Remote Login Using Google Chrome Desktop

August 2, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-08-02 at 5.25.19 PMSometimes when I’m away from home, I need to access my desktop computer system remotely to transfer a file or check on something. I’ve used a variety of products and services to do so, but most of them were cumbersome to use. I’m now using Google Remote Desktop which works absolutely great from my Android phone and/or tablet.

It’s very easy to setup, and is quite secure. Amazingly, it runs very quick, even from my Android phone using AT&T’s LTE wireless network. So, if you need to remotely access your home Windows or Mac computer system, check out Google Remote Desktop. Best of all, it’s free!


Cable TV Cord Cutting…. Switching to Roku!

November 24, 2013

images-1I’m currently a Comcast subscriber signed up for the “Triple Play” plan, which gives me Cable Internet, TV, and Phone service. Over time this service has risen to a cost of $246 per month, so I’ve decided to investigate alternatives to reduce this monthly expense. I normally don’t watch much live TV shows, but I do use my EyeTV HD device connected to my Apple iMac to record cable TV shows. I just have a handful of shows that I record and watch, such as:

The Walking Dead
Hostages
Hells on Wheels
Revolution
Almost Human
Ask This Old House

I also occasionally record various movies that pop-up on the cable network schedule that I find interesting.  My wife has a more extensive list of shows she also records with her iMac, and my son usually watches cartoons on Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network to pass the time. But, $246/mo is really steep so I’ve decided to dump the Cable TV and Phone and only keep the Comcast Internet service. Unfortunately, Comcast is the only viable internet provider in my area so there’s not much competition in pricing available. But if I switch to an Internet-only service with 50 Mbps download speed, I believe I can reduce my monthly expense down to around $100 per month (including the city and state taxes and renting a cable modem).

So that saves me $146 per month which is a significant savings. But, what about access to the TV shows that my family watches? That’s where Roku comes in!

Roku is like a mini-computer system with an on screen menu system allowing you to stream various video content from the Internet to your TV screen. You need to connect Roku wirelessly (or wired) to an active Internet connection, then you can watch a multitude of shows from several free “channels”. The biggest difference from regular Network channels is that everything is “on-demand” so you don’t need to wait for a specific day or time to watch a particular show. You can stream any video content to your TV through Roku, at any time.

Roku advertises they have over 750 channels available, and after a weekend of exploring I do agree they have a tremendous amount of video content available. However, even with all the free stuff to watch you will probably still need to use some of the paid channels to get the most current TV shows and movies. For example, to watch the most current episode of my favorite shows I will need to subscribe to a channel called Hulu Plus for a price of $7.99/month. Hulu Plus is good for regular over-the-air network shows (like ABC, NBC, FOX, etc) but it isn’t good for cable channels such as AMC. For cable channels shows, you’ll need to pay $1.99 for each episode you want to watch from services like Vudu or MGo. This seems to be the standard method similar to what is offered through iTunes and the Google Play Store.

Now when I go down my specific list of shows, Hostages, Revolution, and Almost Human are all available under Hulu Plus for the $7.99/mo price. Ask This Old House is aired by PBS, which has a free channel on Roku also. So it’s the AMC shows like The Walking Dead and Hells on Wheels that will cost me $1.99 per episode to watch. So for these shows I can either pay the price to watch them this season, or wait until the season finishes and watch them for free on Netflix (another subscription service for $7.99/mo that I’m already signed up on and can view through Roku).

My wife is in a similar situation, where the majority of her shows are covered under the Hulu Plus service and a few of them are only available by the $1.99 charge. In the grand scheme of things, even if we pay the nominal charge a few times a month to watch a few selected paid shows we will still save a lot of money dumping the cable TV channels and going with Internet streaming services.

So, I think we’ve concluded that we can get by with our home entertainment by cutting the cord from Cable TV and going with the Roku system. My next battle will be with Comcast when I actually change my service to Internet-Only, since I know they will be trying hard to keep me as a Cable TV subscriber and keeping their monthly charges as high as possible!


Sprint unfriendly Disneyland?

December 31, 2011

My family recently stayed at the Disney Grand California Hotel (adjacent to the California Adventures Disney Park) and we discovered why Disney only offers their official park app for the iPhone/Android phone on the Verizon network. The Sprint cellular service on the Disney hotel property and their two parks had really horrible coverage. It was so bad my wife and I couldn’t rely on our cell phones (iPhone 4S and Android Nexus S 4G) to make consistent calls or get good data connections. The Sprint coverage was so weak, that our cell phones kept searching for service to the point of draining our batteries dry after about 5 hours. Not very good.

Also, the Grand Calif Hotel had what appeared to be multiple routers with several overlapping signals, and as a result it made it hard for me to get a good, solid WiFi connection with my Android Phone. My wife also has some similar issues with her iPad 2 and her iPhone 4S. I brought along my Amazon Kindle Fire tablet, but it was essentially useless in the hotel since whenever I tried to make a connection the the hotel’s WiFi it would immediately reboot! I figure the problem might be that once you make a connection to the WiFi you need to bring up a browser and select “Accept” on the page that pops up, and that seemed to cause the Kindle Fire to reboot. I tried numerous times, but just couldn’t get it to work.

My next option was to set my Nexus S into “Hotspot mode” and try to connect to it from my Kindle Fire, but that wasn’t a good alternative since the Sprint Cell service was so bad. So in the end, both my Nexus cell phone and Kindle Fire tablet were useless during my trip to Disneyland. 😦


On Vacation with my Kindle Fire

December 26, 2011

I’m headed off to Disneyland for a 1-week family vacation and of course I want to stay connected to the Internet during my travels. I also want to travel somewhat light, so I’ve decided to limit the number of electronic devices that I’m bring. Of all the items I could bring (Dell Laptop, Kindle Fire, Acer Iconia Tablet, Nexus S 4G cell phone, Apple iPod), I’ve decided only bring my Nexus S cell phone and Kindle Fire.

