All posts by abou

Google Pixelbook

I’ve consistently been an Android user since have to bid a sad farewell to my Blackberry Bold after tearing my hair out when the trackball needed cleaning yet again (if it wasn’t for the trackball issues, the Bold was a great phone at the time with an almost perfect keyboard for a mobile device).  Indeed, at the time, iPhones, not to mention Blackberry’s own Storm, with their on screen keyboards seemed like they were fighting a losing battle.  A few years on and we all tap happily away on screen and a physical keyboard on a phone seems like a bizarre historical artefact.


The switch to phones running Android with its inherent customisation options was a breath of fresh air and soon made me a dedicated convert who happily signed into the Google ecosystem.  In my dim and distant past, I was a big fan of the Amiga, rejecting the cumbersome IBM PC compatible computers of the day and, most of all, Windows.  I far preferred the flexibility offered by the Amiga OS but I could easily have gone down the Apple route too.  I just wasn’t a PC person!  I’m so glad that I didn’t follow the Apple route back in the day, though it was very tempting.  Mac OS still seems pretty awesome and iPhones are undeniably amazing at what they do.  However, the proprietary nature of much of their hardware and the locked-down nature of the iPhone’s OS would frustrate me no end.


Ultimately, this is a long winded way of explaining why, for example, I was one of the first to my a Google Pixel C when it launched. At £500 and a further £120 for the optional (pointless) without keyboard, this was an expensive way to replace my existing Motorola Xoom Android tablet.  It was also a fairly big gamble given Google’s so-so approach to supporting Android in tablet form.  Having said that, the Pixel C has proved to be a faithful companion over the past few years and has allowed me to do most of what I need to do whilst travelling, for example. And why, since it was released, I’ve had an itch to by the device I’m tying this on, the Google Pixelbook.


I’ve always been aware of Chrome OS but the idea of an extremely limited OS, albeit one that could run on very limited hardware, has never really appealed.  It seemed to me that I could do everything that it could do just as easily on my Lenovo Ideapad Z500 (yes, I do have a Window’s machine:-D) and I had my Pixel C for portable duties.  Of course, this began to change slightly when I saw the Pixelbook…it’s a gorgeous looking machine and a relatively powerful one too. However, the concerns about the limitations of Chrome OS remained and I looked away, mostly.


I’ll admit that I kept tabs on the Pixelbook, though. Actually this isn’t entirely true. In honesty, I spent a lot of time reading reviews of the device and even the frequent and very reasonable proclamations of “why would anyone spend £1000 on a Chromebook?” didn’t entirely put me off.  Through this I learned that the Android apps were now available. Interesting, thought I, that would certainly aid productivity.  And then I heard whispers of being able to run Linux apps on it. That pricked my ears up.  As I continued to monitor, I heard that Linux support had moved to Beta and was available in the stable, non-developer issues of Chrome OS.  That massively peaked my interest. Add in that I’m currently lugging around my laptop for R duties and then John Lewis doing a special offer of £300 pounds for the base model and it was inevitable that I’d cave.  (a lot of retailers have lowered the price but John Lewis offer a 2 year warranty, which isn’t to be sniffed at)


And so it is that I’ve spent most of today getting familiar with Chrome OS, setting up the Linus VM and installing R-base and RStudio.  Time will tell how effective it will be but all seems to be running ok at the moment.  Only slight issue is the resolution; RStudio opens with tiny, tiny text and when you zoom in, the cursor for typing (can’t remember its name) overlays the existing text, so it’s hard to insert or edit commands.


As for the normal stuff, all seems good. Everything is very snappy, no lag at all, even when opening Linux apps.  I’ve used it for several hours today and still have 41%/5hrs left – can’t complain about that.


Physically, it’s rather wonderful too. Everything is just as you’d want it to be: great chassis, great keyboard, great trackpad and great screen (I’m not bothered by the bezels that have irked so many).


I’ll update this soon, I’m sure but, for now, I’m happy for this to assume daily duties and I’ll see how I get on!


Noughat (or Nougat, I suppose)

Finally, many days after Google announced the arrival of Android 7.0, named Nougat (sodding Muricans), my Pixel C has updated to build number NRD90M. Exciting times indeed.  Why so, you may or may not ask?

Well, the standout feature of the latest version of the world dominating open source mobile OS, is the ability to split-screen apps.  It’s been done before, of course, by Apple and also Samsung, on their tablets running customised versions of Android.  But now, finally, it’s available on the official, vanilla release.

