27 December, 2013

Chromebook HowTo: Update to the hidden Canary build

Update 7/2/2016: M53, which is currently in both the Dev and Canary channels simultaneously at the moment (53.0.2785.0 in the case of Canary, 53.0.2773.3 in the case of Dev), has introduced a much easier means to enter the Canary builds. It's now possible to just run:


from Crosh. This command, like the "shell" command, however, only works in developer mode, so the steps to switch to that and back again still apply, and will still apply even as M53 makes its way down the channels.

Update 2/17/2015: Users have been reporting error messages trying to use the command below. However, the good Craig Tumblison came to the rescue: The parameters have changed. Updating the post to reflect those changes.

People with Chromebooks have seriously wondered why a canary build of Chrome OS seems to not exist. They only see Stable, Beta, and Dev options in the "chrome://chrome" channel switcher... with nothing beyond that. They've seen posts in bug reports mentioning Canary builds, but no one has taken the time to mention how these people got the builds, as most of them are indeed Googlers. However, they do exist, and after personal snooping, I did indeed find out that they're easier to install than once thought.


If you do indeed have the guts to attempt this, be warned: the installation process, followed by the hellishly unstable user experience you'll end up with when finished, is certainly not for the faint of heart, and oh, yeah, if you want to go back, good luck. Even recovery images written with chrome://imageburner from Canary builds of Chrome OS will be canary builds, so unless you've already got a recovery USB with a stable image of Chrome OS on it, good luck trying to revert back to the stable builds (hopefully this will change when the universal Chrome OS Recovery Tool packaged app comes out). Update: Never mind, I actually tested a chrome://imageburner write from a Canary build, copied the /etc/lsb-release file to my local drive, appended a ".txt" extension, and, sure enough, it does mention "stable-channel" in it:

Thanks for the tip, Joe.

Enter Developer Mode

The way to get to the Canary channel requires access to a full Bash environment, accessible from the crosh "shell" command. The irony? That particular command will show up "unknown" when typed into crosh on a Chromebook that doesn't have developer mode enabled. For this reason, we need to enable Dev Mode to get access to the shell required. To do that, of course, requires knowledge of exactly which Chromebook you have. Refer to these examples:

If your Chromebook is anything other than these early models, then it's a much easier process, because there is no more dev switch. Instead, press Esc+Refresh+Power and, when the recovery prompt appears, press Ctrl+D and accept the prompt that appears to disable boot verification. When the Chromebook reboots, press Ctrl+D again. Please note that this will powerwash your Chromebook, so be sure all your local media files and screenshots are copied to Google Drive before you attempt this.

Run the update

Once your Chromebook has ended up in developer mode and you log in, press Ctrl+Alt+T. This will get you to a "crosh" prompt. Type "shell" as mentioned above, then run "sudo su" to get to a root shell. Once running as root, run this command:

update_engine_client --channel=canary-channel --update

The first parameter ― "-channel=canary-channel" ― sets the channel to canary via the command line. The second ― "-update" ― will run a "ForcedUpdate" app version command, which will, as you'd expect, force an update without checking. It of course will take a while, so be patient. It's also not for the faint of heart, because the progress is shown as a long decimal between 0 and 1 instead of a percentage.

Revert back to verified mode

When the update is complete, you'll notice something interesting: you're actually one version newer than Dev. And of course, you'll be in uncharted territory. When you do end up logging in (you need to press Ctrl+D every time you reboot, of course, until the end of this step) you'll want to go back to verified mode for security reasons. So, when you are prompted to reboot when the update is completed, you'll see a prompt to hit the spacebar to disable developer mode. Press it, and you'll be back in verified mode.

The result

Assuming you know what you're doing, here's what you'll end up with when updating (as of December 27, 2013), in terms of system information (this is of course on an Acer C720, one of those devices without a physical dev switch):

Note the lack of a yellow Chrome Canary logo. That's because, in Chrome OS, two versions of Chrome can't coexist like they can on other platforms. So, you get the same old multi-colored logo in Chrome OS Canary that you'll find in Chrome OS otherwise. However, notice how there's also no channel-switcher? Again, Chrome OS Canary is a whole different animal compared to other versions. Canary builds are not allowed to be easily interchangeable with other versions, and as such, you won't find a channel pull-down at all when you update. As of this writing, the current Canary build of the Chrome browser that makes up the brunt of the OS is 34.0.1756.0 — again, one major major version ahead of the Dev Channel, which is stuck on 33 — and consequently, one major major version more unstable. Expect to see more bugs, more crashes, and, oh yeah, more visits to crbug.com/new than usual. Remember that the next time you try something like this.

