Thursday, December 06, 2012

Google+ Communities: Questions Soon to be Answered



I have not yet had Google+ Communities roll out on my account. Given my experience with Google+, I know it will happen sometime today; they are pretty good at rolling out updates.

What I've read so far about the features of Communities, has been helpful; but, the posts don't answer all my questions.

Here are the questions:

  • Will Google+ Pages be able to join Communities? I have a couple pages that are very topical; they would benefit from being in Communities regarding those topics. 
  • Will people in your Communities count towards your Circles? 
  • Will the Google+ mobile app have access to communities?
  • How do my photos work with Communities? Some photos, I want to share; but, I don't want them cluttering up my albums. 
  • Will I be able to boot people out?
  • Where do recorded Hangouts go? Will we be able to record Hangouts?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Mobile Garden Decorations


I found these decorations outside an antique shop in town that I discovered when riding around town on my bike. Riding around town in a search grid can provide great photo opportunities and even give you a good sense of your town's history.

I've only discovered some neighborhoods around town. Some of the newer ones have nicer homes; but, not much character is worth photographing. It seems that homes used to be an expression of the owner, which has been lost since modern standardization began.

The art of having a garden seems to be largely lost too. Too many homes strive to have a good lawn, period. But then, that's what makes finds like this garden such a treat.


Monday, November 26, 2012

More Black and White from Mission, Texas


There are a lot of places around town that are great photo subjects for black and white. I especially love the older buildings and neglected areas.

I think capturing them in black and white evokes some sort of nostalgic feel, even though these places are "contemporary".

The old County Commissioner's office in Mission, Texas. The office moved to a newer building out of town some years back. The old building remains vacant. 

An old Head Start central kitchen. The county Head Start schools do not have kitchens, they have their food delivered. Hidalgo County Head Start has since then centralized their kitchen. 

Bench outside the old County Commissioner's building. It offers seating to visitors who no longer come. 

Railroad switch. 

Painted-on handicap parking sign on the wall. 

Stone angel in a church garden. 

Old gas pump near the ruins of a burned down building. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sunrise and Sunset are Short-Lived


Getting the right light can be a work of love. I was up and out early in the day to attempt to get the best lighting on these cacti on morning after dropping off my daughter at school. The toughest thing about getting sunrise or sunset light on your subject is that the lighting doesn't last too long.

By the time I started to get the hang of shooting, the lighting changed. I've been meaning to go back and reshoot these cacti; but, haven't had a chance. With winter coming on, mornings are later and evenings are earlier. Maybe in the spring.


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Samsung Chromebook After A Few Days of Testing


You would think that after a few days my opinion of the Samsung Chromebook would diminish a bit. I think, if I had unrealistic expectations, that it would. However, knowing that the $249 laptop is essentially a dedicated browser, I have had a few surprises and one disappointment that comes to mind.

Let's get the disappointment out of the way. The Bluetooth on my Chromebook sucks. It has difficulty detecting devices; and when it does detect them, it can't connect. It's quite possible that the trouble connecting the Chromebook via Bluetooth is limited to this particular machine. I'm disappointed; but, I'm not so disappointed that I'll get on the phone with Samsung about it.

In addition, it seems to shut down sometimes, when I simply close the lid to put it to sleep. The only way I know is when I open it up again and see the white boot up screen.  I suspect that it crashes. However, it's not too big a deal; it boots fast enough that it's not as aggravating as it would be with a Windows laptop.

On to the good parts.

I'm not the sort to open up a jillion browser tabs at once. Thus, the Chromebook has been able to keep up with my browsing needs, even keeping a couple of background tabs running, such as music and crosh.

That's my next like about the Chromebook, its shell app, crosh. With it, I can SSH to my shell account and run TTYTTER remotely. Of course, my interest is more than a twitter client. Being able to SSH to a remote Linux box allows me to use some of the built-in Linux network utilities when checking connectivity at client sites. So, I used the stripped down Linux Chromebook to connect to a full Linux machine. From the shell, there is little difference. It can be flaky when run as a tab; so I run it separately.

