Showing posts from 2020

Mockup Generators for Google Devices

Mockup generators are tools that combine screenshots with renderings of the frames and bezels of the desktop or mobile devices they are taken on. The generators can also overlay the screenshots to photos of actual devices.
The combined images are used as illustrations or for promoting apps, ebooks, websites, or other digital products.There are several mockup generators for mobile and desktop devices such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops. But they usually focus on Apple hardware. The few frames in the Google ecosystems like Android phones or Chromebooks, when available, are often out of date.Google's own Android device art generator is missing the latest generations of flagships. Chrome can take screenshots with device frames but, again, there are no recent Android devices. Yeah, the cobbler's children have no shoes.
List of mockup generators for Google devicesI use mockup generators for sharing Android and Chrome OS screenshots, so I’m always on the lookout for suitable too…

Running Linux Astronomy Apps on Chrome OS

I got a Pixel 2 XL for its unique astrophotography features, along with a tripod for long-exposure photography with the phone. This is not enough, though. The workflow for producing images of the sky is best achieved with specialized astronomical image viewing and processing software.There are two good such Linux apps that work fine on my Chromebox in Crostini, Siril and SAOImage DS9. I can install the .deb files from the Chrome OS Files app or the Terminal.
Siril is an advanced image processing app. Although it loads all the major general-purpose image and video file formats, it internally works with FITS, the leading format for astronomical images and data. Siril supports calibration, stacking, background and noise removal, scripting, and many more features.With the Pixel 4 XL I take photos of the sky in RAW and export them as DNG files, the format the Google camera app that ships with Pixel devices saves RAW photos to. Siril can import DNG files and convert them to FITS.DS9 is a FIT…

A Tripod for Smartphone Astrophotography

As an amateur astronomer, Astrophotography mode is one reason why I got a Pixel 4 XL.But there’s another essential piece of gear for taking long-exposure photos of star fields or astronomical phenomena, a tripod. The one I bought for the Pixel 4 XL is a Phinistec photo tripod.I do all my astrophotography from an apartment building in Milan, Italy, where I live. It’s a light-polluted urban area, but these days I can’t wander around much.I observe the sky from the apartment’s small balconies, which have the area of a medium-sized carpet. This constrains the camera holding gear I can use. I wanted a full-height tripod that can extend to at least waist level, not a tabletop tripod, as I can’t use tables or other elevated surfaces to set the photo equipment on.The Phinistec tripod can extend to a height of 125 cm. It’s cheap, compact, and very light. It comes with a smartphone adapter, a Bluetooth remote shutter, and a handy carrying pouch. There’s also a Gopro adapter I don’t need.Althou…

AppGyver Composer Review: First Impressions

It’s not just non-coders who use no-code development tools. If anything, having some programming experience gives an appreciation of how much time and effort these tools can save.
This is why, despite having been a hobby programmer for decades, I’m interested in no-code solutions. The ones I tried in the past are App Inventor and Thunkable, for creating mobile apps, and Bubble for web apps.

A few months ago I discovered AppGyver Composer, an impressive app builder for developing both mobile and web apps that seems more powerful than the others I’ve seen. Here are some quick notes on my experience with the tool so far. Keep in mind I'm still exploring AppGyver, not using it for real projects.

About AppGyver
AppGyver Composer Pro is the best no-code, drag & drop app development environment I've seen. It allows to create both web and mobile apps for Android (even Android TV) and iOS, packs tons of flexibility, and offers most of the best features in a generous free plan. I can’…

Why I Got a Pixel 4 XL When Google Discontinued It

Google discontinued the Pixel 4 in August 2020 and pulled it from the US Google Store. As soon as I learned of it, I ordered a Pixel 4 XL from the Google Store in Italy where I live and the phone was still in stock.

Why did I get it?
Because I like the 4 XL more than the current and planned Pixel models. I don’t mind the issues and limitations others criticize. And it’s not clear whether the Pixel 5 will ship with a telephoto lens, which I want.

My previous phone I had been using a Pixel 2 XL since January 2018.
This is no surprise as I always used Google-branded Android phones as my daily drivers. The Pixel 2 was the first of the Pixel family distributed in Italy. I was eager to try a Pixel and went with the 2 XL because of the higher specs, a more capable battery, and a better experience.
In October 2020, a couple of months from now, the Pixel 2 line will reach the end of life with no more system updates and support. Expecting the deadline, for a while I had been researching my opti…

Practicing Google Featured on The Slice

Issue #008 of The Slice featured my newsletter Practicing Google. The Slice is a weekly newsletter to discover new and emerging creations such as SaaS products, podcasts, and newsletters. It offers actionable resources for founders and makers.

