What’s in my bag? (start of 2018)

I recently discovered WordPress main-man Matt Mullenweg’s “what’s in my bag” posts (here is Matt’s 2017 bag-roster), and the various folk online inspired by him to provide their own accounts. My wife keeps asking me why I feel the need to carry so many gadgets, leads and other “clobber” around, although she is honest enough to be grateful when she needs a phone-charge and invariably hasn’t brought her own kit 😛

Photo of my bag and its contents (start of 2018)
My bag and its contents (start of 2018)

It will become quite clear that I like my gadgets (or “toys”, as I can hear my better-half calling them), so let me waste no more time, and get you introduced…

The bag itself

Photo of Osprey bag
Osprey bag

I was carrying around one of two bags I’d had for years, that were looking increasingly dog-eared. That isn’t a big concern for me, but my wife thinks differently, and one day a year or so ago, she insisted on finding me a new bag that would look less student-y and hopefully last a long time. We visited an Osprey outlet, where I chose this one—it has multiple compartments and pockets, as well as a “divider” in the main area inside.To my wife’s puzzlement, I do tend to keep quite a few items in this bag, but it’s so well-made it can hold them whilst somehow not looking overly “stuffed” (to my eyes, at least). I wonder if there’s some kind of Mary Poppins thing going down in there.

I also picked up an inexpensive “cable organiser” from Amazon UK, which does a very serviceable job of keeping my various leads and adapters (USB, HDMI, etc.) together, as well as a few of the items below, for a silly price. (See below for the contents.) As and when it falls apart, I’d probably just buy another one to replace it.

Laptop/tablet

Photo of ASUS Chromebook Flip C100PA, closed
ASUS Chromebook Flip C100PA

My main computer out of the house is… well, both of these in one: an Asus Chromebook Flip C100PA. A hybrid of a laptop and a tablet, this machine can be used either as a “regular” laptop, or “flipped around” so that the keyboard is folded against the back of the screen, turning it into a tablet. (For that matter, there’s also a “tent” mode, halfway between the two.)

I’m quite happy with Chrome OS, as it does pretty much everything I really need from a computer in most situations (and for the rest, there’s my iPhone and Raspberry Pi Zero W—see below). Moreover, as someone who used an Asus Eee 701SD (the original “netbook”, with a 7” display) for a number of years, I find the Chromebook Flip C100PA’s extra-small size (10.1”) a benefit rather than a drawback, not least because it fits snugly into the gadget bag. For what it’s worth: I also love the Flip’s looks—stylish aluminium, like a baby MacBook. I don’t have to try hard, to imagine this machine as an Apple-made product (running iOS?).

I also picked up a Neoprene “sleeve” to give the Flip a bit of extra protection inside the bag, as I want this little fella to last.

Mobile phone

My Apple iPhone 6S, which isn’t shown in the group portrait above, largely because I was using it to take all the photos here. The 6S does all the usual smartphone-y things you might expect, and I also use it as my ultra-portable music-production/recording studio, though that’s another (and long) story…

USB mains charger

Photo of Caseflex 6-port USB charger
Caseflex 6-port USB charger

As every gadget-fan is painfully aware, you can never have enough USB charging ports (especially if you are away from home with your family, and the members all need their phones re-powering).

I was fortunate enough to pick up a Caseflex 10A/50W six-port USB mains charger whilst Amazon UK was selling them. It’s a great charger for various reasons: it feels solid and well-made, and its six “smart-sensing” ports can give out up to 10A between them, which is enough for all the USB devices I carry around (and a couple more besides).

Moreover, the charger is dual-voltage (240V/110V), and the mains power connection uses a standard two-pin socket for easy swapping of cables. This means the charger can be used in practically any country with mains electricity—it served us well on our last family trip to South Korea, where we only needed the one charger for all our USB-powered devices.

Power bank

Photo of EasyAcc 20000mAh USB power bank
EasyAcc 20000mAh USB power bank

Sometimes, though, you’ll be away from a handy mains socket, and prior to our last trip to Seoul (where I knew my family would need phone-charging on a long day out), I picked up this EasyAcc 20000mAh power bank with four USB ports. This particular behemoth weighs nearly half a kilo, but as it can charge an average iPhone around ten times over, it has proven its worth to us on plenty of occasions.

