Tag Archives: Google

Chromebook

Can Chrome (and a Chromebook) fill in for my usual computing tasks?

Lately, I’ve been reading (and writing) about Chromebooks, the simplified laptops backed by Google’s Chrome OS that basically use the Chrome browser (and Linux) as the operating system. Besides the allure of a new gadget, I’m also interested in a laptop that’d be less heavy to carry around than my two-year-old Linux Mint-running HP laptop, which weighs in at a hefty 5.3 lbs./2.4 kg (per its specs). While I’d like a MacBook of some sort, I currently don’t have the money or means to buy one. A Chromebook, however, would be affordable (the cheapest ones start at $200), would weigh half of the HP laptop’s weight, and would suffice until the day I could afford a MacBook. It’d also let me give my laptop to my family, who could use a newer computer; they’re using the now-seven-year-old Dell tower I gave them running Xubuntu 12.04.

Of course, Chromebooks have some compromises, being heavily browser-based, which led me to wonder how much of my usual computer activities could be done on such a platform. While I still have my Mac Mini as my main computer (and the Mini’s not going anywhere), I do run Chrome on my computer. Thus, I tried out various browser-based apps, websites, and Google Docs/Google Drive to see what running a Chromebook might be like. So, here’s a list of my computer uses, and how well Chrome/the web in general filled in:

  • Blogging/managing my website: I already write most of my blog posts in WordPress’ visual editor itself, as well as sometimes using TextEdit on my Mac. Google Docs would thus work nicely for writing purposes.
  • Article writing: I use LibreOffice on my Mac for more substantial writing. Google Docs can convert to/from LibreOffice’s format, plus I can also access Docs from my Mac.
  • Graphics/photos: I already upload photos to Google+ Photos, so photo management is resolved. (On the Mac, I also store them in iPhoto.) I normally create what few graphics I need, like the header image for this site, in GIMP. The website Pixlr does offer some basic graphics creation and editing (resizing photos, etc.), and seems to be the recommended choice for Chromebook users. I tried Pixlr, and it seems like it’d do if I really needed to manipulate graphics on the Chromebook (i.e., I didn’t have access to my Mac).
  • Email: I already have Gmail, of course, so I’d have access to that. Ditto via webmail a few other email addresses I use.
  • Social media: Google+, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are all accessible through the browser, or through a few browser add-ons like TweetDeck.
  • Web surfing: Of course.
  • Videos: YouTube works normally. One advantage over my Linux Mint laptop is that there’s support on Chromebooks for Netflix. As for my own videos, while Chromebooks obviously wouldn’t have capacity for my entire video collection, it does support playing common formats (MP4, MKV, AVI) via Google Drive or an external thumb drive.
  • Music: I’ve already uploaded my music collection to Google Play Music, which allows it to be played back on any Android device or through a browser; thus, it’s supported normally in Chrome. Of course, it’s just MP3s; my lossless files would have to stay on my external hard drives/Mac. Streaming services like Pandora also work normally.
  • Podcasts: Google Play Music for some reason doesn’t directly support podcasts. While the proposed integration of Android into Chrome OS would help the podcast situation (per the various podcast Android apps), for now, Feedly’s podcast support or just downloading them directly from their websites would be the way to go.
  • Finances: A place where Chromebooks—or rather, the Web—comes up short. I use a stand-alone program (Jumsoft’s Money for OS X) to keep track of my checking and savings accounts, as a glorified electronic checkbook. For a budget, I use a LibreOffice spreadsheet. The spreadsheet was easy to import into Google Sheets (the spreadsheet component of Docs), but I didn’t see any web-based service that could really replace the stand-alone program I use. Mint.com and the like are popular, but those won’t let me manually enter new purchases, which doesn’t work for me. (I can already access my bank account online!) Thus, I’d have to wait until I got back to my Mac to enter purchase information.
  • Evernote: Evernote has web based access and various apps, so I could easily access it from Chrome.
  • KeePass: There’s a few Chrome plugins that’ll let me read my KeePass database.
  • Comic reader: Another “fail” spot for the Chromebook/Chrome. The few Chrome plugins I tried that let one read CBR/CBZ formatted comics failed to work for CBZ files (CBR ones worked OK). I suspect it’s due to the clunky way ZIP files are handled by Chrome (CBZs are just renamed ZIP files). Fortunately, I can read such comics on my Mac, tablet or phone.
  • ZIP files: From what I read, Chrome OS will support ZIP files, though it sounds a bit lackluster (mounting it like an external drive and moving files from there?).
  • eBooks: There’s some support via Chrome plugins, etc., for eBooks, though I’d rather use my tablet for those.
  • Connecting my Nexus 4/Nexus 7: I’d have to use the “cloud” via Drive to transfer files between a Chromebook and the Nexus devices, which is what I do now anyway. However, support for MTP (the transfer protocol switched to by Google recently) is supposedly coming for Chrome OS, so I’d be able to plug them in directly.
  • External hard drives: Like other Linux distributions, Chrome OS supports Windows- and Linux-formatted external drives, but doesn’t really support OS X-formatted ones that well. Still, I have Google Drive and an external thumb drive for moving around data.
  • External keyboard/mouse: From what I read, they’re supported by Chrome OS.