Listory’s interview with The Slice’s author Nic opens with «The Slice highlights the underdogs of the tech world». I love this characterization and focus because typical case studies and success stories highlight the most successful entrepreneurs, authors, or products. The outliers, the unicorns.
I’m actually more inspired by smaller, realistic achievements such as newsletters with a few hundred subscribers, or ebooks that make hundreds of Dollars a year.
They are closer to where I am in my journey, more approachable. These are goals I can see myself reach given reasonable time and effort. I don’t even bother thinking how to imitate the outliers.
Therefore, I’m extremely pleased Nic featured my newsletter. It’s a confirmation I’m doing something…

A List of Newsletter Directories

Growing your newsletter can be challenging. Especially at the beginning, when few know you or your work.
Having your newsletter listed in specialized directories that attract potentially interested readers is a valuable discoverability opportunity.

These directories are databases that let readers search or browse newsletters by category. Sometimes the directories share the newsletters to their social channels or in email updates. The continuous flow of subscriptions coming from directories, even if small, adds up.
Maybe it's just an impression. However, I’ve been noticing a small but steady flow of subscriptions since submitting my newsletter Practicing Google to several directories. It's just a trickle right now. But noticeable.
I have been bookmarking and keeping track of directories since working on my newsletter. I share them here and I’ll keep the list up to date.
Open directories You can submit your newsletter to the following open directories, which approve all or most …

My First Year of Blogging With Blogger

One year ago today, on 15 July 2019, I returned to Google Blogger and started a new blog.
It was the conclusion of a journey that began over a dozen years earlier with my first blog on a self-hosted platform. I later published another blog on Blogger. Next, I left blogging for a few years. For several more years, I used Google+ as a blogging platform. Finally, I briefly tried the IndieWeb, which is not ready for prime time but intriguing.

What was my first year on Blogger like?
Uneventful. I chose Blogger because it’s a simple tool which doesn’t get in the way of writing and publishing. It does all I need and lets me focus on content.
Google has been refreshing Blogger with a gradual redesign for the past couple of years. They’re rebuilding the platform on foundations rooted in a modern, mobile friendly design language and infrastructure.
However, the new Blogger doesn’t provide much in the way of new features, at least for the time being. I would like a wider selection of responsive…

My First 10 Years With Ebooks

Ten years ago, in July 2010, I left traditional print books for ebooks, and I haven’t looked back.
Over the past decade, I bought about 300 ebooks and half a dozen print books and read around a hundred free ebooks. Of these print books, two were very interesting but unavailable in digital format. I bought a couple other traditional books because friends wrote them or I contributed to works, so I wanted a tangible artifact as a memento or signed copy I could hold in my hands. Finally, I got the last couple of print books to give as presents.

My transition to ebooks and digital reading happened almost overnight. I never had regrets or second thoughts.
I regularly shared my experience with ebooks on Google+ and later on this blog where, in 2019, I posted a retrospective of my first 9 years with ebooks. The 10th anniversary is a suitable occasion to tell in some detail how the transition happened, what my experience with ebooks has been like, and what devices and tools I used.
Why I moved … Redesigned the Mobile Experience

The cloud IDE was redesigned to improve the user experience on mobile devices.
On smartphones, now the focused REPL pane takes up most of the screen. The redesign takes advantage of native mobile design patterns and lets you switch to a different pane from the bottom navigation bar. There are panes for the code editor, the console, and the output.

Tapping the code in the editor brings up a contextual menu with some options of the desktop version. You can select, search, or paste text, or open the full command palette.
On my Pixel 2 XL phone in Chrome, lines with up to 42 characters fit in the editor’s width. The editor wraps longer lines. But most of the code usually keeps the original indentation and its structure is still clear at a glance. The console pane wraps text, too, so no horizontal scrolling is required.
You can get an idea of what looks like on mobile by opening the browser on your device and visiting a Python REPL I set up for testing the mobile interface

Following: A Marketing Guide To Author Platform

Indie writer David Gaughran published the ebook Following: A Marketing Guide To Author Platform. It’s a free bonus you can download by subscribing to David’s weekly book marketing newsletter.

The book brings clarity on the confusing issue of building an author platform writers and authors face, especially when going indie and self-publishing. Its greatest value is a concise and clear definition of what an author platform is and what it's supposed to do, along with a prioritized roadmap.
Although you’ll find practical advice in Following, the book comes with an online resource section David keeps up to date with how-tos, step-by-step guides, videos, lists of service providers, and more.
David presents a framework grounded on two pillars, an author website and a newsletter. You can add other activities and online presences modularly on top of those as your time and resources allow.
David recommends setting up an author website with self-hosted WordPress. I disagree.
WordPress is an…

How to Get the RSS Feed of a Revue Newsletter

To get the RSS feed of a newsletter hosted at Revue, enter the URL of the newsletter’s sign up and archive page into your feed reader. This returns a partial feed with an entry for each issue.