Normally, a 20000mAh battery would take an eternity to charge over USB… so the EasyAcc has a rare ace up its sleeve, or rather two: a 4A pair of micro-USB input ports. If you have a USB mains charger with multiple ports—with each capable of delivering over 2A—the EasyAcc can be charged from zero to full power using both charging inputs, in around six hours. Fortunately, the Caseflex (above) can do this without breaking a sweat.

Travel router

Photo of travel router, hard drive and Raspberry Pi Zero W
Travel router, hard drive and Raspberry Pi Zero W

As a kind of networking “Swiss army knife”, I think the HooToo TripMate Mini is ideal for me. It has a dizzying range of features, including network-connection sharing and bridging (Ethernet and wireless), a 6000mAh battery for use as a power bank, network-attached storage (NAS) functionality (via MicroSD and USB mass storage) and file and media servers. All this comes in a device barely larger than a box of matches, which fits comfortably into my cable organiser.

Unfortunately, it looks as if the TripMate Mini has been discontinued, and no other HooToo travel router offers quite as many options. The TripMate Versatile matches most of the Mini’s features, and adds a couple more (a higher-capacity internal battery; the ability to use a USB hub), but it is considerably larger in size and lacks a built-in MicroSD card slot.

Data storage

Photo of USB hub, hard drive, MicroSD card and USB flash drive
USB hub, hard drive, MicroSD card and USB flash drive

Unsurprisingly, I have a few options when it comes to ferrying files around with me…

The main storage device I use on the move, is a Toshiba Canvio Basics 500GB USB3 hard drive. I could’ve bought a higher-capacity model, but my budget at the time was pretty tight, and I wanted to format it with exFAT to facilitate using the drive with as many devices as possible. I can either plug it straight into the Chromebook if I need extra speed, or if I want to share its contents with my other devices, I connect the drive to the TripMate Mini. (Interesting technical aside: when unmounting the hard drive, the TripMate sends it a “spin down” command—which our Mac does, but which the Chromebook (like Windows PCs) doesn’t.)

For those moments when a USB flash-drive is the best option, I keep an 8GB PNY metal “stick” on my keyring (not in the bag, but go with it here). I also have a 32GB Class 10 Sandisk Ultra MicroSDXC card, which depending on circumstances I slot into either my Chromebook, the TripMate (it has a built-in MicroSD card slot for sharing the card’s contents between the router’s users), or the tasteful lime-green USB SD/MicroSD card-reader I picked up from Poundland (which works fine).

USB hub

This is particularly useful with the Chromebook Flip, which packs just two USB2 ports (and you always “need” more than you have). I bought this hub before the Chromebook—but when I was pretty sure the latter would be mine soon—as I thought the design of the hub matched the all-aluminium Flip quite nicely. (The small but bright LED activity indicator lights on the Chromebook and the hub look remarkably similar too.)

Handily, the hub also includes an Ethernet port, for those moments when a Chromebook could benefit from a wired network link (and the travel router isn’t a better option, or isn’t working, or whatever).

Raspberry Pi Zero W

Remember earlier, how I said I could do most of what I wanted on a computer with a Chromebook? Well… for the times when “most” comes into play, there’s my Raspberry Pi Zero W. I use it mainly for document-processing and conversion (usually from Markdown to LaTeX, PDF and OpenDocument) with pandoc, converting audio to FLAC or MP3, and anything else where a Linux “box” would come in handy, especially if it could fit in a (large) matchbox.

Hang on, though… that’s an odd-looking RasPi? In a 3D-printed “dongle” enclosure… with a full-size USB plug on one end? Yes: “zero” has a ZeroStem board soldered onto it, which turns the Pi into an Ethernet USB “gadget”, as well as allowing USB powering of the machine. Sadly, the Chromebook doesn’t support Ethernet USB “gadgets” (nor, apparently, Zeroconf or mDNS), so I generally power the Zero from the USB charger (or power bank), fire up the travel router and let the Zero auto-connect to WiFi. It’s a handy way to extend my computing options, especially when the Zero is so easily transportable.

