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Showing posts from July 14, 2019

There’s More to Linking Sources Than Crediting

The links or references to the original sources of the media, quoted text, or other content shared online are increasingly less common. Not that they ever were much common.

Academia has always had a strong tradition of crediting and referencing and this is what such users have been doing also online since the early days of the Internet and the web. Most of those who still do are in academia or in communities with similar values like bloggers and open-source developers. It’s a lost art, especially as more and more ordinary users come online.

Why take time and effort to link to sources?

The most obvious reason is fairness to the original creators of the content, who deserve recognition for their work. But there’s more to linking than crediting and fairness.

The references to the sources and other metadata are invaluable research tools. They allow to track where ideas originate, how they spread, how influential they are. And they are essential for accessing the original content in its fu…

IndieWeb: Some Assembly Required

For a couple of months in 2019 I used the Micro.blog microblogging platform. Although it’s based on and inspired to the IndieWeb principles and technical standards, my motivation for using Micro.blog was mostly the rediscovery of blogging that’s a side effect of the IndieWeb.

Blogging has always been my favorite online genre and, in a way or the other, I always blogged, even on social platforms.

How Micro.blog worked for me I liked Micro.blog for its immediacy, low-friction posting, and features such as Markdown support.

But it was still a bit spartan as the other IndieWeb tools I tried. It felt like a mix between a throwback to the early 1990s web, when publishing content required editing HTML, tweaking a site’s design, and familiarizing with network protocols, and contemporary web development with APIs and endpoints.

Consider for example a basic feature like attaching an image to a post. The major traditional blogging and social platforms let you upload an image file and then take c…

Plan Your Astronomical Observations With Nightshift for Android

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Nightshift: Stargazing & Astronomy is one of the best Android apps for planning astronomical observations and assessing visibility conditions.


Through a combination of charts and data cards the app shows at a glance the observing conditions on a given night. It provides information on cloud coverage, moonlight, rise and set times, angular altitudes, celestial events, and the visibility of various bodies such as the planets and deep-sky objects. In addition it can compute visibility predictions for telescopes and other optical instruments.

The strength of Nightshift is it effectively presents and summarizes a wealth of relevant data in a clean, simple format that’s quick to scan.

More handy features are coming. The developer, for example, is working to support predictions of conjunctions between the planets, the Moon and bright stars, and so on.

Are You Recording a Screencast? Slow Down!

Most instructional and tutorial videos featuring screencasts have a common issue that makes them less effective.

They zip by very fast over details such as menu and option selections, settings changes, and manipulations of user interface elements. And screencasts are often published as animated GIFs that don’t provide any control over playback speed or pausing. These key decision points and actions the users can glimpse only briefly are the whole point of a screencast. And they take place fast. Too damn fast.

Instead, let each action remain visible and still for at least 3-5 seconds, leave menus open more, and don’t release the mouse button too early after a selection. Also, screens with a lot of text to read or complex graphics should stay still for longer.

Why I Stopped Cross-posting to Medium

When I joined Micro.blog I found out it can cross-post from a blog to a few other platforms, including Medium.

I thought about it a bit and decided to set up my blog, then on Micro.blog, for cross-posting there even if I don’t feel comfortable with Medium. I don’t mind paid platforms or paying creators for their work, but Medium has something that puts me off. Maybe it’s the constant nagging and prodding for purchasing a subscription or signing up.

However, I decided to cross-post there anyway for a couple of reasons.

The first is I hoped my content would have a wider reach. The other reason is selfish. Mike Elgan encourages to use social platforms to our advantage by having them bring traffic to our own sites for once, given how much they used us so far. But it turns out unless you enroll into Medium’s partner program, your content won’t be algorithmically recommended to signed in users or subscribers. Instead I want my writing to be accessible on the open web without an account or a…

Never Let Support Agents Backup the Photos on Your Phone

If you bring your Android phone for servicing, never ever let support agents take care of backing up your photos or data for you. Instead, make sure the photos are safely in the cloud or offline somewhere other than on the device. If you have the Google Photos app use a computer to visit the photos.google.com website and double-check all the photos are there.

In the official Google Photos Help Community I’ve seen too many reports of users whose photos were supposedly “backed up” by a repair center’s support agent, yet went missing after a factory reset.

I Was Interviewed by the Leanpub Frontmatter Podcast

Len Epp, co-founder of Leanpub and host of Frontmatter: The Leanpub Author Stories Podcast, interviewed me in the May 22, 2019 episode. We talked about my background and interests, my work in astronomy and space popularization, Google+, the Google Product Experts Program, my book, and more.

Leanpub is the self-publishing platform I use for my book Space Apps for Android. It provides a Markdown-based toolchain that gives its best for publishing books as works in progress, as well as a storefront for selling them.

Many thanks to Len and Leanpub for the opportunity of chatting about me and my work.

Why I Don't Write With Pen and Paper

In these digital days writing with pen and paper seems all the rage.

A few decades ago I used these tools to write a full-length book, all 216 pages of it plus a third more material I cut while editing, and kept a personal journal for years. Although a practical necessity back then, it was an awful, time-consuming experience that brought no value to me. No more. Now I use pen an paper only for short notes of up to a couple of lines, and computers or other devices for all the rest.

You’ll have to pry my digital writing tools from my cold, dead hands.

Slide Rules Were the Space Apps of the 1960s

Rocket scientist and Apollo flight controller Poppy Northcutt shared some photos of the slides rules aerospace corporation TRW Systems Group, an Apollo contractor that designed and built the LM descent engine, gave away as promotional materials for the early Apollo missions.

