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.

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

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 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 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

Blogs and blogging Mindsets Semantic Web Social Web Web/Tech

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
Blogs and blogging Social Web Useful stuff

Facebook-fed blog someday?

Chris’ reference to a means of linking his site to Facebook touches on something I thinking about this morning.

Even though you can export your Facebook data into what seems like a nicely presented, local site of sorts, I’d like to be able to basically parse my Facebook timeline, and somehow migrate it to a WordPress blog.

This may be possible using an extension of the Keyring plugin for WordPress. I’d like to test this out, even though I’ve never really been able to get the Keyring plugin to work on my site.

I’d need to first configure a private WordPress site first though in case it works, and the site populates with private updates.

Blogs and blogging Policy issues Web/Tech

Your journey into the Personal-Website-Verse

I really enjoyed reading Matthias Ott’s post titled Into the Personal-Website-Verse. It’s an essay about why it’s so important to have your own space on the Web, and why IndieWeb is a great way to get there. It’s well worth the read.

There are many reasons to have your own site, at your own domain, that you control. Aside from retaining effective control over your content, the risk of entrusting our stories, and our content to centralised services like social networks is arguably greater:

One day, Twitter and other publishing platforms like Facebook, Instagram, or Medium will indeed die, like so many sites before them. And every time this happens, we lose most of the content we created and with it a fair amount of our collective cultural history.

Matthias Ott

There are so many options for creating a personal site including*,, GitHub Pages, Squarespace, and many more. I prefer platforms that let me take my content out, and move it to another platform if I decide to. I think you should too.

*And yes, as you know, I’m partial to WordPress as a long-time user, and because I work for Automattic, the company behind

unsplash-logoFeatured image by Caleb Jones
Social Web Television

Countless channels and nothing worth watching

Despite the sheer amount of content available on services like YouTube, there are times when it feels like there’s absolutely nothing worth watching.

It must be some sort of algorithmic dead zone that occurs now and then. Like tonight.

It’s a good thing I have so much to read …

Blogs and blogging Design Policy issues Publishing Social Web Web/Tech

Make your Web

I enjoyed Tantek Çelik‘s recent talk at beyond tellerrand // DÜSSELDORF 2019. If you’re interested in the IndieWeb, or just curious why having a personal site is still so important, make yourself a beverage and enjoy:

Featured image: IndieWebCamp Berlin 2018 | Day 1 by tollwerk GmbH, licensed CC BY NC SA 2.0

Applications Publishing Useful stuff

Silence is not necessarily golden for Evernote

I’ve been an Evernote user for well over a decade, and I used it daily until a couple years ago. I have almost 29,000 notes (a fair number of these notes are automatically captured using IFTTT workflows).

In recent years, Evernote has been pretty quiet on its blog, and while it’s released updates to the app, I haven’t felt like this is a dynamic company, constantly working to evolve it’s product. This has been a little disconcerting, as I have a lot of data in Evernote that I have been storing there intentionally.

At the moment, there isn’t another service like Evernote that uses this notes and notebook model to capture different content types into a pretty flexible reference system. I use Google Drive to store a lot of my stuff too, but it doesn’t feel as fluid to me.

I’ve also been experimenting with a private site too. I think this option is pretty close to Evernote, and even has some benefits that Evernote lacks because WordPress uses web technology (it is a publishing platform after all), so it opens the door to much richer content embeds, and formatting.

Still, short of an importer from Evernote to WordPress, or another suitable alternative, I’ve stuck with Evernote. It’s the simplest solution, even if Evernote becomes a historical reference service for me.

That being said, it was encouraging to see this video from Evernote’s current CEO about how they’ll be giving us insights into what’s happening behind the scenes, and what they’re working on:

I don’t know what lies ahead for Evernote. My Premium subscription is up for renewal next month, and I’m pretty sure I’ll renew, at least for another year. For now, though, I’m looking forward to see what they have in the pipeline. It might just tempt me back into more regular use.