 

So overall, while I wouldn’t want to make it my sole computing device, it looks like a Chromebook could replace my Linux Mint laptop. The only downsides would be the areas of spending tracking and reading comics files, but neither’s a showstopper, however. A Chromebook would also be worth the tradeoff of gaining Netflix access, as well as a much more lightweight laptop to take with me on trips.

Chromebook

Déjà vu: Microsoft to release cheap Windows 8 laptops this fall to compete with Chromebooks

In my previous post on Chromebooks, I remarked that Microsoft wouldn’t try the same trick twice (as it did to kill Linux on netbooks) by releasing cheap WIndows 8 notebooks to try to kill off Chromebooks, especially since they still had the Surface’s lackluster sales to grapple with.

However, it turns out Microsoft does plan to do just that, after all. Coming this fall will be two cheap laptops: a 15.6″ Acer for $249 (with specs that don’t seem any different from the current cheap Windows laptops), and a Toshiba with Chromebook-like specs (11.6″ screen, a solid-state hard drive) for $249. Also supposedly coming are a $199 Windows laptop (presumably also with Chromebook-like specs) and several cheap Windows-based tablets (for $99).

Ultimately, if the goal’s to completely kill off Chromebooks (versus coexisting alongside them saleswise) I still don’t think things will work the same for Microsoft this time around. While these will be the same price and specs as Chromebooks, there’s the question of how well Windows 8.1 will run on these machines. Even if they run adequately, there’s the fact that there’s already cheap Windows laptops on sale priced the same as Chromebooks, yet Chromebooks are still selling. Besides the chief differences between netbooks and Chromebooks I previously outlined,  there’s also another big difference this time around. Unlike Windows XP (which the public liked more than the unfamiliar-to-the-public Linux distros netbooks ran), Windows 8 isn’t as popular, no matter what hardware form factor it’s on.

Of course, I expect the Chromebook-like Windows laptops to sell since it’s, well, Windows, but I don’t think this will be Chromebooks’ swan song. I expect Google won’t be taking this lying down and will fire back somehow… their planned integration of Android with Chrome OS/Chromebooks will probably be a big selling point.

Android TV

Coming soon: Android TV

Coming this fall is Google’s latest effort at competing with Apple TV, Roku, and video game consoles: “Android TV.” Unlike previous efforts Google TV and Chromecast, Android TV will be an operating system rather than a specific set-top box brand name. Smart TV makers will be able to embed it into their sets, while third-party set-top box makers (Asus, etc.) can use the operating system.

Similar to Android and Roku/Apple TV, it’ll come with an easy-to-use interface with support for Chromecast. It’ll also come with its own app store, complete with using the same programming tools as Android-proper.

More details can be found at these two articles:

Google Introduces Android TV, Its New Platform For Smart TV Apps And Navigation | TechCrunch

More on Android TV (TechCrunch)

Google TV, of course, was a flop for Google. One reason might have been stuff like this hideous Sony remote control, something only someone completely clueless would find “usable.” (Sony apparently had never heard of cell phones with slide-out keyboards, which would’ve been a vastly more logical design choice…) Chromecast, meanwhile, has been a success, thanks to being easy to use (by actual humans) and cheap (at $35).

I wonder how successful Android TV will be going up against Apple TV, Roku, video game consoles, and existing smart TVs…not to mention Google’s own Chromecast.