Cables and adapters

Photo of assorted computing adapters
A gathering of adapters

S*d’s Law Of Connectivity states that the one cable or connector you need in a tight spot, is the one you left at home that day (or never had in the first place). I try and ensure I have at least one of every type of cable I know I’ll need, and where possible, two (or even more) of the likes of micro-USB leads. (Still wondering why I got the aforementioned cable-organiser?)

At time of writing, I keep four (!) micro-USBs of various lengths (including one retractable) in the bag, as I regularly get asked if I have a spare. I also pack a Belkin retractable Ethernet lead, USB2 and USB3 extension cables, an HDMI-to-micro-HDMI lead (for the Chromebook), an AmazonBasics “braided” Lightning-USB cable, an Apple USB-Lightning “camera connection” adapter, a USB OTG lead for the Raspberry Pi Zero, a Portapow USB “Smart Charge”/data-blocker (or “USB condom” (!)) and a brace of USB and HDMI couplers. If I suspect I may need it, I can throw in the ChampSun HDMI-to-VGA adapter I normally use for our ancient Philips TFT monitor.

I don’t usually get “caught out” with that lot in the bag, but if I’m taking a flight, you can understand why I put most of it in the hold luggage…

Headphones

Photo of MPow H8 Bluetooth headphones on top of carrying case
MPow H8 Bluetooth headphones

For Christmas 2017, a family member made it possible for me to land some “budget” active noise-cancelling Bluetooth phones from Amazon UK (MPow H8). I know it’s almost a tradition for these “bag-tours” to include a “reassuringly expensive” set of Bose or Sennheiser cans, but I have neither the funds nor the justification, and these MPow phones sound and work fine for me.

At time of writing, I still have to find a good testing-ground to try out the noise cancellation, but the “passive” (over-ear) type does a pretty good job on its own. I think I’m going to need a bigger bag to accommodate the phones, especially in their rather spacious carrying case!

Handheld monopod

Yes, I own a “selfie-stick”. So neeeeerrr 😛 Seriously: I find this another “nice to have on you” item, and it takes less space in the bag than one might expect.

Out of the three types of stick you generally find out there (no shutter-control; shutter-control that uses your phone’s headphone-jack; shutter-control via built-in Bluetooth), I wanted a Bluetooth one. The SAMAR stick I bought, offers the best balance of functionality and low-price that I have yet found. I just have to remember to charge it up every now and then, to ensure it works when I actually need it.

The “substitutes’ bench”

(or, the items I might add to my “gadget-armoury” as and when needed…)

Allocacoc PowerCube

I admit it: I partly bought a PowerCube USB because I thought it looked like a “cool” concept… but also because I’d been watching out for some time, for a reasonably “compact” multi-socket adapter with USB charging ports, for travelling with. You know the drill: you get on a train or coach with power-sockets by the seats, only to find that the fellow-traveller next to you wants to use it as well…

My PowerCube is a four-UK-socket (Type G, BS 1363) model with two USB ports (putting out a total of 2.1A between them), so providing the devices aren’t too “thirsty”, the built-in fuse shouldn’t pop. This PowerCube also comes with four swappable mains input plugs, for the four most common mains electric sockets you’ll find around the world. The ‘Cube’s internal power connection is a 3-pin IEC (“kettle-lead”) plug/socket, so I can use an IEC cable to turn the adapter into an extension lead. (This is actually a sound idea for any plug/socket less robust than the UK type—that is, most of them—as plugging this beast straight into a US wall-outlet is a likely recipe for bent/broken plug pins.)

The main reason I don’t generally carry the PowerCube around in my bag: it’s just too big! At nearly 10cm along every edge, the ‘Cube is a chunky creature, so it either needs to go in a second bag, or better still, a suitcase. Still very useful, though—for travelling, and for avoiding awkward moments on a train or coach…

Video-streamer

Although I carry an HDMI cable for my Chromebook, sometimes it’s preferable to plug in a video-streamer device to a TV in a hotel room (where they make this feasible, naturally). We use both a Chromecast (the “hockey-puck” version) and a 2014-edition Roku Streaming Stick at home, and both are set up to connect to the travel router for their networking needs.

