Multilingual keyboards can be tricky

Here in Israel we have people who speak Hebrew, Russian, Arabic, and English (just to name more common languages). Keyboards sold here tend to have at least English and Hebrew layouts to cater for what are probably more typical requirements.

When I bought a new keyboard and mouse for our daughter (I went with a Logitech K120 cabled keyboard and mouse combo), I managed to buy a keyboard with English, Hebrew, and Cyrillic layouts.

Multilingual keyboard
English, Hebrew, and Cyrillic layouts on a keyboard.

I don’t speak Russian, so I don’t have a need for the Cyrillic layout. I’ve been using my daughter’s keyboard this morning, and having the extra Cyrillic layout is a little too confusing for me.

Featured image credit: Juan Gomez on Unsplash

Machine assisted bowling – this might be considered cheating 🎳

This is funny. Pretty sure this doesn’t comply with bowling rules (whatever those may be):

I’m not sure if this is a real robot, but it’s pretty awesome either way.

Giving a 2011 MacBook Air new life with Linux

I bought my wife a 11″ MacBook Air in 2011. It’s a Intel® Core™ i7-2677M CPU @ 1.80GHz (four core) laptop with 4GB of RAM. Over time the battery became less effective, and started to swell. We eventually removed it early last year, before it burst.

That left my wife with her MacBook Air that she had to use when connected to main power. It had also become pretty sluggish between macOS updates, and general cruft accumulation so it took forever for the device to boot up, and perform simple tasks.

My wife recently left her job, and we bought her (formerly) work Lenovo laptop for her to use as a personal machine. This left her MacBook Air gathering dust in a corner of the apartment.

An available option

I’d wanted a personal laptop for my non-Automattic projects, and was building up the courage to buy a new machine that I’d install Linux on. I decided to see if my wife’s laptop would suffice, instead.

I first reset the device, and poked around a bit in macOS. The laptop is past the support cut-off for the current macOS version, so it was running High Sierra (I think). It worked ok, but it felt pretty slow.

Setting it up

I’ve also wanted a Linux laptop to geek out on, so I took a leap, and wiped the drive completely (I was actually planning to configure dual boot, but couldn’t work this out), and installed Pop!_OS by System76 on it.

I installed a couple of my preferred apps such as Sublime Text, Sublime Merge, Dropbox, and so on. I also switched my shell over to ZSH (with Oh My ZSH), installed Conda as my main Python distro/option, and even figured out how to run Jupyter Lab on the laptop.

Of course I also installed the WordPress.com app for Linux testing too.

The laptop still seemed a bit sluggish initially, and it looked like all the processors were maxing out. I also couldn’t work out how to make the dock appear in a more convenient way, and how to add other bits and pieces to my desktop to improve my experience.

I then switched the desktop environment to the MATE desktop, and it seemed to help. For one thing, MATE is better suited to older hardware, and it has a bunch of indicators and widgets that you can customise. I liked it, but I still preferred the overall aesthetic of Pop!_OS.

I also realised that the reason why the laptop was so sluggish was because Dropbox was being Dropbox when it started up. It eventually released its death grip on the processors, to a degree.

Getting used to a different environment

My one big adjustment has been moving from my glorious 15″ Macbook Pro screen where I spend most of my time, to a teeny 11″ screen. On the other hand, I do like the much smaller form factor for mobility.

The laptop is small enough that I may even be willing to take this with me on work trips so I have a personal device for movies (assuming I can get them onto the device, legitimately), projects on longer flights, and so on.

The immediate challenge to all of that is that this machine doesn’t have a battery. I’ve found a solution for that, though. iFixit sells an after market battery for this model for about $75. That’s certainly cheaper than buying a new laptop (assuming it works).

Other than that, it’s also taken me a while to figure out how to do otherwise routine things in Linux. I’ve found ways to customise my experience of the desktop using things like GNOME Extensions, and other apps and utilities.

Mostly, though, I use Sublime Text for my writing and coding (I know VS Code is what all the cool kids are using, I prefer Sublime for now, and it loads really quickly), Firefox as my main browser on this laptop, and I have my terminal pretty much set up with my various extensions.

More of the similar for other home uses

My experience with this laptop has reminded me why I much prefer a Linux computer for home. Our daughter uses a really old desktop PC that’s running Ubuntu 19.04. The PC is a Core 2 Duo with 3 or 4GB of RAM.