Google sign

Another Google service shut down…this time, it’s Orkut

Google announced today that it’s planning to shut down another service, though this time it’s one that’s not as popular as it should’ve been. Orkut, Google’s first stab at social networking, is the service in question:

Google kills Orkut to focus on YouTube, Blogger and Google+ (Engadget)

Orkut never really gained popularity in the US, but was popular in India and Brazil for some time.

I always wondered why Google opted to try to “reinvent the wheel” with creating Google+ instead of just trying to spruce up and promote better Orkut. Either way, I suppose it’s all moot now. Presumably, Orkut’s users will be shifted over to Google+, the social media service that (as far as we know) isn’t playing mind games with users, unlike a certain popular social network service…

Flickr Creative Commons photo by Wang Shein.

Chromebook

Why Chromebooks have achieved “the Linux desktop” and won’t be “netbooks 2.0″

(Updated 7/14/14)

Since their introduction in June 2011 (three years ago), Google’s Chromebook has since grown to become mildly popular among the general public. Not only does it make Chromebooks (and its Chrome OS operating system) the first Linux-based desktop/laptop to widely catch on with the general public (something Linux fans have been longing for for years), but it also seems to be avoiding the mistakes/downsides of both netbooks and various Linux distributions. Even schools are increasingly buying Chromebooks for student use.

But why are Chromebooks becoming popular? And how are they avoiding becoming “Netbooks 2.0″ or other Linux-based distributions’ fates?

People know and trust Google

Google’s a familiar, trusted (with caveats/occasional vocal doubts or criticisms) company whose services are ubiquitous and widely used by everyone online. Linux distros, meanwhile, are “what’s that?” at worst and “that’s some geeky thing” at best.

Chromebooks are cheap

The cheapest Chromebook per Best Buy’s website starts at $199, with models ranging between $199 and $399. While there’s the outlier “Pixel” model (priced at the MacBook-like $1299-$1499), for the most part, the most expensive Chromebook rivals the most bargain-level Windows laptops. Otherwise, buying a Chromebook is in a similar price range as buying an Android tablet. For those that need a cheap computer (schools, those on a tighter budget, etc.), Chromebooks are a good thing.

(Update 7/14/14) Microsoft’s announced a line of Chromebook-like Windows laptops priced similarly to Chromebooks. This doesn’t discount from Chromebooks being inexpensive, of course.

Chromebooks have laptop-level functionality and quality

Unlike netbooks, Chromebooks come in the same screen sizes as most laptops (11 inches to 14 inches), and thus can come in a more familiar laptop form factor (with USB ports, etc.). Netbooks were never meant to be laptop-replacements, but rather as filling in a role between smartphones and full-size laptops. As a result, netbooks compromised a lot of features; the keyboards alone were way too small for someone like me to type on (maybe not to a grade-schooler, but…).

People don’t want to install an operating system

Sorry, Linux fans, but the general public expects to go to a store, choose a model, and buy a computer with an operating system pre-installed. There’s little interest in choosing one of a myriad of Linux distros, downloading it, burning an installation CD/creating a USB stick, and going through the sometimes-less-than-fun experience of installing an operating system. This factor’s probably one of the things that’s hurt Linux uptake the most. Thus, Google offering a Linux distro pre-installed’s helped avoid this issue. Coming pre-installed also means knowing everything will work out of the box; for most people, computers are an appliance like their TV sets or tool like their kitchen appliances, not something they want to tinker with like a hobbyist or relish fixing if something goes wrong.

Chromebooks are sold at “normal” electronics stores

“But you can buy pre-installed Linux computers from System 76/an obscure corner of Dell’s website/etc.!” True, but that doesn’t matter to the average person, who’s never heard of said sites anyway. To the public, computers are bought at “normal” familiar stores like Best Buy, Wal-Mart, the Apple Store, or even regional electronics stores. Not only does being sold at those locations imply more mainstream support, but it also lets the public see and try this “newfangled” Chromebook in person. The average person won’t buy a computer running an unfamiliar operating system sight-unseen from an online store (that’d be harder to return it to versus Best Buy).

Google’s marketing

Benefitting from being a large company, Google’s marketed the Chromebook on TV, giving it mainstream visibility. Not an advantage other Linux distros have, of course.

People already use tons of Google services and “cloud” services

Google dominates most people’s online lives to a sometimes-heavy degree. Even I rely on a lot of Google services (ones I could replace if it ever got to that point, but still…). With Chrome becoming a widely popular browser, a whole laptop that uses Chrome as the operating system and ties heavily into the “cloud” doesn’t seem so far-fetched.