Well, that’s the theory. In practice, I’ve had lots of trouble getting either device to co-operate with the TripMate when we’re out of the house. Either they don’t “see” the WiFi hotspot the TripMate generates, or (more with the Chromecast) they complain they can’t get on the Internet, even when other devices on the TripMate LAN can do so. Weird how everything seems to work properly when I test it all at home?

Bluetooth folding keyboard

Believe it or not, I used this eSYNiC Bluetooth keyboard a lot before I got my Chromebook—basically, turning my iPhone into a jury-rigged laptop substitute. It sees less use now, though if I have to do a lot of message-typing on the iPhone (and/or I really have to “travel light”), the keyboard is handy to have around. It is also fairly compact, although as the bag feels increasingly full these days, I don’t always pack the keyboard unless I know I really need it.

And finally…

…the odds and ends which you can see in the photo at the top, but I haven’t covered yet:

  • A debit-card reader from my bank. I try and keep one on me, in case I have to set up a transfer to someone I haven’t transferred to before. Maybe one day, their iPhone app might be able to authenticate me (via TouchID, perhaps?), but for now, I’ll need this device sometime.
  • Cheap USB optical mouse, for those (rare) occasions when the Chromebook’s touchpad “gets in the way”.
  • My work gate-pass.
  • Nail-clippers (and I keep this to myself…).
  • Two pens: a rather battered Parker which needs a new refill, and a backup which might be a bit more reliable at the moment.

And one item I purchased just after taking the “group shot” at the top of this post: an IKEA JANSJÖ USB LED lamp, for those moments when the Chromebook could do with a light on the keyboard.

Phew…

Now I come to write it all down: the poor old Osprey is a bit stuffed these days! I think I need to try and “rationalise” what I carry around with me on a regular basis, as much for the state of my back as anything else. At least I have a pretty good idea of what’s actually in the bag now.

I’m weighing up (pun semi-intended) whether to invest in a backpack at some point, as there are times when I’ll want to carry more than the poor old Osprey can squeeze in. Stay tuned…

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New EP: ‘Usualele’

Hope your summer is going well so far (if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, of course)…

A really quick post to let you know that I’ve just opened a window and let fly with a new EP [surely ‘let a new EP fly’? – Ed.]: it’s called “Usualele”, and contains four songs I recorded just with a couple of ukuleles and some iPhone instrument apps. My first attempt at “ukulele pop”, if you like.

You can find it on Bandcamp here:

I’ve also jotted down a few notes of possible interest, which you can find on the “Usualele” page of the “Music” section of this site.

Hope you like it… have an enjoyable summer!

Playing music from Logitech Media Server on Chrome OS

Since I acquired my first Chrome OS computer two months ago—an Asus Chromebit CS10—I have been pleasantly surprised by how few “holes” I have found in what I can actually do with the device. Far from being simply “a Web browser on a laptop”, as too many reviews of Chromebooks mistakenly dismiss them as (this isn’t 2013, people!), the Chrome OS platform allows users to undertake a pretty wide range of computing tasks (increasingly, not requiring an active network/Internet connection). Now that many “Chromedevices” are getting support for Android apps, the choice of software available to owners has never been wider.

That’s not to say there are no gaps, of course, and one item I really missed was a Logitech Squeezebox player/controller app. We have a Synology NAS server running Logitech Media Server, which serves audio to the Squeezebox Duet connected to the hi-fi in our lounge, and also to any software players on our home network (such as SqueezePlay on our Mac, and iPeng on my iPhone).

Sadly, no Squeezebox player software has been ported to Chrome OS, and although there are Squeezebox player apps for Android (such as SqueeezePlayer), at time of writing the Chromebit hasn’t received Android app support, although apparently it is on the way for 2017.

