Friday, February 07, 2014

Frozen - Let it Go (Piano)


I made a few mistakes here and there as usual.
You can find the sheet music here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0_M3D8uIH7s

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Acer c720 Chromebook (Haswell)


Acer c720


So this is the new generation of chromebooks that just came out in the last couple of months.  I’ve used a first generation samsung previously that I borrowed from work just to play around with.  It was overall a positive experience though chromeOS does have it’s limitation.  I find I can do probably about 90% of my day to day computing activities in chromeos.  I love how resource friendly and quick to boot the OS is.  There’s a simple elegance to it.  The OS itself doesn’t seem to have changed a lot and that’s probably because all it really is doing is to support running the chrome web browser which is my primary browser I use on the desktop and across all my devices except for ios where I still prefer the speedier built in safari.  The hardware sure has changed though.  This acer is now using the latest generation Intel Haswell processor (celeron 2955U dual core 64bit at 1.4ghz)  bringing with it all the power saving and cpu/gpu performance boosting advances it has.  I have to say the speed and performance is amazing on this thing.  With the 16GB SSD and 2GB of ram chromeos is very snappy even with a dozen tabs open.  Every video I throw at it plays just fine.


- I picked mine up from bestbuy for $199 but I had a $50 gift card and some other rebate reward cards I had to spend which brought down the price to $128 out the door tax included.  This is an incredible machine at that price.  Amazon also has it for $199 and often quickly sells out.
- I don’t find the 16GB ssd or 2GB of ram limiting at all.  You are suppose to store everything in the cloud anyways and there is a full size SDXC SD Card slot. Also, chromeos uses ZRam and is really efficient with resources.  
- Currently I’m running just stock chromeos which was updated on first boot.  If you want to tinker you’ll have to enable developer mode and give up verified boot.  There are two approaches to installing alternate OS’s: ChrUbuntu (traditional dual boot) and Crouton (side by side - here is a good how to geek article and some good sd card install articles).  I’ve ordered a 32GB SDHC which I might mess with installing linux on to and try to leave my 16GB ssd untouched but I’m not sure I want to run in developer mode all the time and give up some of the protection as this chromebook is shared with the family.  So far chromeos is working out much better than I expected so I’m not even sure I need linux right now except to mess around with and maybe install steam and a few linux compatible games.
- Netflix, youtube, hulu, amazon instant video all play video really really well in HD with no performance issues.  Video is perfectly smooth.
- For streaming local content the plex app works well.
- I tried playing some media off a usb 3.0 flash drive formatted to NTFS.  1080p MKV video played back perfectly smooth but audio was ac3 which isn’t supported so you get no sound.  TS (transport stream) isn’t supported either.  MP3, and avi xvid works fine again as long as your audio isn’t ac3 or DTS for that matter.  You can see a list of supported file types here.  It’s too bad since the hardware is obviously more than capable it’s just due to lack of codec support/licensing that it can’t be a better media player.
- The built in file manager is quite functional and lets you easily copy files from/to local storage, external storage, sd card, google drive, etc.  It even supports zip.
- Pandora works fine and so does Subsonic thanks to the built in flash support.
- 1Password you have to use the html 1passwordanywhere along with dropbox.
- Chrome RDP works really well in full screen mode for remoting into windows.  Logmein app worked just fine too.
- Chrome remote desktop works really well. You can even play videos with sound, and it is actually watchable if a bit jerky.
- Citrix receiver requires Receiver for HTML5 so it depends if your organization has upgraded to include support for that.
- Here is a nice site that helps you find equivalent chrome apps for popular apps in other OS’s.
- Works well with casting a tab to chromecast.  Haswell has enough juice to cast video pretty well.  I tried amazon instant video and it looked pretty good on chromecast.  It also supports casting the entire desktop even with sound but performance really suffers.  For text and images though from a typical web page it’s ok.  Still, casting a tab works much better and performs as good as my 15” macbook pro. UPDATE: Did some more testing with chromecast. When casting video on a tab full screen (not natively supported by chromecast like amazon instant video) 480p looks good and is quite smooth, 720p is watchable but starts having issues keeping up in the framerate department, 720p extreme bitrate is a stuttery mess. I did this test in the same room as the router so I don't think this is a wireless bandwidth issue but instead I'm bumping into the limits of what the chromebook can do from a rendering -> encoding -> broadcasting perspective. If you aren't playing video and just casting a typical webpage you can set it to 720p extreme and it works just fine. So for casting video from a tab it's acceptable but not ideal. A more powerful laptop like my macbook pro does a better job with casting video.
