Saturday, June 20, 2015

Once you go Chrome, you never go home

Isn't that how it goes? As part of my enrollment in Bethel University's Master of Education program, I received a Chromebook. I've been wanting one for probably about a year now but could never justify buying one as it would never serve as my main computer. I still don't know if it's fair to say that the Chromebook I did get would suffice as a full-time computer. It's a Samsung XE303C12 with a mere 2GB of RAM. It's slow to render pages compared to Chrome on my 2012 MacBook Air and iPad Air 2, slows down after more than five tabs are open, has a mushy keyboard and a manic depressive trackpad but it'll work for the sake of my experiment; I'm going to try to go on a Chromebook/iPad diet, leaving my Mac to the side for the first time in almost 11 years. Below I have outlined my list of anticipated pros and cons.

The Pros

  • Battery life - I love my Mac but it only gets about four hours of battery life. This mostly has to do with the fact that I use Chrome as my main browser. There are things I could do to prolong the battery, like using Safari, turning off the backlight on my keyboard, turning off Google Drive sync or the Evernote helper when I'm not using them but when I sit down at my computer I want the computing experience I want. I'm not into chasing percentage points on the battery meter. I'm into offline documents, quick access to Evernote and running Drive and Backblaze in the background to sync and backup my data. The iPad has been getting 14 hours of battery the way I'm using it (mostly for browsing and reading with few videos or games) and about 5 hours on the Chromebook. The impressive thing is that these two devices are getting this battery life even as I use them the way I want to.
  • The screen - Of course I'm talking about the iPad here. The iPad Air 2 screen is vivid, sharp, easy to read on. As for the Chromebook screen, see the cons list below.
  • I'm in the cloud already - I already use Google Drive and Docs (for the Masters Program, anyway). I sync my contacts, calendars, photos and music with Google's services, even if I don't use them all that often, just so they're there. I don't keep anything in iCloud, for the most part, and so a Chromebook will already host about 90% of the stuff I work on.
  • Productivity - While in school, I don't think I could go Chromebook only. I need to create too many files and documents that rely on desktop-class speed and power but for the summer and as far as my Masters program are concerned, Chrome, Google Docs and Evernote are all I need. I've actually been taking my iPad and the Logitech keyboard to my seminar classes every Monday and Wednesday and the pair work like a charm for taking notes and scanning in handouts. Evernote even offers a Chromebook-specific extension for offline notes syncing. All of my productivity is cross-platform and mostly relies on Google Docs and Evernote. No problems there.

The Cons

  • Trackpad and keyboard - I love the trackpad on my Mac more than any other point-and-click device I have ever owned. It's like butter and the trackpad on the Chromebook is, well, I use a bluetooth mouse on it most of the time. The keyboard on the Chromebook is okay and I have a pretty decent Logitech bluetooth keyboard for my iPad. I may wind up pairing it to the Chromebook as well.
  • The screen - While the iPad, as mentioned above, has a stellar screen that is a pleasure to work and read on, the Chromebook sports a budget LED screen that hurts the eyes after a while. The pixels are so prominent that it feels like they're stabbing my eyes and the colors looks washed out. I know this is due to the budget-constrained nature of the Chromebook as there are retina-quality screens out there. But I don't have one of those models. Definitely a third place after the iPad and the MacBook Air.
  • Unforeseen circumstances - Pretty self-explanatory. I may need to do some heavy lifting with some PDF's, like rotation or merging multiple PDF's into one document. I'm sure there is a way to accomplish this on the Chromebook but in Preview on OS X, it's fast, easy and familiar.
  • No Logic Pro X - 😓 No music production. No working on the soundtrack my brother asked me for to accompany his summer film project. Sorry Colin, you gotta wait.
To me, buying a computer is so much more than buying something with computational abilities. Computers and other mobile devices, especially mobile devices, are a very tactile experience. If it is not a pleasure interacting with them, if the interface cannot keep up, if anything gets in the way between what a user has in mind and how the computer responds, it's a failure.
This experiment is more of a proof of concept than anything else. As I type this on my Chromebook, the keyboard frustrates me and the mouse is irritating. But the boot speed was nice when I opened it up and I'm excited for this shift in thinking.

Comments or suggestions? Please leave a comment.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Feeding my Aperture Library to Google Photos

I have two cameras: my iPhone and a Canon 450D DSLR. I have two photo libraries: Apple's new Photos app (and its iCloud Photo Library feature) and Aperture. Since the introduction of Photostream, I have kept my photography siloed with my iPhone snapshots going into iPhoto and now and my DSLR shots going to Aperture.
I have discussed some of the issues with uploading a library from an iOS device to Google's new Photos service here. Because of these issues, I wanted to see if I could easily upload my Aperture library to Google Photos without having to export them out, baking in the EXIF data on their way.
Fortunately, Google provides a desktop client for Mac. So far, this is working pretty well but it was not the first thing I tried. First, I tried uploading images by dragging and dropping them into the web interface and while that works well for small batches of images, it doesn't for many photos. Last night, I dropped 4,000 photos onto the web interface and went to sleep. This morning, almost 100 of them failed to upload. So far, and based on anecdotal evidence, the failure rates on Google's desktop client is significantly lower (between 1~5 per 1,000).
I wanted the desktop client to see my Aperture library but after connected the external drive where it lives, it wasn't able to see the library as an option. However, after waiting about an hour, the desktop client offered to automatically upload my Aperture library, having it appear in the source list.
It's easy to get impatient with a new service, especially one that is getting hammered with people pouring millions of photos into it as I type this. A little patience goes a long way.
So far, Google Images is able to see all of the EXIF data that I baked into the originals including date and location information.
I'll update if anything significant or unexpected occurs.

Google Photos for iOS "Preparing Backup" For Hours

It looks like I'm not the only one having trouble with Google's new Photos app for both iPhone and iPad. I let my iPhone sit over night, the constant spinning of a circle letting me know that Google Photos was preparing my backup. As I woke up this morning, it was still going. I went to Twitter and I guess I'm not the only person having issues.

I went ahead and disabled iCloud Drive Photos on my iPad to test and see if that would solve the problem. Lo and behold, it is now backing up the photos I had stored locally on the iPad.
Here are the steps I took:

  1. Turned off iCloud Drive Photos (Settings -> iCloud -> Photos -> Toggle off iCloud Photo Library
  2. Restarted the iPad
  3. Deleted the Google Photos app
  4. Reinstalled the Google Photos App
When the app was preparing backups, it only took a couple minutes and then it started firing the photos off to the cloud.

As for my iPhone, I'm going to keep iCloud Drive Photos turned on and let it run its course. Either it's a bug or Google Photos is parsing out what's kept locally and what's an iCloud thumbnail. I'm inclined to believe that it's parsing as the @googlephotos twitter account informed me earlier that the app will filter out photos not stored locally on the iOS device. That must be what it's doing? I hope?