I had a feeling that there must be some means of playing networked audio from the Synology box on a Chrome OS machine… and this morning I had a moment of inspiration, which turned out to work. Even better: it supports Logitech Media Server, which meant I didn’t have to mess around with any other servers.

Screenshot of Movian playing music from Logitech Media Server
Movian playing music from Logitech Media Server

The key Chrome OS app here is, ironically, one I had already installed for another purpose. Movian is a very capable UPNP/DLNA media player, which I had put on the Chromebit for playing video files from the DLNA server on the Synology box. This morning, it hit me: DLNA also serves audio and photos as well as video, so could Movian somehow play networked music from the Synology?

Well, to spoil the suspense: yes, it can, because it seems that LMS also supports UPNP/DLNA, at least to some degree. I started up Movian, chose the “Local Network” option, and was presented with two server options, both from the Synology: the UPNP/DLNA, and the LMS instance. I chose the latter… and I could browse the music collection there and listen to it. Even better: Movian supports FLAC playback, which is great for me as much of my music is in that format.

So: many thanks, Movian people… and I hope the above discovery helps someone else!

New album: “…As It Goes”, and some thoughts on FAWM 2017

Without further preamble or ado… here is the Bandcamp release of my songs and compositions for FAWM 2017:

“…As It Goes: Songs From FAWM 2017” collects the 14 pieces I composed and recorded for this, the fifth FAWM challenge I have entered (and the fourth I completed, after 2015’s enforced dropping-out). How did I feel it went this year?

Well, as always, the frantic nature of the challenge—having to write and record a new piece on average every 48 hours, for the four weeks of February, means that one does not have the luxury of dismissing that many ideas when they land in your mind! This usually means that my FAWM output is usually almost crazily diverse, and 2017 tended to follow that pattern:

  • “Rockers” (“Through The Looking Glass”, “Friday Night”, “16 Valentine’s Days”);
  • mid-tempo acoustic-style (“As It Goes”, “Serves Me Right”, “Fading Day”);
  • electropop (“One Way Street”, “The Container Ship”);
  • solo guitar songs (“It Was Enough For Us”, “Philosophical Moment”);
  • ukulele pop (“Time To Dream”, “Going Round The Tearooms”); and
  • instrumentals (“Hide The Lute”, “Figure 8”)

On the technical front, this was the first collection of songs which I have recorded entirely on an iPhone (6S). I have used iPhone and iPad (and, when I started doing so in 2011–12, on an iPod Touch) for a lot of my recording since 2012, but for FAWM 2017 I only used our Logic-based Mac home studio for mixing the material from the iPhone.

The only new instruments I brought in this time around, were my Risa Solid electric tenor ukulele (which I wrote and recorded a few tracks with) and a Meinl Travel Cajon (you can hear this on “Friday Night”). I thought I would introduce more “electronica”/electropop into my pieces this time around, but I found I just didn’t have time to experiment, due to FAWM’s relentless pace. I did, however, put together two songs using Caustic, an electronic music-production app which I hope to make more use of for a near-future new project.

How do I feel about FAWM 2017 itself, now I can look back having completed it?

Well: this time felt… tough. Frankly, a real slog at times, and I came close more than once to just dropping out. I didn’t have a problem with anyone except myself—my energy levels and overall “verve” were low-to-vapour, and quite often I just wanted to run away somewhere and sleep for half the month. Paradoxically, I am actually quite pleased with my output this FAWM—perhaps slightly down on what I feel was the “high-water mark” of 2016, with a couple of perhaps-less-than-totally-inspired items, but overall not too bad at all.

Anyway: here’s FAWM 2017, “…As It Goes”. Hope you enjoy it!

Asus Chromebit CS10: a new owner’s thoughts

(A quick note before we get started: I wrote this rather lengthy (spoiler alert!) post almost entirely using the device I am writing about here, using StackEdit, a really useful online Markdown editor with an even handier Chrome extension. Because StackEdit can sync MD documents with Google Drive and (even better for me) Dropbox, I can also edit them with Byword on my iPhone, which has Dropbox sync as well. Furthermore, both apps can publish MD documents to services such as Blogger, Medium and WordPress… which is how this got online 🙂 )

Recently, thanks to an Amazon gift card from Christmas and a pretty good Amazon Warehouse deal, I was able to “land” a gadget I’ve been keeping an eye on ever since Google announced it as a “reference design” in 2015.

