Category: Thoughts

The interwebs have been on fire in the last few days with talk of Google’s new project, Chrome OS. This is a Google version of the open-source project Chromium that aims to produce an operating system less dependent on local hardware and instead stores data in the “cloud”, or internet services. This has a number of benefits, namely constant backups since no critical data is stored on the hardware the OS is running on. It also means it can very lightweight and run on lower level hardware, like netbooks.

With the updates on Thursday, I decided to take the plunge and try my hand at building the OS on my own. If you decide to do the same, keep in mind it is a fairly advanced procedure, despite the attempts of Google to automate the processes. You’ll also need a Ubuntu computer with version 8.04 or later (I used my server running 9.04 Jaunty).

Building Chrome

All the instructions you need are on Google’s page about this very subject. It contains a very detailed procedure for downloading and compiling the system to be installed on a regular computer or run with VMWare. Since I don’t have any spare hardware lying around, I went the VMWare route.

You’ll have to start by downloading the 200 MB files. If you wish to use the tarball version, here are the commands you can use to move to the home directory, download and unzip.

cd ~/
wget http://build.chromium.org/buildbot/archives/chromiumos-0.4.22.8.tar.gz
tar zxvf chromiumos-0.4.22.8.tar.gz
mv chromiumos-0.4.22.8/ chromiumos/
cd chromiumos

From there you can start with the steps on the above Google link.

The process is relatively straightforward as compared to a standard compile/install procedure, thanks to Google’s use of bash scripts. I proceeded without incident until it came time to run the ./enter_chroot.sh script. This one failed multiple times and it took me some time to figure out that I needed to run ./make_chroot.sh a second time. After that, there were no more problems, and I soon had a VMWare disk to use.

Using Chrome OS

If you wish to bypass the whole build process, gdgt has graciously provided a direct link to a download for a VMWare image. Going that route can definitely save some time.
After installing a VMWare Fusion trial, I had Chrome OS running and was presented with a nice log in screen. If you enter your Google address and password, all the applications should be set up immediately with your data and you can begin to use the OS right away. Once logged in, you really are using a giant browser.
At this stage, the open-source Chromium downloads lag behind what Google presented earlier this week, so some of the features aren’t available yet. Right now there is a Chrome browser, and that’s about it. The button at the top left shows some of the applications available, like Calendar, YouTube, Documents, Hulu and more.
These are essentially just links to the respective Google pages. The top right corner has buttons for changing a few settings and checking battery and WiFI information. Other than that, it’s pretty spartan (there isn’t even a shutdown button).

It is an interesting take on the future of computing, a problem I noticed is that a weak internet connection really dampens the benefits. To truly make use of the features built in, you’ll need a solid pipe, because waiting to even check a calendar is a bit annoying. If/when this makes its way to netbooks with wireless internet solutions, that will make a very nice package.

Is this the future?

Using these early builds, I found myself wondering who will want to use an operating system that deals very little with local storage and functionality. Google’s intention is that it will be used almost exclusively on netbooks — the tiny 8-10″ computers that are mostly used for email and web browsing. They’ve even decided that to use their version of Chromium, you’ll have to buy a new device (it won’t be available as a software only product). For that purpose, I can see it being a success. For full scale computing, I don’t think it will be usurping Windows or Mac OS X any time soon.

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The time has come for a new Macintosh operating system. Mac OS X 10.6, or Snow Leopard as the cool kids call it, will arrive in stores this coming Friday and bring a host of new features with it. The name of the OS differs very little from 10.5, which was just Leopard, and that is exactly what Apple wants to convey.

OS X 10.0 was by most accounts, a good start, but far from perfect. Through 5 other iterations, the software has grown from novelty to mainstream, with advanced features added with each new release. Snow Leopard takes a slightly different approach in that it forgoes the usual list of blockbuster features and instead improves the existing codebase significantly. This new version will be faster, lighter (on hardware) and will offer new ways for developers to take advantage of the latest hardware.

The big new features of Snow Leopard involve the graphics card and CPU. With the advances in technology of these two components, programmers can take advantage of the new power by using Grand Central Dispatch and OpenCL. Grand Central Dispatch is a suite of tools available to developers to use every core in the multi core systems Apple sells today. OpenCL does something similar with the graphics cards. When these tools are included in new software, they will be much more powerful than today’s applications.