In addition, the remote Windows computer control also allows me to access client computers with minimal trouble. I simply log out of my personal Google desktop on the Chromebook and log in to the account attached to the machine I need to administer. In a practical sense, I can set up Google accounts on the Chromebook for each client. When I need to remote in, I switch accounts. This works because as admin for clients with Google Apps, I always have access to their admin account.

Battery life is also a great benefit of the Chromebook. 6.5 hours is plenty to get me through a workday. The greatest advantage is that the battery drains very slowly; but, it recharges much more quickly. I have begun leaving the charger in my van; this way, I can charge the Chromebook as I'm driving. By the time I arrive at my destination, it has enough charge to do whatever work is necessary.

Keyboard commands are abundant on the Chromebook. Many keyboard commands are standard, as you would expect on other platforms. However, the Chromebook adds a few additional key combinations to do things that are particular to the Chromebook.

Something that I forgot in the excitement of checking out a new toy is that I principally got the Chromebook to serve as a conduit for posting photos and content to the web quickly. With the holidays, I haven't had much opportunity to put it into production at an event, yet. But, that's the idea.

The Chromebook is light enough and small enough to easily transport. In addition, it has the memory card slot, starts up quickly, and can quickly get me online wherever there is WiFi. It is a simple matter to upload photos and video of an event during or immediately afterwards.

It was very tempting to think of this as a technology purchase for content consumption; but, I do most consumption on a tablet or at the desktop. The Chromebook, in my case, is better suited to sharing content from the field. It's a part of the production component, though not the high-quality sort. More of the good-quality "join the party" type that is better than what you would get from a smartphone.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Chromebook, Chromebox, and a ...Chromedesk?

I discovered some cool things that may possibly be in the works for the Chromebook over at the Samsung website.

Tonight I was going through the Chromebook Central forums to see if anybody has the same Bluetooth problem I have on the Samsung Chromebook. I didn't see any references; but, I did learn that the power adapter is a pain in the butt to find, should you ever lose it.

Samsung has a habit of using non-standard connectors for their devices, especially when first released.

So, I went over to the Samsung USA website to see if you can just order the power adapter directly. Theoretically, you can; but, it's not available. Same thing in the Google Play store, listed but unavailable.

In any case, while browsing through the product page for the Chromebook, I saw a third Chrome device we haven't seen on the market. It looks like an all-in-one desktop Chrome device with its own LCD screen.


In the image above, it's the device in the middle. It looks like a sweet desktop computer, running Chrome of course.

It makes me think that maybe it's in the works.

Another interesting thing I discovered was that in the accessories page for the Chromebook, they have among them, a USB data transfer cable, external keyboards and mice, and more importantly, an external optical disk drive.



Pretty exciting stuff if these turn out to be in the works. They would definitely make the Chromebook much more desirable and popular than it is now.

UPDATE:

Nevermind the desktop. They merely connected a cool monitor to the Chromebox as seen in the picture below. I was wrong. However, the accessories mentioned only appear in the new Chromebook accessories page. So, that's still cool.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Samsung Chromebook Series 3 Review


If you’re reading this, chances are you’re a tech geek looking for justification to blow $250 on a new toy, the Samsung Series 3 Chromebook. I can’t tell you that it’s a must buy, or that you should buy something else. So far it meets my needs; I am satisfied.

Before going into why I got the Chromebook, let me tell you that what you have heard about it is true.


  • It has a 16 GB hard drive. You can expand storage with an SD card.
  • It’s small and lightweight.
  • It has enough horsepower to run; but, it will chug a bit on steep hills.
  • Battery life is pretty good.
  • It’s silent. No fans or drive noise.  
  • It’s a good computer for $250; it’s not a great computer.

My initial reaction was not good. The ads say there’s nothing to set up when you buy a Chromebook. Well, it took about 20 minutes to set up and download updates before I could log in. It also hung up a couple times. Since then, it’s been pretty smooth.

As for how I justified to myself why I needed it, here goes.

Why I Got It

I get invited to events to record video and take photos. The reason I’m invited is so that I will upload the content to the web ASAP to help hype up the event or the organization hosting the event. I’ve always thought that it’s best to post content while the event is going on, or immediately afterwards.

