Hello Chromebook

I bought my wife an HP Chromebook 11 for her birthday this week. I’ll admit that part of the reason for my choice of gift was my own curiosity. I wanted to see how good a Chromebook was, and whether it would be a better choice to use in schools than the current (expensive) tablet craze that seems to be going on…

First impressions are that the device is the perfect size and weight. The keyboard is great to type on (I’m using it now), with well spaced keys that have a responsive travel and good tactile feedback. Error-free typing without looking is definitely easy on these things, so anyone who needs to write a lot would find an HP Chromebook 11 very nice. The screen is much better than I expected at this price point, with a very bright and crisps display with excellent viewing angles. ChromeOS is easy to use without training, and of course it plays very nicely with the Google Apps stuff. If you’re a heavy user of Google Apps, I’d highly recommend carrying a Chromebook around with you!

The only snag was the inability to print. Sure, you can collect your docs from Google Drive on another machine with a printer, but that’s a bit clunky. Also, given that we have a networked printer at home I wanted to be able to use that. This is another of those Linux-to-the-rescue stories, so with a bit of tinkering all is well. Here’s my solution:

  • Install CUPS onto my HP Proliant Microserver and add our network printer to it
  • Connect CUPS to Google CloudPrint with some python magic from Jason: https://github.com/armooo/cloudprint
  • Set up an application specific-password to use in my Google Account (just in case…)
  • Give cloudprint the account details
  • In my Google account, share the new Google Cloud Print printer with my wife, so she can use it too.

I still need to tweak things so that the cloudprint connector will start automatically, but I very rarely reboot the server, so not sure when I’ll be bothered to get around to that!

Food Security

The Isle of Man has arable land. It has farmers. It has crops. It has livestock. It has a slaughterhouse. It has a dairy. It has the potential to feed itself.

However, because of the crazy world we find ourselves in, economies of scale mean that Isle of Man milk and cheese can cost more than imported products. The same is true of meat. This means that many people choose to buy the cheapest food products, which don’t help to sustain our farming industry.

A few weeks ago, I had cause to visit that well known large (UK owned) supermarket in Douglas. At the time, the weather had been very stormy and several boat sailings had been cancelled. So what was the result?

Empty shelves. Scarcity of food.

This got me thinking. If people continue to buy the cheapest possible food rather than locally sourced food, we could be in a situation where we are entirely dependent on imported food for our survival.

What if the boats and planes were cancelled for a week or two? What would happen? This could be due to a freak weather event, but it could equally be caused by the global economy faltering to such an extent that the companies that run the transport links collapse. International disputes could cut off the supply of fuel for the boats and planes. The IT infrastructure of the air-traffic control system could fail. Godzilla could rise from the Irish Sea… (OK, maybe that *is* a bit far fetched!)

You get the picture though. We either live on an island that could cope without imported food, or we starve. Which would you prefer?

The simple answer is to maintain our farming industry. If you are able, please consider always buying local produce. A few pence more at the checkout is a small price to pay for an insurance policy that maintains our supply of food in a crisis.

A Hackspace for the Isle of Man?

I’ve discussed the need for a hackspace on the island over the years with members of the Isle of Man Linux User group, work colleagues in education, people in the pub, family and friends and they’ve all said what a great idea it would be.

Today while out walking the dogs, I noticed this building is up for sale:

Screenshot-from-2014-01-11-150441-300x168

This building was originally a small church, but has since been used as a workshop recently. It has loads of potential as a community hackspace to benefit the people of the Isle of Man.

 Wouldn’t it be great if the community could come together to secure this as resource for everyone?

‘Isle of Man PLC’ is always spinning stories in the media about how hi-tech it is, and how space and engineering are growing sectors for the island. There’s always talk of investing in education too, and providing opportunities for people to better themselves and learn new skills. Couple that with the island’s strong sense of community, and it’s hard to see why we don’t have a hackspace already!

 Wouldn’t it be great if the community could come together to secure this as resource for everyone?

You may be wondering why, and just what is a hackspace anyway? Well, firstly let’s make sure that we don’t mix up that term ‘hacker’ with the negative way that it gets used in the media. RFC 1392 defines a hacker as:

“A person who delights in having an intimate understanding of the internal workings of a system, computers and computer networks in particular.”

Hacking has nothing to do with breaking things, or gaining unauthorised access to computer systems. (The correct term for that is ‘cracking’ – media please note!!)

A hackspace then, is a place where like-minded individuals can meet up to share and swap ideas, build things, test things, improve things and share in a learning culture. Having a basic set of tools, soldering irons, test gear and computers is almost a prerequisite for a useful and productive hackspace. If you’ve the time, this video will give you a good idea of the benefits of hackspaces.

Wouldn’t it be great if the community could come together to secure this as resource for everyone?

This is the point where I’m stuck.

How can we make this happen? How can we rally the troops? How can we find the money needed to secure this hackspace? Who can support us? Who knows about grants and pots of money? Who knows about crowdfunding like Kickstarter or Indiegogo? Can our MHKs assist us?

Help!!

 

LG Smart TV

It’s Christmas time, and family are coming to stay. I realised that they would probably want a TV in their room. There isn’t much choice for TV retailers on the Isle of Man, but I figured that if I was buying a TV at the end of 2013 it should have at least an LED backlight, DVB-T2 HD capability, and built in Wi-fi for connectivity. I found an LG model that ticked all of these boxes.

With the onslaught of the Christmas festivities, I only had time to hook it to my wireless network, update the firmware and set up the TV tuner. The LG Smart TV software looks fairly comprehensive at first glance, with options for streaming media from the internet and also accessing content from my HP Proliant NAS box that I blogged about earlier. It looks like you can control the TV from a tablet or smartphone too, so I’ll have to explore when I have a bit more time.

Of course, I’ll also be having a bit of a dig inside the software internals to see how it all works. Already I think it’s probably a Linux + busybox affair, so there will be some options to tinker. I’ll also have a think about how the TV stands from a security and privacy point of view…

I’ll blog here if I find anything of note, but for now have a great Christmas and New Year!

USB Wi-Fi Adapter

While I was in the UK recently, I took advantage of an Argos store to acquire a USB Wireless dongle. I bought the TP-Link TL-WN725N because it was cheap, and very small. The plan was to use it with my Raspberry PI, and a quick Google suggested the TL-WN725N would run directly from the Raspberry Pi without needing external power, and the driver was already baked into the kernel.

Of course, nothing in life is ever simple. It turns out that TP-Link have recently changed the chip inside the adapter, and are now selling version 2.0 of the device. This would be great (newer hardware is always better, right?) apart from the fact that the kernel in the Raspian linux I use on my Rasperry Pi does not have the correct driver for this new chip.

Luckily, the new chip is manufactured by Realtek who are such a great company they release driver source code for their devices. So, on my to-do list now is to compile the new wireless driver for my Raspberry Pi kernel. I suspect compiling from source will take quite a while on the humble ARM processor in the Raspberry Pi…