Photo of Asus Chromebit CS10 computer on striped surface
Asus Chromebit CS10

The Asus Chromebit CS10, on the face of it, is an example of the “stick PCs” which have appeared over the last couple of years (possibly the best-known being Intel’s Compute Stick). Unlike most of these devices, which usually run either Android, or some flavour of Linux or Windows, the Chromebit (of which Asus’ CS10 is to date the only example of the “reference design” to go on sale) runs Google’s Chrome OS, which until now has powered Chromebooks (usually low-cost laptops) and Chromeboxes (small “set-top box”-type computers).

The Asus Chromebit CS10 looks like an oversized USB flash drive (with an HDMI connector on one end instead of USB). It has a power socket for a proprietary mains adapter, and a USB port on the opposite end to the HDMI plug. The CS10 is powered by a Rockchip quad-core RK3288C processor (as you might find in a more affordable Android tablet), and offers 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac WiFi and Bluetooth V4.0, as well as 2GB RAM and 16GB onboard storage. The storage isn’t expandable by memory cards (although it can access USB mass-storage connected to the device), but Chrome OS is designed to make use of “cloud” storage. (It is primarily focused on Google Drive, but as we’ll see, other services can be accessed.) As part of my purchase of the CS10, I got a two-year 100GB boost to my Google Drive account with the CS10. (It costs less than £2 per month after that, but I imagine I’ll go with that…)

I’ve been interested in Chrome OS for some time, as my family and I make quite a bit of use of Google services, and I figured I could use a Chrome OS computer quite happily as a “backup” machine, such as when our Mac is needed for more specialist tasks (e.g. music-production). Finally, recently I was able to “make a move” on a Chromebit, and between the Amazon gift card and Warehouse offer, I got the chance to turn our lounge TV into a secondary PC, for little over £60…

First steps

My expectations of the Chromebit were fairly modest, partly due to the cost, but also by having read most of the available reviews. Whilst generally positive, there was a common thread of “don’t push the thing too hard, or it struggles”. Personally, I’m not normally the type to have lots of browser tabs open (and by that I mean 20+, rather than three or four). Moreover, as we also have a Roku 2 plugged into the TV for video-streaming duties, I foresaw the Chromebit being spared “heavy” use, in favour of Web-browsing, emailing and other “light PC”-type tasks. I was also hopeful that the Chromebit might be able to act as a remote-access terminal (VNC, SSH, Citrix and the like), as for some reason our Mac has problems accessing certain systems this way.

Installation of the Chromebit was pretty painless. I connected the CS10’s power adapter (apparently, the prototype had a USB power connection, which would’ve been more convenient in some ways, but the device’s power needs apparently exceeded what USB could provide), and plugged into a spare HDMI port on the TV via the included HDMI extender cable. As I don’t have a Bluetooth keyboard/trackpad, but own a Logitech K400 2.4GHz wireless one, I plugged the K400’s “nano receiver” into the single USB port on the Chromebit. (Next accessory to buy: a USB hub with integrated Ethernet adapter.)

Power on… and the TV showed a white screen with a small “Chrome” logo. Less than five seconds later: we were at the setup screen. (I’ll jump the gun here, and say I am extremely impressed by how quickly the Chromebit boots from a cold start. Usually, I can log in within ten seconds of switching it on, which even my iPhone can’t quite match.) Slight oddity: the default language on first activation is Dutch, but to amend this I simply had to pass through to the next screen, where I could change the language as needed.

A couple of settings later (including the details for my wireless network of choice), and it was time to log into my Google account. (In passing: I read somewhere that the first account logged into on a Chrome OS device, becomes the “master” account for that machine. If you have a Chromebook, Chromebox, etc. which will be used by multiple accounts, you might want to bear this in mind.) One username, password and two-factor authentication code later, and I landed on a nicely-minimalist desktop, with a familiar-looking “taskbar” (or “shelf”, in Chrome OS terminology).

