Brave New World? My Chromebook first impressions

After a whole lot of research and investigation, I finally decided to recommend a Chromebook for my mother’s next computer.  All she really does is browse the internet.  Video chatting?  By the time her old Celeron powered Microsoft Vista ‘laptop’ booted up, no one really wanted to video chat anymore.  So I wanted to find a cheaper way of accomplishing what she needs and a Chromebook seemed to be a good option.

Getting up and running was easy and the Acer C720 I purchased was quite snappy.  So when my father in law wanted help with a new computer, I suggested the larger HP 14 Chromebook.  He travels for work, but other than helping him the first time he had to connect to the internet, he hasn’t called with an issue in months.

So…I figured if I was going to support them- I was going to need one myself.  (Well, that and I had an Amazon gift card burning a hole in my pocket.)  One click later and on the way was a matching Acer C720 like my mom’s.  I wanted something lighter and portable and was willing to trade the better IPS screen of the HP 11 Chromebook for the C720’s more powerful Haswell processor (even if it’s a Celeron).


After a warm up from being left outside (winter delivery FTW), the C720 booted right up, asked to pick a wireless network and downloaded the latest updates.  Once I signed in (with my primary Google account, since I have several), I was greeted with the home screen.  First order of business- put it into ‘Developer Mode’.  Once that was done and the Chromebook ‘powerwashed’ itself, I signed back in, fired up a command shell and installed Crouton.  XFCE Linux allowed me to install Firefox.  Some command line changes in XFCE and I now had a working Citrix Receiver.  This allowed me to connect to my Win 7 Virtual Machines.  Now I really could use my Chromebook on the run.

My Acer 720 running a Win7 VM in XFCE inside a Crouton shell on ChromeOS.


Travelling with the Chromebook

So, I was scheduled to head to Vancouver, Canada for SAP dCode Inside at the BusinessObjects ‘mothership’ and decided to bring my Chromebook as my main PC, along with my iPad Mini.  (My work laptop was along for the ride, in case of a serious issue.. This ‘job insurance’ added 5 pounds to my carry-on bag- UGH!)  In order to maximize my carry-on, I used my normal computer backpack (Samsonite Tectonic M) rather than my ‘go bag’ (Mountainsmith Small Messenger).

One problem appeared when I got to Canada.  No power cord!!  I thought I was being slick- since the Acer and HP both shared the same cord (from the power brick to the outlet), I’d bring one for both.  I was in for a bit of a surprise when I was unpacking and saw no power cord.  This changed my plan a bit, so I powered off the Chromebook to save the battery.  I used one of my 12 free GoGo Inflght credits on the way, so the battery was down to around 90%.  Since I needed to get a full day out of it on Tuesday,off it went.

When I booted up at 9am Tuesday morning, the battery was still around 85-90%.  I decided to go all in and spin up Linux and connect to a VM for email and Lync, switching back and forth to the Chromebook to keep my notes in Google Docs.  I do like the seamless switching that Crouton gives you…very nice!  By the end of the day, a full 8 hours later- the battery meter was at 15%.  With the exception of an hour for lunch, the Acer was running and connected to Wifi.  I can’t complain about the battery!  And lucky for me, I didn’t forget a charger and cable for my iPad Mini, so I had entertainment on the plane ride home.


Are there things missing from the Chromebook?  Yup.  Unless you have a Google Cloud compatible printer or a computer connected to a printer with Chrome running, you’re out of luck printing.  And yes, if you’re not connected to the internet you really can’t do anything.  But if you’re reading this and thinking about a Chromebook, you already knew that.

Do I like the Chromebook?  Yup, I do. It’s been a great ‘second screen’ while watching TV.  It also is portable and quiet.  It’s also light enough that I’ve been grabbing it to head out to Starbucks to write, instead of my iPad 2 with keyboard.

What do I wish the Chromebook had?  To be honest, I’m missing some tools that I would love as ‘Chrome Apps’ (apps that work offline).  If Evernote or Microsoft OneNote would come up with one, I would be totally psyched.  GDocs is good but the image inserting doesn’t really seem to keep pace with Evernote/OneNote for my blog writing style.