My vision was to be able to pop out a memory card from my camera and into the Chromebook for uploading. The instant startup and good battery life would make it less of a hassle to quickly do the uploads without waiting for the damned thing to boot up and shut down. Windows computers always slow down with age and endless updates.


My old laptop was taking 15 minutes to boot up with Windows Vista. When I changed it to Ubuntu, it was fast at first; but, it’s starting to bloat too. Plus, the old laptop is heavier and larger. In other words, I was in the market for another laptop anyway. The question was mainly about finding a suitable replacement.

Accessories

Last night, I plugged my Flip camera to download video for uploading to Youtube. I copy/pasted some HD video from the Flip cam to an SD card plugged in. Not a problem.
I plugged in a USB mouse; no problem. I plugged in my Blue Snowball microphone; no problem.

I know that printing can be problematic if I don’t have a Windows machine running at home.

I love my old Android Galaxy Tab; but, the inability to plug in thumb drives, memory cards, and the lack of a keyboard were holding me back from being productive on the go.

Why It Fits


Some of the complaints about the Chromebook are actually the selling points for me.

The small solid state hard drive is sufficient for my needs. Well, not so much the size; it was the solid state part that sold me. I replace several hard drives a year for my clients. A fact of life is that hard drives fail. They fail when they have ideal conditions, and especially fail when they are on devices that move around and get bumped. There are Asus netbooks running Windows 7 at Best Buy cheaper than the Chromebook. But, they all sport 320 GB hard drives. That’s pretty large for a netbook; but, it would be a real pain to replace the drive on a device without a DVD drive.

I had the opportunity to buy the 5 series Chromebook for $299, a floor model. But, besides the extra cost, that model is a little bit bigger. One selling point for me on the 3 series model was the physical size. There is about a 1 pound difference between the two models. Portability won in this case.

In terms of power, the only thing that is disappointing, which I expected prior to buying the Chromebook, was that Evernote simply would not be an option. I have more than 4000 notes in my Evernote account. PC browsers choke when I use the Evernote website for my account. I expected the same for the Chromebook. Sure enough, it struggled. If ever there were a 3rd party app I’d want to install, it would be an Evernote client.

If you’re the type to have 50 browser tabs open, minimum, forget it. The Chromebook will crumble. But, if you’re heavy into Google Apps and such, you won’t need open tabs. It’s a very simple matter to open a Google service as if it were an app. It’s my polite way of saying that it’s the wrong device for the ADHD crowd. 


There are only 4 ports on the Chromebook. SD card, HDMI out,, USB 2.0, and USB 3.0. That’s a bit sparse if you plan on plugging in all kinds of stuff. But, bogging down your Chromebook with peripherals seems like an attempt to make it into a workstation.

Assessment

And that brings me to my assessment of the Chromebook. Do you know how you can got to any chain restaurant and cound on the food tasting the same? That’s what the Chromebook is like; it’s like using Chrome on a PC, Mac, or Linux machine. You get pretty much the same experience at all of them.

If you are like me, you mainly operate out of a browser. When you switch among several computers and an Android tablet, you need to be very invested in cloud computing for consistent access to your work.

I wish I could say that the Chromebook is amazing; but, in reality it’s like taking off a pair of pants and putting them back on, expecting them to feel different. Chrome has been my main browser since it launched; the Chromebook is all Chrome. So, I consider the familiarity and consistency a success. In other words, it's great because it's unremarkable. More importantly, it allows me to get the job done.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Chamber Garden

One morning I arrived a little early at the local chamber of commerce. It was still not open. It just so happened that the morning golden hour was in all its glory. All the plants were beautifully illuminated, even the weeds. 

Of course, I used a flash to fill the dark side of the plants. I love how some vegetation just glows at sunrise and sunset. 







Saturday, September 29, 2012

Vines and Shallow Depth of Field

I took several shots of this vine as it reaches over from a nearby fence and grabs hold of the coax cable on the house. It is a very thin vine, making it difficult to auto focus. One of the problems with shooting vines with a shallow depth of field is that they meander in and out of focus. 

This photo was the only one that I found pleasing enough to post. The camera's display is not that great at showing how good such a little vine photographed. So, now I know that it's best to close down the aperture a bit so that more of the vine stays in focus. 