So what?  Well, being a bit of a technophile, I was unable to resist purchasing the Pixel C, the first Android tablet designed and built from scratch by Google, featuring a full(ish) keyboard, USB Type-C charger and ‘multi-angle display functionality’.  Now, if you care to search for reviews of said device, you’ll find that opinions vary greatly.  Many proclaimed it ‘the finest Android tablet available’ while others declared it unfit for purpose.  Both camps made their judgements with reservations, with the main thrust of the arguments that the Pixel C failed to live up to Google’s claims of a ‘productivity’ device.  Sure, it had a great screen, the requisite apps to allow work on the move and a great(ish) keyboard that connects to the tablet delightfully and is rather pleasant to type on (albeit missing several keys due to space constraints). However, if you intend using a device as your daily, specifically for work purposes, it’s inevitable that the inability to view two apps concurrently, e.g., Chrome for research alongside Word, will cause frustration.  Many felt (and I agree) that the device shouldn’t have been released without multiscreen support.  Will all the reviews bemoaning its absence now be updated?  One thinks not.  Ultimately, we’re left with an almost year old device that finally has the software to allow it to fulfil its purpose.  I’d still but one though, it looks gorgeous, performance is smooth as you like and it now, finally, supports split-screen! Happy days;-)

5th Jun 2016 – Jack Black

On the day of Novak Djokovic finally completing his career grand slam after an occasionally hard-fought battle with Brit, Andy Murray, Google trends once again suggests, perhaps, surprising internet searches by us Brits. Or, looking at it differently, highlights how easily certain news (or a hoax) can sway us.

Today’s most searched term on Google, in the UK, is Jack Black, with a modest 200,000+ searches.  Having been offline for most of the day and having not seen or heard the news on the radio, I was unlikely to search for Jack black myself, as I was unaware of his apparent death (just 2 days after the death of the truly newsworthy Muhammad Ali).

Long story short, his TenaciousD band’s twitter account appears to have been hacked:

Jack Black alive
Official TenaciousD account confirms prank

“Jack Black feared dead” headlines quickly became “Jack Black is ALIVE!”.  It’s obviously sad when anyone passes away (especially at such a young age) but I’m not sure he’s a star who warrants such fervour.  Certainly, if I had heard the news earlier, I’m certain it wouldn’t have influenced my searches today!.


Hopefully order will be restored later (Google trends updated hourly) as people seek to read about how “brave” Andy Murray succumbed to the mighty Djokovic but, for now, the UK seems most interested in a man who hasn’t died.


Saturday 21st May 2016

I’m not sure what the cut off is for Google’s daily trend data.  Today’s high with 20,000+ (far fewer than typical weekday highs, how much time do people spend randomly Googling at work?) searches is Rangers…

Rangers top UK Google trends list 21st May 2016

However, given that Rangers lost the Scottish FA cup final today and that Hibs won it for the first time in over 100 years, it seems likely that searches for Hibernian football club may eclipse those for Rangers as the day progresses!

Let’s not forget that today is one of two cup finals, with the English FA Cup final also taking place at Wembley.  With a later (17.30) kick-off, one may reasonably expect that searches for the two teams involved in this encounter (Manchester United and Crystal Palace) may reak their peak later in the day.

OK, so another quick look at the Google trends page reveals a statement that it was updated “about an hour ago”.  Mental note to check again in about an hour.

Thursday 19th May 2016 – EgyptAir

Well, it’s certainly not much of a surprise to see that the disappearance of EgyptAir flight MS804 tops today’s Google searches in the UK with over 200,000.

While early reports spoke simply of a disappearance with radar contact being lost at 01:30 BST, it quickly became clear that something more sinister was likely to have happened to the flight carrying 66 passengers (30 Egyptians, 15 French and 10 other nationalities including one Briton).

Likely causes for the (now known to have crashed) plane’s plunge from the sky were discussed by various worldwide news outlets throughout the day.  Whilst technical difficulties have not been ruled out, many are quick to point out that terrorism is a far more likely reason.  Indeed, the BBC quotes Sherif Fathy, Egypt’s civil aviation minister, as “…the possibility of having a different action, or having a terror attack, is higher than the possibility of having a technical [fault].”

With debris now being picked up on Mediterranean shores, the investigation into the cause of the crash will gather momentum.  It remains to be seen whether explanations will be found for the apparent 90° turn, followed by a 360° turn, before the sudden plunge, which was reported by Greek authorities.

Whatever the cause of this tragedy, Egypt is likely to remain cautious about releasing information regarding the plane for fear of unnecessarily impacting the country’s tourism industry, already facing serious losses following the downing of the Russian jet over the Sinai in October.


Bizarrely, the second most popular search today was for “Sky News”, with over 100000 queries for the term.  Presumably some of those would be accounted for by queries from those seeking news on EgyptAir flight MS804, though.

