Showing posts from 2019

Pixlr X: An Image Editor in the Cloud

Now that Android and Linux apps run on Chrome OS you can use pretty much any bitmap image editor, including the venerable GIMP. But, in the early days, the Pixlr cloud editor was the default recommendation — and the only practical choice. The cropping tool and options of Pixlr X running on my Chromebox. The original Pixlr and its related apps, such as the Pixlr Express lightweight editor, will be discontinued along with Flash on which they’re based. But the new Pixlr owner, the 123RF media company, rebuilt the toolset and developed Pixlr X as the heir of the Pixlr family of editors . Pixlr X has more robust foundations grounded in contemporary web technologies. I use Pixlr X on my Chrome OS devices and I like it for three reasons. The first is the app is fast and doesn’t get in the way of the work I want to do. Next, Pixlr X has a clean and modern design. The site is ad-supported but the few ads it serves blend with the site tastefully. Unlike the original Pixlr, Pixlr

Explore Planetary Systems with Eyes on Exoplanets

Eyes on Exoplanets is a NASA web app for visualizing extrasolar planet systems. This simple app packs and organizes a lot of data on planetary systems of other stars in a series of clear visualizations. The Eyes on Exoplanets web app in Chrome on my Pixel 2 XL phone. The app is actually a website, so to open it visit from your browser. This responsive site works very well also on mobile devices. It runs smoothly in Chrome on my Android devices, a Pixel 2 XL phone and a Lenovo Tab E7 tablet.. Eyes on Exoplanets provides an interactive 3D model of the distribution of the known exoplanets, as well as the ability of viewing the systems on a sky map from a location on the Earth. Either way, you can select a stellar system and zoom into another visualization showing the orbits of its known exoplanets, along with the highlighted habitable zone. You can further zoom in on individual planets or their star to view artist depictions of what the bo

Google Keep Is Chugging Along Nicely

I still remember the shutdown of Google Reader in July 2013 — who doesn’t? It was one of the first high-profile product shutdowns that shaped and contributed to Google’s reputation (and countless memes) as a product killer. With the shock and disappointment of Google Reader’s loss still fresh, many questioned the future of Google Keep. A Google Keep note on my Pixel 2 XL phone. This new product had been initially released just a few months earlier, in March 2013. The conventional wisdom was to not use Keep because it was likely going away soon, too. Yet the product has been going on and regularly getting new features for over 6 years. Another high-profile shutdown, the one of Google+ 8 years after its launch, is a hint anything may still happen. But the death of a specific product doesn't necessarily affect the fate of another. The case of Google Keep is worth reminding each time Google unveils a new product.

Missing or Misplaced Keyboard Shortcuts on Your Non-English Chromebook? Here’s What to Do

Are any keyboard shortcuts missing from your Chromebook with a non-English keyboard, or aren’t where the documentation says? It’s not just you. So star these issues in the Chromium tracker to let Google know they are widespread and require action: Docking windows using "alt + [ or ]" does not work on German keyboards as there is no "[ ]" key Virtual desks shortcuts missing from the Italian keyboard layout If you have a Chromebook with a keyboard layout of a language other than English, you likely realized a lot of shortcuts work only with different keys than the ones the Chrome OS help center or the Settings > Keyboard > Show keyboard shortcuts tool list. And some shortcuts are missing altogether. The keyboard shortcuts for virtual desktops listed in the Chrome OS keyboard mapping tool on my ASUS Chromebox 3. On Italian keyboards the shortcuts aren't where they're supposed to be and some are missing. There's a common cause. It’s an is

I Was Interviewed by

Nathan Zilora interviewed me for Repl Talk and Weekly, the community forum. After a brief introduction I talked about how I started using, how I plan to combine astronomy and programming in my activities, the Astropy astronomy Python library and how programmers can learn to use it, the space podcast I co-host, and the Google Product Experts Program I'm a member of. My interview on's community forum Repl Talk. Thanks to Nathan and for the opportunity of sharing my experiences and thoughts! is a multi-language cloud IDE. It supports dozens of programming languages and frameworks. It’s my favorite IDE because it works fully in the cloud, a killer feature for a Chrome OS enthusiast like me. pushes the limits of what development tools can do in the cloud. It’s constantly improving and provides some advanced features, such as Multiplayer Mode for collaborative development and Git/GitHub support . Another neat fea