If the reader doesn’t recognize the feed, add ?format=rss to the newsletter’s URL. For example, the URL of my newsletter is and I can get the RSS by rewriting it as
Another trick is to append ?format=text to the URL of an issue to get the ASCII text with some HTML formatting. An example is this URL of one of my issues that returns the text via
The usual way of receiving a newsletter is via email. The archive page gives access to back issues, which you can browse as …

FindYour.Blog Showcases the Essence of Blogging

FindYour.Blog is a new blog directory — remember those? — aimed at new or niche bloggers. It lets you browse, search, review, and like blogs. You can also submit your own blog.

The directory has a clean design and is easy to use. But there’s something that makes it stand out: the community. FindYourBlog seems to attract passionate bloggers who value writing, sharing, and thinking.
There are almost no marketers and the blogs in the directory don’t smell of SEO or have pushy selling, modal pop-ups, or heavy ads. Their posts focus instead on content and ideas with not much thought to ranking in search or selling yet another course. The writing has readers in mind, not search engines.
Submitting blogs requires approval, and the editors are doing an excellent curation job.
FindYour.Blog is a labor of love that brings back the roots and essence blogging had in its early days. It's helping me discover great blogs, content, and bloggers.
Let’s hope the marketers will keep away.

All Blogs Are Minimalist

One feature that made Medium popular is the minimalist design of its blogs. They emphasize text and images and have no blogrolls, widgets, tag clouds, or other distracting elements.
It was a unique feature in the days of the desktop web when Medium came out.

Now the web is mobile-first and all responsive websites have a similar minimalist design on the smartphone and tablet screens the majority of readers use. They hide most of the design complexity behind a hamburger menu with links to other pages. If you open a post, the text and images dominate the page area.
Just like Medium.
For example, my Blogger blog has a responsive template that works the same way. Visit it on your phone. There are a few links at the top of the page and a handful of post recommendations at the bottom. These minor elements are hardly distracting. WordPress blogs and most other responsive websites do the same.
The mobile revolution pushed these minimalist site designs and made them ubiquitous.

Experimenting With Selling App Recommendations

Are you looking for an app that does something you need but can’t find it, or don’t want to put in the time and effort to search for it? For a small fee, I will search the app for you and recommend one that matches your requirements.

I can search for Android apps, web apps, cloud tools, Chrome extensions, add-ons, or websites that work in Chrome. Except for games as I’m not into gaming. I’ll recommend at least one app that does what you want, summarize its key features and issues, and try it on different Android and Chrome OS devices to report how it works — if possible or practical.
If no such app exists, or I’m unable to find it, I’ll suggest one that does something similar or matches some of your requirements.
I have extensive experience with searching for Android and web apps. I love looking for and experimenting with new and interesting apps I may need someday. I showcase some of the best apps in my Practicing Google newsletter.
I set up these app recommendation services on my p…

Supporting Web Publishers With Scroll

Scroll is a new monetization platform for news sites and blogs alternative to advertising. The readers who pay a subscription to the platform can access the partner sites without ads. Scroll shares the revenue with publishers based on the visits they get.

After a free trial and an introductory price of $2.49/month, the subscription will cost $4.99/month.
I stumbled upon the platform when Android Police announced joining Scroll as a partner. Android Police is my favorite Android tech news site for its great content and distinctive voice. I have been subscribing to Scroll for four months and, of the over 300 partner sites, Android Police is the only one I read regularly. My visits to other sites are a blip on the radar.

And this is the problem with Scroll.
If I subscribe at the full price, I'll end up paying $60/year for a single publication, which would be too much for the value. I’m sure the content of the other partners is great, I’m just not interested in what they offer. I want to …

My Newsletter Publishing Process

It’s been almost four months since I launched Practicing Google, my weekly newsletter about practical resources on Google products and related technologies.
The newsletter is a spinoff of my efforts to learn about and keep up to date with the Google ecosystem. I share links from my readings and content consumption habits. I wanted to focus on the entire Google ecosystem with a practical angle, an empty niche I thought there would be interest in.
As a byproduct of activities I already do, I hoped producing the newsletter wouldn’t take much work, and I’d be able to keep the overhead low. This proved to be the case, thanks to a combination of tools and workflow.
Here is how I produce, edit, test, and publish each issue of the newsletter
Tools I use the Revue newsletter publishing platform. My primary production tool is Revue’s issue editor that allows to add rich text, links, media, and embeds.
Revue also provides tools for integrating with and importing content from social networks and p…

How to Set a Folder to Save Documents Scanned With Google Drive

How do you scan documents with Google Drive for Android?
Let me guess. You open the app, tap the + button, acquire the document, edit the filename, select a folder, and save.

