It's shiny and bright...
But will it ever prevail...
Over tried and true?

Recently tried two relatively new pieces of tech. Had some rambling thoughts. Here they be:


A couple of weeks ago, my place got broken into, and my home laptop (along with my roommate's) got stolen. Apparently leaving a window open in New Haven was a bad idea. Somewhat luckily, both of our laptops were pretty old. Mine was a Dell Studio 15 that I bought back in 2008. Its battery no longer held any juice, and it would randomly crash even though I only used it to surf the web and occasionally ssh into my work computer, so I guess it wasn't a total loss. Unfortunately, this meant that I was suddenly cut off from the wonders of the internet while at home, and that just wasn't acceptable.

Fortunately, Amazon Prime exists, and two days later, I got this:

I had known about Chrome OS since it first popped up back in 2010, but I never really took it that seriously, especially not as a full-time computer, but I decided to try the Chromebox route for the following reasons:

  1. At $170, it was a really cheap option.
  2. I lead one of those weird lives where I'm rarely home, so I didn't need a very powerful computer at home.
  3. Work-wise, I take a lot of notes and write a lot of paper drafts via Simplenote and Google Docs, so if I would ever be looking to do work from home (God forbid), I'd probably have something to work on.
  4. Aside from the complete lack of HD space (just 2 gb), the specs on a Chromebox are actually quite good.

I have to say that after a few weeks of use, I'm pleasantly surprised by how well it works for me. My initial impressions:

  1. It runs incredibly smoothly. The boot-up time is literally less than 4 seconds. It takes longer for my monitor to turn on than for the OS to boot up the login screen.
  2. So far, nothing in terms of apps or websites have slowed it down. I'd say that it runs multiple Chrome tabs far better than even the laptop that it replaced.
  3. When I'm not working (or even when I'm "working"), I do surprisingly very little outside of the web browser. I may read too many blogs and forums related to 3D-printing and robotics. At the very least, I should learn that refreshing them will not actually compel them to publish more content.
  4. It's a bit scary, but also incredibly convenient, how connected my files and tasks are online. I can access most of my work files through Dropbox, and my papers for lit review are saved either through Mendeley or my Google Scholar profile.

The HD space issue actually isn't too bad. The Chromebox reads efficiently from USB sticks, and there's an SD card slot, so I could easily boost the effective hard drive by 32 or 64 gb at minimal cost. Chrome also has a remote desktop app that operates a lot like the web version of Teamviewer. It isn't excrutiatingly slow, but I wouldn't use it to do CAD work remotely. It's more than fine though to log in remotely and check up on any running simulations on my at-work workstations, and that's more than enough for me. If it had some sort of Notepad++ plugin, I think my life would be complete, though I've read that services like CodeAnywhere might be worth exploring. That said, despite what some proponents might say, its usefulness quickly diminishes without a strong internet connection. Sure, some of the apps may function offline, but either they'll be severely limited, or you'll still need it to sync online at some point.

tldr; Better than expected, may not be for everyone. I may suffer from Internet addiction.

Google Cardboard (VR)

I had thought about getting an Oculus Rift dev kit for a while, though I've always managed to resist the urge of sending Facebook $300 by taking a look at all my other unfinished projects (I will be very sad if I can't finish my dirtsurfer before I graduate). At the last Google I/O, attendees got a cardboard VR kit called Google Cardboard, complete with an API, and instructions on how to put one together with commercially available parts. I started sourcing the parts but eventually found out that I could just buy a kit via Dodocase for less than the cost of the raw materials if I were to order them myself. Dodocase is a bit slow at shipping orders out, but apparently their reputation is pretty solid and reliable. About two weeks after my initial order, I got:

I wouldn't call the experience mind-blowing, but it certainly was interesting:

  1. The experience was a lot more immersive than I thought it would be. Having your entire field of vision occupied is quite a bit different than just staring at a large monitor.
  2. The available apps are very limited. Most of them were just low-poly, low-resolution "tours" where you get to look around while on a roller-coaster, hang-gliding, driving, etc. Not at all very complicated, and most of them were made in such a way to limit possible lag as much as possible.
  3. Lag was infrequent, but it's definitely noticeable.
  4. Really impressed that a phone can actually produce this nice of an experience with minimal latency. We truly live in the future.
  5. The magnet switch thing on the side of the cardboard VR kit is really cool.
  6. Over time, I definitely felt a little dizzy and disoriented. I wonder if the distance between the lenses could be optimized for each individual person, much like prescription glasses. It could be a nice application for 3D-printing or on-demand manufacturing.

tldr; Worth a shot if you want to test-drive the Oculus Rift experience for $20, but first try to get some chump friend of yours to buy the kit for you so that you can borrow it if you can.