Within a couple of minutes, the extensions, apps, bookmarks and other settings from my Google account and Chrome setup, had all been imported and made available. I had to sign into a few Web services, but nothing too onerous; within ten minutes of switching on the Chromebit, I was basically up and running. (Did I mention I’d quite like a Chromebook now? 😉 )

I’m not going to write a guided tour of Chrome OS, as there are some really good sites out there which have done the job for me in that department. However, there are a few items that I have found useful already…

Hints and tips

The “Windows” key

Chrome OS has no shortage of useful keyboard shortcuts already set up (e.g. Win + L locks your screen; Alt + Shift + M opens the Files (file manager) app; etc.), but I found myself wondering if the Windows key on the K400 would go to waste. I shouldn’t have worried: some thoughtful soul at Google has mapped it to do the same job as the “Search” key on a Chromebook. That is, it pops up a Google search box, with access to the apps you have installed, and Google Now “cards” if you’ve enabled them. Good thinking, Google.

Adding other network/cloud storage to Files

The Files app is a decently-functional file-manager like Windows Explorer, which “out of the box” gives you access to your Google Drive, plus locally-stored files and any directly-connected mass storage devices (USB flash drives, hard disks, etc.).

However, you can also add a number of other cloud-storage providers’ services to Files, thanks to the “Add new services” option in the left-hand column. I have used this to add my Dropbox account, as well as our Synology NAS box (via the WebDAV service).

Take a screenshot

On a Chromebook (which, you may remember, has a keyboard layout with some differences to a “usual” PC one), you take a screenshot by pressing Ctrl + “window-switcher” (i.e. one of the Chrome OS top-row keys). So… what do you do on a Chromebit (or Chromebox) with a PC keyboard?

The answer, according to this article on Chrome Crunch, is delightfully simple: use the “Print Screen” key! On my Logitech K400 (which lacks a dedicated key for this), that’s Fn + Insert, and I can confirm it works fine for me. The captured image is placed in the “Downloads” folder, which, incidentally, isn’t backed up anywhere and will be emptied if you do a “Powerwash” (factory reset). As a result, I’d move the screenshot to (say) a folder in your Google Drive (or Google Photos) if you want to keep it.

Local printing

Ever since Chromebooks emerged a few years ago, one of the most common “gripes” along the way, has been the lack of any support for “local” printing—that is, with either directly-connected (USB) or network printers.

Historically, the only printing option with Chrome OS has been via Google Cloud Print, which involves sending your print jobs to Google, which then relays them onto your GCP-connected printer. GCP has its benefits, but concerns over security, privacy and reliability have never gone away, even for Chromebook fans.

Earlier this month, I found Chrome Unboxed’s article from December 2016, reporting that Chrome OS’ “Canary” (developer) channel had added local printing support, via the Common UNIX Printing System (CUPS) found in most Linux distributions.

I can update the Chrome Unboxed article in one respect: as of late February 2017, CUPS support has been added to the “stable” Chrome OS channel (i.e. you don’t have to switch to the unstable “Canary” channel to get it).

To find this option (and they make you look for it), in the Omnibar type

chrome://flags/

and scroll about three-quarters of the way down the page (or Ctrl + F and enter “Native CUPS”). Select “Enable” for this option and restart; you should then find a new “Printers” option on the Chrome OS Settings page. (If you’re viewing this on a Chrome OS device, you can try using this link to go directly to your new Printers page.)

I have yet to test this feature with the Chromebit, due mostly to the fact we are currently without a suitable printer to try it with, but as soon as I can give the feature a spin, I will report back here. Assuming it works as “trailed”, this is a major upgrade for Chrome OS devices, which in my view should be announced more prominently than it has been.

And speaking of major updates…

Android apps?

In May 2016, Google made a pretty momentous announcement: selected Chrome OS devices would, over time, be given the ability to install and run Android apps from the Google Play store. The impression I got from early coverage, was that this would only apply to newer and more “premium” machines, such as the Chromebook Pixel.

