Categories
Devices Events and Life Wellbeing

Screen time for kids during a pandemic

Back when we were in a “normal” routine, our kids’ screen time was pretty limited during the week. We only permitted them to use their phones and computers for school-related tasks during the week.

On weekends, they could play (there’s a limit on the Nintendo Switch, mostly as an experiment) for as long as their phone batteries lasted (well, that was the idea, it becomes meaningless when their phones last all day ).

Our kids would go out to meet their friends at parks, or at their friends’ homes.

Since our kids were basically confined to our home, and couldn’t see their friends in person, we basically lifted the screen time limits. The way I think about it is that they tend to play games with their friends, so this is the new “go out and play with your friends” time.

I noticed that Clint Edwards shared a post about a similar issue recently, and I agree with him, here:

I don’t know if I’ve ever been happier about online gaming, something only a pandemic could make me say. My son’s pretty social, and being away from his friends has been really hard on him. I usually hate gaming and we normally have serious restrictions on screen time. But right now it is keeping him inside and giving him a social outlet, and that’s made this whole ordeal easier on everyone.

Let Them Watch Screens – No Idea What I’m Doing: A Daddy Blog

The challenge, now, is that I still want our kids to focus on what passes for their distance classes in the mornings. We expect them to stick to “normal” school days, finishing around the time they’d finish if they were at school.

I work from my usual space at our dining room, and they work in their bedrooms, so it’s difficult to keep a close eye on whether they’re actually focused on their studies.

Still, as Clint points out, a little extra screen time creeping in at the edges isn’t a calamity –

Listen y’all, we are going to get through this. I know it. But the last thing I think we should all be worried about is limiting screen time right now.

Let Them Watch Screens – No Idea What I’m Doing: A Daddy Blog

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Categories
Devices Mobile Tech

When your iPad is your computer

The recent iPad updates are pretty interesting. I wouldn’t consider using an iPad as my primary computer for various reasons. At the same time, I can see the latest iPad, along with the keyboard and mouse (?) support as a primary computer for people with pretty straightforward or general requirements.

iPads are like netbooks

In many ways, the iPad seems to be in that place laptops were in back when they were under-powered netbooks, and weren’t quite at a stage where they could act as desktop replacements, like they commonly are now.

Simon Woods has been exploring this option over at Micro.blog too

I wonder if I would be able to avoid the PC chores even if I went with MacBook Air instead of iPad Pro, and just keep the Mac super lightweight.

Simon Woods

If you’re looking for a lightweight setup, then something like a MacBook Air (or similar lightweight laptop using another OS) is a good choice. Sure, it lacks the portability, and convenience of a tablet, but it makes up for that in support for more apps, and use cases.

On this topic, I enjoyed Marques Brownlee’s review too –

The Linux option

One option I’d love to see is an iPad-like tablet that runs a Linux distro like Ubuntu. It would need to have really good touchscreen support that enables you to use the UI with similar fluidity, and also support external peripherals so you could have a desktop experience when you need it.

I doubt we’re far from that sort of experience either. It could be a really interesting iPad alternative because it could offer more of a desktop experience (with all the app choices that brings) on more portable hardware, and using an OS that can support lower powered hardware.

I haven’t used Microsoft’s Surface devices, but they seems to be pretty capable already, so perhaps the future has already arrived, just for Microsoft users.


Reasons

I wouldn’t use an iPad as my primary computer for a couple reasons:

  1. I prefer using a different browser, multiple browsers even, and you’re basically limited to Safari for your browser experience on iOS (I understand that even if you install other browsers, Safari is basically the underpinning of other browsers too).
  2. I need more flexibility when it comes to apps than iOS would offer me. I don’t think that the apps I’d want to use there are available.

Still, I feel like it could be pretty close to meeting general, daily requirements.

Categories
Devices Mobile Tech Sports

A few more thoughts about my Garmin Vivoactive 4

I’ve had my Garmin Vivoactive 4 for just over two months now, and I thought I’d share a couple more thoughts about this device.

To begin with, I still really enjoy using this watch. I’m very glad that I bought it, and I find it enormously helpful, day to day.

I’ve been running pretty regularly, and the experience of using this Garmin device to track my runs, and sync with Strava is really smooth, especially compared to my Fitbit Charge 3.

The data

On the whole, the data seem fairly accurate, and useful. There are some exceptions, though.

I mentioned in my initial post that sleep data was a little hit and miss. This remains the case. I’ve noticed that the Vivoactive 4 will think I’m sleeping even if I’m awake, but still lazing in bed.

It also seems to think that I’m sleeping while watching TV some nights (I’m clearly pretty relaxed).

I realised that a possible explanation is that I’ve set my Data Recording option (in System settings) to Smart, and not Every Second to preserve battery life. I suspect this may be the reason for the inaccurate data that I see, so I’ll test sleep tracking with the Data Recording option set to Every Second.