Would I recommend the Chromebook?  Yes, with conditions.  I wouldn’t recommend it as a primary machine to anyone outside my parents age bracket.  Most folks still have a need for some applications that aren’t Chrome Apps or some form of offline app.  Would I use the Chromebook to replace my Windows or Mac machines?  Not as a daily driver.  But as a ‘second screen’ or light ‘companion’ machine, you really can’t do any better than a Chromebook.  Especially for less than 200 bucks!

Home Cloud Providers…My take

My friend John Appleby penned a post on his blog (People, Process & Technology), waxing poetic about the different cloud providers he was using at home and his thoughts on how they were working out.  I started to write a pretty lengthy comment with my opinion, but it ended up being WAY too long for a blog comment.  But short enough for a blog entry!  Here we go…my take on personal cloud providers.

Music- iTunes Match & Amazon Music

I signed up for iTunes Match and it seems to work fine.  With a tween daughter, I am mainly buying music via the iTunes store because it makes managing music on her iPhone easy to manage.  Since I am an Amazon Prime member, Amazon Music makes pretty good sense since the 20GB Cloud Drive storage comes with Prime and music does NOT count against that limit.  I end up using Amazon Music as my ‘backup’ for iTunes.  Since my iTunes library lives on an iMac, I usually run the Amazon MP3 sync application once a month or so to upload/match everything to the cloud.  It also allows me to get to my library from my Win7 laptop (small SSD, so minimal music stored locally) and my Kindle Fire HD.  Frankly, I use Pandora One much more than my local iTunes library.  Then again, my iTunes Recent Purchases playlist looks like a Tween girl’s: OneDirection, Demi Lovato and Taylor Swift.  

File Storage: Many!

Ah..this is the doozy.  I have an account for all of the main players: Dropbox, Amazon Cloud, Google Drive, Microsoft SkyDrive.  Dropbox is my main vehicle of choice, mainly for the super-swift syncing.  I have rarely had an issue with Dropbox syncing anything.  But I am almost out of room for the free plan and I am going to need to think about what to do.  Believe it or not, I am considering switching to Microsoft SkyDrive.  I have 45GB of free space there, (additional is thanks to my Office365 subscription) and I am currently using SkyDrive to backup my Dropbox.  The setup is kinda like ‘Inception’ for cloud storage providers: I installed Dropbox on one PC, then installed SkyDrive.  Next, I moved my Dropbox to inside my SkyDrive folder.  This works pretty well, but since I have it on my notebook, it’s not an ‘always on’ sort of arrangement. I may move it to my iMac at some future point.  The Windows client for SkyDrive has been pretty solid, but I need to test it out on the Mac to be sure if I want to a full switch.  Otherwise, I might just have to pony up and buy a larger Dropbox.

Photos: iPhoto, Flickr, Picasa

This is where John and I depart a bit.  I am not even an ‘amateur’ photographer.  So iPhoto, Flickr and Picasa work perfectly fine for me.  I use iPhoto on my iMac for the pictures, where I then upload them to either Flickr or Picasa Web Albums.  Picasa is usually the web albums of choice, as Staci and I can use apps on our mobile devices to see the pictures.  This just means that I have to actually download the pictures off the camera and upload it.  I just wish that there was an ‘official’ plug-in for iPhoto and Picasa anymore.  I don’t like using the actual Picasa app on the Mac.

Email: Gmail

Easy- Gmail wins.  My domain emails are Google App based, and I have a bunch of other Gmail accounts that get used.  On my iMac, works alright.  On Windows, Postbox is the best $10 bucks I ever spent for email.  I have Outlook 2013, but I haven’t attached any accounts, as Postbox works so well with Gmail!  The only downside to Gmail is that the Gmail App is sluggish on my iPad2 and I don’t like that there’s not push available for Gmail on iOS anymore.  This is one of the reasons I’m actually considering going Android for my next phone. (But that’s a separate post that I’m working on!)

OK…perhaps I’m not using the cloud stuff as much as John.  And I’m OK with that.  I’ve got lots of local backups going on, but am worried about physical drive failure.  That’s why I’m adding another bucket here- backup.


