"Chromebook Air" and a trip to Santa Clara

2013-04-03 02:12:20 -0400

Originally posted on tumblr

Put my mobility and gadget obsessions to the test by going to Pycon 2013 in Santa Clara. Didn't take the X220t Thinkpad, just grabbed a Samsung Chromebook a couple of days before leaving (and installed crouton on it.) Crouton gives me a chrooted Ubuntu Precise environment, into which I poured my normal desktop coding and photography workflow. I added a 32G SD card with a couple of months of photography and my latest master index, which let me process pictures as I went; the one other useful addition to my pocket pouch was a dual-end mini-micro USB cable because most of my cameras are Canon, and so I still need Mini-USB when everything else is MicroUSB. I also happen to prefer short cables for reducing pocket clutter... but made up for it by carrying a 2ft A-A cable in the bag with the camera chargers.

The other trick was to remind myself that I was, after all, going to Silicon Valley, where they already have all the gadgets, and though "I can't Amazon-Prime things to my hotel" is a very #firstworld definition of "roughing it", clearly making several visits to Fry's Electronics would be just as good... and in fact, when I "accidentally" took a thousand pictures my first day in town (at Point Reyes) the next thing I picked up was a 64G SD card to upgrade my local picture backup... and a knife to open the package with :-)

I did prepare the Chromebook before leaving, with an old Apple sticker; rather than causing comment, I think it served more as camouflage, at least at a distant glance. On closer inspection, of course, the $250 Chromebook is relatively flimsy (hold it up by a corner and the touchpad isn't clickable anymore, for example) and the screen is very much not IPS (let alone Retina) which isn't really a problem in conference and hotel settings, but was kind of unpleasant on the flight. Interestingly, I didn't need to plug in power the entire length of the BOS to SFO flight, nor the return, even with (Gogo) wifi turned on the whole time.

That brings up "why crouton, instead of just installing ubuntu?" - first of all, I do like the idea of a limited self-sysadmining laptop, and have made on-and-off use of the CR-48 since they shipped, though I haven't been able to make the leap to programming on it (I did try koding, and it's just Not Emacs) and second, I hadn't figured out how the "12 free Gogo coupons" was implemented, and figured it was easier to just use the ChromeOS-side browser for that. Just a little thing, but crouton worked well enough that it didn't really get in my way.

Another nice thing about the Chromebook was that I didn't especially worry about it; if it got damaged, the SD card would probably be fine, and I could probably just hit BestBuy and grab another one :-) There are a lot of workplaces (not mine, sadly) where being able to salvage a business trip by expensing a laptop that costs less than two nights in a hotel room could be a huge win.

I even picked up a cheap HDMI cable at Fry's - having not noticed that the conference hotel TVs were (coincidentally Samsung branded) analog panels, with VGA inputs, no digital ones. (The "vacation" part of the trip did have HDMI-capable TVs in the hotel rooms, but part of sucessfully shooting 4000 pictures in a week was getting out and shooting and using the laptop for backup and picking out highlights, and deciding to leave serious tagging and uploading until I got home when I had time to do research and identification (after all, there were a couple of inches of snow on the ground when I got home; California was beautiful, New England hasn't actually managed spring yet.)

Other trip gadgets: I had a rental car, so I got a small, cheap, and hard-to-recommend allegedly-2.1amp 12V-to-USB adapter that couldn't keep my Gnote at equilibrium, let alone charge it, while using it as a navigation system. Still looking for a sane answer there. More helpful was the 12V camera-battery charger with little clip adapters for each different battery type, that let me top up the camera I'd used most on a given day; while it was a nice and performant gadget, I would have been better off actually being disciplined and keeping a charged backup battery for each camera every night. (Since it's 12V and 120V, it might be sensible to bring only that charger next time, for the slight benefit over the multiple 120V chargers I'd otherwise carry, though on closer inspection, one of those was also 12V capable already.)

Finally, the trip was to go to Pycon 2013, so I brought back more linux boxes than I went with :-) So far the only interesting thing I've done with the RasPi is to hook it up to a tiny keyboard and project my trip-report slides at work. The idea that you can reasonably "rummage around on your desk to find a linux box" the way you used to rummage around looking for a spare ethernet cable is highly entertaining :-)