Revisiting Building Android Apps in Python Using Kivy with Android Studio

One of the books I read on Kivy , a Python cross-platform GUI framework, is Building Android Apps in Python Using Kivy with Android Studio: With Pyjnius, Plyer, and Buildozer by Ahmed Fawzy Mohamed Gad (Apress, 2019). My comments on the book , which focused on it not being a good match for my learning needs, sounded negative. Perhaps unnecessarily so. The cover of Building Android Apps in Python Using Kivy with Android Studio in Google Play Books on my Pixel 2 XL. The author, Ahmed Fawzy Mohamed Gad , emailed me concerning my feedback. He provided more context on how he researched the market to position the book, planned the content, and selected the topics to cover. This is valuable information, so I’m publishing it here with his permission. Here’s what Ahmed wrote: At first, thanks for the feedback you posted considering my book titled "Building Android Apps in Python Using Kivy with Android Studio". I read your feedback carefully and managed to send this e-mail

See What’s Up On The Red Planet With Mars Sky For Android

Mars Sky is an Android app for viewing at a glance the major planetary objects in the sky of Mars at a given location. The main screen of the Mars Sky app on my Pixel 2 XL phone. This unusual app doesn’t show an accurate representation of the sky but a simplified view of the celestial sphere with the major Solar System objects . The view places the planetary bodies at their approximate positions in the sky. The celestial objects Mars Sky features are the Sun, the planets (including the Earth and our Moon), and the moons of Mars, Phobos and Deimos. You can get position and visibility data of each body such as the coordinates, the angular size, the brightness, and more. A list of major events like the rising and setting times of the objects is also available. There are some preset observing locations to choose from, such as the landing sites of spacecrafts , but you can add more. Mars Sky displays dates and times using a martian calendar you may not be familiar with. So be

My First Encounter With Android Bloatware

I’ve always heard about the bloatware vendors preinstall to their Android devices but never experienced it. Until now. A few days ago I turned on my Lenovo Tab E7 tablet and an unknown icon showed up at the left edge of the home screen. You can see the icon in this screenshot. The unknown icon that showed up at the left side of the home screen of my Lenovo Tab E7 tablet. Dragging the unknown icon to the right brought up a screen that resembles the home page of YouTube as shown here. Dragging the unknown icon to the right brought up the screen of the Lenovo Entertainment bloatware. Tapping the icon featuring a head wearing headphones, at the top right of the YouTube screen, opened a Lenovo account sign in and sign up dialog. The YouTube screen slid onto the main home screen from the virtual screen immediately to the left of the main home screen. This spot, where Pixel devices have the Google Discover feed, is not usually accessible on my Lenovo Tab E7. Along with the

Two Books About the Kivy GUI Framework

The Kivy Python GUI framework is intriguing. Not only it’s cross-platform but also supports Android. Java is too verbose and low level for me and Kivy is an opportunity for developing native Android apps without leaving Python. Outside of the Kivy project documentation, there are few third-party advanced tutorials that go in more depth than the official tutorials. So, before diving into the code of the Kivy demos, I wanted some books to explore more features and get a broader picture of the framework and what it can do. I found two potentially interesting books: Building Android Apps in Python Using Kivy with Android Studio: With Pyjnius, Plyer, and Buildozer by Ahmed Fawzy Mohamed Gad (Apress, 2019), and Kivy - Interactive Applications and Games in Python - Second Edition by Roberto Ulloa (Packt, 2015). I read both and here are my impressions. Building Android Apps in Python Using Kivy with Android Studio I had much hope for Building Android Apps in Python Using Kivy wi

Making Your Own Book Cover Is A Publishing Taboo

Self-published book authors are supposed to have many skills. These skills draw on a diverse variety of fields such as marketing, book formatting and typesetting, business, audio and video production, social media management, intellectual property, software, and web design. All this on top of mastering writing and the domains the authors cover. Along with the books, these skills lead authors to produce additional content and artifacts like websites, email newsletters, ebooks files, podcasts, videos, and many more. But authors are strongly, very strongly discouraged from making their own book covers. To the point it’s a taboo. The recommended way is to hire a professional artist or cover designer. It’s sound advice as a bad cover can significantly reduce sales. But I don’t see why authors can’t learn to design covers the same way they can, and have to, learn to create the other content and artifacts. And, for some genres like non-fiction and technical works, a perfect cover ma

Lenovo Tab E7 Tablet: First Impressions

I bought a Lenovo Tab E7 Android tablet. It was sort of an impulse buy after seeing the device on display at a consumer electronics store and realizing how cheap it is. A buying decision made easier by some Amazon credit I had around. I got the 16 GB version for €74.99 at Amazon. But there are other reasons I wanted a tablet. The home screen of my Lenovo Tab E7 tablet. Why I got a tablet I owned and loved the Nexus 7 tablets, both the original 2012 and the 2013 version. When later getting the massive Nexus 6 phablet with its beautiful large screen, I began using the Nexus 7 less and less. When Google stopped providing system updates, I sold the remaining unit I still had. Since then tablets have apparently gone out of favor with Android users. And manufacturers significantly cut down on the development and production of new models. But I have always loved the slate form factor, particularly 7” tablets . These tablets are small enough to be compact, but with a larg