Microsoft can’t and won’t pull a “release an older Windows version to netbook hardware” this time (plus they’re busy dealing with the Surface)

One of the factors that killed netbooks was that the public was dissatisfied (and unfamiliar) with their Linux operating systems. Another factor was Microsoft trying to cut off Linux’s growing presence by releasing a cut-down version of Windows XP for netbooks. While the tactic worked (for the time netbooks remained popular), Microsoft couldn’t pull the same thing today. Since the netbooks era, Android and iOS have become ubiquitous on smartphones and tablets, so the idea of a “different” operating system might not be as foreign as it was in 2008. (It helps ChromeOS uses familiar Windows-style/Chrome browser elements, such as bottom menubar, tabs, etc.)

On top of that, Microsoft’s busy trying to keep afloat its own attempt at tablet/laptop-alternative, the Surface, with so far lackluster results. Microsoft’s at least been more successful with its Windows Phone OS on smartphones.

(Update 7/14/14) Looks like Microsoft does plan on taking on Chromebooks directly via Chromebook-like Windows laptops, after all. Read my post on the odds of this succeeding.

Chrome OS is a user-friendly Linux distribution

Besides coming pre-installed, Chrome OS as noted above is easy to use. If one’s used a web browser, getting up to speed with Chrome OS should be simple. One also won’t have to deal with antivirus software, downsides some other Linux distros might have (getting certain laptop features to work, bugs requiring a terminal to fix, bizarre aesthetics or usability, etc.), and so forth. Google also supports Chromebooks with updates fairly well.

Unlike the open-source operating system Chrome OS is based on, Chromium OS, Chrome OS supports DRM-using services like Netflix. While this is a drawback for some Linux advocates, the general public only cares about whether or not familiar services like Netflix will work, which it won’t for other Linux distros. I found that out the hard way, when my mother asked why the Xubuntu-based PC I’ve given her doesn’t support Netflix (she’s otherwise been happy with Xubuntu, however).

Chromebooks are competing with other laptops/desktops, not tablets

Another thing that killed netbooks was the rise of the tablet, particularly the iPad. Tablets did the “fill a role between the smartphone and regular PC” role much better than netbooks, thus leading to netbooks’ death. Chromebooks, however, are in a laptop-sized form factor, and designed to be comparable to conventional laptops. Thus, it’s less likely some new tech in the near future will kill Chromebooks off.

Google also has a lot invested in Chrome OS and Google cloud services, so they won’t kill off Chromebooks anytime soon either. Chromebooks matter a lot more to Google’s future than, say, Google Reader. Google’s even announced plans to tie Android more closely to Chrome OS, which would be a big boost for Chromebooks’ future.

The public has become more used to non-Windows/Mac operating systems

As I noted above, the public’s gotten used to non-Windows and -Mac operating systems thanks to the rise of smartphones (with iOS and Android). Thus making the Chromebook a bit less of a hard sell to the general public. Android’s also made the idea of a Google-based operating system less odd sounding. Of course, one’s feelings about “the cloud” and/or Google itself might also complicate things…

Conclusion

Overall, while I wasn’t sure about Chromebook’s future a year and a half ago, since early 2013, the Google-backed notebook’s become a moderate success. While they lack the all-purpose form factor of traditional Windows and Mac laptops, Chromebooks are useful for those seeking basic functionality: Internet services, writing, some media, and so forth. The low price also makes it easier to take a chance on buying a Chromebook, and makes basic computing more affordable to many. On top of that, Chromebooks are backed by a familiar company, are easy to use, have mainstream support and availability, and aren’t trying to replace or usurp an existing technology.

Although there’s a few downsides (the reliance on the “cloud”/Google for a lot of functionality particularly), I think the Chromebook’s become the most successful “Linux on the desktop” for the general public. It didn’t happen the way many Linux advocates would like, but like its mobile world cousin Android, Chrome OS/Chromebooks has achieved the goal of offering a feasible Linux-based alternative to Windows and OS X.

I’ve switched from Dropbox to Google Drive

google_drive_logoIn recent months, I’ve found myself using a few extra Google services. One such function is Google Play Music’s music collection matching/upload service, which I’ve used to upload my entire music collection and play it back from my Android devices. Another Google service I’ve been using lately is Google Drive, Google’s online “cloud” storage service. For me, it’s pretty much replaced Dropbox.