It was a toss up between my Acer Android Tablet and the Kindle Fire. I like the larger 10″ screen of my Acer Tablet for web page browsing, but the smaller Kindle Fire was much more portable for this trip. As such, I’m going with the Kindle Fire to really see if it’s suitable for my week long trip. Read the rest of this entry »


TripAdvisor.com – For frequent travelers

December 4, 2011

In my past job I traveled frequently throughout the US, and finding a good hotel was hit-or-miss. Even when I stuck to chain hotel brands, sometimes I would get a good hotel and other times it would be really bad. As such, I’ve relied on the web site tripadvisor.com to help me sort through different hotel options to increase my chances of finding a good, safe, relaxing hotel to stay during my out-of-town travels.

TripAdvisor.com is a web site that basically has reviews posted by users who have logged into their site. Reviews can be quite extensive, or just a sentence or two. Also, users can upload photos along with their reviews to give some evidence backing up their review claims. I’ve found this site very useful, as there are hundreds of postings for most hotels. In fact, I also am a contributor to this site posting my reviews of various hotels I’ve stayed at over the last few years.

But like anything, you need to take what you read with a grain of salt. You have some people who post great reviews for a particular hotel, and a few that post really negative reviews. The difference can be so great at times, it makes you wonder, “are these reviews all for the same hotel”? For example, my family stayed at the Disney Grand Californian Hotel last year during summer break and we found it to be a great hotel. As such, I wrote a lengthy review expressing my opinions of our stay at that hotel. But if you read some of the hundreds of reviews, you will come across some that are really negative. Of course, you’ll find some people are pretty nit-picky and complain about the smallest thing and will give a negative review, but I did read some recent reviews that just seemed incredible to believe. For example, one person reviewing the GCH complained they had to wait 10 minutes in line to get checked into their room (what, you can’t wait 10 minutes?). Another person complained the valet didn’t bring up their luggage to their room after being asked three times, and another person complained their room was run down with damaged furniture, dented trash cans, and missing TV remote. I find all of this unbelievable, as I stayed at this hotel last year and found the rooms wonderfully decorated and very comfortable. So either Disney has some really bad and really good hotel rooms and we just got lucky, or some people are just big time complainers.

TripAdvisor.com is also good for finding reviews of restaurants and amusement parks in certain cities. Posters will give great tips in their reviews, so it’s definitely worth checking out for your next trip. And best of all, it’s all free!


Calendar mayhem!

April 17, 2011

I have trouble remembering appointments, family events, birthdays, etc. so I rely heavily on a calendar to keep my life in order. This is true for both my personal and business life, so like to keep two separate calendars to keep things compartmentalized. The issue I’ve been struggling with is finding the most efficient way of dealing with these two calendars and keeping them synced with my computers and mobile devices.

So here’s what I have available:

  1. Personal calendar for my personal appointments and events
  2. Business calendar for my work appointments, travel dates, etc.
  3. An iMac at home running Snow Leopard Mac X OS
  4. A Dell laptop running Windows 7 for work
  5. An Apple iPhone 4 as my smartphone
  6. Microsoft Exchange Server for my work email, calendar, and contacts
  7. Apple MobileMe for Calendar, Email, and Contacts
  8. Google Calendar and Contacts
My goal, is to be able to view and edit my calendar appointments (personal and business) on my iMac desktop computer, Dell laptop, and iPhone device. I know there’s all kinds of 3rd-party freeware and commercial software for syncing calendar data between applications and the cloud, but I wanted to minimize that as much as possible to eliminate any chances of “foul ups”.
I ended up using this solution: Create two calendars with my MobileMe account that allows me to create,view, and edit appointments. If you’re unfamiliar with MobileMe, it is Apple’s cloud-based system which allows for centralized email, calendar, contacts, and offline disk storage. Using this method, I can always access my calendars via a web browser with an Internet connection. Because the majority of my devices are Apple-based, it made sense using this method for syncing purposes. So, I now use the Apple iCal application to access both MobileMe calendars on my iMac desktop computer, and the built-in Calendar app on my iPhone for doing the same. For my Dell laptop (running Windows 7), I use the Microsoft Outlook application along with a MobileMe syncing utility (provided by Apple) to sync my two MobileMe calendars with Outlook for local access. This method seems to work well so far, but I need to always make sure I’m viewing the two MobileMe calendars in all my apps and not the default local calendars (which should be empty).
Read the rest of this entry »

Back to using Google Chrome!

April 16, 2011

I’ve used the Firefox web browser for years on my Windows PC and now on my iMac, and I briefly switched away to Google Chrome a few months ago. I really liked the speed and clean look of Google Chrome (especially the Ominbar which is a combined search field and web address bar), but I was having issues accessing certain sites properly which prompted me to switch back to Firefox.

It seems that over the last few months Firefox and Google have released updated versions of their browsers that boast speed improvements, etc. I downloaded and installed the latest version of Firefox (4.0) and it seemed to work well, but some of my extensions weren’t available for the newer version. Specifically, the layout theme that I had been using with the previous version of Firefox (which basically makes it look like Google Chrome) was not available. I guess I’m a bit picky, as I didn’t really like the default Firefox 4.0 appearance. As such, I decided to switch back to the latest version of Google Chrome and give it a try again.

So far, so good with Google Chrome. The pages do seem to load faster in my tabs and most of the web sites that I visit load ok. I haven’t tried the “troublesome” web sites which I had previous problems, but if I really need to view those sites I’ll just fire up Firefox. The cleanliness of the Chrome browser is really appealing to me, so I’ll stick with using it for a while until Firefox comes up with some newer features…