Friday, April 22, 2016

How long do updates take?

This week was an especially frustrating week for my computers.

My websites for work had WordPress core updates.  Those usually go smoothly, but then there are sometimes issues with plug-ins and themes that take a little work-this was the case for me.  I spent hours troubleshooting a couple of issues, and finally after going to the theme developers (who issued 3 updates this week) I was on track.

I have a Mac laptop and a MacMini that I use for work.  I use Adobe Creative Cloud products that constantly have updates.  I changed some Mail profiles for my work email, and needed to update them on the Mac. Between the two sets of updates, my computers spent hours cranking through data and were almost unusable.

Regularly the Windows machine goes through updates, and I detest the screen that says ("Windows has XX updates-please do not shut off or unplug computer").  The next morning when I turn on that computer, it may take another couple of reboots to get it working correctly.

Then there's the trusty Chromebook.

When I boot up in the morning, it takes about 10 seconds to get up and running.  All of the apps are basically available immediately.

I contrast that with my Mac-mini, which boots up quickly, yet because of all kinds of software that runs in the background, it may take a minute or two for my Mail program to download the newest emails and be ready to function (sometimes involving the "spinning beach ball" in the process).

My Windows machine with a Solid State Drive boots up a little quicker than the Mac-but not 10 seconds fast. It is not uncommon that it takes a minute or two to load all the necessary software before my Mail is ready to download.

And then there's the updates on the Chromebook.  They don't happen frequently, but when they do, there is an arrow that appears in the right corner of the screen, you click on it, the computer restarts, and in 30 seconds or less, everything is working correctly again.

In my younger days, going through updates with Windows 3.1 or one of the earlier MacBook's was a joyful challenge with a little bit of stress mixed in.

I have to admit, that after working with personal computers for over 30 years, I actually like the simplicity of the Chromebook, and the absence of stress.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Google Slides for Presentations

Are you a presentation warrior?  Noone will ever be able to convince you to use something other than PowerPoint or Keynote.

I know, I have been there in my career.  Maybe even more than the average warrior because I created on average about two new presentations a week for about 5 years straight. My corporate friends were creating one or two every 6 months and tweaking them every once in awhile. They would never give up their PowerPoint.

What if you are not a regular user of PowerPoint/Keynote and need the occasional presentation for work or hobby? I say, try out Google Slides.

Its interface is very similar to what you would find with any other presentation software.  There are a number of templates available, and if you are hardcore user, you can build a presentation from scratch and customize it as much as you want.

You can import all kinds of free templates from websites like Slides Carnival or Free Google Slides Templates if there aren't enough in the default collection for you.

You have most of the same options that are available in other presentation software, and you have a great deal of flexibility in formatting. Because I am not a "master" at the craft as I once was, I don't need all of the bells and whistles I once thought I needed.

The big question that most everyone would ask- "Can I use the presentation without an internet connection?"

The answer- YES!

If you are using a Chrome Browser and you have set-up your Google Drive to "Sync Google Docs, Sheets, Slides & Drawings files to this computer so that you can edit offline."- You can do it.

I rarely work on any Google app without being on WiFi, but the option is there if you need it.  You can also export any Slides presentation to other formats that are compatible with other systems [.pptx, .pdf or (.jpg, .png or .svg) for single slides].  I have yet to find myself in a bind when presenting somewhere with a Chromebook created presentation.

There is also a great option of publishing to the webs for others to see the slideshow- either as a file or an embedded web presentation...(this was easier than anything I have tried with PowerPoint).

So, if you need something easy to use, that costs nothing extra, and does most everything other software does, give Slides a try.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Holy Week with the Chromebook

It is Holy Week with the Christian community.  It started on Palm Sunday (March 20) and will proceed until Easter morning (March 27).

The three days before Easter Sunday are known as the Triduum (latin-"three days") and make up some of the most somber and yet significant days on the Church Calendar.

They commemorate Jesus' last days before his Death and Resurrection.

Holy Thursday/Maundy Thursday marks his last meal with his disciples, a Jewish Passover Meal (Passover in the Jewish tradition began on March 22nd and will continue until the 30th).

Good Friday marks the day of his death and Christian across the world will look to the cross and the salvation story of Jesus.

Holy Saturday marks the time Jesus laid in the tomb prior to Easter when the tomb would no longer hold him.

In the Christian tradition, we live the Christian message of life, death and resurrection with Jesus and our communities of faith during Holy Week.

I use my Chromebook during this time like I do most weeks, I use online resources for growing in my faith. There are numerous online offerings for celebrating Holy Week, below are some that I have collected:

Holy Week 101

Praying Holy Week

The Upper Room (devotional)

Forward Day by Day (devotional)

Alive Now (devotional)

Book of Common Prayer Online (prayers for Morning, Evening and more)

Bible Readings for the Days

CONNECT- Holy Week Special (30 minute radio show)

May this be a fruitful Holy Week for you.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Phone Calls for Free with Google Voice

A short story to get into the big story...