- It has 802.11abgn in 2.4 and 5ghz flavors, bluetooth 4.0, full sized hdmi port, usb 2.0 and 3.0, and a headphone jack.  There is no cellular radio.  For cheap on the go data there is always freedompop or tether to your phone.
- Paired it with some sony bluetooth headphones which worked fine. The audio streamed fine but the controls didn't work (at least not with google play music). I did notice a buzz once in a while when the machine was multi tasking heavily. Not sure if that's an issue with blueooth or the google play site.
- The front facing HD webcam is rather grainy and dark.
- There are some offline apps including google docs and gmail.  Google docs switches between online and offline mode automatically and seamlessly.
- Most web based games work fine like angry birds, cut the rope, and kingdom rush .
- Cold boot to login: 4 sec; from sleep: 1 sec.  I lost about 3% power while in sleep over 8 hrs.  With typical browsing you should get 8.5 hrs of use.
- Full charge from empty in < 2 hrs.
- Power supply is small and very travel friendly.
- 1366X768 TN panel has pretty poor view angles.  You definitely want to look at it head on but it does have a nice matte finish for better outside use.  Resolution is fine for this screen size, and I find text pretty sharp though I prefer a default of 125% zoom for everything.
- Only weighs 2.7 lbs.  It’s very comfortable on your lap and doesn’t ever really get that warm.  There is a fan but I pretty much never hear it during average use.
- No ethernet port but that’s fine for a device that is meant to be very portable.
- Keyboard takes a little bit of getting use to with the keys just a tad on the smaller side and with little travel.  I still scored 78 wpm on a typing test with almost no practice.  Layout is overall pretty good with some useful keys for full screen, brightness, and volume where the function keys usually are.  There is a search key that acts kind of like the windows key.  Right and left arrow keys are full size but the up and down are half size.  The keyboard feels good and sturdy with little flex though it’s a little loud and clicky.  I really wish it was backlit. The multi touch pad is pretty good with typical gestures for scrolling and forward/back for browsing.  There is no pinch to zoom though.  It could use better palm detection though as once in a while it would trigger a pointer move with my palm which is kind of annoying.  It doesn’t happen too often though, and doesn’t happen when I’m just touch typing like normal.
- ctrl alt ? brings up a handy overlay of keyboard shortcuts.
- Hinge is sufficiently stiff.
- I hooked up a 27” 1080p monitor to it and it lets you change basic stuff like mirror or extend, position the monitors, orientation, and mark which one as primary.  I also plugged in a logitech k400 wireless keyboard/touchpad combo and it worked just fine including multi touch scrolling (which I’m guessing is interpreted as a scroll wheel from the keyboard).   Things like two finger swipe forward/back don’t work.  I can definitely see this working as a nifty compact desktop replacement.  It’s even smart enough to know when it is in “dock” mode and will stay on even when the lid of the chromebook is closed.  ChromeOS running at 1920X1080 really is very nice. Audio properly passes through HDMI.
-ChromeOS has a decent notification system.
- I wish there was a quick way to switch users.  Currently you have to logout of the current user then login as the new user.  Everything for that user is tied to that google account.  You can also login as guest where nothing is persisted (sort of like incognito mode).
- Cloud printing worked very well.  All I had to do was add my tradition printers on my server to my google account cloud printing and then share those printers to my wife’s google account.  Now, we can both print from our accounts on the chromebook.
- As far as use goes it kind of sits somewhere between my 15” macbook pro and my iPad.  It’s so much lighter, instant on, and better battery life for content creation I actually prefer doing it on the chromebook.  But if I plan to do some gaming like maybe some wow or need smb share access then the heavier bigger and older macbook does the trick.  If I’m just catching up on some web reading then I prefer the iPad.  But if I’m doing some heavy research on something or a product then I prefer the chromebook.  The chromebook really does fit into a nice usage niche for me.  I really don’t see it replacing a full laptop or a tablet though but complements them nicely.  Granted a macbook air is probably good enough to be your main laptop too but that quite a bit more money.  You could buy 5 chromebooks for the price of 1 macbook air.
- I don't think ChromeOS has trim support for SSDs. Not sure what that will do to performance in the long run.
- Accessories: Sleeve with a pouch to hold the power adapter. 32GB SD Card (Update: DO NOT BUY THIS. See below). I love these RadTech cloths. I also picked up an extra power adapter from ebay for around $9 shipped.
- I wouldn't mind upgrading to this 128GB SSD except it would void the warranty (there is a warranty sticker over one of the screws).
- Java and silverlight are NOT supported.