Not so, it seems… this list of Chrome OS devices due to receive the Android capability at “some time during 2017”, includes the Asus Chromebit CS10. Of course, some Android apps might have memory/CPU requirements beyond what the Chromebit can provide, but if even some of them will run acceptably, that should really extend the capabilities of this surprisingly capable little device.

Downsides to the Chromebit

You might get the idea that I’m rather pleased with the CS10, and you wouldn’t be mistaken in that… but surely there must be at least one or two “gripes” to liven things up here?

Well, yes, but they’re relatively minor, at least to date. One is that the Chromebit runs quite hot, especially if you do more than basic email, writing documents and so on. It hasn’t got to the point where I am concerned for its safety (or that of anything in the immediate area), but I’d say you wouldn’t want to be holding the device for very long.

Plenty of reviews have said how it doesn’t take long before the 2GB RAM in the Chromebit fills up during use, and the device slows down. I haven’t really noticed this when using the CS10, but then I don’t tend to be the kind of computer user who has tons of tabs open while also watching 1080p HD video on YouTube. For modest use (and situations where the heavy-lifting isn’t being done on the Chromebit), Asus’ Chrome OS stick works well, especially given its size and price.

Summing up, and going forward

Yep: I’m really fond of the Chromebit. In all honesty, at the price I got it for (barely twice as much as a Chromecast would have set me back), my expectations were modest, but I have been really impressed by what this chocolate bar-sized device is capable of. For average Web-browsing, emailing, document-writing, remote access and other non-supercomputing-type applications, the Chromebit is more than adequate, and that’s all I need it to be.

There are a couple of extra add-ons I’d like to try with the Chromebit. Firstly, I want to add a combo USB hub with integrated gigabit Ethernet adapter. This would expand the USB ports available from one to three, and also allow me to make use of a wired network connection. (I have read that the Chromebit might not be able to power such a device enough for it to work, in which case I would probably dust off my unused Belkin 7-port powered hub and go for a dedicated USB Ethernet adapter instead.)

In the meantime, at the end of this article… I’d give a qualified thumbs-up to the Asus Chromebit CS10. For what I want it for, it was definitely a worthwhile acquisition, and I look forward to further adventures with it—hopefully including local printing and Android app support!

FAWM 2017 is go!

A very quick post to let you know (if you haven’t picked it up from my other “outlets”) that FAWM (February Album Writing Month) 2017 is now underway. If you’re wondering how on earth someone can write and record, from scratch, 14 songs in the 28 days of February…

…well, you can keep track of my progress on my FAWM “artist page”, and you can follow my progress via my Twitter feed (where I’ll post notifications of my new uploads within seconds of them going live).

Must go… I’ve got the second song to write! (And here’s the first: “Through The Looking Glass”. See you along the way 🙂 )

New album: “Catherine Wheel”

A few days ago, I completed my third “run” at the annual NaSoAlMo (National Solo Album Month) songwriting/recording challenge, and here is the collective fruit-basket of my labours…


“Catherine Wheel” sees me have a go at producing some songs in a stripped-down, largely acoustic guitar-based approach. I had in mind, something along the lines of “Pink Moon” by Nick Drake and “Roman Candle” by Elliott Smith, but for all sorts of reasons I think this album came out a bit differently!

You may notice some variety in the sound between songs, as a result of me experimenting with microphone placement and the like (and also due to me mixing the songs as I went along). I suppose a bit of the old “spice of life” doesn’t hurt…?

Anyway, “Catherine Wheel” is a “name your price” download from my Bandcamp page (and yes, the price can be zero if you’re having one of those “tight” months). Upon purchase, you should get the option to download a CD inlay in PDF format, if you would find this of use and/or interest.

I’ll be adding a page on this album to the “My Music” section, at some stage in the future when I can get around to penning a note or two about how I made it all. In the meantime: hope you enjoy this little firework 🙂

(Update (Dec 2016): The “My Music” page for “Catherine Wheel” is now up, with a few more notes regarding the album and its making.)