Showing posts from 2020

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, not al…

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.

Creator Tools Weekly: Apps or tools to help create, publish or sell content.For The Interested: Ideas for producing, publishing, promoting, and monetizing content.InboxReads: A weekly roundup of interesting newsletters.Not A Newsletter: A guide to sending better emails and newsletters with a focus on news organizations.PyCo…

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…

How to Limit Data Usage on Tethered Android Devices

Buying an affordable Wi-Fi Android tablet with no cellular data option is a way of getting it for even cheaper. It’s what I did with my Lenovo Tab E7. The few times I need to use the device on the go, tethering to my Pixel 2 XL is straightforward to set up and use.

But Android devices exchange a lot of data even when sitting idle.

How to keep data usage under control? By tweaking the tablet’s account synchronization settings I can cut down on cellular data usage by two-thirds.

Measuring data usage The first step is to get an idea of how much cellular traffic tethering generates, and how much I can save by playing with the system settings.

I did two simple tests to estimate the amount of data usage to expect from the tablet while tethered to the Pixel 2 XL, which has a 4G Vodafone cellular data plan.

In the Android settings of the phone, under Settings > Network & internet > Mobile network, a chart tracks how many MB of data have been used. In the tests I compared the value b…

The Experience of Launching a Newsletter on Product Hunt

I launched my newsletter on Product Hunt. A few weeks earlier I had announced the newsletter, Practicing Google, and later sent the first three issues. How did launch day go on Product Hunt?

It was a dud.

Early results These data summarize the outcome of the launch, which added 2 subscribers to the 30 I had:
3 upvotes on Product Hunt (including the default upvote)1 user comment on Product Hunt (including the maker’s comment)0 reviews on Product Hunt53 Twitter interactions2 new newsletter subscribers This is not unexpected. Why? Because of an inescapable Catch-22: it takes a platform to build a platform.

I don’t have a platform. Twitter is the only social network I use (Facebook is a deal breaker) and my over 2700 followers are just not enough. Such an audience generates an average of a few interactions per tweet, not enough for any substantial promotion. This blog is 7 months old. My networking options and contacts are limited, too.

When starting out, everything happens at a snail’s pa…

Practicing Google is on Product Hunt

A few weeks ago I announced my newsletterPracticing Google: Weekly practical resources on Google products and related tech. Now that it’s picking up subscribers and engagement, I’m ready for the next step.

I’ve launched Practicing Google on Product Hunt.

Product Hunt has a community of tech-savvy makers, creators, and entrepreneurs. Many likely use Google products, so there’s a good overlap with the audience my newsletter addresses. I hope they will find the newsletter interesting and relevant enough to subscribe and share it.

I have been thinking about, researching, and tweaking the newsletter for the past year. While I always wanted to publish a newsletter, I started working on it in early 2019.

Deciding on a format and picking a topic I know well and I could consistently write about took months. But the hardest part was coming up with concise and descriptive text for the name and tagline. My brain remained empty for months, then suddenly the name and tagline popped up one after the o…

Leanpub Discontinued the Conference Purchase Program

In January 2020 Leanpub announced the cancelation of the Conference Purchase Program.

The program allowed conference and event organizers to buy at steep discounts multiple copies of ebooks to give away to attendees. Were eligible the ebooks for sale at the Leanpub self-publishing platform the authors enrolled in the program.

It seemed like a good idea, especially considering the growing interest in swagless conferences. But it didn’t work well in practice.

The program provided a self-serve tool. But it turns out conference organizers were looking for a different process. They wanted direct negotiations with authors and more extensive records, such as invoices, additional payment options, and transaction tracking. Given the accountability and transparency requirements of many organizations, this is understandable.

The Conference Purchase Program wasn’t much profitable for Leanpub, either.

How to Find Official Google Stock Photos

If you blog about Google or cover the company in the news, you likely need quality images to illustrate your posts and stories.

A collection of high-resolution Google stock photos is available in the press area of the company’s official blog The Keyword. The page with the photos is a bit hidden. To navigate to the page, click the 3-dot icon on the blog’s home and then click Press Corner.

You can filter the photos by type, such as Headshots for portraits of company executives like CEO Sundar Pichai, Senior VP of Hardware Rick Osterloh, and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki. Select type Logos for, well, product logos. You’ll find most of them like Chrome, Gmail, Drive, and many more. Finally, Life at Google features photos of facilities, Googlers, and work scenes.

The images are 2800x2800 PNG files except for Life at Google, where they are 2800x1867 JPEG files. You may use the photos for publication with credit: "Source: Google."

Visualize the Moon with Lunescope Moon Viewer for Android

Lunescope Moon Viewer (formerly Moon Phase Pro) is an Android app for simulating the appearance of the Moon. It combines visualizations of the phases and eclipses with a lunar globe.

The app shows the phases and their calendar, presents the lunar topography in an interactive 3D globe, simulates eclipses, and provides orbital data, local rising and setting times, and other numerical information. The globe is a realistic representation of the surface and has hires textures from space images.

The eclipse screen summarizes the event’s circumstances at a glance and illustrates what to expect, which is helpful for planning observations. These summaries aggregate the times of the various stages, their durations, the appearance of the Moon, and its position in the sky above or below the horizon.

Lunescope is not just a good astronomy tool, it stands out among Android apps for its integration with the Google ecosystem.

It’s a lightweight app, an 8-9 MB download depending on the device. It runs…

Experimenting with Buy Me A Coffee

Whenever I can, I try to support bloggers and creators by buying their books or paying contributions. Hoping someone appreciates my writings and work, I set up a Buy Me A Coffee donation button on my blog and a link in my newsletter.