Interestingly the Body Battery feature tends to give me values that correspond fairly well to how I feel at a given point in time. It’s also a little stingy with recharges though. It seems to expect me to get about eight hours of sleep before it regards me as pretty well charged for my next day.

Touch screen

The touch screen works pretty well for the most part. I noticed one app or screen where it’s not that reliable, the coaching app.

I’m using the Garmin Coach feature to train for 5km races (I’m enjoying the program so far). I usually go running in the mornings, and often can’t seem to activate the touch target on the coaching app screen unless my fingers are warm.

I’ll find myself tapping with different fingers, in different positions, just to get it to progress to the next screen where I can tap to start the workout (no issues on the second screen).

From there, the UI works just fine for me.

I haven’t really had an issue with any other screens, just this one. At the same time, this has me wondering if a Garmin watch without a touch screen (and more buttons) like the Forerunner 645 may be a way to go when I upgrade down the line.

Still, it’s not a major issue for me at the moment, just a little frustrating when I want to get started with my coaching-guided runs in the mornings.

The running experience

I started connecting my headphones directly to the watch for my runs because my phone seems to have a dislike for sustained Bluetooth connections, and frequently cuts the connection at random intervals.

I use the built-in Spotify support to sync my playlists, and off I go. Here’s my current, preferred playlist:

I would like to buy a lower profile Bluetooth headset for my runs.

An Aftershokz headset would be great given that they don’t block your ears, and seem a safer option when running around the city. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to be readily available in Israel, and can be a little pricey. Still, they may be worth the investment.

Overall, I really enjoy running with the Vivoactive 4. I’m running more frequently, seem to be improving as a runner, and that’s largely thanks to the motivation on my wrist.

I know it’s a bit materialistic because obviously you can run well without a watch, but this works well for me.

Categories
Devices Sports Wellbeing

Switching from a Fitbit Charge to a Garmin Vivoactive 4

Change happens

As you may remember, I bought a Fitbit Charge 3 in October 2018. I hadn’t worn a watch, let alone a fitness tracker like this, before that. I soon came to enjoy having it, and the data it gave me.

Unfortunately, the screen stopped working soon after the warranty expired on the device, and I made the decision to switch to a Garmin Vivoactive 4. I’ve had the Vivoactive 4 for a few weeks now, and I’m really enjoying it.

My failing Fitbit Charge 3

My Fitbit worked really well for most of the time that I’ve owned it. I found the data I received from it when I exercised (whether that was running, walking, or something else) to be great motivation to get back out there and do more exercise.

I noticed that the device started becoming a bit sluggish when I swiped the screen while running sometime in November. I would swipe the screen to switch to a different option, and it would take a moment longer to change.

I went for a run after my 5km race, and the device just stopped responding to my gestures, and I basically lost the tracking on the run between trying to get it to respond, and just giving up.

My disabled Fitbit Charge 3

Following the recommended troubleshooting steps helped the first time, and seemed to restore the device to normal functioning. Unfortunately, it failed again, and this time the screen stopped responding altogether.

Troubleshooting steps for the Fitbit Charge 3

These are the troubleshooting steps the Fitbit Support team recommended:

  1. Connect the device to the charging cable.
  2. While the device is plugged into the charging cable, press and hold the button down for 15 seconds.
  3. The device turns on and shows a battery icon. Two vibrations occur: first a short vibration, then a medium vibration.
  4. The device turns off.
  5. The device turns on and shows a progress bar and short vibrations occur. The progress bar completes. Note: A total of 7 short vibrations occur.
  6. Remove the device from the charging cable. The device shuts down.
  7. Important: Plug the device into the charging cable again.

I reached out to the Fitbit Support team on Twitter. They were pretty responsive, and were clearly trying to help me out. Ultimately, though, the device was out of warranty, so they couldn’t really do much more.

They suggested that I purchase a new Fitbit device. I considered going for the Fitbit Versa 2, but I was reluctant to buy another device that could die just outside its warranty period.

Researching alternatives to the Fitbit Charge 3

As you may gather, by this point I wanted something more than a simple tracker, so I started exploring something closer to a smart watch/fitness watch.

In the meantime, the Fitbit was still tracking my biometrics passively, so I still wore the device for step, and sleep tracking until my new device arrived.

I narrowed my options down to the Vivoactive 4, and the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2. In the reviews I watched, both received great feedback. Here are some of the reviews that I found helpful:

Galaxy Watch Active 2

Vivoactive 4

I made my choice

I ultimately decided to go for the Vivoactive 4 because it seemed like a more robust fitness tracker, with smart watch features. The Galaxy Watch Active 2 seemed to be a smart watch first, with fitness tracking features.

I also liked that the Vivoactive 4 seemed to have better battery life, and offers a lot more data. The data really appealed to me.

So I ordered the device earlier this month from a local reseller, and switched over to it almost right away. For the most part, I really like this device, and I’m glad I chose it.