Digging thru one of my “space” boxes in storage, turned up this nifty Apollo 11 slide rule that TRW Systems was handing out. Also found an Apollo 13 slide rule. Needless to say, the latter rapidly became inaccurate. pic.twitter.com/UgD63RiEca — Poppy Northcutt (@poppy_northcutt) July 14, 2019
These amazing pieces of 1960s engineering could compute and display several flight parameters and mission events based on the nominal flight plan. That’s why, as Northcutt noted, the Apollo 13 slide rule rapidly became inaccurate.

Half a century later, in these days of ubiquitous smartphones and tablets, aerospace companies or space agencies develop and publish free mobile apps for space missions and science. They do similar …

Book Promotion Visuals Ideas for Social Platforms and Blogs

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Leanpub is the self-publishing platform I use for my book Space Apps for Android. It provides a toolchain and workflow for publishing works in progress, something similar to releasing new versions of a software package.

Publishing a new version of a book in progress is a good opportunity for posting to my blog and social profiles a short note summarizing the changes or providing other updates. This lets readers know what’s new and helps spread the voice about the book.

It’s also a good idea to add some visuals to the posts to make them stand out, especially in the busy feeds of social platforms. But what kind of image to use?

The book’s cover is an obvious start but some variation may be appropriate, especially after a few updates of the same title. So another option is a screenshot of the cover opened in an ereading app, with a device frame around the edges of the screenshot. There are mockup generation apps (I have Screener) and tools for inserting a screenshot into an image of an a…

The 10th Astronaut Anniversary of Samantha Cristoforetti

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Ten years ago, on May 20, 2009, I watched the live stream of a press event the European Space Agency (ESA) held in Paris to introduce an international group of candidates selected to become the new European astronauts.

As the six members of the new group entered the room I instantly recognized my friend Samantha Cristoforetti, who was the first to take the floor for a short statement.


I had known Samantha since a couple of years earlier, before she applied to become an ESA astronaut. I had the opportunity of following her progress in the selection and, as the date of the ESA event approached, I noticed something was off. She had deleted her Facebook profile a few days earlier and kept radio silence. This was a hint she had a chance, which turned out to be true.

Samantha was launched into space for the first time on November 23, 2014 and spent almost exactly 200 days on the International Space Station.

Writing and Publishing Books with Markdown

In a post to the BookWorks blog Carla King discussed a Markdown-based book writing and publishing process and briefly reviewed a number of tools and platforms.

The tools she covered range from specialized Markdown and text editors to full platforms like Leanpub. Leanpub provides both a Markdown-based self-publishing toolchain for works in progress or finished books, and an online storefront for selling these and other works like courses. The storefront is pretty flexible as it supports options such as a variable pricing scheme, bundling, and selling additional digital content.

I use Leanpub to publish my book Space Apps for Android. I write the manuscript with Leanpub’s Markua Markdown flavor designed for formatting books and similar works.

My Favorite Image Annotation Android App

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I loved Skitch, the handy little image annotation Android app Evernote discontinued in 2015. It took a while but I eventually found a full replacement that’s even better than Skitch.

Annotate - Image Annotation Tool is a vector image annotation and editing app for Android. It provides drawing tools and shapes that cover the most common annotation needs, as well as a few advanced ones such as highlighting text or image areas and creating magnified insets of specific details. These features are packaged in a clean and efficient user interface that doesn’t get in the way of quick annotations.

Here’s what an annotated screenshot looks like in the app on my Pixel 2 XL phone.


Annotate’s key feature is it’s a vector drawing app, not a bitmap one, which lets you easily edit already created graphical elements such as changing their sizes and positions. This is essential as in most cases working on an image requires some iterations and tweaks before saving the final version.

As a bonus Annotate …

Publishing Gameplay Video

This post to WeVideo’s blog introduces how to start publishing gameplay video content or live streaming to YouTube and reviews the major genres: Getting paid to play: 6 steps to becoming a YouTube gamer. It's a good, well-researched overview of the big gaming video business, with practical advice and tips.

Although I'm not into gaming, this introduction is useful to understand the business of YouTube content production also in other genres.

WeVideo is my favorite cloud video editor. I used it to make a trailer of one of my Google+ collections.

Reading Shoot for the Moon

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As a longtime space geek I’m familiar with the history of space exploration and the Apollo program. I read the classics and after so much time it’s difficult to tell something new or from a different angle. So I’m selective with what I read, especially with anything published long after the facts or that’s not technical.


But although Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Extraordinary Voyage of Apollo 11 by James Donovan is a recent work published in March 2019, ahead of the upcoming 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, deciding to pick it up was a no brainer. The reason is this blurb by legendary astronaut Mike Collins who was a crewmember of the historical mission:
This is the best book on Apollo that I have read. Extensively researched and meticulously accurate, it successfully traces not only the technical highlights of the program but also the contributions of the extraordinary people who made it possible.
Collins is himself a great author and space historian. Back in 1974 he was …

Why I Started Blogging on Blogger

Hello again, web!

This post ends a journey in search of a new online home for my thoughts and begins a new blogging journey.

The first journey started with the demise of Google+, which had been my daily social home base and publishing platform for almost 8 years. I was crushed when Google shut it down on April 2, 2019.

As a new self-published author I was planning to eventually set up an email newsletter focusing on some of my interests and passions. And I still wanted to publicly share my thoughts and experiences in long form in a way similar to what I did on Google+. But what other platform could fill its big shoes?

Why not a social platform I no longer wanted a social network as my main online presence.

Anything Facebook is a deal breaker for me and, although there are some platforms for Google+ refugees that are getting some attention, such as MeWe and Pluspora, they didn’t seem a good fit for my needs. These social networks are walled gardens and content isn’t publicly available …