While my iMac is using Time Machine and has been pretty solid, I’ve had to move a lot of my media (movies, photos, large download storage) to external hard drives.  I do worry about physical drive failures for those, so I’ve started to research online backup.  I’ve narrowed it down to two providers: JungleDisk and CrashPlan.  The geek in my like JungleDisk, as I can access my backed up files via Amazon S3 storage.  But there’s a cost to that access.  Do I really want to pay that extra to access files in the cloud that I can get to already via other cloud solutions (Dropbox/SkyDrive, LogMeIn)?  

The cost-benefit analysis lead me to CrashPlan.  CrashPlan+ Unlimited is only $4 a month for one PC, compared to almost double for JungleDisk+S3 (but with multi-computer access).  All of the drives I will be backing up are connected to one computer (the iMac), so the single PC charge is OK.  (I am installing DropBox on Abby’s Macbook to backup her files, since outside of schoolwork, she doesn’t have anything that doesn’t reside on the iMac.  I will fully worry about her situation when she gets to high school.)  

CrashPlan seems to get high marks, so I’ll be making use of it post haste.

Well, that about does it for this blog comment blog.  Stay tuned for a quick review of CrashPlan, as well as a post where I try to figure out whether to go iOS or Android for my new phone. 

Network of Truth? One Version of the Truth? YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!

The gents over at the Diversified Semantic Layer (Greg Myers, Jamie Oswald and Eric Vallo) podcast had themselves a spirited discussion around SAP Analytics latest mantra, ‘The Network of Truth’. Make sure to check out the show notes over on SCN for a good laugh and handy reference guide, too. The discussion was always cordial, but got animated when discussing Greg’s theory that perhaps the ‘Network of Truth’ may have some legs to it.  I left this comment on Eric’s Show Notes blog: “I’m going to lean towards Greg’s side of the rumble. I agree with a lot of what he’s saying, plus it’ll be a fair fight now.”  I figured I’d expand that thought a little bit outside the SCN comment box.

I see where Greg is going with his line of thinking.  The whole ‘Network of Truth’ theory (and not the SAP marketing end of it- take the tools out of the equation and think in broader terms) is something along the lines of the evolution of how people utilize data. My take? As data access becomes faster and faster, conventional relational data warehouses become a commodity. Some businesses will require a data warehouse structure in order to aggregate disparate sources, group it together and make it logical.  But it won’t need to live in a slower relational data warehouse.  If the analytics tools that access that data don’t adapt, they’ll be left behind.

To Jamie’s point, ad hoc and ‘green bar’ reporting won’t be going away anytime soon, either.  Folks are going to want formatted reports, ad hoc report access and the like for years to come.  The question should be: How do we manage the needs and expectations of those ‘classic’ users with the changes and new methodology that newer analytics tools are seeming to bring?  Think about it- just a few years ago, BI teams were just getting their hands around analytics for mobile devices!  What will the landscape look like in the next 5 years?  A common semantic layer, perhaps?  Jamie and I are agreement about what we think the benedits of a unified semantic layer could be. (Heck, we’ve both blogged about it before.)

But like a fully implemented ‘Network of Truth’, a common semantic layer (likely based on HANA) is some time in the future.  Then again, so are Greg’s musings from the podcast. It’s going to take transformational changes in how we consume and utilize data to see where the ‘next big thing’ is coming from…and leading us to.

March Madness Road Trip Diary

<I’ve been meaning to get this out, but life seems to always get in the way.  I wanted to document as many details as possible, this way I don’t forget any as I get any older!>

With losses to Saint Louis and Butler, an entry to the NCAA Mens Basketball Tournament was looking bleak for La Salle University.  But with the last pick, the NCAA Selection Committee chose the Explorers for a First Round/First Four game against Boise State University.  Formerly known as a ‘Play-In Game’, it was still a seat at the table for my alma mater.  Not having played a tournament game in 20 years, this  was big and I decided that I was going to drive to Dayton to see the game.  Surprising me though, was Staci’s suggestion that I take Abby along for the ride. It was the beginning of the new quarter, her extended spring break started a few days later and she’s a straight A student.  Spending some quality father/daughter time was alright by me.  I rented a car from our local Enterprise office and we left Wednesday morning and drove to Dayton, Ohio.  The University of Dayton arena was the First Four site to see whether the Explorers would come away with a #13 seed and enter the bracket of 64.