I am currently using an iPhone 5 that is over 3 years old.  Last week I discovered that the case is warped and the screen is separating from the body of the phone.  The week before that I was looking at new phones, just to see what I had to choose from.

I decided to go with the iPhone 6, because it is newer technology, the case is not as big as some of the other phones available.  I don't think I would mind an Android phone, but all that I have looked at have larger screens and I don't want anything that large in my pocket.

It is a whole other story to go into why I have chosen StraightTalk as my cell service, but in a chat with them today, it appears that I will need to make my warped phone last another few days, so I was concerned with a Plan B.

The big story...

I have used Google Voice for several years, and currently my my Google Voice number rolls over to my cell number, so I don't miss calls (but most calls I get through Google Voice are sales calls or are wrong numbers).

I decided I would check out my set-up at the office this afternoon, just in case Plan B became necessary.  The scoop- it works like a charm.

As I have written in previous posts, my Chromebook is docked to a monitor and a sound system.  I plugged my Apogee 96K Mic into a USB port and immediately had all of the audio I need to make and receive calls on the Google Voice number.

So here are some notes:

  • Get a Google Voice number.  When you first sign into Google Voice with your Google account, you are given the option of picking out a number that works for you.  I picked an Asheville area phone number (since it was the area I have been living for the past 10 years) that will be mine forever (and can be changed to a new number for an extra $10 dollars). You can forward calls from other phone numbers to your Google number and as they say, "Google Voice gives you one number for all of your phones — a phone number that is tied to you, not to a device or a location."
  • Google Voice is a stand alone web page ( which is integrated with Google Hangouts or your cell phone.  You can make calls and send texts, and receive calls, texts and voicemail at that page. You can use Hangouts or your cell phone to make phone calls anywhere in the continental USA for free. You can make long distance/international calls for a fee and you can add money to your account very easily through your Google account.  The rates are affordable-I used to call friends in Japan for 3 cents per minute (it was more expensive to call a cell phone), and I think that they are comparable to Skype rates.
  • You can call call anyone internationally for free using Google Hangouts.  If your friend/co-worker has Hangouts, you can connect to their Google Voice number and even use video to converse.
  • Google Voice is an extension that you can add to your Chrome browser/Chromebook that integrates with Gmail. When I open my Gmail, I have the option of making a call from a link at the bottom left corner of the screen.  So, Gmail becomes my one stop shop for communications.
There are many ways to use this technology for work and home use.   I can easily integrate this with any of the devices that I use, that includes iPad, iPhone and any of my computer systems through the Chrome browser. Calls for free on any device, that's hard to beat.

Currently, my workplace uses a Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) system for all of its staff.  Google Voice can be used in similar ways, and can be integrated with various kinds of hardware. Though the day of a desktop phone may be a thing of the past.  

Currently, I have a desktop phone device for work that is plugged into my router at my house (150 miles from the main office).  My "office phone" forwards to my cell phone 100% of the time (except when a cat happens to knock it off the hook).  I receive office calls all over the country when I am traveling, and most folks think they are reaching me at the Charlotte office.

With a little research and testing, I could devise a completely Chromebook driven office phone system for a small business or regionally dispersed working group for a fraction of the cost that most groups are paying, and they wold have advantage of all the tools built into the Chrome work environment. 

Is it time for you to rethink your home/office phone system?

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Play-ing on a Saturday

It is another Saturday morning with the Chromebook.

I am listening to "Car Talk" on NPR.  I am in my sweatpants, and my computer is in my lap.

There is nothing on my mind this Saturday except play.  After a long week of work, I like to play on the weekend.  After a week of temperatures in the 70's with sunshine, it has cooled off and there is rain in the air, so it looks like indoor activities.

So, what can you do on the Chromebook without spending money?

Google Play.


This was covered here: Sreaming Music on the Chromebook


I love to read, and there are hundreds of free books that are available with a few clicks.  I discovered that a number of books that were required reading in college are available for free (seems that ancient texts are fair game to be republished).  For my clergy friends, Wesley's sermons and writings are here-free.  And if you ar into trashy novels, there s a great selection for free. (I think my parents would have loved this resource--they bought thousands of used paperbacks over the years for less than a quarter. That genre is here for free and they can easily be stacked on a tablet.)

Movies and TV

There are lots of free videos on the internet...YouTube is one of the easiest places to go.  Google Play has several hours of free videos available too.  Mostly documentaries and animation, but it is Saturday after all.  Why not a documentary about cybercrime? I just put The Most Dangerous Town on the Internet: Where Cybercrime Goes to Hide on my wishlist.

I saw a number of older TV shows that you can get episodes for free.

And though it is not free, there are lots of cheap movies and TV programs available in Google Play for less than $3 dollars.

Some of my friends would say that almost anything can be found online for free, including live sports, movies and all kinds of television and movies.  These websites tend to be riddled with pop-ups and viruses for Windows machines.  The Chromebook may be the best device to access these sites since the operating system is a browser and relatively difficult to destroy.