When it comes time to replace that, I’ll probably give her one of the new Raspberry Pis with an external drive for storage. The current version is just incredible for what you’re paying. This review will give you a pretty good idea:

The new board comes with a four core AMD processor that, I think, is pretty comparable to the MacBook Air’s 2011 processor, up to 4GB of RAM, and runs on USB-C power. The 4GB model costs around $50 to $60, and the main challenge is actually getting your hands on one.

A Raspberry Pi would probably be a decent upgrade on what she has at the moment, and she could continue doing everything she’s been doing (Minecraft, browsing the Web to school sites, general school research, Google Drive, YouTube, Spotify) just fine.

I’d be very tempted to get one for myself one day, if I could come up with a decent plan for how to travel with it, and use it productively on the road. The biggest challenge would be a screen of some kind, I imagine.

So far, I like this

So far, I really like what I have. I’d like to get some other apps going, such as AutoKey for text expansion, and Albert for easier app launches, web searches, and some of the tasks I use Alfred.app for on my work laptop.

For the time being, though, this Linux-driven MacBook Air is proving to be a pretty good choice.

Featured Image: Unleash Your Potential Robot by Kate Hazen at System76, licensed CC BY SA

4th of July for everyone, except for Americans

Our son came to me this morning, and asked me this:

Is it the 4th of July for everyone, or just in America?

Me: Well, everyone has the 4th of July. It’s just a bigger deal for people in the United States.

I checked my watch, and noticed that it was 06:49 (we’re UTC+3)

Me: Actually, it’s the 4th of July for everyone except people in the Americas. For them, it’s still 3 July for another 10 minutes or so. Time zones!

unsplash-logoFeatured image by Srikanta H. U

Resisting closed platforms with the open Web

Simon commented on the state of the Web in a recent post:

Thanks to the open web it was possible to create massive platforms, which inevitably became closed.

He asks an important question:

Do we now abandon the open web or is it essential for keeping the closed platforms in check?

I think the only real answer to this question is not to abandon the open Web. The open Web remains essential, both in itself, and to offer a compelling alternative to closed platforms.

The open Web can offer a healthier, more sustainable alternative to closed platforms. What we need are services that are as good as, or better than, closed platforms. Perhaps more importantly, the open alternatives should be just as convenient to use. This is where open solutions seem to be lacking, for now at least.

unsplash-logoFeatured image by Tim Gouw

Remarkable Formula 1 Photographers

I just watched a YouTube video featuring three photographers who capture Formula 1 races: Vladimir Rys, Qian Jun, and Mark Thompson.

Of the three, I really like Vladimir Rys’ style, with his emphasis on the shadows, and underexposing the images in varying degrees. Here’s an example:

https://twitter.com/redbullracing/status/1142478461057081346?s=20
unsplash-logoFeatured image by Chantel Lucas

Austrian Grand Prix Spoiler Alert Fail

I sat down to watch the pre-recorded Austrian Grand Prix after work. My son came up to me …

Son: Do you know who won the race?
Me: No, I haven’t looked. I just want to watch the race.

My son left the room, and returned a few minutes later.

Son: Can I show you something?
Me (thinking this has to do with a game he’s been playing lately): Ok.

He shows me the Formula 1 app on his phone, and gleefully shows me who won the race I just started watching. 😱

Me: Haven’t you heard of spoiler alerts?! 😭

🏎️

By the way, what a race! If you’re interested, here are some race highlights (🚨 SPOILER ALERT 🚨):

The new Dropbox is a compelling alternative to both Evernote and Google Drive

Why thoughts about switching

All of what I’ve explored below is premised on me wanting to migrate away from Evernote and Google Drive. I don’t have a particularly strong desire to move away from either service, although there are reasons for me to have a Plan B in mind if it becomes necessary to make the moves:

  • Evernote seems to be struggling to maintain momentum, and although recent Behind the Scenes videos show some encouraging directions, I have invested a lot in Evernote and want to make sure I have another option for my data if the company runs into major trouble;
  • Google is, well, Google. I’m mostly comfortable entrusting Google with my data, and practically everything I do in some form or another, but who knows what lies ahead in the future.
  • Lastly, and totally superficially, I like cool new things. The new Dropbox looks pretty interesting, and I’ve been using it (albeit passively) for quite some time. Moving to Dropbox would simplify some workflows for me.

How I’ve been using Dropbox and Google Drive

I haven’t actively used Dropbox for managing my files for many years. At the same time, I have a number of background processes, mostly using IFTTT, that capture things like tweets, app data, and so on into my Dropbox folders.

For the most part, I’ve been using Google Drive as my shared file system. I keep various documents there that I share with my wife, and access using various devices. I recently upgraded my personal Drive account to the Google One account where I have just over 200GB of storage space for about $3.50 a month. Before that, I was paying for a 100GB upgrade.