25 December, 2013

Battle of Chromebooks past and present: Acer C720-2802 vs. Acer AC700-1099

I cannot tell my readers just how awesome my Christmas was today. Got some pretty cool accessories -- an iPhone case with an extra battery in it to compensate for iOS 7's detriment to battery life, a new pencil sharpener (needed one desperately), a whole new wardrobe (mom works at Macy's, gets an employee discount there), and, oh, yeah, a new Chromebook, which I personally subsidized: an Acer C720-2802 (one of two models with only 2GB of RAM and identical prices, the other being the C720-2848) to replace the AC700-1099 that I also got for Christmas (and also personally subsidized) back in 2011. Yup, that's right, two years ago.

One thing that really sets the C720-2802 apart -- and I noticed this the minute I opened it up -- is its premium build quality. The device itself may be plastic underneath, and indeed if you look on the bottom of the device you will see it, but it's coated in a high-quality sintered metal finish that truly makes it look and feel like something even Mac users can awe over -- and on top of that it costs less than a Mac, less than a PC, less than an iPad, less even than a second-generation Nexus 7, and oh, yeah, the same as an iPhone 5S under contract, while being contract-free at the same time. The metal finish is, appropriately, over the keys and touchpad, and it's also got a sintered metal coating over the back of the lid, adding a truly finishing touch to the overall build quality. Its keys are comfortably spaced and easy to type on, and the screen has a matte plastic coating that makes using the Chromebook in bright light -- something I tend to do often -- a breeze. Not to mention that its touchpad and keys are both very quiet, which in worship services and in class is a good icing on the cake.

In contrast, the AC700-1099 was plastic all over. It felt embarrassing to use, especially in a room full of Mac users who happen to also be fellow worshippers of mine. It of course had keys spaced very uncomfortably close together, and its touchpad and keys were both very loud and clanky. Its glossy, yet non-IPS, display was a pain to use in bright light, and on top of that its lid was very flimsy, unlike the C720's which has a very rock-solid hinge. Oh, yeah, and it was underperforming. It had a ridiculously underpowered (by today's standards) Atom N570 (Pineview) processor, whose architecture was ultimately Penryn-based, and like my personal C720 model, only 2GB of RAM. It also was a fingerprint and stain magnet, to the utmost degree. That, of course, made it very difficult to handle, and it made me have to pull out those alcohol- and ammonia-based LCD monitor wipes much more often than I should have to normally. Well, those days are over now.

Of course, the C720 uses the awesome 1.4GHz Intel Celeron 2955U processor, which is of course Haswell. It's got an 11.6-inch Acer ComfyView display with a 1366x768 resolution -- not the greatest, but definitely not poor either, especially since MacBook Air users have the same resolution, and oh yeah, in the case of the cheapest Air model, the same 11.6-inch size. Its Intel HD graphics chip is integrated ON the CPU, in contrast to the old mentality of putting a graphics chip on the motherboard, and the result is awesome graphics performance with the graphics and CPU being of the same clock speed, sharing the same bus, and sharing the same memory. Which, of course, isn't the DDR2 memory that the AC700 had, but mobile DDR3, which makes application load performance that much snappier. Its Wi-Fi chip is supercharged with Acer's Nplify dual-band technology, which results in incredibly high Wi-Fi speeds even in places far away from the router (like my room...), and it's also got Bluetooth 4.0 LE, which does even more to optimize battery life.

Haswell (with its battery-saving 28nm die, in contrast to the Atom N570's nearly twice-as-large 45nm transistors) and Bluetooth LE, of course, combine to give the C720 an awesome 8.5 hours of battery life (in contrast to 4 hours with the AC700, if I'm lucky), even with a battery containing only 3 cells instead of the AC700's 6. That's pretty amazing, and it really says something about how much of a battery life difference CPU transistor size makes. On top of that, the C720's version of Chrome OS uses Coreboot instead of the proprietary BIOS seen in previous devices, resulting in a much more improved boot time of, you guessed it, 7 seconds according to Acer's labeling (in practice, however, especially since updating to the Dev channel and enabling 3:1 zRAM compression rate, it ended up almost instantaneous for me, but checking the "boot_times" section of chrome://system returned a rating of "/bin/cat: /tmp/boot-times-sent: No such file or directory"), a feat to be proud of, and something that can even make MacBook Air users jealous.

I hope to start off another awesome journey with this new Haswell Chromebook, and oh yeah, this is the first blog entry that's been typed on it. In addition, I also have Google Play Music Chromecasting in the background, not to mention countless extensions and packaged apps running in the background that are sure to make the C720-2802 an all-around perfect Chromebook, powerful and of amazing build quality, yet inexpensive enough for anyone to afford.

Christmas Day Google Doodle: That "Mystery City" Is Probably NYC

Okay, so it's officially 12:44 AM Christmas Day in my gorgeous home town of Mission Viejo, California, where it can be Christmas and yet still 80 degrees outside. I, of course, am in my room typing away so as not to get spoiled by going downstairs... Anyhow, exactly 45 minutes ago, I pulled up the iOS search app and noticed that the Google Doodle with "Happy Holidays" as its message had changed. The doodle yesterday -- that little one with the horse-drawn sled in it -- was replaced by one, seen below as a cropped screenshot of the iOS search app mentioned above, which depicts what people are calling a "mystery city". However, there's some obvious details in it that definitely are clues as to what this might be about.