This is fine. But Google Drive saves scanned documents in the current folder which is often the root of My Drive like when opening the app. If you scan other documents in the same session, the current folder is again My Drive’s root. This requires extra folder selection work if you want to scan over one related document to keep in the same folder.
Here’s a trick to save a series of scans in a specific folder without having to select a folder each time. Navigate to the desired folder before tapping the + button to scan. This changes the current folder which sticks for all subsequent scans in the same session.

I Installed WhatsApp Because I Love Mom

In these days of isolation because of the COVID-19 pandemic, even tech bloggers are more introspective and share personal stories or thoughts. Now it’s my turn.
At the end of March 2020 my mom was hospitalized for pneumonia, but unrelated to COVID-19 as she repeatedly tested negative.
It wasn’t clear whether she would make it. And I couldn’t visit her in locked down Italy. The only way to communicate with mom was through the WhatsApp video calls her doctors did.
My early experience with WhatsApp For years I resisted re-installing WhatsApp.
I had already used WhatsApp and uninstalled it the day Facebook announced acquiring the product in February 2014. I have no technical issues with the app, I just don’t like Facebook the company.

But installing WhatsApp was the only way to see and talk with mom at the hospital.
Everything went well and mom came back home after over a week at the hospital. Although I no longer needed WhatsApp to communicate with mom, I kept it installed on my phone (s…

My Lenovo Tab E7 Tablet 5 Months Later

It’s been five months since I bought a Lenovo Tab E7 Android Go tablet. My main motivation was I always loved the 7” slate form factor. Now I have much more experience with the device and what’s best for, how are things going?

System and performance Performance is still more than adequate, with a caveat.
Although the tablet boots up reasonably quickly, it’s still laggy for some time after the lock screen shows up. Given the limited hardware resources, the device needs time to start up all system services and the built-in bloatware, as well as caching enough key apps and executable modules. A workaround is not to use the device for at least 5-10 minutes after powering it up so that the lag can settle.
Despite being a low-end, cheap device released two years ago, the Tab E7 continues receiving system updates. As I write this in early April 2020, I have Android Go 8.1 with 28 Feb 2020 baseband and 5 Feb 2020 security patch.
I occasionally get updates to Lenovo’s pre-installed software, n…

My Favorite Tech and Creator Newsletters

I don’t like the social platform algorithms that decide what ends up in my feed.

That’s why for my content consumption I want tools that, instead of filtering, deliver all the content only from all the sources I want. My information hub is an RSS feed reader, Feedly. In addition, since before starting my own email newsletter Practicing Google, I have been subscribing to a growing number of newsletters on a variety of topics. From technology and software development, to content creation and publishing.

Here are the newsletters I subscribe to. I prefer niche, obscure, or unique sources, so I hope this list will help you discover valuable content that’s not mainstream.

Better Sheets: Tutorials, tips, and examples to use Google Sheets better.Blogging for Devs: Tips, content ideas, and relevant news about growing technical blogs.Creator Tools Weekly: Apps or tools to help create, publish or sell content.David Gaughran's newsletter: Book marketing tips by indie writer David Gaughran.Form…

I Was Interviewed by OnEBoard

The members of OnEBoard interviewed me for their On E Board Home series. I chatted with them about why my blog is my online home, how I started my newsletter, my space outreach activities, understanding and keeping up to date with the Google ecosystem, and more.

Here's the preview of the interview. Watch also the full interview.

OnEBoard is a network of creators who collaborate over the web. The group has its roots in projects they started on Google+.

Thanks to Bob Danley, Peggy Kolm, Monika Schmidt, and Nina Trankova for having me as a guest and for their questions. Nina and Peggy are also fellow members of the Google Product Experts Program.

These questions were an opportunity for thinking about and reflecting on my work and interests.

Experimenting With a Buy Me A Coffee Membership Plan

After setting up a Buy Me A Coffee page for onetime support, I’m experimenting with a membership plan for recurring contributions.

Buy Me A Coffee is a creator support and crowdfunding platform similar to Patreon. I use it for allowing the readers of my blog and newsletter to support me if they like my work.