Google Drive’s advantages over Dropbox for myself include:

  • More free storage space: Google Drive comes with 15GB of storage for free, while Dropbox only includes 2GB. While there’s ways of getting more space for free with Dropbox, it usually either comes in increments not matching Drive’s 15GB or expires after a set time period (such as a year or two), after which you’re stuck paying to get the same amount of space. 15GB also gives me more basic space to use, even if Google splits the space between Drive, Gmail, and Google+ Photos. Currently, I’m using up about 4GB, or 27%, of the free storage space.
  • Cheaper extra space options: Google Drive offers extra storage space for a much cheaper rate than Dropbox. Currently, Drive offers 100GB for $1.99/mo., 1TB for $9.99/mo., 10TB for $99.99/mo., 20TB for $199.99/mo., and 30TB for $299.99/mo. Dropbox, meanwhile, offers 100GB for $9.99/mo. or $99/year, 200GB for $19.99/mo. or $199/year, or 500GB for $49.99/mo. or $499/year. With Drive’s 1TB plan offering vastly more space for a much cheaper price (and the 100GB plan quite inexpensive), it seems to hold a big advantage over Dropbox on that front.
  • Integration with Google’s services: While Dropbox’s app integrates itself fairly well into my Android devices, Mac Mini, and Linux laptop, Drive comes with such integration natively on Android, being included with the operating system.

Things I’ve been using Google Drive for include:

  • Uploading DRM-free digital comics, such as those from the Humble Bundle sales or Image Comics’ website. While I can plug in my Nexus 7 at home and copy comics to the tablet directly, a cloud-based option to keep my DRM-free books in one spot and download comics as needed (and save space on the tablet) is nice.
  • Storing various documents I might need when traveling. While I have my laptop with me while traveling, it doesn’t get as much use while at home versus my Mac Mini. Copying documents from my Mini to Drive so I can use them on my laptop’s convenient, without digging out my USB drive.
  • Backing up photos from my camera/smartphone. Android devices these days offer the option of automatically backing up photos to Google+ Photos, which ties into Drive. I suppose this falls under my switching from Flickr to Google+ Photos for photo storage, between the backup convenience and my discovering that one can’t bulk-download photos from Flickr (even if paying for Pro), which seems like a big flaw to me.

Google Drive does have a few flaws:

  • Photos is too tied to Google+ for photo-sharing purposes. While I like Google+, I do need to sometimes share things to other social media services, such as Facebook and Twitter. While one can share entire sets to places outside Google+, there’s no such support for individual photos. (Unless right-clicking to view the photo and copying that URL “counts.”)
  • The usual concerns about being even more reliant on Google for services. Yes, it’s yet another service I’m relying on Google for, though I don’t believe they plan on sending it the way of Google Reader, iGoogle, etc. Those are reasons I’ve stuck with Evernote instead of Google Keep, which seems like a prime candidate for Google to someday kill off.
  • Full-size photos count toward the storage limit. However, uploading photos at a smaller size (2048 x 2048 pixels or smaller) doesn’t count toward the limit. I opt for full-size uploads, since I value having the original version available (and backed up) more than saving space.

Overall, Drive’s been pretty decent.

Comixology removes in-app purchasing from iOS apps

ComixologyYesterday, with zero advance notice, came some big comic news: Amazon stated that Comixology will drop in-app purchases for iOS users, to avoid Apple’s 30% cut of all in-app sales on any iOS app. The Android version will still allow in-app purchases, but not through Google Play’s system; Google also takes a 30% cut of sales from Android in-app sales. Android users will have to go through Paypal or Comixology’s own credit card system, which is what Comixology’s website uses. The new versions of Comixology’s iOS app will require buying comics through a web browser, which can then be synced with the now-reader-only Comixology app.

Needless to say, this seems to be a much bigger deal for comics folk than anything I heard at C2E2 this weekend. My Twitter feed shows a lot of people annoyed about the change, and how it’ll make things “needlessly complicated.” I thought I’d list my own pros and cons for this change below…

Pros

More money will go to comics creators

Under the previous system, the average comic sales split was 30% to Google/Apple, 35% to Comixology (which took half of all sales left), and the remaining 35% to be divided up between the publisher and creators. For a $4 comic, this would be $1.20 to Google/Apple, $1.40 to Comixology, and $1.40 to the publisher/creators. Seeing two-thirds of all sales gone to various middlemen before even getting to the publisher/creators (and however that remaining split goes) sounds like a ripoff to me. Amazon probably realized it’d hurt them as well, thus their taking the same path they’ve taken with their Kindle app.