Most of what I found was for tablet readers only.  But there is an app for iPad and iPhone, and I was able to add a free magazine to my library and open it immediately on my tablet.  Even though the language in the store makes you think it is only available on Android devices, that is not the case.

I just added to my library: TIME: Nelson Mandela Commemorative Issue.

I think I will stay busy today.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

AncientFuture Practices for the Church

Years ago, Leonard Sweet used the term "AncientFuture Faith" in a number of his books and in speaking engagements around the country.

He encouraged the church to embrace the ancient nature of the church in new and future oriented ways. I think Ancient comes easy to us.  We read regularly from scriptures that are thousands of years old, we have rituals that date back thousands of years.  For some churches, hymns that are a hundred years old are thought of us as new, and contemporary.

The Future doesn't come as easily.  We might embrace the technology and the culture we are in, but can't always connect it to our forebears who lived without Google and email.  The Biblical texts seem foreign to a culture who is far from the agrarian and rural roots of our past.

But this is the situation we have been placed in- we are people who have inherited and embraced a 2000 year old Gospel, and we live and find it compelling in the 21st century.

Working in the church with tools like websites, social media, email, and multimedia, and always attempting to share a message of Good News that  has its beginning with a 1st century Jewish Rabbi is an ever daunting task.

How do we do this with integrity and authenticity?  How do we use these tools that are so integral to our culture, and yet continue to live in a culture formed by the Gospel?  These are questions that I have been asking for a few decades now.  Each year brings new challenges.

This article crossed my path this month:  Ancient practices meet new technology when Episcopal monks share wisdom online.  It is the story of the Society St. John the Evangelist, a small Episcopal monastery in Boston.

In the nearly seven years that I have had a relationship with the group, I have seen these monks embrace technology in ways that are authentic to their life absorbed in daily prayer and the Book of Common Prayer.

In early days they used print resources to get their teachings across, then they moved to email.  During the seasons of Advent and Lent they would send short devotionals out to the friends of the society.  Devotionals to read that were welcome celebrations each day.

Then they started a series called, "Brother Give Us a Word" that began with a season, and now is something that shows up in my mailbox each day when they aren't doing special series.

Now their daily offerings come with videos and have links to more resources on their websites like sermons and documents.

Their resources have grown significantly as have their following on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Some questions:

  • How can our churches embrace technology and our own weekly/daily patterns of life and share them with those seeking to grow in their faith? (United Methodists have the online Upper Room as one example)
  • Who do we need to partner with to make this happen with authenticity and integrity?
  • What kinds of time and financial investments would need to be made?
  • Do we have the will to move in this direction?

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Google Docs for Everyday Productivity

Will Google Docs do everything that Microsoft Word does? No.

Will it do most everything you need it to do? Probably.

What do most people use Word for? Writing letters, drafting emails and other documents.  All of the myriad of features that you find in Word are mostly there for power users.  It has way more features than I have learned to use and I have done some fairly complicated things with it.

Over the years I have laid out books, dissertations, and all kinds of PR materials using Word, but the vast majority of my work is nothing more than simple documents that I save to my hard drive or cut and paste into a website.

I have used Word in numerous office settings, from a newspaper to non-profits, to work with the state community college system, and back to the church.  What I discovered in all of these settings is that for most of the employees, we collectively used less than half of the features that come with Word (and less than 1/3 of the tools that come with Microsoft Office).

Some questions that people ask of Google Docs:

Is it compatible with Word?

In short-Yes. At the community college I was told that I could not use any other Word processing program, because it would not be compatible with the hardware on the campus network.  That just became a challenge and I frequently used Google Docs and iPages with my Mac to test the edges.  As far as I know, no one ever found out or cared what I was using.  You can export any Google Doc into Word, and back the other way. Are there occasional issues.   Sure.  But I have not found them to be formidable.

Can you insert images, tables, footnotes, etc. in Docs?

No problem.  The insert interface is easy and manageable.  Give it a test.  Inserting a footnote may actually be easier in Docs than Word.

Can you format fonts, etc.?

I have never found issues.  You have many of the standard fonts, plus a host of others.  You have all of the sizing capabilities an can even format text for web documents easily.  If you need to use other languages, there are some options that you can set-up in your account to do that.

Does it have easy to use templates?

It has a bunch of them available in the basic program.  You can run a search, and there are hundreds of them online for various projects.  Most all of them are customizable.  Not sure that you will need more than what is available.

Can you use it offline?

Yes.  It is completely possible to use Google Docs without an internet connection.  I will devote an entire article to that question at a later date

What are the drawbacks to Google Docs?

I am finding fewer every day I experiment.  If you are already a power user of MS Office, you will probably not want to switch.  For the money, Google Docs can hardly be beat as a word processor.

Summary: If I were to start a business, I would recommend that only folks who needed the extra features get computers that run Office, the rest of us would use the Chromebook with its own suite of tools. Docs being the most used of the bunch.  We would save money upfront, and we would already have networking tools available too us thanks to Google.