The Google Product Experts Berlin Meetup 2019

I attended the Google Product Experts Meetup 2019. The event, which took place from October 21 to 23 in Berlin, Germany, is one perk of the Google Product Experts Program. Waiting for the opening session of the Google PE Berlin Meetup 2019. The Google Product Experts Program The members of the Product Experts Program , i.e. the Product Experts or PEs, are volunteers who help the users of Google products in the official support venues such as the community forums. To assist the users, we have some additional tools and access to Google for reporting bugs, escalating issues, and providing product feedback. Google invites the PEs to the program events and covers the travel and accommodation expenses. Another perk of the program is the opportunity of testing new products or features. The Berlin Meetup The PE program holds at least an event every year. Google rotates between global summits, which usually take place in California and gather PEs from all over the world, regi

How to Use Kivy on

I made the Kivy  Python cross-platform GUI framework work in a GFX REPL on . is a multi-language cloud IDE with good support for Python. To use Kivy on, just create a Pygame REPL, which is among the Kivy dependencies, and install Kivy with the package manager or by adding kivy to requirements.txt . Starting such a REPL in a new session takes a while to download and build the required libraries, at least several minutes. So be patient. This REPL runs the Kivy Showcase , a demo app that showcases some of Kivy’s features. The demo works fine except for a few overlapping widgets in the top bar. And it has some latency issues, but the poor performance is mostly a consequence of the experimental state of GFX. If you adjust the handles along the edges of the REPL panes to close all the panes except the app’s, you can use most of the web page area. Here’s a screenshot of what it looks like. I can’t wait for GFX to support running graphical apps as a website, li

Experimenting With Webmentions and Blogger

I’m experimenting with some IndieWeb features on my Blogger blog, particularly webmentions. Webmentions is a web standard for merging the reactions to a blog post across the web. The reactions typically appear as comments to the original post and link back to the sources. I followed the IndieWeb Blogger tutorials for adding to my blog an h-card microformat and support for webmentions. It’s pretty easy. For example, adding webmentions through requires adding just one line of code to the blog’s template. I originally set up to listen to webmentions from Twitter. This works great but, when a tweet has a link to a post of my blog, the full text of the tweet is published as a comment. Copying all the text of other users’ tweets makes me uneasy, especially considering those users may not be aware of it. Therefore, I turned off listening to webmentions from Twitter and deleted the Twitter reactions had initially added as comments to my posts. The blog is

Hello, Planet Python!

Planet Python is now syndicating the posts about Python of my blog. Thanks to the project maintainer Bruno Rocha for letting me join. You may think of Planet Python as the all-you-can-eat source of Python content. It’s an aggregator of dozens of blogs, podcasts, and other resources on the Python programming language. It syndicates posts that cover Python or are of interest to the Python community. Planet Python is a terrific resource for learning the language and keeping up with what’s going on in its ecosystem. I highly recommend that you subscribe to the RSS feed of Planet Python . If you’re reading this on Planet Python, hi there! About me I’m Paolo Amoroso , an Italian astronomy and space popularizer, a Google expert, and a podcaster . I’m a Python beginner as I started learning the language in December 2018. But I have been a hobby programmer since the home computer revolution of the early 1980s. And I have always had a soft spot for programming languages, paradigms

Spotting Satellites With Google Street View

See A Satellite Tonight is an app for showing where to view artificial satellites in the sky with the naked eye. The See A Satellite Tonight app showing a satellite pass in Chrome on my Pixel 2 XL phone. The app simulates the motions of satellites across the sky by overlaying them to a Google Street View panorama. This makes it straightforward to spot satellites, especially for users with no space or astronomy background. During a pass you can see where the satellite is in the sky at your location with respect to landmarks and buildings you are familiar with. It’s a brilliant twist on an ephemeris interpretation problem. Most apps for showing the positions of satellites or predicting passes give guidance through astronomical references such as star charts, the horizon, or coordinates. Googler James Darpinian developed See A Satellite Tonight . It’s a web app designed to work on both the desktop and mobile devices, such as with Chrome on Android. The app has a few limitat

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 main screen of the Spaceflight News app on my Pixel 2 XL phone. 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 dat

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, giv

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. The box of the Xiaomi Mi Band 4 fitness tracker I returned. 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

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 . The Atlantis Chocolate 1300 keyboard I had with my ASUS Chromebox 2. To have a similar experience on the Chromebox I bought the only low p

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. The GitHub repository of the list of free Python Books I maintain. 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: The Google Maps screen magnified with the triple-tap gesture plus pinching on my Pixel 2XL phone. 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

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 cover of the book Impractical Python Projects in the Google Play Books app on my Pixel 2 XL phone. 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 th

Space Apps for Android: 8 Sep 2019 Update

I released a new update of my book Space Apps for Android: Discover the Best Astronomy and Space Apps on September 8, 2019. If you purchased the book, you can download the latest version for free from your Leanpub library . Chapter The Sun of my book Space Apps for Android in Google Play Books on my Pixel 2 XL phone. This new version comes with the complete rewrite of chapter The Sun , which now has an introduction. I removed all the material on Solar Observer because the app is partially obsolete and doesn’t provide much value. I also added the entries for Eclipse Calculator 2 , the best eclipse app, and SunViewer 2, which lets you view the latest solar images. Why an update? Because I’m self-publishing the book as a work in progress with the Lean Publishing process, so I’m constantly updating and expanding it.