Buy Me A Coffee is a creator support and crowdfunding platform similar to Patreon.

Although it’s a smaller and younger startup, Buy Me A Coffee has some interesting advantages over Patreon. For example, it accepts one-time payments, not just membership subscriptions, and it doesn’t require an account for supporters. As a Google user there are a couple more Buy Me A Coffee features I like such as signing up with Google and supporting Google Pay via Stripe. I connected both supported payment processors, PayPal and Stripe.

Creating a Buy Me A Coffee account is straightforward. It doesn’t take more than a few minutes, even to someone like me who obsesses over tweaking and playing with settings.

Connecting Buy Me A Coffee to Stripe is a bit more involved as yo…

Practicing Google: Weekly Practical Resources on Google Products

I’m starting the weekly email newsletter Practicing Google: Practical resources on Google products and related tech. I’ll send out the first issue on January 24, 2020. The newsletter will help you do more with Google.

I encourage you to subscribe, it’s free and you can unsubscribe at any time.

About the newsletter Each Friday I’ll send you links to tips, tutorials, apps, in-depth information, and other practical, actionable, or hands-on resources. This content will expand your toolbox and help you do more things with Google products and related technologies, such as web apps and tools.

The value of Practicing Google is it distills my extensive experience with all things Google.

I’ve been using Google products since 1998, starting from the search engine. Besides a Google early adopter, in 2009 I was an Android early adopter. As a member of the Google Product Experts Program (formerly Top Contributors Program) since 2014, I have been helping users in the official support forums. In 2016…

Mercury Reader Removes the Clutter from Web Pages

The Mercury Reader Chrome extension is a reader mode tool for cleaning off the clutter from web pages. It reformats the pages by removing distracting elements and leaving only text and images for a cleaner experience.

Mercury Reader is one of my must-have extensions and I use it daily.

It’s installed on all my Chrome OS devices and it’s available whenever I need it. I can fire it up when visiting sites with tiny or illegible fonts, uncomfortable color combinations, pop-ups, excessively wide text margins, pages encrusted with ads, or with designs that interfere with reading. I don’t use a permanent ad-blocker, so Mercury Reader doubles as an on-demand ad blocker.

The extension removes distracting features such as navigation elements, sidebars, headers, and ads. Besides the images, it leaves only the text and sets it with clean fonts and attributes that make reading more pleasing.

Although it does a good job in most cases, some pages are so cluttered or have such intricate designs, that…

How to Copy to the Clipboard and Use Images on Chrome OS

When saving an image on Chrome OS devices such as Chromebooks there’s a quick way of copying it to the clipboard for direct use.

In the notification that appears when saving the image, click the button for copying to the clipboard. This way you can immediately use the image without reloading it from the local storage. For example, pasting the image into Gmail’s message composition window, in the post editor of an online discussion board, in a conversation of a messaging app, or in the content editor of nearly any platform that supports attaching images.

Chrome OS issues these notifications every time an app or extension saves an image. For example when saving images from the browser or a photo editor, or capturing and annotating screenshots.

If you copy an image to the clipboard, the image file is still saved to the local storage in the Downloads folder. So be sure to review the folder from time to time to decide whether you still need to keep the files around.

Ideas for Python Authors

One reason I’m learning Python is its ecosystem. A culture of documentation and the countless learning and training resources create opportunities of growing as a developer.

There are all sorts of free and paid tutorials, books, videos, courses, and other materials on all aspects of the language, the tools, and the libraries. For example, I maintain a list of free Python books.

Still, some important intermediate to advanced topics receive little or no attention.

So, I’d like to offer some suggestions and feedback to Python authors and instructors on what may interest a hobbyist like me. Here are some ideas for topics to cover. Although I found something relevant, the material I’ve seen is still missing something.

If you know of any such resources, please let me know. Not being a visual learner I’m more interested in text-based content than videos. I also prefer books to the more structured approach of courses.

System design Some Python books present examples longer than the typical sh…

Don't Tell Your Friends You Published a Book

The day I self-published my book Space Apps for Android I sent free coupons to 16 close friends.

All of them share my interests and the topics the book covers. But none of the friends downloaded their free copy. Not a single one. Over the following days I sent free coupons to a few more friends who, again, didn’t download the book.

It’s nothing personal. Aside from life and other distractions getting in the way, it’s just that my friends are likely not typical readers who actively seek content like my book.

If you publish a book, don’t bother telling your friends and family.

Aside from the lack of interest, there are other reasons not to have your friends download the book. If you publish on Amazon, your friend’s purchasing history may have a negative impact on the algorithmic recommendations and reduce the book’s visibility. Also, the feedback you can get from complete strangers is more candid than what friends or family will say not to sound negative.

Capturing and Annotating Images with Nimbus Screenshot

The Nimbus Screenshot & Screen Video Recorder Chrome extension is my favorite screenshot capture and editing tool.

I love the extension for its variety of capture options and annotation tools. I use Nimbus Screenshot on Chrome OS and it integrates well with the Google cloud as it lets me save to Google Drive.

I use it for all the Chromebox and Chromebook screenshots I post to my blog and elsewhere. I live in the browser and the Google cloud, so It’s a good fit for my workflow. Although the extension can also do screen recording, I don’t take advantage of these features.

Nimbus Screenshot is so handy I often fire it up for quickly annotating arbitrary images other than screenshots. I can add arrows, text, and other editable vector shapes such as ellipses and rectangles. In a pinch it doubles as a basic drawing app, often faster than opening a dedicated app.

To annotate an image, select the Blank Screen capture option, click the folder icon to open the image, and add annotations. Dr…