Under the new system (which is how buying books through Comixology’s website has always worked), 50% of sales will go to Comixology, and the remaining 50% will go to the publisher/creators. For a $4 comic, that’s $2 to Comixology, and $2 to the publisher/creators. Granted, this could change in the future (say, if Comixology decides keeping two-thirds of sales for itself isn’t a bad idea), but assuming similar ratios, it works out to an extra 60 cents a book for Comixology/Amazon and an extra 60 cents a book for the publishers/creators (and however further down that’s split up, again). While from the creators’ end that still seems a bit lopsided to me, it’s one less middleman, and thus works out much better for everyone involved. Unless you’re Google or Apple, I suppose.

Slight lessening of Comixology’s monopoly could result

Some people that dislike Comixology’s in-app purchase change could realize that as long as they’re going through a website to buy their comics, they could just as well go through what alternate sites exist to buy comics. As I wrote in my post on Comixology alternatives, it’s possible to buy some of one’s comics from various alternate sources, though Marvel/some smaller publishers are exclusive to Comixology.

Again, having just one excessively dominant source for digital comics isn’t a good thing, especially if (as we’ve seen here) things change and one grows dissatisfied with said dominant company. Of course, DRM locking in one’s purchases to one store, making it harder to switch, is a reason why Comixology seems big on DRM (besides the publishers’ insistence on such). Webcomic xkcd summed this up in one strip.

Still, it’ll be nice if this does make people reconsider whether DRM, etc. is worth the now-lesser convenience of Comixology. It’ll also be nice if it lets people possibly consider sources with less harsh or no DRM, like Image Comics’ website. Some publishers also seem aware of the downside of overreliance on just one store, and have diversified their digital comics sellers (DC and Archie in particular).

We’re already used to buying some media through websites

Amazon’s Kindle app for iOS is designed to work similarly to the Comixology change—no in-app purchasing, etc.—but what few extra steps that might be required haven’t hurt Amazon’s current dominance of the ebook marketplace. Amazon also seems to be doing OK with selling digital music against the one-click iTunes, though they’ve also made it easy to transfer one’s purchases into iTunes on your PC/Mac.

Less censorship of Comixology books

Since one’s buying books through Comixology’s website, Comixology will be free to sell their entire inventory without worrying about Apple banning certain books from its app. This includes books that ran afoul of Apple’s iOS standards in recent months, particularly “Sex Criminals.”

Comics manufacturers’ individual apps still allow in-app purchasing

The individual apps for DC, Marvel, etc. will still offer in-app purchasing, even if Comixology’s app is what they’re based on. This might appeal to some, assuming they don’t mind having multiple individual apps on their mobile device. Though that might be the case already—Dark Horse Comics books are only available digitally through their own app.

Cons

Buying comics from an app might require a few extra steps

Setting up and buying new comics might take a few extra steps over before. But again, it shouldn’t work much differently from Kindle’s ebook store.

Creators might see sales decline if fewer people use Comixology, negating the benefits of removing in-app purchasing

Some have expressed the belief that people switching away from Comixology (for other sites, paper comics, piracy, etc.) might result in Comixology losing profitability, or even fewer people reading comics, as Gerry Conway notes in an article. While I suppose it’s possible sales could drop, as I noted above, I still feel people moving to a diverse choice of other (legal) digital comics venues will be a good thing in the long run. Comixology can still be a major digital comics choice (they do make a nice app); it just shouldn’t be the only digital comics choice.

Conclusion

Overall, while it’ll be a bit less convenient, I have to conclude the benefits outweigh whatever downsides will happen from Amazon’s removal of in-app purchasing from Comixology. If it results in an increased range of alternative choices to Comixology, more awareness of the downsides of DRM/near-monopolies, more money to the creators of the comics, and less self-censorship of what Comixology can sell, it’s hard for me to argue “a few less buttons to push” should trump those factors.

Google+ now adds view counts to profile pages

Google+ profileGoogle’s just released a new feature for its social network site (and mandatory YouTube comment system), Google+. Profile pages will now include the number of times said content has been viewed by others, dating back to October 2012. I’ll assume it’s not an April Fool’s joke, given the timing; Google’s April Fool’s joke this year seems to be something about Google Maps and Pokemon.