The idea was to make this space available to my family to use, too, but they’re using G Suite addresses on two domains I own, so they can’t join my Google One profile. 😳

Still an Evernote user

I also still use Evernote to capture stuff. “Stuff” is a pretty broad category. I’ve been capturing information that I may want to reference into Evernote for about 11 years, and I have almost 28,500 notes. Most of those notes are containers for documents, photos of interesting things, and other documents.

I don’t really use Evernote for plain text notes. For that I create, well, plain text notes with Markdown syntax, and my personal directory for those notes is a synced folder on Dropbox. I then sync that with another folder on my laptop that I push to GitHub to a private repo. I’m all about the multiple, redundant backups.

I’m using the Evernote Premium plan that costs me $69.90 a year (about $5.84 a month).

The new Dropbox

I saw an announcement that Dropbox has been updated with some interesting collaboration features. Here’s the announcement video:

It was interesting, but more of a curiosity for me until I watched the video from the launch event, here:

The event is pretty similar to any other launch event these days (“I’m excited to announce the new <insert name>. It’s the best <insert name> we’ve ever made …”), but it’s worth watching the demos in the second half of the event.

What makes the new Dropbox pretty compelling for me is how I can still use Drive documents, add in integrations with Zoom and Slack, and add shortcuts to other links that may be helpful. It looks like new Dropbox is using a white labelled version of Google Drive to enable users to create Docs, Sheets, and Slides that use the Google Drive apps, but save on Dropbox.

Microsoft Office users will also be able to use the Google Drive apps to view and edit their docs on Dropbox too. In this sense, the experience is probably pretty similar to just using Google Drive natively.

One of the areas in which Evernote has an edge, at least for me, is that I can use Evernote notes to add a combination of text, media, and documents to a single note. This enables me to maintain a coherent context for my information that relates to that particular topic.

You can create a Google Doc, but the format isn’t that easy to use, and there isn’t a convenient Web Clipper like you have with Evernote to capture stuff on the Web into a Google Doc. I poked around in Dropbox Paper, and it’s the closest I’ve seen to what Evernote can do, and surpasses Evernote in some respects. Here’s a demo where I added a couple items to a Dropbox Paper document:

What I didn’t demonstrate here is that you can also add a YouTube preview to your note that plays inline. I was a little disappointed that this isn’t possible with Evernote, and then realised that Evernote needs to take into account offline and mobile screens too. That said, if I view a Dropbox Paper document with embedded videos on my Android phone, the embed is available there.

What I don’t see just yet is something like the Evernote Web Clipper for Dropbox, so capturing stuff from the Web isn’t as easy with Dropbox.

Switching costs

Leaving aside the Evernote Web Clipper, I can see the new Dropbox being a pretty effective replacement for both Google Drive and Evernote (well, you’d still potentially be using the Google Drive apps to access many of your documents, just not on Google Drive itself). The Dropbox Plus plan is $11.99 a month (if you pay monthly), and you receive 2TB of storage space. The equivalent Google One plan costs about $11 (converting from my local currency).

If I compare the costs of a Dropbox Plus plan ($11.99 if I pay monthly) with the combined costs of my Google One and Evernote Premium plans (about $9.34, although this is a blend of annual pricing for Evernote, and monthly for Google One), it’s not far off.

If I paid for an annual Dropbox Plus plan, the monthly breakdown is around $9.99.

Worth switching to Dropbox?

At a fairly high level, it may be worthwhile switching to the new Dropbox from Evernote and Google One. That said, there are a couple challenges to resolve:

  • Can I coherently migrate my Evernote notes to Dropbox? Sure, I can export all of my content, but how accessible will it all be when exported into HTML documents with attachments in folders?
  • Can I migrate my Google Drive documents across to Dropbox? More specifically, if I move them across to Dropbox, will they open on Drive, or in Dropbox? I suppose this may not matter as Google Drive documents aren’t factored into Drive storage, as far as I remember. Also, it looks like this type of migration is possible.
  • Moving away from Evernote means giving up the Web Clipper. Is there an alternative for Dropbox? I’m not sure about that.
  • Another disadvantage of moving away from Evernote is that you lose OCR for your documents. That option is only available with the Dropbox Professional plan that costs $16.58 a month, if you opt for annual billing (so you’re paying about $198 upfront). Google Drive and Evernote both provide OCR for your documents, in varying degrees.
unsplash-logoFeatured image by chuttersnap
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