Thursday, September 27, 2012

McAllen's Main Street Overpass

It's not your typical bridge that is lined with trees on both sides and affords  you an unhindered view of the expressway below. 



Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mayoreo y Menudeo

I took this photo for the vanishing point; but, the words "Mayoreo" and "Menudeo" always bring back memories of my childhood when my grandmother would take me shopping to downtown McAllen. This was the only place I would see the words at storefronts.



Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Public Works Patching Streets

This post is pretty self-explanatory. McAllen Public Works employees were out patching potholes early one morning. That's it. 



Monday, September 24, 2012

Bus Depot to Bus Depot

These are photos of the return trip from the San Antonio bus depot to the McAllen bus depot. 

It's a 4-hour drive that I've taken many times; but, lately, I'd rather take the bus than drive it myself. You can read a book, take a nap, do some web browsing, or just zone out. Let somebody else take the wheel. 

Although, if there were a McAllen to San Antonio train, I'd rather ride that. 






Sunday, September 23, 2012

St Joe Bricks

Bricks used to have the name of the factory stamped into the clay before they were baked in the kiln. There are people who look for old buildings that are being torn down so that they can collect some of the bricks. Surprisingly, they even write books about the bricks they have found and where they originated. 

What is most fascinating about these brick historians, is that they find information about the brick companies, the owners, and what other projects their bricks built. So, it's not entirely the bricks themselves that are fascinating, it's all the peripheral history that they entail. 


Saturday, September 22, 2012

Blocked Entry

This door that is off its hinges rests diagonally across the door frame. I wondered why the door would just be left like that. Surely it would be a security problem. 

It turns out that the door is an entrance to a room; but, it's not a big room, more like a closet. Thus, the lack of urgency in fixing the door. 

This is an alley-facing wall. 


Friday, September 21, 2012

Scarface

I took this photo in an alley. What caught my attention was the insane fire escape ladder; but, as I took the photo, I realized that it looked like a face. It wasn't until I was processing and converting to monochrome that I realized that there was a big scar on the face. 


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Tables and Chairs

This photo of tables and chairs, besides being about a repeating pattern, has an additional significance to me. 

I used to work at a restaurant that used this same model of tables and chairs. The tables are solid, though top heavy; but, the chairs have a tendency to buckle under very heavy people. If you're up over 200 pounds, you do not want to scoot backward or forward. You should lift it and place it where you will sit, and then gingerly sit down. 

Rather than slide across the floor under the guidance of a heavy person, the leading leg will tend to catch on something and then bend. Anybody that heavy will not hit the floor gracefully. It's quite a scene. 


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Shooting at the Parking Garage

I had the need to park at a garage in downtown McAllen a couple weeks back. I've always meant to go up to the top to photograph whatever I see from there; but, I never made the time. 

Well, this time would be no different. However, I did take advantage of being there to shoot some photos of what I was able to see. There are two types of photos you get, looking down at rooftops or off to the horizon, and lots of lines. 

Shooting pics of rows of parked cars isn't really all that appealing to me, visually. However, there are pipes, fixtures, signs, paint, and all manner of objects in a parking garage that catch your attention. I got one photo of the stairwell. In retrospect, the stairs may be visually rich for photographing; and, I imagine they also make for a good, well-lit location to photograph a model. 

Perhaps not all parking garages have the same appeal; I've seen some that just aren't attractive at all. But, if you're lucky, you might have a nice one nearby. Be sure to check it out. I'm going to have to make time to go spend shooting at this garage. 




Monday, September 17, 2012

A Garden With Variety

My father-in-law has a green thumb and he lives in an area with moist soil. Through most of the year there is something blooming in his yard. Except for the occasional winter frost, there is always something in season. 

When it comes to taking photos, it's fun to go visit my in-laws just for the variety of vegetation. On his small property, he has a lemon tree, a lime tree, orange tree, mandarin orange tree, pecan tree, peach tree, oak tree, and some variety of banana tree. I think his grapefruit tree died. And, then there are a bunch of other plants I couldn't identify. 

On occasion, he'll plant peppers, onions, and other produce. In addition, he'll plant flowers and other plants for my mother-in-law. It is interesting that such a small plot of land can be so fertile. 



Pecans

Key lime from very close.