As you can see by this post’s picture, I currently have 68 followers on my Google+ profile page, with a total of 95,000+ views to date. Despite the double-digit number of followers, I assume the views come from my participation in Google+’s Communities forums, as well as views from Google searches in general (for material I posted as “public”).

If you’re wondering, yes, the feature can be turned off. In your Google+ profile, go to Settings > Profile, then uncheck “Show how many times your profile and content have been viewed.”

Valentine’s Day in cartoons

peter_cottontail_valentineHappy Valentine’s Day (or “day before the candy goes on sale for half-price”), all.

Like the similar holiday themed posts I’ve done, here’s one dedicated to the day dedicated to romance, affection, and other matters of the heart… and how it’s all presented in cartoons.

Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown

There’s no one “definitive” Valentine’s Day special, but an entertaining one is “Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown,” the 1975 “Peanuts” special about how Valentine’s Day equals (in true “Peanuts” fashion) unrequited love for everyone in the cast.

On TV: Since the early 2000s, ABC has rerun this special every year, usually paired up with a more recent Valentine’s Day special to fill out an hour, such as 2002′s “A Charlie Brown Valentine.”

On DVD: This special’s on several DVD releases, including a stand-alone release (coupled with late 60s special “You’re In Love, Charlie Brown” and 70s special “It’s Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown”) and on the “Peanuts: 1970s Collection, Volume 2″ DVD set. For the former, you’ll be getting two strong specials and one weak one (“It’s Your First Kiss”), while the latter includes “It’s Your First Kiss” and several other specials typical of the mid-to-late 70s run.

Here Comes Peter Cottontail

While an Easter special, this Rankin-Bass classic involves time-travel to other holidays, including a scene (and song number) set on Valentine’s Day. I appreciate that Rankin-Bass remembered that February 14 is very much cold weather (snow, etc.) in a good chunk of the country, versus most media (probably a result of Hollywood’s southern California influence) treating it like it’s a warm spring day.

The Simpsons

The fourth season episode “I Love Lisa” centers around Valentine’s Day, Simpsons-style, from KBBL radio’s DJs playing “Monster Mash” by mistake to Bart triggering a Valentine’s-themed Vietnam flashback for Principal Skinner (Bart: “cool, I broke his brain!”). For good measure, we also get President’s Day (and another playing of “Monster Mash” by KBBL’s DJs… “doggone it!”). And of course, probably the best episode featuring Ralph Wiggum, who has a crush on Lisa after she’s the only one in the class to give him a valentine out of pity.

Google

Google usually offers a special Doodle for Valentine’s Day. In 2012, we got a nice animated short set to the tune of an old Tony Bennett song. It also manages to be gay-friendly (in a montage at the end).

Marvel and DC Comics

There’s been various Valentine’s Day cards featuring the two comic publisher’s superheroes over the decades. The website Andertoons has several examples of vintage superhero valentines:

I like that they included a valentine of Aquaman with Mera and Storm (the giant seahorse) in the 1980 DC set, as well as what seems to be a Superboy valentine (a young Kal-El in flight).

Google (finally) releases the Nexus 5

Nexus 5On Halloween, Google officially released the Nexus 5, its successor to the previous Nexus 4 smartphone. Much of the information’s been leaked by now, so not much announced was actually a surprise (beyond maybe the price). A full list of the specs are available in this Engadget article.

Overall, despite costing $50 more than the base Nexus 4 model, the Nexus 5 does offer some improvements. Of particular interest:

  • The often-fragile (or so online reports claim) glass back of the Nexus 4 has been replaced by a plastic back, supposedly similar (according to Engadget) to the one on the Nexus 7.
  • The camera’s been improved with both optical image stabilizers (OIS) and with “true HDR” or “HDR+.” Both of these will supposedly reduce image blur, as well as correct for under- or overexposure. From the sounds of things, it should improve picture quality in low-light settings (such as indoors).

The glass back and the camera were in my opinion the weakest points of the Nexus 4, so I’m glad to see LG/Google correct both of these mediocre designs for the Nexus 5.

I’ll note that the Nexus 5 is slightly bigger than the Nexus 4. Not sure why the 5 needed to be even bigger than the 4, which I already find difficult-to-impossible to use single-handedly.

Still, the phone sounds like a good buy for the money. Those who’ve held off on buying a Nexus might want to consider this model.