Highly recommended.  This is a fantastic laptop for a certain kind of user.  If you spend most of your time on the web and don’t do much else this is great.  It’s a super fast, responsive, and a complete no compromises desktop web browsing experience.  It’s a really fast booting lightweight operating system that is secure and should be much safer from malware.  I can definitely seeing this as a great computer for somebody older or younger who just wants to use the web in a safe environment with pretty much no maintenance or support required. There are no constant updates to worry about, security patches, or malware.  At $200 it’s a fantastic value too.  When I dig into installing linux I’ll update this post. Oh, and I wrote this entire article using this chromebook in google docs including uploading the pictures using Google+ Photos from the sd card and a tiny bit of photo editing using PicMonkey. Overall, it was a very good experience.

UPDATE: ChrUbuntu
- So I decided to go ahead and give ChrUbuntu a try and dual boot. My original strategy was to install linux to the SD Card and leave my ssd untouched. It installed fine but for some reason SeaBIOS would only see the card intermittently. At this point I'm not sure if it's the bios being picky are something to do with that particular make/model of sd card. All I know is chromeos sees the card just fine every time. It's only during seabios legacy boot that has issues seeing the card. It would only see it maybe 1 in 15 times of booting up, and I couldn't figure out a pattern. It seemed completely random. Instead I decided to use this Transcend 32GB USB 3.0 flash drive that I picked up during black Friday. UPDATE: I tried a sony 32gb sdhc card and installed ChrUbuntu on to that just to see if a different brand of sd card would make a difference. It did NOT. So apparently the sd slot isn't a very good option for booting. Stick to usb and you will be fine.
- Putting the chromebook into developer mode will wipe all users and data and start you over from a clean slate. The good news is if you already setup chromeos the way you want and you've got chrome syncing working it syncs everything including all apps installed and your taskbar. So after logging back from a clean wipe it restored everything back which is great.
- Netflix works fine in dev mode.
- The wipe happens every time you switch between normal and dev mode but it's always a two step process so it shouldn't happen accidentally.
- I followed most of the instructions from this site pulling some info from different posts and comments since installing to a usb flash drive is a little different. I followed about 90% of the instructions from this post.

Steps 1-3: unchanged

Step 4: do this instead: (UPDATE: I left off the dev_boot_legacy=1 earlier which is very important)
sudo crossystem dev_boot_usb=1 dev_boot_legacy=1
Then figure out the name of your usb flash drive:
sudo fdisk -l | grep Disk
In my case it was /dev/sdb
Then run this to start the install:
curl -L -O http://goo.gl/9sgchs; sudo bash 9sgchs -t /dev/sdb
Make sure you replace -t /dev/sdb with whatever the name of your usb flash drive is.