What I didn’t expect was to enter one of the most memorable two week periods of my entire life. A roller coaster ride for my family, alma mater and friends that could be described as ‘once in a lifetime’.  So here’s the long-form Travel Diary!

Day 1: Royersford to Dayton

  • 8 hour drive
  • 520 miles

We headed off in our trusty Enterprise rental, a Mazda 6.  I’ve always had good luck with renting Mazda’s from Enterprise, as they usually include Bluetooth and are pretty comfortable to drive.  I decided to tempt fate and told the clerk to give me unlimited miles all the way to Missouri, just in case.

We left Royersford and headed due west.  The lovely PA Turnpike and I-70 was our trek and we arrived at our hotel in Dayton a little before 3ish.  By good luck, we ran into Jim Gulick in the hotel lobby, La Salle Athletics Alumni head and he gave us a parking pass and instruction to the night’s Pre-Game Reception.  Abby and I caught a few hours rest and headed down to the reception, where we ran into some good friends and fellow road trippers from Royersford!  It was great to see Wade Brosius and his son Jack had the same idea as we did.

This was the most common sight of the road trip.

Picking up our tickets from the players/VIP entrance was pretty neat and we headed into the Dayton arena.  What a great spot for basketball!  The arena was large, but not monstrous. I think that an arena like Dayton’s is something that La Salle could strive for, as long as the entire University community is behind it.

It was great to see an actual crowd of folks there rooting the team on.  Students made the drive from Philly, as well as alumni, both local to Ohio and not.  Even seemed that the Dayton fans who stayed were rooting for a fellow Atlantic 10 team. Of course, I would be remiss in discussing fans rooting for the team without mentioning our very own ‘Glitter Bro’!  It was great to see the energy that he brought to each game and more importantly, am proud to call him friend and brother.  Big props to Lieutenant Colonel Douglas LeVien, USA.  Ringleader of the Glitter Bros, Sigma Phi Epsilon brother and friend.  Way to represent!

Final Score: La Salle 80, Boise State 71

First Round Score…AKA ‘Play-in Game’.

Staci, Abby and I decided- Father & Daughter would drive to the Round of 64 (Second Round) game in Kansas City.  Our alma mater was now a #13 seed, set to face off against #4 Kansas State in what seemed to be a home game for K-State.

Thoughts and ideas on HANA…definitely not at HANA speed.

(Opening Note: I do not profess to be a HANA or 'big data' expert. I'm primarily an Analytics architect in a relational world. But I'm a geek and HANA intrigues me.) That curiosity has definitely been piqued in over the last month, starting with the launch of HANA Enterprise Cloud right before Sapphire/ASUG Annual Conference. And of course, the subsequent references during and after the conference.

The overall picture has begun to become a bit clearer through the murky waters. I've been using these blogs as my primers:


Since I do not profess myself a HANA guru, I have NO intention of writing anything to the level of the above. But from the outside looking in, what does all of this movement seem to say? SAP is pushing forward with it's 'all in' HANA strategy, correct? Given the technical effort, marketing push and recent news- that's pretty obvious.

On that note, I've heard some interesting discussions regarding the latest HANA Enterprise Cloud and HANA Cloud Platform announcements. Some SI's/partners/consultants think that SAP might be moving into some of their key spaces. Others think SAP is taking a logical step by offering these services and challenging partners to step up their game, while reaping the benefit of solidifying the HANA market with a level of expertise that currently SAP (and a few select partners) can currently offer. Personally, I think that only time and actual customer purchasing will really tell. Once HANA becomes a commodity, does SAP bow out of the cloud hosting model? These are probably questions that don't have clear answers now, only in the future. But it doesn't make them any less fun to discuss.