NASA Removes HDEV Support From Its Android App

The HDEV experiment on the International Space Station stopped working sometime in July 2019. The official NASA app for Android removed HDEV support in version 1.90, released on August 30, 2019, as its change log entry notes: Removed the ISS HDEV section which has reached end of life HDEV (High Definition Earth-Viewing ) was a set of commercial HD video cameras mounted on the exterior or the ISS and aimed at the Earth . The purpose of this NASA experiment was to evaluate the effects of long-term exposure to space radiation of off the shelf video equipment. The cameras streamed beautiful live images of the Earth from space and worked continuously, except for the night side of the orbit or when operational constraints prevented it. The end of life notice in the video feed of NASA's HDEV experiment. Credit: NASA. The loss of the payload is not unexpected as the harsh environment was eventually going to damage the devices. Still, the general public loved these views and

A Conversation on Repurposing Blog Content to Publish a Book

Some bloggers write a book by putting together their posts, revising the content, and expanding it with new material. I always used Google+ as a blog and I did something similar by using my posts as an early draft of the book Space Apps for Android I self-published. In a video conversation with Nina Trankova , Monika Schmidt, and Bob Danley, a part of Nina’s "On e Board" series, I explained how I repurposed the posts of one of my Google+ collections as the backbone of the book. I also discussed the Lean Publishing workflow with which I produce the book.

How I Fixed the Fingerprint Sensor of My Pixel Phone

Some time ago the failure rate of the fingerprint sensor of my Pixel 2 XL Android phone got worse. The device was failing to recognize my fingerprint more and more. Two simple things I did fixed the issue, here they are in case you experience something similar. The first was to clean up the fingerprint sensor . I had been using the phone for a year or so and the sensor had likely gathered significant dirt. Another thing I did was to scan more fingerprints of the same finger to increase the recognition accuracy. 2-3 scans of the same finger should be enough, try more if there is little or no improvement. You may want to scan also a different finger.

Leanpub and Lean Publishing Featured in Carnival of the Indies #107

The Carnival of the Indies  is a blog carnival for indie authors. Every month the blog The Book Designer posts a collection of links to selected posts by indie authors on industry-related topics such as book design and production, success stories, writing tools and tips, and more. I closely follow this resource packed with valuable information and now I’ve had the opportunity to contribute. Issue #107 (August 2019) of the Carnival of the Indies  includes (under Book Design and Production) a link to a post to my blog, Leanpub and Lean Publishing . It’s an overview for authors who are not familiar with the process and the platform.

20 Years of Google Blogger

Google Blogger turned 20. It was actually Pyra Labs that launched the blogging platform on August 23, 1999 before Google acquired it in 2003. Peggy K celebrated the 20th anniversary of Blogger by briefly telling its history, which is part of the history of blogging, and explains why it’s still worth blogging and using Blogger in this social era. Peggy wrote: While it feels like social media has taken over much of publishing over the past decade, the tide may be turning. As there have been increasing concerns about privacy breaches, harassment and fickle algorithms on Facebook and Twitter, there are rumblings that blogging is making a comeback. I recently came back to Blogger and my motivations are similar to Peggy’s, such as Blogger having the features I need and being integrated in the Google ecosystem. I also share her hope the tide may be turning and blogging may be making a comeback, or at least growing a little more visible and relevant. What about the future of Blogger

My First 10 Years With Android

I left the Vodafone store at a shopping mall near Milan, Italy, in the early afternoon of a summer day. Precisely at 02:24pm on August 26, 2009, as printed on the receipt of the HTC Magic Android smartphone I had just bought for €449. It was my first Android device, 10 years ago today. The purchase receipt of my first Android device, an HTC Magic smartphone. I bought it for €449 at 02:24pm on August 26, 2009. Google unveiled Android in November 2007 and HTC released the first consumer Android device in September 2008. I’d say I qualify as an early adopter . Until that summer I had owned two feature phones, an Ericsson R320s and a Nokia 6151. WAP2 on the Nokia seemed an experience straight out of science fiction. But there were things I wanted on the go that only a smartphone could do easily, such as email, Twitter, and real-time text chat. Although the iPhone was already popular, Android looked promising and as a Google enthusiast I was committed to its ecosystem. The HTC