One of the most obvious details is this is a bustling city indeed. That's a given. But if you look closely at the bottom center of the city in the doodle, one of the first things you'll notice is there's a large transit bus, traveling beside which is a police squad car, and oncoming, in the opposite direction, is a taxi. Now pause for a second. Isn't the Big Apple notorious for having two taxis for every personally-owned car on the streets? I know, because I've been there. Not since April 2001, of course... but I have. Not to mention that they also have a boatload of transit buses, hundreds of times more than the OCTA. What's to the right of the taxi, however, and this is where it really gets crazy, is a giant Christmas tree, and to the right and above that Christmas tree, is that blank red sign with white lights circling it, suggesting a theater. Let's get back to that in a moment.

See, Google tends to have a habit of using those little cartoonish pics for muckraking purposes. Just a few months ago, during the government shutdown, Google showcased a doodle about Yosemite National Park. Remember that one of the agencies affected by the shutdown, whose total closure raised a lot of eyebrows, was the National Park Service, and on top of that, the 123rd anniversary of Yosemite's opening happened to be during the shutdown. Also, remember the Google logo with the black censor bar smacked on top of it (which definitely was a doodle-like pic as well) that was used to make a point about SOPA during the days when it was circling around in Congress? About the extent that it would go to create a culture of Internet censorship in the United States? Yup, we all remember that too.

Just a few days ago, however, we heard about yet another controversy going on, this time involving Rockefeller Center (remember that light-circled theater sign and giant Christmas tree mentioned in an earlier paragraph?) and its infamous ice skating rink. A man by the name of Paul Chernosky has played the "Skating Santa" that millions have skated with on the rink for a good 15 years. This year, however, Rockefeller Center got sold to one property management company by another. The result? Patina Group, the property management company on the buying end of the deal, laid off Chernosky, sparking a boatload of controversy around those New York locals that were used to seeing him for so long, and even inspired him to start a petition on Change.org to persuade the guys at Patina Group to rethink their decision.

That's precisely what this doodle seems to indicate. Hopefully this will indeed call more people to action... and oh, yeah, hopefully it'll get Paul more petition signatures which would be amazing, or at the very least more exposure, which would in turn lead to more petition signatures. Anyhow, Merry Christmas to all my G+ and blogger fans, and I hope you all can rejoice knowing what kind of change even the billionaires at Google are willing to root for. 

09 December, 2013

Fighting Sin with Sin: Why Jesus Had to Die and Rise Again

The one thing that sets true Christianity, where people trust fully in Jesus (the true relationship with Him that Jesus wants us to have) instead of just stopping at learning about Him (religion), apart from everything else out there — and I can certainly understand this now — is this rendency to actually turn away from, instead of draw towards, our natural instinct: fighting sin with sin.

Jesus gets this very clear, straight to the point, in fact, in Matthew 12:26: "If Satan casts out Satan, his house is divided. How then will his kingdom stand?" Remember, He says this in response to a remark by the scribes and Pharisees putting down a miracle He performed, casting out demons from someone. Well, guess what? If Satan divided against Satan can't stand, then sin divided against sin can't stand either.

See, sin is sin. Whether it's lust, wrath, envy, gluttony, greed, sloth, or pride, it's all sin, and as sin, it affects not just your own life but that of everyone around you. Yet ever too often, what's our natural instinctive reaction to someone sinning against us? Lash out in return. Turn around and beat the $#!@ out of someone who tries to steal a GF/BF. Pull out a gun in response to someone showing a fist or pulling a knife. What's that doing? Exactly what I initially mentioned: fighting sin with sin.

See, when this happens, it creates a vicious cycle. It starts with some sin, some curse word, some unclean act, that someone takes offense to, and leads to fighting, and fighting back, and fighting back, ad infinitum, creating an endless cycle of sin that could only be stopped by the entry of Jesus, and most importantly of the Holy Spirit, into this world.

What's good now, when we can finally see this, is that there is hope. Jesus first and foremost died and rose again to give us hope, to let us know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but also to show us how to act if sinned against: don't sin in return. Guess what that does? It breaks the sinful cycle.

See, even Pontius Pilate, historically seen as one of the most sadistic Roman governors of Judea to ever be appointed, enough to even make those Romans higher than him take notice and remove him from office for brutality a couple of years after the 42-day span of Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension, did not find anything wrong with Jesus whatsoever. Not one thing. Everyone, Jews and Romans alike, we're expecting Jesus to lash out in return. But He didn't. He kept quiet

If He did lash out, He would actually have fallen into the temptations of this world that He really stood far away from. But no! He knew that by dying and rising again, the world would finally see all along that the sinful cycle that plagues this world by turning people against each other would be broken. Which it can be, if we just follow in His lead.