Turning to my home turf, what about Analytics? There has been a lot of discussion back and forth about the future of the semantic layer. Today, each semantic layer has a necessary use case/requirement. But what about in the future? Does HANA survive 'the Game' and take 'the Prize'? There can be only one.

Can (or even should) SAP really position HANA as the one 'semantic layer to rule them all'? Companies who can't/won't buy HANA as a database may be open to purchasing HANA as a 'BI Accelerator'. At this point- is HANA any different than installing the 'accelerator' server for other vendor's Analytics tools? Can I can model my data views in HANA and since all the SAP BI tools connect to HANA natively, HANA BI Accelerator Edition is the semantic layer? In the perfect world of my brain- this works. Of course, the reality is starkly different. Licensing, fees, server installs and configurations, designer tools…the list could go on and on.

Think about the possibilities. One semantic layer: a common business layer that brings a single vision of your data. (Yes, yes- I am sure that some may call this data federation. But in some enterprises, that is a 'dirty term' and not easily implemented.) Perhaps that's too Utopian of a vision. Disparate systems, databases, security requirements- that is the reality in most enterprises. What if I could model my HANA layer to connect to my big relational warehouse and a smaller departmental database; bring the data back into HANA and make it available for my Analytics tools. Once my query is done, the dataset is blown away- no persistence. This makes HANA an Analytics 'Appliance' or 'Accelerator' and not an 'in-memory' database. Are there use cases for this kind of implementation?

Perhaps another option is to break out the database from the application engine and use the engine only as your new semantic layer? Instead of connecting to a UNV/UNX/etc, you connect to a 'model' that lives in HANA. No data is brought back, HANA acts as the semantic layer to your data. SAP or agnostic datasources? Doesn't matter. BI developers now have one tool to connect and model. Use cases for this particular implementation may be easier to come by, but is it actually doable?

Did you notice a lot of questions above? Me too- that's why I wrote this blog. I think that there are still untapped markets and possibilities regarding HANA. Does SAP continue to drive the market to a place it thinks and hope that when it gets there, the price and time to production are commiserate with the public perception (and reality)? Or can SAP let the marketplace drive where to go next?


Windows 8 Impressions…and why I went back to Windows 7

I have been slowly connecting all of my Windows 8 notes for a few months now and was getting ready to put together a whole long detailed ‘Impressions’ blog.  I even hinted at it when I left a comment on my buddy Dallas Marks’ Windows 8 blog entry.  And then it happened.  I finally lost all patience with Windows 8 and spent 3 hours formatting and reinstalling Windows 7 back on my laptop.   Was it just an angry overreaction?  Perhaps.  Was it that my laptop wasn’t 100% compatible with Windows 8 and it was a bad idea to install?  Perhaps.  Am I glad that it’s gone and back to Windows 7?  Yup.

Here’s the hardware we’re dealing with today:

We’re playing with a Dell Inspiron 1121, also known as a Dell 11z.  The specs are:

  • Intel Core i3 ULV
  • 64 bit Capable
  • 6GB RAM
  • 128 GB Samsung 470 SSD (90GB free space)
    • (Upgraded RAM and SSD)
  • 11″ Screen w/a built-in Sprint WiMAX 4G card

For those who know me, this is the laptop you see me with at conferences and such.  Pretty light, easily transported and with the upgraded SSD and RAM, fairly snappy for what I need it to do:

  • Email (trying Postbox right now, since 99% of my email accounts are Gmail based)
  • Internet Stuff (Social Media, Reddit, etc…)
  • Blogging/Note taking (Evernote, Windows LiveWriter)
  • Light BI Development, mainly web based or via RDC.  But with local installs of SAP Visual Intelligence & SAP Dashboard Designer.
  • Content Creation (Presentations, PDFs, MS Office, etc…)

That’s about it.  A light to medium duty notebook, mainly for internet-ing and making stuff.  In no way is it meant to be a hard-core development machine.  So, I thought that this PC would be a natural candidate for a Windows 8 upgrade.  The majority of my content is stored in Dropbox, so a quick backup and I was off to upgrade.  I documented my upgrade process, as well as the Windows 8 ‘impression’ notes I made along the way. You can find these notes on Page 2 of this blog.