Buying opinions

The most important new feature of Snow Leopard is the cost. At just $29USD, it is priced like an upgrade, and even in Canadian funds it works out to much less than other software ($35). Based on this price point, and the new features that will be available, I will be purchasing a copy soon after it is released on Friday. I may even spring for the family pack, which comes with 5 licenses for only $59 CAN.

For the benefits to users, and the price point of $30, this will be a very popular upgrade, and is highly recommended for users of Leopard, and especially those with older machines. If you’ve been holding out for a solid version of OS X that you can build on and use for many years to come, this may be it.

Look for more information about Snow Leopard here next week.

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Blog posts have been hard to come by in the last few weeks, mostly because I’ve been heavily involved in school. Since the year is done, I’m hoping to get more posts to the site, mostly from a few projects I’m hoping to work on.

In case you’re interested in what courses are involved in becoming schooled in the art of Mechanical Engineering, here are the courses I’ve had to take over 3 years of school.

Semester 1

Calculus 1
Linear Algebra
Physics 1
Computer Programming
Chemistry

Semester 2

Calculus 2
Physics 2
Physics 3
Engineering Design
Materials Science 1

Semester 3

Communications
Dynamics
Manufacturing 1
Statics and Mechanics of Materials
Materials Science 2

Semester 4

Engineering Economics
Thermodynamics 1
Mechanics of Machines
Stress Analysis
Manufacturing 2
Numerical Analysis

Semester 5

Thermodynamics 2
Fluid Mechanics 1
Mechanics of Machines
Electric Circuits
Mechanics of Deformable Bodies
Statistics

Semester 6

Fluid Mechanics 2
Heat Transfer
Electric Circuits 2
Controls
Finite Element Analysis

These classes mostly deal with math, physics, material selection, and fluid behaviour. In the three years, not much time was spent designing actual products, so I hope we do more of that in fourth year.

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Something positive almost always comes out of a negative situation.

In my case, it happened earlier this week while I was continuing work on my WordPress plugin. After adding a single page when testing, I wanted to delete it. Rather than delete the single post, I accidentally clicked the “select all” button on the first page of posts, then clicked through the Yes/No prompt. Immediately after pressing it, I realized what I had done and madly tried canceling the operation. Thanks to MySQL’s lightning fast response time, my last 12 posts were long gone by the time I could do anything about it. After being unable to access my webhost’s backup files, I set about the task of recreating my posts out of the Google cache. They are now fully repaired, which is why you won’t notice a real difference.

What did I learn from this?

Make sure your posts are in the Google index
If your site is indexed often, and correctly, by Google’s robots, you’ve already got a last-ditch backup system in place. While recreating posts from this information is rather time consuming, it is certainly better than losing everything.

Use automated backups
Thankfully, WordPress’ dependence on MySQL databases means there are plenty of plugins available to make backup painless. After some reading, I found a plugin called WP-DB-Backup that can backup your entire database and either download it to your computer, save to your server, or automatically email to an account of your choice. I’ve set up a 7GB Gmail account that will now contain daily backups of my WP database.

Check your webhost backups
Every webhost backs up their client’s data. A good website administrator checks the backups to make sure they work properly. When something goes wrong, a good backup can get your site back online immediately, but if you can’t use it, you’re stuck.

So after somewhat of an anxious few hours, I’ve seen the error of my ways, and now have a safety net in place. Here’s hoping you’ve done the same.

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It’s not often that an Apple product gets me well and truly frustrated. Generally I can pinpoint a repetitive problem and find other people with similar issues, and often find a solution.

But the current problem I’m having with Keynote is completely unacceptable and I have absolutely no idea why it’s occurring.

Let me set the scene. You’re working on a large multimedia presentation that uses video backgrounds, transitions, pictures and transitions. In a burst of creative genius, you furiously hammer out a dozen slides and sit back to admire your handiwork. In your eagerness, you press the Play button before saving to see the result of your work, and suddenly the screen goes black and you hear the tell-tale sound of the optical drive and the sickening startup chime (it’s sickening because you realize all your hard work could possibly be toast).

In my case, I was working on a presentation with more than 250 slides, with videos, photos and transitions — the works. Even though I had saved a few minutes earlier, I still lost work. The strange part is that there seems to be no real connection to when the button works and when it restarts. My theory is that somehow it determines the longest time between saves, then breaks — just to spite you. The other unusual thing is that the MacBook starts up without any of the information requests like when it shuts down improperly. I can’t figure it out.

Have you ever seen anything like this before?

[tags]Keynote, troubleshooting, Mac OS X, iWork, iLife[/tags]

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