I won’t go into specs, and details. You can find plenty of that information in the reviews I shared above (and many others). Instead, I’ll share some thoughts and experiences.

Nitpicking the Vivoactive 4

As much as I like the device, there are a couple small issues that detract from the experience a little. To begin with, the sleep tracking doesn’t seem to be as accurate as the Fitbit. I wore both devices one night, and noticed a few differences between the data I received.

Garmin Vivoactive 4 sleep tracking data
Fitbit Charge 3 sleep tracking data

Subjectively, the Fitbit seemed to be more accurate. I’ve noticed that my Garmin seems to regard anything short of actually getting out of bed and walking around to be part of the sleep cycle. If I lie in bed reading, for example, it tends to think I’m still sleeping.

I’ve started manually editing my wake times for a little more accuracy.

I like the Vivoactive’s Stress Tracking and Body Battery features (tracking stress levels, and energy levels, respectively), although I’m not sure how accurate they are. They roughly correspond with how I feel at a given point in time, but they either seem to exaggerate levels, or understate them.

Still, as general indicators, they can be helpful.

What I really like about the Vivoactive 4

In general, I really like this device. It looks great, it’s comfortable to wear, and I find it pretty easy to operate.

Garmin Vivoactive 4

I’ve had some fun switching between watch faces to find a watch face that offers me enough data points. The one above is called Crystal. It’s pretty customisable, and gives me all the data points I want to have at a glance.

I’m currently using Simple TDB that has a cleaner look, and with enough data points to persuade me to stick with it.

Simple TDB watch face

Using the Vivoactive 4 to track my runs is really easy. I push the top button, wait a few seconds for the GPS to start tracking, and then run.

It’s really easy to see a number of data points when running, at a glance, and my watch quickly sends my activity data up to Strava when I finish a run. By contrast, the Fitbit Charge 3 had to connect through my phone for GPS tracking, and that didn’t always work.

If my phone’s Bluetooth wasn’t working well at the time (which happens at times), I’d had to restart my phone to get it to sync correctly. My Garmin still uses the phone to send data to Strava, but it seems to sync more reliably.

I also really like that I have built-in GPS!

Performance

The device’s battery life really depends on what you’re using. If you’re running with music, and GPS, you’ll probably need to charge in a day or two.

On the days when I’m not running (and using GPS), the watch goes for a few days before I need to charge it. The battery life isn’t quite like the Fitbit Charge 3, but it’s ok.

It takes an hour, at most, to charge the Vivoactive 4, and then I’m ready to go again. I’ll often charge it while I’m working, or watching TV.

Is it right for you?

Just based on what I know about Garmin’s fitness trackers/watches in this price range, the Vivoactive 4 seems to be a sort of “general” use device. It handle fitness tracking for a large number of activities pretty well, and it’s a good fit for me.

If you’re a dedicated runner, it will probably be great for you, too. At the same time, I found this comparison between the Vivoactive 4 and the Forerunner 245 to be really interesting from the perspective of additional features that the Forerunner has for, well, runners:

I’m really happy with my purchase, and I’ve been for a few runs with it already. As I had hoped, being able to track my activity is motivating me to get out there more often (which is the point).

Categories
Devices Science and nature

A quantum computer did something a classical computer just can’t do

Quantum computing still seems to be at a pretty early stage. At the same time, it looks like it has the potential to do truly remarkable things. In at least one case, it did something a classical computer just can’t feasibly do:

But that seriously understates what’s going on here. Every calculation that’s done on a quantum computer will end up being a measurement of a quantum system. And in this case, there is simply no way to get that probability distribution using a classical computer. With this system, we can get it in under 10 minutes, and most of that time is spent in processing that doesn’t involve the qubits. As the researchers put it, “To our knowledge, this experiment marks the first computation that can only be performed on a quantum processor.”

Ars Technica

For more, read the full article “Paper leaks showing a quantum computer doing something a supercomputer can’t | Ars Technica“.

Image credit: DWave 128 chip by DWave, licensed CC BY 3.0

Categories
Devices Writing

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.

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

Categories
Applications Coding Devices

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

Categories
Devices Mobile Tech

Folding smartphones remind me of the old Nokia Communicator devices

These new range of folding smart phones are really interesting (I really like the idea of a device that opens up to reveal a larger, tablet-size screen). At the same time, I can’t help but think of the Nokia Communicator series devices from over a decade ago. Take the Nokia E90 Communicator, as an example:

I was really excited about these devices back then. The new folding phones seem to be a v2.0, in a sense. I wonder if these will become more commonplace or, like the Nokia Communicators, remain pretty rare due to factors like price, and form factor.

Just on the use case for these new folding phones, Dave Lee has a great take on this that echoes some of my thinking, albeit not from the perspective of a gaming device:

Featured image courtesy of Samsung