I won’t bore you with the list of differences between Windows 7 and Windows 8- countless blogs and articles are out there for your reading pleasure.  I have three main reasons for going back:

  1. Desktop/Metro app switching.  Chrome- some features only work in desktop mode.
  2. Wireless connectivity.  Or lack of consistency.
  3. Sleep mode.  Lack of consistency.  Sensing a theme?

Ok, maybe you can chalk up #1 to a lack of familiarity with Windows 8. But after a solid three months of use, I never could get used to the whole Metro vs Desktop setup.  I also wasn’t a fan of having two apps installed for the same thing.  Evernote is a great example- at launch, the Metro app wasn’t a full featured client.  You needed to use the Desktop version to do real rich text formatting and features. A Metro app finally came, but it still wasn’t as fully featured.  GMail? When you opened Metro Chrome, you would get a popup that Voice calling was only supported in the Desktop.  And I never got to really use IE10, as the ‘cool’ Metro version only was available if you chose IE as your default browser.

Reasons #2 and #3 seemed to broach a theme.  Like any new OS, there will be times where behaviors aren’t fully consistent. And maybe since I wasn’t using a PC that was ‘certified’ for Windows 8, I shouldn’t have expected it to play nice all the time. But when the OS is set to go to sleep when you close the lid and you close the lid, it should sleep.  Not Windows 8. Even after updates, it would work ONCE and then I had to always press the power button.  This got old, REALLY quickly.  Same for the Wifi.  It would disconnect instantly at sleep and take FOREVER (scientifically proven, of course) to reconnect when woken up.

There were also the little things that drove me crazy: Having to use my Hotmail address as my login token.  (The only reason I still have a working Hotmail account is that I use it for Xbox Live!) The ‘Messaging’ app that like to announce that I had a Facebook message come in, but then wouldn’t load any more of the conversation if I took focus off it.  The fact that in Metro, I had to CTRL-C to see the time, as the clock was only on the Desktop side of the house.  And the fact that my Desktop picture was only on the Desktop and not the Metro side.

At the end of the day, Windows 8 wasn’t worth the frustration and learning curve.  If I had to buy a new Ultrabook, I would make sure that it had a touchscreen.  I kept feeling like I should just touch the Live Tiles.  As touchscreens become more prevelent and apps all become Metro native, I think Windows 8 will find its place.  But right now, it’s just not the right OS for my needs.

<Geeky installation & application notes follow on Page 2>

When worlds collide- Enterprise Technology & FPS Gaming

I found the two videos below on the ‘Montage Parodies’ subreddit (section of and tweeted out the links for laughs.  I received some funny responses and retweets, but most people didn’t quite understand what was so funny.  So, I figured I’d take a minute to explain why these made me laugh and want to share.

The background for these clips revolve around video games, specifically first person shooters like the Call of Duty series. Gamers would take their ‘favorite’ moments, add some catchy music and post their montage online.  Naturally, montages became a competition in themselves, with more people adding complex transitions and special effects. And with that kind of competition occurring, parody was soon to follow. The parodies usually included mixing gaming clips (good and bad moments), techno or dubstep music, random gamer shouting and of course, silly pictures flashed in. Usually things like snack foods and energy drinks popular with gamers were included in the parodies. The more ridiculous, the better.  A Train simulator montage? Sure- Go for it. (Caution: if you’re susceptible to flash induced seizures, I would steer away.  Plus, it is REALLY LOUD and has some PG-13 language.)    

Now, these particular parodies are obviously geared towards SAP professionals who are also gamers (like myself).  That’s why I found them an fun way to mix work and play. And definitely shareable.  Plus, what SAP-er wouldn’t love a video with a flash of Bill McDermott’s awesomeness! 

SAPVisi Hard Mode

Spreadsheets: Minimal Scopes

If you’re a gamer (casual or serious) or just want a good laugh- take a second to check out these videos. (Remember to wear headphones if you’re in the office!)  To the person responsible- thanks for the laughs!  I enjoyed the funnies about SAPVisi and ‘spreadsheets’.  It’s nice to take swipe at our day jobs sometimes!