Tuesday 17th May 2016 – Harvey Price

Haha, cracking top search on Google in the UK today.  One that triggered the oft repeated “broke the internet” claims etc. and surprised more than a few (kind of).

Harvey Price
Harvey Price tops Google in UK on 17th May 2016

Viewing the daily Google trends both entertains and offers an occasionally illuminating insight into the major news stories and trends currently concerning the British public.  Or highlights how low down the immediate interest level significant world events can lie in comparison to celebrity gossip…

Having spent very little time online today, Harvey Price’s breaking of the internet passed me by.  However, sticking his name into Google quickly revealed the reason for his popularity today (and caused a bit of a chuckle).

Here’s what it brings up:

Harvey Price
Harvey Price Google search 17th May 2016

Yes, poor Harvey has gained even more fame/popularity by uttering the ‘C’ word on live television.

This has been referred to as a ‘gaffe’, ‘dropping the C-bomb’ and Harvey a ‘legend’ and an ‘anti-troll hero’.  Surprisingly, perhaps, most of the posts, tweets and other online commentary has been positive.  Indeed, the only negative comments are directed at his mother, Katie Price, who many accuse of exploiting her son.

But, truth be told, we’re probably all exploiting him by searching for him today and revelling in what happened.  I’ve admitted I laughed at first (and still find it childishly amusing) but I think everyone will be full of support and admiration for the emotion and bravery he’s shown in indicating how he would/does stand up to the bullies who mock him.

All About That Base

Search engines fascinate me, both in terms of the algorithms used to rank results and the most popular inputs to the whole process by ‘Googlers’.

Given the above, my landing on Google’s top charts page on Google trends for the UK in 2015 won’t come as a surprise.

Google UK top charts

The page linked above contains several top 5 lists, arranged by multiple categories.  The top 3 (or the top 3 displayed) are “Female celebrities”, “Films” and “Hits”.

What caused my ire, though, and set the title for this post is that the fifth entry in the “Hits” list is “All About That Base”…yes, “Base”, not “Bass”.  The incorrect title of this “hit” appears in fifth place.  This tells us that more people search for this song mistakenly spelling bass as base than do the correct spelling.  Expanding the list reveals that the correct spelling doesn’t make the top 10:-(

I must admit, this does make me despair in the education system and the current UK populous’ grasp of its native language.

It occured to me, though, that maybe 2015 was the year in which anglers took to the seas and focussed on bass. Clearly, Google has confused those anglers and provided misleading data to search engine aficionados.

And number 1 in the “Where is?” category?  Well, it’s “Where is Mali?”. Clearly.

The versatility of potatoes

Have you ever come across a vegetable as versatile as the potato?  I haven’t, that’s for sure. And I’m not a one vegetable man, oh no, I’ve sampled many others including peas, carrots, onions and, er, many, many more.

Now, don’t get me wrong. By championing the versatility of the potato, my intention certainly isn’t to be disparaging about the versatility of alternative vegetable choices.  Cauliflower, turnip, broccoli can all be incorporated in meals in a multitude of ways.

But let us not waste precious time considering the preparation, presentation and consumption of lesser vegetables; let us return once more, to the not so humble potato (it’s blatantly aware of its versatility, which is matched only by its big-headiness).

Even a cursory glance at potatoes gives those who glance a hint of the versatility before them.  Boiled, mashed, fried, roasted, baked, croquetted…do I need to continue?  The underlying power of the potato becomes very clear, very quickly when one gives them even a moment’s thought.

So overwhelmed am I by the awesome versatility of the potato that I shall need to take a break from the all encompassing potato thoughts passing through my head at the moment.  Potatoes, wow!


Tecknet X366 HB030B Bluetooth Keyboard

Well, this is my first experience using my new Tecknet bluetooth keyboard with my tablet.  To be fair, it’s somewhat difficult to appraise it performance given the age of my tablet (Motorola Xoom running 4.2) but I’m already feeling pleasantly surprised at the responsiveness whilst typing this.  I’ve already mentioned that I’m using an old tablet running an old version of Android but, thus far, keystrokes appear onscreen as I type.  There have been a couple of short moments when nothing has happened, though usually when I’ve accidentally hit one of the hotkeys or the tablet is doing something else  but, overall, the response is far better than is imagined it would be.  It’s certainly quicker than using the onscreen keyboard.  I look forward to trying it on a more modern tablet running Marshmallow to gauge the operating system impact.

The keyboard itself seems reasonably well built.  There’s some flex as I type this with the keyboard suspended between my legs but nothing that causes any major concern.  The feedback from the key is solid and meets all expectations.  I could see myself happily using this keyboard on the train, for example, or more generally on the move and it’s serving me well as I sit in an easy chair typing this at the moment.  However, I’m yet to try this on a table top, though suspect that the overall experience will be lessened somewhat.

