Follow Space Events With Spaceflight News for Android

Spaceflight News is an Android app that aggregates space news stories and data on space events such as launches and orbital maneuvers.

The app lists the headlines of the stories and links to the respective sites and blogs for reading the full text. The headlines come from the Spaceflight News API, a project by the same author of the Spaceflight News app. The API lets developers add to their own apps spaceflight news from selected sources. So it doubles as a demo app for the API.

The Spaceflight News API is inspired by the Launch Library, a project to provide developers with an API for adding to their apps a wealth of data on space launches collected and maintained by a group of volunteers. The Spaceflight News app provides also Launch Library data, and other information on space events such as vehicle rollouts, docking and berthing maneuvers, and more.

Although there are great and more advanced launch data apps such as Space Launch Now, the free Spaceflight News app combines and prese…

Blogging Awareness in 2019

If you've been on the web for more than a decade, you’re familiar with blogs and how they work. But don’t take for granted that others do.

Two recent Reddit threads in r/Blogging hint at how low awareness of blogs and their infrastructure is in 2019. A blogger wondered how to follow a blog and suggested using Twitter, completely ignoring RSS. In a different thread, another blogger shared an anecdote that made him realize many young people don’t know what blogs are.

What’s more worrying is the demise of RSS, a valuable source of repeated, interested traffic that bloggers own and can control. It’s comparable in effectiveness and growth potential only to email newsletters.

Suppose a typical user stumbles upon a blog they like and want to follow. They don't know how to do it as RSS, the best tool for that, is even less known than blogs. Visiting the blog from time to time is impractical, the user forgets and moves on. They may follow the blog's social profile. But, given the wa…

Why I Stopped Using My Xiaomi Mi Band 4

I bought a Xiaomi Mi Band 4 from Amazon and returned it the day after it arrived. Why? Because of some usability issues tech reviews don’t tell about.

Why I wanted the Mi Band 4 I actually didn’t want a fitness tracker.

My Moto 360 2015 smartwatch is apparently dying. So I wanted a replacement for the Moto 360’s most useful feature to me, the ability to show the notifications from the phone when it’s more convenient to twist the wrist than to reach and grab the phone. I thought the Mi Band 4, a popular and affordable device, could do an acceptable job at that.

Usability issues The Mi Band 4 seems like a good and useful fitness tracker with a clean user interface.

But, when I tried it, I realized it has some usability issues that make it less suited for what I needed. The first is the font of text longer than a few words such as in notifications is so tiny, with prescription glasses I have to strain to read most of the text — barely — if I keep the device close to the eyes. A related i…

In Praise of Cheap Keyboards

I’m typing this with a keyboard that is cheap and looks cheap, and I’m loving it.

It all started with my first Chromebook, an Acer C720 I got to learn about and explore Chrome OS. I loved it so much I switched to using Chrome OS as my only desktop operating system. Back then my daily driver was an i3 ASUS Chromebox 2 hooked to the Logitech K120 full travel keyboard I had kept around from my last PC.

Having a main desktop machine, I put aside the Chromebook for a while. But later something motivated me to play with the Chromebook more: its keyboard.

The screen of the Acer C720 has notoriously poor viewing angles. But I realized I could view it more comfortably by setting the Chromebook on a slightly taller desk, which made the angle optimal. This led me to use the device more and appreciate its chiclet keyboard with its good feedback.

To have a similar experience on the Chromebox I bought the only low profile chiclet unit I found that had the extended Italian layout with accented lette…

A List of Free Python Books

If you’re like me, you love learning by reading books.

So, when I set out to learn the Python programming language in the last days of 2018, I started looking for good books. I googled, browsed Reddit, checked major Python sites, and came out with a list Python books, including several free ebooks. I shared the list of free books to Reddit as I thought it may help others. Not only was the list a huge hit, some users suggested more great books.

Given all the interest, I put together my initial list, integrated it with the suggestions, and published the list of free Python books.

Go check the list, there are good titles covering many topics, from introductory guides to advanced language features and techniques, from software engineering to game development, and more. Including a few gems, such as the unusual book Boxes: Your Second Python Book that explores digital typesetting and text layout algorithms.

How to Zoom the Screen on Android

You have no trouble viewing the screen of your Android device, but sometimes you squint and struggle with tiny text or small details.

What to do? Use Android’s triple-tap to magnify gesture.

This is actually an accessibility feature, but it’s very handy also for general use. Enable the gesture in the Android system settings under Settings > Accessibility > Magnification > Magnify with triple-tap > On.

Now, each time you can’t read or see something on the screen, triple-tap on it. Here’s what the tiny text of a street name in the Google Maps app looks like when magnified:

Android magnifies — effectively a digital zoom — whatever is at the spot you triple-tap on. Pinch to magnify even more. Drag with two fingers to scroll and pan. You know the screen is magnified because there’s an orange frame around the edges. Triple-tap again to turn off the magnification and go back to the default screen. Here are all the actions you can take:

This simple gesture makes my Android experie…

Reading Impractical Python Projects

If you experienced the home and personal computing revolution of the early 1980s, you may have read some books that got you hooked up with programming. These books led you through the intellectual adventure of using computing to explore interesting problem domains.

I got a recent book that brought back that fascination and excitement with programming, Impractical Python Projects: Playful Programming Activities to Make You Smarter by Lee Vaughan.

The book is not a Python tutorial or guide. Instead, it presents stimulating coding projects for non-programmers who want to use Python for doing experiments, test theories, or simulate natural phenomena. This includes professionals who are not software developers but use programming to solve problems in science and engineering.

Exploring and understanding the problem domain is an integral part of the book’s projects along with the coding. This is unlike typical programming books where the examples are often trivial, have little or no domain d…