Step 5: unchanged

Step 6-8: skipped. You won't see this since you are installing to an external device.

Step 9: Install grub to /dev/sdb NOT /dev/sda. Use the arrow keys and space bar to select the right item then tab to OK and press enter.

Step 10-11: unchanged
- Installation takes a good few hours so be patient.
- You might want to change the default password and manually update.
- I found the touchpad to be a bit on the sensitive side even with the slider all the way down.
- I was able to remap the audio buttons using keyboard shortcuts without any issue but getting brightness mapped takes a bit more work.
- Sleep doesn't seem to work properly and crashes hard on wake up. You'll want to clear previous crashes to stop ubuntu from nagging you.
- If work doesn't support citrix receiver html 5 yet you can actually install citrix receiver in ubuntu. The instructions are long but just follow them carefully. It worked great for me. I found getting out of full screen and back to your local desktop was a bit tricky. Hit alt tab twice quickly and make sure to release all keys in between presses. That seemed to work.
- I added exFat support which is a nice cross platform file system that OSX can write to natively. (note the 13.10 comment below)
- After you get everything setup you might want to clone or make a backup image. I found DD to work just fine. Just make sure you know you have the right source and target devices. If you want to make a backup image on windows use win32 disk imager which I tested a full backup and restore and it worked fine.
- Performance isn't nearly as good as chromeos but still useable. It felt like one of those earlier crappy netbooks. But what does work very well is VLC. Streaming over a smb windows share 1080p MKV is perfectly smooth even when played on an external 1080p monitor over HDMI. You can also easily reroute audio through HDMI too. Just make sure you turn on gpu acceleration and increase the disk and network buffers (I used 10 and 20 sec) in VLC, and it will run great. System monitor shows both cores at around 50% most of the time with some spikes to around 80%. Memory usage is around 500MB if you are only running VLC.
- For kicks I also installed steam through the ubuntu app store. I had to apply this locale fix. About 95 / 495 of my steam games had linux versions which isn't half bad.

- Left 4 Dead 2: Would get to about 75% on the load bar before hanging.
- Gone Home: Would get stuck on the tape loading screen and eventually boot you back to desktop.
- Don't Starve ran really well:
- FTL ran fine:
- Monaco ran fine too:
- Trine 2 looked good and ran pretty well:

- So ChrUbuntu is actually pretty usable on the Acer c720.  It's fine for media playback, remoting, and some light indie gaming.  So if you need a full functioning general purpose OS you've got one.  I still won't use it as my main OS though.  Chrome browser performance is just not there.  It's nowhere near as responsive as chromeos.  Still, it's pretty neat to mess around with.

- Oh and one more game....MINECRAFT! It actually runs really well.


UPDATE (2/7/2014):
- I just got in the Steam streaming beta, and I'm pretty impressed. Total latency seems to bounce around 50-100ms and is very playable. Compressing isn't that bad. Games look, sound, and play pretty great. In fact on my old mid 2010 macbook pro 15" games streamed actually play faster than most native ports. I tried out skyrim, tomb raider, hard reset, and outlast and they all ran well. COD Ghosts just crashes though.  Then, I had to try it out on the chromebook under ChrUbuntu.  It actually works quite well.  Streaming Skyrim at 30 fps is pretty amazing and quite playable.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Heavy Rain Piano Suite


Sorry for the background noise.  My wife was wrapping Christmas gifts while I was recording this.

found the sheet music here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qjM3cq5-cfI

Monday, December 16, 2013

Toy Story 2 - When She Loved Me (Piano)


sheet music is here:
http://www.scribd.com/doc/3848475/Sarah-McLachlan-When-she-loved-me-Toy-Story-2

Monday, December 09, 2013

Lord Of The Rings - In Dreams (piano)


Chock full of hobbity goodness! (and a few mistakes).  Not quite as good as second breakfast.