Tar up .FamilySearchIndexing from the real laptop (cd; tar cvf FSI.tar .FamilySearchIndexing)
  4. Upload the new FSI.tar to your Google Drive
  5. Go to Google Drive from within Crouton Ubuntu browser (it may be easier to install Firefox if it wasn’t installed already – sudo apt-get install firefox) and download the FSI.tar
  6. Untar the FSI.tar (cd; tar xvf FSI.tar)
  7. cd .FamilySearchIndexing/indexing.familysearch.org
  8. Remove the JRE (Java Runtime Environment) folder here since it’s not the right version: rm -rf jre
  9. Next, install the latest JRE for the Crouton Ubuntu: sudo apt-get install default-jre)
  10. Soft link the path to the jre to the current folder (which java; ls -l /etc/alternatives/java -> this points to the path you need, so ln -s /usr/lib/jvm/java-6-openjdk-armhf/jre .) – Note on the Acer Chromebooks this is different (amd64 vs armhf here)
  11. Copy the launcher to your desktop: cp FamilySearch\ Indexing.desktop ~/Desktop
  12. Double-click on the Family Search Indexing icon on your desktop and it should launch and work as expected!

There is one caveat: the USB charge port is nice, but when it first came out, the power cords overheated. Google did a “stop work” and put everything on hold until HP could come up with a newer version that wouldn’t overheat. Now all the new ones come with the new power cord. I had to order a replacement from Google (search HP Chromebook 11 power cord replacement) which they shipped out free to my home.

Overall, I have been able to do everything I wanted with my new HP Chromebook 11. I hope you enjoy it too!

You can check it out and purchase it here (affiliate link):