Interestingly, the backlight, when connected to my Android tablet, is red.  However, when initially charging/powering on the keyboard, the backlight is blue.  I’ll have to do some investigating to see if there are further colours available or whether the keyboard default to certain colours depending on the connected device but can’t complain about the red, it works very well and contributes to the quality feel and look of the keyboard.

Overall, I’m very impressed thus far with this keyboard but will update when I’ve used it more thoroughly and tried out some of the hotkeys and investigated the backlighting further.  I’m a little sceptical about the cut, copy, paste and other function keys – unfairly admittedly, I haven’t tried them yet!

At thirteen squid, even without any further use I’d be happy to recommend this keyboard for use with an Android tablet!


Update, 2 days in…

A bit of googling for info on this keyboard revealed something very quickly: there is very little info available about this keyboard.  However, I did find out one interesting thing.  Remember I mentioned about the backlight colour? On switching the keyboard on, the backlight comes on in a nice shade of blue but it then switches off.  When the backlight is turned on manually, it lights up red.  Now, the red doesn’t look bad but I was intrigued about the colours available.  It turn out that the backlight can be one of 7 colours, from blue, through red, purple etc.  I’ve settled on a rather pleasing apple green shade.  Turns out that if you hold down the lightbulb button and press the down arrow (PgDn), you can cycle through the options.

I’ve still to explore the shortcut buttons fully but can confirm that the home key takes me to the homescreen on my tablet, which is a good start!  However, I’ve had less joy with the keyboard layout settings. I’ve selected English (UK) in my tablet settings but still get a ” instead of @ on the keyboard (i.e., I have to shift+2 to get the @ symbol).  A minor frustration really but one I’d like to overcome…

Update 4th Apr 2016

Mmm…I feel I need to update this in view of recent user experiences, not of this keyboard but of another (though not necessarily a direct competitor).  For reasons best known to myself, I’ve just acquired a Google Pixel C.  Now, you may or may not know that this is a ‘hybrid’, ‘productivity’ tablet.  Therefore, it makes little sense to buy one without the optional, bizarrely, keyboard.  And here is said keyboard:


Crappy picture taken with Pixel C’s built in camera, btw.

Now, is there anything remarkable about this keyboard?  Not really…it doesn’t have a CAPS LOCK key, this is replaced with a Sherlock Holmes search key.  The enter key is small and rectangular, not shaped as normally expected.  No worries, though, one expects compromises on small, tablet targeted keyboards.


There is one standout feature of this keyboard, though…the price.  Have a little guess in your head.  Unless you’re peripheral vision had caught the figure below, I almost guarantee that your estimate will differ significantly from the amount that Google request in exchange for dispatching one your way.




£120 – that’s the cost of this keyboard!  Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s competent (it bloody well should be;-)), has a lovely, anodised finish, physically connects wonderfully to the actual tablet but in no way is £100 better than the Tecknet keyboard.  Remember, the Tecknet keyboard is a regular one, features backlighting and appears to be of robust construction.


To close, on reviewing this update, I see many errors, many of which I attribute directly to this keyboard (the frequency is certainly above average).  This doesn’t exactly add to the ‘pro’ column…

Don’t lose your hot air balloon

Nothing can prepare one for the moment when one appreciates that one may have lost one’s hot air balloon.  Nothing.  But that is what I have done.  I have lost my hot air balloon.

How,  one might wonder, does one possibly lose one’s hot air balloon?  This is a fair question.  After all, I’m sure that we’d all agree that on the face of it, a hot air balloon would be a somewhat difficult possession to lose.  A hot air balloon is typically very large (the most popular sport balloons are approximately 55 feet wide and 70 feet high, according to Vermont’s hot air balloonists).  Hot air balloons are frequently presented in garish colours (all the better to be seen by, one might think).  Hot air balloons are not the most subtle things.

However, one doesn’t need a 71 foot high building to hide a hot air balloon behind, does one?  Nor does it have to be 56 feet wide, does it? That’s what makes hot air balloons so devilishly easy to lose, they can be deflated, though preferably only when on the ground.  A hot air balloon consumes a fair amount of fuel.  A hot air balloon is also a very noisy bugger.  Therefore, it makes all the sense in the world to deflate after landing.  That’s fine, if you’ve landed in your usual spot in your garden, you’ll know exactly where your balloon is.  But it’s not so simple of you’ve nipped to the shops, is it?  Most towns have a multitude of parking spaces, don’t they?

One day I shall find my hot air balloon.  And if I don’t, then maybe I shall buy another.  I like hot air ballooning.

Hot air balloon
Hot air balloon