When visiting a creator’s Buy Me A Coffee page, membership is now the default payment option if both are present, so I needed one. I’m starting with these rewards:

a coupon for a discount on the purchase of 1, 10, or 50 copies of my book Space Apps for Androidmembers-only posts featuring my Google and tech reading list (see a sample post)
The main motivation is I can provide these rewards right now with not much additional effort.

I generated the discount coupon with Leanpub, the self-publishing platform I use. It’s a link I include in the Buy Me A Coffee thank-you message automatically emailed to new members. Why the options for 10 and 50 copies? For the readers who wish to buy add…

Chromehooked: 5 Years Since My First Chromebook

Five years ago these days I bought my first Chromebook, an Acer C720. It was an impulse buy I planned for months.

Chrome OS had always intrigued me.

Back then, I felt the need for a secondary computer besides my primary desktop PC running Ubuntu Linux. I was living in Chrome and the Google ecosystem anyway most of the time, so getting a Chromebook was an easy decision.

Chrome OS immediately felt natural. That humble device, the Acer C720, had enough performance for my typical needs.

There’s another reason I wanted to give Chrome OS a go: I had had enough with maintaining Linux.

When I got the Chromebook, I had been using Linux only for the previous decade and a half. After trying several distributions, I settled on Ubuntu.

I dreaded the Russian roulette of system updates. All went well most of the time but, once every few weeks, a version mismatch between the kernel and some device drivers or kernel modules would dump me into a text console, forcing me to unwanted and long troubleshoo…

Space Apps for Android: 1 Mar 2020 Update

The March 1, 2020 update of my book Space Apps for Android: Discover the Best Astronomy and Space Apps is out. If you purchased the book, the latest version is available for free download in ePub, Mobi, and PDF format in your Leanpub library.

In chapter Introduction, I moved the description of my blog to the new subsection Learn more and mentioned my newsletter there, too.

Chapter Ephemeris and Astronomical Phenomena has a new entry for the app Nightshift: Stargazing & Astronomy.

Finally, the new appendix Release Notes lists the changes in all the versions of the book.

I updated the book because I’m self-publishing it as a work in-progress with the Lean Publishing process. Therefore, I constantly revise and expand it.

Creating Subdomains For a Blog, a Newsletter, and Books

If you own an Internet domain, you can create subdomains for your properties such as a blog, a newsletter, and books.

For example, my domain is and my personal website is I set up the subdomains for my blog, for my newsletter, and for a list of my books. blog points to my Blogger-hosted blog. newsletter and books are redirects. The former to my page on the Revue newsletter publishing platform, the latter to a page on my personal site.

These URLs are good mnemonics and a branding opportunity.

They are easy to remember and say when talking in person or in phone conversations. And you can include the URLs in business cards or promotional material. has another benefit as it allows to rename the blog without changing the domain, should I ever need to.

The specifics of creating the subdomains depend on the domain or hosting provider.

Pixlr E: A Photo Editor in the Cloud

Pixlr E is a photo editing web app.

Along with the basic image editing features, it provides advanced tools for retouching, applying effects, drawing, filtering, and adjusting photos. Pixlr E also supports layers and a versatile command history, which lets you undo back to a specific state or change.

The workspace is configurable and you can minimize or remove the right sidebar to get a larger editing area. There are keyboard shortcuts, too.

The app feels intuitive and easy to master. Although I use Pixlr E mostly on Chrome OS, it works well and is fast on all platforms and devices.

Pixlr E is surprisingly fast and usable also on Android, even on my low-end Lenovo Tab E7 tablet. However, on the tablet, tapping the confirmation button in dialogs doesn’t seem to do anything. There’s another quirk on Android. The editing dialogs can’t apparently be moved, so they cover most of the image and you can’t see the effects of the changes as you operate the controls.

The Pixlr app suite In the e…

SEO Is Overrated

New bloggers are advised not to use website builders like Wix and Weebly because they aren’t good for SEO. And bloggers at all experience levels try to optimize for SEO every bit of content and layout.

But does it matter?

Let’s set outliers aside. For the rest of us, when starting a blog or an online presence with no prior audience or visibility, everything happens at a snail’s pace. For the first year or more, traffic grows slowly if at all. No matter what SEO trick or tweaks you do. Nothing seems to make a difference.

Years later, when the blog gets decent traffic, gains visibility, and acquires brand recognition, people recommend and link to it anyway despite its warts. Assuming the content is valuable.

Therefore, even at the other end of the growth curve, SEO doesn’t seem to matter much as the blog is past critical mass and self-sustaining.

Improving the scannability and readability of content is always useful, a prerequisite. For example, structuring posts into sections with desc…